Friday, June 28, 2019

Aunt Rose Redux

I've told this story before, but it bears revisiting while I'm on this quest to discover my paternal grandfather's roots. John T. McCann—or, as we discovered, Theodore J. Puhalski—was a man hesitant to reveal his origin. That, at least, was what my older siblings and cousins told me; I never had the opportunity to meet him, myself. Anything we discovered about our paternal roots was information which belonged to my grandfather's wife's side of the family. The only hint of a blood relationship for this man was a woman my father and his sister knew as Aunt Rose.

I have only two mementos of this Aunt Rose. One is the photograph copied below, preserved by my cousin, which included my grandmother Sophie Laskowska, my father as a young boy, my cousin's mother, and this woman whom the family called Aunt Rose. The other item is a recording made in the 1980s on the occasion of my aunt's birthday, in which my brother walked her down memory lane and captured her reminiscences on tape.

One of the stops my aunt made as she wandered among those family memories was to recall Aunt Rose. My brother gently tried to press for Rose's identity, or at least a full name, but my aunt's failing memory was able to only provide the sparsest of details. One point was that Rose was married three times. The other detail was that she had been married to a man named Kober.

As disappointing as it was to realize that that tape was the last significant opportunity to gain an understanding of the previous generation—my aunt died not long afterwards, the last in her generation—in retrospect, it wasn't hard to reconstruct the details of her Aunt Rose's life. Indeed, the first step was locating Rose's link to George Kober, from which point I could glean not only her current residence in census records, but also her previous married name (Miller) and that of her third marriage (Hassinger).

That address, as it turned out, was key to another discovery: that of Rose's mother. I had found them together as early as the 1915 New York State census, when Rose Miller was listed in the household of Anna "Krausse" on Knickerbocker Street in Brooklyn, and from that point through the 1920 census, she remained in the Kober household on 96th Street in the Queens community of Woodhaven.

Anna was there in the Kober residence, in fact, on the evening when, becoming unbearably despondent, she decided to end her own life—the event precipitating the tiny insertion in the local newspaper that alerted me to the date of her death.

If it weren't for that date, in fact, I would never have been able to obtain Anna's death certificate. The reason I couldn't find it under her name was that it wasn't filed under her name—not, at least, by the name we knew her.

This, of course, rather than solving my research quandary, only introduces more questions. Keep in mind, I had already long since sent for my grandfather's own death certificate. He had died in 1952. For mother's maiden name, someone had provided the information that she was Anna and that her maiden name was Zegar.

That, of course, would not be the first time I had discovered disagreements over names entered on death records, but I had figured it would be safe to assume Anna, Rose's mother—and, by association of Rose as my father's "aunt"—was married to someone named Krauss. Still, finding any documentation to support that was not successful—and any hope of concluding that as a tidy family arrangement was blown to bits by the name provided on Anna's own death certificate.

Why the Anna who died on the same date and at the same address as Anna Krauss would be entered under a different surname for her death certificate, I can't say, but that document now revealed that her name—at least at the point of her tragic demise—was Anna Kusharvska.

Not only was that the lone Anna who died on that date—28 September 1921—but the only one whose place of death was listed as the Kober residence. Since then, I have yet to find any other entry with that surname—or its masculine equivalent, Kusharvski. Until, that is, I began looking at the surnames in my paternally-linked DNA matches. While I haven't found any Puhalskis in those matches—nor any of its spelling variations—I did notice one thing as I looked through the Michalski trees in the Milwaukee families of my six paternal DNA matches: one of the Michalski brides had a surname with unusual spelling which kept getting mangled. While the name sometimes ended with the typical Polish -owski (or the female version, -owska, for those who knew the Polish naming custom), the name was just as likely to have an "r" inserted where the "w" should have been. Add to that the fact that "w" was often pronounced as a "v" and you have a combination rendering the same tongue-twisting ending as I found in the revelation about Anna's surname, Kusharvska.

Could that have been a regional variation? A phonetic twist only fluently rolling off Polish tongues, but not American ones? I couldn't help myself: the thought was tempting. I had to keep exploring what new details could be found since I last revisited this research problem four years ago. A lot has been added to the digitized records available online. My hope is that there may be enough new material to grant me a break-through, between these little clues and the trees of my newfound DNA matches.

Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn a little bit more about Polish phonics.

Above: Photograph of "Aunt Rose" (top left), Sophie Laskowska McCann (top right) and Sophie's children (left to right), Anna Mae and Valentine. The photograph was likely taken before Rose married George Kober in 1915; photograph in private collection of family.



  1. Sorry for maybe leading you down a rabbit hole with this, but do you have the name Janiszewski somewhere in the stuff you're working on now?

    One of the records that popped up when searching for Teodor Puhalski on familysearch was this little tidbit:
    A Kazimir Janiszewski who arrived at Ellis Island 1910, and claimed as contact in the new world a cousin, Teodor Puwolski.
    I suspect Puwolski and Puhalski would sound fairly similar.

    (I hope I've managed to find enough info below to show that these are all about the same Kazimir.)

    Ellis Island entry:
    (Father listed as Jeronim Janiszewski in Demyslawel, Austria although that doesn't provide any hits on google)

    Casimer Janiszewski in the 1930 census (in Milwaukee):

    The wife (Zofia/Sophie née Zalewski) applies for a passport in 1922 for herself and the kids, and there are some tidbits about Casimir in there.

    and again in 1925, where his place of birth is given as Bortniki, Poland rather than just Poland in the previous one.
    (Her own is given as Inowrocław )

    WW2 draft card:

    and a Findagrave entry:

    Finally, that mentions (like the Ellis Island entry) that Kasimir was a smith, and lists the boys from the 1930 census.

    1. That is an intriguing possibility, Per. Thanks for sharing all those links. Especially interesting to see the connection to Milwaukee. This is a great example showing why I need to know more about phonics in the Polish language. I need to reverse engineer how the American ear heard--and thus wrote--the sounds which in Polish would of course have been written so very differently.

      Not to mention, I have been keeping my eye on one connection whose given name was Kasimir, making your discoveries all the more tempting.

    2. Found a few more bits with a new search:

      WW1 draft
      where it helpfully says he was born in Bortniki, Austria, Galicia

      Galicia was a province of the Austrian empire that covered parts of southern (modern) Poland and western Ukraine.
      Bortniki itself is located a bit south of Lviv (Lwow, Lemberg) in Ukraine.

      and then a few index entries, the actual records may have more info.
      Winsconsin Death Index

      Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index

    3. It is interesting that you found those records for someone from Galicia, Per. I'm delving into the immigration history of Poles arriving specifically in Milwaukee, and there were apparently three waves of immigration. One of those specified the region of Galicia, although I've seen mentions that this particular ethnic group tended to arrive in Wisconsin much later than the group from Posen/Poznan. At this point, I am leaning toward the possibility of the third group--from Silesia--but the Galicia possibility is still worth considering.

    4. Well, the pdf mentioned that he moved to there because of the wife, and she was from the Posen area.

      It also seems to be correct about it being 10 years after he arrived in US, because 1919 he was in chicago signing naturalization papers, and the 1920 census has them in their new home

  2. Wow - this is a LOT to keep straight!

    1. But it may take a lot to sift through and find the right answer. Lots of patience and consideration in the process...

  3. The photo is wonderful. Rose could carry off the wearing of a hat like that. It sounds like a very sad story in the end.

    1. Yes, apparently it was sad, Lisa--though I have yet to figure out what became of Rose, herself, in the end. If it weren't for finding that mention in the newspaper, I wouldn't even have known this much. They have been a very difficult family to research.


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