There are seven other John Szozdas living in cyberspace.
Google tells me so.
As you might expect, Szozda’s not a household name. Not here anyway. There are only 3,620 references and most of these are bogus. They combine some other John with some other Szozda. Contrast this obscurity with John Smith, which has 75.1 million references.
In fact, there are so few Szozdas in the U.S. that I recently met my first non-related Szozda. The same holds true for this Szozda, a native of Kaukauna, Wisconsin.
I met him on the Internet when I “Googled” my name searching for clues to our family’s heritage. I’m in friendly competition with my wife who has traced her family roots back to Viking kings Thorfinn the Skull Splitter and Eric Bloodaxe, both of whom lived about 950 A.D. On the other hand, I’m stuck in 1875, the year of my grandfather’s birth. Unfortunately, at least for genealogy reasons, my grandparents came here from a place they wanted to forget so they didn’t share their past with their nine children. That place, Plennikow, a small town near Lviv, is located in what is now Ukraine. This region has been conquered by the Poles, Swedes, Hungarians, Russians and Cossacks so genealogy is difficult to trace given the language barriers and devastation caused by these conquests and two world wars.
I wrote a book about our heritage a few years ago and contacted my two cousins in Poland. Neither knew much, as their father, my uncle Michal, who was left behind when my grandparents came here in 1909, also chose to forget the past.
I’m on some genealogy message boards but the few leads that have come in have been dead ends, so I “Googled” my name and wrote to the other six John Szozdas. The seventh John, my father, age 89, knows less than I do.
Of the others, five did not reply. They include two high school students, one from Syracuse, New York and the other from Kitchener, Ontario; two men from Auburn, New York and one from Dyer, Indiana.
The 54-year-old man who replied now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ironically, his grandparents are named Stanley and Anna, the same as mine. He is also an immigrant’s son. His parents Joseph and Stella came to the U.S. in 1951, my mother arrived from France in 1949. His parents have also shared little of his heritage with him, so I’ve reached another dead end.
While we may not be related, we do share a lot in common. We are both managers. I manage The Press, he manages 130 employees for a firm that processes large-volume first class mail for the United States Postal Service.
We both are college-educated. I graduated from the University of Toledo; he graduated from University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.
We both play tennis and golf and spend a lot of time outdoors. We both share a fondness for ancestral food: He likes Pierogi and pigs-in-a-blanket; I do too as well but my favorite is my mother’s homemade kielbasa.
While we share the same name we pronounce it differently. He prefers Shows-da, we prefer Zoz-da (rhymes with Mazda).
The Internet has allowed both my wife and I to research our family heritage. We’ve found birth records, death records, census records, family trees and other historical records. We’ve discovered relatives we’ve never met and they have willingly shared their research and photos. Some of this has been at little or no cost. We’ve also subscribed to genealogy sites like Ancestry.com.
As each year passes and more Americans go in search of their roots, more records are scanned and uploaded to the Web. But, here’s a word of caution. Not everyone is meticulous when it comes to verifying the information they post on the Web. Use the information as a starting point. Verify.
Looking to search your own name?
Here are a couple tips: Put quotation marks around your name. When I did, I reduced the number of references from 3,620 to 116. When I did it with John Smith, references narrowed from 75.1 million to 5.7 million, a much more manageable number. Also be aware that your name may have been spelled differently at one time or, in the case of immigration records, it may have been entered incorrectly. Also, use more than one search engine. Google is the most popular, but other powerful engines are Yahoo, Lycos and AltaVista.