It’s already been a year since I started to blog about my efforts to trace my ancestry through four family lines – the Kowals, Bosakowskis, Agins and Sabols.
I had a few, modest goals. I wanted to organize my research and reconstruct the personal narratives embedded in a growing pile of census records, newspaper clippings and vital records. I wanted to share these stories with family members who might interested to know something about our shared roots. I wanted to connect, through the magic of Facebook and Google, with others who had an interest in genealogy. And I hoped to connect relatives I never knew, who might share missing pieces of the puzzle – including photos and letters of great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.
Over the course of a year, I have managed to complete 49 posts – nearly one a week. When I look back at my first few posts, I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned.
When I embarked on this project, I could only name one of my eight great-grandparents. I now know a fair amount about all of them. And, going back in time, I have identified 11 of my 16 second great-grandparents, 20 of 32 third great-grandparents and 24 of 64 fourth great-grandparents. Through the Agin family line, I can go back eleven generations – building on the research of others – to the Wyckoffs and the Stouts, some of the earliest settlers of the New Amsterdam colony. And I can follow one family’s trail all the way back to my 28th great-grandfather Petrus de Haga, a Norman knight who settled in Scotland in the 12th century.
If you look at my ethnic background on a pie chart, you would see I’m one quarter Ukrainian (through my grandfather Alex Kowal), one quarter Polish (through my grandmother Katarzyna Bosakowska), one quarter Slovak (through my grandmother Anna Sabol), one eighth German (through my great-grandmother Mathilde/Tiller Miller) and one quarter early American settler stock, a mix of Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, French and who knows what else (through my great-grandfather Jacob Agin).
I have been successful in tracing three of these family lines, less successful with the other two.
I have followed my Polish and Slovak forebears back to ancestral towns and villages in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This involved a great deal of personal time, poring through church records microfilmed by the Family History Library. But because they lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were comprehensive records that survive to this day.
I have also traced the Agin family line back to Revolutionary War days, and then through the family of my second great-grandmother Rhoda Wyckoff, back to Pieter Claessen Wyckoff, who settled in New Amsterdam in 1637. This also involved a fair amount of original research, but I also benefited by research done by other descendants of James Agin and Pieter Claessen Wyckoff, available online. Pieter has his own Wikipedia entry.
But I have not had much luck researching the Ukrainian and German branches of my family tree. I have been able to determine Alex Kowal was born in a small village named Kharucha Vel’ka in Ukraine. I know, from my grandparents’ marriage records, that his parents were Philemon Kowal and Wasylia Chypil. But until I find the records from his hometown, there’s not much more I can learn. And I still don’t know where to begin.
Similarly, I know that my German second great-grandmother Mary Miller came to America in the 1880s as a young widow with her daughter Mathilda. But I haven’t found any records indicating where in Germany they came from. The only clue comes from Mary’s death certificate. My grandfather Harry Agin, who had lived with his grandmother for a time, told the coroner that Mary came from “Collenz, Germany.” Did he mean Coblenz? There’s a fairly large city by that name near the French border. Did she come from there? Or from a village nearby? Where do I begin to look, particularly given the fact that Mary Miller (or was it Maria Müller?) is such a common name?
I could have organized all this research without blogging. But putting this information out there has led to some wonderful new connections. I have heard from several Bosakowski family members living here in the States. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the new cousins personally. Just recently, I heard from another Bosakowski living in Poland. We have been able to correspond, thanks to the magic of Google Translate, and I plan to share some of what I have learned in future posts. And I have also connected with a cousin from the Agin family who has an old photo that just possibly might be the portrait of our Civil War ancestor Samuel Davis Agin. It’s been fun to investigate this possibility. None of it would have happened without this blog.
So I will try to keep this up for a second year. I still have a huge backlog of research to process – and hopes of finding records from Ukraine and Germany spring eternal. So stay tuned.