Thursday, November 30, 2023

Searching for John and Agnes


Felix Aktabowski's 1905 death certificate in New York City said his parents were John and Agnes, but you can be fairly sure this American immigrant's parents did not really go by those names. And while that same document stated that Felix came from Russia, that information conflicts with other records found in New York City. Let's just say searching for my Uncle John's father-in-law has been a quest riddled with surprises.

Take this one discovery, tossed my way by's hints department: an eighteen year old immigrant arriving in New York City on August 7, 1883, reported to be from Russia. Included in the arriving passengers and crew list for the Fresia, the corresponding German record drawn up when Anton "Achtabowski" sailed from Hamburg on July 25 added one more detail: Anton was a former resident of "Plock, Russland." 

While I can't yet say whether this was our Anton—a.k.a. Felix—I do know that at about the time our Anton would have been born, the partitioned part of Poland including Płock was under Russian occupation. Thus, it would make sense to see this Polish-born man listed in government documents of the time as coming from part of Russia.

While this Anton "Achtabowski" may have resided in Płock before starting his travels, there were certainly no families documented by that surname—including its many spelling variations—in the Masovian province where Płock is located. However, records for the province to the northwest—Kujawsko-Pomorskie—where we've been looking show different results.

So what about our Felix Aktabowski's supposed parents, John and Agnes? If they were Polish residents of the area surrounding Płock, despite Russian occupation, rather than John and Agnes, their names were more likely to be Jan and Agnieszka. Add Felix's mother's maiden name—Derkowska, for the feminine version—and we might actually be able to find some information.

While the search results at Geneteka showed no one by the name Felix or Anton Aktabowski, I was able to locate four daughters of a couple by that exact name, Jan Aktabowski and Agnieszka Derkowska. There was Anna born in 1852, Weronika born in 1855, Rozalia born in 1857, and Apolonia born in 1859. While only two of the daughters were born in the same place—Wałycz—all four were born in nearby villages within the county of Wąbrzeźno.

That there was no listing for Anton or Felix could have been the result of many factors. Of course, these may not have been the right parents, despite having the same names—though I have failed to find any other provinces containing these names among their residents. Or the website Geneteka may not yet have transcribed his baptismal record. The family may have moved once again to another province, which I have yet to locate. The spelling of the surname—or the handwriting used to record it—may have been so abysmal as to mangle the entry entirely.

And yet, though I can trace no generation previous to Jan Aktabowski, Agnieszka Derkowska is a different case. For her own baptism, I've found a possible date in 1828, showing her as a daughter of Jan Derkowski and Katarzyna Unijewska. This discovery leads again to a full listing of siblings whose records are also transcribed at Geneteka in that same province.

The research project that started at the beginning of this month with a doubtful attempt at exploring the roots of Uncle John's wife, Bronisława Aktabowska, did indeed burst farther that I thought possible through some long-standing brick walls. I'm certainly not finished yet, but this month's exercise demonstrated that if we are patient and willing to revisit past research failures, a fresh look at a later date can indeed surface new material. 



  1. If you search with Achtabowska or Oktabowska, you will find 5 more kids to this couple.
    I see only 2 boys tho, Franciszek (1853) and Józef (1861).
    Seems the couple married in 1846, in the same parish as their first-born Józefina (1847).

    1. Thanks for bringing up that Oktabowski spelling variation. I had forgotten about that one. Interesting that you found the additional family members, Per, but it is troubling that there is no sign of Felix or Anton.

      I even did an additional search, using the mother's maiden name, Derkowska, as a way around any other possible spelling variations of the Aktabowski surname--and in each of the provinces, not just the one--without any sign.

      Of course, if the record set is incomplete at this point, it would be hard to tell whether we've found the wrong family--or the telltale document just hasn't been transcribed yet.


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