Tuesday, November 17, 2020

There Were Three Brothers . . .


Why is it American immigrant stories always seem to start with that same opener? Perhaps there was some truth in that stereotypical "three brothers" line.

No matter whether it was always so, in today's case, it did turn out that way. How do I know? I was led there by yet another DNA trail pointing to the ancestors of my mystery grandfather, the man who showed up in New York City but refused to divulge anything of his past.

This trail, however, is a much weaker lead. Of the DNA matches who trace back to these three immigrant brothers, the strongest match shares with me a modest sixty six centiMorgans, and the weakest—at least of those who know this immigrant surname is in their family history—holds a token twenty five centiMorgans. Distant matches, indeed—at best, perhaps fourth cousins.

But it is those distant matches which can prove most helpful in building out our family tree. When we collaboratively pool our family history intel, we make so much more progress than what we, alone with our lack of personal resources, could accomplish. And that is exactly what I am hoping, as I message these DNA matches and invite them to compare notes.

All those DNA matches—there are a key eight matches I'm most interested in pursuing—claim as their ancestor two of those three immigrant brothers. All three brothers brought to American shores the rather unwieldy Polish surname Krzewinski—perhaps explaining why some of their descendants opted for the more Anglo-friendly version, Kerwin.

Thanks to our online genealogical resource back in Poland—the Pomeranian Genealogical Association—we can pull up the baptismal details for these three Krzewinski brothers. The oldest of the three, Isidor, was baptised in Czarnylas, Poland, in 1855. His younger brothers Peter and Andreas were welcomed into the family in 1861 and 1866.

Like my other Czarnylas relatives, the oldest of the three brothers—Isidor—headed for Milwaukee, arriving there in 1884. He did not, however, travel alone. Apparently, by that point, Isidor had married (in 1880) and was now the proud father of two daughters, one of whom made the trans-Atlantic journey as an infant. Interestingly, listed right after Isidor's family on the outbound passenger listing from Hamburg was another family whose descendants have proven to be DNA matches—I spotted them right away by the German listing for their homeland, "Schwarzwald."

Isidor may actually have followed in his brothers' footsteps. His brother Peter arrived in Milwaukee about 1880, although he did not settle down to family life until 1887—that marriage bringing Peter a very large family of fifteen sons and daughters, most of whom lived to adulthood. Isidor's youngest brother, Andreas, born in 1866, arrived in Milwaukee in 1885, shortly after his older brother's family—at least, according to his report on the 1900 census. And like his brother Peter, Andreas—or Andrew, as his records in Wisconsin dubbed him—arrived in America a young, single man and didn't marry until he was established in his trade as a tailor.

Though all three Krzewinski men married and had children, as far as I can tell, I only have DNA matches with descendants of two of the brothers. Of course, there may be others whose trees do not yet reach back far enough to reveal the connection—or for whom surname changes, like Krzewinski to Kerwin, have caught them unawares.

That, however, is what we know now. The question is: how do we push back farther in time? And the key is this: Isidor, Andreas, and Peter have one particular connection to my family's own story, but it is one I have yet to figure out.

The key rests with one clue: their mother's maiden name was something like Woitas. In all its spelling permutations throughout online transcriptions of Pomeranian records, it matches one particular name in my theoretical family tree, as well. That name Woitas is shared by the Krzewinki brothers' mother Anna and my Zegarska sisters' mother Marianna. But how were the two Woitas women related? For this is the only link I can find that would merit a DNA match between the Krzewinski family and mine.


  1. You are making good progress! Stay safe out there!

    1. Oh, believe me, Far Side, I have turned into a veritable hermit! The plus side to that: I've traded in my stalled-in-traffic time for zooming down the Internet highway, researching my ancestors.


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