Friday, April 24, 2015

To “A” From “Z”

When I start thinking that researching this extended Laskowski family is like wandering around in the dark with a paper sack over my head, I need only remember I have yet to do Sophie’s in-laws. That will make this effort seem like child’s play.

Before we leave off poking at every possible hint for Sophie’s roots, there is one more detail I need to re-visit. I had mentioned, in examining her brother John’s in-laws, that his wife’s mother had had the maiden name Zielinska. If you remember, John’s wife Blanche was herself an Aktabowska, but her mother’s maiden name, Zielinska—or at least a spelling variant—had popped up for another part of this extended family: Sophie’s own mother, Marianna.

That may not be entirely true. Not that it’s false. It’s just that I’m not sure. I have one document asserting that Marianna was from the Zelinski family. That was what was listed on Sophie’s own death certificate in 1952.

If, however, you reach back to the previous generation and examine Marianna’s own certificate in 1939, there is no mention of the Zelinski surname. That document identifies her father’s name as Frank Jankowsky.

And there I’m left: with no explanation for where the Zelinski entry came from—nor why it disappeared.

This is where you have to take a long look at the fine print. In Marianna’s case, the informant was her daughter, Sophie. In the case of Sophie’s own death certificate, the informant was her husband. Perhaps he was not as familiar with the intricacies of his in-laws’ lives, back in the Old Country.

It wasn’t until the other day when I got the brilliant idea to crosscheck this with Sophie’s brother’s own death certificate. After all, unlike when I first obtained those snail-mailed records for Sophie and her mother, we now have instant research gratification. With the click of a mouse, we can do this.

No sooner said than done—and bringing up the information on John’s death record reveals his mother’s maiden name was listed there as Jankowska.

Good old John, traditionalist at heart to the end. For him—and for his Polish-American family—a woman’s surname would always end in “a,” just as it had in his native Poland. Jankowska, of course, would be his mother’s counterpart to her father’s Jankowski.

But what of the Zelinski entry? Where did that name come in? Perhaps Sophie’s husband, knowing that his brother in law, John, was married to someone who was doubly related to Sophie, chose the wrong surname. Remember, John’s wife Blanche was daughter of Aniela Zielinska.

Aniela, however, was married to an Aktabowski, and that surname ends up being the one Sophie’s husband should have remembered. For, as it turns out, Sophie’s mom, Marianna, had one other detail on her own death certificate: her mother’s maiden name. Listed right below Frank Jankowsky—Marianna’s father—was the entry for Marianna’s mother.

I’m sure you are already guessing what that name might be. While it was listed on the document as “Aktaboska,” I have never found Americans of that generation, struggling with Polish pronunciation, to be particularly careful to render their spelling correctly. That, plainly, was the equivalent of Blanche’s own maiden name: Aktabowski.

Just like that, we’re taken from Z to A—from Zelinski to Aktabowski—yet still left with the tantalizing possibility that, somewhere beyond the grandparents of Sophie and Blanche, there was a link that made them distant cousins as well as in-laws.


  1. I wonder if she was remarried? I can't think of any other theory other than "confusion" to explain this.

    1. For a long time I had considered this, Iggy. But when I take a look at her age, compare it with the age of her oldest child, and do the math, that puts her marrying Anton at a pretty young age. There really isn't enough wiggle room for her to have been married before that--if, that is, we can rely on the reports of her date of birth.

  2. My neighbors on the corner are Jankowski. Just a little mindless tidbit for you today.

    1. Every time I run across that surname--which, admittedly, isn't that often--I wonder...but then, I snap out of it. Have no idea how common it is, especially outside places like New York or Chicago.

  3. Uffda, that is Minnesota speak for what a tangled mess:(

    1. This is one of those posts that would better have lent itself to a score card. The only tangled part is in the prior generations--which, unless I can figure out how to research in Poland from a long distance, may never happen. If course, that is the part I really want to know about: how those two surnames connect!


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