Monday, September 9, 2019

"There Were Two Brothers"

Most times, when a genealogist runs into a phrase like that—"there were two brothers"—in an oral history of the family's origin, we've been conditioned to take that in with a considerable dose of doubt. There have been so many examples of family lore that began with such a line which turned out, after serious examination, to be just that: a story.

In this particular case today, though, I can't say that I've ever been offered such a line. But in this case, if I ever had run across such a story, it would have turned out to be true. And that's why, if it weren't for DNA testing, I'd never have realized there was that second brother who came to the United States from Europe.

The one brother—and the only brother, as far as I could tell—was named Anton Laskowski. He was my great-grandfather. It took me many years of research to even learn the place of this New York immigrant's origin, and even then, the first clue came to me as a mistake entered on a census enumeration. From that point, I eventually was able to zero in on the tiny town—Żerków—in the historic province the Prussians once called Posen.

Finding all that information came only by learning the history of the region through the 1800s, including following the shifting of borders, and noting variations in spelling of names, due to who kept the records (civil or church). But the real breakthroughs came when I discovered two websites hosted not by some genealogy giant in North America, but by a consortium of diligent (and technologically savvy) volunteers in Poland. The first of those websites I discovered is called the Poznan Project, the indexing project for the historic region's marriage records from 1800 through 1899. The second website is called BaSIA, "Database of Archival Indexing System."

Exploring all I could find, on these two databases, for Laskowski family members from Żerków, I pieced together as much of an extended family tree for my Laskowski line as I could find. From that effort, I learned that my great-grandfather Anton Laskowski had a brother. (He also had two sisters, but we'll get to that point another day.)

That brother was named Lorenz—at least from the marriage record I found at the Poznan Project. Of course, that marriage record also let me know that in 1878 in a town fifteen miles to the southeast, Lorenz Laskowski married a woman by the name of—pay attention to this spelling, please—Anna Blaszczynska. (Yes, those letters all mean something. But we'll get to that another day.)

That Polish website BaSIA also provided the tip that Lorenz and Anna had a son in 1885, whom they named Joseph. Born in tiny Żerków, the record of his arrival, I could be sure, belonged to this very couple, for his mother's maiden name was—yes, you guessed it—Blaszczynska. (To give you an idea how tiny this town was, the very next entry in the database for Żerków happened to be for the birth of my own paternal grandmother.)

The problem was, I had no idea to look for this family anywhere other than in Poland. Yes, I knew that my paternal grandmother and her two older brothers, born in Żerków, eventually made the long journey with their mother to join their father in New York. But remember, this is the family which never talked about their origins. They never talked about any other relatives, either, so how was I to know that my grandmother had an uncle who followed his brother to the New World?

It took the discovery of a DNA match with a family tree containing the similar surname Laskoski to piece the story together. Otherwise, I'd still be assuming those distant cousins still lived back in Poland, instead of fifty miles north of where my great-grandparents settled in Brooklyn, New York. Thanks to the DNA match, I was able to add an entire branch of the Laskowski family to my tree. And yes, in this case, should there have been any family lore about "there were two brothers," now I'd know that story was true.

Above: Example of readout provided from a search at the BaSIA database; entry details 1885 birth of Joseph, son of Lorenz Laskowski and Anna Blaszczynska.


  1. Replies
    1. That's the up side of genetic genealogy. It's a waiting--and hoping--game, especially for those of us who have no idea what's out there to be found.


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