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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Let’s Talk About It



 Does clinical depression have a genetic cause? There’s no answer yet, but geneticists are studying it. My personal experience makes me think that it does. No one expects to find a specific gene related to depression; but there may be some combinations of genetic traits that makes a person predisposed to this problem.

The general reluctance to talk about any kind of mental disorder has kept it out of more than one family tree and published family history.  In my family, I think I can trace it back 3 generations.

I was diagnosed in the mid 1970s. My internist referred me to a wonderful psychiatrist who did a battery of tests. The terminology was different in those days and the diagnosis for me was “manic depressive depressive” meaning that my highs were not very high but my lows were very low. Medication helped and the Doctor taught me to cope with the up and down swings.  I will always be on medication.

My mother suffered with depression but she would not seek treatment.  Without going into details, I’ll just say that there were some difficult times when she was at her lowest. And her up times were not really “up”.

Nature or nurture?  Is my depression inherited or is it the result of living with my mother?

When I began genealogy research, I discovered that one of my mother’s maternal great uncles was committed to an insane asylum in 1895. I know only what I’ve read in his probate record, but he apparently knew he was not well. Years later his son was declared incompetent.

Is genetics at play here?

I suspect that my mother was not the only one of her generation to cope with depression nor am I the only one in my generation.  Too bad that I’m the only one willing to be open about it. I think we could learn from one another.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Schipp Surname Issue



Since I began family history research in 1999 there has always been an issue with the surname Schipp. It was very frustrating for several years. My mother’s maternal grandfather – my great grandfather - was Michael Schipp.

My research began at the NARA (National Archives) branch in Denver; then moved to The Minnesota Historical Society and to St. Adalbert Roman Catholic church in St. Paul, MN.

At NARA I pored over microfilms finding federal census records for my ancestors on both sides.  I traveled to Minnesota and found a wealth of information in state census records, city directories and newspapers. All of this data corroborated and hugely expanded information I had from my parents.

Then I went to the church.  Both my paternal and maternal families attended St. Adalbert which was one of two parishes serving the Polish community in St. Paul, Minnesota.  That’s where the Schipp surname became an issue.

Michael Schipp and his family emigrated from Poland in the 1880s. Schipp is not really a Polish name.  The priests at St. Adalbert who recorded baptisms, marriages and deaths apparently decided to “correct” the spelling to what they thought it would be in Poland. Variations include Szyp, Szypinski, and Sipinski. Szyp was the most common.

Civil records at the same time, all read: Schipp.  So when the priests were presented with birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, etc. in the name Schipp, they chose to apply their own ethnic bias and record it as they thought it should be.

Over time, as more and more data collections became available online, I searched for Schipp. I found the passenger list that showed Michael’s arrival; and also the passenger manifest listing the later arrival of his wife, Elizabeth, and their children.  These confirmed, in my mind, the accuracy of the surname.

Unfortunately, when I searched records from Poland, I found a very few instances of the name, but none that I could connect with my ancestors. But more Polish records continue to come online; and I’ve become more adept at using the Polish web sites.

Thanks to the flexibility of The Poznan Project web site, I finally found people and dates that matched my family.  But the surname was Sip. On that site I found Michael’s marriage and also that of his brother Stanislaus.

After reviewing many LDS microfilms of church records from Poland, I was able to determine where they lived: Grabow nad Prosna. On these films I found Baptism records for Michael and Elizabeth’s children born in Poland.

How did Sip become Schipp?  Here’s my theory.

In the 19th century, the Province of Poznan was in the Prussian partition of Poland. There was a concerted effort to erase Polish culture and impose German language and culture. Civil authority was German and all civil records were in German. Schools taught only the German language and classes were in German.

In Polish the name Sip would be pronounced: ship or szip. 

My current thinking is that the German civil authorities wrote the name as it was pronounced.  The family were farmers in the boondocks of a relatively small city. I have no idea whether they were at all literate at the time.  Did they not understand that the spelling had changed?  Did they simply submit to the authorities rather than make a fuss?  I’ll never know.

I do hope to eventually find civil records for this family to prove or disprove my assumption.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Long Time No See



WOW!  I didn’t realize it has been so long since my last post.  It’s been 2 months! I’m not sure why, but I guess I just got saturated.  My research activity always has it peaks and valley and I’ve been in a wiiiiide valley.

By early March, I had 7 LDS microfilms at my local library, and I was diligently going through all of them. My March 13 post was about my success in finding my Ganas ancestors in Poland. What a rush that was!  Then I set about trying to understand and organize what I’d found.

I’d also just discovered Storypress.com as a means of publishing my stories. It was great fun creating my first story.  You can find it here.  Another one is a work in progress.

Then, I guess I just ran out of steam for a while.  So after an unplanned break, I’m finally back at it concentrating on organization for now as well as producing my next Storypress project.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Mixed Feelings



I have very mixed feelings when I read Polish history. My goal is to try to understand the times in which my ancestors lived. I take pride in the nobles of the 16th and 17th century who created a semblance of democracy in Poland. I am embarrassed by the greed and seeming self-absorption of many of the nobles of the 18th century.

In the 16th century, the ruling classes of the Republic of PolandLithuania conceived a type of democracy that was unique for it’s time.

Nobles had assumed governance, regarding themselves as the supreme authority of the state.[1]  The king gained his throne not by inheritance but by election. Once a king was elected, he was required to agree to the stipulations of the nobles before he could be crowned.  The king was elected to be a leader, not a ruler.  There was a parliament (Sejm) consisting of upper and lower houses and populated by the nobles’ envoys, and representatives from the provinces.

The Republic was thus freed from the whims and prejudices of an absolute ruler. State policies were shaped by the consensus of the nobles.

This was the age of Golden Liberty. Under that system, all nobles, regardless of rank or economic status, were considered to have equal legal status and enjoyed   extensive legal rights and privileges.[2]

But Golden Liberty applied only to the nobility. Peasants and townfolk were excluded.  There was no legal system to protect the majority of the population from the excesses of nobles who were greedy and despotic.

Polish serfs were just one step up from slavery. They were sharecroppers.  More than that, their daily lives could be controlled by the landlord.  The Lord of the Manor could forbid serfs from leaving the village. He could refuse to allow girls to get married off the estate.[3]  Peasants were subject to the attitudes and whims of the noble whose land they worked.

Fast forward to the early 18th century and the heirs of the architects of Golden Liberty seem to have become quite complacent in their rights and privileges.

After the Great Northern War 1700-21[4], Tsar Peter the Great of Russia had a firm grip on Polish affairs.  He emasculated the Republic by forcing severe reduction in the armed forces and removing financial support. The army was forced to provide their own funds and supplies by levying local taxes. But the nobility was not inclined to support the army.  The nobles’ strong resistance to any new taxes insured that the Polish armed forces remained feeble while both Prussia and Russia were rapidly building their armed forces.  

Alliances were made and broken; treaties were made and broken; confederations were made and dissolved.  In its weakened position, Poland sought the protection of her powerful neighbors.

By 1772, Prussia, Russia and Austria carved up and took control of Polish lands in the First Partition of Poland.

On May 3, 1791 Poland adopted a new constitution that gave equal rights and protections to all classes of society. Many nobles fiercely resisted this. It took only another two years for Poland’s powerful neighbors to again redistribute Polish lands among themselves. In another two years, by 1795, Poland completely disappeared from the map in the Third Partition of Poland.

This is the source of my embarrassment. How could the noble class with such a proud heritage act so ignobly!?   My reading of Polish history tells me that the ruling class, by its complacency and greed effectively gave away their homeland. Poland vanished for more than a century and came back into existence only after the end of WWI.

My ancestors were peasants. I’m glad of that.

Please comment if you have a differing view of history.  I truly want to understand my heritage. I want to learn.



[1] Norman Davies God’s Playground Vol I, p.326
[3] Wall, Robin and Laslett, Family Forms in Historic Europe, ch 4
[4] Norman Davies God’s Playground Vol I, ch. 17

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Historic Timelines Give Perspective


My 3rd great grandfather, Johann Ganas, was born in the village of Czerlejno in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  His son, Adalbert, my 2nd great grandfather was born in the same village. But Adalbert was born in Prussia.

The Wikipedia Timeline of Polish History has given me new insight into my ancestors’ lives. The borders of Poland have flexed over time as various neighboring powers sought to claim its land as their own. For a time, Poland did not even exist as a sovereign nation. I've read history, but a concise timeline makes the turmoil much more obvious.

Johann was born about 1779 after the First Partition of Poland.  By the time Adalbert was born in 1811, the country had seen two more partitions change or eradicate the borders.

In the meantime, there were multiple treaties made and broken; multiple uprisings, and various degrees of oppression of Polish culture. 

So I’m back at the history books trying to develop a narrative to describe what life may have been like for my ancestors in those times.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lucky Day! Friday the 13th!



Thanks to the work of the volunteers at The Poznan Project, I was able to identify 2nd and 3rd great grandfathers and brothers of my great grandfather.  Found them all on Friday the 13th!!

The Poznan Project is working to transcribe all 19th century marriages in the Polish province of Poznan. A very efficient search engine looks for either or both bride and groom. I’ve used it successfully searching for 3 of my lines, and finally got around to the 4 of my surnames.

Searching just on Ganas as the groom’s surname, I got 12 matches.  But the best part is that they’re all clustered in a relatively small area.  In some cases the search results include the names of the parents of the bridal couple.  Four of the grooms share the same parents. I ordered LDS films and hit a small jackpot on the first one I viewed.

I found my great grandfather’s 3 brothers, his parents and his grandparents! WOW!


There’s a lot more work to do here but I knocked at least one brick out of one wall.




Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I have the data - now to add the information.



My ancestor search (for my own ancestors) is slowly coming to a halt approaching a big brick wall.  Well, actually it’s not brick but I’m not sure I have what it takes to penetrate it.

Polish Roman Catholic church records before the 18th century – and in some cases into the 18th century are paragraphs of handwritten text in Latin. Later records generally have the data entered into labeled columns in the record books like this:



Language isn’t the problem with the early records, the problem is mostly the handwriting. Add to that the fact that many of the pages are faded or damaged by time. Ancient European handwriting is my (not exactly) brick wall.  Here’s a sample of one of more legible record books.



While it would be nice to know the names of my 3rd 4th and 5th great grandparents, I’m not sure that it is worth the effort to try to decipher these earliest records.

Why not?

My goal has been to understand my family history. I believe that I now know enough about that history to be able to add context to the names and dates.  My ancestors were peasants in a part of the world where civil records were not kept until 1874. They were farmers and laborers who were pretty much invisible in their times except to one another.

I can extrapolate from the known names and dates to guess when earlier generations lived. So even if I don’t know their names, history tells me much about their circumstances.  Were their leaders tyrants or magnanimous? What wars were going on?  Were there famines or floods?  I can go far back in time even without being able to name individuals.

I won’t stop searching. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m at the point of getting diminishing returns from poring over the available records.  

New projects for my ancestors will involve trying to depict my ancestors and their lives in words and images and share those with my extended family.  That’s a daunting challenge.  Maybe it would be easier just trying to decode the ancient scribbles.