Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tracking family using paper and DNA

Over the last 16 years, I've been trying to track down my paternal Polish heritage and ancestry. When I first started to work on genealogy, this was one reason why I started to do genealogy - to find out where my grandmother, who was basically the only grandparent I really knew, had grown up.

From talking to her when I was in my childhood and into my early teens, I knew it was not a good area where she grew up. However, she did talk about playing in the rivers with her cousins and
1980s my grandmother and I in Newburgh, NY USA
always having cousins around her. I did ask once what rivers were they grandma and she told me, but the only one that stuck was the Bug River in Poland as, at the time, I thought it was a very funny name for a river. Anyhow, these memories helped me pinpoint down the area she grew up in.

However, back 16 years ago, there wasn't too much documentation on the web and I didn't have the resources to go tracking down the information. However, over the years, I didn't give up. If anything, I became more determined. Then when I lost my job nearly 3 years ago, I decided to crack open the information and really get into researching all my family.

Maternal Side Search
At first I had hits on my maternal side and started to find out information and go back and back. I found out an uncle I was told that had died had not and cousins, I didn't know about, were there. In fact, talking to some cousins they told me some of that part of the family had been looking for US! I found extended family in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama and even Poland! Yes, I tracked my mother's side back to Poland and found a cousin there as well!

My DNA make up from Family Tree DNA
However, the downside was I my paternal side was still a huge mystery. In 2013, my husband, who is researching HIS genealogy (yes I'm guilty - I got him hooked!), was asked to do a DNA test because one of the probably cousins needed a link as they hadn't found paperwork and they only had a story to go on. He agreed and our world and knowledge of DNA started. After he took his test, and found the person WAS a cousin - a very distant but still a cousin.  (On a side note - they did find paperwork with both sides of the relatives listed which agreed with the DNA test).

DNA: Why did I do it & what to do with it?
Then we sat there and looked at each other and were thinking the same thing - I should take one, so off we sent for a DNA test for me in 2014. I took it, and got the results. I looked at them and thought they were interesting but what now? To me it looked like list of people with a range of cousins based upon the test. Then I realized to learn about the Polish in my DNA wasn't going to be that easy because I am Polish on BOTH sides.

Anyhow, as I asked questions, my husband, who's obsessed (or so it seems) with DNA results, started going on about blocks of DNA and matches. These I could pretty much understand - if your DNA is the grey part and the greys and other colors match then you are related somehow even if it is 1,000's of years. Then he started to go on about this and that and the eyes started to glass over and roll and his voice started to sound like the teacher in Peanuts (imagine wawa wawawa wa wawa over and over again). I realized this was going to require me to do some real research to understand anything more than colors match equal cousins somehow. I put it away in my to be done pile.

Dad to the Rescue with DNA
My father's DNA make up from Family Tree DNA
Anyhow, getting back to my paternal side, after I was seeing a bit of reasoning with what was going on and no documentation was coming forward either, I decided to bite the bullet and ask my father, who I was interviewing via the phone (when we'd call each other I'd ask questions - interesting concept with me in Australia and my father in New York and we'd be talking about ancestors), if he'd take a test. I told him I just wasn't having any luck whatsoever in anything I was trying, so would he. I would pay for it completely, it wasn't painful (just scratching each cheek with a think that looked like a toothbrush) and send it to me. The only thing was it would have his name on it. He agreed and off it went to him in January 2015.

My grandmother's obituary from Times Herald Record in 1988
Over the last 9 months, I've been keeping an eye on the results of both mine and my father's DNA and looking for hints via paper records. I called in microfilm from FamilySearch, which I had never done before, and went on the search of the building and area of the Mormons near me and spent the day there reviewing the microfilms I ordered in. Finally! Paperwork, other than my grandmother's obituary, which said who her mother was - Mary Slepovronskia (spelled wrong!) and who her father was - Adam Wojtkowski. I found my grandmother's marriage certificates. Yes, certificates - 2 of them. One was in the official offices and one was in a Roman Catholic Church in New York City.

Did DNA but Don't give up on paperwork!
2015 Letter enclosed with naturalization documents
Then I came back and I was starting to work on my maternal grandfather - another Polish ancestor - and ran head first into the US Federal Government files. I figured I'd wiggle my way through it as this one was a complete ghost. The first time was the number I found in the one file and it came back sorry we don't have that person by that number and they recommended me doing what's called an Index Search. After I did an index search and then asked for his Alien File or A File to be sent to me it did give up some information, but not much.

I then figured if I could do it for him, maybe there was something there on my grandmother. I knew she was a minor when she came over but why not give it a shot and filled out all the information on her. Back around 2012, I did come across her and my great grandmother's ship manifest so I had the names they used when they arrived in the US, so I put all the information I had down for her and sent it away in 2014. Let's just say when you deal with the US or state governments, the requests take awhile - think of how long a baby takes - 9 months if not longer - and you'll get a result. What appeared was shocking - My grandmother a lot of information including her parents were both naturalized as well! Upon seeing this, within an hour I put in for both my great grandparents naturalization files to be pulled.

Taken from Google Early in October 2015. Shows areas around Nur, Poland.

Upon getting that information in mid 2015, I now knew my grandmother and great grandfather were both born in Wojtkowice Dady Poland (which was both Russian and German at times). My great grandmother was born in Malkinia Poland (which was both Russian and German at times) and both locations were within 50 miles of each other! I also found my great grandparents were married in 1906 in Nur Poland which was 1/2 way between the two towns.

Using DNA to find cousins
Taking this information, I went into my father's DNA profile and started to look at the people that were pretty close 2-4th cousins. One of them had a Polish email address! Bingo! I emailed this person in August 2015. We have been talking via email about our connection and agree we are related but by which ancestor? He recently found my great grandparent's wedding certificate, which was written in Russian, and sent it to me from the archives. This took me back another generation on BOTH sides of my father's ancestry. 

DNA cousin against my father's DNA in FTDNA
My DNA cousin told me his mother was born and grew up in one of the towns north of Nur Poland which was probably the connection as it seems, by the wedding certificate/document, my ancestors married all up and down in the small villages along one main road in this area of Poland.

We're still looking to track more information down, but usually cracking the area your ancestor comes from - in ANY country (I've done this in Belgium/France and now twice in Poland) - is the hardest step. You get that area down and it seems the information comes to you in tidal waves.

My great grandparents' 1906 Russia Poland wedding document
I don't make promises lightly. I've only made 4 major promises in my life - and one of them was to my father to find out where his mother came from and to track down our cousins there. Until we link up- fully - with paperwork we're very close to finding a cousin. I did tell my father about the wedding document but are still looking for without a doubt paperwork linking us to DNA cousin Lukasz, but I think we are are only a few steps away as paperwork for this area was kept well apparently. 

Happy dance from
Helpful Hints on DNA
I do have a 2 things to say to wrap this post up. First, try and get your paperwork to match DNA. Remember DNA doesn't change but paperwork could so keep looking. Second, if you do decide to do DNA, please make sure people can contact you AND fill out the ancestor information as much as you can because this is how people know where you are looking. Adopted and looking? Why not put this in here too. Keep on looking but make sure you help yourself by filling out information fully and correctly and ask questions! Questions are helpful to learn anything.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Anniversary of 9/11

Today's post is about memories of those who are innocents that have passed and those who stand up for others to protect them in civil duties.

On 9/11 I was in my home in bed asleep. I had been working many hours and would go to bed early to rise early to be at work. My husband, who had decided to stay up a bit later, decided finally to go to bed. In fact, this was one of the years we were actually going to be at normal times for many people - by 11pm usually we were in bed or getting ready for bed. On this night, we decided to go to bed early - me by 10:30pm and my husband at about 10:45pm. Later we would find out he had just turned off the light in our bedroom as one of the planes hit the Trade Towers.
Taken from

Anyhow, at about 1:30am, our telephone line rings and as everyone knows, a phone call at that point of the hour - unless it was someone in my family that gets confused with the time zones AND had figured out how to get my phone number - its bad news. On that morning, a friend of ours who knew I grew up in New York, called me because she had fallen asleep with the TV on and woke up to turn it off and found out about the attacks in New York. She called me right away almost hysterical. I couldn't understand what she was saying but I had to try and calm her down. Then she just told me to turn on the TV and hung up the phone.

We got up and went into the living room and turned on the TV and did what most people did that day - sat there stunned. I'm not a morning person and it wasn't exactly hitting home what was happening. When it did, we sat there asking what everyone else was asking - why?

My Relatives
Then it occurred to me I had a nephew who worked down there and we had first responders in the family. I ran for my computer as I knew the telephone lines would be a mess and if anyone could get anything out to me it would be that way. I turned on my emails and had a FLOOD of emails about
One of my niece's husbands
what was going on. I learned most of my immediate family were fine but what about the others? My cousin? I then sent out an email asking about them...only to find that no one knew.

It took a few hours, and as my manager wasn't going to be in that day, I was it for the IT side of things, so I had to go in. I grabbed a few books I bought for our upcoming trip to NYC in about 6 weeks because I knew people were going to have questions. Once I got on the train going into the city, I was calling people asking about my sister, my nieces' husbands, and my cousin.

By the time I was almost at work, I found all were fine except my cousin. That wouldn't occur for a few more hours before I found that he had left the job at the World Trade Center - I believe it was building 5 - about a month before.

Waiting time
One of my other niece's husbands who was in the fire department
The big question was there - would they get sent down to help with the clean up or set up to help the people who were harmed? No one knew and they were all on standby in case they were to get sent down. I know my one sister, who is a nurse by trade, was on call. I asked her not to go down -
something I don't do because I know its her job to help injured people. My big fear? That whatever was in those buildings would harm her and take her away from her young son, Eric. She didn't believe me and told me she would think about it but I knew she wouldn't - if asked she would be right down there.

She knew people who were in the rubble. She knew the priest who was the first person killed. She knew one of the men who were carrying the priest as he was her friend's husband.

Traveling to NYC
As I said above, we had plans to go to NYC within weeks of 9/11. We had planned to walk around NYC and act like the tourists we are - something I don't really like doing as I feel like a jerk in my own state doing that. This was the one time I had agreed as I hadn't been down there but a few times myself. I bought books, wanted to see the balloons for the Macy's Parade, and go to a few museums. My husband, who was the bigger tourist because of not being in NYC before, had the longer list of things to see. One of them was the World Trade Center. I figured we could plan it just right to go in the morning and have a breakfast or brunch up there. I then bought the tickets and had them sent to my mother's house. They arrived a few weeks before 9/11.
Our tribute of 9/11 including the 2 World Trade Tickets we bought before the event happened

We did end up going to NYC, but I wasn't looking forward to it because of what had happened. Everyone was scared and tender about it. And not only those in the US either. At the time of the attacks I was working with a Muslim at work, and we were working on a programming problem for one of the computer systems. Then 9/11 happened. He was sooo uncomfortable the days after the event, I had to stop him and had decided to talk to him about it. I asked him what the problem was. He was scared about how I and others would treat him. I told him I know him and I would treat him like I always have. I couldn't say what others would do though. I asked him if, since he had been there that day, I had treated him any differently than any other day and he replied no, I treated him like any other day. I told him if anyone could be upset with him it would be me, but how could I be upset with someone I know didn't have anything to do with it? Unfortunately, he decided after that to be reassigned and I never saw him after that day. Now that's really sad that someone, who had nothing to do with the events actually ended up changing the way they worked or lived because of other idiots.

Anyhow, we did go to NYC, did the tourist thing, and took the pictures. However, once you got down past a certain level, all you could smell was - death. At first I didn't know what it was and as we got closer to what was the World Trade Towers, I figured out what it was. After all they were still burning at that point. Walking around the area was really sad. After awhile I was glad we had other tours booked and planned so we could leave that area.

First Responders
As I mentioned, I knew we had first responders in the family. My sister was a trained nurse and worked on an ambulance where she lived as a volunteer. My nieces both married men who volunteered or worked with the fire department near where they lived. Would they get sent down - who knew. Thankfully, none of them did. I know they all wanted to go down because they wanted to help as everyone did. However, for the family's sakes, I'm glad they didn't because of what was in those buildings.

Toxic debris
 I knew, deep down, there were things in those buildings who were going to make people sick. The pit of my stomach kept telling me there was something very toxic happening and people were going to be very sick. I had visions of the people from the Atomic Bombs in my mind.

The sad part is now we know we were right - it wasn't the Atomic Bomb toxic, but it was much worse because you couldn't see it or tell if it was going to affect you or not.

Genealogy and First Responders

As I'm slowly finding my family, I found there were many other first responders I never knew about. My cousin on my paternal side - actually he's my 1st cousin 1 time removed - Stanley Wojtkowski or
Stanley "Stash" Wojtkowski picture from
Slash. I've only just found him through records. He was a New Jersey State Trooper and I found he
had died in 2012 - 3 years before I could meet him. I can only wonder if he had done anything to do with the World Trade Centers and was is now known as 9/11.

Then on my maternal side, we have first responders too - in Pennsylvania. Again, I never knew anything about these men until just recently. The first one I found - my first cousin twice removed married someone, Sam Woncheck, who was a cop in one of the smaller towns. I had found my first cousin and her husband through many newspaper clippings and left it alone. Then a few months ago, I received an email from someone in the family and I am now corresponding with his son. Both of these men were cops and the son or my second cousin one time removed, was actually the Chief of Police in the same small town as his father. In fact, by the newspaper clipping from Charleroi Mail, it states Steve Ostrzycki and Sam Woncheck were there when a friend of the family died suddenly. What it doesn't say is Sam Woncheck's son was there as well.
1960 Caption about my relatives being on hand when a fellow Fire fighter dies. 

Where would we be without First Responders?
Have you ever stopped to think where we would all be without the first responders? Most people need to stop and think about these people at least once a year - 9/11 could be the best time - and be thankful to them as they do it for the love of the job and not for the money. Just take a few minutes to stop and think about all the times you've heard about them on the news or about an accident because like it or not first responders were there and they were the first ones on the scene to help, console, or even hold people in death. They were there for them all.

I'm lucky enough to not only have military men in the family but also first responders. In fact, I had a sister who became an EMT for a short time and I've been the first aider and safety person at work a number of times. It must be those genes where if we have something in the family, its sure to show even if you don't realize it until after the fact.

Taken from