Monday, October 31, 2022

Pulling Out That To-Do List Again


Spending a month of focused research on only one ancestor can sometimes lead to great discoveries. Not so, this past month. While there has been a great deal of exploration on volunteer-powered genealogy websites in Poland—for which I am grateful—I have yet to find enough information to flesh out the Laskowski family tree in their homeland in Zerkow.

Time to pull out that to-do list once again, in the hope that more records will be added to those Polish websites in the future. After all, there are several gaps of time in the records used to create the transcriptions available on the websites. As long as those records are somewhere in the archives which provide the original source, checking again in the future may lead to further discoveries.

For now, I know where my great-grandfather Antoni Laskowski once lived. I know his parents were Mateusz Laskowski and Elzbieta Gramlewicz. I know he had a brother Lorenz and a sister Agnes, both of whom followed Antoni to New York and settled there, as well. I have a fairly complete listing of each of their families' descendants up to the current time. Fortunately, since I have eight DNA matches connected to Antoni's Laskowski line, I have been able to attach each one of them to my family tree.

I am fairly sure there is more to the Laskowski family story. I can already see that there were other Laskowski surnames in the tiny town of Zerkow during the time Antoni lived there. Who were those people? How did they connect? That will be for another year's research project.

Besides that, I know that Antoni's grandparents were Bonaventura Laskowski and Orszula Wroblewska. But I don't know anything else about those people. Included in that to-do list should be some research on the Wroblewska family, finding any other reference to documents containing that Wroblewski surname in the Zerkow area. Perhaps stretching back that additional generation will also provide me with the link to attach those unexplained other Laskowskis to this tree as well—or, at least, definitively reject them from inclusion in the family line.

While that seems like enough of a list to keep me occupied for another month in a future research year, keep in mind that, beginning tomorrow, we'll resume our exploration of Antoni's mother's maiden name, Gramlewicz. After all, that is the surname which yielded me a DNA match at MyHeritage. But it is also a surname which seems to have other Laskowski connections, as well. Before next month is out, I may make some collateral discoveries on Antoni's extended family, as well as that of his mother. I'm eager to get back to the chase on Antoni's in-laws. We'll do that, tomorrow.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Deep or Wide

In this year's research goal to delineate DNA connections with literally thousands of distant cousins, my family tree has been growing rather wide, though I can't really say growth was deep. Working this month, for instance, on my great-grandfather Antoni Laskowski's Polish ancestors, I found far more to fill in the blanks on his siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews in his collateral lines than I did for his parents or grandparents.

That work on collateral lines has produced results for my biweekly count, and that's no surprise. That continual, gradual effort brought me 338 new names in my family tree in the last two weeks, and that tree now contains 30,436 individuals.

That progress wasn't only on my Laskowski line, of course. The going has been slow and hard-won for those Polish ancestors, mostly because of the research barriers making it hard to locate the actual documentation (instead of transcripts). What helped add to those numbers has been a behind-the-scenes secondary goal I have of connecting all the collateral lines in my Tilson roots in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, as my research focus for the remainder of the year will be on my own family, my in-laws' tree has been languishing. I can't exactly remember how I gained that one new name on their tree, but it now stands at 30,211 individuals. I will return to working on that tree next spring.

The virtue of this wide versus deep approach is that collateral lines can be a valuable route to accessing missing information regarding earlier generations. Primary example is examining DNA matches with distant cousins to discover support for previously unknown ancestors.

Collateral lines can produce a bountiful family history harvest, when it comes to pushing backwards in time. And with 2,266 DNA matches at fourth cousin or closer currently at, I'll need a lot of help to map out those collateral suggestions. While I have documented all sixteen of my second great-grandparents, I've barely scratched the surface with the next generation, finding only twenty one of the possible thirty two third great-grandparents. Most of the missing identities, incidentally, come from the Polish side of my family.

As we wrap up my exploration of what can be discovered on my Laskowski side tomorrow, we'll move to Antoni's mother's line for the upcoming month's goal, exploring what can be found in Polish records on the Gramlewicz family. We'll give those Polish transcription websites a workout in the next thirty one days. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Fond Memories of Someone I Never Met


Today I want to share a story of a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. For those of us who grew up in the sixties, I realize the topic of mothers-in-law became the era's target for a wide range of public commentary, hardly any of which was flattering or even politely understated. Thus, any time I run across a story of a daughter-in-law nurturing a positive, ongoing relationship with her mother-in-law, I know I'm making the acquaintance of some special people.

Last week, I received an email from such a daughter-in-law. But before I can tell you about that, I need to step backwards nearly five years to a blog post here at A Family Tapestry, introducing the subject of an abandoned photograph of someone I called "The Man With the Moustache."

I had found the 1880s era cabinet card featuring the likeness of a resident of Walnut, Kansas, named John Blain in an antique store not far from my home in California. Someone, I reasoned, would like to be reunited with the photograph of this ancestor, so I began researching the history of John Blain. As it turns out, his was not a happy story, for tragedy left his wife a widow with four young children when John was only forty four.

Eventually, John's family left Kansas for California, where his children grew up, married, and had families of their own. I knew that, because my goal in reuniting this "orphan" photo with the Blain family's descendants meant I needed to research his family line. It wasn't long before I found a subscriber on who turned out to be a diligent researcher of the Blain family. I sent her a note through Ancestry's messaging system, offering to send her the photograph of a young John Blain. I received an immediate reply: "As I read your message I got chills down my spine...."

My correspondent, though not a direct descendant, was daughter-in-law to Helen, John Blain's granddaughter. Now well into her nineties, Helen had never met John Blain, herself—her mother was only about four at the time of John's tragic death—but her daughter-in-law was positive Helen would remember his story. 

Helen's daughter-in-law had a plan. Since Christmas was approaching, and Helen was traveling to spend the holidays with this daughter-in-law's family, I would quickly mail the photograph so the family could present it as a special surprise gift to Helen.

The minute Helen saw the picture, her daughter-in-law told me, "The first words out of her mouth were, 'That's my grandfather!' She knew right away."

With that post-holiday exchange of emails about that unusual Christmas present, Helen's daughter-in-law sent me a photograph of Helen, holding her gift. While the photo was a wonderful way to illustrate the full-circle journey of an abandoned family portrait, I am always shy to share information on living people without their explicit permission. In this case, arranging such a written release might have been complicated, and so I left the story with a final post, calling it "On its Way Home."

This Christmas season will mark five years since that exchange, as I mailed off the photo on December 20, 2017. Thus I was somewhat surprised to see a familiar name pop up in my in-box the other day, asking if I remembered sending the photo of John Blain to Helen, and whether I still had the picture her daughter-in-law had sent me, showing a smiling Helen holding her grandfather's portrait.

This is the kind of poignant email which can be hard to receive. Granted, I never met Helen. But I still felt like I shared a small—incredibly tiny—part of her life through that recovered picture of John Cunningham Blain. When her daughter-in-law wrote to give me permission to use Helen's photo, I knew what was coming next in that email: the family had just lost a beloved mother, grandmother, and, yes, mother-in-law.

Rest in peace, dear Helen. What a story your family had to share.

Above: Photograph of Helen holding picture of her grandfather, John Cunningham Blain, given by her daughter-in-law on Christmas, 2017; photograph used by family's permission.


Friday, October 28, 2022

There Were Three Siblings


While many family stories about immigrant ancestors may start out with "There were three brothers," in my great-grandfather's case, I guess I'll have to open my family tale with a less story-like "three siblings." Nor did they arrive on one ship. In Antoni Laskowski's case, that immigration story was more of a serial immigration.

It is sometimes hard to pin down the exact date of an immigrant's arrival. Apparently, you can't simply rely on the report captured in a census record. For instance, the 1900 census pins Antoni's arrival ten years earlier, in 1890. Checking with the 1910 census, that arrival date had been modified to report 1888. And the 1920 census moved that date still one year earlier: to 1887.

What did the actual passenger listing show? Though the handwriting on the document bordered on illegible, I was fairly certain that "Anton Laskowsky" was the right man when I saw the confirmation that he was traveling from Żerków. According to that record, Antoni arrived in June of 1887. None of his fellow travelers were from his village, so it appears he was traveling alone.

That, of course, was for Antoni's arrival only. His wife Marianna and his three children followed him in February of 1889. As I suspected, Marianna was traveling with other family members, or at least neighbors from the small village of Żerków. Though the handwriting was near impossible to read on the passenger list, what looks like Mieczysław Gramlewicz was the name entered right above Marianna's listing—if I am reading that handwriting correctly. Same goes for the young man Andreas Langner, also traveling with the party from Żerków.

What about Antoni's siblings? For his brother Lorenz, I face the same dilemma. Depending on which census record I view, Lorenz's arrival in New York City was given as 1883, 1884, or 1888. Considering Lorenz and his wife Anna welcomed two children into their family before their emigration from Żerków—with the second child said to have been born at sea in 1886—I'd say none of those census reports were correct. I'm still looking for the passenger records to see whether the family traveled all together, or whether Lorenz went on ahead to prepare the way for his wife and two children.

Antoni's sister Agnes had a different story, one which poignantly illustrates the sheer difficulty of life back in Żerków before the siblings finally made their exodus. Agnes had been married in the 1870s to a man in Żerków for whom she bore three children. All three children died by the time her husband also died in 1882. Marrying a second time five years afterwards, Agnes and her second husband, a man with a name destined to keep American record keepers stumped for decades to come, arrived in New York City before the birth of their second daughter in 1890.

Like her brother Lorenz, Agnes and her second husband Ignatz Giernatowski have yet to show up in passenger records. Given the unusual surname, though, a search for any documents bearing their names is not only hampered by handwriting woes, but by spelling challenges, as well.

There are other ways to overcome such research obstacles, however. Thankfully, I've found several of Lorenz's descendants in my DNA matches, as well as one line from the Giernatowskis. Finding records for immigrant families in New York proves to be far easier than looking for those relatives who stayed behind in Żerków, but it is more encouraging to discover demonstration of a genetic connection, as well.  

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Fell Down that Rabbit Hole — Again


Researching family history outside the confines of familiar resources like or can mean faltering progress. After all, exploring websites in other countries means struggling with a foreign language, as well. Perhaps, given my research goal this month of locating more resources to confirm my great-grandfather Antoni Laskowski's roots, I may have wandered a bit astray. Like, far from the beaten path.

In my defense, the idea this month of looking for a DNA match who actually resided in Poland seemed a logical step to take. How was I to know that the most promising connection would lead to Antoni's maternal side with a Gramlewicz descendant? With the first sighting of that lead, I was off, chasing all the Gramlewicz documents I could find for residents of Żerków claiming connection to that surname. Yep. Down the rabbit hole.

Only problem: guess what my research goal for next month is supposed to be?


So, we rewind. Bookmark sites where we left off the chase. We'll resume the Gramlewicz chase again next month. For now, I have four more days to catch up on my original intentions. Let's see what we can gather up—and quickly—so we can spruce up the Laskowski line.

Part of my goal for October was to clean up and update all the Laskowski profiles I've already entered into my Ancestry account. Those, for the most part, belonged to the Laskowski siblings who left their homeland for a new life in New York.

Antoni's parents, Mateusz Laskowski and Elżbieta Gramlewicz, had three children that I am currently aware of: Antoni and his brother Lorenz, and a sister named Agnes. All three of them immigrated to the United States. While I don't have copies of actual passenger lists, by other reports, it seems the two brothers may have traveled together to New York, possibly in 1884. Antoni's wife Marianna and children traveled later, most likely after Antoni sent word—and travel funds—back to them. Along with Marianna, a possible traveling companion might have been Antoni's sister Agnes who, after being widowed and losing several children, had remarried and was likely ready to start a new life in a new land.

Between the three siblings—Antoni, Lorenz, and Agnes—there are ample descendants whose profiles at need updating. Besides Antoni's three children, Lorenz had five, and Agnes had one or two who survived to adulthood. All those children became residents of the United States, making it easy for me to spruce up that branch of my family tree, adding records which were not part of the Ancestry universe the last time I passed through this way.

Besides this, though, there are likely more Laskowskis who remained behind in Poland. While access to records there may be limited, my next step will be to thoroughly check for any indication that there were other descendants of parents Mateusz and Elżbieta. From that point, if there is more time, I'll step back one more generation to see what can be found on Polish websites regarding children of Mateusz' parents, Bonaventura Laskowski and Orszula Wroblewska.

I just won't touch Antoni's maternal Gramlewicz line—at least, not for another four days. No sense getting tempted down that rabbit hole yet again. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Zakr . . . what?
Getting Negative About Half Siblings


Zakr.... Okay, take a deep breath and spell it out: Zakrzewicz. Only in Poland could I have run across a surname like that. And the only problem with that has been the question of whether that name represents a different mother for Katarzina Gramlewicz, or simply another alias.

Katarzina Gramlewicz was the direct ancestor of my recently-found DNA match at MyHeritage. On paper—at least, according to this match's tree—Katarzina's father had the same name as my second great-grandmother's father, Andrzej Gramlewicz.

That, however, is where things begin to break down. According to what I've struggled to find online, my second great-grandmother's mother had a maiden name of Nowicka. For the tree of this DNA match, though, Katarzina's mother had a different surname: Zakrzewicz.

Where did that come from? Does that mean Katarzina is only half-sister to my Elżbieta Gramlewicz? I had to go searching for any sign that Andrzej was married twice—and to two different women who were both named Katarzyna.

There are problems with such a search, at least with what is currently available online for Polish records in the Catholic parish of Żerków. There are two resources I can use. One is the Poznan Project, which is strictly limited to transcriptions of available marriage records, both church and civil, during the 1800s. The other resource, which includes baptisms and death records as well as marriage information in their transcriptions, is the website known as BaSIA

In addition to the hazards of relying on transcriptions, the collections include significant gaps in dates. For those reasons, I looked for signs of any family members in Żerków with the surname Zakrzewicz. I discovered a few unexpected details. For one, a man by the name of Adalbertus Zakrzewicz showed up with surprising regularity as the godparent at several baptisms for children with a variety of other surnames. None of those baptisms linked that surname to Nowicki. And only once was he a godparents to a Gramlewicz baptism—but not connected to Andrzej.

Another near brush with familial connection was the 1819 baptism of a Kraska baby, when a different Zakrzewicz identified as Martinus was named as godparent, along with a woman surnamed Gramlewiczowa. Close, but still not our line.

This is where things turn negative. I found no record for anyone named Zakrzewicz marrying a Gramlewicz, nor any baptismal record for a child of such a couple. Nor have I been able to identify a premature date of death for Katarzina Nowicka, mother of my Elżbieta, or even Katarzina Zakrzewicz, named as mother of Elżbieta's supposed sibling Katarzina.

The key, at this point, is that the only place I've seen mention of a wife of Andrzej Gramlewicz being named as a Zakrzewicz was years after the fact, when the younger Katarzina died in 1887. There, she was named as a married woman—her husband being Wincenty Cichocki—and the reporting party was listed as her daughter Agnes. As sometimes happens when such information is gathered, it is likely that the reporting party provided incorrect information.

On the other hand, when we review the dates where transcripts provided mother's maiden name, the elder Katarzyna was consistently listed by the maiden name Nowicka:

  • in 1820 for the baptism of daughter Apolonia
  • in 1822 for the baptism of daughter Josepha
  • in 1823 for the death of daughter Josepha
  • in 1824 for the baptism of son Joannes
  • in 1827 for the baptism of son Piotr Paweł
  • in 1827 at the death of son Jan (Joannes in Catholic records)

The record gap in question, though, is for the dates preceding that 1820 entry. Based on various other records in which the younger Katarzyna appeared, we can calculate her year of birth as either 1812 or 1814. A record at the Poznan Project indicates that her parents were married in 1810. And that 1810 document indicates the elder Katarzyna had a maiden name of Nowicka. Despite the gap in other records prior to 1820, until I am able to locate any other supporting documentation for another wife—or another maiden name—from the Zakrzewicz family, I'll call Elżbieta and Katarzyna two sisters from the same mother. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

As Things Begin to Take Shape


Sometimes, it's a matter of getting down to the work before we can begin to see things take shape. Call it a matter of faith, but sometimes we don't see until we do.

I've been plugging away at October's research project, mostly keeping the drudgery of repeated processes behind the scenes—you know, politics, sausage-making, genealogy and all—but I'm noticing something evolving as I add potential relatives to my family tree.

The process goes something like this: starting with my great-grandfather Antoni Laskowski's maternal grandparents, I pull out my screaming-yellow danger icon and place it next to the name of his tentative aunt, Catharina Gramlewicz. Then, using the transcripts I've found at the Polish website BaSIA, I search to find any records having to do with Catharina or any of her descendants, based on the information provided by my DNA match at MyHeritage. Insert danger icon for each of these newly-discovered relatives, as well. Rinse. Repeat.

Catharina—or Katarzyna, as I prefer to call her, using the traditional Polish name rather than the one listed in Latin-based church records—was supposedly the sister (or possibly half-sister) of Antoni's mother, Elżbieta Gramlewicz. Only problem: I wouldn't have known that, if it weren't for discovering this DNA match. Hopefully, this match's tree is correct, but I don't know that yet. I need to find supporting documentation to set my mind at ease over that question.

As if having found the only descendant alive for that Gramlewicz family today—face it, this person is my only known DNA match linked to that line—I find myself surprised at what happens next in this process. 

I begin to find other researchers also belonging to that family. And they are not in Poland.

The key is that I would never have discovered those researchers, had I not taken that tentative step of adding those names to my tree. Once added into my database, though, up pop those ubiquitous Ancestry hints, eager to nudge me into copying someone else's tree. Of course, I resist that temptation, but you know I'm shouting and doing the genealogy happy dance at the same time.

I want to know who these people are, so I start messaging. Not wanting to appear too abrupt or demanding—after all, "Who are you, anyway?" isn't exactly the best way to induce strangers to share family information—I carefully inspect the proposed tree for inside intel before sending out a more modulated message.

I think the Ancestry subscriber answered within four hours. And that was after I sent out my note around midnight. Not bad for a sedate exchange between strangers.

As I progressed along the generations of the original DNA match's proposed tree, that same process repeated itself. I'd enter the name of Katarzyna's daughter, search BaSIA for her married surname, glean all the sibling information I could find, then enter that all in my own tree. Up would pop another Ancestry hint: yet another researcher working on this line. I am drawing up a list of potential contacts, maybe even gleaning future collaborators to help research this line further. (A few more who are fluent in Polish might help here, as well.)

There are so many times when we hesitate to begin a work until we can see clearly that Step One is a sure-bet, solid move—when all along, having taken that first step sooner could have initiated a steady stream of additional information.

I'm glad finding the DNA match at MyHeritage prompted me to give this line a try, despite my doubts. After all, there were no DNA matches from this line listed among my set at, nor any whose trees contained Antoni's related surnames. This one from MyHeritage was my only option for moving forward—with doubts. Now that I've dug in and gotten my hands into the muddy mess of it all, those possible research clues are beginning to point me in new directions.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Searching for Polish Records


As I turn every which way to attempt locating actual records to verify my family's presence in 1800s Poland, I'm beginning to realize how America-centric our online genealogical resources are. Enter any name from my tentative, newly-discovered Polish DNA match's tree at MyHeritage into, say, the records search at either FamilySearch or, and the suggested resources come back with results for stateside people with the same name. It doesn't matter that I entered "Poland" or even "Prussia" into my search terms; the only help I can get is from records in New York or Chicago.

Granted, there are quite a few record sets available for Poland at—or, specifically, for the historic Prussian province known in the German language as Posen. In that long list of links in the FamilySearch catalog, however, there are none which cover Catholic records for the parish I'm seeking: Żerków.

Looking at the catalog at doesn't give me any more hope. Though gathered under the heading "Poland," the included record sets at Ancestry are more broad-based and thus not specific enough to help me find the documents I need. Some collections, like the Roman Catholic Church Books Index, actually refer the researcher back to the FamilySearch wiki. That page, in turn, includes hyperlinks to the actual digitized record sets for five specific Catholic church collections.

Only problem: none of those contain the parish I'm seeking.

Granted, Cyndi's List makes it look like there are plenty of Polish resources out there. When, on closer look, you realize many of the websites can help only with specific regions—not the entire country—the few resources I've already discovered become all the more valuable. Or, perhaps, it will be time to revert to a more old-fashioned search routine. Time to get out the stamped, self-addressed envelopes and enlist the help of Google Translate.

Meanwhile, I've gotten out my family tree "warning" sign. I'm busily adding—and flagging—the tentative line of my newly-discovered DNA match's ancestors to my tree. That will lay the groundwork to guide me regarding which documents to find—and remind me that these newly-found family members are still just temporary additions.


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Reading Between the Lines


When struggling to barely grasp documents verifying our ancestors, we hardly seem to be able to read what is not there on the page, let along what is on the records concerning our elusive forebears. That may be the case for my research goal this month of documenting the generations preceding my great-grandfather, Antoni Laskowski of Żerków, Poland. It's a struggle to locate anything more than mere transcriptions of two hundred year old documents.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I have continued working on a secondary goal this month—something which popped up only this September, long after I set out my "Twelve Most Wanted" research goals for this year. I am on the hunt for information on my maternal Tilson line, a line which promises to push all the way back through colonial American history to the landing of the Mayflower.

As it turns out, the Tilsons closest to my mother's branch all settled in a mountainous pocket of land wedged in between Virginia and North Carolina in northeastern Tennessee. Because of my corollary DNA goals, as well as the promise of collaboration with other Tilson researchers, I've been working on the entire Tilson line in that region. But there's another reason for extending my Tilson project to include all those distant cousins: this line threatens to extend far beyond what we'd consider simple pedigree collapse. These lines are interconnected in multiple ways, over several generations. I need to step back from a laser focus on just-my-line-only and take in the bigger picture.

There's another reason calling me to read between the lines: an unexpected, headline-generating event in the Tilson family. Apparently, one Tilson descendant became a defendant in a murder case for which the first life sentence that was ever imposed by that county's circuit court became the verdict.

From the time of that 1943 trial, the rest of that man's family dispersed. His two sons and a daughter were taken in by two unmarried aunts. His wife left the state, though later surfaced under another married name—I think—with the exact same family constellation: two sons and a daughter. Yet, at the end of her life, there was no mention of the children she had left behind. It was only thanks to the obituaries of the two youngest siblings of this wife that I was even able to confirm the two identities belonged to the same woman.

What a story must have been buried beneath the public tragedy of the murders reported in that local newspaper. How does one read between lines like that? 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Peeking Past the Pandemic


I know, I know: the coast has been clear for quite some time now. But I live among the cautious ones.

Our genealogical society had only last month hosted our first hybrid meeting, hauling out all the "broadcasting" equipment so as to not leave our newly-acquired out-of-state members out in the dark. For the coming months, we'll be doing a hybrid of hybrids, mixing in-person daytime meetings with online-only evening events. That gives us the advantage of gleaning some great speakers from around the country for those online-only events.

This week, for instance, we were privileged to host "The Archive Lady," Melissa Barker, from Tennessee, thanks to the same technology that enabled us to conduct meetings throughout the entire pandemic. For a society based in California, that's not something we could have done quite as easily, before Covid-19 changed life for everyone.

Still, face to face is vital for the ongoing vitality of an organization. We need to see each other's faces. In person. While it is understandable that, despite prudent health precautions, some society members hesitate to congregate, for those of us who can, we are tentatively stepping out into the post-pandemic air. Think summertime coffee meetings al fresco. Lunch gatherings. Field trips.

Yesterday, I met with one society member to discuss DNA research, and to put our heads together for some research problem-solving. It was good to get together again. As often happens in social settings, our conversation wandered, evolving from DNA to the archives presentation from the other night's meeting, to a wistful yearning to get back to "genealogy vacations" where we combine travel and research.

Since several members of our local society claim roots in Tennessee, perhaps our Tennessee archivist speaker has inspired us. A group field trip to research at the archives mentioned during our meeting might be a big undertaking for such a small group. On the other hand, why not plans something like that?

In one way, the pandemic may have caused us to be more cautious, and thus more short-sighted. True, there are still many lingering threats to consider. But for those who can get out, we need to grab those opportunities. Plan with prudence.

If we don't make that plan, the dream will never become reality—whether it is a group trip to research at our own state's archives, or a grand adventure to explore the roots of our relatives who lived farther away. I'm ready to take off those pandemic blinders and peer into some future possibilities, whether it is encouraging more face-to-face interaction here at home with fellow family historians, or reaching out to take our genealogy research on the road.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Meanwhile, Back on Another Website


Transcriptions never trump copies of actual historical documents, of course, but I'm still mighty grateful for the Polish webmasters and their cadre of willing genealogy volunteers who have made it possible to at least get a hint of what might be out there. In tracing the lines of my paternal grandmother's father, Antoni Laskowski, I've found a DNA match at MyHeritage who is likely descended from Antoni's grandparents.

My first stop this week was to check out the information at the BaSIA website—yes, a source of transcriptions—to see whether I could verify that DNA match's ancestors did connect with Antoni's mother, Elżbieta Gramlewicz. While I still need to find a way to view the actual documents referred to at that website, I haven't forgotten another Polish resource I've used in the past: the Poznan Project.

The Poznan Project is also a source of transcriptions. And, as it was put on their website, "our database only provides basic information to identify the spouses" and accuracy "depends on the quality of the record and the skills of the transcriber." While I salute those many willing volunteers for making it possible for me to learn anything about my Polish forebears, I do realize that is a warning to take to heart. This is only a first step on my way to learning about my family. I consider these sources to be way-pointers in my research journey, not the destination.

So, what should I find at the Poznan Project with my first search effort this year? An 1810 Catholic parish entry for the town of Żerków, showing the marriage of twenty three year old Andreas Gramlewicz and twenty five year old Catharina Nowicka. Since this is a Catholic record, the names were likely rendered in Latin, not the couple's native tongue. These two would be the parents of Antoni's wife Elżbieta. To find the original record, I'd have to contact the Archdiocesan Archive in Gniezno, Poland. But at least now I know what to do for Step Two.

Scrolling down a bit further in my search results, I find an 1837 entry from the same Catholic parish for Catharina Gramlewiczówna—that same surname suffix we discussed the other day—and Vincentius Cichocki. Catharina's age was given as twenty five, making her year of birth approximately 1812. Unfortunately, no parents' names were given. 

I notice, while searching through other entries in that same parish, that some, but not all women listed in those marriage entries were also labeled with that same surname suffix. Perhaps that was a tradition in that area, or the preferred etiquette extended to the brides by a specific priest. Or maybe it was just the style of a certain time frame, as I saw this suffix used in the earlier records but not those towards the end of that century.

What about the discrepancy between the two maiden names entered for Andrzej's wife Katarzyna? I've already found the entry for their marriage, showing the maiden name Nowicka in 1810. Where does that other surname—Zakrzewicz, from the MyHeritage trees—come in? There certainly were others in the village of Żerków claiming that surname, but none with the given name of Katarzyna (or Catharina), nor any marrying a Gramlewicz. Negative search results are important to note, as well.

I'll continue searching with the other surnames presented in MyHeritage's "Theory of Family Relativity" estimates, to see what can be found on the Poznan Project website. Then, combining this website with the BaSIA website, I'll pull out my warning sign icon and attach it to this line of descent as I tentatively enter it in my family tree. From there, I'll look to other websites to see whether I can find actual documents to support these transcriptions.


Thursday, October 20, 2022

Before You Can See It . . .


Sometimes, you just have to know it's there before you can see it. You could say that about a blind alley when searching for an unfamiliar address. Or spotting a stealthy feline out in its natural habitat. I'd say the same goes for some surprises in our family trees.

While I am absolutely not an advocate for copying other people's pedigree charts—you really have to prove the work for yourself—a well-supported tree pertinent to our own family is certainly worth the examination. All researchers can learn from each other. Some of our fellow researchers we can consider as trustworthy trailblazers.

In the case of what we can learn from our DNA matches, well, for what other reason have we tested, if not to fill in the blanks for our mystery ancestors? That's the situation I'm in, working on October's research goal. I'll looking for more details regarding my paternal grandmother's Polish roots. That means finding Laskowski family connections from Żerków, Poland.

My grandmother Sophie's father, Antoni Laskowski, apparently was connected to the ancestors of one DNA match I've found through the testing company at I've written about this match's ancestor—possibly a sister of Antoni's mother, Elżbieta Gramlewicz. Thankfully, through MyHeritage's Theory of Family Relativity tool, I now have a line of descent stretching from Elżbieta's father Andrzej Gramlewicz to her sister—or, possibly, half-sister—and then on to the next generation with a daughter named Teresa Cichocka.

Using this outline provided by the MyHeritage Theory of Family Relativity, I could see the surname attached to the next two generations was Hilscher. And that was a good thing. Returning to the BaSIA website I mentioned yesterday, if I searched for the surname Cichocka—or even the masculine version, Cichocki—I could find no search results linked to the town of Żerków. However, if I searched for Gramlewicz or the surname of Teresa Cichocka's son—a Hilscher—I could find several results from the same town as my Laskowski ancestors.

It took testing that suggested surname possibility down the line—looking for Hilscher—which pointed out that "blind alley" of the Cichocki family. Now, I can begin sketching out a family tree—and locating related documents—for this newly-discovered sibling of my second great-grandmother Elżbieta Gramlewicz.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Filling in the Blanks With DNA Matches


It's off to my favorite Polish genealogy websites today. Let's see whether anything I find on the Gramlewicz family from two hundred years ago will fill in the blanks on the family tree branches connecting me with a recently-discovered DNA match at MyHeritage. I'm beginning with a website powered by Polish volunteers which provides transcripts of over five million records from the historic region of Wielkopolska.

Of course, I don't necessarily need to see all five million of those transcripts added by diligent volunteers over the past decade. I just need to see those which pertain to my Laskowski and Gramlewicz ancestors' village of Żerków. Keeping the useful Google Translate within reach, the intrepid researcher aims to conquer all—well, at least all those Polish terms in the website. Despite selecting the website's language drop-down menu to indicate English, there is still a lot of lingo to translate, so be prepared with a translation tool for this website.

The site is called, in English, Database of Archival Indexing System. I suspect its nickname—BaSIA for short—is an acronym from the Polish form of its title. Once on the site, I first enter the surname I am searching—Gramlewicz, my great-grandfather Antoni Laskowski's mother's maiden name—in hopes of finding any records of that family added since my last visit a year ago. From that point, I then sort through the categories of results offered up. The town of Żerków turns out to be the result with the most entries, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Once scrolling through the search results, I click on the hyperlinked name of the town to see an overview of what records are available. As suspected—and confirmed by that handy Google Translate service at my fingertips—there are records concerning the births or baptisms, marriages, and deaths for the local area. There is one problem, though: there is a huge date gap between the earliest records (1818-1829) and the continuation set (1874-1920). Of course, it's that gap in the fat middle which I'd be most interested in seeing.

Still, I power onward, scrolling through all the results flagged for the Gramlewicz surname. I notice the colored bars used by the website to highlight entries of interest aren't always accurately placed, so I scroll even more slowly and let my eyes do the scanning for the many Gramlewicz entries. I'm looking for Andreas Gramlewicz and Catharina Nowicka if I'm looking at Catholic church records, or Andrzej and Katarzyna if the entries were noted in civil records.

It wasn't until long after that first set of records from the 1820s that I finally spot something of interest. I notice an 1886 death record for Antoni Laskowski's mother, Elżbieta Gramlewicz. The transcript also includes the name of her husband and her father, confirming this is the right woman. Just below that is a marriage record for Elżbieta's young widowed daughter Agnes and her second husband, once again confirming connection to my great-grandfather Antoni's parents.

Just two entries beyond that is one which leads to my DNA match's ancestor. It is a transcription of the death certificate for seventy three year old Catharina Gramlewicz Cichocka. The 1887 certificate indicates her spouse, Vincent Cichocki, as well as her parents.

Don't jump up with shouts of acclamation just yet. While Catharina's father was indeed showing as Andreas Gramlewicz, her mother was listed as Catharina Zakrzewicz, not Nowicka.

Same person? I can't say just yet. Most assuredly, this will mean more digging to find out the answer.

Keep in mind, at this point we are merely relying on transcripts of documents, not scans of the actual records, themselves. We are using those copied record details to serve as way pointers. We need, as a follow up step, to take a look at the documents themselves—not just of this death record, but of any records explaining why we sometimes see Catharina represented with one surname, then another. Perhaps there were actually two wives of Andreas, each named Catharina. Or perhaps Catharina's husband died when she was young enough to have remarried. Depending on the outcome of our exploration, Catharina—or Katarzyna—and Elżbieta will either be sisters or half-sisters.

In the meantime, now that my DNA match has opened my eyes to the possibility of Cichocki relatives by marriage, I'm off to see what else can be discovered about this young Cichocki couple and any of their descendants listed in the BaSIA database, as well.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

A Primer on Polish Surnames


In case I need to say this, I'll go ahead and state the obvious: Polish is a different language than English. While that statement might bring on an "oh, duh" reaction, let's take a few minutes—like, the remainder of this blog post—to dive a bit deeper into the differences between the two languages, at least when it comes to naming traditions. This might come in handy as we progress with exploring the family trees of Polish DNA matches.

I've run into a promising DNA match at MyHeritage, someone from Poland whose third great-grandparents may be the same as my Antoni Laskowski's grandparents. In other words, that DNA match and I might be fourth cousins. Only problem: that match's tree shows those third great-grandparents' names in Latin, likely based on Catholic church records. Worse, their daughter's maiden name—which should also be my second great-grandmother's surname—shows as Gramlewiczówna, not Gramlewicz, as I've already found in records.

Where did the -ówna come in? And does that make any difference?

Due to various differences in general between Polish and English, names—like other words in Polish—take on modifiers as a suffix to the root word. While there are many modern conventions now added to the basic concepts that were kept during the time of our ancestors, let's focus on those more traditional name modifiers, since those will be what we find as we hunt for records documenting our ancestors in Poland.

Among other functions, those modifiers can indicate gender of the person (or item) being referred to. The simplest example of this, when discussing surnames, is when the ending "i" in a surname is changed to "a" to refer to a woman. Thus, as I mentioned yesterday, my great-grandfather Antoni Laskowski would, as a man, bear a surname ending in "i" but any unmarried sisters would be referred to by the surname modification Laskowska.

That, however, is the easy part. If, in conversation, a speaker were referring to more than one person in a family group, if that group included at least one man, the modifier would be changed to use the masculine plural suffix. For instance, Antoni Laskowski's entire family group would now be referred to as Laskowscy while in English we would simply have referred to the Laskowskis.

There's more. Let's say Antoni's sister Agnes got together with her niece Sophie Laskowska for a delightful afternoon outing. For that Laskowski girls' day out, people would refer to the women with a feminine plural ending, as Laskowskie.

It helps to recognize these surname variations when we read records, not just to know how many people we are discussing—or exactly whom the group included—but to understand that what seems like a spelling aberration is really pinpointing the same surname while revealing details about the group's makeup.

But there's still more. And this is closer to our question this week. While there are handy charts to summarize what I've just pointed out, I had to scroll down to nearly the bottom of this one online resource to find my answer about the surname variant Gramlewiczówna.

The suffix -ówna denotes a special version of the feminine surname variant. For this, we again need a quick study of Polish. While the suffix -owa (or -ewa) denotes a married woman, if the suffix is slightly modified to read -ówna, we are now referring to an unmarried woman. Thus, my DNA match's second great-grandmother Catharina (or, I suspect, Katarzyna) Gramlewiczówna would only be referred to with that surname before her marriage. The surname Gramlewiczówna thus was not an entirely different surname, but simply the Polish way of denoting that Catharina was a young, unmarried woman. In other words, had she lived in America, her maiden name would have simply read Gramlewicz.

Though that may seem to be a satisfying explanation, I'd still like to find that version of her name recorded in governmental or church records in Poland—as well as an identification of her parents and listing of their geographic location. That will become my next exploration.



Monday, October 17, 2022

Comparing Names


In the process of delving into our family's history, we can collect quite a variety of names and surnames. Those family names, however, we presume will remain the same as we explore each line of our ancestors, the surname passing identically from generation to generation following the customary patrilineal progression. Not so, however, when it comes to the Polish, as I'm discovering while tracing my grandmother's Laskowski roots.

Anyone researching Polish family history has likely already learned that surnames change, depending on whether it is a man who is being identified, or his wife. My paternal grandmother's father was Antoni Laskowski, for instance, but his daughter would be referred to as Sophie Laskowska, the feminine form -a being utilized at the surname's suffix for women.

There is much more to this cultural tradition, of course, but when I first started researching the Laskowski line, I had to adjust to this Polish naming norm. Now, however, we get to dive deeper into this world of Polish surnames as I examine the "Theory of Family Relativity" presented for one interesting DNA match at MyHeritage. I'm in search of more training on that world of surname suffixes for my Polish ancestors.

When MyHeritage presents their reasons as to why my Antoni Laskowski's grandparents might be one and the same as my DNA match's ancestors, I run into many naming issues. The first problem, as I see right away, can be easily dispatched. The MyHeritage Theory is only 55% certain that my Andrzej Gramlewicz is the same person as my DNA match's tree entry for Andreas Gramlewicz. Checking my handy search engine, I easily see that the Polish form for Andreas—which name was likely found in a Catholic record, based in Latin—is Andrzej. Likewise, Andrzej's wife Katarzyna was likely recorded in Catholic records as Catharina, as my DNA match's tree had the name listed.

When I move down to the subsequent generation in my Polish DNA match's tree, however, I run into a problem far more difficult to simply explain away. In addition to my Elżbieta (Antoni's mother), Andreas and Catharina apparently had an older daughter they named after her mother, Catharina. While the spelling variation between Catharina and Katarzyna can easily be explained, it takes a bit more to piece together the story behind this daughter's maiden name. According to this DNA match's tree, that surname was not Gramlewicz, but Gramlewiczówna.

Same woman? Or not? We'll take some time tomorrow to break down the explanation.  

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Watching the Trees Grow


What do you do with all your DNA matches? I don't just sit there and wait for the numbers to pile up. My goal is to find a place for each new match in the family trees I'm growing. Those trees may not be growing very tall, but they are certainly getting wider. And that helps.

Lately, while working on my research goals concerning the Laskowskis of Żerków, Poland—the ancestors of my paternal grandmother—I've been tracking the seventy nine DNA matches from Poland who have shown up in my account at MyHeritage. Of course, some could be people from my father's paternal line, which I'm not tracing this month. Some, though, are beginning to shape up as possibilities.

Consequently, the focus of that research goal meant that my tree grew by 277 documented names in the past two weeks, and now that tree includes 30,098 individuals. Not all are from Poland, of course, but that is where I'll be honing my focus in the upcoming weeks remaining in this month.

While Laskowski is not exactly a rare surname among the Polish diaspora, some of the other surnames which have married into that line are somewhat more unusual. Coupling, say, a search for Laskowski with one for Gramlewicz—Antoni Laskowski's mother's maiden name—helps me hone those DNA matches at MyHeritage. And that is exactly what is leading me to decipher those DNA enigmas among my matches.

Though I've focused on a research quest for my paternal grandmother's Laskowski roots this month, I haven't forsaken work on my in-laws' tree entirely. I try to balance my efforts equitably. Thus, a modest increase of twenty more names in the past two weeks brought that tree up to 30,210 individuals. Eventually, I will be back to focus on that tree in my research goals, and it helps to keep everything spruced up by adding details—births, deaths, marriages—to the tree as they occur.

Now that I've laid out the basics of my paternal grandmother's Laskowski line, I'll devote time next week to exploring the tree of my most likely match found last week at MyHeritage, cross-checking this person's documentation. The match looks viable, but you know how it is: we all need to check the verification for ourselves before adding another branch—or even a twig—to our own family tree.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

"The cuticle of his left index finger"


So I'm reading this book. Not that I've suddenly caught up on all my reading—my last volume vanquished was published in 2006—but this book actually made its debut a mere year ago. And yes, it was only on the second page of the preface that "the cuticle of his left index finger" arrested me.

Imagine that concept in context for a minute. The actual setting gives more of the feel of the moment:

...the only person at a poker table who has identified the tell of the dominant player. While other players are calculating the mathematical odds of having the winning hand, he's staring into faces. He's watching his rival to see how many times he blinks and whether he picks the cuticle of his left index finger.

I want to be that person. Only, instead of reading poker players, I want to read my ancestors. Their faces. Their eyeballs. Yes, even what they're doing with their hands. Ferreting out those "tells," I want to get into the stories of my people.

The book, by entrepreneur Luke Burgis, is Wanting. I don't supposed you'd have been interested in it if I had begun with an excerpt like this: "Mimetic theory sheds light on what motivates economic and political and personal tensions...." But that is what the book is all about.

While I have already learned that "mimetic" refers to "imitative" and that people learn "to want the same things other people want, just as they learn how to speak the same language and play by the same cultural rules," I will see how that mimetic wanting locks people into "cycles of desire and rivalry that are difficult, practically impossible, to escape."

Hopefully, I'll see even more than that. I'll start peering into the few artifacts I can find from my ancestors' lives, looking for signs of those pried-loose left-finger cuticles and other expressions, not so much of that ancestor's life, but how he or she experienced that life.

Ideas can become regenerative. Reading a book is not simply a matter of reading a book. Opening a book is opening a volume of thoughts—thoughts captured and repackaged by someone else but from which my own can glance off, ricochet through my mind, gather connections, and emerge a re-invented creature. I'm sure I'll learn something from Luke Burgis' book. I may even experience something valuable. Far more important, though, is what I do after my mind passes through the author's prose. Reading books, after all, is for inspiration.


Friday, October 14, 2022

Gone Bald


I always wondered why my dad had gone bald at such an early age. The only picture I recall seeing him in with his hair was a photograph from his teen years. By the time he was a professional musician in his twenties, his photos revealed more of the look I was accustomed to seeing.

Going bald by one's twenties seemed terribly early to me, but I never asked my dad why. Of course, I never knew any other members of his family besides his one sister, so I had no way to compare my dad to his male relatives.

It was when my cousin shared old photographs of the family that I realized why my dad went bald at such a young age. That was apparently his dad's story, too. And, as we can see from a glimpse of his head in a photo of a Laskowski family gathering, his maternal grandfather's plight, as well.

There is, however, a reason overarching even those details. It was not just that his dad carried the same trait, or that those genes were blended with the Laskowski side of his family. It was that quite a large proportion of those claiming a Polish heritage carry the same propensity.

Now that we have the relatively inexpensive ability to test our DNA, not only are consumers availing themselves of this scientific advance, but whole countries are looking to study what broad-based genetic studies can reveal about people groups. The main example that comes to mind is the People of the British Isles project, thanks to news articles I've stumbled across in various genealogy circles. For instance, take this nifty map showing the genetic clustering of the British population, or this archaeological display and explanation of the United Kingdom's genetic heritage from the University of Oxford's Museum of Natural History.

Only problem: as fascinating as that may be, I don't want to know the genetic history of the British people. I need to know about the genetics of the Polish people.

Fortunately, the British aren't the only ones to have thought of such a brilliant project. There is now a study dubbed the Thousand Polish Genomes Project. Similar to the one for the United Kingdom, this project will be used for scientific purposes, likely including furthering the study of genetics as well as seeking applications to various fields of medicine.

I couldn't help but smile when I read one resultant report of the propensities inherent in the Polish heritage. Polish people are more likely to be blonde and to have freckles. No surprise there. But there's another nationally-shared tendency: the likelihood for Polish men to go bald.

So there you have it. My paternal grandfather may have been tight-lipped about his national heritage, but all along, he was wearing a sign on his head advertising his Polish origin.

Inset above: Closeup of Antoni Laskowski from photograph at family gathering in New York City circa 1920.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

It Helps to Know the Territory


Years ago, when I would tell pen-pals or other foreign acquaintances that I live in California, I would invariably get this response: "Oh, you live in California? You must go to Disneyland every day!"

Not quite. For me, that would involve a six-hour way. Not, incidentally, including L.A. traffic.

I know that, but my correspondent from Greece, or South Africa, or even Australia might not have that figured out. Even friends from small American states like Connecticut or Rhode Island can't seem to comprehend the need to travel hours on end, just to reach a destination in the same state.

Now that I'm exploring the DNA matches I've found from Poland on MyHeritage, I'm becoming painfully aware that my ignorance of my matches' geography may cause me to fall into the same trap: thinking each DNA cousin lives down the street from those matches we share in common, when in fact, their distance from each other's home may reveal another kind of distance.

I say that because I already have discovered how distance in that home country translated into very distinct branches of my ancestry, even though they all came from what is now the same place: Poland. Keep in mind, these branches on my family tree represent ancestors living well over one hundred years ago. Life in Poland at that time was very different. Unlike our current opportunities to travel quickly over great distances, giving not much thought to the expense or logistics, a much more impoverished country of that time did not support such conveniences. Thus, communities were far more insulated from each other.

For my research focus this month, I already know the region from which my Laskowski ancestors emigrated was part of the Prussian empire once called Posen. That is where I've been most successful at finding documents confirming their relationship to other family members. Of course, any of their descendants still remaining in Poland are not guaranteed to still be living in that same tiny village of Żerków. But I feel fairly confident that those descendants may still be living nearby—yet, how would I know if I didn't have even a rudimentary knowledge of the territory?

Much like my country is distinguished by regions—mountains, plains, valleys—and political divisions like states and counties, other countries have their own systems to classify these areas. Especially in questions of where to look for records, it helps to understand the system in place in our ancestor's native land. We can glean even more about political relationship, occupations and ways of life, by delving into these non-genealogical concepts. In a way, it guides us in how to read between the lines on those dull, boring vital records.

The first thing I realized about researching Poland, of course, was the war-torn geographic and political upheaval experienced throughout the centuries. Poland was not always Poland. In the case of some partitions, the Poles were beholden to control by other countries' governments, making an imprint on those from whom we are descended. We need to understand this.

Then there are the words we see often, prompting us to wonder whether we should inquire further about them. One of those words, for me, was voivodeship. Finally, I had to look that word up. Apparently, the word is used in many eastern European countries to designate an area administered by a voivode. Seems logical enough...but what is a voivode? Think of that as a governor. Or a duke. Possibly a military commander. Use of the term stretches far back in history.

In Poland, we can think of a voivodeship as a province. It represents the highest level administrative division of the country. Though we can orient ourselves to that concept, unfortunately the labels and location borders have changed over the years—in the latest case, quite recently (1999). And yet, I still find it helpful to wrap myself around the notion of overlaying current geographic and political divisions on top of the historic ones. I want to know where, in today's terms, my ancestors once lived. And I want to explore the "personality" and qualities of each Polish region—which, in snapshot form, we can do, thanks to material readily available through the Internet.

I discover, in my exploration, that while we might think of Poland as for the "Polish," even that country has ethnic variations. I first learned that when I discovered the Kashubians living in the region of historic Pomerania where my Polish paternal grandfather's family originated. A simple data overview—like this fact check regarding Poland—can help orient the researcher to variations within a country, and lead us away from painting our ancestors' history with too broad a brushstroke.

It is said that one of the largest diasporas in the world is that of Polish immigrants. Of that estimated twenty million people of Polish descent living in multiple countries around the world, nine million live in the United States—almost three percent of the population.

While there are several pockets of American population still celebrating Polish festivals and customs, and baking traditional Polish dishes, I suspect a great number of them don't completely grasp the full breadth of the experience of living back in Poland—let alone the Poland of a century removed from us. In my attempts to connect with my DNA cousins still living in Poland, at the least, I can prepare by augmenting my understanding of the territory, the life experiences, and the people whose ancestors may have been neighbors of mine.


Wednesday, October 12, 2022

D N A Dots


Sometimes, we have more data than we realized at the start. In sorting through the information on my DNA test at MyHeritage, I've discovered I have seventy nine options that may lead me to discoveries about my paternal grandmother's Polish heritage. While I sift through those DNA matches, though, I need to get up to speed on using MyHeritage's tools. After all, it was one of those tools at MyHeritage which led me to a research breakthrough on another branch of my Polish ancestry. Best to not ignore those tools at hand.

About a year ago, MyHeritage introduced the capability of labeling DNA matches based on an open-ended colored dot labeling system. I knew that system was there, waiting for me to explore its potentials. But since I'm primarily an user, I hadn't yet gotten up to speed on that MyHeritage update. Until, that is, my ancestor hunt pointed me in a direction for which AncestryDNA didn't have answers: international DNA data from others with Polish heritage.

I'm now in the process of reviewing those seventy nine potential Polish cousins, but the first question is: who belongs to which side of my paternal family? After all, both my paternal grandparents emigrated from Poland.

As I work my way through this pile of data, it would be a good idea to make notes as I go. Sortable, searchable markers would be optimal. And the colored dot scheme, introduced at MyHeritage about a year ago, is the perfect tool for this purpose. I'll label as I go.

MyHeritage has provided several tutorials to guide researchers through this dotting process—everything from a blog post to a long-form entry in their Help Center to a video demonstration by Daniel Horowitz. The process for using the labels and making corresponding notes is straightforward. The catch is: how to assign which color to which ancestor? And...couples? Or individual ancestors?

Leah Larkin, The DNA Geek, always has a nifty analogy to use in her posts, though it may come as no surprise that here, she used the comparison to those old-fashioned candy dots...but trust me, once you see her post, you'll probably never get that image out of your mind as you work through your DNA candy. 

This post explores Leah's thinking on how she labeled the thirty potential choices, noting right away that once created, those colored-dot labels are displayed and sorted alphabetically. She gives tips on how to handle decisions on naming those potential thirty label options. Morale of this story: plan ahead. Learn all you can about this system before going ahead and using it. Willy-nilly can be fixed, of course, but why start off on the wrong foot?

Another DNA blogger, Kitty Cooper, recommends to users that they follow the same color choices made on their AncestryDNA account when setting up the color coding scheme at MyHeritage. I am not sure that would be the best choice for me, though. (See Willy-nilly, above.)

Always thinking far ahead, Roberta Estes realized what seems like the perfect color coding scheme to maximize the color dot options at MyHeritage. I've never been one to assign color to one couple, although I realize many genetic genealogy giants advise such. My concern has always been that my tree is full of half-relationships. In Roberta Estes' post, though, she reasons: 

If an ancestor was married more than once and you share DNA with someone who descends from that ancestor and a different spouse, that match is automatically pushed back to the earlier generation.

Food for thought.

No matter which method I use—or you choose to use—one positive about the MyHeritage system is that you can always rewind, go back to the beginning and switch to another coloring system. Flexibility may be just the key to eliminating the fear and paralysis of not stepping out and just starting to do the work necessary. There is always room for a do-over.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Exploring New Territory


While testing DNA at opens up a world of family tree-building possibilities—considering there are now more than twenty two million others who have tested there as well—we've already discovered that Ancestry is not the only DNA testing option available. Realizing that I'll never find that key match who will help me build out my family tree if that match tests at another company, long ago I began the process of testing at all other companies used for genetic genealogy.

The company of most interest to me right now, after, is MyHeritage. While MyHeritage is well known by genealogists in the United States, what many may not be aware of is their international reach. After all, their world headquarters is located in Or Yehuda, Israel. Even more encouraging is the fact that the company supports their services in forty two different languages from around the world.

Taking a look at my DNA test at MyHeritage, I see right away that there are multiple ways to sort my matches—which is a good thing, since I have well over twelve thousand of them to consider. First, I tried clicking the search icon on the far right of the screen to enter an "ancestral surname," but in my hunt to locate others matching my paternal grandmother's Laskowski family, the only result I found was for a man   with a very French sounding given name. The match was too distant to provide me a promising start.

There are several other ways to search through the DNA matches at MyHeritage, thankfully. Rather than search for my grandmother's maiden name—my research goal for this month—I tried the option to search for locations. Entering "Poland" as my search choice, I gained a far more promising seventy nine options.

Don't get too excited just yet, though. Of those seventy nine, the closest cousin shares only forty three centiMorgans with me. This is hardly a close relationship. Nor does the surname sound familiar. However, I can easily click on "Review DNA Match" to be brought to another page on the website which compares my data with that of this match, and then lists all the matches I have in common with this first candidate.

Right away, I can see the mutual matches shared by this first candidate and myself belong to another branch of my Polish ancestry: that of my father's paternal line, whereas Laskowski is my paternal grandmother's family. In fact, the only reason I know this is thanks to another tool offered to customers of MyHeritage—called AutoClusters—which led to the discovery of where that line originated in Poland.

For this month's research goal, though, I'll set aside that mental note. It's important to stick with our plan. For now, I'll continue working my way through those DNA entries from the Poland location search. Granted, seventy nine iterations of this process can become tedious, so I'll continue my work behind the scenes. 

In the meantime, though, I remembered one other recent addition to the MyHeritage toolkit which we can examine tomorrow: a color-coding method for sorting these candidates. Why pass through this way once without leaving notes for future goals? It's important to record observations as we work our way through this list. We'll examine how MyHeritage uses those color codes tomorrow. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

. . . and Our Second Great Grandparents


If the problem of dropped genetic connection can manifest as close as third cousin, that puts us in an iffy position when our testing hope is to fill in the pedigree blanks on some missing second great-grandparents' names. If we're talking third cousins, we're talking second great-grandparents.

In this month's research quest, guess whose names I've barely gleaned?

Fortunately for me, though my paternal grandmother immigrated to the United States as a toddler, she obviously traveled in the care of her parents. When that grandmother, born Sophie Laskowska in her native Poland, finally breathed her last, sixty six years later in New York City, her death certificate provided me with confirmation of her parents' names.

Once again, because those parents—my great-grandparents—also died in New York, I was able to obtain their death certificates, as well. The gift on those documents was the revelation of names of my ancestors who never came to this country. From those reports, I learned that my Laskowski second great-grandfather was named Mateusz.

With my attention riveted to DNA reports at this weekend, it was a simple matter to jump over to the ThruLines section and see the report for matches linked to this second great-grandfather, Mateusz Laskowski.

I confess, even though my mind knew that some third cousins who are truly part of my family tree will "drop off" the genetic family chart, I was disappointed to see the count of DNA matches linked to Mateusz Laskowski. There were only seven matches, six of them belonging to the same line as mine: through Mateusz's son Antoni, Sophie's father.

My flagging spirits rallied—momentarily—when I realized I had unearthed a record naming Mateusz's father's name. I scrolled to the next section at Ancestry's ThruLines to see how many matches I connect with there for Bonaventure Laskowski.

Surprise: only seven matches. The same seven matches, incidentally, which appeared when I looked at my ThruLines results for Mateusz's generation.

Perhaps I have drawn the "unlucky winner" card for this DNA contest, and I got the recombined leftovers from the Laskowski genes when all my third cousins got the opposite side of the deal. But I doubt that. There might be another factor at work here. After all, now that we're dealing with international aspects of genealogy, when it comes to DNA testing, all those Polish third cousins may have zigged one way while I and my American cousins zagged the other.

Remember that old DNA mantra, "fish in all three ponds." If I'm relying solely on finding answers with my DNA test at while all my Polish cousins are customers of another company, we'll never know about each other. Remember, the only way to find a DNA answer is if both missing puzzle pieces test at the same company.

While is certainly expanding its international reach, there is another DNA testing company—adding a fourth "pond" to that old DNA mantra—which already has a presence established in Europe. Fortunately, I've already tested at that company, as well. It's time to roll up my sleeves and start examining my matches there, for I already have several who are clearly from Poland or, sporting a Polish surname, are living in other places in Europe. Tomorrow, we'll begin examining the DNA results at MyHeritage.    

Sunday, October 9, 2022

About Those Third Cousins . . .


Those of us who have DNA-tested multiple family members may notice some unexpected results among our shared matches. Among known family members, our level of shared genetic material may vary widely, especially as the relationships grow more distant.

Take this example reader (and fellow genea-blogger) Lisa mentioned in a comment last week:

Third and fourth cousins who show a strong level of relation to me, while their full siblings barely match me.

As Lisa suspected, this situation may partially be connected to test analysis capabilities, though this is more apparent when we check out this chart comparing results between companies. It seems claims better results than other DNA companies when it comes to detecting relationships at the level of more distant cousins.

That, of course, does not reveal the entire picture of why one sibling of a distant cousin DNA match might show a stronger relationship to us than that match's sibling at the same testing company. A strong part of the answer involves the concept of recombination. But even within that process of recombination, males and females have differing rates of recombination. Thus, there could be an impact to the comparison if the distant-cousin siblings you match are brother and sister rather than, say, brother and brother.

I have observed examples of those differing results between matches, in particular when preparing to take a class given by Blaine Bettinger. One of the course prerequisites was to have DNA test results from myself and two siblings. Since I don't have two full siblings—the others in my family are half-siblings—I asked my two sisters-in-law, along with their brother (my husband) to participate in this preparatory phase for my class. In comparing results showing each participant's matches, this very situation was quite evident.

One way to see this demonstrated is to look at data provided in Blaine Bettinger's own crowdsourced "Shared centiMorgan Project," now accessible in an interactive format at DNA Painter. Let's take, for example, the website's readout for the DNA match relationship of third cousin.


I've taken this example from the current version of the Shared cM Project at DNA Painter. The top line—"3C"—of course is shorthand for third cousin. Underneath that, the 73 refers to an average centiMorgan result for third cousin matches based on the sixty thousand submissions provided to the Project by volunteer participants.

However, take a look at the final line in this third cousin square from the chart. That entry refers to the range of shared centiMorgans observed between two matches who are third cousins. In the experience of those reporting their test results for this project, two third cousins can share up to 234 centiMorgans. More to our point today, though, notice the lower number in that possible range shared by two third cousins: zero. Yes, zero.

In other words, it is quite possible for two bona fide third cousins to share absolutely no family-linked genetic material—other than, of course, the genes commonly shared by all humankind.

There have been several articles which explain this same issue demonstrated in the Shared cM Project chart at DNA Painter. One such example, from LegacyTree Genealogists, examines a potential "nonmatch" between two individuals who were supposedly third cousins, and explains the process used to determine that the two were family members, after all.

When we consider that, at least on mathematically-determined averages with the assumption of two to three children per generation (a conservative estimate), we could have 190 third cousins, our chances of encountering such a distant cousin who, while matching us, does not match our sibling is a strong possibility. I know I have seen wide variations in shared centiMorgan counts in my own exploration of test results for my husband and his two siblings.

However, no matter how helpful we may find the Shared cM Project to be—or its easily usable interactive version featured at DNA Painter—we need to remember that it is less likely that a value of zero shared centiMorgans for a non-matching cousin will be submitted to a crowdsourced database. For those readers who are fans of number-crunching, this article leads one to think that perhaps such non-matches may be more prevalent than previously assumed.

It was an eye opener to compare the matches showing on the lists of my husband and his two sisters. I actually found the variances I discovered to be quite helpful. One sister's results seemed to reach far back through the generations to her paternal roots in County Tipperary, Ireland, while the other sister's matches pointed more clearly to another branch of the paternal line nearer County Cork. If I only had the one sister's DNA results to work with, I would have missed the matches from the other part of their ancestry.

Because we use DNA test results to suggest directions for further genealogical research—and possibly lead to filling in the blanks on a pedigree chart—this same anomaly of the missing third cousins can work in our favor when we have siblings willing to help out by submitting their own DNA test for our use.    


Saturday, October 8, 2022

Expanding Your DNA Reach


Imagine this scenario:

You have a burning desire to uncover a secret buried in your family's past. You worry that, despite your diligent research efforts, you may never find the records needed to confirm the truth of the matter. However, when you learn about the capabilities of genetic genealogy, you realize that taking a DNA test may lead you to the answer you've been seeking. The holidays are coming up, and sales prices at Company A give you just the push you need: you purchase their DNA test and eagerly await the discoveries you're sure will lead to your answer.

Meanwhile, on another part of the planet, someone else has a burning desire to uncover a family history secret, too, and decides to purchase a DNA test. What neither of you know at this point is that the clues embedded in this unknown person's test kit contain the very answers you are seeking. But while you decided to purchase your DNA test through Company A, this mystery cousin bought a kit from Company B.

One obvious solution to overcoming such a problem would be to purchase a DNA kit at every company offering their services for genealogical purposes. But that could become expensive.

There is a work-around to that problem: test first at a company which boasts a large database, then upload your raw data from that company to another DNA company which permits such a process. The reason for this is that such transfers can be accomplished at much smaller cost (in some cases, for free)—and often at a fraction of the wait time.

The DNA companies which offer customers only their own direct testing services are AncestryDNA and 23andMe. Those two also happen to boast the largest databases. The other DNA companies used for genealogical purposes include MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, and Living DNA, all of which accept uploads of raw data from DNA tests conducted through the first two companies mentioned (in addition to selling their own DNA kits).

Uploads can generally be performed for free, but depending on the company, that free offer may only provide limited access to the company's tools and resources for examining test results. For instance, uploads to MyHeritage are free, but only allow access to a list of DNA matches and the ability to contact those matches. For someone not already a subscriber to MyHeritage's family history services, accessing MyHeritage's helpful DNA analysis tools, such as the chromosome browser, can be accomplished by a one-time "unlock" fee. That fee is currently $29 (U.S. dollars), but I have seen promotions in which even that fee has been waived. Still, $29 is a far more reasonable expense than springing for a second autosomal DNA test.

There are upload instructions available for each vendor. MyHeritage provides both written instructions and a video tutorial (scroll to the end of the article) for those interested in seeking matches at this next-largest DNA company. Likewise for Family Tree DNA and Living DNA, there are instructions per each vendor upload.

Over the years, I have heard so many stories of people looking for answers by testing at one company—while their answer, unsuspectingly, was waiting to be discovered at another company. That was the founding premise behind GEDmatch: to provide a place where researchers could find each other by uploading their test results to that one location. Yet, not everyone is willing to upload data to yet another website. Far better to make yourself available than to hope everyone else will accommodate you. That, at least, is the thinking behind uploading your own results directly to those DNA companies which will allow such a process.     

Friday, October 7, 2022

Bright Shiny Object on the DNA Horizon


Just as I was about to re-introduce myself to the genealogy terms used in Polish records, what should pop up on the research horizon but a Bright Shiny Object. The genea-blogging world is a-buzz with comments on's update to their DNA results page, a beta version of their "By Parent" option. Now, without having to test a parent, Ancestry has the ability to accurately predict which of our DNA matches align with a specific parent.

Of course, having a database exceeding twenty two million people, AncestryDNA has the resources to experiment with split up our matches by each side of our family. The capability followed on the heels of the company's development, recently released, of what they call SideView™ Technology. Extending the techniques used earlier this year to isolate ethnicity results for "Parent One" versus "Parent Two," Ancestry has now applied that concept to sort through their customers' DNA matches.

There are basically four sets of results. The first—straightforward enough—is a grouping of those matches appearing to connect with others from that same "Parent One" designation used during Ancestry's SideView™ Technology project. The second group—if you guessed, you're on to something here—is DNA matches aligning with "Parent Two." A third grouping, seen mostly by those who either have a history of endogamy in their tree, or have siblings, children, or grandchildren in their matches, is matches who share DNA with both sides of the test taker's family. A fourth group represents those matches for which not enough information could be gleaned to determine parental side—or newer matches arriving after the periodically conducted process has been completed.

For those of us with voracious appetites to learn every last thing we can about this new process, there are ample resources for learning how this development works. Diahan Southard of Your DNA Guide gives an overview, written in her crystal clear teaching style for her company's blog. Leah Larkin of The DNA Geek provides diagrams to help illuminate the science behind Ancestry's latest development. New Zealand's Fiona Brooker is part of this bloggers' update as AncestryDNA expands their worldwide reach, and provides her own observations. There will surely be more blog posts to come.

Of course, I wasted no time in seeing what became of my own thousands of DNA matches at Since I've spent the past eight years chipping away at all those mystery matches, I have already used Ancestry's tools to identify maternal versus paternal sides for many of them. When I pulled up the results after this latest technology launch, though, I spotted a detail germane to this month's research goal. Perhaps this will visually demonstrate my uphill battle in discovering more about my paternal grandparents' roots.


My hope had been to find some DNA matches who could lead me to more information on my Polish roots. While the number of DNA matches shown in these results likely includes everything down to the near-dubious level of eight centiMorgans, it is obvious that the split between maternal and paternal matches is heavily weighted toward my colonial-roots mother's side of the family tree. Having 32,572 DNA matches to work with ups the odds of discovering another family member willing to collaborate on a research question. Certainly the possibilities are greater with a number like that than, say, 1,813 matches.

I had wondered whether this lopsidedness truly was an anomaly, so I took a peek at my husband's DNA readout. While his also is skewed toward his maternal side—she of the "endogamy lite" family history—the comparison was much closer than my own lopsided ratio. Perhaps some descendants have more of a proclivity to test than others. Who knows? That just reinforces the observation I've already made: you can't have a DNA match with a distant family member until someone else out there decides to test.     

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