Reconstructing a family’s history can sometimes be a messy job. Families don’t always stack up just the way we think they should. Compound that tendency with the hazards of cross-oceanic immigration—and mix it with the prejudices of a prior century—and the resultant jumble of information can be downright misleading.
Or worse, it could be non-existent.
In the case of my paternal grandmother’s family, not everything has remained hidden, thanks to the many digitized documents now available online. As we’ve already seen, my grandmother’s oldest brother, John Laskowski, turned out to be fairly easy to trace—especially with the addition of his naturalization papers to the documents available at Ancestry.com.
That discovery revealed the family’s origin in what is now the country of Poland—the very heritage this family spent countless years trying to disguise, once they arrived in New York City.
And thanks to the many federal and state census records for the New York City area, I can trace John’s descendants nearly to the present day.
But what about his brother, the one arriving in New York under the name Miczislaus Laskowska in 1889?
In addition to learning how, exactly, to pronounce such a name, it would be helpful to find this third branch of the extended Laskowski family for several reasons. First, it would be wonderful to connect with possible distant cousins—maybe people who would know something about our common heritage, camouflaged as it has been. Second, it would help to have someone to correct the record on the few stories I have already gleaned; surely there are gaps and misconceptions in those. And, of course, if any such distant cousins are willing, it would be grand to have someone else from this branch of the family participate in DNA testing.
Miczislaus Laskowski was not of the same opinion as his older brother John, when it came to fashioning his new American persona. I have indications that he switched his name to Michael, and that he dropped the Polish identifying –ski suffix from his surname. Whether he changed his last name to Laskow or Lasky—another variation I’ve run into—I couldn’t be sure. That, of course, hampered searches as well.
Quite a while ago, someone in the family had recollections of Michael’s wife’s name being Mayme—but Mayme is often a nickname, not a given name, so the possibilities there could multiply, as well. Someone seemed to think that Michael and Mayme—or whatever her name was—had two sons. But, of course, no one could quite remember what the boys’ names were.
Every variable added to the search attempt multiplied possibilities to an almost unwieldy number. At one point, I had been game to try. Now—even with better search capabilities—I’m just floored at the number of possible hits. The number gets so large as to be meaningless. And that’s just if I stick with the greater New York metro area. What if they moved to the suburbs? What if they moved out of state?
It is always Some Kind Soul who comes to the rescue in genealogical quandaries such as this. Quite a while ago on a genealogy forum, I had posted my dilemma and an SKS in shining armor came to my rescue.
He was a volunteer for a local historical society. While volunteers at any local historical society are a hardy combination of saint and scholar, this guy was of a particularly valuable quality: his was a society that specialized in one of those New York neighborhoods which got swallowed up in the encroaching urbanization of the area. He represented the Ridgewood, New York, Historical Society. And Ridgewood, it so happened, kept an obituary file.
If you have never tried your hand at researching family members from New York City area, you may think all the usual research avenues will work just fine. But think about it for a moment. Where would your ancestor fit in, in the scheme of things in a city as immense as New York? A normal city’s newspapers might carry reports of your family, but not likely in a place like New York. It won’t be the New York Times carrying the reports you seek on your ancestors—not unless your lineage reads like a Who’s Who.
Hidden deep within the historical infrastructure of this megalopolis, though, are innumerable tiny neighborhoods and ethnic districts, many of which sported their own newspapers. Fortunately, the neighborhood my grandmother moved to, as her children got older, was a place with its own newspaper. And the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society believed in preserving the micro-history recorded in that newspaper.
I’m so glad that volunteer happened to answer my query, for in my grandmother’s February 7, 1952, obituary, published on page twelve of the Ridgewood Times, I learned that she was survived by one brother.
I assure you, that brother was not John. He had passed away back in 1930. This brother’s name was given as Michael Lasko. Now—as long as this spelling was not an editorial mistake of the newspaper itself—I have something solid to go on, when researching John and Sophie’s brother.
The fact that there are many Michael Laskos out there still complicates matters. However, knowing the new name was Lasko, instead of any other shortened version of Laskowski, is a big help. At least, it’s a start.
Now, to find a Michael who married a Mayme…