Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Oh, Duh: Phonics!


Tracing the family connections on our hardest-to-research ancestors is no different than dealing with any other line in our genealogy. We start with what we know, and work our way backwards in time, building one fact upon another. No overstepping our document-demanding bounds or jumping to conclusions without evidence. We move tentatively, then test, one step at a time.

The maddening thing about researching Anna Krauss was that she had to choose such a common surname for a place like New York City. To make matters worse, it was a surname with a variety of spelling options. Sometimes, she was listed as Anna Kraus, dropping the final "s"—or Krause, adding a final "e." She also had her name spelled Krouss, a reasonable guess, but a totally different search term for the desperate researcher.

But then, add in the various other names that she might have assumed in her lifetime. Was she really, at one point, the wife of Thomas Puhała? Or was that also spelled Puchała? And how did it become Puchalski? Or, if that really was her son's surname, was it an American indifference to spelling that wrought Puhalski?

Forget all those puzzles—how did the same woman show up on her own death certificate with yet another surname? The 1921 death certificate insisted this woman—on the right date and at the right address—was actually named Anna Kusharvska. Her daughter said so.

Of course, try as I might, I couldn't find any records other than that death report which included a surname like that. Even tampering with that Polish convention of the feminine ending to the name—"ska" instead of the masculine (and more widely recognized) "ski"—yielded no usable search results. 

That, among other reasons, was what inspired me to, well, do nothing more with that research puzzle. Until now.

It occurred to me, especially after spending all that time familiarizing myself with the general rules of Polish phonics, that perhaps, if I lent an ear to the sound of that name, rather than trying to focus on the appearance of its spelling, I might make more progress. So, considering those phonics tips I found online, I set about to reverse-engineer the mystery Anna Kusharvska's surname.

How might the Polish spell that surname? First, the "sh" in the initial syllable might more likely be represented in Polish by the letter combination "sz." Then, the "v" in the middle syllable would most certainly have been spelled with a "w" in Polish. In addition, though I don't know enough about the Polish language to say for sure, the insertion of that "r" in the middle syllable might indicate another aspect of Polish pronunciation that I'm just not equipped to fathom at this point.

Still, that said, could Kusharvska actually have looked like Kuszarwska? What are my chances? I had to go test out my theory with some online searches.    

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