Monday, October 11, 2021

Which is the Right Name?


A lesson hard learned: not to be satisfied with just one document in verifying our ancestor's identity.

Like a hand in a glove—a tip gleaned from genealogy speaker Kathryn Miller Marshall—information on a specific ancestor should provide multiple aspects of that individual's identity. To be satisfied upon locating one document as verification—a death certificate, for instance—is seldom enough to ensure we have located details on the right person.

In the case of my chase to verify my great-grandmother Mary Laskowski's true identity, it is certainly a good thing I wasn't satisfied with one document. The first document I located would have sent me down the wrong research path.

Remember that, in family history research, we start with ourselves and move backward through the generations. In this particular case, that was most important advice. Not only did my paternal grandparents form their own brick wall stopping my progress, but it turned out to be a false wall: their names, as we knew them, were not their true identities.

Nevertheless, I had one thing going for me: the name on my paternal grandmother's death certificate would be listed as that false identity she was known by. The bonus, as any family historian would know, was that her death certificate would also—hopefully—list the maiden name of her own mother. Thus, Sophie's information should produce a viable lead on Mary's own original identity.

That was the theory. This was a death certificate. Whenever we use such records to support our contention about names, or places of birth, or other factors of an ancestor's identity, we need to remember one detail: how the reporting party might be feeling at the precise, unfortunate point when she provides the requested information. Getting the dearly departed's mother's maiden name correct is likely farthest from her mind.

No surprise, then, that whoever bore that responsibility for my grandmother Sophie in early February, 1952, must have been thinking of other pressing details, for the information reported was not, as I later discovered, the precise detail requested. Close, but not completely perfect.

Now, as I think over this research tangle, I want to go back and pull out my copy of that old record, if only to see who the reporting party was. For, if I remember correctly now, that person reported not Sophie's mother's maiden name, but the name of someone from Sophie's sister-in-law's family. The family lines, in someone's head, got switched. That's one minute side effect of extreme grief.

Thankfully, I eventually located Sophie's mother's own death record and gleaned a different surname for further research. Considering the matter of grief in such circumstances, I kept in mind the possibility that this report, too, could have been in error, but also tested it out as a working hypothesis: that Mary, once known as Marianna Laskowska, the sixteen year old bride of immigrant Anton Laskowski, could have been born the daughter of Franz Jankowski.

Franz, as I decided last winter, needed to become one of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2021. This week, we'll explore what we can find on Marianna's father, especially reaching back to records in the family's country of origin, Poland.

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