Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Double Double

Finding my paternal grandmother's Polish family names included in the marriage listings at the Poznań Project was indeed encouraging. I couldn't resist the temptation to follow the trail on the others I found in the little town of Żerków, where my grandmother was born. The website had a search option to include specific surnames for the parents of bride and groom. I put that option to work, endlessly.

Soon, I was able to construct a partial family constellation for relatives of my grandmother Sophie's Laskowski and Jankowski relativesnot to mention, the Gramlewicz aunts and uncles whose surname sent me looking in the first place.

It was inevitable that I would try my luck with a reverse search, seeing if I could find anything on or with the surnames I was finding in this marriage collection. I picked a family member at random who, in this case, turned out to be Sophie's paternal aunt Agneswhich I suppose, if the English translation option weren't engaged, would be rendered in Polish as Agnieszka.

According to the civil record, when Agnes married Ignatz Giernatowski in 1887, she was the thirty six year old widow of a man named Szumski. Thankfully, the civil registry included the name of her parents, or I would never have been able to place her in my great grandfather Anton's family.

I decided to try my hand at finding more records for the newlywed Giernatowskis at Ancestry. I thought my chances were slim at finding any further mention of them, as the Polish collection at Ancestry seems rather focused on select regions and ethnicitiesmine excluded. I, however, was thinking Polish, when Ancestry had something entirely different in mind: an Agnes and Ignatz Giernatowski in none other than Brooklyn, New York!

Admittedly, I did have to make allowances for variations in spellingafter all, what is an English speaking census enumerator to do with all those Polish consonants, right? Most of them would be considered extraneousand a few vowels, to boot.

Still, I was surprised to find an Agnes and Ignatz in any American census record, let alone someone by the given name Ignatz coupled with anything approximating Giernatowski.

The 1900 census wasn't exactly the same spelling, but it came close with a decent phonetic approximation as Gernatofski. The census gave Ignatz's birth as being in June, 1858, and Agnes' as January of 1852not far off from the marriage record, which showed respective years of birth as 1857 and 1851. They stated they were married for twelve years as of 1900, which meant in the year 1888 as opposed to 1887. Still, these details were considerably close.

The census record stated the couple arrived in America in 1887, which was still reasonable, considering they could have married and left for the New World in a romantic gesture of never-ending honeymoonor in a more reality-wise quest to seek a better life for themselves.

One clue to that better hope was the indicator that Agnes was mother of four childrenor, who knows, as the number didn't appear distinctly, perhaps seven childrenbut the devastating fact was, no matter the number, it had been reduced to one. That one was their eleven year old daughter, Blanch, born in New York in 1889.

Prepared to be flexible with alternate phonetic renderings of that Polish surname, I decided to head to the Castle Garden website to see if I could find any passenger records to corroborate the Giernatowskis' immigration report. Nothing showed up with my attempt to enter their name literally, so I resorted to asterisks for those letters which might be wobblersthe "i" in the first syllable, the "w" for a possible "f" or "v" and the final "i" as a "y."

Something came up. But it didn't really help. It was a confusing double entryone for Ignatz Gernatowski, and one for...Ignatz Gernatowski.

I almost thought I was seeing double, until I spotted the different ages: twenty two and thirty one. Both arrived in New York on the same date22 March 1888.

Trying to locate the actual digitized record in another collection in vain (the ship's lists were available at both Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild for 1885 and the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives for 1890, but no record for 1888), I clicked through to see what was transcribed at the Castle Garden website. My hunch was that perhaps Agnes was entered under her husband's name, but no: both entries were for males, even though they both arrived on the same ship, the S.S. Eider, sailing from Bremen.

This seeing double malady was not about to leave me after that one foray into further Giernatowski records. I was beginning to doubt my own eyesight when I pulled up the Ancestry file for their possible New York State census record for 1925. There, in the transcription, the former Ignatz and Ignatz were entered as Agnes and Agnes.

Thankfully, at least here I could pull up the actual digitized copy of the recordand with one long, hard look at the thing, I convinced myself it was actually for "Ignes" and Agnes.

Still, the record had the approximately correct age spread between themIgnatz was about six years younger than his wifeand the thirty three years they were, by then, in the States was almost at the more likely thirty seven.

If, of course, all this seeing double is not tricking me into mistaking two entirely different couples for one and the same family.

Above inserts: Transcription of Ignatz and Agnes Giernatowski's wedding record courtesy the Poznań Project; search results for the couple are shown from the Castle Garden website; and the excerpts regarding the 1925 New York State census are as found at


  1. Oh that's funny about Agnes and Agnes. Also I just love the irony of using a Polish database ultimately to find someone in Brooklyn.

    1. Yes, ironic...but if America was the melting pot, Brooklyn would be just the place to seek out those specific ingredients--before they became invisibly American.


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