Back in the early 1990’s (last CENTURY!), before the Interwebs became as easy to access information on as it is today, there was a handy publication for finding people called a telephone directory. Back then (when I walked both ways to school barefoot and up-hill), one could purchase the telephone directory for the U.S. on a set of CDs. I know, it sounds as far-fetched to me today as it does to you. But so it was, AOL was still dial-up, Ancestry.com was just being developed, Family Tree Maker was made by Brøderbund in its earliest stages, and genealogy was done on paper.
I was working on my Polish lines with little success. Something my Uncle said to me decided me to work on the one surname: Kotlarek. My Uncle said to me, about our family, “You know, there is a famous skier in our family, Gene Kotlarek,” and he showed me some news clippings he had. He didn’t know HOW we were related, but he thought surely, we must be.
Research Question: Are my Kotlareks related to Gene Kotlarek, the famous skier?
To determine if this was true, I had to know more about the Kotlarek family. I took out my telephone directory on CD and proceeded to write a letter to every Kotlarek in the U.S. Results were mixed: some people responded, most did not. I was able to round out my immediate family that was largely local to me, but not so much the other families. Back then, finding your Polish ancestry beyond immigration was not an easy or inexpensive task. Not to mention, I was inexperienced at best.
Recently, with the current pandemic, I found myself with more time on my hands than I had in a long time. So, I decided to re-investigate my Kotlarek lines and see what I could find. Not being a common surname, I decided to systematically find the progenitor of the family, to see if all the U.S. Kotlareks are related.
Research Question: Are all the U.S. Kotlareks related?
My first step was to create a form in MS Excel. I took a Census Tracking form and adapted it to my needs. In the first column, I would list the names, and in the next several columns, the years of the censuses, the city and state of where they were found, and their ages:
Then I began combing through Ancestry.com. On the Search menu, I narrowed my search to Census and Voter Lists. I then plugged Kotlarek into the Surname box and clicked Search. At this point, I wanted a rough idea of which family units were where and when. I already knew there seemed to be a group in the central states from the old telephone directory, but I did not have a good visualization of the concentrations.
The oldest result was Valentine Kotlarek on an 1895 Wisconsin Census. I set that aside for now. No other results were from before 1900.
The 1900 Census. The gem among gems: Names. Birth months and years. Marriage years. Immigration years. A potential gold mine of information! Of the 32 results I received of individuals, they all belonged in three family units: one in Buffalo, NY; one in Milwaukee, WI; and one in Cleveland, OH. I recorded this on my altered census tracking form. Then I moved onto the 1910 Census, and within an hour or two, I had data from five censuses and 187 names.
The names broke down into eight major family units and several outliers with the clusters in Detroit, MI; Duluth, MN; Milwaukee, WI; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; and my East Coast group. My next step was to identify which people immigrated to the U.S. This was easy since it was the original heads of household. I looked for their immigration records and death certificates online and was able to identify some of their parents’ names.
Next, I looked for the immigrants and their parents’ names on The Poznan Project and BaSIA Famula to see if I could find them in Poland. By following these steps, I was able to identify the parents of the eight patriarchs, and yes, some of them were brothers.
Next, I turned to my Ancestry DNA Matches. On my main DNA Match screen, I searched for the surname in my matches’ trees. I found ONE match, at 7 cM, J.L. I contacted J.L. and we were soon emailing back and forth and sharing information.
J.L.’s ancestor is one Joseph Kotlarek. I already knew Joseph and his wife, Maria Zdrojewska were the parents of two of my groups. I theorized that if Joseph was J.L.’s 2nd Great Grandfather (as per J.L.’s tree), then perhaps Joseph and my 2nd Great Grandfather Jakob were brothers. That would make us 4th Cousins. I checked the Shared cM Tool and plugged in 7 cM. When I saw the results of the bell curve, I deduced that Joseph and Jakob were likely 1st Cousins, not brothers. When I checked the result for a 5th Cousin, J.L. and I fit perfectly on the bell curve. (Note: to learn more about using the bell curve at The Shared cM Tool, please see Blaine Bettinger’s article, “Version 4.0! March 2020 Update to the Shared cM Project,” (and subscribe to Blaine’s blog while you’re there!)).
I checked my sister’s DNA on the off chance she had another Kotlarek match that I didn’t. She did, of 8 cM, J.K. J.K. also matched my first cousin, D.K. I emailed J.K. examined J.K.’s online tree. J.K. was descended from Michael Kotlarek and Hedwig (Jadwiga) Warchova, whom I also had already identified on my list of Kotlarek’s. Since J.K. matched my sister and my first cousin, Michael and Hedwig’s descendants also had to be of the same family.
I now have a tentative tree that looks like this:
Within 24 hours, I was able to tentatively link five of the eight major family groups to ONE Kotlarek ancestor (including my own progenitor)! Now, I know this is not PROVEN, and I may never have actually proof, since it’s buried somewhere in a Polish archive, but I am feeling pretty good about it.
There were two contacts on The Poznan Project on some of the people I was looking for, so I emailed them both. One I was able to connect with right away – her Kotlarek ancestor was one who married into her family. The email bounced on the other contact. I will continue to investigate and research our families, to see if I can find solid proof to answer my research questions, and to merge the Duluth, MN and Cleveland, OH lines with mine. I will be posting an update to this article.
If you are a Kotlarek descendant, or know one, please ask them to join The Kotlarek Project. Also, please consider testing your DNA with Ancestry.com, and please connect with me here.
Click here for a previous post I wrote about my ancestor, Jakob Kotlarek and using DNAPainter.com.