In Search of Victoria Drag

Michael & Victoria (Drag) Kuznicki

My maternal 2nd great-grandmother, Victoria (Drag) Kuznicki, is a mystery. She was born on December 23, 1890 in Galicia–a historical region in East-Central Europe that is divided between Poland and Ukraine today–and she arrived at Ellis Island aboard the SS Vaderland on March 30, 1909 at the age of 18. Victoria built Kuznicki’s Bar from the ground up–disguising the family’s shadier business dealings all the while–and she was as tough and enterprising as she was imposing and formidable. After her death, Uncle Stanley brought an old photograph to the bar to show my grandfather, and on seeing the photo, all of the men sat up and crossed themselves; from what I understand, you didn’t mess with Victoria.

Back to the mystery: Victoria seems to appear on-the-scene on March 30, 1909 at Ellis Island, and while I have photos and stories and newspaper articles from her life in Dunkirk, New York, I don’t know anything about her parents or siblings in Galicia. That is, until last month (isn’t that how these stories always go?), when a Kuznicki cousin–who happened to find my blog while conducting her own family research–sent a photograph that confirmed my DNA-connection theory. It’s a confusing story that must be told in a roundabout way, but it all comes back to one woman: Nellie Trella of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.

In December–when everyone is giving or receiving DNA kits for the holidays and sharing their ethnicity estimates with family and friends–I found a new cousin match on AncestryDNA; we share 197 centimorgans across six segments of DNA, making us second or third cousins. Each of us shares one other DNA match–my Kuznicki cousin with the photo–and this new match had to be related to one of my great-great-grandparents, Michael or Victoria. Using the Leeds Method, I color-coded these two cousins to the Kuznicki side of my family tree, but they didn’t fit in with the group: neither of them shared any DNA with the rest of the family, all descendants of Michael’s brother. My takeaway? My new cousin match had to be related to Victoria.


The question, of course, was how. There weren’t any individuals in Dunkirk with the surname Drag while Victoria was living there; I would have looked into their stories long ago if they had existed anyway. I needed to search further back in Victoria’s timeline: in her first three years in America, Victoria married Michael Kuznicki in New Jersey, and the couple briefly traveled to Pennsylvania for work before making their home in New York. I started with New Jersey–searching the marriage records between 1909 and 1916 for the surname Drag–and found five women: Gertrude (Drag) Szymankiewicz; Jorefa (Drag) Bastek; Rozalia (Drag) Patka; Angela (Drag) Trela; and Weronika (Drag) Zajac.

I ruled out four of the possibilities, and that left Angela; but she, like Victoria, proved to be nearly impossible to find. Angela’s marriage record was the only trace of her in New Jersey, so I started searching for her in Pennsylvania–where I hit another brick wall. Researching the name “Angela Trela” resulted in no leads; neither did “Aniela Trela” (the Polish equivalent of Angela) or the nicknames “Angie” and “Anna.” On a whim, I searched the Pennsylvania newspaper archives for “Nellie Trela”–Nellie sounded similar to Aniela in my mind–and that’s when I found her: Nellie Trella owned a boarding house in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. The article–titled “Woman Fined $250 in Fight Over Man”–reads:

They told Judge Henry Wilson they fought over a man–but couldn’t agree on which man, so the jurist fined one Aliquippa woman $250 and sent the other one home with a reprimand.

Mrs. Frances Poden said the man was her husband and his habit of drinking in Mrs. Nellie Trella’s boarding house was the cause of the fight last July.

Mrs. Trella said the man was one of her boarders and that Mrs. Poden tried to lure him to her boarding house, and that started her to throwing punches at Mrs. Poden.

Judge Wilson fined Mrs. Trella, 50, for assault and battery “because you’ve been in trouble before.” He advised Mrs. Poden, also 50, to “mind your own business and stay at home.”

12 (2)
George & Nellie (Drag) Trella with sons Joseph, Matthew & Edward

Nellie was living in Aliquippa with her husband, George Trella, and three sons–Joseph (b. 1917), Matthew (b. 1920) and Edward (b. 1925)–at the time the article was published. She was the right age (only a few years younger than Victoria); she had arrived at Ellis Island at the right time (leaving Galicia in 1910 for New Jersey); she was a self-made business owner (like Victoria); and she had at least a few run-ins with the law (also like Victoria). But there was nothing on paper to connect the two families: plenty of people left Galicia around 1910 at Victoria’s age; plenty of people started businesses; and plenty of people got into fights or “forgot” to pay their taxes. And to make matters worse, I couldn’t be sure that my new cousin match was a descendant of Nellie Trella, either.

Until last month, when my Kuznicki cousin sent me a collection of old wedding photos and family portraits; she’d labeled the last photo Nellie Trella (sister to Victoria) & husband George with sons Ed, Matt & Joe. I’ve since determined the connection between my new DNA match and Nellie–Nellie was her paternal grandmother–and have found Victoria and Nellie’s parents, Jozef and Hedwig (Kochanczyk) Drag. I’m not sure what this post’s message should be: maybe something about the usefulness of the Leeds Method for finding common ancestors, about the importance of researching DNA matches or about the potential for genealogy blogs as “cousin bait.” All I want to talk about, though, is Judge Wilson’s line, “Because you’ve been in trouble before:” Nellie fits right in. 

24 thoughts on “In Search of Victoria Drag

    1. Thank you! It took a long time, and I didn’t think it’d pan out in the end—the connection to Nellie and her family seemed too far-fetched for a while. I’m thrilled!

      Victoria was very tough, unapologetic and no-nonsense, and it sounds like Nellie was the same way. My grandfather has always said the same thing about Victoria—the world was harsh, and she did what she had to do to provide for her children.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I gather my second-great-grandmother, Caroline, was similar to Victoria and Nellie. My mum says the description battle-axe came down through the family, and she certainly wasn’t grandmotherly according to what my mum heard from her mum. Again, she had a hard-scrabble life and had the personality to match it. Had she not, I’m not certain she would have survived.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Same here, and they’re too often forgotten and too easily overlooked! I’m guilty of that—the records aren’t always there or easily accessible, but I need to search for more of these stories. ESPECIALLY as a young woman! Thank you for the reminder

      Liked by 2 people

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