Tonawanda News

October 21, 2010

Family ties come in time

By Paul Lane

NORTH TONAWANDA — All you need to do sometimes is catch a break.

Soon after writing my initial report on genealogy in May, I caught one.

Then, just before this column printed, I caught another one.

It turns out that a distant cousin of mine found me on and reached out to compare notes last spring. I took to her my feeble collection of documents, and she came to me with two notebooks that would likely dwarf the directions to a nuclear reactor.

My newly found cousin is related to me on my mother’s side, and it turns out that she’s traced one branch of my family all the way back to the 18th century — Jacobus Johannes Sercu, a Frenchman born in 1780. And a good portion of his descendants made their way to the Rochester region, apparently.

Then, just last week, a distant relative from Belgium reached out to me to compare notes and share information. Although this relative is of the same branch as my newly found cousin, having someone in Europe with which to talk is a fantastic find, especially for someone whose entire family originated on the other side of the pond. I still have yet to share much with this woman, but just the potential resource she could provide is exciting.

The lesson: Never get discouraged. It could take a lifetime to discover who helped bring you to life.

With the celebration of Family History Month taking place in October, I thought now would be a good time to update readers on my quest to find myself. With seven pages of family members in hand thanks to my cousin, I recently re-upped with (which offers 14-day free trials) to input this material and see what it yielded. The process is slow, to say the least, but as of this writing I’ve found several census documents and other records to verify the existence of my predecessors.

More fascinating, though, was the naturalization record I found of my great-great-grandfather at Old County Hall in Erie County. The Erie County Clerk’s Office keeps a fairly extensive records room in the basement that includes marriage, birth, mortgage and naturalization records.

During a recent morning jaunt there, I found that Walenty Labinski, my father’s great-grandfather, took his citizenship oath Oct. 25, 1882 (he swore off his allegiance to the emperor of Germany in the process).


The records at Old County Hall are somewhat sparse and not entirely in order (the result of inadequate recording of information at the time rather than the efforts of the modern-day keepers of said information). But a half-hour or so of tinkering with microfilm yielded the birth certificate of my dad’s dad, Leopold Labinski, who was born in 1908 to an American father and German mother.

I also found the military discharge record of my mom’s dad, Edward Colleran, who left the Army on Aug. 8, 1946, after serving in World War II.

The records at Old County Hall and the downtown library (which I visited during my initial quest) are too vast to conquer in one sitting. But there is generally good information to be had at both locales.

Of course, running into long-lost relatives on the information superhighway helps.

My genealogy journey is far from over, even if it has sputtered at points. This has continued to be a fun task for me when I can devote time to it. I encourage you to do the same.