Friday, August 2, 2013

Marya Klak and the Pitfalls of Family History

Marya Klak in New York City, about 1911-12

The story of my paternal grandmother Marya Klak illustrates some of the pitfalls beginning genealogists can tumble into. Family stories are interesting to hear, but is everything you are told accurate?  In the case of my grandmother, yes and no.
Some of the stories I was told about her said that she was an orphan, that she had a brother Andrij, and that she stayed at Ellis Island for a few days because he brother did not come to get her in a timely way. Single women were not allowed to leave Ellis Island alone.  A male family member was required to meet them before they could leave for a local address.

First of all, there are a lot of gaps in the story I  was told.  After finding her immigration records, I found that she did indeed come to New York City in 1911, leaving Hamburg, Germany on March 28 and arriving in New York City on April 9, after the ship made stops in Cuxhaven and Southhampton in Great Britain and Cherbourg, France.  There is no record of her being detained at Ellis Island.  Second, she was met by her brother-in-law, Michael Rudnicki, not her brother.  This tells me that she had a sister, something that I did not know.  I found a person by that name of Michael Rudnicki in the 1920 census listed as a widower.  Was his wife alive in 1911?  What was her name? So far, this is a mystery.  Another story I was told was that Marya was accompanying a young girl from her village on the ship.  Again, according to the ship's manifest, she was traveling alone. What about the story of her being an orphan?  According to the ship's manifest, the person listed in her home town was her brother, not her father or mother, so it is very possible that her parents were no longer alive.

The next question--where was her brother Andrij Klak?  I have found no information about him in my searches of available records.   I do have a wedding picture of a man I assumed was Andrij, but there is no way to verify it.  This man also appears in the group picture of Marya's wedding in November, 1914. 

Marya had another brother, Ivan, listed on the ship's manifest  as the family member from her village, Zavanitsia.  The handwriting on the manifest was hard to read, so I made a guess on the name after enlarging the document several times. So the assumption that Marya had only one brother was incorrect after a few hours of research. Research told me that Marya had one brother, Ivan, and one sister, name unknown.  I can't find sources that prove that she had another brother, Andrij, but my parents told me that my younger brother, Andrew is named after him, so I have to use that as proof for now.

Michael Rudnicki appeared again in Marya's life, first as a witness on her marriage license, when she married John (Ivan) Nyznyk in 1914.  Rudnicki reappears on my father, Peter's baptismal certificate as his godfather in September, 1916. 

After my father's birth certificate, the genealogical trail goes cold, Marya disappears. I have not found her or my father on the 1920 Census or the New York Census of 1925.  The next document that I found her on was the 1930 Census, listed as Mary Noznick and most of the information was incorrect as well.  Family stories say that Marya left John Nyznyk when my father was 2 years old, which would be about 1917.  I was told that the marriage ended because he drank too much, abused her and wasn't interested in working.  According to John Nyznyk's citizenship application papers, the marriage ended in 1915.  Which was the real story?  So all I can say for sure is that sometime between 1915 and 1930, my grandmother and John Nyznyk split up and she married Peter Zackowski.  This is documented because Peter and Marya Zackowski bought a farm in Connecticut in 1930 and left New York City.  After 1930, documenting Marya's life is easy.  Mary and Peter Zackowski are listed on the 1940 census living in Windham Center, Connecticut, and according to the census, were living there in 1935.  Willimantic, Connecticut, city directories list them as living in Windham Center as well.

As a person researching family history, what conclusions can I draw from Marya Klak's story?  From the documents I have found, most of the stories of Marya Klak's family have major flaws and inconsistencies.  Sometime in the future, I may find the information that fills in the gaps and proves the stories to be true.  Until then I continue to search, which can be tedious, nothing goes into the tree until the proper documentation and sources are there.  Never accept information as correct, even if it is published in a family history book, or told by an older relative, until you can find the sources to prove the story to be correct.