Sunday, July 28, 2013
Mutations and matches and markers, oh my!
Not entirely clueless. I kinda sorta get the really basic basics here, just like I kinda sorta get the precession of the equinoxes, and I am committed to learning as much as my boggled little right brain can hold because DNA completely fascinates me. I want to understand as much as I possibly can about what these tests reveal about my family's past.
I also want to share some of our FamilyTreeDNA findings, and expand upon my prior post's quick list identifying my two grandfathers' Y-DNA haplogroups and my two grandmothers' mtDNA haplogroups. It may seem like I'm overthinking things, but I've been a bit hung up on how to do this. Obviously, I'm ill-equipped to offer a presentation that is even remotely scientific. (I prefer not to make a complete fool of myself on The Internet, Where Everything You Post Remains Online Forever.)
If you want to know more about how, when, and where any of our particular haplogroups fit into tens of thousands of years of human migration, you would do well do simply Google them, for starters; there are many resources online.
I'm keeping it simple: an overview of the tests, a few screen shots, a couple of observations, a couple of disclaimers, and some relevant names, dates, and places from my family tree. All of the villages and parishes referred to are in the Lida region of western Belarus. Szczuczyn is about 30 miles east of Grodno; Radun is about 60 miles farther east, and about 45 miles south of Vilnius, Lithuania. Unlike the men, the women take on new surnames in each generation as the result of marriage. I mention those names in my eternal hope of connecting with long-lost relatives through this blog.
Grandfather Julian Prokopowicz — Y-DNA haplogroup N1c1 (also known as N-M231)
I know nothing about my paternal great-grandfather, Kazimierz Prokopowicz. After 17 years of research, I have not found even one single record documenting his life. No surprise, then, that I have been so interested in gleaning what information I can from the Y-DNA he passed down to his male descendants. Thanks to my paternal uncle's willingness to be tested, I have learned at least that my paternal Prokopowicz men belong to haplogroup N1c1, which is widely found in northern Europe among the western Siberian Yakuts and Nenets, the Finnic and Baltic peoples, the Saami, and some Russians.
These matches are not recent; the likelihood of sharing a common male ancestor within the last 4 generations is about 61 percent; within the last 8 generations, about 85 percent; and within 12 generations, about 94 percent. Estimating 4 generations per century, those percentages suggest a likelihood of connection sometime in the 1700s.
At 24 generations, or 600 years, the probability of connection jumps to 99.66 percent. Does this mean that my paternal Prokopowicz ancestor was living somewhere in the Wilno/Vilnius region circa 1400? Could it mean that he was part of a tribe or group that migrated there in that time frame? Could it mean something else entirely? I don't know. I would dearly love to test some male Prokopowiczes with roots in the village of Poleckiszki or okolica Mongieliszki, two locations (both on the Lithuania-Belarus border) where I've found numerous Prokopowicz records. Or Turgeliai, Lithuania (in Polish, Turgiele), another Prokopowicz village area that I have not researched at all.
Because the text box accompanying the white push-pin icon representing my uncle would have covered most of Lithuania and Latvia on the map of his matches, I removed it. Imagine it in the northwest corner of Belarus.
Grandmother Anna Blaszko — mtDNA haplogroup T2b
While Y-DNA can suggest relationships within a few hundred years, mitochondrial DNA is more an indication of "deep ancestry" and human migration over thousands of years. It lends itself to "Daughters of Eve" analysis more than to hopes of discovering a cousin (though the latter is possible too). The main insight I have gained from my family's two mtDNA tests is that my grandmothers were descended from two different tribes of women. (If you had known my grandmothers, that would actually come as no surprise.)
At any rate, among the 27 closest matches who identified their maternal line's country of origin, 6 claim Germany, 4 Ireland, 3 each Finland and England, 2 Switzerland, and 1 each Austria, Estonia, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US. The screen shot (at right) of the closest matches shows my grandmother's maternal line with a white marker and her few exact matches in red. She appears alone in western Belarus, but that may be the result of fewer people with roots there having done the mtDNA test.
For the record, in my father's mother's family, these are my direct ancestors:
grandmother — Anna Blaszko, born 1895 in Skladance, Radun parish
great-grandmother — Teresa Bowszys, born 1866 in Skladance, Radun parish
great-great-grandmother — Anna Tumielewicz, born circa 1835 in Narkuny, Żyrmuny parish
great-great-great-grandmother — Katarzyna Komięcz, born circa 1806, probably in Gudele, Żyrmuny parish
Grandfather Aleksandr Prokopowicz — Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1 (also known as R-SRY10831.2)
I'm very fortunate and thankful that my cousin agreed to have his Y-DNA tested. He is the only living direct male descendant of my maternal grandfather. Lacking my cousin's willingness, I would have had to seek out a male descendant of one of my great-grandfather Kazimierz's brothers—not an impossible alternative, and one that I hope to pursue in the future, but it seems optimal to test as close to home as possible.
Compared to my other grandparents' same-sex haplogroup tests, this Y-DNA test has a staggering number of results—931. However, only 5 of them match at more than the 12-marker level, and even those are remote. As I interpret the results, any relationship between this Prokopowicz line and its 931 matches is probably no more recent than the year 1400.
My cousin's test results perhaps serve as an example of the fact that R1a1 is a very large, very common Y-DNA haplogroup, which spread from Eurasia to central Europe and Scandinavia thousands of years ago. The countries with the highest frequency of representation in my cousin's matches are Norway, the central European and southern Slavic countries, and Pakistan.
The screen shot shows the countries of origin claimed by men whose Y-DNA test results most closely match my cousin's. A white push-pin icon, barely visible amid the red and orange icons that cover the map of Europe, represents him, and our Prokopowicz line.
FTDNA R1a1 and Subclades Y-DNA Project-Background page very clearly illustrates the migration time line of the SNP tree (basically, changes in the DNA sequence at specific locations). To see where the Prokopowiczes fit it, trace the green Central and Eastern Europe/Western Asia Z280 section to the far right column tagged Balts that ends in Z661. If I understand my cousin's SNP test results correctly, the Prokopowiczes represent some subsequent mutation there, yet to be identified.
In my mother's father's family, these are my direct male ancestors:
grandfather — Aleksandr Prokopowicz, born 1878 in Kozarezy, Iszczolna parish
great-grandfather — Kazimierz Prokopowicz, born 1845 in Kozarezy, Iszczolna parish
great-great-grandfather — Stefan Prokopowicz, born 1811 in Kozarezy, Iszczolna parish
great-great-great-grandfather — Ludwik Prokopowicz, born circa 1765, probably in Iszczolna parish
great-great-great-great-grandfather — Stefan Prokopowicz, born circa 1730, probably in Iszczolna parish
My research documenting the descendants of my great-great-great-great-grandfather Stefan Prokopowicz is fairly extensive. Each generation was blessed with sons. It would be wonderful to make contact with any current bearers of the Prokopowicz Y-DNA.
Grandmother Stefania Ruscik — mtDNA haplogroup H27
H27 is a very small (very, very small!), fairly recently identified group. My FTDNA mtHVR2toMega test has yielded just 54 results since 2010. Only one match is zero steps removed, hinting vaguely at a possible common maternal ancestor within the time frame of verifiable, paper-trail research. That tester knows little of her maternal ancestry except that her grandmother was from Poland.
The other 53 matches, 1-3 steps removed, comprise a cluster in eastern England, 3 in Finland, and 1-2 each in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey. Looking at continental Europe (excluding Scandinavia), my grandmother's line is actually the farthest east. How the heck did it end up there?!?
These are my direct maternal ancestors:
grandmother — Stefania Ruscik, born 1882 in Gierniki, Szczuczyn parish
great-grandmother — Emilia Nowogrodzki, born 1853 in Kozly, Wasiliszki parish
great-great-grandmother — Krystyna Sobol, born 1821 in Gierniki, Szczuczyn parish
great-great-great-grandmother — Anna Staniejko, born 1799 in Janczuki, Szczuczyn parish
great-great-great-great-grandmother — Theresia Waszczynska, born 1756 in Janczuki, Szczuczyn parish
great-great-great-great-great-grandmother —Anna ?, born probably circa 1730, probably in Szczuczyn parish (or possibly elsewhere)
As the map below illustrates, my maternal H27 mtDNA has only one exact match, somewhere in Poland.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
I knew that Julian Prokopowicz, age 19, planned to stay with the Linga family, his friends from Kiwance village in Radun parish, when he immigrated to America and reached his destination of Worcester, Massachusetts. The April 1914 passenger list for the SS Koln showed him traveling from Bremen, Germany, to Boston alone. His parents and siblings remained in Russian Poland, and he never did see them again. I was right about that much.
What I recently learned, however, is that members of his mother’s family had immigrated more than a decade earlier and had apparently maintained communication for all those years. I discovered this through Massachusetts records that have been digitized and made available online at the FamilySearch website. A single record in a Massachusetts vital records database (“Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915”) provided a single detail that gave me a whole new look at my grandfather’s first year here.
This new information unlocked the secrets held in a set of three related wedding-day portraits that I received in 1998, one of several dozen photos left behind, ignored and unwanted, in a small black suitcase after my grandmother, Anna Blaszko Prokopowicz, died in 1976. My grandfather, Julian, died much earlier, in 1951.
The large wedding portrait (shown below) is typical of its era: a seated bride and groom flanked by a group of nine beautifully attired but solemn-faced persons who shared in the occasion. A smaller photo shows the bride and groom standing alone. Inscribed in pencil on the back is this note in Polish: “Pamiontka szlubu Pan Jozef Orszula Szlachciuk”—that is, “A remembrance of the wedding of Mr. Jozef [and] Urszula Szlachciuk.” A third photo shows three young men standing together: one unidentified at left (holding a lit cigarette in his white-gloved hand!), Jozef Szlachciuk, and my grandfather, Julian.
The only person recognizable to me in the photos was my grandfather, looking very young at age 20. The Szlachciuk name meant nothing to me; I guessed the groom was a friend—likely a close friend—of Julian’s. The photos were made at the studio of Geo. T. Elson of Maynard, Massachusetts; his name is engraved on the tan and brown cardboard mats on which the photos are mounted.
About five years ago, in browsing through this collection of old photos, I tried to find some information about Jozef Szlachciuk. He appears with a wife and children in the 1930 U.S. Census for Rhode Island. I thought idly that someday when I had time, I would try to locate one of the Szlachciuk descendants and offer them the photos. (In fact, I have four other small postcard-type photos featuring Jozef and Urszula.) I assumed that the Szlachciuks were not related to me. And then I put the photos back in storage.
What a digitized record revealed
A few weeks ago, I came across the Szlachciuk wedding pictures and decided to research the surname again. So much more genealogical information is online now than there was five years ago! I entered the surname on FamilySearch, and was happy to get a result, though the name was indexed as Joseph Szlachcink. (Polish surnames are misspelled and misindexed more often than not in U.S. records, often so grossly incorrect as to be unrecognizable. A handwritten “u” misinterpreted as “n” wasn’t too far off, all things considered.) The digitized image was a page detailing “Marriages registered in the town of Maynard for the Year Nineteen Hundred and fifteen” (p. 631 in the Massachusetts state volume).
“Marriage No. 76” records the September 26, 1915, wedding of Joseph Szlachciuk, 23, and Ursula Przyjemska, 18. It was the first marriage for each of them; they were both residents of Maynard, both born in Poland. His occupation was “Laborer” and hers, “Mill Op.” (that is, “operator”). Joseph’s parents are listed as Stanislaw and Mary Krasz[e]wski Szlachciuk. Ursula’s parents are identified as Casimir and Ellen Bohdan Przyjemski. The priest who performed the ceremony was Reverend Francis Jablonski of Maynard. The date of record was September 27, 1915.
One detail in that record stopped me in my tracks: Ursula’s mother was Ellen Bohdan. (This is a surname that is variously spelled Bogdan, Bohdan, and Bahdan in Polish and Russian records.) Julian’s mother was Anna Bogdan, or Bohdan. I had found the 1870 baptismal record of Elena Bohdan in the Radun parish microfilms that I use for research at my local Family History Center. Elena Bohdan was born in Odwierniki, the same village that Julian claimed as his birthplace on his World War I draft registration card in 1917.
It seemed more than coincidence that the bride’s mother was a Bogdan from Odwierniki, a village of only six houses in that era. According to the somewhat earlier 1852 Radun parish census, two of those six houses in Odwierniki were inhabited by Bogdan families, one headed by Mateusz, the other by his brother, Jan (or Iwan, in the Russian-language records). Elena and Anna Bogdan were almost certainly either sisters or first cousins.
It may be some time before I know for sure what their relationship was, because there are gaps in the Radun parish baptismal records available on microfilm. The records for 1872 and 1874-1877 have not been filmed, and it is likely that Anna Bogdan was born in one of those years. (I will probably have to hire a researcher to find her baptismal record or request a search for it in either the Vilnius or Grodno archives.)
So Julian Prokopowicz appears in the Szlachciuk-Przyjemski wedding photos not because he was a friend of the groom, but because he was a cousin of the bride. If Elena and Anna were sisters, then Julian and Urszula were first cousins; if the two women were first cousins, then Julian and Urszula were second cousins. Either way, they were cousins.
Not just a guest at the wedding
Intrigued by the details provided in the town of Maynard’s civil record of the marriage, I wanted to know more: who were the witnesses? That information, along with the bride’s and groom’s villages of origin, would have been recorded at St. Casimir Church, where the wedding ceremony was performed. Established in 1912 to serve Maynard’s sizable Polish Roman Catholic immigrant community, St. Casimir Parish closed in 1997; its records are now held by St. Bridget Parish in that town. I contacted the parish office, and learned that the witnesses were Julian Prokopowicz and Jozef Fabrycki.
This news was quite exciting! Why was Julian chosen to serve as a witness? He had been in the United States for only 17 months when the wedding took place. He would not have seen his cousin Urszula’s family for at least 11 years before they reconnected in Massachusetts. Elena Bogdan Przyjemska and her daughters Urszula and Anna had left Russian Poland in 1903, when Julian was 8 years old and Urszula about 6; Elena’s husband, Kazimierz, had emigrated in 1902. Certainly, in more than a decade in Maynard, the Przyjemski family would have had ample time to establish relationships with other men suitable to serve as a witness to Urszula’s marriage. (In fact, I have discovered that they had other male relatives living in Massachusetts and nearby Rhode Island at this time.)
It is, of course, speculation on my part, but I would like to believe that the relationship between Julian and the Bogdan-Przyjemski family was so close that they chose to recognize him with this honor. So he was not alone in America, as I had assumed all these years; he did have family here, and knowing that makes me happy to have been wrong. The question now is, were Elena and Anna sisters, or cousins? Anna’s baptismal record would clarify their relationship.
I wish I could time-travel back to Odwierniki: Would I see a copy of that 1915 wedding photo on display in the home of my great-grandparents, Kazimierz and Anna Bogdan Prokopowicz? Would I see Anna’s face light up when she looked at it? Would she take comfort in knowing that her son Julian, some 4,200 miles away, had Elena (his “Ciocia Helena”) watching over him in his new American life? I’d like to think so.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Why try? Because maybe your village was one of the many that survived. And maybe you will find it identified in a map that is so detailed, every building in the village—including your ancestral home—will be represented by a small black square (or similar symbol).
Finding such exquisitely detailed maps of eastern Europe takes some research. They are not likely to be filling the shelves of Barnes & Noble.
In North America, they are more likely to be available through online retailers and societies that cater to the specific geographic areas in question. In Europe, bookstores and travel and tourism agencies offer more material than you can fit in your backpack.
Maps of the Lida area
Belarus may not quite match its neighboring Poland or Lithuania in quantity of maps, but it holds its own in quality. The very best maps I’ve seen for the Lida area of western Belarus are contained in a 23-map booklet of Hrodna (Grodno) oblast, or province, published in Minsk in 2002. The scale is 1:200,000 (1 cm: 2 km).
In that booklet, maps numbered 4, 10, and 11 cover the western Lida area that is my ancestral homeland. I am including those maps here.
Map 10 displays the Szczuczyn (Scucin) area between Grodno and Lida. Map 11 shows the area to the east, including the city of Lida.
Map 4 pictures the Radun area to the north, its lower edge straddling both Maps 10 and 11, and its upper half occupied by Lithuania and the border town of Eisiskes (Ejszyszki).
My babcia Stefania Ruscik grew up on the second farm on the left. When I visited the village in 2001, her older brother’s son was living in the fourth house on the left (where the black latitude and longitude lines cross on the map).
It amazes me that I can point to a tiny black square on a current map of Belarus and say, “That’s my babcia’s house! That’s where she was born in 1882, and where her family lived for generations before that.”
It’s still there.
As you look at these maps, look at how very many little black squares they display. If your babcia or dziadek came from the Lida area, your ancestral home may be here too.
Polish maps from the interwar period
If maps printed in Cyrillic are a challenge to you, a vintage map in Polish can help orient you to the locations you seek. The Map Archive of Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny 1919 – 1939
Some of these maps are also available in hard copy, and may be purchased from Poland by Mail for about $10. The Nowogrodek map (#47) covers the Szczuczyn to Lida area; the Wilno map (#37) extends from Radun northward.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I grew up in a culture that was uprooted from rural villages in partitioned Poland, packed into trunks, carried across the Atlantic in steerage, and re-created in the three-decker-lined streets of Worcester, Massachusetts. An industrial city, the second largest in New England, Worcester in 1920 was home to about 180,000 people, 72 percent of them either foreign-born or the children of foreigners. People of nearly 30 nationalities became U.S. citizens in Worcester in the early 1940s. Through the 1960s at least, the dominant ethnic groups—the Irish, Swedes, French Canadian, Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Armenians, and Greeks—all laid claim to their own fairly clearly demarcated neighborhoods, typically centered around churches and synagogues. To me, this multicultural city was a magical place, rich in exotic foods, traditions, and languages. I felt like I was growing up in Europe.
Close enough. I grew up in a bilingual household, all of us speaking Polish with my babcia (grandmother), who shared our home. My parents were the first members of their respective families to own property in America. In 1941, they bought a small home on Pakachoag Hill in Quinsigamond Village, a Swedish neighborhood (though in point of fact, 5 of the original 14 households on our street were Polish American) at the southern end of the city near Auburn and Millbury. The Polish neighborhood was a two-mile car or bus ride north. Its heart was Millbury Street and its soul, Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish, aka St. Mary's. Millbury Street was the hub of social, retail, and business life for the thousands of Poles and Polish Americans who lived in its two neighborhoods, The Island and Vernon Hill. My family has belonged to Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish and its various organizations for nearly a century. Several generations of us have graduated from St. Mary's Elementary and High Schools; we're proud to have been educated by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth at New England's only co-ed Polish secondary school.
I am descended from two apparently unrelated Prokopowicz clans. Hopefully, DNA someday will establish whether any blood ties link these two families, who for hundreds of years lived within 35 miles of each other in the Lida district of the kresy (Poland's eastern borderlands), then independently crossed an ocean to settle within 5 blocks of each other in Worcester. If they are related, I may be my own cousin. (This I hope would prompt a call from Oprah.)
While my father's and mother's Prokopowicz families shared the same surname, the circumstances of their lives bore little similarity to each other.
My Maternal Prokopowicz Family
My maternal grandparents, Aleksandr Prokopowicz and Stefania Ruscik, both born ca. 1880, were from small farming villages near Szczuczyn, about 35 miles east of Grodno and southwest of Wilno. They entered an arranged marriage at ages 20 and 16 or so, respectively. By all accounts (including that of my grandmother herself, who told me she had been in love with the village schoolteacher), they had an incompatible, unhappy marriage. Their first child was born ca. 1899. A daughter and son followed. In 1910/11, Aleksandr and his older brother, Jozef, sold the family farm to their two younger sisters and used the money for ship's passage to America. After brief stints in Maynard and New Braintree, Massachusetts, the brothers took factory jobs in Worcester. Their wives and children followed in 1913. More children were born here. My mother, baptized Josefa (but known as Josephine), was the youngest of five siblings. All were educated at the Polish parish school. Alek and Stefania worked steadily in Worcester's industries and resided in the same Meade Street three-decker for about 25 years. They never became American citizens. When Alek died unexpectedly in 1939, he was buried in his brother's family plot in a tree-shaded older section of Notre Dame Cemetery in Worcester. Stefania never remarried, and never wavered from her desire to be laid to rest in a single grave of her own there; her instructions were followed when she died in 1962.
My Paternal Prokopowicz Family
My paternal grandparents, Julian Prokopowicz and Anna Blaszko, both born ca. 1895, were from small farming villages a few miles outside Radun, which in turn is 18 miles northwest of Lida and approximately 40 miles south of Wilno (today Vilnius, Lithuania). It is likely that Julian and Anna knew each other, since they grew up in the same parish. Both were single when they left their parents and siblings behind and immigrated in 1913/14. Julian's destination was Worcester, where he reconnected with the Linga family of Kiwance; Anna's was Lowell, where her Kulikowski cousins had settled. Julian and Anna were married in Lowell in 1916 and established in Worcester before their first child's birth a year later. My father, Alphonse, was the oldest of their nine children; he was 18 when his youngest sister was born in 1935. Julian, his name Americanized to Julius, was a wire drawer at American Steel & Wire South Works for his entire adult life. The family's first home was on Millbury Street, within easy walking distance of the wire mill. They moved three more times over the years, but always stayed on Millbury Street, by 1940 settling into the first floor of a three-decker near Crompton Park. The children attended Millbury Street School and Boys' and Girls' Trade and Commerce High Schools. Julius and Anna became U.S. citizens in the early 1940s. Julius died suddenly in 1951, and Anna remarried within months. She died in 1976. Julius, Anna, and some of their descendants are buried in a family plot at Notre Dame Cemetery.
Relationships, Memories, & the Lack Thereof
My babcia Stefania (also known as Stella) was the only grandparent I was close to. Aleksandr died before I was born, and Julius when I was 4 years old. Though I probably passed Anna's home nearly every day of my life, I never knew her. Perhaps it is not unusual that relationships sometimes get skewed in favor of one side of a family. Whatever the reasons, it is painfully sad. Stefania, a force of nature by any standards, played a major role in my life. I knew Alek and Julius only second-hand, from older family members' stories, and Anna only from occasional phone calls in which I never knew what to say. I have no photos of Stefania before she was in her 50s, and only one of Alek, taken in his coffin. I am grateful to have several photos of Julius and Anna, including their wedding photo, which I treasure.
As a child, I spent a great deal of time with my babcia Stefania. I begged her to tell me stories about her life, especially the farm where she grew up. In retrospect, of course, I wish I had asked more about wedding and baptismal dates and village names and siblings and ancestors, and less about gardens and animals. I did ask better questions as a teenager: Why didn't she wear a wedding ring? Why didn't she ever learn English? I deeply regret never having forged a relationship with Anna. Unlike Stefania, who was given to tearing up photographs and documents, Anna valued hers: the trunk she carried from Poland and an old suitcase held an abundance of photos, greeting cards, letters, notebooks, and other memorabilia. I could have learned so much from her. I could have been as close to Grandma as I was to Babcia.
And so my curiosity about my family's past was fed by the stories Stefania told me, and the stories I never had a chance to hear from Alek and Julius, and the stories I failed to seek from Anna. I was fortunate to have grown up in the midst of a huge extended family (my astrological birth chart has Jupiter in the fourth house—essentially, an abundance of family and blessings related to family; that really resonates with me). My dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins shared many memories and details that augmented what I learned from my parents. A maternal cousin, A. John Prokopowicz, began working on our shared roots in the early 1980s; he became my mentor in genealogy in 1997, encouraging me to research my paternal family lines. Since his death only too soon thereafter, I have often felt his spirit guiding and encouraging me in this quest.
Thanks to LDS microfilms, the resources of countless archives and libraries, helpful listserv "gen-pals," and serendipity, I have traced Alek and Stefania's families to the 1700s and Anna's to the early 1800s. I have visited my ancestral villages, which today lie within the borders of western Belarus, and met long-lost cousins who live there still. But I remain challenged by two major goals: to trace Julian's family roots (his father's family does not appear in the Radun parish records), and to find a photograph of Aleksandr actually taken during his lifetime. The search continues.