Wednesday, October 13, 2021

So, What About that Surname?


We sometimes are so focused on getting to the next step in our quest to discover our ancestors that we forget all about learning anything further on who those people were. When I research a family line, I have to remind myself to put on the research brakes and take a look around before racing to find the next answer.

Now that I've found more than one record assuring me that my great-grandmother Mary Laskowski's father was named Franz Jankowski, this is one of those points. I may not necessarily stop to smell any literal roses at this juncture, but at least I can spare a moment to discover more about the surname, itself. Sometimes, those discoveries come in handy as we progress through our search process, so let's see what we can learn about the surname Jankowski.

My first stop in such a search is to see what the section on name origins says on the website. In the case of Jankowski, we learn that this is a "habitational" name for people originating in locations bearing a similar name—such as the village of Janków, located somewhat to the northwest of the village, or any of the several other Polish locations sporting that same name. In fact, there are still over thirty locations in Poland with place names derived from the root of my great-grandmother's maiden name. Some help.

That root from which all those Polish towns derive their identity is a personal name known as Janek, a boy's name meaning "God is gracious." It is actually a nickname for the popular Polish given name Jan. Once again, do you get the sense that learning about this surname is not helping me pinpoint any details about my forebears?

One detail I learned about the surname Jankowski was that the suffix -ski was often affixed to the name of the estate with which the founding ancestor was once associated. While that may seem helpful, remember we're dealing with the possibility of upwards of thirty locations in history which could have served as the family's origin.

Still, it was fun—although perhaps the Polish equivalent of trying to trace one's roots back to Charlemagne—to learn that those "-ski" surnames could have originated with a landowner, who in due process had to indicate his connection to the Polish nobility by use of an additional identifier signifying his specific clan—a designation called "herb" (thus giving an entirely different spin to the Polish surname website known as "herby"). I did, thankfully, avoid that glaring Bright Shiny Object bidding me fall down the rabbit hole of Polish privileged social classes and nobility

While I always hope I'm about to enter a research project chasing a surname rare enough to nearly guarantee that those found will be my own relatives, in the case of the Jankowski surname, that is not how it is to be. True, in the worldwide possibility of relative rankings of surnames, Jankowski ranks 5,424th, but in Poland, it is ninth most common among their surnames. Still no edge to help my research.

If it is any help, the Jankowski surname is far less prevalent in the United States, where Franz Jankowski's daughter Marianna settled with her husband and three young children. My next step in trying to discover more on Marianna's family is to inspect her collateral lines to see if anyone else from the family might offer us some useful clues. We'll turn back, tomorrow, to the same Polish websites where I found the transcription of Marianna's wedding record, in search of any other family members.

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