Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seeking the Un-Findable

How hard is it to find a name like Kusharvska?

When I run across an unusual surname to research—like Aktabowski, another tidbit in my father’s line—it always impresses me as an easy accomplishment. Why? Because the oddity of the surname should increase the chances that the right person will be quickly located.

Silly me. That is only in my mind, where the theoretical reigns supreme.

In real life? Not so much.

So now that I’ve agreed to take on the mission of locating Anna Kusharvska—whether potential great grandmother or not—I thought I’d be led directly to her front door with signed, sealed and delivered documentation in hand.

As you’ve seen, that isn’t exactly how things turned out. Not only have I not located any passenger listings including her name, but I haven’t found any for her supposed son, Theodore Puhalski. Tracing her daughter, Rose Kober, hasn’t been any more helpful. Yes, they all reported their country of origin to be Germany. Yes, they all showed up in census records in Brooklyn, New York. But how they got there may well remain a mystery.

The beauty of digitized documents and search engines is that it allows genealogists to drill down to just the right level, be it census records or passenger lists, to find the right person. Some of those first offerings on these wonderful genealogy websites, a few years back, were indeed amazing in the amount of research struggle they spared us.

There were caveats, however. First among them were technical issues of indexing: unreadable enumerator handwriting, faded or damaged documents or other such stumbling blocks. Thinking about that, in retrospect, makes me wonder whether the “Kusharvska” appearing in the New York City Death Index might have been a poorly-deciphered rendering of an entirely different name. I won’t know for sure until I receive my own copy of Anna’s death certificate.

Back at that stage in the development of genealogical search engines, though places like or were helpful, they didn’t ace every search request. Sites providing search capabilities for passenger records at Ellis Island or Clinton Garden, for instance, sometimes bordered on frustrating.

That became the niche where Steve Morse’s One Step website really shone. It could bypass the more inept search engines and get to the core of the matter quickly. The unfindable became findable through the many One Step utilities.

So, I thought, why not revisit the One Step site and see if it could do its traditional magic on the names that had me stumped last week: Anna Kusharvska and her children, Rose and Theodore.

The only thing I had not banked on was the evolution of the search capabilities at these other genealogy sites. What used to be the impressive search prowess of the One Step site may now be par for the course, compared to the new and improved versions at all our usual places. Ancestry, for instance, just rolled out their latest updated search form, where parameters for many variables can be more accurately specified. I found myself going through the One Step site, performing searches that merely brought me back to the very same processes I had just completed in the original websites, nothing more.

Having not experienced any further success in my quest to locate the immigration records for my paternal grandfather or his mother and sister, I was exhausted enough to call it quits—at least for now.

But not before performing one last-ditch effort to find something. I decided to take that unusual Kusharvska surname—including its masculine variant, Kusharvski—and run it through its paces in various search engines.

I started with Google. Nothing. I tried the newspaper searches via Genealogy Bank and Old Fulton NY Postcards. No results. I mean zilch. I tried the name in both and FamilySearch, without any other delimiting variables. Surname only. Wide open—but no results.

Oh, I had several hits with the variant Kucharski. But nothing specific to Kusharvska or Kusharvski.

Which leads me back to the thought: could that surname be merely the unfortunate result of someone misreading impossible handwriting? After all, the newspaper report of Anna’s death noted her as having the surname Kraus—same as all the census records I had found. Could someone have read that writing wrong? Could it actually be a different name that I should be looking up?

Whoever Anna, Theodore and Rose might have been—and, though I don’t know anything else about them, I have good reason to believe they were all my blood relatives—all I know is that I can’t find any of them prior to the 1905 census, when I found Theodore living in his in-laws’ household in Brooklyn. Anna and Rose didn’t surface in government records until 1915. And that may be the best I’ll be able to do in pursuit of my paternal line—until more documentation shows up, some time in the future.


  1. I hate when I come to that moment of defeated acceptance.

    1. Agreed, Wendy. It's so hard to accept that spot. That's why I prefer to think of it as taking a rain check.

      I'll be back. Eventually, something will surface. Sometimes, we have to lay these things to rest...temporarily!

  2. Us OCD types take a long time to get to that "defeated acceptance" but I think I'm nearly there now. :)


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