One of the most exciting breakthroughs I’ve had is figuring out the town where my paternal great great great grandparents originated from. (From here on out I’m going to use greatx3 to designate their relation to me, because typing out all those greats is a hassle.)
Tracing people back to their country of origin is easy; if you don’t already know where your family comes from before you start researching (sometimes I think my extended family whispered sweet nothings of Irish heritage as I was growing in the womb), websites like Ancestry make it pretty easy to figure out. You can look at a census and see where a person was born and, later in the decades, where their parents were born. However, most times it only ever says the country of origin and not the specific town or area. That can be frustrating, especially when the country doesn’t even exist anymore, like Prussia.
Sometime earlier in the year I took it upon myself to order my greatx3 grandfather, Julius Tobias’, pension file from the National Archives & Record Administration. The process is fairly easy, especially since Ancestry has a collection of pension record indexes that provide the most vital piece of information: the file number. When I finally received it in the mail, I was ecstatic. What sort of information would I find?
There were a lot of interesting things inside the file (affidavits commenting on the character of my greatx3 grandparents, for one), but after wading through everything I had one piece of information that would prove vital in figuring out the mystery of their origins: Julius and Julia were married in “Pinner” by “Rabbi Carrow” on the 15th of February, 1849. The problem was that “Pinner” didn’t seem to be a town that existed, at least in the preliminary research I conducted. I tried even asking someone on Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness to see if they could figure out the mystery of where this town was, but no such luck. I assumed that “Pinner” was most likely a misspelling of the actual name, but how off was it? There was no way to tell and I basically resigned myself to never knowing.
Months later I found myself on JewishGen browsing their database of historical Jewish areas in Prussia. On a whim I typed in “Pinner,” not expecting anything to come up. Halfway down the list of results, one name stuck out to me: Pinne, which is present day Pniewy, Poland. I was excited, but cautious, because there was no way to confirm that was the actual town they came from (plus, hadn’t I always been told that my grandfather’s family was strictly German and Irish?). Then, something serendipitous happened.
The Pniewy wikipedia page is pretty lackluster, just 2 sentences and a list of famous people to have come from the town. It ends up that one of those famous people is a man named Rabbi Joseph Caro, who preached and lived in Pinne during the exact years my greatx3 grandparents were married by a “Rabbi Carrow.” Crazy coincidence, right?
I haven’t been able to verify that Pinne is where my ancestors came from, but for the time being I’m pretty satisfied. Perhaps one day I’ll enlist the help of a proper genealogist in Poland to do some snooping around in their archives for me?
For anyone interested, some information on Pniewy/Pinne can be found here.