Thursday, November 19, 2020

My (New) Constant Research Companions


What do you do when your need to research family history takes you to new locations—and even new languages? That's when I keep three tools close at hand at all times: Google Maps and Google Translate, plus Wikipedia.

While these tools may seem the most basic of services, when research leads us into unknown territory, I find myself constantly checking these tools with one question in mind: "Is that true?"

Take this Krzewinski family I'm following from Pomerania in northern Poland to the American city of Milwaukee in Wisconsin. When taking a multi-generational view—from baptisms to marriages to deaths, and then all over again—it seems the family jumps from one location to another. Concerned that I'm still following the right family, I've learned to check distances from one documented residence to another.

Take this one Krzewinska sister, Marianna—the one who, in Milwaukee, was sometimes recorded as  Marie. To make sure I was following the right person, I traced her from her baptism to her marriage and the birth of her first children in Poland until she arrived in the United States. Transcriptions of those records at the Pomeranian Genealogical Association's website showed Marianna marrying a man by the name of Stefan Czaplewski in Czarnylas—the same location as so many of the DNA matches who align with the family of my second great grandmother.

No surprise there, but when I go looking for baptisms for their children, the only ones I can find are located in a place called Piaseczno. Where on earth is that? Of course, I have no idea, so I head to Google Maps, which brings me to a location south of Warsaw.

If you are as uninformed about Polish geography as I am, you can see the utility of this tool. At first, it caused me to think perhaps I had, amazingly, found another couple with precisely the same names during that exact time period. But looking more carefully, Google Maps pointed me to a second option, a location listed as Piaseczno k Gniewa. 

And what might Piaseczno k Gniewa actually mean? That's where the second handy tool at my fingertips comes in. Checking with Google Translate, I  quickly see that Polish phrase means "Piaseczno near Gniew." Google Maps tells me that location is only a half hour drive from Czarnylas, so much more reasonable to assume I've got the right couple than if they really had lived four hours away past Warsaw.

It was tools like these which I used to muddle through the puzzle about Stefan Czaplewski's supposed mother-in-law. In trying to determine whether American Marie was the same person as Polish Marianna, some trees on Ancestry gave her mother's maiden name as Julianna Wesotowska. This, of course, causes me trouble, because the only DNA connection I can see to the descendants of "Marie" would be through the mother I had found listed for Marianna Krzewinska. Remember, my theory is that Marianna's mother was sister to my second great-grandmother, so I really needed to find out who this Julianna Wesotowska was.

This is where we cue the entry of an admittedly jealousy-inducing document. As proof of that mother's maiden name, some Ancestry subscribers had posted this record from the collection, "Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany, Selected Civil Vitals 1874-1945."

Just taking a look at this excerpt from the register below, we can immediately see one depressing detail: it's in a language I don't speak.


Not only is it in German, but we'd have to decipher handwritten German, as well—not a task I have any appetite to devour at the moment. Still, with Google Translate, plus a cameo appearance by Google Maps, I could determine a few pertinent clues. 

For one thing, the location mentioned Marienwerder, which was a historic region in West Prussia. Included in that region were many cities which, in historic maps, were labeled with their German names. Not to make things any easier for us, those German city names are not what those places are called today. For instance, a sample map of the region clearly shows a port city of Danzig—a place we now call Gdansk. This is the same difficulty I first encountered when I discovered my father's "Aunt Rose" declared she was born in "Schwarzwald"—the German name for Czarnylas.

The capital city of that Marienwerder region, just to keep it easy, was also known as Marienwerder—but only back then, to the Germans. Now, the Polish call it Kwidzyn. How close might that be to Czarnylas? About a forty five minute drive in our current times, according to Google Maps. So—maybe this document has something to it.

But of the other details for which I could ferret out details (thanks to Google Translate), I also noticed what appears to be a date some time in the early 1900s, not the 1800s. It also seems to be a document regarding someone named Catharina Lettke, born Krzewinska. It was apparently she who was the daughter of a Krzewinski man whose middle name—possibly—was Johann, and whose mother was this mystery Julianna "Wessolowska." Oh, if only the entire document had been printed, rather than the key points written in.

Could this Catharina have been a sister of the Marianna we know immigrated to Wisconsin? If so, unless they were half-sisters, we have contradicting information on the name of Johann's wife. Yet, given the distance between the town where I found Marianna's marriage record and that of this German document, we could be talking about two separate identities. Of course, questions yet to be asked involve whether the city where the records were kept would always be one and the same as the city where the reporting parties actually lived. Then, too, if the Germans called their place names by entirely different terms, could they also have "Germanized" Polish surnames, as well?

Clearly, it would be helpful to obtain a reliable translation of this entire document, just in case. I may find myself chasing after another rabbit trail to see just who this Catharina Lettke was, and whether her family led back to the Krzewinskis I have been researching. But I also need to maintain my focus on one research question in particular: if Anna Woitas was in the picture in this DNA match's ancestral line, how did she relate to my line's Marianna Woitas?  


Above image excerpt from the collection, "Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany, Selected Civil Vitals 1874-1945," courtesy



  1. I'm fascinated by the names. Have you used Google Translate to say these names? I'm reminded of the Duke basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski which is apparently pronounced Shoe-shev-ski. Is your Krzewinski pronounced Shoe-win-ski? How would a census taker hear that name and write it? Or any other non-Polish clerk?

    1. Incredibly, Randy, the U.S. census enumerators in Milwaukee seemed unfazed by the intricacies of such Polish spelling challenges. I guess that's what happens when Polish immigrants choose to settle in Milwaukee instead of, say, New York (where my branch of the family had their surnames regularly mangled). There were enough Polish descendants already in place in Milwaukee to get the records close enough to correct to help me find them, over 100 years later.

      However, your suggestions do bring up some points to follow up on. You are a walking encyclopedia of sports details--and not only for your beloved Padres, apparently! Great recall on the Duke basketball coach's name--a detail which sent me scurrying back to those phonics cheat sheets I had been using. I had previously cut to the chase with the "cz" and "sz" names which had me stumped, never thinking I'd run into questions with the "rz" combo.

      Sure enough, going back and checking, the letter combination yields a sound like the "zh" in "Dr. Zhivago." And, of course, the "w" would have a "v" sound in Polish. That leaves us with something like K'zhevinski, I'd guess. And as much as I use Google Translate, I hadn't even thought to give a listen to pronunciation of names, so thanks for that reminder!

  2. Getting someone who really knows German to take a look at this would be a good idea, I can only glean a few things with my limited knowledge of the language.

    The father has the title Arbeiter, Laborer, and she herself is titled Arbeiterwittwa, which I guess would be widow of a Laborer.

    She is also listed as Catholic.

    One fun little tidbit: one Maja Krzewinska (with an accented n) is co-author of several of the papers yfull mentions as having been used for their y-tree.

  3. Addendum:

    The last listed child on PTG for Johann Krzewinski and Anna Wojtas in Czarnylas is born 1866.

    The first known child of Johann Krzewinski and Julianna Wessolowska in Marienwerden is this Catharina in 1868 (if i read the German correctly), followed by Johann 1870, Marie 1878 and Paul 1881. (those 3 are the ones I can find listed on familysearch)

    This could lead one to think that Johann moved out of Pomerania and remarried sometime between 1866 and 1868, but an Anna Krzewinska Wojtaś is listed on PTG as having died in 1876, which makes this much less likely.

    1. Per, thanks for all your observations in these two comments. Yes, I do intend to get someone to translate the full document, especially since I'm sure I'll encounter that format again. Thankfully, I live not far from the city where the International German Genealogical Society (now Partnership) held its 2019 conference, and there is an active society up there.

      As for the specifics on the two identities of Johann Krzewinski, I did spot the last child born in 1866--he was one of the immigrants to Milwaukee--as well as Anna's year of death as 1876. Because I see that same family's surname seemingly popping up in different villages, I do wonder about how portable people were in that region, back in that time period.

      I also wondered whether Johann in Marienwerden might have been son of the elder Johann, but I found other records which seem to indicate that would not be the case. And yes, they were definitely a Catholic family.

      The various diacritical marks also add a challenge, particularly since I've seen some record-keepers rather lax on consistent use. I've seen Krzewinski also rendered Krzewiński, sometimes even for the same couple in subsequent baptismal records! It just means we need to widen the net even further as we search all the details in a given family's timeline.


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