Thursday, November 12, 2020

Coming From a Large
—and I Mean Really Large—Family


I think the prime reason I took an interest in genealogy was owing to the size of my own family: it was small. Like, really small. I often wondered, where are all the relatives? Unlike all my neighborhood friends, I had only one set of grandparents, and since they lived over six hundred miles away, I didn't see them often. My mother's only sister never married. My father's sister had two children, but since she and my father were nearly in their fifties when I was born, their children were old enough to be my parents. It was their children who seemed more like my cousins—and there were only a few of them.

Fast forward several decades until someone gets the brainy idea that we can use DNA analysis to determine family relationships, and suddenly my puny family tree sprouts a new branch. And it's not just an average sized branch; this one is huge. I have no idea how it connects with me, but the DNA tells me it has something to do with my paternal line, and leads me back to one particular person: my paternal grandfather's mother.

That woman, whom I only knew on paper as Anna Krauss, turned out to have many siblings, back in her homeland in Poland. Of course, I never knew anything about that Polish homeland because that fact was well hidden from my family by my paternal grandfather. And yet, that DNA points back to a family named Zegarski from a small town in the region of Pomerania known as Czarnylas.

With the help of another family researcher whom I met online, thanks to DNA-led discoveries, I began exploring a Polish website devoted to genealogical information for that specific region of Pomerania. Just searching for Zegarski ancestors in Czarnylas, I was able to zero in on the family of one couple. That led to discovering that the woman I knew only as Anna Krauss came from a big family. Like, really big. Consider this:


This is the results of a search at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association website for all the children born in Czarnylas to a father named Zegarski and a mother named Marianna. I set the parameters wide for that search between the years 1830 and 1870, and used those specific terms because the father was sometimes entered as "Jan" and other times as "Johann," depending on who was drawing up the record. Likewise, the mother, Marianna, had her maiden name spelled differently, depending on how the various clerks decided to render the pronunciation.

Despite spelling variations—not to mention the size of the family—I feel certain this readout represents just one family unit. This helps guide us as we review yesterday's list of marriages for each of those Zegarska sisters, to confirm their relationship to each other. This is necessary, in sorting out those DNA matches, since those matches lead back to different Zegarska sisters.

For instance, when I started this process, my first match led me to a Milwaukee family with the surname Michalski. That, in turn, connected me with an ancestor's maiden name of Czechowska, which ultimately brought me to the oldest Zegarska sister in the list above, Pauline.

In contrast, another line leading to a Milwaukee DNA connection claimed as their Zegarska ancestor Pauline's youngest sister, Anna. Born in 1859, according to marriage transcriptions at that same Pomeranian website, Anna eventually married a man by the name of Tomasz Gracz. Together, they welcomed their firstborn daughter into the world in Poland in 1880, naming her Rosalia. Two years later, Rosalia was followed by a brother, named after his father, Tomasz.

Just after the next Gracz infant arrived, the family was on their way to a new world—but not via the customary route. Tracing the Gracz family led through a different research route, not only because they traveled first to Canada, but because of the way their surname was rendered on records. Their 1884 crossing to Halifax, Nova Scotia, showed the family under the name Gratz rather than Gracz. That passenger entry also provides the clue that son Tomasz must have died before the family's decision to emigrate, but it also adds the name of a third Gracz child, Angelka.

While the next document in which the Gracz family appeared was not recorded until 1900—thus missing both Rosalia and Tomasz, with no explanation to help us conclude we are looking at the same family—that census record did include the note that, of Anna Gracz's twelve children, two had already died before the enumeration. One was most certainly their son Tomasz. But Rosalia? Perhaps as thanks for surviving whatever befell the family in Poland, plus the long crossing to North America, firstborn Rosalia became Sister Mary Atalia of the Notre Dame Convent in Elm Grove, Wisconsin—likely before 1900.

Those, however, were not the only complications in following this immigrant family through the generations after settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As did many other immigrant families from Poland, some of the Gracz descendants chose to default to habitual spelling permutations—such as Gratz—requiring careful attention to tracing each line through to the present era of DNA testing. Other family members have mentioned to me that another surname variation was Grace.

Bottom line, though, is that at least one descendant of Tomasz and Anna turned out to be my DNA match—and for no other reason that I can ascertain than this Zegarska connection. For this match, Anna Zegarska Gracz turns out to be a second great-grandmother, thus leaving her parents to be the most recent common ancestor we share. With that third great-grandparent set in common, that indicates our relationship as fourth cousins, still quite reasonable for the thirty five centiMorgans we share, according to our DNA tests.

The only problem with this particular connection in that Zegarski family was the name of the very woman I thought would be sibling of my great-grandmother: they both claimed the name Anna. However, when I looked through the twelve siblings listed on the family's baptismal records for Czarnylas, I spotted some others whose name could have been shortened to Anna. There was Marianna, Susanna, and Anastasia. The question was: could I trace any of the others to North America as well? And if so, were there any DNA connections leading back to that ancestral "Anna," too? 


  1. Oh my goodness - all those Annas! Could this get more complicated??

    1. Not to worry, Miss Merry. The deeper we go into Polish records, the easier it should be to piece together this family, now that we have the resource of documentation.

  2. Wow you are finding some real finds in the Polish records!! Good for you!

    1. I am extremely fortunate, Far Side, that there are some avid genealogists in Poland who have set up websites to help with access to transcriptions. Otherwise, there would be few alternatives than to travel there or at least pay someone to do the research for me--which, of course, would remove all the fun from the process.


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