Thursday, October 31, 2019

Keeping an Eye on the Neighbors

A story about a neighbor may help open up the chapter for us in the Lodi settlement's beginning years, as we puzzle over not only who got here first, but who could rightfully claim an instrumental role in establishing the future city's financial well-being.

We may have several variations of the tale of just how the Central Pacific railroad route actually came to be directed through the nascent downtown area of Lodi, California. We have one report which seems to indicate that John Hutchins was the prime influencer who lobbied to bring the railroad route through downtown Lodi, but another rendition mentions the names of Ezekiel Lawrence, Reuben Wardrobe, A. C. Ayers, and John Magley.

While we will consider each of these men's stories in the next few days, a bit of a backstory—about a neighbor—may help to set the stage today. In the telling of this brief vignette, you will see some familiar surnames pop up.

The neighbor was named John Fry Layman. Born in Ohio in 1834, he married in 1861 in Davis County, Iowa, and after the 1862 birth of his firstborn, Joseph, moved his family to California. The story was that John Layman had intended to head to Washington, but after stopping in the central valley of California for a few days' rest, changed his mind and, making a trade of one of his teams of horses for some land—160 acres, to be exact—settled in the area that eventually became Lodi.

Though the land was rugged and required much work to clear—let alone plant, or set up work buildings or a home—John Layman eventually added more land to that original acreage. He bought enough additional land from a man named R. L. Wardrobe to bring his total holdings to 240 acres, but eventually thought better of the prospect of these holdings. He sold the entire acreage and moved south to another city in the valley.

Depending on which version of the story you believe, Layman either sold his land to Allen Ayers, or to both Allen Ayers and R. L. Wardrobe. The transaction was completed in 1867. 

Meanwhile, north of Lodi, the engineers of the Central Pacific Railroad Company were scoping out the best route for a line from Sacramento, the state capital, to Stockton, a city directly to the south of Lodi, which served as the county seat. Of three possible routes surveyed, the proposed best choice ran to the west of Lodi, near another town called Woodbridge.

Rumor had it that the owner of the land over which the proposed route was to pass in Woodbridge refused to grant right-of-way, and was considering demanding excessive payment for "damages."

Perhaps it was not simply brilliance which induced five Lodi businessmen—with or without our John Hutchins—to seize the moment and make a proposal the railroad company couldn't refuse. Among those businessmen were the two landholders named in local history as having just acquired that centrally-located land of John Fry Layman, conveniently near the site of Lodi's downtown development. We'll see what we can discover about these men, tomorrow.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

How to Mangle History

There I was, minding my own historical business, when I unexpectedly found myself sucked into a mess concerning someone else's family history. How does this happen?

The object of my pursuit was a man whose surname is well known in the city just to the north of my rural home. It turns out that someone bearing that same surname—and living in that location in its formative years—popped up in my research concerning another family in town here. (Full disclosure: this man became husband of the sister of my research subject.)

The man's name, as we saw yesterday, was John Hutchins, a Canadian who traveled to California just after the peak years of the Gold Rush. A 1923 history of the county in which he settled gave a glowing account of John Hutchins' integral involvement in the foundation of the settlement destined to become the city of Lodi. Even his Find A Grave memorial picked up details from that Tinkham biography.

Trouble is, there are some other reports which, while providing a similar story line, include names of men other than John Hutchins in their account. Worse, there are other timelines and accounts which omit any details at all of how John Hutchins could be considered a city father.

True, one of those accounts may not be considered academically noteworthy—the Wikipedia entry on the history of Lodi—but I find it odd that, even in the Tinkham volume, there are two different accounts about how Hutchins' adopted hometown got started.

According to the Tinkham biography of Hutchins,
With four associates, he [John Hutchins] bought the site of the present town of Lodi, and these five men in association founded the place. He also induced the Southern Pacific Railroad to build its line through the town, and then he laid out the town and sold lots.

The Wikipedia history notes:
In 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad was in the process of creating a new route, and pioneer settlers Ezekiel Lawrence, Reuben Wardrobe, A.C. Ayers and John Magley offered a townsite of 160 the railroad as an incentive to build a station there.

Already, I'm spotting details which concern me about accuracy. In addition to the absence of Hutchins' name in the second account, the fact that Tinkham lists the Southern Pacific Railroad as the target of Hutchins' lobbying efforts is a problem. If you look at a map of the area, drawn up in 1895, years after the 1869 discussion about selecting a route, you will notice the two railroad lines which cross the downtown area of Lodi were the east-west route known then as the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada Rail Road, and the north-south route of the Central Pacific Rail Road.

Granted, following the histories of each of these railroad entities, we do see that the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada was swallowed up into the Northern Railway Company in 1888—which in turn was consolidated into the Southern Pacific in 1898.

The Central Pacific line experienced a similar fate, becoming a line leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1885. Despite that technicality, the county's official map for 1895 designated the line as part of the Central Pacific network.

While those details about names may give a researcher pause, the absence of mention of John Hutchins in one account, and of the other four men in the other accounts also makes me wonder. I looked for any other resource which might provide an explanation. While this search showed me that there are several organizations interested in including a summary of Lodi's history on their websites, it also provided me with some additional tweaks to the narrative.

For instance, a timeline of the city's history, appearing in this document on pages 21 through 26, only mentions the name Hutchins when speaking of the street name, or the property used to establish their high school. The first merchants in town, the first newspaper publishers, the first bankers and politicians were mentioned by name—but not John Hutchins.

More concerning was this discovery of a rewording of the narrative, provided by the city's downtown business alliance:
Settled by local families in 1859, the town of Mokelumne, now called Lodi was born. It was just a local farming town until the Central Pacific Railroad brought pioneer settlers Ezekiel Lawrence, Reuben Wardrobe, A. C. Ayers and John Magley to build a railroad through the middle of town.

Now, not only were the four men we had already seen mentioned in the Wikipedia article listed again—and in the same order—but now they were instruments of the railroad company, there at the company's bidding to build the railroad.

One hundred years from now, whose version will win out as what "really" happened? With just the slightest changes, the story morphs from one aspect to another. And in one case, a key person was either omitted entirely, or inserted into the record when he shouldn't have been there at all. Which way is it?

Of course, just as we've learned in handling our own family history research, we need to go back to source documents to see what the paper trail actually shows us—hoping, at least, that the documents were drawn up correctly and the dates indicate the actual time of occurrence. And that's what I want to do, concerning my original question about John Hutchins.

Just out of curiosity, though, I want to pursue more information on each of these other gentlemen. Could reports about each of them allow us a glimpse of their own lives—and possibly explain their connection (or lack thereof) with that John Hutchins of the glowing reputation? Let's take a look at each one to see what we can find.

Above: Excerpt from the Map of the County of San Joaquin, dated 1895, as currently found at the United States Library of Congress, showing the properties of E. Lawrance, R. L. Wardrobe, and John Hutchins close to the downtown area of Lodi, California; courtesy Library of Congress Geography and Map Division; in the public domain.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Canadian Goes to California

"Not many among the highly honored pioneers of San Joaquin County could boast a more enviable record, or a more interesting history," said George H. Tinkham in his 1923 History of San Joaquin County of one of the supposed "honored founders" of the "town" of Lodi, California. Yet, though the man's surname is still affixed to both a major street and the original high school in the city, perhaps the Tinkham entry on John Hutchins should be recognized more as an exhibit of the flowery prose of the era than an accurate representation of history.

According to the Tinkham biography, this founder of a city in northern California originated in Canada, traveling west across "the great plains" in 1853. First stop—for almost everyone heading west to California in that time frame—was to "the mines." Whether his first venture upon arrival in the Golden State was successful, this biographer doesn't say outright, but infers that after that stop, John Hutchins arrived in Lodi.
With four associates, he bought the site of the present town of Lodi, and these five men in association founded the place. He also induced the Southern Pacific Railroad to build its line through the town, and then he laid out the town and sold lots.

The Tinkham report details the location of the parcels John Hutchins purchased, and though there is no date given for these transactions, a map of the county in 1895 seems to indicate the then-current location of the properties to be approximate to the streets mentioned in the Tinkham history.

The only problem with the Tinkham report is that another version can easily be found online—a similar story about "inducing" the Southern Pacific Railroad to plan its route through the fledgling town, yet omitting the Hutchins name entirely.

I suppose I wouldn't have cared much about such details—or even noticed the discrepancy at all—had I not stumbled upon the name of this John Hutchins while working on the history of pioneer settlers of our county for our local genealogical society. That surname, however, figures quite prominently in that particular city, causing me to wonder not only about the connection to the pioneer settlers I was researching—actually, an entirely different family which turned out to be related by marriage to a John Hutchins of Lodi—but to the nexus between this particular individual and the street and building bearing that surname, as well.

Above: The full title of the George H. Tinkham volume, published in 1923; courtesy Internet Archive; in the public domain.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Street Smarts

It isn't often that, in researching our own family's history, we run into a street name, or a building name, and discover it was named after our own ancestor. I know I have never had that experience, myself, but in working on a recent research project, I've encountered a surname which got me wondering: whose name was it which was used in naming a certain street, anyhow?

Let me give you the set up, before I launch into my story—a story which, incidentally, currently does not have an ending. True to form in keeping with my reputation of being the genealogical guinea pig, I am taking you through this research story as I go through my paces. I may—or may not—find the answer to my research quest at the end of this journey.

The project I'm currently working on is part of our local genealogical society's program to recognize people who settled in our county at least one hundred years ago. Of course, we have more than one designation for recognition, of which this hundred year category is the least restrictive. The program reaches back to the date in which our county was first established—which, being part of a state such as California, isn't all that far back in time.

I've been looking at the ancestral lines of one particular applicant to this First Families program, someone who has two grandparents whose names are fairly well known in the city in which I currently live. However, as the point of the project is to ascertain the earliest date at which an applicant's family line settled in our county, I needed to stretch the timeline back farther than the lifespans of these two grandparents.

That's when I stumbled upon a realization: this pedigree isn't going to contain just two surnames of interest in our county; there are likely several more.

As with all genealogical research, stretching out to check collateral lines, and reading obituaries and other newsy notes, became the order of the day with this applicant's project. In the process, I stumbled upon an information-rich obituary of an ancestor in one line of that extended family. The details were too fascinating for me to just set aside, but the information needed more reliable support than just what was mentioned in an obituary. I needed to find additional references.

That's when I went looking for more supporting documentation. In the midst of that process, I ran across a surname which was significant in another town in our county. Could this person be part of the family of that name? Someone in that family was surely the one for whom a major road in that city had been named.

That got my curiosity. I've never really researched the history of how a road receives its name, though I've run across stories linked to my own family research, and been tempted to give it a try. While some aspects of research for this project bring us through the usual paces—documentation of birth, marriage, and death to make sure we are talking about the right person—ascertaining the link between the surname and the specific individual honored by the naming of a street (or a building) takes further research.

Tomorrow, I'll lay the groundwork for this story and introduce the individual and his family. We'll take it from there after that point, to see what nexus, if any, there is between this individual, a founder of the city, and the naming of one of its major streets.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Including Ourselves

Where were you back in October 1989, at the start of the World Series in San Francisco, when the ground started shaking underneath the feet of those competing baseball teams—and everyone else for miles around? Did you experience the Loma Prieta earthquake?

Perhaps you didn't lose any money in the stock market crash that happened on this day in 1997, or don't recall that a U-2 spy aircraft was shot down on this date in 1962 in the midst of tensions during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but chances are that you have lived through some significant events, yourself.

Chances are, also, that you haven't thought to write up your version of the experience, from your own "bird's eye" view of history. Unless you have formed the habit of journaling your everyday experiences, the events in your own history may be only a fading memory.

It's been such a joy to discover that some of my ancestors—or at least their cousins—did form that writing habit and have let me reap the benefits of these discoveries. Journals and letters, edited and published in book form over one hundred years later, have given me that bird's eye view of what life was like for family members I've never even met, and certainly would never have had the opportunity to interview.

Sometimes, those writings provide the details which have become the stock in trade of genealogy: the vital statistics of birth, marriage, and death. More valuable, I think, is to glean details of my relatives' opinions about the current events swirling around them as they made their way through life. It would be next to impossible to find such records otherwise.

Fast forward to our own lifespans. We are part of our own family history, too—but in preserving the family's stories, we seldom remember to include our own experiences in the collection.

An ongoing activity now carried on at our local genealogical society is reminding me to include our own stories in our family history compilations. One of our members, who happened to be getting off work at exactly the point at which the Loma Prieta earthquake began its rumblings, recently wrote an article for our newsletter to share her personal experiences that evening. It just so happened that, this year, we held our monthly society meeting that very anniversary night—at almost the same time, thirty years later—of the earthquake. Recalling that event on this anniversary got everyone at the meeting recalling where they were at that precise moment, thirty years ago.

Now, we've started, as a group, sharing some of our memories of significant events in our own lifetimes. Some are stories of historical events, but others are personal memories—like one article recalling the elation of an unexpected college football victory.

Fast forward another thirty years—or one hundred years—into our own future. When we pass along our genealogical documents and one of our descendants—maybe even someone we never get the chance to meet—goes through our papers, will anyone be able to find the stories which were so important to us? Can our great-great grandchildren someday be pleased to report to their children that "a little bird" told them about our participation in a historic event of our own day?

Hopefully, in whatever way suits each of us best, we'll squeeze in the time to preserve the stories of our own lives to include in the genealogical record of our family.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fannie Smith Sightings

It happened again while I was soaking up the sun (and a cup of coffee) while still plugging away at a book. The book, Far, Far From Home, has been my coffee companion of late, as I'm still seventy pages away from the finish line. Perhaps I'm concerned that, by the time I read that last page, I will have forgotten what the beginning had said. But I now have a second motivation for racing to the finish line: I want to figure out just who that femme fatale of Pendleton, South Carolina, was—the one who had smitten so many of the local young men, including one soldier who had fallen in love with her, sight unseen.

That one soldier was my first cousin four times removed, Taliaferro Simpson, private, Third South Carolina Volunteers. The war had been dragging into the earliest stretches of 1863, and Tally, dreaming of a day far beyond war, was thinking of "a topic which interests me"—a possible bride to begin life with, once he returned home from his duties. His aunt and his sister made one suggestion in their letters, and he was immediately smitten, solely by their written description.

That one suggestion was a young lady by the name of Fannie Smith.

I had already "met" this Fannie Smith through the journaled observations of Emmala Reed in A Faithful Heart. (Emmala, incidentally, turned against her, once their own friendship had faded.) Apparently, the same Fannie Smith had been mentioned in the letters of other Pendleton young people, as well.

She has, over the century and a half since her unwitting debut in such private communications, piqued my curiosity, and I've started tagging spots in my current volume where she had been mentioned.

Today, for instance, I read that, in plotting his possibilities with his Aunt Caroline, Tally worried that his chances might be even slimmer than previously thought:
Look ye here, I got a hint of something which perhaps you have not thought of, that is, she is engaged to a young man now in the army and that her father is bitterly opposed to it. If this be true, it's a dead day with my cakes.
Tally goes on to explain:
Her father's opposition makes the matter stronger against me, for if she loves contrary to his will, being at the same time his pet and favorite, she must be in earnest, and if she be in earnest, it will be give her heart to any one else.

He's worried about his chances with her—and he hasn't even met her yet! What kind of charmer is she?

Adding that detail to my newly-composed list of Fannie hints, I now want to race to records to see if she did, indeed, end up marrying someone from the army. But I restrain myself, reminding my better side that this is not one of my highest research priorities, and certainly not in my research plans.

But just a little peek, from time to time, surely wouldn't hurt, would it?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Vamp 'til Ready

My dad was a professional musician in New York City in the heyday of the big band era. One phrase familiar to any stage musician playing for live performances was "vamp 'til ready." In other words, keep playing the same riff until the soloist has made it on stage and is ready to perform.

I may not be on stage, and I'm certainly not about to perform a solo, but that is how I feel at this research juncture: cue the music, but...I'm not ready just now to burst onto the scene with my next performance. Pardon my late entry.

Pondering my quandary, I've mused over making another rescue mission, up in those Gold Rush hills to the east. We lose sight of how history surrounds us—until we reach out and grab seemingly anything from a previous era and look for ways in which it connects with our current day. Then, stories come flooding out from every angle, it seems.

It's been a while since I went hunting for more antique photographs. While that is a tempting possibility, I am also looking at the intertwining web of relationships in my own county's history, as I research some possible candidates for our own local genealogical society's First Families program. There, I'm surrounded by stories, as well.

Of course, as I plug along on the lines of the four families I'm already researching, I'll inevitably hit a point in the course of the expected "exhaustive research" where a story will leak out—this time, with supporting documentation!—and then I'll be down another rabbit trail. It's just that, as I drill away in the background before striking that gold, I'm afraid those other projects will run out before finding the next family story to feature.

And with that, we're off to enjoy that allegorical musical riff, while the weekend takes us to books and other thoughts about genealogy—and before the rhythm and melody wear a hole through our heads or transform into an inescapable ear worm. By Monday, there'll be a story found somewhere.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

In a Tailspin

It's back to that stage again in my research struggles: that feeling of going around in circles and not really making any progress. Of course, it took me six years of waiting before all these DNA matches showed up with a glimmer of hope of pinning my mystery grandfather's origin in someone's family tree. So when the path pulls up short—abruptly—and no further documentation can be found, well...patience. Just like a genealogical traffic jam, the stop and go research jerkiness will someday give way to a clearer road.

In the meantime, what to do? Given that surprise message the other day from a Giernatowski half a world away, I toyed with taking up that question further. That means, however, jumping from my paternal grandfather's research mess to my paternal grandmother's almost equally messy line. That, however, I can do with a bit more ease, as the Poznan region boasts three websites for research to the sole source I've been able to locate for Pomeranian records.

Yet, a search like that would not qualify as the thrill of the chase. It can be rather dull, scrolling through transcriptions of vital records—even if they are electronic versions. I scroll and scroll and spot a name, plug it into my family tree, note dates and associated surnames, and move on. Not much of a story there, even though I find it strangely relaxing to conjure up family history context out of chaos.

So, my research plan will continue to chatter away in the background, much the same as my work on my maternal line stretching back to colonial Virginia: I'm always plugging away at my goal in the background despite the project not providing any fodder for fascinating stories. It's just that, now, I'll add the mystery grandfather quest to my other dull and boring research tasks. In the meantime, the search is on for another story-worthy adventure in family history. There is always another story out there, just waiting to be unearthed.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Meanwhile, From Half a World Away . . .

Why do genealogy television shows resonate with their audiences? More to the point, why is it that greater numbers of people show up to read genealogy blogs—and comment, even—once the season begins for programs like Dr. Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots?

Perhaps that is the impetus behind one person from halfway around the world finding her way to a very old post right here on A Family Tapestry. Of course, I can't say exactly why she decided to Google her own name, or why, this time, the search results included a comment to my post which happened to mention, specifically, her own name. But I'm pretty sure I would never have connected with this person who just happens to share a surname with one of my ancestors—an ancestor, incidentally, whose other descendants happen to match up to me, given our same, inherited, DNA patterns.

The comment section of this blog also snagged a few other visitors whom I'd otherwise not have expected to see. One person found the post about the photograph of Baby Fay, found in a northern California antique shop, and wondered about a relationship. Another person stopped in to commiserate, in response to a post from 2015, over the loss of the long-gone website known as GenForum.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad to see an uptick in interest in family history. We all have stories to share, whether spoken on a one-to-one level with our close relatives at holiday gatherings, or shouted from the electronic housetops, like those of us who choose to blog our research progress. Perhaps the good of those programs is that it gives people the sense that "I can do this, too."

The more people who start their research journey, the more people who are out there, hoping to make family connections. And the more opportunities we'll all have to make those connections, share those stories, and have a richer understanding of who our ancestors really were.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Tentative Conclusion

The saying that our tree is never done may apply in more ways than one. Those who gloat, "My tree's finished" may not realize there is always—always—more to push back in those generations. But what I'm also seeing is that the research conclusions we come to may not be done deals, either.

Take my struggle to pin my paternal grandfather into the trees of my six—no, now seven—DNA matches which obviously link to his side of the family. But where? I have no information from this tight-lipped ancestor about his origins. All I knew—and that, thanks only to relatives who still remember these vague stories from their childhood—was that this grandfather was somehow connected to a woman the family called Aunt Rose. And that Aunt Rose once had a mother, a widow whose name was Anna Krauss.

The only other blessed clue I could unearth from New York City documents was a one-time mistake by a 1920 census enumerator, who entered for Rose's place of birth the term "Schwartzwald." After the gift of those DNA matches, I finally realized where this Schwarzwald really was: a village in Poland now called Czarnylas.

With that comes a very long line of ifs. If Aunt Rose was really my father's aunt and not just a family friend, and if her place of birth really was Schwarzwald, and if the entry on my grandfather's death certificate was correct in stating his mother's maiden name was Zegar, and if he was continuing his mission to keep his roots hidden by claiming that maiden name was Zegar and not Zegarska, and if all those DNA matches to both myself and my brother (who is actually my half-brother on my father's side) are not, somehow, false positives or related to us in another way we've yet to discover—if all this, then perhaps I can assume my grandfather's mother was really that Anastasia Zegarska from Czarnylas, Poland.


Let's take a look at how all this information stacks up. If we assume that Anna Zegar of New York City was really Anastasia Zegarska of Czarnylas who married Tomasz Puchała, her son would be Theodor and her daughter Rosalia.

Anastasia, in turn, would be daughter of Jan Zegarski and Marianna Woitaś, who among other children, had an older daughter named Pauline. This is the woman who married Andrew Czechowski and had the two daughters—Walerya and Weronika—who married Michalski men and moved to Milwaukee.

From Walerya's line come two DNA matches: a third cousin once removed who was descended from her son Francis Michalski, and a third cousin twice removed who was descended from her daughter Mary Martha Michalski Maciolek.

From Weronika's line come three DNA matches. One is from her daughter Anna and her husband Anton Ullenberg, producing a third cousin once removed. The second is from Weronika's son John, and is also a third cousins once removed. The final match from this line descends as a third cousin twice removed from Weronika's daughter Marianna, who married Anton Yeash.

There are two other DNA matches connected to this line. And difficulty reconciling records. These two matches happen to connect to a Marianna Zegarska who married someone named Johann or Jan Krzewinski. There are two problems with this information. First, as small as the village of Czarnylas was, it apparently contained two women named Marianna Zegarska; the transcribed records at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association website do not indicate names of a bride's parents, so I can't determine which Marianna is my relationship. Then, if we look further at the children baptised in this town with the father's surname of Krzewinski, none of them show Marianna Zegarska as their mother.

Of course, this couple could have left for America, shortly after their 1879 wedding—and I can find a John and Mary Krzewinski in, of all places, Milwaukee...but the dates of birth don't align nicely with either Marianna's date of baptism, or the Polish marriage record.

Bottom line: while DNA tests tell us that someone on my paternal side connects with a Krzewinski for two of those matches, I can't yet be sure what the exact connection is.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Make That Seven Ways to Czarnylas

Since I've been puzzling over those six matches to my paternal grandfather which popped up over the summer, I thought it was about time I drew up a massive tree to connect them all on one chart. I pulled up the names of those six matches, noted their likely relationship estimates given by the respective testing companies, and also marked down each match's total centiMorgans of connection to me, as well as the count of how many segments that measurement covered.

While I was in the process of doing that, I remembered that, since I had long ago tested my brother, I should look back at his results, as well. That's when I recalled one match I hadn't been able to place—someone who matched my brother, but who didn't match me. Over the years, we had written to each other, trying to figure out our connection but not quite reaching any conclusion. Until now, of course. Knowing what I know now, I can see exactly where this match fit in: in the same set of family members from that Michalski line in Milwaukee.

So now, I can say I have seven connections to my mystery grandfather. And I've now completed a very rugged, hand-drawn, tree drawing just where almost each of these matches falls in the big genealogical picture.

With that detail—and if my guess about Anna Zegar being Anastasia Zegarska is correct—I figured many of these matches relate to me at the level of third cousin once removed. The remainder—with one obstinate exception—can be listed as third cousins twice removed.

However, just to check whether this is within the range of possibilities, I headed over to a particular website to get some help. The website, DNA Painter, contains two freely accessible tools which I consider invaluable: an interactive version of Blaine Bettinger's Shared cM Project, and Leah Larkin's "What are the Odds?" chart.

What turned out to be most interesting was finding that some of those matches listed as fourth to sixth cousins also calculated out to be the same third cousin once removed level (by the pedigree chart) as others estimated by the DNA companies to be within the range of third to fourth cousin.

The corollary to this was likely seeing that the 100 cM cousin turned out to match the 49 cM cousin at the same level of relationship, despite the difference in centiMorgans: they were both my third cousins once removed. That was upheld by the percentages of likelihood of a specific centiMorgan measurement for the given relationship: it was only 19% as likely (as other relationships) to see a match with 100 cM in common at the level of 3C1R.

The encouraging news was that each of the DNA matches which I have been able to plug into this hypothesized family tree seem to be reasonable assumptions, based on these tools at DNA Painter. Of course, they could also fit a given number of other relationships, as well. But for now, I know that this proposed pedigree chart scenario is within the realm of reason.

The only drawback is that there is one match with one ancestral surname—Krzewinski—which I cannot confidently place within that chart, even though I can find Polish records showing a marriage between one of the Zegarska sisters and a man by this name. I have DNA matches with that surname in their family trees, including this one key match, but I have no way yet to verify through the paper trail that this is the right couple. I can't find the right way to attach this couple to the tree.

Other than that, it looks like these DNA matches do confirm my hypothesis of how they fit into my paternal grandfather's tree.

But am I happy yet? Not quite. I'm not sure why, but I don't yet feel confident about accepting the genetic genealogy indicators without more support from the paper trail. After all, I could have the wrong Zegarska women confused for my own relatives. And I'm not sure how to remedy that. Yet.

Before we attack ways to resolve that issue, though, let's take a look tomorrow at what I concluded from the hand-sketched pedigree chart which bundled all these DNA matches into one enormous family tree.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Glimmer of Hope in a Dark Corner

Two weeks ago, when I reviewed my biweekly research progress, I mentioned that I've started work on an additional family tree. This tree isn't publicly viewable, however; I've tucked it in a dark corner of the website. I've locked it away as a private tree, and banished it from sight by also designating it as "unsearchable."

I still want to count it, however, so I'm adding it to my tally. At some point, I'll be brave enough to add it to my father's own tree, and let some sunlight in—or at least the scrutiny of others' researching eyes.

The tree I've been constructing—in this top secret project—is the tree which intersects the family lines of the six DNA matches I've recently received. All of those lines include a surname Michalski—not a surname I've ever run across in my own research. After further study, I realized that the mother's maiden name of two women who married into that Michalski line is very similar to that of the woman I believe was my paternal grandfather's mother.

As you have likely noticed, I am stuck with my paternal grandfather's origin. When he came to America, he was quite tight-lipped about his ethnicity, even to his own close family members. Of course, he is long gone now, but everyone in the family who remembers him tells me he evaded his grandchildren's questions with finesse. If we had heard anything at all from these childhood questioning sessions about our roots, we had been told that we are all Irish.

Finding out that just wasn't so was a discovery we made after many years of joint research woes. Now, we know we are Polish, and we even have a few possible names to chase after, but not quite enough to made serious connections. Until, that is, we tried DNA testing.

Believe me, the discovery was not instantaneous. Family members who've tested have waiting six years before any promising matches showed up on our accounts—and I've tested at all five of the current major DNA testing companies. With these six matches I've finally received, I've been working on that stealth tree. It's a secret tree, because I can't be sure it is mistake-free. I certainly don't want anyone copying my "what-if" scenarios as if they were true fact. The world will have to wait a long time for that debut; I'm still mired in conflicting Polish records.

However, that stealth tree is growing. Two weeks ago, I had 106 individuals listed in that tree. Now it has grown to 280, an increase of 174 individuals. Yet, it is barely starting to connect these six DNA matches, let alone the other matches who might also be part of this tree, if I can only figure out their nexus with my father's family.

In the meantime, I can't lose sight of my other research goals. I am still working on my four family trees—a tree each for my parents and my in-laws. On my mother's tree, which I'm working on in preparation for a class on Virginia research at SLIG next January, I've managed to add fifty nine individuals in the past two weeks, to total 19,225 people in that tree. On my mother-in-law's tree, news of changes among distant cousins has kept me busy enough to add a modest seventeen more people, for a total of 17,148 in her tree.

With my focus on those two trees—plus my newest goal of working on those paternal-side DNA matches—it's no surprise to see I've made zero progress on my father-in-law's tree, and I really haven't added anything (officially, at least) to my own dad's tree. But out in that dark corner of the ether at Ancestry, where all those private, unsearchable trees hide, we can count that 174 new names on my mystery tree as working towards my dad's own line.

At some point, there will be one big merge event, and that tree of my dad's will grow exponentially. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

In Search of a Cultural Identity

This past week, I read a blog post which embodies the exact opposite childhood experience to the one which propelled my frantic search for cultural roots. Ironically, the post centered on the very same ethnic background I now know I can claim: those Polish roots provided me by my paternal grandfather.

While I grew up knowing absolutely nothing of this past heritage, the writer of that post experienced a childhood infused with many tokens of her Polish ancestry. She, however—as did I—grew up with a surname (in her case, Roberts) which, having been changed from its original form, gave no hint of her true ethnic background. "The Polish-American traditions were so close to my heart that it felt problematic to have a surname which conveyed no hint of this heritage," Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz wrote in From Shepherds and Shoemakers.

In Julie's case, hers was a childhood filled with food, songs, and memories of cherished Polish traditions. In my childhood home, there was plenty of food and song, of course, but no one thought to tell us they were Polish traditions. In fact, our home seemed singularly stripped of any ethnic fingerprints whatsoever. We were like cultural air ferns.

Of course, that was not the initiating point of Julie's blog post; her intention was to follow the lead of another genealogy blogger, Jim Scobbie, and write about "Eight Surnames of my Own." Thankfully, despite my own time warped standoff with my reticent Polish grandparents, I can now state six of those eight greats' surnames. But the last two cost me dearly in research time and skeptical brain cells. I can't yet feel confident enough to add them to the eight-great lineup.

It is, in fact, that sense of cultural heritage which drives the curiosity to know—to finally find out: am I really Polish, too, or do I just believe the stories parroted to me as a child? I am not sure parents are aware of the unintended lure of evasive answers to inquisitive children's questions.

Friday, October 18, 2019

A -ski, a -ska, a Skeptic

The question is: for Polish surnames, is using the "-ski" optional?

In asking the question, yesterday, about the chances that a Polish immigrant born with a -ski suffix to his surname would see it as no problem, in his adopted American home, to drop the -ski, I meant to delve so much farther into surnames than the traditional shift from -ski for males to -ska for females. I'm wondering how often an immigrant would consider drop the suffix entirely.

To satisfy myself with an answer, I went hunting online for assurances. In the process, I gained a few insights into Polish surnames—and names in general—from a variety of sources.

First, let's address my observation that, in Poland, it seemed the same person might show up in subsequent records with a different form of the same name. One time, the church record might spell the name, Latin style. Another time, it might seem that the priest writing the record must have been German. My eyes were not deceiving me: what I saw as a father's name of Johann Zegarski was probably an artifact of the priest originating from a German background; that name would show up in other entries—coupled with the same wife's name—with his first name given as Jan, the preferred Polish variant. A researcher can, indeed, expect to see records from Poland showing traces of spelling from four different languages: Latin, Polish, German, or even Russian.

As for surnames, their history, according to several sources, seemed to follow the same script. Names ending in "-ski" could have meant the person was of noble ancestry. Or not; as the adoption of surnames spread throughout the region, eventually even peasants living on a noble's land might take on his surname, despite sharing absolutely no relationship.

A number of resources mentioned that the suffix "-ski" means "from." Checking with the ever-present Google Translate, that didn't seem to be the case, but perhaps this information is from a historic perspective. At any rate, when I found a website with listings of specific surnames—incredibly, including the surname Puchalski, a variant of the name I had found my grandfather claiming in Brooklyn—it identified that surname as being a "habitational name" for a person from any location with a name like Puchały.

Never one to take others' word for it, I went looking. The one village I found named Puchały seemed rather far from Czarnylas, as did one with the similar name of Puchałowo. Of course, there may be other villages with the same name which have disappeared over the centuries. This may be time to employ a reliable historical gazetteer.

Then, too, as Kimberly Powell noted, "While you might think such surnames could lead you to your ancestral village, often that's not the case."

Seeing surnames—especially habitational surnames—from the vantage point of history reminds me of an online exchange I had read, nearly thirty years ago. It was on one of those special interest group forums founded in the wake of America Online (remember AOL?) which was dedicated to researching Polish ancestry. One reader had suggested checking out a book by Fred Hoffman on Polish surnames.

At the time, I had made a mental note to take care of that later...and then promptly forgot about it. Now, I need that book, and feverishly made my way online to see if it was still available. It is: for a song and a dance and a mere $135 or so. Thankfully, I subsequently discovered not only the updated edition, but the fact that a two-volume duo is sold by the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

All that being said, I'm still not sure that Anna Zegar would be the same person as Anastasia Zegarska, or that Thomas or Tomasz Puchała would have a son named Theodore who, while removing the "-ska" from his mother's surname, would add a "-ski" to his own.  

Thursday, October 17, 2019

What About Anna?

In muddling through the family trees of strangers who show up as DNA matches to the mystery paternal side of my family, it may be helpful to build out those trees to find any connections, but there comes a time when a researcher has to return to building on her own tree. That's what I want to try my hand at, today.

Granted, I'm stuck with my own grandfather. He's the one whom the family knew by one name, but now that we have access to some very old records, we discover he once went by another name. A radically different name—as in, Polish, not Irish. However, along comes six DNA matches (after a wait of six years), and they all point to a village of Czarnylas, and a mother's maiden name of Zegarska.

Only problem: my possible great-grandmother's name was Anna Zegar. Close, but not quite a match.

A few bonus points get awarded for the fact that her daughter (whom my father knew as "Aunt Rose") declared for one document that she was from "Schwartzwald," which place name turned out to be a secondary identity—at least, thanks to the Germans who occupied the area—for the village now known as Czarnylas. But can we really accept that Anna Zegar—the woman who possibly could be my grandfather's mother—was really born a Zegarski?

I've checked those DNA matches' trees—four of them, so far, quite thoroughly—and they point to that surname and that village. And they somehow connect to me. The only line they could match me on would be that of my paternal grandfather—either through his father or his mother. Yet the trees of my DNA matches don't reveal any further clues. It's trailblazing from here on out.

What I've already found, thanks to the transcriptions of marriage and baptism records at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association's website, is that there was a sister of Pauline—mother of the two Czechowska sisters who married the Michalski men who immigrated to Milwaukee—who had a name which could, possibly, have been converted in America to a nickname of Anna.

Granted, Pauline also had a sister who was given that exact name—Anna—but we've already followed her line and realized she married a man named Gracz. That Anna, we've already learned, moved to Milwaukee, while my Anna was in New York City, so it doesn't seem possible that that would be the identity of my grandfather's mother.

There was, among the Zegarska sisters, another daughter named Anastasia. This sister was baptized in Czarnylas in 1848. The transcription of her baptismal record gave the names of her parents as Johann Zegarski and Marianna Woitaś, just as we've seen for Pauline and the rest of that family. Following the paper trail on Anastasia, the transcription of marriage records show her 1868 marriage, in Czarnylas, to a man listed as Thomas Puchała.

There, the trail loses me—partly, I suspect, because I am not yet facile with the alphabetization requirements in the Polish language for letters with diacritical marks, but also, likely, because priests who kept the church records seemed to arbitrarily vary spellings, perhaps based on the original ethnicity of the priest, himself. Some spellings seemed very Latin, others more like German, while others seemed to keep the vernacular. A surname like Puchała would be very much at the mercy of both the transcriber and the original record-keeper.

And so it was that, despite losing the trail of Thomas—or possibly Tomasz—Puchała in Czarnylas, I did find a couple with a similar name in baptismal records for a neighboring village about thirty kilometers to the west, called Lubichowo. Could it be possible that Thomas Puchałła in the Lubichowo records was the same man? He did have a wife named Anastasia Zegarska, although a parenthetical remark was added to their entry of one name: Susanna. No other records in that search—of thirty entries retrieved—had such a secondary entry.

If we assume this was the same Thomas and Anastasia as the one we saw married in Czarnylas, it is tantalizing to see what they named their daughter in 1872: Rosalia. If Rosalia turns out to be Aunt Rose, the race is on to see whether she had a brother, and, if so, whether he would be my grandfather.

Once again, we see a Lubichowo baptismal entry for another infant, in this case, dated 1876. But this time, it comes with an ominous notation. The son, who was given the name Theodor, has no entry on his baptismal record for the name of a father. In the place where the mother's name would be listed, her name is given as "Puchała ur. Zegarska."

Google Translate has become my constant companion as I delve into this unexpected Polish side of my family history. Entering that phrase into the translator, we see what we had suspected: "Puchała born Zegarska." What had happened to Thomas Puchała?

This is where I return from these Polish transcriptions to my own family tree to review what I do know about the woman I was told was Anna Krauss, mother of Rose, living in New York City. This Anna, like Anastasia, was born in 1848. If my grandfather's original name was transcribed correctly in the records I've been able to find, his surname was listed in New York as Puhalski, or Puhalaski—at least, until he unofficially changed it around the time of the first World War.

My grandfather had, in those rare moments when he caved to his grandchildren's pestering, divulged that he had been an "orphan." Granted, by the time any grandchildren had arrived, Anna was already gone, having died in 1921, so technically, my grandfather could in all good conscience insist on that "orphan" status by virtue of this one fact: many great-grandparents don't live long enough to see their their children's grandchildren. However, it appears as if my grandfather's father was not in the picture by the time the family arrived in New York, as all records concerning Anna listed her with the surname Krauss—incidentally, a frustrating research dead end in its own right, but also demonstrating that her son might have been telling the truth, at least about being fatherless.

The question is: could the Anna Zegar Krauss who landed in New York actually be one and the same as the Anastasia Zegarska Puchała who was possibly widowed in Poland? Time to construct a tentative tree and run the relationships through their "what are the odds" paces.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Clues that Lead Nowhere

Trying to locate any of Anna Zegarska Gracz's siblings who might have opted to follow her recently-married example and immigrate with their newlywed spouse to a new world: not as easy as one would have thought. I have, for instance, the clue of another tongue-twisting Polish surname among those six DNA matches that have, just this past summer, led me back to historic Pomerania to research my paternal grandfather's roots. This time, the surname is Krzewinski—do not ask me how to pronounce it!

Using the marriage search option at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association website, I had searched for all Zegarska daughters who were married in their home village of Czarnylas, and got this result:

Though it is difficult to read such a small document—you can find it for yourself by using those search terms at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association's website—right above the 1879 entry for Anna Zegarska's marriage to Thomas Gracz, there is an entry for Marianna Zegarska. Her husband is listed as that same unpronounceable surname of Krzewinski. Their wedding date is given as 1879.

However, when you search on the same website for baptismal records for that same groom's name—Krzewinski—there are five children listed for the same Johann, but the mother of the children is listed as someone by the name of Anna Woitaś or Wojtaś, likely spelling variations on the same surname. That surname, incidentally, is the same as the mother's maiden name for the Zegarska daughters I am trying to track, making me wonder whether Johann Krzewinski was brother-in-law to the mother of the two Zegarska daughters I am researching.

To complicate matters, though there is a marriage listed for Johann Krzewinski and Marianna Zegarska, I can find no record of any baptisms for children of this couple. So how does this Krzewinski line connect with me? After all, I have one, possibly two, DNA matches which include this Krzewinski surname in their pedigree.

Though that Krzewinski line did come to America—bringing the possibility of our relationship tantalizingly closer—without actual documentation, I can't rely on the DNA connection solely for assurance of our relationship. I really need to ferret out additional sources for documentation, especially knowing how prone to error transcriptions can be, even under the best of circumstances.

I will certainly examine that line more closely as I work through this puzzle. In the meantime, the main point of all this winding pursuit of DNA matches on my paternal grandfather's line is to consider the question: could my grandfather's mother, whom I presumed was named Anna Zegar, actually be siblings or close cousins to the Zegarska lines which immigrated to Milwaukee? After all, that same marriage listing I posted above has another possible "Anna" listed, and her marriage is to someone with a surname very close to the one I learned was once my grandfather's last name. Could Thomas Puchała who married Anastasia Zegarska possibly be the missing parents of my paternal grandfather?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Collateral Chaos Calling

What do you do when you try to do an end run around your latest research brick wall using collateral family lines, only to discover you are in a bigger mess, pursuing those collateral lines?

I've had great results with this technique in the past when following, say, my mother's nicely colonial lines back through the generations in the familiar research territory of America. Not so, my father's side. Of course, my paternal grandfather is the stumbling block here, with his adamant refusal to reveal much—if anything at all—about his roots.

The gift I received last summer of six DNA matches who seem to point to no one else in my heritage than that same mystery grandfather tells me I need to pay attention to the roots of those six people's Michalski and Czechowska lines in Czarnylas, Poland. So I dug as far back as I could, until I found both Czechowska lines ended with a mother whose maiden name was Zegarska. I looked further, using the website for the Pomeranian Genealogical Association, to discover this woman's parents' names: Johann Zegarski and Marianna Wojtaś.

Thankfully, that same Polish website contained transcriptions for baptisms, and I searched for every child listed in Czarnylas naming these same two parents. Then, I composed a quick family tree for this Zegarski family, and started working my way down from the oldest—a daughter named Paulina, the one we've already met as mother of the two Czechowska daughters who immigrated to Milwaukee—and ended up with the youngest, a woman named Anna.

One by one, I considered each of these children of Johann and Marianna. I looked for any who were listed in the marriage records, twenty years later. I looked to see if any were listed as parents of children in the next generation. I composed as much detail on each of the next generation's family as possible. And looked especially to see if there was any corresponding immigration information that correlated, in other online resources, with this record set.

The youngest Zegarski daughter, Anna, was an easy one to spot. Anna married Tomasz Gracz in 1879. Their marriage took place in Czarnylas. According to baptismal records for that same village, the couple had a daughter they named Rosalia in 1880, followed by a son, Tomasz, in 1882, and another daughter, Helena, in 1883. After that, I could find no further transcriptions with their name in the village of Czarnylas.

Switching the search from the Pomeranian website to, I picked up the trail with a passenger list in Hamburg which seemed to match the same couple—although not the exact listing of children. While the surname was rendered with a more German-sounding Gratz, rather than Gracz, there was one encouraging note: their former place of residence was listed, in German style, as Schwarzwald—the Germans' preferred label for Czarnylas, as we've already discovered.

It was 29 March, 1884, and Anna and Tomasz and their three year old daughter Rosalie were departing from Hamburg for "Nordamerika" via Liverpool. Only problem with this record was that there was no sign of their son Tomasz, nor their baby daughter Helena. Instead, this family included an infant they called Angelka.

Whether this was one and the same family as the Gracz family I had found in Czarnylas, I couldn't yet be sure, but I continued the search to see what else could be associated with this immigration journey. Two weeks later on 14 April, 1884, a Canadian document recorded the arrival of a ship from Liverpool at Halifax in Nova Scotia, showing the exact same family constellation: Thomas—surname again spelled Gratz, not Gracz—along with his wife Anna and two daughters, Rosalie and Angelka.

From there, the travel itinerary went dark, keeping us from seeing the rest of the trail from Poland to Milwaukee, but by the time of the 1900 census, an enumerator with impeccable handwriting recorded a Thomas and Anna Gracz family in Milwaukee. Only trouble was, now, the oldest daughter showed as a seventeen year old Helen, and all the children born after that point arrived once the family had settled in Wisconsin. Where was Rosalie?

Tracing every document from that point onward revealed one reassuring note about the surname aberration: it would be alternately rendered as Gracz or Gratz. In fact, some future generations succumbed to the inevitable and just claimed the latter spelling as their true surname. And yet, after one record spelled as Gratz, a later one would surface with the spelling as Gracz.

And then, there was the case of Rosalie. She, herself, went by an alternate name—but for good reason: she had made her first vows in 1901 to become part of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and was known as Sister Mary Atalia to her pupils at Saint Casimir school in Milwaukee. Because she was born in Poland, by the time of the second world war, she must have found reason to complete naturalization papers.

Although those records do not include the name of her parents, her Petition for Naturalization does provide her birth name: Rosalia Gracz. We also glean her date of birth—September 1, 1880—and receive the bonus of her actual place of birth and last residence in Poland, a place called Pelplin.

Pelplin, of course, is not Czarnylas, so I rushed to find out just how close the two might have been to each other. Reassuringly, it was in the same historic region as Czarnylas—Pomerania—and was a much larger town (currently having a population of eight thousand). Could it be that Sister Mary Atalia had given this larger town name as her birthplace, simply because more people would be able to locate it on a map than tiny Czarnylas? Or does this reveal a clue about where else to look for records on her family before they left Poland?

This tiny piece of information may turn out to be useful for another record set: that of death records. Remember, we are still missing Rosalia's baby brother Tomasz, and we are also lacking any explanation of why the baby sister was sometimes called Helena, and other times Angelka. And yet, returning to the Pomeranian Genealogical Association's website, I find that the repository for many of the death records are coupled with names of locations other than Czarnylas. I'm not yet familiar enough with geographic designations—or the record-keeping customs in this foreign-to-me country—to know whether this was the Polish equivalent of Americans' habit of filing death certificates in the county of the occurrence, not the actual city where it occurred.

Bit by bit, I'm learning the ropes for researching these Polish ancestors—and being eyewitness to the contortions imposed upon Polish surnames in their English-speaking adopted homeland. To be sure, I'll need a lot more information on the extended Zegarski family before I feel confident that I'm following the right collateral lines, so I'll see what else can be found about any of Anna Zegarska Gracz's siblings who chose to follow the same path to Wisconsin.

Above: Insertion of details on Thomas Gratz family from Hamburg passenger list for British steamship Argo provided courtesy of Ancestry.   

Monday, October 14, 2019

Tracing an Immigrant Family

Up, up the family-tree-in-the-clouds I've climbed this past week, seeking the telltale Most Recent Common Ancestor to connect my mystery grandfather with the six DNA matches whose ancestry leads us back to Poland. Much as an adoptee might have done, building "quick and dirty" trees in finding a birth parent, I have been piecing together the family trees of two Czechowska sisters who married Michalski men who all immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My hypothesis is that their joint ancestor—a woman named Paulina Zegarska—could be related to the Anna Zegar (among many other surnames claimed) who was supposedly mother of the woman my dad and his sister knew as Aunt Rose.

The next step—at least for this researcher, wanting to find her way out of that jungle in the clouds—is to see if any of the other people connected to that Zegarski family in Czarnylas, Poland, also migrated to the United States, whether along with the Michalskis to Milwaukee, or to another location closer to New York City, where my paternal grandfather settled.

So, there I was, last week, feverishly constructing possible family trees for all the descendants of Paulina Zegarska's parents—Johann and Marianna Wojtaś Zegarski, if I have that information right. Some of the names I found, through searches at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association's website, seemed to lead nowhere—a factor of lack of American resources which access Polish records, I suspect—but a few others did lead me to American shores.

It was interesting to follow those trails and pick up the path, once the family landed in North America. I say "North America" for a reason: it wasn't always in the United States where these immigrant families landed. One family, for instance, I discovered in a catalog of Canadian passenger records landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia—not surprisingly as, after all, they were headed to a city accessible by the Great Lakes, making the route a feasible guess.

What was interesting in tracing the routes of these maybe/maybe-not relatives was to see what other records could be found for their immigration saga. In tracing one particular family, I found not only their records from that Canadian passenger listing, but also from their point of departure in Germany—and, years later, verification through their eldest daughter's own naturalization application. The details in those documents, as we'll explore beginning tomorrow, help corroborate the extended family's story of immigration to Milwaukee—and hopefully shed some light on connections with my own family, as well.

For now, though, it is too early to tell whether the end result will benefit my own search for my grandfather's true identity. By using a "quick and dirty" process, I can speed through someone else's immigration saga until I can get to the point where details may shed light on clues which hit closer to home. Tomorrow, then, we'll begin the immigration saga of the family of Tomasz Gracz—alias Gratz—and his wife, the former Anna Zegarska.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Off the Shelf—and on to a Rabbit Trail

Sometimes, a book is a quick read, and sometimes, it deserves much more of our attention. When it comes to books which, as an added benefit, include information on the everyday life details of our own ancestors, I take my time reading. With notebook and pen.

Considering that, you may not find it surprising to learn I am still wading through one of the books recommended to me by a reader (Lisa) here at A Family Tapestry. Whether accompanying me on flights to genealogy conferences or on trips to my favorite coffee shop hideaway in town, the book of Civil War letters written home by my first cousins four times removed, Dick and "Tally" Simpson, has been my constant reading companion.

And I am still not done—footnotes, you know.

With about one hundred pages to go in the book, Far, Far From Home, a thought struck me. I am now on the chapter in which Tally, still at the war front during the winter lull in fighting, writes home to a trusted aunt and his sister, for their confidential advice on "a topic which interests me." That topic, in case you couldn't guess, was gathering intel on young ladies of interest back home in Pendleton, South Carolina. Tally, who recently received word that his own brother had married, was looking ahead to a time when he, too, would no longer be so far separated from his home, his family, and his future dreams.

Not long into this chapter, I ran into a name which was familiar because of its significance in another book about Pendleton which I recently read, A Faithful Heart. That name was of the town's apparent charmer, Fannie Smith. I may not be related to this Fannie Smith, but with her name brought up in glowing terms here in Tally Simpson's letters, along with those several mentions in Emmala Reed's journal—and, as Lisa had mentioned in a comment, included in glowing terms in her own ancestor's writings, as well—I began to wonder just who she might have been.

Having discovered this alternate resource of books to help fill in the blanks about the place and time period of my ancestors' lives, I've since rediscovered the wealth of material to access online. We use all the time to look up digitized records, but did you know that same website can become your portal to a world of digitized books, especially family history volumes? I'm not sure I'd attempt looking for any titles including mention of Fannie Smith, but for the more unusual names in my family tree, I've certainly made it my habit to stop at this URL to look up potential resources.

Besides the online access through FamilySearch, I will sometimes search online for a surname—or even a specific book title I've spotted in a footnote—plus add the name of a specific repository, such as Internet Archive, or HathiTrust. I'm not too sure I'll ferret out the specifics on this particular Fannie Smith, but this technique has worked for me when I wanted to find other public domain books about Pendleton.

Of course, I could always try my hand at building a family tree for Fannie. All I need to do is find her in a census record, or other listing of refugees settling in Pendleton during the early years of the Civil War. That was the initiating occurrence which brought Miss Fannie front and center on the stage of local social life in Pendleton. The more I read about her, the more I'm curious as to just who she was. 

Yes, I'm tempted: do some research on Miss Fannie Smith to see what I can discover about the life of this young woman who turned so many heads. With all the technological access and availability of databases, it certainly is possible, even if she wasn't one of my ancestors.

If only her name weren't Smith...

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Now Indexing:
Naturalization Records for New York

I'm back to my old haunts once again, indexing New York City naturalization records at Although I've been most recently doing research on my Polish ancestors in scary foreign-language websites in a cloud far, far from home, I don't have the guts to try my hand at transcribing any of those documents for my monthly indexing project. I reverted to my old hang for one simple reason: no matter where they came from in Europe, most of my immigrant ancestors did come through the port at the Big Apple.

Not that this is an easy slog. I've done easier in my many forays into volunteer indexing. Though the forms are mostly typewritten—no struggles with ambiguous handwriting there—they are sometimes digitized in such a way as to cause frustration. Overlays on top of unrelated forms—which one to pay attention to?—or instructions which don't seem to fit the form I'm viewing, or attempts for a one-size-fits-all instruction sheet for multiple types of forms can sometimes add to a volunteer's frustration.

However—and that is a big forever, spoken with a deep sigh—it is this record set upon which so many researchers rely to trace their family lines back to the "old country." Many of these documents divulge the exact village where immigrants were born, or where they lived just prior to boarding their ship for passage to America. Though not all of the information given on the naturalization forms is transcribed via the indexing process—thus my perennial warning to look at the document, not just the cover information—there can be a wealth of resources naming each of the children in a family, their dates of birth, sometimes even the specific place where each of them was born.

Thus, the treasure trove which many researchers would love to stumble upon. Only, until those digitized documents are transcribed into a computer-searchable format, we'd still have to hand-crank through microfilmed versions of these records. The indexing process is what makes searching for ancestral records on a website like FamilySearch seem almost magical—or at least instantaneous. Although the hunt and peck and wait-for-snail-mail routine of the decades pre-Internet may have developed a researcher's virtue of patience, we can now simply speed ahead and conquer multiple generations in the time it once took to discover, to our dismay, that we just sent our stamped, self-addressed envelope and cashier's check away for documentation on the wrong Johann Schmidt.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Building Castles in the Air

You may have heard the advice against building castles in the air. Today, we'll consider the wisdom of building family trees in the air. It may turn out to be attached to the same sage warning, but I'm still tempted to explore the possibilities.

Here's the situation. I've received word that there are six DNA matches, all of whom contain the surname Michalski with an ancestral connection to a woman with a maiden name so similar to one in my mystery grandfather's roots—Zegar—as to present too tempting a connection to ignore. All these DNA-match families lead back, in the late 1800s, to a tiny village in Poland called Czarnylas. And records for these few hundred souls—baptismal, marriage, and death—happen to have their transcriptions resident in one freely-accessible website hosted by a group known, in English, as the Pomeranian Genealogical Association.

Granted, a lot could go wrong, relying solely upon transcriptions of handwritten records. The handwriting could be read incorrectly. Or copied carelessly. Or transposed with half the information from the next record in the set. Without being able to see the documents for myself, I can't really be sure all the information was transcribed accurately. Or that the information given is all that was provided—there might be even more notes that could further help my research, if only I could see them.

But hey, there it was: a treasure trove of data from a tiny village which even now has less than five hundred people. What are my chances that I'd pick the wrong Paulina Zegarska married to Andreas Czechowski? We're surely not talking the Polish equivalent of Smith here.

So I took my chances. I started first with what I knew, and looked up Walerya and her older sister Weronika, the Czechowska sisters who married Michalski men before immigrating to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There they were: the transcriptions, at least, for Weronika's marriage in 1878, and Walerya's in 1886.

From there, I decided to push my way backwards in time. I looked for baptismal records for the two Czechowska sisters by targeting my search to Czarnylas only, and selected a reasonable but wide date range. Since Polish tradition dictated that women's surnames which end in -ska would be connected with fathers whose names were the familiar -ski suffix we associate with that ethnicity, I knew I'd be looking for records for a father whose surname was Czechowski.

And the search was on. I was ready for this process of elimination. First, I confirmed the dates of baptism for the sisters—1857 and 1870, respectively—and then took in the names of their parents. That's how I discovered their mother's maiden name of Zegarska.

Along the way, I noticed how many siblings the two Czechowska girls had, and realized I may someday need this information, organized into a family tree format. And so, I began...

Eventually, I got the brainy idea to correlate the baptismal information on this one section of the website with marriage information from another part of the search feature. But something got in the way of my brainy idea: it seemed each of the Czechowska girls were getting married at incredibly young ages. What was going on here? Was this a listing of betrothals, rather than actual marriages?

It dawned on me at that point that, like those of so many other ethnicities I've researched, Polish families might have also followed that tradition of naming their babies after their older relatives. Could there have been a previous generation busily naming their daughters these same names?

This required a repetition of the birth records search, and another round of adding records to my family-tree-in-the-air. I augmented this when I got the brainy idea to branch out and look for that Zegarska surname in the same way—look for the dad in baptismal records by entering his surname as Zegarski.

At the feverish pace I've kept up this week, I've added a considerable amount of names of Polish people from the early 1800s onward—all people I don't even know. My family-tree-in-the-air takes on the appearance of a pole, firmly anchored in Milwaukee Michalskis, then rising up three more generations with nary a branch, until it becomes a hairy mess of Czechowskis and Zegarskis in the tiny town of Czarnylas. All I needed now was a genealogical Jack-in-the-Beanstalk to come chop down my tree, and the whole ancestral mess in the clouds would come crashing to the ground.

Vulnerable, yes—to all sorts of errors. I'm not sure I could advise such a process. But I just couldn't help myself. The information was there and, well, information is always best comprehended in an organized format. I may have all those Czarnylas Czechowskis and Zegarskis organized, alright, but I can't yet vouch for any of them being related to me. Perhaps it is best that I've made that tree-in-the-air a private and unsearchable tree. For now, it's my private genealogical sandbox while I explore what patterns and information emerge—if there will be any at all.

Above: Illustration of Jack climbing the Beanstalk, from the 1922 book Journeys Through Bookland; courtesy Internet Archive via Wikipedia; illustration in the public domain.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Maybe for a Mother

It is handy to find a fellow researcher willing to share notes.  In the process of pondering over the six DNA matches who seemed to be linked to my mystery grandfather, I ran across such a person. She is not a match to me, herself, but serves as an administrator for someone else whose DNA test does match me in only one possible way: through my paternal grandfather, the enigma who refused to tell his descendants much at all about his roots.

This researcher—light years ahead of me in tracking down this Michalski family of my DNA matches—had divulged the tidbit that the entire family emigrated from a tiny village in Poland called Czarnylas. That, last summer, prompted me to do some background reading on that tiny village, leading to this Wikipedia entry which made me cry to realize that it was, after all, the very place Aunt Rose had mentioned as her homeland in a census enumeration nearly one hundred years ago. Finding that, I knew this researcher was on the right track.

Still, a diligent researcher needs to start from the here and now, and work her way backwards in time, step by step, so I started out with those Michalski families in Wisconsin, and pieced together their immigrant stories. By the time I encountered their many baptismal records, I had found those two wives' maiden names of Czechowska—names affixed to women who were born in Poland.

Jumping from those familiar online resources we use for American research, I headed to a website with the tongue-twisting name of Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, or PTG for short. (Translated, it simply is the Pomeranian Genealogical Association.) The PTG focuses on transcriptions of vital records from the region in Poland called Pomerania.

Once at the PTG website, I entered the sisters' maiden name in the search engine for Pomeranian marriage records, and found that, indeed, Piotr and Józef Michalski had married women by that maiden name. Our Peter and Veronica were married in Czarnylas, Poland, in 1878, and Józef and Walerya followed suit in 1886.

Since I couldn't just leave the exploration at that, I then moved to the PTG record set for baptisms to find the approximate birth dates for both Veronica and Valeria. It was there that I realized they were sisters, for each of their entries showed parents' names of Pauline and Andreas Czechowski. More importantly, the entries each showed, for Veronica and Valeria, the maiden name of their mother: Zegarska.

From that point, I couldn't stop myself, and I was at it again, looking this time for any other information I could find on all Michalskis, all Czechowskis, and, now, all Zegarskis. It was that Zegarska surname which fascinated me most of all for one very wobbly reason: it was so similar to another surname in my own tree.

Early in my attempt to learn more about my paternal grandfather, back in the days of snail-mail research, I had sent away for my grandfather's death certificate. To be sure, much of the information provided on that piece of paper was surely a fabrication. He had been, after all, going by an alias for a long time by the point of his death, and the rest of the family had had plenty of practice in aiding and abetting his ruse, including giving a falsified name for that of his own father.

With that in mind, what would be the chances that the report about his mother's maiden name would be correct? Yet, I duly noted it in my records, once I received the death certificate in the mail. The report never, ever seemed to be of much help, as I couldn't match it up to any family connections any time since that point. And yet, knowing how important it was for my grandfather to conceal his ethnic roots, could it be possible that, in the kernel of truth revealed in that one line on a death certificate, even that was bent to fit his preferred narrative?

Could his mother's maiden name, given as Anna Zegar, really have been a more Polish Zegarska? Could he have dropped that telltale Polish -ski? Is this the direction that DNA test is pointing us?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Two Sisters

Sometimes, it takes DNA to deconstruct a family history brick wall. That is what I'm hoping six matches which appeared this past summer will do for my father's ancestors. As much as my original attention was diverted to one specific surname held in common in the family trees of those six matches—the name Michalski—once I delved deeper into each match's pedigree chart, I noticed something interesting: that Michalski connection pointed to not one, but two different men. How those two Michalski men related to each other, I have yet to figure out, but there was one thing about them: each of them married a woman named Czechowska.

The older of the two Czechowska women was listed as Weronika in the 1900 census. By that time, she had been married for nineteen years to Piotr Michalski, and had given birth to either nine or seven children—depending on how you interpreted the write-over—seven of whom were then living with her in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Not long after that census, Piotr apparently passed away, for the 1910 census showed Weronika—by then Americanized to Veronica—listed as a widow and living with her five youngest children, including newest arrival, eight year old Frances.

Also living in Milwaukee at the time was another Czechowska woman by the name of Walerya. Fortunately for us, Walerya's eleven Michalski children left a paper trail of baptism records which, transcribed, gave an approximation of how her maiden name might have been spelled, along with multiple variations on her given name.

In the end, the choices for her new American self are a toss up between Valentina and Valeria. But Czechowska—or that surname's many alternates—became my next wayfinder in the journey to locate a connection between these six DNA matches and my paternal grandfather's family. They led me to record transcriptions in Poland showing their relationship to each other as sisters, sure, but their records, back in Poland, intrigued me for one very weak reason: the two sisters' mother had a maiden name which was not exactly the same, but similar to the supposed birth name of my own mystery grandfather's mother. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Baby Steps

Where to begin in reconstructing the immigrant saga of my own grandfather? I can't start from his landing place in New York City; I've already combed the records there with little results. Despite providing a date of arrival in May, 1884, even his naturalization papers fail to mention the name of the ship on which he arrived. Perhaps that was because Theodore J. Puhalski was not quite eight years of age when he arrived. Or perhaps it was owing to a more deliberate omission, when he completed the immigration process later in life. I can't be quite sure.

It wasn't as if this were the only omission my paternal grandfather had made, in the few times he opened up to reveal a clue about his origin. I've managed to assemble those scattered hints over years of research in a joint effort with my siblings and cousins. But they still didn't add up to anything as productive as the hint I gained when one—and then five more—DNA matches showed up last summer in the various testing sites I've used in the past six years. Starting from those matches' trees, I'm gaining a clearer glimpse at what my grandfather's origins might actually have been.

Today, we'll start with what I know about the surnames these matches have in common with each other. That will lead to a possible nexus with my grandfather's own sparse tree—only a possibility, mind you, as I haven't yet been able to locate verifying documentation. Those are baby steps lying before us, and we need to consider each step slowly and carefully.

The surname which seems to be held jointly by all those DNA matches—or at least connected to their lines—is Michalski. Not that that means I am related to that line, myself, but that in each of those family trees, there is likely a surname which can explain their connection to each other—and to my grandfather. That extended Michalski line, though originating in Poland, mostly seemed to settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

If you are realizing that Milwaukee is a far distance from New York City, you are an astute observer. However, many of these DNA matches, in relation to me as test taker, are anywhere from second to fourth cousins. We have plenty of time between the late 1880s until our current twenty-first century to draw the lines of connection between families in these two distant locations.

That line of connection, at least in 1890s Milwaukee, starts with two Michalski relatives. One, named Piotr—conveniently Americanized to Peter by the time of the 1905 Wisconsin state census—arrived in the United States with his young family sometime around 1888. The other, a man named Józef—or, in American style, Joseph, at least according to the 1900 census—arrived here in 1886.

How the two Michalski men are related, I cannot yet tell. However, there was one detail held in common between these two Michalski men in Milwaukee: they both had married wives back in Poland whose maiden names were Czechowska. As it turned out, it was that surname I needed to follow more closely, for one main reason: it might somehow connect with the unfortunate mother of my own father's Aunt Rose.

Above: Finding the naturalization records of Theodore J. Puhalski was an encouraging discovery—until I realized his 1905 documentation inconveniently skipped over any mention of the ship on which he arrived in New York; image courtesy

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