Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Icebergs, Disappearing Ancestors,
and Bright Shiny Objects


What to do when an ancestor seems determined not to be found? That appears to be the case for Uncle John's in-laws, Felix and Aniela Aktabowski.

Times like this remind me of a poster I saw years ago, produced by the California Genealogical Society. It proclaimed, "Internet is just the tip of the iceberg." As the poster stated, most research is accomplished—still—in other places. It's just convenient and fortunate to find online in digitized format the document we are seeking.

Now that I'm looking for some actual paperwork assuring me of the marriage of Uncle John's in-laws, I'm beginning to think I may have to travel to Hudson County, New Jersey. Or maybe even New York City. Somewhere in that vicinity, someone holds the records for the marriage of Felix Anton Aktabowski and his bride Aniela.

Or perhaps I just need to look further online.

I began my search with a record transcription at for the birth of one of the couple's many children. As it turned out, the transcription was for Uncle John's wife, Bronisława, herself—but you couldn't have figured that out from the transcription. The diacritical mark on the "l" was misread as the letter "t" and the "n" must have been written in old-style European handwriting, which appeared far more like a "u"—and, in fact, was transcribed as if it were indeed that other letter. So, only because Aniela's own name was included in the transcription, I realized the birth record was for Bronisława, not "Brouistawa."

Not to nitpick transcribed records—though I do encourage finding the actual written document, not just someone's interpretation of difficult-to-read handwriting—but I bring up this entry for one reason: the identification of the source from which the record was drawn. "FHL Film Number," the last line in the transcription above, refers to the actual identification of the microfilm I'm now seeking, which can be found by going to the catalog page on the website.

That, indeed, was my next step: to see whether that number was still a viable identifier. As it turned out—thankfully—it was, and the number brought me to an entry in the catalog for "New Jersey index to records of births, marriages, and deaths, 1848-1900."

Perfect. Now I'm in business, I thought. Clicking through that catalog entry, I reached a page with further information, including the size of the collection (279 microfilm reels) and the originating repository (the Bureau of Archives and History for the state of New Jersey). 

Right away, red letters above the fold caught my eye: "New Jersey marriages are available online, click here." Being a sucker for Bright Shiny Objects, that is just what I did, and fell down this rabbit hole. End of story: I couldn't find Felix and I couldn't find Aniela, no matter how I searched for their information, modified the spelling of their names, or experimented with wildcard characters. 

I looked further. Perhaps this was an incomplete record set, excluding the very county I was seeking. So I clicked on the box labeled, "How to use this collection" and wound up somewhere else down the rabbit hole—or perhaps whisked away to some other location in the ether. This new strange world was an entry in the wiki, explaining more about this particular record set. Scrolling way to the bottom, I discovered there were other links for marriage records, and tried my hand at clicking away on those other options for results.

For some reason, that approach didn't work, so I retraced my steps back to that original catalog page for the New Jersey births, marriages, and deaths. After all, my original purpose in coming to this resource wasn't to find marriage records, although that would be a possible step; it was to discover a way to find the birth record for Bronisława which had been indicated from that transcription I first found at (And don't say you haven't fallen down such rabbit holes, yourself!)

Wouldn't you know it, but if I had just ignored those red letters and scrolled down to the end of that original catalog entry, I would have found the entire listing for each of those 279 reels in the collection I was seeking. And while each entry bore the lock and key icon, designating them as items only viewable at the Family History Library, an affiliate library, or a nearby FamilySearch Center, it meant that I could eventually get to search through the collection to find what I am seeking on not only the marriage of Aniela and Felix, but also the births of those of their children born in New Jersey—which was most of the family.

While I am not able to get to a FamilySearch Center in the next week or so, there are some other options available to me—and certainly much less of a research wild ride down the rabbit hole. Noticing dates of arrival for this immigrant couple in that same U.S. Census for 1900 which inspired me to look for the Aktabowski marriage record, another approach could be to look for passenger records. Furthermore, since I noticed that Felix arrived in the United States about five years before Aniela did, that could mean that she stayed with relatives after her arrival in New Jersey, before her marriage to Felix. I could look for any sign of possible family members—Bronisława's grandparents, perhaps—who also lived in New Jersey during that time.

Although each of these may seem like small steps—which might also be wrought with the possibility of leading nowhere in this research trail—it is worth a try to see what might come up if I take that approach next.

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