From the Polish Genealogy Society of Connecticut and the Northeast

I have observed in various articles in both genealogical and non-genealogical periodicals conflicting statements regarding surnames ending in “ski” claiming that names of this type indicate noble status. Can you please comment?


The fact that your name ends in “ski” does not by any means indicate that you are irrefutably descended from nobility. While many noble families bore these type of surnames, they later became widespread among the peasantry. We have observed in parish registers dating from the beginning decades of the nineteenth century that priests added “ski” to peasant names to make them “sound nicer”. Our ancestors however had no idea that the priest was recording their names in this fashion because most were illiterate and it would never enter into their head to go check what the priest wrote in a baptismal register.

The peasants did not use these embellished names in their daily lives. Further along in the century names in the registers frequently reverted back to their original forms, although some families retained the surnames containing “ski”. So you may find in the course of your research that your surname appears in different forms.

To illustrate this here are some examples from a parish that our society has indexed. Names which appeared as Golik, Duchnik, Klim, Zając and Wojtasz were transformed by the record keeper into Golikowski, Duchnowski, Klimaszewski, Zajączkowski and Wojtaszewski respectively. NONE of these families were of noble origin. Essentially the ski suffix is simply a linguistic mechanism which changes a noun into an adjective .This can be clearly seen in the names of Poland’s current provinces which are all adjectives derived from nouns ( i.e. zielonogórski from  the city of Zielona Góra or podlaski from the noun Podlasie).

The name of the Polish language newspaper in Chicago (Dzienniik Chicagoski) also clearly illustrates this linguistic phenomenon. Chicagoski is simply the adjectival form of Chicago. So your ski name didn’t turn you into a noble. It turned you into an adjective.

And while on the subject of “fake news”, the next time you hear someone state “My grandfather’s name got changed at Ellis Island” immediately tell them NO! NO! NO! This is yet another false statement that has been circulating for decades. Names were NOT changed at Ellis Island by immigration officials. They were changed, either forcibly or voluntarily long AFTER your ancestor took his or her first steps into a new world.



US Seamen’s Protection Certificates – from the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society September 2018 Newsletter.

By Michael John Neill

Under a US Congressional act of 1796 (the Act For The Relief and Protection of American Seamen (1 Stat. 477) signed into law on May 28, 1796), American seamen were periodically issued certificates to hopefully prevent them from being illegally impressed by ships from other nations. These documents can appear in one of three formats:
• registers–listing certificates that were issued–not all are extant, some are held by the National Archives and others by local historical societies

• applications–proof and evidence–generally held by the National Archives, available on microfilm or digitally and usually arranged by port
• certificates–usually kept by the sailor himself

The Mystic Seaport Museum has a database of entries from the Custom Houses of Fall River, Gloucester, New Haven, New London, Newport, Marblehead, and Salem.

FamilySearch includes these databases:
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Seamen’s Proofs of Citizenship, 1791-1861
Maine, Bath, Seamen’s Proofs of Citizenship, 1833-1868
browse items in the FamilySearch catalog that match a keyword search for “seamen certificates”

Selected databases:
Applications for Seaman’s Protection Certificates, 1916-1940
Indexes to Seamen’s Protection Certificate Applications and Proofs of Citizenship
Register of Seamen’s Protection Certificates from the Providence, Rhode Island Customs District, 1796-1870

National Archives research guide on the “Seamen’s Protection Certificates.” (PDF file)

(c) Michael John Neill, “Genealogy Tip of the Day,”, 23 Aug 2018

“Pension File Discoveries” from the 8/9/18 National Archives Newsletter

Pension file discoveries

We are fascinated by the remarkable stories found within military pension files. They often contain valuable details about family history, as told through military veterans themselves, or through their widows and dependents who provided evidence of their relationship to a soldier

Today we share a couple of the interesting stories recently found within pension files while scanning in the Innovation Hub in Washington DC…

“Approved Pension File for Bettie Sugar, Widow of 1st Sergeant Sugar George (alias George Sugar), Company H, 1st Indian Home Guards (C-2496362)”  

Widows of veterans often applied for pensions, and sometimes proving you were the legitimate spouse could be complicated. For the pension of George Sugar (aka Sugar George), his widow Bettie Sugar had to first prove she was divorced from her first husband.

She married a man named Peter Smith, also enslaved. After the war and emancipation, they continued living together for a few years, until Peter apparently left and married someone else.

Some years later, Bettie married George Sugar. When George died around the turn of the century, Bettie filed for his pension. The Pension Office inquired if she had divorced her first husband, making her George Sugar’s legal widow.  However, she didn’t have a legal divorce while living in the Creek Nation. She explained, “I never got a divorce from Peter Smith but when he married again I thought I had the right to marry again.” The Bureau of Pensions agreed: if a marriage was legal according to the law of the land where the person married, it was good enough for the Pension Office. The same rule applied to divorces. Also of note in this file is a copy of Bettie Sugar’s assets. She inherited from her husband seventy head of cattle, nine horses, 160 acres of land and $12,500 in cash.

“Private Lewis Martin, Company E of the 29th Regiment of the US Colored Troops”

In this file, Private Lewis Martin’s official Certificate of Disability for Discharge includes an image of Martin, seated, showing the two amputated limbs he’d received in battle at the  Siege of Petersburg on July 30th 1864. Photographs are a rare find in pension files. Martin was plagued by pain from his amputation sites as well as where shots had grazed his shoulder and temple, but did go on to marry Mary Jones after the war in 1869. His file documents requests for an increase in his pension, which raised from an original pension of $20 to $50 per month over the decades. He dropped off the Pension Office’s rolls in 1895.

American Women and the Vote

American Women and the Vote

Wiki Education, in collaboration with the National Archives, is offering a virtual professional development course that trains individuals with a research interest in political science, women’s rights, history, and related fields to successfully contribute to Wikipedia.

Participants in this new course will learn how to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of the history of women’s voting rights in the United States in honor of an upcoming exhibit hosted at the National Archives Museum,  Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.. Take an active role in ensuring that the world’s most popular reference source is more representative, accurate, and complete. Apply to be a part of this unique initiative today!


“The Radium Girls” from the 8/23/18 National Archives Newsletter

The Radium Girls

Early in 2016, the Electronic Records Division of the National Archives and Records Administration received an unusual collection of donated electronic records. The original paper records, found to be radioactive, were discovered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during cleanup operations at the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania Safety Light Corporation Superfund site. These records document the perspective of the United States Radium Corporation (USRC) and its predecessor, the Radium Luminous Material Corporation (RLMC), on the story of the radium luminous paint dial painters, popularly known as the Radium Girls. These digitized records are now available in the National Archives Catalog as  Records Related to Radium Dial Painters, 1917-1949 (National Archives Identifier 40978844).

Following Marie Curie’s discovery of the element radium in 1898, scientists and entrepreneurs sought to understand and exploit the element’s properties. Many young women were employed in dial painting studios, applying paint containing radium to a number of products, including watches and instrument dials. For some time after its discovery radium was considered safe and was even advertised as a beneficial substance.

During the early 1920s, a growing number of scientists and physicians began to question the benefits of radium and, slowly, acknowledge its link with the debilitating illnesses afflicting dial painters. Complaints and lawsuits by former employees against the USRC began to proliferate in 1923.

In this case, which received substantial attention in the press and from the New Jersey Consumer’s League, the dial painters received $10,000 (some sources state the amount was as high as $15,000), a $600 annuity while they lived, and the coverage of their medical expenses, subject to the approval of a committee of three doctors.

While a few dial painters received substantial settlements, generally such suits and claims resulted in much smaller compensations.  The majority of dial painters received no compensation from the company. In 1980, U.S. Radium was substantially reorganized and ultimately dissolved into new corporations. Its former radium processing facilities, which included the dial painting studio of Orange, New Jersey, where Grace Fryer and her compatriots worked, became a Superfund cleanup site. The EPA completed the cleanup in Orange during 2006, and cleanup work at the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania facility, which is still ongoing, is where the collection was discovered. The radioactive paper records have been disposed of accordingly, but thanks to the Safety Light Corporation’s donation of the documents, and the EPA’s scanning of them, the history has been preserved and made available in the National Archives Catalog as  Records Related to Radium Dial Painters, 1917-1949 (National Archives Identifier 40978844).

This post was excerpted from a blog post on The Text Message by Zachary Dabbs, processing archivist at the National Archives in College Park. Read Zachary’s  full post to learn more about these records.