German or Polish? Or both?

One of my cousins and I were texting just recently about whether or not Frank Winarski and his wife Julia were German or Polish. My cousin said they were Polish, but all of my records came up with Germany. I have always assumed Frank was of Polish descent because of his name. According to my research on names with the ending of -ski, these names are Slavic, and this is seen in varying degrees in different countries. -Sky, -ski, -skiy can be seen in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. These names can also be seen in German names in the eastern part of Germany and can also be found in the western part due to migrations.

In all of the federal and Wisconsin census records, Frank and Julia both indicated they were from Germany and each of their parents were from Germany. However, the 1930 census lists Frank as being born in West Prussia and speaking Polish. So this lead me to research a little bit into Germany’s very confusing geographic changes.

Since I didn’t know much about Germany in the nineteenth century, the one thing I learned is that before 1871, there was technically no “Germany”, the name Germany didn’t exist until that year. So searching for birth records for both of these people in Germany was pointless because they were both born before that year. Their obituaries both listed them as being born in Berlin so researching Berlin records made sense but as there are no Berlin records available before 1871, I turned to searching Prussian records. Unfortunately, I still have not found anything for Frank with his birth date, in any different name variations. For Julia, her name in their son Bernard’s birth record from Berlin is spelled as Julianna Lichnarewitz, so I tried researching that spelling and other variations. (Note the spelling of the Winarski name on this document was spelled as Wienarski).

I found nothing whatsoever with her exact birth date. However, I found one record in West Prussia for a Julianna Licknerowick, the birth date being just thirteen days different than what I have in my records (and the obituary). I just received both of their death certificates and the parents in Julia’s match the names for this Julianna Licknerowick, born in West Prussia. I’m having trouble finding anything with her father’s name, but I did a search for her mother, Anna, whose maiden name is listed as Isbrandt and found this record for another child, Adam, born in the eastern part of Prussia, which is now known as Poland: 

A little more of Germany’s history—before it came into existence as Germany in 1871, it was known as the Kingdom of Prussia. According to Wikipedia, Prussia is considered the legal predecessor of the Unified German Reich (1871-1945) and is a direct ancestor of today’s Germany. Prussia included half of modern Poland and all but southern Germany, and at one point included West Prussia, East Prussia, Brandenburg (including Berlin), Saxony, Pomerania, the Rhineland, Westphalia, non-Austrian Silesia, Lusatia, Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, and Hesse-Nassau.

According to my DNA report, I have over 52% of French and German (including Netherlands) DNA. I also have 9.1% Eastern European DNA. Eastern European classification includes the countries Poland, the Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Ukraine. However, the testing could not determine the specific locations of my Eastern European DNA, and ethnicity estimation is really still in its infancy and subject to limitations.

Recently, I contacted a fourth cousin on my DNA list with the last name of Winarski. She didn’t have a lot of information but referred me to her aunt, who is related to Paul Winarski, one of Frank and Julia’s children. She said that oral history passed down in her family is that Frank was born in Posen, Poland. She, like me, has been unable to find his birth record anywhere. She also confirmed the northern part of today’s Poland during the 1800’s was Prussia and controlled by Germany and that many of her Polish relatives on the other side of her family also stated in census records they were from Germany.

My library has a fantastic book on German boundary changes (The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany published by James M. Beidler). The map below is of Prussia between 1806-1905, and Posen is clearly a part of Prussia (see Bradenburg right next to it). The book said that as Prussia continued to grow, many people in the German states began thinking of themselves as members of one nation, rather than separate kingdoms and this is why we may see Germans from different parts of the region known as Prussian — so thinking about what my new friend said makes sense.

Currently, this takes an assumption — even if Frank happened to be perhaps born in the western part of Germany or Berlin, his family was very likely from the eastern Poland area. I will continue my search for the elusive Frank Winarski birth record!

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