Thursday, October 26, 2023

Uncorking the Information Bottleneck


Sometimes, all it takes to convert a brick wall into a mere information bottleneck is one clue enabling us to reach beyond the blockade. In the case of Aunt Rose's mother—Anna Krauss in New York, but apparently Anastasia Zegarska in Pomerania—that bottleneck became uncorked in the form of DNA matches.

While Anna had reported, according to the 1910 U.S. Census, that she had given birth to eight children, only two had survived to adulthood: Rose and her brother, my tight-lipped grandfather who refused to divulge his true heritage to anyone. Rose, though married three times, had no children of her own. This left my grandfather as the only one to give his mother grandchildren. Thus it was no surprise, once I submitted DNA test samples of my own, to discover there weren't any close cousin matches in my test results except for the few family members whom I already knew personally.

There were, however, nearly twenty unidentified third cousins with an obvious Polish heritage who did show up in my matches. Almost all of them had roots in Wisconsin. And eventually, I discovered that these unknown cousins also connected to me through one particular surname: Zegarski.

Why one set of Zegarski relatives chose to go this-a-way while my own great-grandmother ended up going that-a-way, I can't explain. I often wonder whether my great-grandmother knew that her siblings had also emigrated from the Pomeranian village of Czarnylas which they once called home. From what little I know about my great-grandmother, there seems to be no sign that she had kept in touch with these other immigrant family members.

Regardless of what the true story might have been—and I may never know the full explanation—there are details which I now can figure out. Because we all can now take a DNA test, I can find relatives who may be able to reveal the part of the family story which was once a mystery to me. And because now a worldwide fascination with genealogy has led to accelerated digitized provision of useful documents, I can discover information I would have been hard-pressed to locate in a previous era.

Simply because we can, I can now tap into a website in Poland in which volunteers have transcribed baptismal, marriage, and death records for the region historically known as Pomerania, home of my paternal grandfather's ancestors. That website, home of the Pomeranian Genealogical Association—Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, or PTG for short—provided me an opportunity to discover all the Zegarska sisters who married in Czarnylas at about the same time as our Anna. All I needed to do was search for the bride's surname of Zegarska and limit the search years from 1850 through 1880.

Once I gathered the names of the other Zegarska women who married in Czarnylas, I then needed to research just who they were. Because I had DNA matches claiming some of these same women, I could sketch out a quick tree for each of these ancestral women, starting from the DNA matches themselves. This gave me the rest of their stories—as well as inferring my Anna's own story, as well.

True, if it weren't for developments like the ability to submit a DNA test and connect with matching cousins, I couldn't have found the rest of that story. My grandfather's carefully guarded secret—for whatever reason he felt compelled to do so—would never have been uncovered, if it hadn't been for tools like DNA testing. But now, thanks to these innovations, I now know that Anna—Anastasia back in Poland—had sisters named Paulina Czechowski and Anna Gracz who either migrated to Milwaukee themselves or saw their children make that move.


  1. Replies
    1. Me, too! Plus, I'm going to be sad if it ends on October 31!!!

    2. Oh, dear, I'm afraid Rose's part of the story will indeed soon come to an end, unfortunately. The good news (I hope) is that November will bring another search for Polish ancestors, this time on a related line.


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