There have been a number of dead-ends and brick walls in my family tree, some that have persisted for generations. I only began researching my family’s history when I studied abroad in Germany in 2014. Some branches of my family tree were well-documented by previous family members. Others were complete mysteries.

It wouldn’t be my family’s luck if the vast majority of the search wasn’t difficult and arduous. My maternal grandmother was already dead by age five, and my family only know a couple of generations back. What little remained was tossed out like garbage by a relative. My maternal grandfather barely knew anything about his parents’ heritage, and again, the little that had been preserved was burned in a fiery blaze by another distant relative who torched the 10-foot wide family tree with other belongings followed by the death of his mother. In terms of his father’s side, virtually nothing was known about his heritage. My paternal grandmother’s line was well-documented except for a few branches while, again, my paternal grandfather’s side was hit or miss. His mother’s side had extensive literature written about their roots while my own surname side was a blank slate.

Written records were great when I could find them. They helped me flesh out the basis of my tree going back to at least 1800. Several lines remained enigmas beyond the late 1800s.

That’s where DNA came in. Several years back, I had the foresight to test all of my oldest living relatives. In the absence of my grandma, my mother served as a viable substitute, but I also lost about half the DNA necessary to make discernments about the distant relatives I so desperately wanted to know.

These are case studies about my own family and the puzzling mysteries that were aided and solved because of DNA evidence. For some, this should provide hope for overcoming their own obstacles. For others, my hope is that this is convincing enough proof that DNA testing is not something to fear but rather something important–and the clock is ticking down precious time to preserve these genealogical clues.

A Brief Introduction on Methods

There’s a general rule I obey in my research: don’t trust anyone. Seriously. With anyone else’s work, shared trees and the like, don’t trust them; always verify their trees through your own work. I wasn’t always this way, and it created many headaches throughout the years when going back through early work on my tree. Never copy sections from other peoples’ trees and always verify the work yourself. Use their work as a guide and realize what’s already been published could very well be wrong. In plenty of cases, it usually is.

And that’s not a knock on the genealogical community. It’s just a fact. Far too many people just copy what’s already been done without taking a critical approach to the work in front of them. If you care about discovering the right answers, don’t let that be you.

I used AncestryDNA kits for all of my tests for several reasons.

  • They were relatively inexpensive.
  • AncestryDNA has one of the largest databases for matching.
  • Kits can be downloaded, saved, and imported to most other DNA sites, except for 23andMe (who I refuse to test with because of their “designer baby” patent). I’ve exported my Ancestry kit to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and GedMatch for free. Based on personal experience, I trust the accuracy of Ancestry’s cM threshold more than the others and can usually determine the degree of relationship with greater ease.
  • The shared matches feature is easy to use.
  • Matches can be sorted into color-coded groups for easy identification.
  • If a match has a tree, a preview is readily accessible.
  • The ThruLines feature and record hints dramatically reduce the time it takes to find possible matching records.

Some people take these DNA tests to find out what ethnicities they are and where they came from. I receive questions about this all the time. The reality is, in my opinion, the DNA ethnicity breakdowns are largely bunk and based upon modern knowledge from those who have already tested. In Ancestry’s most recent update, my paternal grandfather’s test showed 16% Sweden, 6% Norway, and 2% England, consistent with others from his mother’s side who also tested. The problem? Save for one branch because of an illegitimate birth in the mid-1800s, the rest of the tree can be traced back to 1800. Quite a few of the branches can be traced back to the 1600s. Insofar as I can ascertain, each branch came from the same areas around Schaumburg-Lippe and stayed there throughout the generations. That does not rule out the possibility that their early heritage was not Swedish or Norwegian, it’s just that by that point in time, my ancestors were thoroughly Germanized through and through.

The real hidden secret is using shared matches to uncover the evidence for dead-ends in research.

The Logic Method

Before I even knew what the Leeds Method was, I was using a similar process in my own research. At the time, I couldn’t believe something as simple as that process received its own name or that guides were even necessary for others to get the gist of how to work farther back using DNA. It might as well be called the “Logic Method” or the “Common Sense Method.” There are really only two options: work your way down a tree or work your way back up a tree. Having each match labeled and designated to one specific branch is just common sense.

I color-code all of my DNA matches when I can determine which branches they belong to and work my way down. I also keep detailed notes of my matches so I know how they are related, or my best guess when more information is unknown. For example, “matches the Richman/Bruns side.”

I find it’s most helpful to identify the strongest matches (more than 200 cM) first. From there, I shared matches can be used to determine the most likely branch the relative belongs to. Sometimes, a quick glance at an uploaded tree is enough to make this determination, as shown below.

Other times, no tree exists, and it becomes imperative to identify how other shared matches are related to determine the most recent shared ancestor. For this, I label every person that I can identify, placing them into groups.

Then, I become a private detective. I use any clues there are to trace back my matches’ family trees. I typically start with the match that has the most shared DNA. Sometimes the amounts of shared DNA are so close that I work with the match that has the most extensive tree. I use Family Tree Maker to create a new tree so I don’t taint my verified research. Then, I’ll start plugging in the people where they fit, starting with the DNA match. I always color code them in Family Tree Maker and add in how much DNA the match shares. Where lines don’t yet intersect, I add an “unrelated person” and start a new branch.

As a general rule of thumb, I try to trace the lineage of each line for each match back to 1800. For lines that are noticeably duds, I put in enough information to come back to later and trace the lines that are more suspicious. For example, if I’m researching my Pomeranian line and I come across a family with an Irish name (like Murphy or O’Brien), I usually glaze over them in favor of more German-sounding names. Sometimes this is effective and saves a lot of work. Other times, it might turn out that a wife or mother’s maiden name was the giveaway. For this reason, I couple what I know with census records. I follow these back to establish the place and time of immigration.

Sometimes, I run into a very good match with no tree. If the person has an uncommon name, I will search through obituaries to establish a likely candidate to a build a tree from. Unfortunately, sometimes an exceptionally good match has a common name like “John Smith,” which is impossible to make any determinations whatsoever. Frequently, these are also the same people who never respond to messages on Ancestry, even after several years of waiting and a few kind follow-up messages. These drive me insane, and I could write an entire blog about the frustration this causes.

This might sound like a lot of work–and it is–but it’s a worthwhile endeavor to solve family mysteries. The work becomes easier the more it’s done. Once you’ve got it down to science, the process flies pretty quickly.

Sidebar: my main focus has been to determine where my surname came from with absolute certainty. It just appeared in Belgard in 1807 with no other clues since the church book for marriages was destroyed. Early on, it became apparent that if I wanted to figure out which branches my matches belonged to, I would need to flesh out as much of my tree as possible–back to at least 4th great-grandparents. The goal was to reach the 1770s and 1780s and work my way down on each side–children of each branch, then grandchildren, and finally full genealogies with all known descendants.

Currently, my tree has over 11,500 people. This has helped establish known lineages and makes determining most DNA matches a cinch. If you have hit a dead-end and want to find answers, doing the hard work will have an eventual payoff.

Shared cM can help establish a timeframe for the search and help place the common ancestor based on what is known on your tree. From there, it becomes a process of comparing your already-known tree with the tree you develop for your match.

It is important to note that not all shared matches have the same common ancestor. Shared DNA does not currently distinguish between which line the DNA came from, so sometimes matches will share DNA on different segments. It is also possible, albeit rarer, to find a further back match that shares two common ancestors on two separate branches of your tree. More frequently, I’ve found groups of matches that share one person who is not on my tree, so a shared ancestor might be further back than surviving written documentation can support–this is why digitization of other non-vital resources, like land records, is such an important task.

Case Studies

Below you will find true examples of how DNA has helped me break down walls and go generations beyond what I knew. Not every case concerns those of Pomeranian descent, but I am including them anyways, as they serve as excellent examples for why DNA is so vital to recovering much of the lost history of our people and our shared Pomeranian culture.

Solved Cases:

The Neitzel Family

The Neitzel family is of great interest to me because of their proximity and relationship to my earliest Dewuske ancestor. He was married twice and faced the hardship of losing his first wife and several of his children within a few years of each other. His eldest known daughter survived and married into the Neitzel family. My relation to them is only through the Dewuske line.

Anne Christine Henriette Dewuske married Carl Wilhelm Neitzel. He was the son of Friedrich Neitzel in Alt Lülfitz, a Hirte like my 4th great-grandfather. The married pair would settle in Natztow. Henriette and Wilhelm had five known children:

  • Caroline Friedericke Neitzel who married August Krause. She was born March 7, 1839 in Alt Lülfitz and died June 5, 1909 in Lenzen. Her husband was an Arbeiter and Deputant, dying in Wartekow.
  • Wilhelmine Anne Christine Neitzel was born December 28, 1840 in Alt Lülfitz. She disappeared from records, and it is possible she died as a child.
  • Emilie Luise Charlotte Neitzel was born November 17, 1843 in Alt Lülfitz. She died January 4, 1922 in Buckley, Iroquois, Illinois with one brother surviving her. She was married around 1869 to Carl August Wilhelm Uecker of Dolgenow (which belonged to Klötzin), had her first child, Bertha in 1871, and immigrated to the United States, arriving at the port of New York on June 7, 1873. Not long after, her daughter Minna would be born on August 18, 1873 in Pennsylvania; this child would be an invalid since birth and for the remainder of her life. The family settled in Buckley not long after and would call it their home. The family name would be Americanized as “Ecker.” It is believed that Carl had a brother named August Uecker, who also settled in Buckley.
  • Henriette Mathilde Neitzel was born on August 20, 1846. She married Johann Hermann Erdmann Maass of Mallnow at the end of 1873, as noted in the military church book for Stolp, which listed the marriage proclamation on October 26, November 2, and November 9. She would die in Natztow on November 8, 1914.
  • Carl August Wilhelm Neitzel was born on February 6, 1853 in Natztow. He married Friedericke Wilhelmine Emilie Baum of Schötzow in June 15, 1877 while living in Standemin. They would immigrated after his mother’s death and arrive in New York on April 12, 1882 via Hamburg and Havre. They settled in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He died on June 21, 1927, with Rev. F. C. Proehl officiating the funeral from Our Savior’s English Lutheran Church and was buried at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Lutheran Cemetery).

It’s highly probable that there was at least one, if not two, other children born to this union in the years in-between.

Neitzel is an incredibly common name in that area of Pomerania, which made it difficult to determine if any connecting documents could be found for Emilie Luise Charlotte Neitzel. Because she could have been known as Emilie, Luise, or Charlotte, the possibilities were numerous. Complicating matters even further, it was possible she was married and her maiden name would not be mentioned in the records I searched through.

DNA for my grandfather did not turn up anything. However, his sister’s DNA had three matches that were questionable. I was able to link them to an Emilie Neitzel who was born around the same time. Was this my Emilie Neitzel?

I ordered the death certificate from Iroquois County and anxiously awaited what it would turn up. When it arrived, the birth date was one year and one day off from my records. Her place of birth was listed as a variation of “Lülfitz,” though horribly misspelled. No others in the Belgard church book came close to matching this. My answer was clear: this was my family.

Because her death certificate was not indexed online, it would have been difficult to prove her connection to my family. It was only through DNA that I was able to work backwards and establish a hypothetical path that could later be investigated.

The Gehrke and Pollnow Families

My 4th great-grandmother Anna Christine Louise Gehrke was married to Georg Friedrich Pollnow. They lived in Klein Rambin, and their daughter Wilhelmine Friederike Charlotte Pollnow married my 3rd great-grandfather Wilhelm Friedrich Ferdinand Lemke, whose daughter Bertha Auguste Erdmunde Lemke married my 2nd great-grandfather, Heinrich Johann August Dewuske. The Lemke tree was firmly established through very old FamilySearch trees. It is my belief that the research for these was based off the original church books from Siedkow before their destruction. Land records substantiate them. For Klein Rambin, land records also helped go one generation further back on the Pollnow side, identifying Johann Pollnow as the patriarch of the family and Georg Friedrich’s father.

However, no written records have yet established anything for Anna Christine Louise Gehrke. In fact, I’m not even sure about the proper spelling of her name, as several records indicated she was “Anna Luise,” Anna Louise,” and “Anna Christine.” Neither her birth or death date or location were known at the time of this publication. What can be gleaned is that her husband’s sister, Dorothea Louise Pollnow, was born around January of 1798.

Anna Gehrke and Georg Pollnow were likely married before 1822, as a child was born around that year as clarified by the child’s age at the time of marriage and by her death certificate. Anna’s last known child was born on March 11, 1841. This is a nearly 20-year span of having children. I have commonly seen women around that time married between the ages of 18 and 22, although I have seen women married as young as 16 or even as old as around the age of 35. If the daughter born in 1822 was her first, it is likely that Anna Gehrke was born circa 1800 (possibly between 1795 and 1805).

Working from land records, the Schulz of Klein Rambin was Michael Gehrke. Mortgage records denote his heirs after his death, and Anna Gehrke was not listed as one of his inheritors. Although this does not completely rule out the possibility that she was his daughter, perhaps unlisted because she was already married, I am of the belief that Michael and Anna were siblings. No date could be discerned for Michael, but his wife Anna Christine Klitzke was born about September 22, 1774 and died December 29, 1851. After Michael’s death, she was married to Ernst Carl Gottlob Weiland, who became the Schulz, and who was born about July 11, 1797 and died December 5, 1863. Land records for Michael Gehrke also name Otto Ferdinand Gehrke, a teacher in Groß Rambin, in some of the pages. Otto was born around 1788 and was first married in Groß Tychow in 1818, at which time he lived in Dubbertech. He was later married in Arnhausen in 1824 following the death of his wife, at that time living in Groß Rambin. I am currently in the process of procuring a personnel file for him that might shed more light on who he was. What is known is that he was a solider in the Napoleonic Wars for eight years. These help establish a range of times they could have lived.

Several other Gehrkes lived in the parish, though none of their relationships can be established. The existing church book for Arnhausen through 1776 does not appear to list any of them, and it is likely they settled in the parish from elsewhere.

DNA evidence has substantiated a relationship to several of Michael Gehrke’s children.

August Friedrich Wilhelm Gehrke, who was born around May 1803. He was my match’s 3rd great-grandfather with 26 cM shared across two segments. For another at the 3rd great-grandfather relation, it was 30 cM across two segments. He was another match’s 4th great-grandfather with 42 cM across one segment. Coincidentally, I believe it was this August Gehrke who was the godparent one of Georg Pollnow’s daughters.

Along these same lines, DNA connected my family to a number of Pollnow relations before I was able to connect them all to Georg Friedrich Pollnow’s branch. Rather than working my way down the tree, DNA allowed me to work my way up from a match and find several relatives, one matching my Lemke family through an illegitimate birth (89 cM across five segments). The others directly tied to Georg Friedrich Pollnow ranged from 59 cM across three segments to 8 cM across one segment (this one being the daughter of a 51 cM match, demonstrating a drop-off in the shared inherited DNA over one generation). The matching total cMs were: 59, 51, 40, 39, 30, 25, 24, 10, and 8.

The Smail Family

It was a combination of DNA and other clues that helped solve this quandary on my Scottish side. Isabella Josephine Smail was born February 6, 1831 on the Atlantic Ocean while her parents immigrated to Ontario. Virtually no paper evidence established where her parents were from. Census records indicated her parents were born in Scotland, but beyond that, the various spellings of her surname could not help place her family. She was married to Thomas Augustus Moungey; the mystery of him will be discussed later.

Thomas Augustus Moungey
Isabella Josephine Smail

She, like her husband, had a family name that was difficult to determine the correct spelling. Variations included Smale, Smaile, Smaill, and Smallia, not to mention similar names like Small, Smallie, Smalley, Smiley, Smellie, and the like. In fact, even in Scotland, the name was shown as “Smeal” on earlier records.

A distant relative composed the Moungey family history for her branch. One clue stuck out for several decades: an 1880 U.S. Census record showing a “James Matheson” as her nephew. James went on to Chetek, Wisconsin and never married as far as paper records show. How he was related remained an object of curiosity.

A study of the families in North Dumfries, Waterloo, Ontario provided some help. It would seem that James was the son of Alexander Grey Mathieson, formerly of Yarrow, Selkirkshire, Scotland. I was able to trace his entire tree without a single clue tying everything together.

Over time and more recently, two new clues emerged. A historical land study for cultural heritage impact assessment was conducted in Ayr, which neighbors North Dumfries. John Smail’s name was listed as an early settler of the land, along with the Mathieson, Cleghorn, and Reid families–all of whom I had seen in census records. The second clue was an indexed grave for an Elizabeth Smail, born in 1792, who died December 17, 1865. But who was she?

My assumption was that John Smail might have been Isabella’s father, but there was no proof.

Then, a very low DNA match showed me a far back look at the Mathieson family. It outlined several of the children’s lines, showing that a Mathieson daughter married a Reid. I began tracing the other branches and noticed more similarities between those who were married. It was this DNA match that made me verify the children and their birth dates. In every tree I could find, John Mathieson, born in 1794, was the first child listed. But this was a glaring error. By verifying the trees through Scottish birth records, I discovered that there was a daughter named Elizabeth born to the Yarrow parish in 1792. She was the daughter of Alexander Grey Mathieson. It was at that moment something clicked. A quick search for marriages turned up that she married a John Smail and had two children. They disappeared from records right before Isabella’s birth, which was supposed to be their time of immigration. All of the facts lined up.

This one was not solved through DNA alone and was possible to solve through various clues, but it was DNA evidence that pointed the way to the correct area of Scotland. Because of that, I was able to narrow my focus to a few parishes. This ultimately helped me go several generations further back.

One other quick tip for those researching Scottish families: it was a common practice to give a child a middle name after the last name of one of their ancestors, likely a grandparent or great-grandparent.

The Jones Family

Quite possibly one the most difficult searches for my family was for that of my great-great grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth Jones.

My grandpa remembered the name Jenkins. He also didn’t know his father’s birth date for certain. We were told the family was from the Isle of Man. Paper research determined that his father, David Hughes, was actually born in Holyhead–the Welsh name for it being the similarly sounding Ynys Môn. Further research showed that David’s mother was Rebecca Jenkins.

So who was Margaret?

I was unsure of her birthdate, with records ranging from about 1878 to 1882. The marriage record for her and David Hughes showed that Margaret’s father was William, a deceased fireman (which at that time was a stoker of a steam engine). With such a common name as Jones, this was a difficult search. Welsh patronymic naming conventions only further complicated the process. Was William Jones born to someone with the surname Jones, or was his father’s name John? Do you know how many people in Wales have the name Jones? Years of searching with every possible combination turned up nothing, not even clues.

An obituary for Margaret, mentioned she had a brother named Richard Jones of Holyhead. By that time, Margaret had remarried John Herbert Bowker in Liverpool, immigrated from Lancashire to Canada and from there to New York. She would move the whole family to California, as family tradition has it, because her son, David, worked as a mechanic in Al Capone’s garage. It seemed that he had no idea how the cars wound up in such bad shape but that Mr. Capone paid him very well. Margaret picked up the whole family and set off for California to get as far away as possible. It seems God had other plans, as the car broke down in Wisconsin where my family would remain, eventually meeting the Moungey family that is mentioned later.

Continual searches were fruitless. However, a DNA match of 327 cM across 15 segments provided a starting point. We determined that we both had the name Jones in our trees, but our information didn’t match. She had a Richard Jones of Holyhead in her tree, but he was from Llanfair-yn-Neubwll. That was close to Holyhead but not definitive.

I reached out to an acquaintance who frequently researched in Anglesey, Wales. Putting our heads together, we were able to find the family. Searching through the birth index that she had access to, we narrowed down the possibilities and traced the family of the suspected Richard Jones, whose father was also William. This would also indicate that Margaret was born in 1875, which was outside my previous timeframe for searching.

William had married in Llanfihangel-yn-Nhowyn in 1870 and had five children before his untimely death in 1880, before the 1881 Welsh Census could record him. It would seem that William’s father, Richard Jones, likely died before him as well. This left the family split up. William’s eldest son, Richard, then went to live with his great-grandfather, David Jones. This was a lucky find because David Jones died just after the 1881 Census in April.

Margaret’s mother, Margaret Williams, went to live with her parents in Holyhead following the death of her husband. She took the youngest daughter with her, who was only two years old at the time.

The birth index provided all of the names of her children. Subtracting Richard and the youngest daughter Kate, the answer became easier to find. The 1881 census showed three children without parents on one entry, but I could not make sense of it at first. Margaret and her sisters Ellen and Anne were listed together as inmates, and the birth place matched the newly found information. It was at that moment I finally understood.

My grandpa told me that his grandma Bowker (Margaret Jones), never talked about her family. She was the type of woman you wouldn’t want to cross. Putting all the pieces together, it all finally made sense.

Margaret Jones was almost five years old when her father died. Her youngest sister stayed with her mother while her oldest brother went to live with his great-grandpa. And what about her? She and her two sisters were sent to the Holyhead Workhouse. She married David Hughes in 1896 and had three children, one of whom died in 1898. The other would die in 1917, leaving my great-grandfather as the only surviving child of her first marriage. Margaret’s husband, who was a stoker in the Royal Navy, died of “Phthisis Exhaustion,” the medical name at the time for tuberculosis, in Everton South, Liverpool in February 1900. She quickly remarried John Herbert Bowker in April of the same year and the couple moved to Clitheroe in Lancashire and had another six children. Three of these children would die around the ages of two and three. One would survive to adulthood and die a young man in 1934.

Margaret died on September 14, 1946, leaving behind her husband, brother, two sisters, and three sons. She lived a difficult life filled with loss and hardship.

Without the use of DNA, I never would have been able piece together her story and her struggles. Because of my AncestryDNA, I was able to find Margaret’s correct birth date and place, identify who her mother was, and go several more generations back on both of her parents’ sides, establishing that the Joneses lived in their family home of Cae Glas in Llanfair-yn-Neubwll since at least the late 1700s.

Mostly-Solved Cases:

The Priebe Family

My maternal grandmother’s Priebe family makes my head spin. It’s an endless tangled bird’s nest of Priebe married Priebe. Henry J. Priebe was my largest roadblock. He was born July 17, 1868 in Germany and died on November 14, 1915 in North St. Paul, Minnesota. For the longest time, I could not trace his place of birth or his parents. Although this case is still pending on the yet-to-be digitized church books, substantial evidence backed by DNA provided a likely pathway.

Henry J. (Julius?) Priebe married Ida Franziska Priebe. Her parents were Ferdinand Gottlieb Priebe of Eschenriege and Maria Albertine Fredricka Priebe of Gramenz. Ferdinand’s parents were Carl Wilhelm Priebe and Dorothea Louise Priebe. As one can see, shared matches alone would be difficult to determine exactly which Priebe the match belonged to.

However, there were a handful of Priebe matches that showed a connection to Wilhelmine Kottke from Klein Salzdorf (Słonawy) near Schubin. None of these were on my tree, but the DNA was clear. One 46.8‎ cM match on MyHeritage led me to continue searching other matches, one as high as 153 cM across 9 segments on Ancestry.

From this, I was able to determine that Henry J. Priebe’s family likely originated in Klein Salzdorf. Once the Lutheran church books are digitized, I might finally be able to discern with absolute certainty who his parents were instead of the most-likely scenario. (When can we look forward to these valuable books being preserved?)

The Moungey Family

Another one of the more difficult brick walls in my family history was that of the Moungey family. I had build my tree back to the earliest ancestor, Thomas Augustus Moungey, who was married to Isabella Josephine Smail. Recent discovery has uncovered that Thomas probably lived in Detroit as early as 1856. Previously, all that was known is that he lived in Guelph, Ontario in 1861 and then North Dumfries in 1871. His wife and children were in Columbia, Wisconsin in 1880. Other records later indicated that he must have still been alive in 1877 or 1878 by a directory of North Dumfries and that his family immigrated to the United States after his death, though each child’s petition for naturalization gave slightly different years of immigration and information.

One son’s records stated that his father was an American citizen before immigrating to Canada. This seemed to align with the census record that said Thomas was born in the U.S. Another census record stated that he was from England. Further information showed that he was of Irish descent. Further complicating his history, no birth year could be firmly established. The two census records for Thomas showed he was born around 1830 or 1838.

With no details leading to his place of origin, I turned to DNA. There were no matches for “Moungey,” but there was one for “Mongey.” After messaging my match, a week before I flew out to Ireland, I received a response. My match was from Ireland and had thoroughly investigated the origins of the Mongey surname. He sent me parts of the family history and the origins of the family back to the 1600s in Slane, Meath, Ireland.

Eventually, others who tested had substantially higher cM counts, thus establishing a most-likely lineage to connect back to. After importing the entire Mongey tree–centuries of relatives researched and published around the year 2000–I was able to see which lines were possibly related. I could compare other lines on the Mongey tree with my matches. In addition, shared matches also predicted that the Mingey family was related by blood to the Mongey family.

The Gutknecht Family

My Albertine Wilhelmine Gutknecht was married to Johann Heinrich Dewuske. Although the tree of the Black Hawk, Iowa Gutknechts has been firmly established, no DNA evidence has linked us as of yet. It does appear from Rein-Karte maps of Podewils, it is very likely that my Johann Joachim Gutknecht lived one tract of land away from Johann Gutknecht. The map shows Johann Gutknecht and the Wwe Gutknecht. I believe Johann was Johann Joachim Gottlieb Gutknecht, the Bauerhofsbesitzer who was the patriarch of the Black Hawk Gutknechts. I also believe that Gutknecht’s widow was Dorothea Louise Elert, the wife of Johann Joachim Gutnecht, who was still alive in 1828. It’s a little confusing, but I’m not certain if or how these two were related.

My Wilhelmine Gutknecht had one sister: Dorothea Christine Gutknecht. Both concurred with the parents’ names and professions, but differed in the father’s place of death–either Podewils or Klötzin.

Portage, Wisconsin Branch

DNA matches have alluded to the relation to Christian Friedrich Gutknecht, born in Podewils on May 23, 1812, later living in Klötzin before immigrating to the United States and settling in Portage, Wisconsin. He was married to Louise Friederike Charlotte Seefeldt. One DNA match indicates a distant match of 9 cM across one segment to this family.

St. Clair, Michigan Branch

DNA also linked my grandfather to the family of Michael Gutknecht. The connection was 32 cM across four segments with his son, Henry Gutknecht and his daughter Johanna who married Albert Blumenfeldt. Michael Gutknecht’s two sons immigrated to China Township, St. Clair, Michigan and later lived in Sanilac. This was backed up by another match of 30 cM across three segments to the same family. Although unsubstantiated, this family is rumored to have resided in Semerow before emigrating.

This family was incorrectly transcribed as “Goodschmight” and “Gusknecht.”

The Children of Wilhelmine Gutknecht of Groß Rambin – The Pergande Family

The daughter of Joachim Casper Gutknecht and Sophie Elisabeth Zube was Wilhelmine Gutknecht; she married Friedrich Pergande and lived in Groß Rambin. Some of my DNA matches are her descendants who immigrated to Niles, Illinois. This Wilhelmine had a brother named Michael Friedrich Heinrich Gutknecht, though DNA has not linked to him yet.

These were linked through the following matches: 29 cM across three segments, 10 cM across one segment, 13 cM across two segments.

Unsolved Cases:

The Wendt/Laabs/Lietz/Geske Families

DNA has established a positive link between my paternal family and that of Albert Hermann Gustav Wendt. Because he is a common ancestor between several different branches of his tree, I am certain that my relation is on either the Wendt, Laabs, Lietz, or Geske sides of his tree.

If Occam’s Razor were to hold true, the connection should be through Martin Lietz’s wife, Caroline Geske. My 4th great-grandmother was Dorothea Sophie Geske, and nothing is known about her.

I am still waiting on the digitization of the Triebs Standesamt to further investigate. Szczecin finished digitizing all the way through and stopped short at this collection.

The Kwiatkowski and Strutz Families

These families were my COVID project. I began to create groups of all my unknown DNA matches and looking for commonalities between them. It was my hypothesis that my Richman (Riechmann) side was so extensively documented that anything unrelated to them was more likely related to my surname side. It was with this hope that I set out to locate probable places where my Dewuske family originated.

DNA has shown a relationship to several different circles of families who all match each other. These are predominantly those who descend from Frank and Frances Kwiatkowski of Du Bois, Washington, Illinois and those of several different branches of the Strutz family in Kreise Köslin and Schlawe.


It is my belief that Frank Kwiatkowski, like others bearing his surname in that area, originated in Hohensalza, now Inowrocław. I am unsure which of them, Franciszek Kwiatkowski or Francisca Wegner, are the connecting relatives.

Others in the area appear to have come from the area surrounding Tarkowo and Rucewko near Inowrocław.

The Kwiatkowski surname disappeared for certain branches, only to reappear under Americanized translations of the name, such as “Bloom” or “Flower.”

What is known is that the Kwiatkowski family must have first settled in Pennsylvania before migrating across the country and settling near Du Bois, Tamaroa, and Nashville, Illinois. Evidence suggests that they lived in Chicago before trekking south to those smaller Polish communities. Unfortunately, the Catholic diocese records provide very few details that could further help to solve this puzzle. Frank’s father was “John” according to his death index, though difficult to prove at this point.

My strongest match to this family is 38 cM across one segment and then 23 cM across one segment through Julia Kwiatkowski’s line. A smaller match of 11 cM across one segment was also seen. Another is 25 cM across one segment for Frank G. Kwiatkowski’s line. MyHeritage also showed a match through this line with 34.2 cM across one segment, although MyHeritage tends to show higher centimorgan counts than Ancestry.

It was only through an obituary that I was able to determine which of the Kwiatkowskis were Frank and France’s children, as some of the others now appear to not be immediate family. From March 1, 1923, the obituary reads:

It seems a mistake was made when citing his wife’s name, as here it is listed as “Leffner.” This only further adds to the complications and confusions surrounding this family’s origins.

His children were:

  • Augusta Kwiatkowski, born about September 1860. She was married to Adam Kaszuba on April 25, 1880 at St. Adalbert’s Church in Chicago (I have a note questioning another record showing 1875). Her husband’s family might have been from Kossakau, Putzig, Westpreußen. Name variations: Kashuba, Kasuba, Kaschuba, and Kacuba. She died on October 31, 1950 in Niles, Illinois.
  • Julia Kwiatkowski, born about 1863. She married a who was from Poland. They were married ca. 1896. She died on August 12, 1918 in Perry, Illinois, while her husband would later pass away on April 14, 1937 in Johnston City, Williamson County.
  • August Kwiatkowski, born about August 1867. He was a blacksmith and remained single his whole life, dying on August 13, 1954 in Radom, Washington County.
  • Frank G. Kwiatkowski, born October 18, 1870 in Poland. He married Martha Witt. Frank died on December 11, 1953 in Nashville, Washington County.
  • Anton Kwiatkowski, born May 07, 1876 in Illinois. He was baptized May 26, 1876 at St. Michael’s in Radom. His name was written as Tony, Anton, Antonius, and Thomas. Anton married Victoria Chlebowski (Katilebowska in one record). He died July 24, 1941 in Washington County. She died in Beaucoup a few years later on April 11, 1947.

Further research also led to a few possibly related families:

  • Joseph W. Kwiatkowski, born February 02, 1854 in Rucewko, Kreis Hohensalza (Inowrocław). He was married to Antoina Bejma around 1874. He died November 27, 1925 in Radom. Baptismal records show that he was listed as a godparent with a Julianna Kwiatkowski, who I believe is Julia, Frank’s daughter.

    After immigration, they lived in Pennsylvania for awhile, as evidenced by their son Stanley’s draft records showing “Conshohocken” as his birthplace and William’s census records as “Pennsylvania.” They lived in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania at the time of the 1880 census. This was a difficult family to trace, but after a thorough review, I believe this Joseph and the one born in Rucewko are the same, as the birth date was off by only one day.
  • Valentin Kwiatkowski, also known as Ladislaus, Walenty, Valentine Bloom. I’m struggling to find the census record, but either he or his son may have also been listed as “Walter.” His wife’s death showed him as “Władysław.” He was married to Antonina Sosinska, who was the daughter of Thomas Sosinski. She allegedly had 16 children. It was because of her first marriage that this line became easier to differentiate from others; she was earlier the widow of Franciscus Majewski. I began looking in various parishes around the Labischin parish, and stumbled upon a Valentin Kwiatkowski, born on January 25, 1844 in Tarkowo. He died on February 01, 1936 in Tamaroa, although another source shows Belleville in St. Clair, Illinois.

    I do remember there was a Walter or Walenty who was a miner, I’m just at a loss for where that saved record wandered off to, and if they were related. My handwritten notes show Bald Hill near Tamaroa as a location of interest.

Good evidence indicates that Joseph and Valentin were the sons of Adalbertus Kwiatkowski and Michalina Buzalska (who was of Tarkowo), who were married in Liebensee, Hohensalza in 1842. Adalbert was the son of Lucas Kwiatkowski and Rosalia Siwosławska. Thus, after months of burning the midnight oil, I was able to determine a likely place the Kwiatkowskis originated from before immigrating, even if no birth records have been located. A few of the parishes I’ve wanted to research are still locked on FamilySearch, despite being well beyond the timeframe for any privacy laws and despite the Polish archives stating that there are no copyrights on them.

I continue to search in the area of Liebensee, Labischin, Penchowo, Lissewo, Bendzitowo, Pakosch, and Ludzisk, among others, in the surrounding area. There was a Dworecki family in Groß Koluda, so my hunch is that my family may have had ties to that village, despite that being a bit further south. Only time will tell, and I may take a more methodical approach in the future as time allows.


In line with this are the Strutz families, who all seem connected. The Hufenklassifikation of 1717-1719 shows only one family by this name: that of Christian Strutzen in Thunow, a Bauer of one Hufen.

  • Bertha Strutz was born March 04, 1853 and died April 02, 1940 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Records state that she was the daughter of John Strutz. She was married to Friedrich Baumann of Roßnow who died in Zerrehne in 1888. Her daughter was Bertha Mathilde WIlhelmine Bauman, born in Groß Satspe on April 24, 1875. Her daughter married Herman Alexander Kaempf in North St. Paul and lived in Plum City, Pierce, Wisconsin.
  • Johann Ernst Wilhelm Rathunde who was born in “Poman” and “Skenlien, Pommer” according to a clearly mistranscribed index. Other records indicate he was born in Berlin, though I’m skeptical of them. He was born April 07, 1847. His parents were listed as Ernst Rathunde and Johanna Strutz. It is possible Johanna was from Thunow, but this cannot be substantiated.
  • Karl Hermann Christoph Strutz was married to Emilie Henriette Dorothea Viehsteg, the latter of whom was born in Schwessin on February 07, 1832. She died December 26, 1915 and is buried in Dusty Cemetery in Whitman, Washington. Her husband was living in Naffin in 1888, but further data about him is unknown. I have been unable to locate his place or date of birth.

Of these, the family of Karl Hermann Christoph Strutz appears to be the one where the most extensive documentation could be researched, but not without great effort. Because he was a Tagelöhner, his children were born to numerous parishes over more than twenty years. At the time of this publication, no marriage entry could be found, despite the survival of many church books in Kreis Köslin; perhaps they wed in the nearby Köslin Stadt or in Seeger, both where church records fail for the expected timeframe of their marriage.


  • Bertha Louise Wilhelmine Strutz, born January 17, 1854 in Mersin. She was baptized in Mersin on January 22, 1854 with the following information for her Taufpate: Carl Freier aus Mersin, Louise Strutz geb. Nagel aus Mersin, Wilhelmine Hackbarth aus Neu Belz.
  • Mathilde Ernestine Wilhelmine Strutz, born January 20, 1857 in Zewelin. She was baptized January 24, 1857 in Manow with the following Taufpate: Eigenthümerfrau Anna Klug v. Schwessin, Mädchen Ernestine Viehstäg v. Zewelin, Knecht Julius Mundt v. Zewelin. She was married to August Friedrich Richard Fiedler on November 06, 1885 in the Pumlow Standesamt, then located in Bulgrin, also designating that she was living in Naffin. She died in 1935 in Marathon, Wisconsin, where the family had settled after immigrating.
  • Caroline Louise Auguste Strutz, born March 18, 1859 in Maskow. The church book of Wisbuhr lists her baptism as March 27, 1859 with Taufpate: Carl Strutz, Knecht; Caroline Strutz; Louise Heise ? aus Maskow.
  • Carl Christoph Hermann Strutz, born October 08, 1861 in Maskow and baptized October 13, recorded in the Wisbuhr church book with the following Taufpate: Heinrich Guschke, Tag. in Kleist, Friedrich Heidenreich, Tag. in Kösternitz, Wittwe Viehstege geboren Wendt in Coeslin. He immigrated alone in 1888, last residing in Naffin. He married a woman named Hilda and lived in the Sutton Precinct of Whitman, Washington in 1900. His mother would move in with him prior to the 1910 census.
  • Johanna Karoline Pauline Strutz, born April 16, 1864 in Steglin. She was baptized May 16, 1864 in Steglin with the following Taufpate: Karoline Grulke dienstmädch. Steglin, Pauline Viehsteg dienstmädch in Wilhelmsdorf bei Cöslin, Ferd. Braun Zimmerges. in Steglin. Caroline married Ferdinand Zinke in Lenzen of Kreis Belgard on November 20, 1885. She and her parents arrived in the port of Baltimore on April 10, 1892, having left from the port of Bremen. She would die not long after on June 14, 1894 in Athens, Marathon, Wisconsin.

    Their immigration shows that they were destined for Wisconsin. She was leaving from Kamissow and her parents from Belgrad (sic) with their crippled son, Otto.
  • Hulda Johanna Henriette Strutz, (also known as “Hilda”) was born June 13, 1867 in Neu Kösternitz and was baptized there on June 16, 1867 with the Taufpate: Johanna Strutz Einw. Fr., Hulda Rademann des gl., Johann Volkmann Arbeitsm. Neu Kösternitz. She married Albert W. Heinz of Burzlaff on March 16, 1888 in Lenzen–she herself was living in Naffin. They immigrated to the U.S. and settled into the Spokane area of Washington, where she would die on January 17, 1908. It seems that they must have immigrated not long after the marriage, with Otto William Heinz being born June 22, 1888 according to death records. He married Lillian Lydia Hill, whose daughter Dorothea Pauline Heinz married Walter J. Kewin, whose lineage shows up in my DNA matches. This family moved around a lot and was difficult to trace.
  • Otto Ferdinand Wilhelm Strutz, born December 31, 1876 in Mersin. He immigrated with his parents and the Zinke family, but disappears from records.

Maps like these are good visuals to demonstrate the exceptionally difficult life of Tagelöhner and others of the day-laborer class. Frequent movement was not uncommon, which makes researching these ancestors a grueling task.

Also, when possible, look for clues in Taufpate. I was able to find at least two more children of this couple by paying attention to the small details.

In 1910, Emilie Viehsteg was registered in Dusty, Whitman, Washington as “Millie Strutz,” incorrectly shown as born in Holland (Ger.). She was 77 years old at the time, having had eight children, four of whom were still living. Another interesting clue is that the Nagel family was living nearby; a Nagel who married a Strutz was a godparent previously listed.

Confidential Cases:

I’ve had the fortune of solving at least four cases with the help of DNA. Each time, DNA helped establish the basis for the degree of relationship, thus providing a likely timeframe to work back to. Although the details of these are private, one should never exclude the possibilities of a relative having an extramarital affair. Sometimes children were born out of wedlock after a relationship ended and the father was never informed.

Depending on your circumstances, finding a solid match in these cases can prove most helpful, as the match could likely share only half of the DNA, making it easier to isolate the DNA of a particular branch of your family tree.


So what do you think? How has DNA been helpful to finding your relatives? Tell us in the comments below or share your story with us on Facebook!

Leave a Comment