Friday, August 26, 2016
Could This Be Seeing Double?
In a country like mine, filled with Smiths and Browns and Joneses, a surname like Olejniczak just might stick out a bit. Still, a researcher has to resist the urge to rationalize that same name equals same person. After all, I've already discovered in researching my husband's Irish ancestors that Falvey was not as rare a name in County Kerry, Ireland, as I assumed it was in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There might be a similar discovery awaiting me, now that I'm trawling through unfamiliar waters in the region of Poznań, Poland.
Finding the Poznań Project—that wonderful website made possible by volunteers who are transcribing the nineteenth century marriage records of the now-defunct Province of Posen—opened a door through the brick wall keeping me from my Polish roots. With this tool, plus the knowledge that my father's maternal grandparents came from the small town of Żerków in that same province, I felt like a child in my newfound genealogical playground.
I set to work searching all the Laskowski and Gramlewicz surnames I could find in the region. I was elated to see confirmation of my great grandfather's parents' names. Even though I had set the website to its English translation, the rendering of Anton Laskowski's parents as Matthias and Elisabeth was understandable. For one thing, Catholic Church records, often entered in Latin rather than the national language of the local people, would show Anton's parents' names that way. Besides, putting the two given names through a reverse translation process—taking the English version and bringing it back to its likely Polish form—gave me exactly the names that had been provided on Anton's death certificate at his passing in New York City in 1935.
On a roll at this point, I decided to see what I could find for Anton's parents' parents. What about finding the marriage record for Mateusz and Elzbieta? After all, she was the one linking me to that Gramlewicz family—and somehow connecting me to my Polish cousin.
Done! Within less than a minute, up came this result for "Matthaeus Laskoski" and "Elisabeth Gramlewicz." I was ecstatic.
Even better, I thought: what about checking out the newfound maiden name of Anton's mother-in-law? Mostly, I was hoping to find a record that included her parents' names. Like an ever unwinding chain, I could see myself rolling back through the generations, unimpeded by the necessity of travel or hands-on research in dusty archives. I was really beginning to like this site.
I entered the surname Olejniczak—the one I mentioned finding, yesterday—and hit the search button to see what would come up. Sure enough, there was a result here, too. Was there anything this search engine couldn't find?
And there it was! Like a yellow brick road, seductively winding its way through the genealogical mystery of my family's generations, the entry included not only the names of Marianna Jankowska's parents, but their parents, as well.
Just as I was beginning to wonder whether this genealogical genie might grant me a full three wishes, something stopped me in my tracks. Despite this website containing only records of the region in which my family originated, the parish for this marriage record was not the one I was expecting. Rather than showing the name I was expecting—Żerków—this was a record from Jaraczewo, wherever that was.
I took a look on the map.
The parish of the wedding in question is circled at the bottom left of this map inset. In contrast, Żerków is at the opposite corner. According to Google Maps, that would be a trip of about fifteen miles. Perhaps a young man in 1854 might travel that distance to find a bride. Perhaps.
There was one other item concerning me, though. As unusual as the surname seemed to my English-reading eyes—to say nothing of how it might sound to my American ears—might I be presuming a bit too much in thinking that the Francisca Oleyniczak of this 1854 entry would be one and the same as the Franziska Olejniczak I had found mentioned in their daughter's marriage record in Żerków in 1879?
Besides, based on birth records for their children, I noticed this 1854 marriage record postdated their daughter's June 1853 birthdate. Perhaps this wasn't the right couple, after all.
Yet, that same trend occurred on the other side of the family as well, if records are correct. Not only did the possible parents of Marianna get married after her arrival, but her husband's parents were married two years after Anton's arrival in 1842.
So, do I assume the surname Olejniczak is phonetically the same as Oleyniczak? And that a marriage occurring fifteen miles from Żerków—not to mention, a year after their daughter's birth—is just telling me not to sweat the small stuff?
Or is Olejniczak just the Polish way of saying, "Hi, my name is Smith; what's yours?"