Yench / Jankus / Inksz / Inkcz / Inksh / Inktz / Inkez / Inzsz: The mystery of the Yench family continues to unravel

In my previous post on the topic of my maternal grandmother’s Lithuanian family, I indicated that my next focus would be on the story of Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago.  Well, I fully intend to pick up that thread, but before I do, I must present some late-breaking developments on the immediate family’s story instead.  In my original post introducing this story, I laid out a number of questions on which I sought to focus.

Thomas Yench Family

To remind you, the Thomas Yench family my grandmother Nell, the youngest, is not yet born.  The three boys in the back are actually stepchildren to Helen, who nonetheless raised them by all accounts lovingly as her own.

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And here’s a picture of the youngest, Nell (Yench) Cousin. Just because it’s amazing.


I’m pleased to report that I’ve largely put to rest one of them, “Question #2:  Why does he [Thomas Jankus / Yench] list his country of birth as Poland rather than Lithuania?” in the earlier referenced previous post.  I now will be able to address the sixth, “Question #6:  What are Thomas and Helen’s previous marital histories?”  You may or may not recall that my grandmother, Nell, grew up the youngest of seven children.  She didn’t find out until her mother’s own death that the eldest three boys were her half brothers.  Nell’s mother, Helen, was actually Thomas’ second wife.  And as far as I knew, no one had recorded the first wife’s name for the family’s posterity.

In an attempt to find answers to this and other questions, I started by writing the Pittsburg, Oklahoma, County Genealogical society.  I provided them with a sketch of what I knew about the family, including the two spellings for Thomas’ surname, “Jankus” and “Yench.”  I received back a reply that there was no trace of either of those names in any of their county indices.  Sigh.  I wished that I could teleport myself down to their archives and search, because I fear that no one approached the mission with the terrier like focus that I would have!  The woman who returned my letter suggested I try the Hartshorne Public Library.


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Hartshorne, Oklahoma Public Library

So I did.  I called the library and asked for the reference desk, a query that was met with mild laughter and an explanation that they only have three staff members, what could she help me with?  I gave a brief explanation and was told to call back in a half hour when the gal who dealt with “that stuff” was back from lunch.  Her name was Amanda.




Baptism transcript for Annella (Yench) Cousin from Holy Rosary Church

I felt hopeful, so while waiting for Amanda to return, I thought I’d give Holy Rosary Church one more try.  This is the Catholic church in the town, and the site of my grandmother’s baptism as evidenced by a copy of her baptismal certificate.  I’d tried to call previously and the phone would ring and ring.  I figured that the parish was small and perhaps dying, it having no website or significant presence on the internet save for a mention on the Diocese of Tulsa website.  But, hey, what else to do while waiting for Amanda?



Father Bruce Brosnahan

Father Bruce Brosnahan, courtesy of the Diocese of Tulsa Website

And that, dear readers, is what led me to my breakthrough in the form of one Father Bruce Brosnahan.  His accented speech when answering the phone caused me to worry that perhaps my request may be lost in cultural and literal translation.  When I suggested that I could write him a letter with my request, he rejoined that I’d best “strike while the iron’s hot;  that’s what you say, isn’t it?”  Over the next hour and a half (no exaggeration) I felt that I was in the parish office with Father Brosnahan, as his lilting New Zealander’s accent, for that is where is from (Irish by way of New Zealand, actually) described the contents of several key parish record books in great detail.  In addition to answering some of my questions and finding some nuggets during our “sleuthing” as we came to call it, Father Brosnahan also covered a wide range of topics.  I started keeping rough track of these tangents only halfway through our conversation, but even this truncated list will give you a sense.  Father Brosnahan covered:

  • A brief history of Hartshorne, Oklahoma
  • Matthew and Mark’s proviso about the divorce of concubines
  • The etymology of his own last name as a “great” clan of Ireland
  • A description of fist-bumping as “colliding fists”
  • An autistic young man who enjoys coming to parish events that include food
  • What round brackets and inverted commas are
  • The Rebelling Colonies during the War of 1812
  • The 40 miles of records dating from 1100 that are contained under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome
  • The history of marriage as a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church
  • The development of the teenage brain
  • The existence of a church notary public
  • The etymology of the word “ecclesia”
  • Ann vs. Anne in Great Britain

Between all this, we still managed to find a few things related to my query.  And let me emphasize the dumb luck that led to the discovery.  For Father Brosnahan found neither “Yench” nor “Jankus” in his master index.  Shoot.  We decided that Thomas’ marriage with his first wife HAD to have occurred in the states, given the time lapse between Thomas’ arrival (1901) and the birth of his first son (1908).  Father B. speculated that he likely sent back to the old country for a wife.  So he pulled the “Index of Marriages.”  No Yench in the “Y” section.  No Jankus in the “J” section.  But what’s this?  A single “I” entry taped in just above the J’s?  With the name Thom. Inksh.  Could it be he?

It was.

I then remembered the one immigration document where his last name is spelled Inzsz, and the fact that his signature always appeared as an “X”.  Likely every time his name was written, it was done so by whatever bookkeeper or clerk was on hand.  These were all approximations of a name that lay somewhere between all of the guesses.  It wasn’t until his children went to school that the family seemed to settle on “Yench” as a commonly-used last name.


Declaration of Intention, filed 26 December, 1901


So.  By dumb luck, we found him in the The Index of Marriages, which led to a record of transcribed, typewritten notes of the original marriage certificates.  And therein we found that a marriage occurred at Holy Rosary Church between:

Thom. Inksh & Dorothea Palonis (Inkcz, Thomas & Dorothy Pallones)

Residence of Husband:  Hartshorne, Oklahoma

Residence of Wife:  Hartshorne, Oklahoma

Date:  18 January, 1904

So that’s it.  It’s the name of his first wife and mother of Joseph, Anthony and Peter.  WOW!  Interestingly, Palonis is the last name of the godparents of my grandmother, Thomas’ youngest child with his second wife, Helen.  Father B. speculates that whoever did the typed transcription of the original written records likely added the parenthetical (a.k.a., round bracketed) comments indicated the alternate spelling of Inkcz and Pallones.

Riding high on the wave of our sleuthing success and additional alternate spellings, Father B. then pulled down the “Original” Register of Baptisms.  We found three likely ones listed in the Index:

Ann Yench on p. 92

Anthony Jakiz on p. 73

Amilia Inkez on p. 28

I forced him to go first to Ann’s and confirm that, yes, this was my Grandmother’s older sister, all of the information listed matched with what I already knew.  But this Amilia Inkez must sure be some other family?  We didn’t have a chance to look at Anthony Jakiz, but there’s an older brother Anthony too.  But–there is not Amilia–only Veronica, Ann, and Annella.  So we turned to p. 28, line 42.  After applying a piece of tape to a small tear on the page, Father B. read aloud the following

Name of child:  Ammilia Inkez

Date of Birth:   24 November, 1905

Baptised:  25 November, 1905

Residence:  Hartshorned, Oklahome

Parents:  Thom. Inkez, Dora Palonis

Sponsors:  Ign. Paleck & Antonia Sesko

There was a child before the three boys.  She must surely have died, having never been mentioned again in the family story as far as I know.  And the rapidity with which she was baptized leads me to suspect that she didn’t live long after being born.  Similarly, the names of her sponsors aren’t typically Lithuanian.  Could they have been the nearest people on hand following her birth to consecrate the baptism of a quickly fading baby?

There’s a lot more questions to answer, but I am confident that the combination of extant records at Holy Rosary Church + my sleuthing partner Father Bruce Brosnahan will lead me to further success.

Lesson:  Researching this family necessitates using all versions of the last name, Yench / Jankus / Inksz / Inkcz / Inksh / Inktz / Inkez / Inzsz, until about 1920.

Needless to say, I never got back to Amanda.

Thomas Jankus: Tracing the Mysterious Story of the Yench Family

Since I last wrote about my maternal grandmother’s family,  I have a few answers, a few new ideas, and even more questions.  Here’s some updates on the Yench family, who I’m sure had a history prior to showing up in Oklahoma!

To begin with, I’ve started referring to my grandma Nell’s father as Thomas Jankus / Yench, as he refers to himself essentially interchangeably during the first decades of his life here.  His children’s records seem to uniformly use the Americanized “Yench” version of the name, but Thomas vacillates.  In fact, by reviewing a rough timeline of Thomas Jankus / Yench’s life, we can arrive at answers to some of the questions I posed previously.  But only some, sigh.  So with no further ado,

Thomas Jankus:  A Life, Part I

About 1877:  Born in Kaunas, Lithuania

I could not arrive at a settled birth date, because there is not a preponderance of evidence for one specific date.  His funeral card lists 7 March, 1877;  his Declaration of Intention to Immigrate declares 11 November, 1877;  his Petition for Naturalization states 7 March, 1878.  Census records all state about 1877.  As tempting as it would be declare one of these dates the “winner,” I think “about 1877” is the most accurate birth date we can assign Thomas.

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Funeral card of Thomas Jankus / Yench


Declaration of Intention, filed 26 December, 1901


Petition for Naturalization, filed 25 March, 1936


You’ll also notice that, between filling out one immigration form in 1901 and a second in 1936, Thomas changes his place of birth!  He initially identifies his natal town as Kwiedon, Poland, and later as Kauna, Lithuania.  Was he intentionally being deceitful?  The familial myth around his coming to American was one of literal escape from draft into the Red Army…

On the contrary.  It’s simply that in 1901, the country of Lithuania did not exist.  I hate to be a slave to Wikipedia, but sometimes the hive mind just states things so nicely:

After the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, most of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The beginnings of industrialization and commercial agriculture based on Stolypin’s reforms, as well as the abolition of serfdom in 1861, freed the peasants and turned them into migrant-laborers. The pressures of industrialization, Lithuanian press ban, general discontent, suppression of religious freedom and poverty drove numerous Lithuanians to emigrate from the Russian Empire to the United States continuing until the outbreak of the First World War. The emigration continued despite the Tsarist attempts to control the border and prevent such a drastic loss of population. Since Lithuania as a country did not exist at the time, the people who arrived to the U.S. were recorded as either Polish or Russian; moreover, due to the language ban in Lithuania and prevalence of Polish language at that time, their Lithuanian names were not transcribed in the same way as they would be today.   Only after 1918, when Lithuania established its independence, the immigrants to the U.S. started being recorded as Lithuanians. This first wave of Lithuanian immigrants to the United States ceased when the U.S. Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at restricting the Eastern and Southern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.  —


And the city now know as Kaunas, Lithuania, had different names depending on the ruler of the day.  The city was generally known in English as Kovno, the traditional Slavicized form of its name; the Polish name is Kowno; the Belarusian name is Koўна, Kowna. An earlier Russian name was Ковно Kovno, although Каунас Kaunas has been used since 1940.



Kaunas is the second most populous city in Lithuania, second only to the capital, Vilnius.


What his life there was like, I have no idea.  I still don’t know his parents’ names, nor that of any potential sibling.  There are neither family diaries nor memoirs.  As I suggested in my introductory post, this is where it gets hard.  It is clear that at the time of Thomas’ growing up, young men were compelled to serve in the Russian Army; perhaps there’s something to that famil myyth.  Regardless of what the ultimate deciding factor was, the above naturalization documents indicate that Thomas Jankus / Yench came to the United States.

1901 (age 24):  Emigrated to the United States

The degree of subterfuge and bribery needed to achieve his departure isn’t clear.  Like so many thousands of others, he departed from Bremen, Germany, and arrived via New York.  By the end of 1901 he was filing his immigration papers as shown above, and listing his occupation as coal miner in Hartshorne, Oklahoma Territory;  Oklahoma was not yet a state.  Many Lithuanians, Poles, and other eastern Europeans immigrating at the time were deemed highly suitable for such unskilled labor as coal mining and work in slaughterhouses.  Many Lithuanians, in fact, settled more predominantly in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania.  So, how Thomas chose Hartshorne, Oklahoma, I have no idea.  However, the town itself was established as a coal-mining town, and mine operators were actively recruiting immigrants to work the mines.

The city of Hartshorne is now small with a population just under 2,000.  The Catholic Holy Rosary Church, which was established by Russian and other Eastern European immigrants, still exists;  this is the church at which my grandmother was baptized.


Hartshorne, Oklahoma is located in Pittsburg County.


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My grandmother, Nell, visited the town of her birth at some point in her adult life, as shown in this undated photograph


Between 1901-1908:  Marries first wife (assumed)

1908, 1910, 1912:  First three children born

These first three children were boys, Joseph, Anthony (who went by Fed), and Peter (who went by Bob). I wish that I could say I had copies of their birth certificates, or even the Yench family’s federal census records from 1910 or 1920, but I just do not.  As far as federal census records go, they MUST exist, however who knows what iteration of the last name I should be searching under?  Their birth dates and places are verified in other, later documents.  However, I have no record of who their mother was or whether she and Thomas married prior to arrival or after.  “Well, just pull their birth certificates!” you say.

This is a grand idea–in theory.  However.  The Oklahoma Department of Health abides by a statute that seals all birth certificates until 125 years after the date of birth!  I was able to see that a birth certificate for at least one of the boys does, in fact, exist–and presumably names his mother.  However, genealogists requesting a birth certificate from less than 125 years ago must provide (among other things:)

  • If the subject is alive: a statement signed by the Subject releasing record to the Applicant and a copy of the Subjects ID

  • If the subject is deceased:

1) a statement signed by a family member, proof of familial relationship to the decedent, and a copy of the family member’s ID [Applicant may also be required to provide proof of death if the death occurred outside Oklahoma] or

2) court order

So close, and yet so very far away.

Between 1912-1914:  First wife dies

Again, due to the largely unsearchable vital records of the state of Oklahoma, I got nothin.  No name, no death date, nothin.  However, there is always hope.  As a next step, I plan to:

  1. Attempt to contact any living descendants of the three boys to see what records they might have.  My mother still keeps in touch with some of them.
  2. Put in a query to the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society.  Most counties have a group who catalogs records and, to varying degrees, makes them available online.  Most also will take queries for a modest donation, which are generally researched by a volunteer.
  3. Attempt to contact the Holy Rosary Church.  If my grandmother was baptized there, I’m hoping at least one of the three oldest boys was as well (her half brothers).  They may also have funeral records on Thomas’ first wife.  The church doesn’t have its own website, so I suspect it is rather small at this point.  But it still has a telephone number and address.  I hate making cold phone calls, but for the sake of historical accuracy I must get over it!

25 August, 1914:  Marries Helen Shareva 


Marriage of Helen (Shareva) Yench and Thomas Jankus/Yench


Interestingly, they got married in Chicago, but then returned to Oklahoma to reside.  Why was this?  To answer that question, we must delve into the larger story of the relationship between Lithuanians and Chicago.  And that’s a post for another day…

So what do you have to look forward to next?  Hopefully results from my three-step plan outlined above.  And an interesting look at the history of Lithuanian immigrants in Chicago.  Hint:  Upton Sinclair took notice…



Annella Teresia Yench Cousin: Let’s try a challenge

Over the past several months, I’ve shared a lot of information on the Bier family, and there’s still a lot more to share.  Why?  Because I’m lucky.  My Grandma Bier was a collector, and I received a trove of primary sources, artifacts, and already-done work from her.  When it comes to the Bier family, I feel more like an archivist or docent than a true genealogist;  there just weren’t that many difficult questions to be answered.  Just an ever-increasing mountain of things to be digitized, cataloged, and preserved.

So for the new year, in addition to continuing to tell the Valentine Bier story, I want to take on a new challenge.  The biggest challenge on my genealogical horizon will involve making a dent in my husband’s Kim and Lee heritage given that, (a) I don’t speak Korean, (b) well over the half the population of Korea shares the surnames “Kim” and “Lee” and (c) he himself knows next to nothing about his family story.  I’m going to set that particular challenge aside until my skills are a bit more honed.

Instead, I’m setting myself a different challenge:  my maternal grandmother’s family.  My Grandma was named Annella Teresia (Yench) Cousin.  People called her Nell, Nellie, in addition to mom, aunt, sister, grandma and great-grandma.  She was a lovely, loving woman and deserves a post in her own right.  For now, though, I went to set the challenge of discovering a bit more about her family history.


A sketch of Nell drawn by her husband, Fred Cousin


My beautiful grandma Nell on her wedding day

See, in all of my family trees, her story truncates with the names of her parents:  Thomas & Helen Yench.  According to my mom, they defected from Lithuania and never talked about nor communicated with relatives in the old country again, save for once receiving a photograph of someone laid out in a coffin.  So, I thought this would be a fun challenge both for myself and for my readers to live vicariously.  I’m trying to convince you that genealogy is fun, after all.

Where to begin?  In the words of Glinda the Good Witch of the North, “It’s always best to start at the beginning”  So, with no further ado, here’s what I know about my Grandma Nell’s family history:



She was born May 17, 1925 in Hartshorne, Oklahoma. I know this is true because my mother told me so.  However,  in the world of genealogy, this isn’t good enough.  I need documentation of both those facts.

Item #1:  Verify her birthdate and place, ideally with a copy of her birth certificate.

She was baptised on July 28, 1925, at the Church of the Holy Rosary, also in Hartshorne, Oklahoma.  Her godparents were Enoch and Katherine Polonis.  Her date of birth is verified on her baptism certificate.



Her father’s name was Thomas Yench.  Yench is a anglicanization of the Lithuanian name “Jankus.”  He was a coal miner when the family lived in Oklahoma.  He arrived in the United states in 1901 and applied for citizenship in 1907.  The Declaration of Intention, below, is rich with interesting details, including that he was 5′ 10″ and had gray eyes.

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Thomas Yench



Question #2:  Why does he list his country of birth as Poland rather than Lithuania? 

Question #3:  Who were his parents and brothers and sisters, if any?


Her mother’s name was Helen Shareva.  At least that’s what my mother told me.  I have no record of what her unmarried name actually was, and further a cousin of my mother’s reports that her last name was actually Dubas!  What’s up with that?  And finally, there was a photograph amongst my grandmother’s things showing a picture of her mother, Helen, with another woman identified on the back as “her sister from St. Louis.”


Helen Yench, whose story prior to marrying Thomas Yench is a mystery to me


Helen Yench and “her sister from St. Louis”


Question #4:  What was Helen Yench’s actual maiden name?  Who were her family?  When did she emigrate?

Nell was the youngest of seven children.  This is confirmed by census records and numerous, amusing photographs.

Thomas Yench Family

Thomas Yench family before my grandmother, Nell, was born.   Back row:  Joseph, Peter “Bob,” Anthony “Fed.”  Front row:  Philip, Thomas, Ann, Helen, Veronica.


Back row:  Joseph, Peter “Bob,” Philip.  Front row:  Anthony “Fed,” Ann, Nell, Veronica, Thomas.


Back row:  Philip, Joseph, Peter “Bob.  Front row:  Nell, Anthony “Fed,” Veronica, Ann.




By 1930 the family was living in Proviso, Illinois, where Thomas was working at Richardson’s Battery Factory.  The federal census of that year shows a lot of other interesting things as well.  Their neighbors were all uniformly Lithuanian and Italian.  Two of the boys were working out of the house at that time as well.  Finally, the census includes a field for “age at first marriage” and a little math indicates that not only was Thomas married previously, but so was Helen.

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1930 Federal Census


Question #5:  Why did the family move to Illinois?

Question #6:  What are Thomas and Helen’s previous marital histories?

In 1936, when Nell was 11 years old, her mother, Helen, died of pneumonia;  this is verified in the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index of 1916-1947.  It was at her mother’s funeral that Nell learned some shocking news.  I’d recorded the story in my mother’s words some time ago:

Bob, Joe, and Fed were Thomas’s children by his first wife.  Nell never realized they were her half brothers until her mother, Helen, died. She died of pneumonia when Nell was about 12 years old. At the funeral, she overheard some neighbors talking about how Helen treated those older boys just like they were her own sons. Nell got mad, yelled, and ran from the room.  –Janice (Cousin) Bier

So, this is further confirmation that Thomas was married before he married Helen.

My mother also made a point of recording her mother, Nell’s, recollections of Helen, few as they were:

I remember her ironing. She talked with the other Lithuanian neighbor ladies. I called her mama. She used to have to yell at the boys. The girls would help, but I was so much younger, I didn’t have to help as much. My mom was stocky. I don’t remember her singing. She was a full-time homemaker. She was born in Lithuania. I think they came over becvause the Russians were taking over.  –Nell (Yench) Cousin

After her mother died, my Grandma Nell was essentially raised by her two older sisters, Ronnie & Annie, before moving to Wisconsin and meeting my grandpa, Fred, and the rest is much more recent history.

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The three sisters, Nellie, Annie, and Ronnie, at my Grandparents’ house on Elm Street in Beloit, Wisconsin.


So where will I begin?  How will I even begin to answer those questions?  It was hard for me to NOT start the work before posting this;  on some level I wanted to be sure that they were answerable.  But I did it–I held off.  I didn’t even call my mom to clear some points up.  So stay tuned.

If you are reading this and have recollections, questions, comments, or answers about the Yench family history, please comment below!