Sunday, August 18, 2013

Connecting with Ursula on the ancestral plane

Some ancestors call out to me more than others. Of course, if I could time travel back to their eras, I would want to meet every single one of them. But there are some I would want to spend a particularly long time with.

To me, the "ancestral plane" is something like a very big party. The guests include family members I knew in this lifetime (my Babcia, my Dad, my aunts and uncles), relatives that I never knew but heard about through them (my great-grandfather Antoni Ruscik, my Dad's youngest sister, Annie), and many, many ancestors whom I've become aware of through family research. Helpfully, those people are all wearing "Hello, my name is ..." badges so I can finally put a face to a name as we introduce ourselves.

But there are a few individuals who need no introduction. We make eye contact across that crowded room, and there is an instant sense of recognition, an affinity of souls. We have always known each other, somehow, across time and space. I yearn to talk with them, to learn more about their lives than I can ever glean from genealogical research.

Who, what, when, where, why, and how

In a family like mine, there is precious little information recorded about any one person's life. In Europe, the sources are for the most part limited to brief entries in church registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, and in occasional church or civil censuses. In the United States, for our 1890s-1914 immigrants, there is little beyond the standard official records (passenger lists, military registrations, citizenship papers, and such).

From their arrival in this country through the 1920s, at least, there is almost no documentation or description of their lives. Most of our immigrants were young, in their late teens and twenties; most were single. All were looking for work, trying to get a foothold in a country where they could not speak or read the language (at least, not much). What they did, who they did it with, where and when they did it, and why—I wonder about this endlessly.

I have found almost nothing about any of my Polish immigrant ancestors in the English-language newspapers of the cities they lived in. And I have spent many, many hours reading through microfilmed copies of the old dailies published in Worcester, Boston, Pawtucket, Lowell, Springfield, etc.

In search of wedding news

So I didn't have very high hopes for finding anything when a fourth cousin and I recently spent the day in Maynard, Massachusetts, a town where our shared Bogdan-Przyjemski family lived in the early twentieth century. What I really, really wanted was to find some newspaper mention of the September 26, 1915, marriage of Urszula Przyjemski to Jozef Szlachciuk. In July 2012, I wrote about Urszula's marriage in "Discovering Julian Prokopowicz's Bogdan family in America," which features the group portrait made for the wedding.

Had that portrait not been inscribed on the back, had it not come down to me, I most likely never would have known about my grandfather Julian's relatives in Maynard. Urszula's wedding was the key that unlocked a room full of family history. Would newspaper coverage of the event perhaps unlock more? I really hoped so.

The Maynard weeklies

In 1915, two weekly newspapers served Maynard (population then about 6,500) and environs: the Maynard News and the Maynard Enterprise. The Maynard Public Library has both on microfilm; the reference librarian noted that some issues were missing (a situation not uncommon with century-old newspapers).

We started our search that day with the Maynard Enterprise; unfortunately, the issue that would have been published in the week following the wedding was not on the microfilm. We checked the subsequent issue, but weren't surprised to find no mention there.

As we scanned the pages—those good old-fashioned broad pages with nine columns of tiny type—we could not help noticing the almost complete lack of any coverage related to Maynard's Polish population. Even the English-speaking Irish Catholics of St. Bridget's Parish got little attention. Among the town's diverse ethnic groups, only the Finns seemed to merit a few inches of print.

An electric sign, a whist party, a wedding

We moved on to the Maynard News, whose content mirrored that of the Enterprise. The News was published on Fridays, so we zeroed in on the October 1, 1915, edition, printed just five days after Urszula's Sunday wedding. Eight pages, small font, much of the newsprint faded long before it was reproduced on microfilm.

Typical of the era, the News consolidated most of its local coverage under town headings: "Maynard," "Sudbury," "Acton." A sentence reporting someone's weekend trip to Boston might be followed by a death notice, which might in turn be followed by an announcement of a concert or a runaway dog.

By the time we reached page eight, our hopes were dim. But there at the bottom of page eight, in a "Maynard" potpourri that told of a "new electric sign" in town, a meeting of the Knights of Kaleva, a family's houseguests from Vermont, and a whist party at the Masonic Hall, there it was: a two-sentence announcement of Urszula's wedding.

"There was a wedding on Thompson street, Sunday, when Rev. Francis Jablonski joined in wedlock Miss Ursula Pryjenski and Joseph Szlacheink. The usual festivities followed," the newspaper reported.

Some information, some questions

Twenty-five words, no more. Surnames misspelled, no surprise. The announcement didn't say much, yet it spoke volumes.

We might have hoped for some mention of other members of the wedding party, if there were any besides the two witnesses (one being my grandfather, Julian Prokopowicz). Or perhaps a description of the bride's gown (once upon a time, many newspaper inches were lavished upon detailed descriptions of veils and lace and trains and beads and fabrics).

What did it tell us? I was surprised to learn that the wedding took place at the family home rather than at church, which would have been St. Bridget's, since St. Casimir's Polish Catholic church was still a decade away from being built in town. I would guess it was a noon or afternoon wedding, since Rev. Jablonski would have been busy with Mass on that Sunday morning.

What "usual festivities" followed the wedding? I can imagine lots of food, lots of music, lots of guests. For Kazimierz and Elena Bogdan Przyjemski, the marriage of their first-born child, their 17-year-old daughter (18, according to the town record), would certainly have been cause for celebration. And Sunday would have been the one day of the week when friends and family living in Rhode Island and elsewhere in Massachusetts might have been able to travel to Maynard to share in the joyous occasion.

Who did the reporting?

Perhaps most significantly, the write-up told us that, despite the dearth of news space devoted to Maynard's Polish immigrants, this event made it into print. How did that happen? Who took the initiative to report the event? We'll never know.

I'm intrigued by the different possibilities raised by the spelling, wording, and details in the announcement. If the family reported the wedding, surely the bride's and groom's surnames would have been spelled correctly, at least at the outset. It's not inconceivable that the errors might have been made at the newspaper, either in copying the information, or typing it, or typesetting. If a reporter assigned to town hall dutifully recorded all the marriages for the week, it might have become a tidbit in the community news column that way. That's quite possible.

But here's how I imagine it: Ursula took the initiative to go to the newspaper office, perhaps with the marriage certificate in hand as documentation. After all, she had come to this country in early childhood; she would have been educated in Maynard schools, probably equally fluent in English and Polish by the time she was a teen-ager, and comfortable in her community. She may well have been more fluent in English than Joseph, who, though a few years older than her, had immigrated more recently. Or maybe the newlyweds went to the newspaper office together, if they were able to squeeze in time before or after their jobs at the American Woolen Company mill.

Why did it matter?

Why would it have been important to share their news in an English-language publication that perhaps few of Maynard's Polish immigrants might have read? Well, people generally like to share happy news. (Facebook is full of it, announcements and photos and thumbs-up "likes.")

Beyond that, maybe Ursula and Joseph wanted to create a more public record of their marriage than the listing in Maynard's 1915 annual town report would have afforded them.

Or maybe Ursula sensed somehow that she wouldn't have many opportunities ahead to let the world know she was here. In fact, her time was limited. She would live long enough to give birth to her only child in 1916, when her name would appear as "Celia" in the town records. When her husband, by then known as "Joe," registered for the World War I draft in 1917, she would be referred to only as "wife."

When Ursula died suddenly at the height of the influenza epidemic in October 1918, just nine days after her third wedding anniversary and a few months after her 20th birthday, there would be no obituary; newspapers could not keep pace with the volume of deaths that fall. When she was buried in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, her gravestone identified her as "Celia Scluck."

Feeling her presence

What if Joseph and Ursula had not moved to Rhode Island in that final year? What if they had stayed in Maynard? Would she have escaped the flu? Would she and Joseph have had other happy events to announce in the Maynard News in decades to come?

I wonder about that.

I felt Ursula's presence so strongly during that day in Maynard. Not only did my cousin and I find the wedding announcement, we found the house on Thompson Street where Joseph and Ursula were married in 1915. Sitting in the car, parked in the pouring rain, we spent some time talking about the Przyjemski family's years there, wondering about their lives, imagining "the usual festivities" that must have filled the house and yard on that September afternoon so long ago.

We have a lot to talk about with Ursula on the ancestral plane.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Re-examining the records: Aleksandr and Józef

Look, and look again. No matter how many times you've pored over some genealogical resource, whether it's a document, or a photograph, or some random bit of memorabilia connected to an ancestor's life, there is always the chance that you've missed something.

I can attest to that. Since 1996, I have spent countless hours re-reading passenger lists and census pages line by line and column by column. I've studied maps and photos inch by inch, corner to corner. I've used a gamut of Polish, Russian, and Latin dictionaries to ferret every possible translation of a word.

No matter how much you knew (or thought you knew) at some earlier point in your research, "You don't know what you don't know," as the saying goes. If a big breakthrough today reveals a new family surname, it just might be the same name you glossed over yesterday.

A couple weeks ago, I came upon evidence that redefined the relationship between my maternal grandfather Aleksandr and his "half-brother" Józef. In fact, they were first cousins. In 1900, Józef provided his parents' names for a 1900 premarital examination that was conducted by a Catholic parish priest in the presence of three witnesses.

My mother's family had always referred to the men as brothers or half-brothers. In my previous post, I described what records I had used, and what records were unavailable to me, in trying to clarify Aleksandr and Józef's relationship.

What did I miss? Had I previously overlooked some tiny but telling detail in the data I had compiled on these men? I had to take a fresh look at it all.

There is not much, at least not in the way of documents that link these men.

I have found my grandfather Aleksandr's parents, Kazimierz Prokopowicz and Paulina Zubrzycki, identified on four records: Aleksandr's 1878 baptismal record and Kazimierz's 1881 death record, both in Iszczolna parish; my grandparents' 1900 marriage record in Szczuczyn parish; and Aleksandr's 1937 Social Security application in the United States.

For Józef, I have the 1873 baptismal record naming his parents as Jerzy Prokopowicz and Marianna Badziuk, and Jerzy's 1880 death record, both in Iszczolna parish; and his (newly found) 1900 premarital exam questionnaire in Żołudek parish.

When it's laid out like that, it looks so obvious that Aleksandr and Józef were not brothers or even half-brothers. Except, of course, that my family said they were, so I played devil's advocate with the church records:

● Just because Jerzy and Marianna had a son named Józef, did not mean that Kazimierz might not also have fathered a son named Józef, either with his first wife, Katarzyna, or his second wife, Paulina.
● Just because Kazimierz's death record identified a surviving daughter named Józefa, did not mean that the priest might not have made an error in the entry, writing Józefa instead of Józef. I have found numerous errors in the metryki, some far more egregious than misidentifying a son as a daughter.

Both of those are legitimate considerations, especially given the gap in church records available on microfilm (no records for 1870, 1872, 1874-1876).

Records of immigration and settlement in the United States did not help to settle the half-brother question:

● Both Aleksandr and Józef were married when they immigrated, so passenger list references were to their wives, not their parents. (See Immigration Time Line: Aleksandr & Stefania Prokopowicz and Extended Family).
● Written physical descriptions offered no insight. Ship manifests: 1910, Aleksandr, 5'7", fair hair, blue eyes; 1911, Józef: 5'4", fair hair, blue eyes.
● The men's World War I draft registrations similarly focused on their status and relationships in America, not Europe.
● When Józef, by then known as Joseph, died in 1927, his obituary named his parents as "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Prokopovich" (wrong!) and his widow as "Mary Bunekevich." There was no mention at all of siblings, though he likely had surviving sisters.
● Joseph died years before the 1935 Social Security Act was passed—the upshot being no SS-5 application form recording his parents' names.

One thing nagged at me, though: the 1873 birth year on Józef's baptismal record and on the 1918 draft registration. That seemed like too much of a coincidence. The red flag was flying.

In the end, it was Maryanna Baniukiewicz's name appearing all along the paper trail that I could not overlook. The Józef Prokopowicz she married in 1900 was undeniably the same Józef who was born to Jerzy Prokopowicz and Marianna Badziuk in 1840, the same Józef who was later to make immigration plans with his cousin, my grandfather Aleksandr.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My grandfather Aleksandr and his half-brother Józef who was really his cousin

My grandfathers' lives and relationships continue to surprise me. Almost exactly one year ago, I discovered that my paternal grandfather, Julian Prokopowicz (1895-1951), had fellow-immigrant cousins in New England that I had never heard about. Last week I discovered that Józef Prokopowicz, the half-brother of my maternal grandfather Aleksandr Prokopowicz (1878-1939), actually was not his brother at all, but his cousin.

Julian in Worcester, Massachusetts, and his cousins in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, lived about forty miles apart—not all that far, but maybe just far enough to limit their visits. Aleksandr and Józef, on the other hand, were close throughout their lives. They grew up in the same small village (probably in the same small house) in Russian Poland and jointly planned their immigration to the United States. Their wives and children sailed together when the time (and money) arrived for steerage tickets to a new life.

Aleksandr's and Józef's families settled within a quick walk of each other in Worcester, Massachusetts. Aleksandr and wife Stefania, and Józef and wife Maryanna referred to themselves as in-laws, as uncle and aunt to each others' children; those sons and daughters were cousins, and friends in their early years. When Aleksandr died, he was buried in Józef's family plot in Worcester.

"Not full brothers"

My mother, who outlived the rest of her family, was always quick to note, however, that her father and her uncle were "half-brothers, not full brothers." She knew no more than that. Did the men have the same Prokopowicz father, and different mothers? Or different Prokopowicz fathers, and the same mother? When I asked newfound second cousins (Józef's grandchildren) a few years ago, they knew as little as I did.

Using microfilmed church records from Iszczolna parish in what is now western Belarus, I have tried to document Aleksandr's and Józef's origins. However, there are no films for 1870, 1872, and 1874-1877, a significant gap, especially for their parents' child-bearing years. Lacking access to six years' worth of records, I know I am missing information that is vital for my genealogical research. The records I have found make me certain of that.

Trying a new research strategy

A few nights ago, I approached The Half-Brother Question from a new angle, using a really wonderful resource: ePaveldas, a portal representing several archives, libraries, and museums in Lithuania. These distinguished institutions collaborate in making much of the nation's cultural heritage accessible by digitizing their holdings. A fairly recent addition is numerous metryki and censuses from Żołudek parish. This is somewhat surprising because today's national boundaries place Żołudek, long a part of the old Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilno, in Belarus, not Lithuania. To my knowledge, Żołudek is the only parish in my ancestral Lida region whose records (an incomplete set, from the 1670s to the early 1920s) appear on ePaveldas.

Particularly because some very important records from Iszczolna parish elude me, I hoped I might find hints in Żołudek parish records to solve the half-brother mystery. This seemed possible because Józef Prokopowicz had married a young Żołudek parishioner, Maryanna Baniukiewicz of Łopaty village. (A 1913 baptismal record from Our Lady of Częstochowa Parish in Worcester for the couple's youngest child identified their parishes of origin in Europe: Iszczolna for Józef, Żołudek for Maryanna.) Based on their oldest daughter's birth in March 1901, I guessed that Józef and Maryanna had married in 1900.

Premarital exams and marriage banns

In the ePaveldas collection of text documents labeled Rankraščiai (Manuscripts), I found two relevant Żołudek parish books: 1895-1901 premarital examination questionnaires and 1897-1906 marriage banns announcements. I began with late 1899 banns, and quickly found Józef and Maryanna's three readings listed for 30 January, 2 February, and 7 February 1900. Couples' names and reading dates were in fact the only information the banns books provided.

Knowing the banns dates, I quickly located Józef and Maryanna's questionnaire, which the Żołudek parish priest had filled out with them on 7 February 1900. I have not yet located 1900 Żołudek marriage records on ePaveldas, if they are there, but I can theorize that Józef and Maryanna were wed soon after the questionnaire was completed and by 27 February 1900. Many weddings took place on the same day as the third reading of the banns. Ash Wednesday was 28 February, and Polish Roman Catholics traditionally did not marry during Lent.

Who Józef's parents really were

What I hoped, from either a questionnaire or a marriage record, was to learn the names of Józef's parents—whether, as half-brothers, he and Aleksandr shared the same father, or the same mother.

What the questionnaire (shown at right) instead revealed was that they shared neither. They were not brothers at all. They were first cousins. According to the questionnaire, Józef's parents were Jerzy Prokopowicz and Marianna Badziuk of the village of Kozarezy in neighboring Iszczolna parish. My grandfather Aleksandr's parents were Kazimierz Prokopowicz and Paulina Zubrzycki, also of Kozarezy. Jerzy, born in 1840, and Kazimierz, born in 1845, were both the sons of Stefan Prokopowicz and Anna Piwowarczyk, who had nine children in all.

What I do (and don't) know for sure

This is the point at which I have to explain what documentation I have for some of these family relationships, what documentation I do not have, and what questions arise from the lack of records. That mix serves as the backstory for scenarios that I can honestly only imagine, by way of explaining how and why Aleksandr and Józef came to be described as half-brothers. For good measure, I'll add the Polish language into the mix, since it is replete with vocabulary terms for all manner of family relationships.

Documentation of Józef's family of origin

Żołudek parish metryki record the marriage of Jerzy Prokopowicz and Marianna Badziuk in October 1866. I have found baptismal records for six children born to them between 1867 and 1879: Rozalia, Michalina, Marianna, Józef (born in 1873), Stefania, and Magdalena. All were born in Jerzy's home village of Kozarezy and baptized in Iszczolna parish. Jerzy died at the age of 40 on 24 December 1880, survived by his widow and all of the children except Michalina and Marianna, who died earlier.

Documentation of Aleksandr's family of origin

My grandfather's family is less well documented. What I have found in church metryki is spotty at best, due to that lack of microfilmed records for six years in the 1870s. Wasiliszki parish reports a marriage between Kazimierz Prokopowicz and Katarzyna Leonowicz in May 1869. The groom's age, village, parish, and parents' names all agree with the details in Kazimierz's 1845 Iszczolna parish baptismal record. The bride's data are equally clear, so the record seems straightforward and accurate. However, I have found no further references anywhere to Kazimierz and Katarzyna as a couple. Most likely because of that unavailability of six years of church records, nine years pass before Kazimierz plays a documented role in another sacramental event.

In October 1878, Iszczolna parish metryki announce the birth and baptism of Aleksandr Prokopowicz, the son of Kazimierz Prokopowicz and Paulina Zubrzycki, residing in Kozarezy. Next documented is Kazimierz's death in Kozarezy on 6 January 1881. Listed as survivors are his widow Paulina, son Aleksandr, and daughter Józefa.

Questions of death, remarriage, and birth

Presumably, Kazimierz's first wife, Katarzyna Leonowicz, died before his marriage to Paulina Zubrzycki, but where and when? I have reviewed the 1869-1871 films for Wasiliszki, Iszczolna, and several surrounding parishes and found no mention of her death. Nor is there any indication that Kazimierz and Katarzyna had any children in the first couple years of their marriage—highly unusual for young Catholic couples in that era. (My search continues, in other parishes.) At this point, I surmise that Katarzyna died sometime during the unfilmed years of 1870, 1872 or 1874-1876. Was Katarzyna the mother of "daughter Józefa" mentioned in Kazimierz's death record? Did Katarzyna perhaps die in childbirth?

When did Kazimierz marry Paulina Zubrzycki? Again, those unfilmed years probably hold the answer, and the marriage record. The Zubrzycki family lived in Iszczolna parish, so the marriage almost certainly took place there. Was Paulina the mother of "daughter Józefa"? Kazimierz's death record offers no clue to his children's birth order, since it follows the traditional pattern of naming surviving sons (in descending order of age) before surviving daughters. At any rate, there seems no reason to think that Kazimierz ever fathered a son named Józef.

Shared households

So how and why did Józef, documented as the son of Jerzy Prokopowicz and Marianna Badziuk, and Aleksandr, documented as the son of Kazimierz Prokopowicz and Paulina Zubrzycki, come to be described as half-brothers when they were in reality first cousins? I have a theory. I may never be able to substantiate it, unless I someday have the opportunity to see an Iszczolna parish census conducted in 1881 or later. But this is it, with a little background on the Prokopowicz family and the village they lived in.

From the early 1800s on, my maternal Prokopowicz family lived in Kozarezy, a tiny village just east of Szczuczyn. The 1795 Russian rewizja (revision list, akin to a census) listed 5 households in Kozarezy; the 1852 parish census, 10 households; and the 1890s-era Slownik Geograficzny, "8 houses, 90 residents." I do not know how many of those houses the Prokopowicz family occupied circa 1880. Probably two. When I visited Kozarezy in 2001, one was still occupied by an elderly Prokopowicz widow (her husband was descended from Michał, the older brother of Jerzy and Kazimierz).

My guess is that the second house (by 2001, uninhabited and used for storage) had been shared by the families of Jerzy and Kazimierz. Large households were the norm in that era, as Slownik's village population tallies point out. Living under the same roof may well have played a part in the deaths, both attributed to "fever," of Jerzy in December 1880 and Kazimierz less than two weeks later in January 1881. (A somber holiday season indeed, with the brothers' deaths on Christmas Eve and the Feast of the Epiphany, respectively.)

Widows and children

If my assumption is correct, the deaths of the two husbands/fathers left a Prokopowicz household of two 30-something widows and six children ranging in age from about 10 months to 13 years. As the only sons, Józef and Kazimierz undoubtedly shared a lot of family responsibilities as they grew up; Józef, older than Kazimierz by five years, might easily have been seen as the "big brother" in this mixed brood of cousins.

It is also possible that one of the widows might have died while the children were growing up, leaving the other to serve as a mother to them all. If that happened, it might have strengthened the children's bonds and blurred the lines somewhat between siblings and cousins.

There may well be several other scenarios that I have not even imagined. I simply do not know the families' living arrangements.

Defining family relationships

How did Marianna Badziuk Prokopowicz and Paulina Zubrzycki Prokopowicz and their children define their connections to one another? The Polish language has very exacting terminology for several categories of family relationships, particularly distinguishing relatives on a mother's side of the family from those on the father's side. For example, wuj is a maternal uncle, and stryj is a paternal uncle.

Brat is Polish for "brother." Brat also is an element in several other family terms. A full brother is a brat rodzony. A half-brother might be called a pół brat, or a brat przyrodni; the latter also signifies step-brother. A male cousin might simply be called kuzyn, or more specifically, brat stryjeczny if he is the son of the father's brother. To a father's siblings, that same son is a nephew, or bratanek. Whether it is used in reference to a male child himself or in reference to his father's relationship to others in the family, brat thus has many applications in the vocabulary of family relationships.

Leaving the homeland, selling the farm

It is fruitless for me to speculate what terms my grandfather's family favored in conversation back in the 1880s, or to speculate how all their lives and relationships evolved over the subsequent three decades. Instead I'll fast forward to the early 1900s. By that time, Józef and Aleksandr had both married and started families of their own. They had experienced the local impact of the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War (military conscription for some village men) and the 1905 Russian Revolution (turmoil and plunder). And they had decided to immigrate to America. Aleksandr left first, sailing in March 1910. Józef followed in April 1911. (Their wives and children finally joined them in 1913.)

How did the men finance their journeys? My mother always explained it like this: "My father and his half-brother sold the family farm to their two sisters to get the money they needed. They knew they were never going back there." One sister, my mother had been told, had "a crippled leg, injured in an accident involving a horse," and owning an interest in the farm might improve her chances for marriage, the two men thought.

Many, many times when I was growing up, I heard my mom and her older sister, my Ciocia Paulina, tell that story about Aleksandr and Józef selling the farm. I never questioned any part of it. Like many family stories held up to closer scrutiny, though, it is rather puzzling. Who exactly were these "two sisters"? Józef had three—Rozalia, Stefania, and Magdalena—assuming none had died between 1880 and 1910. Aleksandr apparently had a sister named Józefa (I know nothing about her, but find it interesting that Józefa was my mother's baptismal name). He also had two half-sisters, Malwina and Anna, born to his widowed mother Paulina several years after Kazimierz's death.

The final tally

To sum up two families' worth of siblings and cousins: Neither my grandfather Aleksandr nor his cousin Józef had any brothers at all. They chose to describe themselves as half-brothers for reasons that I can only guess at, but that suggest a deep bond. Józef had five sisters, three of whom outlived their father. Aleksandr had one sister and two half-sisters. How these women came to be recast in family lore as "two sisters" is another small mystery. Perhaps all but two had married, or had died, by the time the family farm changed ownership circa 1910? I would very much like to see the deeds and documents detailing that sale, if it is ever possible to access them through some archive in Belarus or Lithuania. If I am very lucky, maybe someday records from Iszczolna will appear on ePaveldas.


Next: Re-examining records of Aleksandr's and Józef's lives from Wilno to Worcester. Did I miss some important clues? Did I ignore some red flags?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Belarus-Lida Region and Prokopowicz surname Family Tree DNA projects

One benefit of testing with Family Tree DNA is that it hosts thousands of projects—7,620 at last count, devoted to surnames and geographic areas large and small. Joining a project allows you to view your test results in relation to those of people with whom you may share some factor in common, such as ancestry in the same part of the globe. By putting your results in a bigger context, a DNA project can offer insight into your origins that you might not otherwise discover. Quite simply, it can help you figure out how and where you fit in.

A number of excellent Family Tree DNA projects focus on eastern European ancestry. Some broadly relate to countries of origin. Some concentrate on dynasties, nobility lines, or clans; others, on ethnicities. Some are quite large: the Polish project currently has 3,330 members. All projects are overseen by volunteer administrators. These projects are well worth joining. Through my own mtDNA test results, I joined the Cossack DNA, Lithuanian DNA, Lituania Propria, Polish, RussiaDNA, and Russia-Slavic DNA projects.

And because I have a particular interest in the Lida region and in the Prokopowicz surname, I submitted proposals to FTDNA to create projects focusing on those two themes.

About the Belarus-Lida Region geographic project

My justification for the Belarus-Lida Region project was that this area has had a complicated history, evident in the ever-changing national borders that have encompassed it; and that its population has similarly comprised several distinct ethnic groups. Belarus-Lida Region is a dual geographic project, meaning that it accommodates both Y-DNA and mtDNA test results. The goals are twofold:

To help members identify a common male ancestor and/or a common female ancestor in the Lida region.
To help identify relationships between family branches that in recent generations may have become separated or estranged due to emigration, war, deportation, resettlement, etc. These upheavals have scattered people with Lida roots throughout the world.

About the Prokopowicz project

My original rationale for the Prokopowicz surname project was that this was a common patronymic surname in my particular region of interest, the lands of the onetime Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—today's Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus. It is also common in Ukraine, Russia, and other Slavic nations; variant spellings of Prokopowicz appear throughout eastern and central Europe. And emigration, war, deportation, and resettlement have carried it worldwide, far from its families' places of origin.

Because a primary goal of this project is to help determine which families bearing this surname may share a common male ancestor at some point in the past, Y-DNA testing is required for membership.

Both the Belarus-Lida Region and the Prokopowicz projects are small. I welcome and encourage anyone with relevant ancestry to join them.