Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Tentative Tree Building

I'm not an adoptee, but sometimes the challenges I face in trying to uncover anything about my paternal grandfather seem much like the struggles experienced by children of closed adoptions. This week, I learned the hard way that I need to pay attention to the prime advice genetic genealogists pass along to adoptees. In particular, when finding a promising match, step one should always, always, always be to screencap the match's tree.

Not one to be burned twice, upon that discovery, I immediately launched that effort to save a screen shot of each paternal-side DNA match's tree. Of course, there weren't many of them, even considering I've tested at all five major DNA companies. I saved six of those trees, labeling them thoroughly and filing them away in my DNA note folder for Puhalski.

Something I noticed in the process of that exercise: one particular surname kept surfacing, no matter how close or distant the match. Of course, in each tree, it was obvious that the family had Polish roots—no surprise here for the granddaughter of Theodore J. Puhalski—and that, unlike my grandfather's arrival in New York City, each of those families immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But I was surprised to see one particular surname pop up in each tree. Despite my thousands of matches on my maternal side, I've never had such an experience; I usually look at all those names and wonder, who are these people? None of those surnames seem to ring a bell. This time, though, is different.

Much like I imagine adoptees feel when they can tell they are getting close to their answer, it was a surreal experience sifting through this data. Once I isolated the surname I thought would be the right one to pursue, I set up a private, unsearchable tree on Beginning with the names of the deceased parents of one of my closest matches, I laid down the two entries Ancestry requires to establish a new tree, and started building from there.

I opened up the pedigree chart for each of five other matches, noted the details on the person having the same surname, and began connecting the dots. It will take a few more hours' work to connect each of the individuals with that specific surname, but I have already moved back three generations to the immigrant couple.

In the meantime, I've also encountered my first snares—for instance, one woman who has what may turn out to be a cousin with the same name and birth year. As this family is as foreign to me as total strangers, I have no clue whether my document choices are pointing me in the right direction, or whether I'll take a wrong turn, beguiled by the same name from the wrong family.

Even at this early stage, I know one thing for sure: based on its appearance in the trees of several of my DNA matches, the surname I need to follow from this point out is Michalski from Milwaukee.


  1. So interesting! I wish you had some days with an extra 24 hours to work on this.

    1. Believe me, Miss Merry, I'm finding ways to squeeze in more research time!


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