So, I'm stuck on the name given for my supposed great-grandmother, Anna, following her unexpected death. In all the census records in which I could find her—which, admittedly, were very few—she had been represented as Anna Krauss. Despite the fairly common surname, I was pretty sure I had located the right woman; the telltale sign was the constant accompaniment of her daughter in the same New York City household.
It was that daughter, in fact, who at the shocking discovery of Anna's unexpected death, provided her mother's name for the death record. Not that she would have me, the family historian, uppermost in her mind at the moment, but she sure didn't help out by providing a name I haven't been able to find anywhere else. I didn't expect to see the resultant surname on Anna's death certificate to read Kusharvska. Where did that come from? Could Rose have, at that moment, forgotten her own mother's name?
Needless to say, I've been stuck on that detail since that discovery, five years ago. Who ever heard of a surname like Kusharvska? I tucked that one aside for future consideration—until yesterday. It occurred to me to handle that name like a Polish researcher might. Remember, it was Americans who wrote up that death certificate, but when Anna was born—and married—she was living in Poland. How would the Polish have spelled her name?
My guess was "Kuszarwska." The "sz" for the American "sh." The "w" for the American "v." If I tried that variation in spelling, could I find anything online? Did anyone else have a surname like that?
Here's what I found online—complicated, of course, by the shifting search results, I guess, by when the search was performed, for I got different results on different attempts at the same site.
The first time I tried, on FamilySearch.org, to find something like Kuszarwski (using the masculine form, as it would be more likely to be used in America), I received hits for these similar spelling variations:
Thus, it seemed credible to think perhaps when Anna's daughter Rose stammered out the answers to the government official charged with collecting such information, she may have pronounced the name wrong—a "sh" sound instead of a "ch." Who knows—maybe by that time, Polish-born Rose may have developed a New York accent, herself, rendering that middle syllable more like Ku-shawv-ska than an actual "r" sound. At least, now we know there are surnames similar to the one Rose provided at the time of her mother's death.
Among the records I found at FamilySearch, I also found the reasonable variation Kucharski in a census record—enumerators not known for their spelling precision nor their handwriting clarity—as well as Kuchorski. The name is apparently out there.
I then took my search question to Ancestry.com to see whether I could find any names similar to "Kuszarvska" there. Using that same Polish take on the spelling, I even located a Kuszmarski in the 1940 census in Chicago—not quite my target, but at least containing that telltale "sz" combination.
Searching on Ancestry brought a broad range of possibilities. It was encouraging to find an option spelled Kusharfsky—phonetically similar, if not properly Polish in spelling. I was excited to spot an obituary which reported descendants named Kucharvski, according to the indexed report but which—confounded optical character "recognition"—upon actual inspection of the faded newsprint, yielded a surname spelled Kucharyski. Oh, so close, yet so far away.
I found a Michigan death record reporting a surname spelled Kuzarvski, and a poor transcription of a surname Kuzawski, which, in the original passenger record from "Germany" rendered the name Kuzawski. Frustrating.
Still, this little field research experiment told me one thing: there may well have been a surname that sounded similar to Kusharvski—or, in the feminine case, Kusharvska. For my efforts, I now have a healthy list of spelling variations which I can also check, in case that Kusharvska leads me nowhere.
The real question, however, is: can this name, no matter how it is spelled, lead me back to that tiny village in Poland where the Zegarskis once claimed to live? That, after all, is where all my Zegarski DNA matches on my paternal grandfather's side of the family say they have their roots.
Above: Kushervski? Or Kushewski? This 1886 Detroit marriage record was indexed both ways—perhaps the same fate of the surname reported at the death of Anna Kusharvska. Image courtesy Ancestry.com.