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.