What do you do when you only have a few days left to find the answer to a family history mystery?
No, I won't panic, but I do feel like I'm striking out into the deep, or as if I'm searching for a needle in an enormous haystack. What I'm looking for is any indication of where Uncle John's father-in-law might have been born. In the process, I've already discovered there is one thing working against me: those wriggling, squirming European borders, which make it hard for me to pinpoint in time just where an American immigrant may have originated.
Uncle John's father-in-law had a surname which I thought would surely stand out in the field of Polish possibilities: Aktabowski. Of course, I needed to keep aware of all possible spelling permutations. I had found Achtabowski—a variation which seemed favored by those of this surname who emigrated to Chicago area—as well as Aktaboski, without the "w," and even Aktaba, dropping the typical -ski suffix.
On top of that search issue, Uncle John's father-in-law also appeared in various records with either the name Felix or Anton. Plus his country of origin was sometimes said, in American census records, to be Poland, while other times it was noted as Russia.
Yet, looking for any actual records produced nothing, even when I took the cue from that 1940 census error for his widowed wife Aniela, telling me she was originally from "Plotz." Checking the Polish website Geneteka, there were no births, marriages, or deaths for any residents with that surname for the province which included that city, Płock.
Still, I thought perhaps I could put the search engine at Geneteka through its paces, and struck out—this is the needle-in-haystack part—looking for the surname Aktabowski in each individual province. I wanted to see whether there were any regions in which the surname seemed to congregate.
There was, indeed, one province where I found several Aktabowskis listed, from the time period beginning about 1830--for possible marriages of Felix Anton's as-yet-unknown parents—through 1899, just in case some siblings remained behind when he made his immigrant leap across the Atlantic. That province, according to Geneteka, was called Kujawsko-Pomorskie—or, as we might say in English, the Kuyavian-Pomeranian province.
Or maybe that's not entirely so. Looking up the history of the province—you know I always need to do that—I discovered that it was formed by political edict on the first day of January, 1999. Not very long ago, to say the least. Certainly not back when Felix Anton was born. Now what?
I went back to Geneteka to check on the Catholic parishes listed on the readout for Aktabowskis in that province. For births—more likely, these were baptisms, despite the website's labeling as births—the page included not only the name of the church parish, but also the specific place where the parish was located.
That helps. Now I can consult a map and see where the town might have been situated, back when the borders were more like the political geography for 1863—when Felix Anton was likely born—than for 1999, when the currently-named province was established. I want to know a bit more about this region rich in possible Aktabowski kin. I certainly need to know just where the borders settled—if only for a moment—at the point at which Felix Anton's family acknowledged his birth.
Unfortunately, this needle-in-haystack method will not tell me much more than whether I have a high or low probability of finding any Aktabowskis in one province over another. Right now, at least according to Geneteka, the only province showing records for that surname would be the current-day Kujawsko-Pomorskie. But knowing that may point me in the right direction for my next step in discovering more about Felix Anton Aktabowski, and where he came from to arrive in New Jersey and raise his family in New York City.