A rumor started going around my family on Christmas Eve a few years back that there might be some Jewish heritage in our historically Catholic family tree. No one seemed to know the details, or if there was actually any validity to it, but it certainly peaked my interest (being as my husband is Jewish), so I told everyone that I’d get to the bottom of it.
Sidenote: While my family was somewhat interested to find out if this rumor was true, I knew that there was little chance that it would be investigated further…so I got to work.
Shortly thereafter, I go on Ancesry.com, sign up for the free trial, and start poking around. It was addictive and all-consuming in the best way possible, and before I knew it, I had a pretty decent family tree built out.
I dove right into the Dzenawagis section, as this is where the alleged Jewish heritage would be hiding. I start typing in relatives that I’m aware of and get as far back as my paternal great-grandparents, William and Anastasia Dzenawagis. Now for William, I easily found a number of records: census docs, draft cards, etc., but for Anastasia (who also appeared to go by Sadie or Stacia), there seemed to be a lot less out there—presumably because she and William ended up divorcing (which was very unusual for that time) and her last name changed.
So, I go on Google and type in “Anastasia Dzenawagis” just to see if anything comes up there. This is when I find a somewhat recent article on the “Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota” website by a woman named Anastasia Dzenowagis.
Dzen-O-wagis? Wait a minute…
I will tell you this much about the last name Dzenawagis: when you Google it, only my immediate family comes up. As far as I’ve ever known, we are the only ones, a (sadly) dying breed. I was so excited at the thought that there might be more of us that I emailed Anastasia immediately. Lucky for me, she wrote back, and we went back and forth for a few days sending each other various bits and pieces of information. After we discovered that both of our Dzeno families came from the same teeny, tiny village in (what is now) Lithuania called Ligojnie, we were all but certain that we were related. We just had to figure out exactly how.
Serendipitously, it turns out that my new, long-lost cousin Anastasia is not only quite a lovely woman, but also the Dzenawagis Family historian who has been doing family history research for the past 15+ years. Genealogy jackpot. She and our other cousins have put together an extensive Dzeno family tree that has a few holes that we’re hoping my branch of the family will fill.
So how do we find out? Well, I’ve been on a bit of a wild goose chase over the past year trying to find out the names of my great-grandfather William Dzenawagis’ parents—my great-great grandparents. The thought is that if we find out their names, that we’ll be able to place them into the greater family tree and link my family with all of the other Dzenos out there.
Last Spring I was able to obtain a copy of William’s death certificate from Brockton Town Hall which would have theoretically had his parents names listed on it…only it didn’t. It seems that William must not have spoken of the country he emigrated from and the family members he left behind because none of his three sons knew the names of their grandparents back in the old country. On the death certificate under the place where his parent's names would have been listed were the words “Cannot be learned”. Major bummer.
What now? My next step is to contact Ellis Island to see if I can find the ship record from William’s immigration in 1909. Perhaps he traveled to the US with other relatives who might be listed alongside his name that might offer some additional clues? If that doesn’t turn up anything then I’ll need to hire someone in Lithuania to see if they can obtain his birth certificate from the church records—yes, church. It turns out that the Dzenos are Catholic through and through, so this potential Jewish heritage must come from somewhere else—if it even exists at all. Looks like I’ll have to dive into the Rogovicz, Lesczinski, and Kurcivicz branches of the tree to see if there’s anything there.
I’ll get back to that later, though, right now I’m focused on William Dzenawagis and seeing if he’s the missing link that can connect my family to the larger Dzenawagis family tree.
There is plenty more work to be done.