This week’s optional theme is “How do you spell that?”
Broski, Broskey, Broskie, Broeske, Broska
Not unlike many immigrant families, there are several variations on how my Broski ancestors spelled their surname. My mother spelled her maiden name Broski, which is how her father and grandfather spelled it. Her grandfather John Weber Broski had six brothers and one sister and that is where modern variations began with two brothers using “e,” two using “ie,” and four using “i.” My mother recalls that when she was in school with a second cousin named Barbara Broske, the teacher made them sit in alphabetical order and Barbara was in front of her because her father had “changed” the way they spelled their last name; ending it with an “e” instead of an “i.” In reality Barbara would have been in front of Cecil either way, but somehow it seemed unfair to my mother that Barbara’s father had chosen to end the name with an “e” instead of an “i.”
My mother grew up believing that her ancestors were from Poland. She didn’t know exactly whether it was her grandfather or great grandfather who came from Poland or when, and it wasn’t something she asked much about while growing up. As it turns out, it was actually her great grandfather Henry Weber Broski who came to America as a child in the early 1850s – but from Germany, not Poland. My mother had never questioned the family story that her ancestors were from Poland and with a name ending in “ski” why would you? We speculate that because America was at war with Germany for much of the first half of the 1900s, the Broski’s may have thought it better to be from Poland than Germany.
My first foray into courthouse genealogy research was to learn more about the Broski family. It turns out they settled in Smyth and Wythe counties in western Virginia, which is only about two hours away from my home in Greensboro, NC. From my online census research I put together a scenario that involved a young father, distraught at the death of his wife, immigrating to Virginia from Germany with his three daughters and a two-year old son, Henry. How brave, I thought, for a man to immigrate with four children and no wife.
From the 1870 census, I deduced that once here, George married again and had three more children. The census shows George, age 55 and his wife, Sarah age 32 living in Fort Chiswell in Wythe County, VA. The three oldest girls in the home – Mary (27) Eliza (25) and Catherine (22) – were born in Germany as was 19 year old Henry. But the next three children – George (14) Charlie (11) and Laura (7 months) were born in Virginia as was Sarah, George’s new wife. Well good, I thought, he found happiness and a new wife.
That seemed a reasonable assumption until I learned from my search of the courthouse marriage records that George and Sarah hadn’t married until 1868, several years after George, Jr. and Charlie were born. Hmmm… In fact, it seems that when George, Jr. and Charlie were born, Sarah was actually married to someone else named Isaac Jonas, who died in battle during the Civil War in November 1863.
I also found marriage records for George and Charlie that listed their mother’s name as Catherine Weber and indicated that she was born in Germany and was deceased. Slowly a new picture began to emerge. George hadn’t come to America without a wife, in fact, he’d not only immigrated with her but they’d had two sons in America before she died. It was then that he remarried. And it turns out that his new wife, despite her young age, had already been widowed twice, once before the war and once because of the war.
Eventually I found a census record from 1860 for Wytheville VA that showed a shoemaker named George Broeska (43) and wife Catherine (40) both born in Germany (he in Hesse Darmstadt and she in Schlitz.) Their two youngest children, George Jr (4) and Charlie (10 months) were born in Virginia. Interestingly though, the children in their home in the 1860 census did not include their oldest daughter Mary who would have been 17 or my great great grandfather, Henry, who would have been 8. So now there’s another mystery to pursue. Did Mary and Henry go back to Germany or were they living somewhere other than with their parents in 1860? It’s possible that Mary had married and was living somewhere else, but she was back in the home in 1870. Maybe they were away at school, but 8 seems a pretty young age to be away at school. In a later census Henry reports his year of immigration as 1852, so I think he was here in 1860, just not showing up in the census report for some reason.
The big missing puzzle piece that will help put some of this to rest is the immigration record (or records) for George and Catherine, but so far, that piece has eluded me. And with the many variations of spelling, it is easy to see why the Soundex search system was created. Broeskas, Broskes, Broskis or Broskeys – anyway you spell it I still have a few mysteries to solve.