Friday, November 10, 2023

That's Not What it's Supposed to Say


The main reason I've been poking around newspapers and documents this month for Uncle John's Aktabowski in-laws is because I'm trying to determine just where the family originated. Uncle John's wife Blanche was born in New Jersey, but where was her mother born? I've found conflicting information on Aniela—or Nellie, as she was listed in many documents after she moved to New York—so I'm trying to gain some solid confirmation of the true location of her roots.

After retracing my research steps from the first point at which I had found young mother Aniela up until nearly the point of her death in 1946, I could find little more than the conflicting information that she was born either in Poland or in Russian territory. However, it was in the 1940 census that I spotted something. At first, staring at the document, I thought, "That's not what it's supposed to say"—but then I realized how much such clerical errors have turned out to help me in the past. I remembered how I discovered my own grandmother's birth in "Posen," thanks to an error in the 1920 census, and figured it might turn out to my benefit to follow this unexpected error on Aniela in the 1940 census.

The "error" in the 1940 census was in the tiny box where the enumerator was supposed to enter the answer to the question, "In what place did this person live on April 1, 1935?" In no way could I explain why, for so many of the other residents in Aniela's neighborhood, the answer was correctly entered as "same house" and yet, for Aniela's own household, the answer was entered differently. It was almost as if the enumerator had gotten confused with the previous question—place of birth—and had followed through by asking not only the country, but the city or town of birth, as well.

That, as it appeared to be for many immigrants on the street where Aniela lived, was what had happened. There were entries for towns all across Eastern Europe on that page, when I'm fairly certain only a fraction of those respondents actually did live in those far-flung places only five years earlier.

For Aniela's widowed daughter Blanche, the "five years ago" answer was Jersey City—the same place, coincidentally, where Uncle John's wife had been born. For Blanche's unmarried daughter, also called Blanche, the answer was strangely correct: "same house" in Brooklyn, New York. But for Aniela—who was listed as born in Poland this time—the "five years ago" entry became "Plotz."

Yes, I know that's not what it was supposed to say on that line in the census form, but I'll take a mistake like that and run with it. I've already discovered that the place the enumerator referred to as the city of Plotz is actually a city in central Poland currently called Płock. The city's long history included significant roles within the Polish monarchy, annexation into the kingdom of Prussia and, in the 1800s, control by the Russian empire.

Learning that overview of the city's history helped clarify one possible reason why Blanche's parents were sometimes reported to have come from Russia, and other times from Poland. Unlike the "error" I found in the 1940 census, those reports may well have been correct representation of the changing jurisdictions of the city of Aniela's origin.

Whether that turns out to be the correct birthplace of Blanche's mother, there is one other detail about Aniela which may help me move this research project one step further: I have information on her possible maiden name.  


  1. How lucky to have a confused enumerator who asked too many questions! I hope this helps you.

  2. I love it when the enumerator writes more than they should!

    1. Lisa, it is a rare occurrence, but a treasure to find.


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