Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Hunt and Peck Method


When all the usual research methods yield no answers, what's next? Two options are thinking things through, and making a methodical review of all resources already available. I call that the "hunt and peck" method, going page by page through all the available possibilities.

In the case of Uncle John's mother-in-law Aniela, I was fairly certain her maiden name was some sort of spelling variation of Zielinska. I already knew by her husband's answers to the 1900 census that the couple had been married in 1887. Since their first child, Benjamin, over the years had reported his place of birth alternately as New Jersey or New York, that answer causes us problems in trying to determine just where Felix Aktabowski might have met and married Aniela. However, second-born Bronisława, Uncle John's future wife, was born across the river in Jersey City, New Jersey, as were several others of the Aktabowski family.

I wondered whether there were any family connection to Jersey City. Was it just a job that drew Felix to move the family there, or did either he or Aniela have relatives who lived there?

I have an ulterior motive for asking such a question. If Felix married Aniela after their immigration to the United States rather than beforehand, how—and where—did they meet? The "after" scenario would also mean that Aniela would have been a single woman when she took the long ocean voyage from her native country to the New World. While there have been some exceptions, in that time period, it was far more customary for single women to travel with others, such as family members. Could Aniela have come to New Jersey with other Zielinski relatives?

I started looking in census records for Hudson County, where Jersey City is located. This is where the "hunt and peck" method comes in, because I have no idea who such relatives and traveling companions might have been. I simply entered the surname Zielinski—or, alternately, the spelling as Zelinski—and limited the search to Hudson County, paying particular attention to any families by that name living specifically in Jersey City.

Since Aniela reported arriving in America in 1886 according to the 1900 census, I was delighted to discover that New Jersey did indeed conduct an enumeration in 1895, the closest I was going to get to the date of her arrival. However, searching that record, the only name approximating her maiden name in that 1895 census was that of a Zelinsky family whose ages, best I could decipher from the record, could have made the head of household eligible to be a brother to Aniela, but without further information, it was a very tenuous link. 

The New Jersey enumeration for the next decade provided several more possible connections. There was a Zelinski family whose heads of household could well have been of an age to be Aniela's own parents. A different Zielinski couple could have represented an older brother—as could yet another couple. In fact, with a county population at that time nearing 387,000 people, with a bit over 200,000 belonging in Jersey City alone, searching for any surname by a hunt and peck method might reveal little more than vague clues, if even that.

As I stumbled along, trying to find answers from what is already available online, I did discover that the ongoing work of Reclaim the Records might have benefited me in my search for birth and marriage records in New Jersey—except that the earliest date I could find in their cache of Freedom of Information victories in that state was 1901. I'd need to push back a few years before that date to find Aniela's marriage record or Bronisława's birth record.

With that realization, I thought maybe now would be a good time to transfer my hunt-and-peck efforts across the ocean to see if I can find any possibilities in Aniela's theoretical home in Płock, Poland.

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