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.