Monday, July 8, 2019

Ur . . . Fluffy ?

The problem with serving as the unofficial genealogy guinea pig is that the scribblings of such a lab rat are often noted as events occur. In other words, the story is being written as it unfolds. Sometimes, that can make for glacially slow progress. Besides, not knowing the way, the path often unfolds in unexpected directions. Not helpful for developing plot arcs. Learning can be awkward, when observed in real time.

As soon as I realized that six different DNA matches point me in the direction of uncovering the origin of my mystery paternal grandfather—with a new surname of Michalski and a new location in Milwaukee—I've been messaging the most promising contacts. Over the weekend, I was thankful to realize that not all DNA matches ignore their messages. I didn't think this one particular Michalski researcher would do so, since her tree seems so well documented, but experience can teach some hard lessons, and I was prepared to accept disappointment.

Thankfully, the worst never happened. This newly-discovered researcher and I have begun a lively partnership in trying to figure out the connection between my New York paternal side and her family's Milwaukee kin. This is where my fellow researcher shared a useful online resource.

Dubbed—predictably, for a Polish website—Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, the site contains transcriptions of baptisms, marriages, and death records for the region known as Pomerania. There, as both my correspondent and I realized, there are records for a woman surnamed Zegarska who married a man named—painfully similar but not exactly the same as I'd wish—Puchała. They had a son named Theodor, whom they had baptised in 1876.

This is exceedingly good news for someone like me, searching for the roots of a man who insisted that he was an orphan and refused to tell his grandchildren much, if anything, about his ancestry. We knew him as John T. McCann, but the inquiring minds of many cousins in this grandchildren's generation have unearthed the secret identity he once claimed: that of a man reported in New York City to be Theodore J. Puchalski.

And now, DNA matches point me to a connection with families named Michalski—all of whom have a female ancestor whose maiden name was Zegarska, very similar to that of John T. McCann's mother's reported maiden name of Zegar.

Naturally, now that I have this website's access at my fingertips, I took a look around to see what else I could find. First discovery was that searching on a Polish website for a name spelled Puchala would yield me nothing; I needed to use the proper diacritical mark and render that name properly: Puchała.

Once I did that, I learned that a woman named Anastasia Zegarska married a man named Thomas Puchała in 1868.

But when I went to the section for searching baptismal records, hoping to find a list of their children, the entry for their son—named Theodor, a discovery to make me ecstatic—contained no name for the father. The space for that entry was left blank. And for the woman's surname, I found a curious entry: "Puchała ur. Zegarska."

Well...what does "ur" mean?!?!

By now, I've learned to keep a tab open and set to Google Translate. I've been doing a lot of jumping back and forth lately, trying to figure out what all those Polish words mean. So I plugged in the phrase, "Puchała ur. Zegarska," to see what that "ur" might have meant.

I got the result:

Fluffy? Not what I was expecting.

At least, I found out what the abbreviation "ur." meant: born. Don't ask me how to pronounce it, but now we both know it stands for "urodzony." Now I can add that to "vel" in my lexicon of Words In Polish I Never Expected to Encounter.

As for Puchała, it goes the way of all genealogy research: one discovery creates an additional question. In this case, what happened to Thomas Puchała that he was not listed as the father?

In the process of trying to answer that question, I've already come across something that grabbed my attention and made me cry. I'm hoping I'll be able to take this as a confirmation that I'm on the right track.

Above image: excerpt from search results for Zegarska marriage entries on Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne; image below from search for phrase "Puchała ur. Zegarska" on Google Translate.


  1. Okay, well Fluffy is a surprise! And a moment to lighten your day. Meanwhile, how wonderful you found a fellow researcher who is willing to work with you. Waiting for Tuesday's post!

    1. That it did, Miss Merry! And I can always use a good laugh. Finding a fellow researcher working on the same lines has been helpful so far. Here's hoping we can find the connection--and the proper way to document it!

  2. Odd. When I gave the site a try, it shows an entry for Anastasia Segarska and Thomas Puchala (regular L) having a son Theodor in 1876, and Anastasia (Susanna) Zegarska and Thomas Puchałła (double special Ls) having a daughter Rosalia in 1872.

    Mind you, this is what I found indexed, haven't checked any actual records

    1. Yes, it is odd, Per. I ran into the same thing--although I noticed that the entry containing both parents' names was for a different parish. On one, while it was hard to notice this, the diacritic was missing from the "l" while on the one with the missing father, the diacritic was visible. I'm not sure why the search engine sometimes demands the correct alphabet entry, while other times seems not to care about such details. It has served up the results differently on various search attempts.

      And no, I don't believe there are actual records on this website, just the transcriptions. But that is a helpful start. I'm planning on a research trip to Salt Lake City this fall, so will see if they have microfilm to confirm--if these turn out to be the right people.

    2. Right, the entry I found for Theodor was from the civil registration (Lubichowo - USC), while the fatherless one was from the Lubichowo parish records, where I also found the Rosalia one (the USC records are only available from 1874 onwards).

  3. Sounds like you are hot on the trail! I know this has been a mystery for a long time:)


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