Researching your family history can lead to frustrating dead ends. This is especially true when it comes to tracing the lives of female ancestors since you need to know both maiden and married names. It can also be challenging for ancestors with multisyllabic, consonant-laden names which have a way of changing over time. In situations like this, I’m learning that newspaper obituaries can provide incredible information you can’t find anyplace else.
Case in point: It’s been relatively easy to find information about my great-great-grandfather Samuel Davis Agin. He fought in the Civil War, which generated an amazing paper trail covering 55 years. (More on that in a future post.) He also popped up on findagrave.com, where people post information and even photos about gravesites, probably because there are people who make a point of memorializing the graves of veterans.
So I know that Davis Agin died in 1915 and that he was buried in Princeton Cemetery. But what about his wife, my great-great-grandmother Rhoda Wyckoff Agin? There is no mention of her on the Find A Grave website. From census records, it would appear that she died between 1900 and 1910 – but when? Also, what became of Davis and Rhoda Agin’s six children? I was able to track their two boys into adulthood (including my great-grandfather Jacob Agin) but it was impossible to follow the girls without knowing their married names.
But all it took was one small item, taken from the front page of the Trenton Evening Times, January 9, 1907, to clear up all these mysteries:
So I now know that three of the four girls lived into adulthood and got married: Charity Anna Agin (born 1875) married Edward H. Packer; Julia Agin (born 1878) married Leon Clifton Hyde; and Daisy May Agin (born 1882) married William H. Jackson. Learning their married names opened up new avenues of research, allowing me to track their children and grandchildren.
Sadly, it now seems clear that Hattie Agin (born 1888), the youngest of the six Agin children, died some time between 1900 (when she appeared in the census) and 1907, when she was only a teenager.
I was able to track down Rhoda Agin’s obituary through the searchable newspaper database available on ancestry.com. But most newspapers are still not available online (at least not yet). So this past week, I stopped by the New York Public Library on 42nd Street to rummage through back issues of the Staten Island Advance – the old fashioned way, on microfilm. It didn’t take long to locate obituaries for my grandparents, Alex and Katarzyna (Katherine) Kowal, and my grandmother’s brother, Vincent Bosakowski.
My grandmother’s obituary, dated May 7, 1966, provided two helpful pieces of information.
First, I learned that my grandmother’s sister, Honora Romanish, was still living in 1966. I already discovered, from research of immigration records available online, that there was a younger sister named Honorata Bosakowska who came to the States in 1915, three years after my grandmother. And from research of New York City marriage records, I knew that Honorata married Michael Romaniszyn in 1915. But I couldn’t find out anything more about her until this article provided a valuable clue.
It turns out Honorata Romaniszyn lived for many years in Mahwah, New Jersey under the name Henrietta Romanish. She died in 1988 at the ripe old age of 94 and had at least two children. It’s odd that I never heard of her before I started this research project. It would be great to connect with her descendants to learn more about her.
The other important thing I learned from my grandmother’s obituary is that she had two brothers still living in Poland. To my frustration, the article didn’t identify them by name. But the obituary for my great-uncle Vincent Bosakowski, who died a few months before my grandmother, did name names. Score!