Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Going—Surprise!—Straight to the Source


Searching for any information on Uncle John's immigrant father-in-law was difficult. Not only was the man's surname incredibly easy to mis-spell, but he seemed to switch between two very different given names, as well. In all the birth records I've been able to find for his children, he was identified as Anton or Antoni Aktabowski. But for the few official census records in which I've been able to spot him, he went by the name Felix Aktabowski.

Confusing the issue—and any hope of finding him in his homeland before immigration—was the fact that some of those records stated he was from Poland, and others from Russia. In fact, while the 1900 census stated his country of origin was Poland, tagged along with that answer was the abbreviation "Russ," possibly indicating that was the actual language he spoke. 

Missing from the records I've been able to access, either on or at, was the actual copy of Felix Aktabowski's death certificate. Ancestry provided a transcription which gave his date of death as December 6, 1905, and the place as the old Kings County, New York, former name of the New York City borough now known as Brooklyn.

Of course, transcriptions never provide all the information on a document—and usually the missing part is the very detail we want to know about more specifically. Keep in mind, I had already located one province in Poland which had several Aktabowski families listed in baptismal and marriage record transcriptions at the Polish genealogy website Geneteka—but without confirmation of Felix's parents' names, that discovery is meaningless. I needed to find a way to see the actual death record—the whole record.

When I find transcriptions at or, I like to look at the notes for the record set to glean information on the source upon which the transcriptions were based. Going back to the notes for the Ancestry source—the New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Death Index 1862-1948—and scrolling down the page to "Source Information," I could see the original data was provided directly from the New York City Department of Records.

Even better, scrolling farther down the page to the "About" section, I spotted this note on obtaining records:

Visit the Department of Records/Municipal Archives website, (click on family history research) for information and instructions on how to view and/or obtain copies of death records identified in the index....

Notice those instructions included the phrase, "how to view." Yes, view—as in, possibly, actually, you know, see the document for myself. Right now. No stamped, self-addressed envelope. No waiting six weeks. And best of all: no tap dance to send some type of special check because the twenty-first century convenience of using a credit card would be future shock to government officials.

For those of you who have kept up with the victories on behalf of genealogists by the nonprofit organization, Reclaim the Records, you already know that New York City was one of their first projects. (For those who relish reading the blow-by-blow of this judicial victory, see here for the recounting.) The outcome of that effort was the release of city records up through the mid-1900s.

Including Felix Aktabowski's death certificate.

Though I had known about the victory gained by Reclaim the Records on behalf of all of us researching our roots in New York City, what I didn't realize was that, strangely prompted by the court experience, the New York City Department of Records and Information Services decided to set up their own website to share the wealth. It was there, on their own website set up for this purpose, that I was able to search for Felix's death certificate.

Though parents' names given on such documents are only as reliable as the memory of the bereaved reporting party suddenly tasked with recalling such information, I'll take the answers as a clue to guide me in further research. With that, I'm off to discover what I can find, back in Poland, for a couple by the name of John Aktabowski and Agnes Derkowski.


  1. Replies
    1. No kidding! I certainly didn't expect that. Checking it out further (I have plenty of NYC people to look up), it looks like they have everything uploaded to about 1935, but my 1939 people didn't appear to be added to the collection yet. Will have to remember to revisit on a regular basis...


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