When we take that momentous research leap across "the pond"—as it is so laughingly called in genealogical circles—we enter a different world. A world of many countries and languages, yes, but also a world filled with a history not our own, and presumptions which we are unaccustomed to following.
Picking up the research trail from my great-grandmother Marianna Laskowska, whose 1939 death in New York City gave me no useful clue as to her specific origin in her native land, I had to cobble together, step by step, the resources to not only find answers but to orient myself to the process of finding them.
It was years ago when I sent for a copy of the death certificate for "Mary Laskowski." I had learned from family members what her year of death was, and was not too surprised by the information received when the document finally made its way back to me from New York City. Granted, her married surname was misspelled Laskoska—but for the final "a" designating her gender, a variation I since stumbled upon in other documents without too much concern. And though I knew her given name should have been Marianna, there were several other American records which acknowledged the shorter version of Mary.
My main goal in locating Mary's death record was straightforward: I wanted her parents' names. The question of what good it would do me, I'm not sure I gave a second thought. After all, whoever those parents were, they likely wouldn't have been discoverable in American records—but how to find them in Polish records, back at the time I was unraveling this family history mystery, I wasn't sure. One step at a time, however, and this was my first step toward an unknown generation.
So there it was on the document: the information I was seeking. Mary, seventy seven years before her 1939 death, was supposedly born in "Germany"—the politically correct designation at the time for her Polish homeland. Her father's name? Frank Jankowsky.
Just from brute reasoning, I was pretty sure Mary was not born to anyone—German or otherwise—by the name of Frank. Nor was his surname spelled with a "y"—as in Jankowsky. I took my chances and ran with a more likely version: Franz Jankowski.
Little difference that made for years. I took this first research step nearly thirty years ago. It wasn't until more recently that developments online—which we'll explore throughout the remainder of this month—allowed me to at least look at transcriptions of original Polish records.
That, as it turned out, was a good thing. Remember how I mentioned yesterday that I wasn't entirely sure of the information provided on death certificates for this paternal line? Sure enough, on her death certificate, Mary's mother's maiden name was given as Frances Aktaboska—a surname remarkably similar to the maiden name of her daughter-in-law. Double-checking a second resource, now that we can do so with access to online sites in Poland, told a different tale.
For one thing, I discovered a transcription for Mary's own wedding to Anton Laskowski, formalized in Żółków, a scant mile from their eventual home in Żerków, Poland. Courtesy of that transcription on the Poznan Project, I found confirmation for my guess about Mary's father—and a tip revealing a more likely identity for Mary's mom.
From this second source, I now felt more comfortable about searching for Franz Jankowski as Mary's father—and a bit more confident that her mother wasn't an "Aktaboski" after all, but someone named Franziska Olejniczak.
Above: Search result for a transcription at the Poznan Project for the marriage record of Anton Laskowski with a spouse's maiden name Jankowska, near the town of Żerków, Poland, providing the parents' names for both bride and groom.