Monday, November 13, 2023

I Miss 1890 — or Maybe I Don't Have to


Casting about for a way to wriggle past genealogy brick walls to solve a family history research problem, I'm suddenly realizing how much I miss 1890. Not that I ever was around then, of course—my dad's Uncle John might have been, but he was long gone by the time I got here. But it might have been nice to refer to the document, even if I could have questioned Uncle John about his Aktabowski in-laws.

In 1890, John's wife Bronisława would have been a mere toddler, living in Jersey City with her parents, her older brother Benjamin and perhaps even her younger brother John, who was born early that very year. But the main point would have been to see what was said about her father, Felix, and her mother, Aniela. These parents of American-born babies were themselves immigrants from a border-morphing region sometimes described as Poland—but more often labeled Germany or Russia or even the now non-existent Prussia.

No matter how much I'd wish to see that census record which has since been charred beyond recognition, the choice is simply not mine to make. Other than some veterans' records and a few other bits and pieces, most of that extensive record of the expanding United States population at the beginning of that decade is lost, other than—wait for it!—tantalizingly, enumeration of the Jersey City residents of Hudson County, New Jersey, now preserved on roll 3 of the microfilmed surviving fragments.

You're kidding me, right? This is not the supposed only-veterans-records-were-saved message so many people have read. Talk about lucking out: the very city in which the Aktabowskis settled after immigrating here turns out to be the one place in the metropolitan area where a sliver of the lost record of 1890s America still remains. What are the chances of something like that happening?

However, considering that the fragments of the saved general population schedule include only about six thousand names, and that the population of Hudson County at that time was well over two hundred thousand people, it would still be a long shot to find my Aktabowskis within those surviving slivers. Still, it would be worth a lark to grab a copy of the index for the surviving few, itself preserved in a two-roll microfilmed set at the National Archives. Then it would only be a matter of finding a repository holding a copy of the actual microfilm to look for my Aktabowskis.

I think better of such slim chances, though, and revert back to the documents I do have. Though the 1905 New York State census—where the family had moved after those early years in New Jersey—didn't offer much clues about the family's history, the earlier national enumeration did. Reviewing that 1900 document once again, I saw that the couple reported they had been married for thirteen years, giving me a target of 1887 to research for marriage records.

Given that detail, plus the discovery last week of the over-zealous enumerator who included the city as well as the country of birth for Aniela, it's about time to dig further into local records of that time period, both for the supposed New Jersey wedding of the senior Aktabowskis, and the much-earlier birth record for Aniela herself, back in Poland.

Family research is sometimes a bit by bit process, going back to review the little details which had slipped from our view in previous forays, and using those discoveries to push forward yet another tiny step of a very long journey.

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