Sunday, April 19, 2015

Doing the Math on DNA


After having sniveled and complained about my research progress in yesterday’s post, with the receipt of one email, I may have to change my tune.

Just before writing my statistical report for yesterday, I had scrolled through my DNA test results, double checking those numbers I was about to report. Among my most recent matches on the autosomal DNA test was a person who showed up in the predicted range of second to fourth cousin.

While that may seem like a distant relationship to most people, you and I and anyone dabbling in genealogy will know that we are far too well equipped to be fazed by a label like “fourth cousin.” We’ve done our due diligence and we are prepared!

When I replied to that potential match, I realized her email address was exactly the same as another candidate I had just received in that same range. What was going on here? Program malfunction?

No, as it turned out, one person was serving as administrator for DNA test results for two people. Not unusual—I do the same for my brother and my husband. As my husband is so fond of saying, he doesn’t “do” genealogy—he just carries the bags.

I wrote this two-for-one party at the other end of the duplicated email address, and in less than twenty four hours, I had a reply. Not only was this person doing double duty, but she was actually shepherding four DNA tests through their paces. And I was a match to every one of them.

As has so often happened in this project, the other party was stumped over how we might connect. This is head banging, hair pulling frustration. I cannot tell you how many times I go through this exact scenario: we share trees, we look through each other’s data, and not one mutual surname can be found. The only encouraging aspect of the routine is that I usually undergo this reaction when trying to match up with people predicted to be at the range of fourth cousin—or worse. This time, I had a chance at connecting at a mere second cousin ranking.

How hard would that be?

So I rev up my old harangue about how calculating the connection between two second cousins would require finding a mutual relative at the level of great-grandparent. Remember, the most recent common ancestor for first cousins would be a grandparent. At the second cousin level, it would be first great grandparent. For every increase in level of cousin, you can minus that count by one and tack it onto the label of great grandparent. In other words, n cousin equals n – 1 great grandparent. See? Simple math.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to inform us that, at the outside chance that this new match and I are related at the farthest level—fourth cousins—this worst case scenario would require us to identify a most recent common ancestor at the level of third great grandparent to confirm the proposed match. Of course, only a devoted genealogist would be prepared to serve up information like that. But we are up for this game—at least, if it involves my maternal line.

If, on the other hand, the connection is on my paternal side, well…you’ve already seen how little research I’ve been able to accomplish on those camouflaged Polish immigrants.

Not to worry, though: I have a handy trick in my back pocket. By comparing any unknown person’s results with a relative I’ve already tested on my father’s side, I can eliminate any matches linked to that side by using the “not in common with” function at the Family Tree DNA website. With one click of that button, I magically remove from my list anyone whose DNA also matches the near relative on my paternal side—well, all twenty two of them.

Small numbers which work hard can still be our friends, however. And when I put my data through their paces in that manner, I see those four related matches from my new source still remain. I can safely assume they connect somewhere on my maternal side.

Granted, that side holds the preponderance of my test matches. But if I can isolate even one additional match and confirm that it belongs to a specific surname on my maternal side, I can play that reduction game once again: find out who is in common with that other party. Surname by surname, I can eliminate those lines among the sixteen third great grandparent candidates on my maternal side that don’t connect with these four related matches. Yes, I’m chipping away at this monolith with a toothbrush, sweeping away the residue, but eventually I’ll be left with some rock-solid results.

Once again, numbers are not only my friend, but they show me just how far I have to go and how long I have to hold on before I hit pay dirt. You can’t pace yourself without measurements.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sadly Neglected Statistics


I’ve discovered one thing about keeping count of research progress: if you split your attention between two projects, suddenly everything seems to go more slowly.

Adding a goal of discovering my paternal roots may be an invigorating proposition—not to mention, a challenging one—but it doesn’t help my progress on my maternal line. And that is the one which will not only yield greater payoffs, overall, but also bring me closer to finding the missing link in my mtDNA connection with my mystery cousin, the adoptee.

Part of this is due to one glaring fact: of my now 812 autosomal DNA matches, only twenty two of them can be positively identified as coming from my paternal side. Talk about lopsided. Then again, this is the result of attempting to be a trailblazer on a line that hasn’t, apparently, been researched by much of anyone.

Can you blame them? With non-existent immigration information, impossible Polish surname spellings and arbitrary name changes, those ancestors and their kin did not make it easy for anyone to find them.

With the addition, in the past two weeks, of this paternal quest, I’ll start tracking the counts on this new line. Here are the benchmarks for getting started on this new paternal focus.

So far, I have one hundred forty three people in my paternal tree. I don’t see that number growing by leaps and bounds in the next few weeks, mostly because this line doesn’t come near the amount of data available on my overly-researched maternal lines. Perhaps that comes of having a mom whose roots were deeply planted in this country, in some cases, back in the 1600s.

Then, as I mentioned, my current paternal DNA match count is at twenty two. Since the newest addition to that count is nearly two weeks old—contrast that with my latest batch on my maternal line arriving on April 15—I don’t expect to see that count overflowing any time soon, either.

However, progress has been slowing on the maternal side as well. There are only twenty four hours in any given day, and when they are distributed among two goals versus one, well, the results are predictable.

So, how did it go, these past two weeks? When we last left off counting those maternal relatives, I had 2,834 in my maternal tree. I’m now up to 3,059. Yes, that’s only a paltry increase of 225 names, about half my usual progress. Now you can see those telltale signs of the dual-goal focus.

As for my current DNA matches, I’m up to 812—an increase of seventeen more names since April 4.

Every weekend, I like to set aside time to contact potential matches. If I don’t schedule time specifically for that purpose, I start to get that feeling of being awash in a flood of data. Somehow, if I set a goal of contacting five a week, even though in the face of such a huge number overall, I still get the sense of making progress.

I’ve decided that is another category I should start keeping tabs on: how many contacts per week I initiate, how many have responded, and how many yielded positive connections—in other words, I and my match have mutually agreed upon a correct connection and have noted it in our respective Family Tree DNA files. This week’s count for contacts is up to six, but none have helped me make any headway yet. I and my “matches” are still as baffled as ever as to how we connect.

Oh, for a breakthrough on some of these matches! I don’t mind the overall number—hey, at least I have some matches—but the contacts I’ve made have returned with more questions than answers. Frankly, not that many people seem willing to put the kind of energy into the task that it would take to dig up convoluted answers.

Proportionally, of course, it will be more likely to find answers on the maternal line—after all, that’s where the preponderance of matches lay. Correspondingly, even a small number of matches on the paternal side would be cause to celebrate. Hey, I’d take even one!

Meanwhile, keeping track of the numbers helps me keep at it when I’m lagging. And that, of course, is what accountability is all about.

Friday, April 17, 2015

What I Think I Know


Back in 1929, would it have been considered unusual for the bride's father's parents to be absent from her wedding? In the case of the wedding of the daughter of John and Blanche Aktabowska Laskowski, that is apparently what happened.

In trying to figure out why Frances Laskowski’s paternal grandparents weren’t in attendance at her wedding, I have to return to the things I already know about the couple. These things, as you can imagine, are precious few.

When I first began this quest, decades ago, one of my oldest cousins shared a childhood memory of hearing this man being called something that sounded like “Joshja”—but then we wised up and realized that was probably the Polish word for “Grandpa.” Sure enough, if you enter the word “Grandpa” into Google Translate now, one of the choices coming up, in Polish, is “Dziadzio.” Clicking on the speaker icon allows you to hear what that word sounds like in Polish. I’d say “Joshja” was a pretty close approximation for a little kid to remember.

Now, I know that Frances’ paternal grandfather’s name was Anton. It has also shown up in census records—at least the ones legible enough to read—as Antone, Antony and Antoni. The best I can figure, so far, is that he was born in what is now Poland, sometime in the early 1840s.

When Frances’ grandfather came to this country from “Posen” is hard to determine. While I’ve recently been ecstatic about finding passenger records for Anton’s wife and children, I still come up empty-handed when it comes to his own immigration.

Likewise, it has been difficult to trace his wife. I have two conflicting reports about her maiden name—and that of her parents. In American census records, she always was listed with the simple American name, Mary—but as we discovered upon finally locating her passenger records, her name was more likely Marianna.

The trouble with her records is a discrepancy between her own death certificate and that of her daughter, Sophie. On her own death certificate, her father was listed as Frank Jankowsky. Since she died in 1939, four years after her husband’s passing, the informant on her records was her daughter, Sophie.

However, when it came to Sophie’s own records, her mother’s maiden name was listed as Zelinski, not Jankowsky. The informant, in that case, was Sophie’s husband, so granted there was a possibility that he wasn’t well versed in all the fine details.

Interestingly, that Zelinski surname surfaces in another family member’s history: Sophie’s brother John’s wife’s mother. (There: confused yet?) Her maiden name was also Zelinski—although on her death record, it was spelled Zielinski.

So, if Frances Laskowski was doubly related through both her grandmothers, why wasn’t Marianna Zelinski Laskowski at her granddaughter’s 1929 wedding?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Honor of Their Presence


While it may seem somewhat unusual to include an entire guest list in a published wedding announcement, that may be me superimposing my modern “sensibilities” upon a near-century-old gathering. After Mr. and Mrs. John Laskowski sent out their invitations for the marriage of their daughter Frances to young Philip J. Hanlon, they saw fit to include the list of attendees in the 1929 newspaper article.

Whether the custom of the time or not, the announcement, published on the front page of the second section of the Daily Star on Tuesday evening, August 27, provides us an excellent opportunity to examine, in minute detail, who might have been the relatives among those festive attendees.

For one thing, the article provided the names of the groom’s parents (well, at least in the “Mr. and Mrs.” format) as well as those of his siblings. Thomas Hanlon and his wife apparently had just as large a family as had the bride’s parents. We now know of Philip’s brother, Thomas junior, as well as their sisters Mary, Margaret, Gertrude and—possibly causing a need for creative nicknaming—Frances.

The announcement also provides us a listing of the bride’s siblings. Of course, thanks to his entertaining talents, we’ve already been introduced to Frances’ brother, Walter Laskowski, as well as twin sisters Severa and Elizabeth. In addition, the list also mentions daughters Blanche and Rita.

While I’ll include a transcription of this part of the article below, let’s cherry pick a few more names here. I had offered my guess, the other day, that entertainers “F. and Z. Hork” might well have been members of the Atkabowski family—the elder Blanche Laskowski’s siblings—who had chosen to shorten their surname for stage purposes. The guest list mentions them again: Mr. and Mrs. F. Hork, and Mr. and Mrs. Z. Hork.

In addition, there is one more Hork couple: Mr. and Mrs. G. Hork. I am guessing that would be Blanche’s brother Gustave. It is here that I feel the frustration of that socially-acceptable naming device, for I have yet to discover the name of Gustave’s wife—let alone the fact that he even had one. Perhaps this is a clue for me to start searching under the shortened name Hork, as well as the alternate spelling Hark that I had been told about, years ago.

Interestingly, in the midst of naming all these Hork couples, there is a mention of a Mrs. Aktabowski. Perhaps this would be their mother, Aniela Zielinska Aktabowski, who often went by the nickname Nellie. She is the lone mention in the guest list of the full version of that surname.

While there are many names I don’t recognize, a good number of them sound like fellow Polish-Americans. Those are the ones with names like Cordelski, Fialkowski, Sokolowski and Kordecki. Are they relatives? Who knows!

I spy my aunt—my father’s sister—amidst the guests, listed as Mrs. D. Eggert. Why her husband was not with her, I don’t know. However, I know nothing would have kept her from attending Frances’ wedding. I have a copy of a taped interview my brother did with her before her passing, in which her reminiscences included a mention of Frances as her favorite cousin.

Along with my aunt’s name in the guest list was that of her mother, Mrs. T. McCann. That would be Sophie, John Laskowski’s sister, in her sleek new, Americanized image, complete with Irish-sounding surname. She, too, had attended without the company of her husband.

Rounding out the guest list—at least among the names I recognize—was one additional curious entry: Mr. and Mrs. M. Laskowski. Could that be John and Sophie’s brother, Michael "Lasko"? Was that a dig by the more-traditional John to remind his brother of his true roots? There is no other M. Laskowski in the family that I know of, other than their mother, Mary Laskowski—but she, if attending, would have been listed under Mr. and Mrs. A. Laskowski.

Which brings up a good question: where were Anton and Marianna Laskowski on the day of their granddaughter’s wedding?


            The guests at the reception were: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hanlon, John Larrity, Thomas Hanlon, Jr., Misses Mary, Margaret, Gertrude and Frances Hanlon; Edward Gilhooley, Frank Connors, Patrick O’Dea, Mr. and Mrs. Esposito, Philip Duggan.
            Mr. and Mrs. John Laskowski, Walter Laskowski, the Misses Severa, Elizabeth, Blanche and Rita Laskowski; Mr. and Mrs. Cappadona and family, Mr. and Mrs. M. Laskowski, Mrs. Aktabowski, Mr. and Mrs. Z. Hork and family.
            Mr. and Mrs. G. Hork and family, Mr. and Mrs. F. Hork, Mrs. Adams, Miss Adelaide Cregan, Louis Schauer, Matthew Cordelski, Angelo Cappadona, John Foley, Mr. and Mrs. Devine, Mrs. Fialkowski and son, Edward.
            Michael Berto, Mr. and Mrs. George Ebinger, Mr. and Mrs. F. Sokolowski, Mrs. D. Eggert, Mrs. T. McCann, Mrs. P. Bailer, Mrs. M. Kordecki, Mrs. W. Maus, A. Parry, Miss E. Herlihy, Mrs. E. Bortell, M. Deir, Joe Wissie, P. Strack and C. Deir.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Got Taxes?


Today is one of those days Americans love to hate: Income Tax Day.

No matter which country you reside in—or which country your ancestors hailed from—if you pay taxes, you likely descend from a long line of taxpaying grumblers. You are in good company.

Here in the U.S., our income tax paying roots would have stretched back to the War of 1812—but for the fact that politics being politics, the tax, proposed in 1814, couldn’t get itself implemented before the end of hostilities in 1815.

Wars and taxes seem to have gone hand in hand, however, for by the time of the American Civil War, Congress introduced what was to become the country’s first personal income tax. It was, however, not to be long-lived, for it was repealed and replaced by a different wartime income tax in the subsequent year.

The first peacetime income tax in American history didn’t arise until 1894. If your roots included those fortunate enough to earn at least $4000 for the year, your ancestors would have had to pay two percent on that amount. Not to worry, though: incomes of that level were only achieved by less than ten percent of American households of the time.

I suspect my husband’s great grandfather, Chicagoan John Tully, was not among those fortunate few. Though he likely was pleased to be more financially successful than he would have been, had his Irish parents chosen to leave him in the County Tipperary townland of his birth, he still showed signs of great concern over his financial status—and, regarding which, what the government considered their rightful claim.

How do I know this? He left his records of tax payments among his most important papers—which, of course, meant his record-hording daughter Agnes Tully Stevens felt it her duty to carefully store those records for future years, just in case. Which meant her son Edward accepted the responsibility of preserving them for…for…well, who knows what. But when Uncle Ed passed away, who should the family think would be the appropriate person to step into the role of family records archivist? Why, the gal who peppered Uncle Ed with all those genealogy questions, of course!


When I look at the pages of those old tax records—receipts from April 23, 1889, for example—I can’t help but see John Tully’s taxpaying ledger from the perspective of the tax history timeline of our nation. While he certainly wasn’t eligible to be taxed at the national level at that time—and by the time the Federal Income Tax, as we know it, was instituted in 1913, he was long gone—he did, however, have to pay his due to local taxing authorities.

Being almost a civil servant, having served in the South Park police force of the era (before it became part of the Chicago Police Department), John Tully faced a two-edged sword: what he hated paying for in taxes, he most certainly needed as salary to meet his family’s own financial needs.

Perhaps his concern over such taxing matters was inherited by his daughter, Agnes. Maybe that is why, preserved among that stash of tax receipts, was a chart illustrating the ubiquitous “Where Your Tax Dollars are Spent” topic fielded by most local governmental entities. This must have been quite important to them—or maybe no one knew to throw it out, after Agnes died. For what it’s worth, I know—and now, you do, too—how the City of Chicago spent its residents’ hard earned money in 1917.



Taxes couldn’t have been too outrageous, however, judging from a historical perspective. Though John Tully was no longer there to pay such rates, by the time federal income taxes were implemented, the top rate was only seven percent—on incomes above five hundred thousand. In case you’re wondering, that would be well over ten million in today’s money.

An interesting set of charts at Wikipedia delineates the history of federal income tax rates—and then adjusts them for inflation—in case you are curious about what your American ancestors did have to pay. Handily, the chart extends to the year 2010, giving us a bird’s eye view of how much the government could “feel your pain” in any given year. It certainly shows which years were designed to “stick it to the rich”—the war years of 1941-1946 and again in 1964-1965—and which ones really did deliver the “taxpayer relief” various Acts purported to provide.

Still, history buff that I am, there is nothing about April 15 over which to be enamored. While we history types like to imagine simpler days of the past, those tax woes used to stress out our forebears just as much as they do us. And though we can take heart that, after the close of financial reporting for Fiscal Year 2014 today there will come an April 16, we can’t help but realize it’s but the first day of the rest of a new taxpaying year.



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Family Entertainment


Weddings—at least in “The Old Country”—must have been quite the festive occasion. In examining the 1929 newspaper report of the wedding of John Laskowski’s daughter, Frances, it wasn’t lost upon me that the New World celebration of these children of Old Country emigrants started early in the morning, and lasted not only through breakfast but all the way through dinner, as well.

The article in the August 27 Queens Borough Daily Star reported every detail, it seems—down to the names on the guest list, which is fortunate for a genealogy researcher like me. I stumble upon my greatest finds, sometimes, while poring over the slightest details.

Before we proceed to that promised review of the guest list, however, I’d like to pause at the next paragraph in the report. After all, what would a whole day spent with family and friends be, if not filled with entertainment? And entertainment is exactly what was in store for the guests of the bride’s parents, John and Blanche Atkabowska Laskowski.

Though the newspaper gave no indication of exactly what kind of entertainment was in store for the guests, I have my guesses. Ours has traditionally been a musical family, and it’s likely that those named in the article were not just sharing their talents among family, but may have played gigs about town, as well.

The way I know this comes to me in a roundabout fashion. Years ago, while researching the surname of John’s wife—and you’ve got to admit, Aktabowski is not your everyday sort of surname—I discovered that some of the brothers had played professionally. One of the more recent Aktabowski descendants I discussed this with had mentioned that, due to its length and awkwardness, his musical relatives had chosen to shorten their surname. Let’s just say that Aktabowski wasn’t exactly a tidy fit on a marquee.

One Aktabowski descendant had told me that the name had been shortened and altered into a new creation—the stage name “Hark.”

While researching a family in New York with a name like Aktabowski has been a challenge—between handwriting atrocities and spelling variations, I’ve yet to locate anything more than the 1900 U.S. Census plus state census records for 1905 and 1915—I think it’s safe to say the family was a large one. Blanche Aktabowska apparently had twelve siblings—although I wonder whether some were duplicate identities resulting from a switch to Americanized names.

Among Blanche’s siblings were two brothers, one named Zygmunt, the other opting for the more Americanized Frank. While I’m not sure—at least, not at this point—whether these were the brothers indicated in my discussion with the family’s descendants, perhaps Frank and Zygmunt were the ones calling themselves by the shortened surname Hark.

Taking a look at the newspaper article—you know there has got to be a reason I’m belaboring this point—featured among the wedding entertainers at the Laskowski home happened to be two people listed only as “F. and Z. Hork.”

Could Hork be Hark? Could this be Frank and Zygmunt?

While I can’t be sure about any connections with the Irish-sounding or Italian surnames in the list, it is easy to tell that part of the day’s festivities were kept all in the family. Miss E. Laskowski was likely Frances’ sister and bridesmaid, Elizabeth. Walter Laskowski was their brother.

Who knows whether the bride and groom graciously stayed to the last, as the evening and dinner came to a close. While I have no idea what there was in the Hudson valley village of Rhinebeck that drew them upstate for their honeymoon—perhaps to gawk and dream of the various historic mansions from the “Gilded Age” of the previous century—I rather suspect the two young lovers made their escape from the celebration’s cacophony rather early in the proceedings.

            The ceremony was followed by a breakfast and dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. Laskowski. Entertainment was furnished by Patrick O’Dea, T. Esposito, Miss E. Laskowski, Mr. Deir, Mr. Cappadona, F. and Z. Hork and Walter Laskowski.
            After spending their honeymoon at Rhinebeck, N. Y., the couple will live in Eighty-third street.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Given in Marriage by Her Father


When Frances Laskowski met Philip Hanlon at the altar of Saint Adelbert’s Church on Saturday morning, August 24, 1929, she became both the first and the last of the daughters of John Laskowski who were given in marriage by their father. Just before the new couple was able to celebrate their first anniversary—and two days shy of his fiftieth birthday—John breathed his last.

None of this, likely, was foreshadowed during the festive event in 1929—not even the broader historical perspective of the financial debacle about to envelope the nation had yet inserted its foreboding that year. This day—August 24—was simply a day for family and friends to join together in wishing the newlywed couple a lifetime of happiness.

Thankfully, for those of us wanting to look back upon this event from our vantage point of eighty five years in the future, the details of the day were carried in the Queens borough edition of the New York City Daily Star. The article included all the expected descriptions: names of both sets of parents (well camouflaged within the socially acceptable format of “Mr. and Mrs.” husband’s-name-only), location of the ceremony, details of the bridal gown and bridesmaids’ outfits.

The report also alluded to requirements of the event that would only be familiar to those practicing Catholics who remember how things were done in the old days: a morning ceremony celebrating mass, by tradition requiring both the bride and the groom to fast prior to communion that morning—thus explaining the custom of the breakfast meal immediately afterward.

What was most valuable about reading this report in the Daily Star, however, was not in its gift to us in sharing a glimpse into the ambience of the festive occasion, but in the long list of names that was to follow the ceremony’s description. As much as the later newspaper report of John’s passing didn’t reveal those significant names we researchers long to see, this wedding announcement made up for in every minute detail.

The guest list, in fact, was so long as to require me to save it for another post. Tomorrow, we’ll see what can be deduced from the list left waiting for us in the August 27, 1929, edition of the Daily Star.

            Miss Frances Laskowski, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Laskowski of 54-42 Eighty-second street, was married Saturday morning, 9 o'clock, at a nuptial mass at St. Adelbert's R. C. Church, to Philip J. Hanlon, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. Hanlon of 94 Woodhaven boulevard. Father Bernard performed the ceremony.
            The bride wore a gown of white satin, trimmed with lace, and a cap-shape veil, and carried a bouquet of roses and lilies-of-the-valley. She was attended by her sisters, Severa and Elizabeth, who wore maize satin dresses and carried bouquets of tea roses. The best man was Thomas Hanlon, brother of the bridegroom.
            The bride was given in marriage by her father.
            The ushers were Archibald Parry and Walter Laskowski.
            The altar was decorated for the occasion with white flowers and the home was prettily decorated also in white.
            The ceremony was followed by a breakfast and dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. Laskowski.
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