So, at this point, I feel like my only choice is to scroll through and check ALL of the records returned by the search engines, even those with names that would not initially seem to be a match, in the hopes of discovering some clue that would lead me in the right direction. I was doing this on FamilySearch.org and came across a 1919 death record for a woman by the name of 'Władysława Kowalska.' The record also listed her father as 'Stanisław Gacki.' Hmmm, 'Kowalska' and 'Gacki' are close to 'Kowalski' and 'Gacka,' but, again, I had NO idea if this really was her first name, so I couldn't be sure it was her. I printed it out, though, and hoped that it may be an important clue.
Now, when I initially found this record, FamilySearch had not yet uploaded the actual image of the death certificate, so I couldn't learn anything else from it. Fast forward 6-8 months. I went back on FamilySearch to examine the record again and found that they HAD uploaded the actual death certificate:
And then of course AFTER I went through all of this with the death certificate, I found my great-grandfather's immigrant ship manifest on which he listed Władysława as "nearest relative in country from whence (he) came." If only I had found THIS document first - then I wouldn't have had to go through the whole mystery with the death record and trying to figure out her real name. Ah, but we all know that researching family history isn't always that simple. :-)
***STOP THE BLOG PRESSES! UPDATE!***
Ok, so literally right after I typed that sentence above about being on the hunt for her immigrant ship manifest, I went to Ancestry.com. Because I knew she was traveling with her sons, I tried searching for the manifest using the name 'Jan Kowalski,' who was her eldest son. I had previously discovered his immigration application papers, so I knew the exact date they entered the country and the ship name. I had to scroll through quite a few pages - 'Jan Kowalski' is literally the Polish equivalent of 'John Smith,' so there were a lot of records - but I found the manifest! Here is Władysława with her three sons, Jan, Stanisław, and Josef, all listed with her surname of 'Kowalska.' And her father, Stanisław Gacki, is listed as next of kin, so that matches the information on her death certificate.
Source Information: Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
©2012, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder