Friday, August 5, 2016
Glimpse of a Family's History
Finding Annie Gramlewicz's family seemed, at first, to be an easy assignment. After all, how many people could there be, out there in 1900s New York City, with a name like that?
Granted, at the time, New York had a population of just under three and a half million. Perhaps I was being a little too optimistic about possibilities. Then, too, I hadn't bargained for the many ways the surname Gramlewicz could be mis-represented. I discovered I needed to take into account such possibilities as Granlewicz—substituting an "n" for the required "m"—as well as Gramlewitz instead of -wicz. Then there was the insertion of an extra syllable, such as Gramalewicz. Or the mis-reading, come time for transcriptions, of some letters, rendering the surname Gramlewiez.
On a pursuit like that, wild cards became my best friend.
I first discovered Annie as an eighteen year old "saleslady" living in her uncle's household in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1915 New York State census. Before that time, I had been clueless that there even was such a surname in my family's history.
Of course, once I stumbled upon that surname, you know I had to find more. Since Annie was born in the United States—unfortunately, the census hadn't said anything more than that very generic indicator—it meant I should be able to find her in her own parents' household as early as in the 1900 United States census.
Fortunately, I did. Though Annie is quite the common given name for girls, it was coupled with that unusual surname. Sticking with the Brooklyn indicator from the 1915 census, I started looking first in Kings County, New York, hoping to find the Gramlewicz family intact in a nearby neighborhood.
The Laskowski household, where Annie had been living in 1915, was located near the corner of North Eighth and Berry Streets. Back in 1900, she was living in her parents' household on South Second Street. Along with siblings Boleslaw, Helen and Fred, then two year old Annie was in the household of her mother, listed as Josephine, and her father, possessing a poorly transcribed given name that appeared to be spelled Mearzslaw.
The 1900 census provided some helpful information. For one thing, it gave us the family's snapshot: Josephine had been married for seven years, and was mother of four children, all of whom were still alive at the time of that census. Though she and her husband were both born outside the U.S., their recorded birthplace—Germany—was likely the politically correct designation, at that time, for Poland.
The census revealed additional clues. While Annie's parents were both listed as aliens, her mother had arrived in the country in 1891, while her father had come in 1889. That meant her parents weren't married in their homeland, but had been married somewhere in New York—likely, as good Catholics, at the parish near their home, possibly the very same church where each of the children would have been baptized. Both of her parents were able to read, write and speak English. Her father was listed as a mason.
With the next federal census, some changes had come to the Gramlewicz household. By 1910, Josephine still was mother of four children, but those were the four children remaining out of what would have been a family of seven children. Of the original four from the 1900 census, only two were still alive: Annie and her older sister, Helen. Two more sisters had joined the family: three year old Wanda and her eleven month old baby sister Martha. In addition to having lost Boleslaw and Fred, another baby had been born to the family—and then died.
At this point, their father—this time, with his name spelled as Mecislaus—was listed as a building contractor, and the family had moved to an apartment on Sixth Street, in the neighboring New York City borough of Queens.
Knowing the family had been listed in the 1900 census in Brooklyn and in Queen for the 1910 census, it only stood to reason that I should be able to locate them in the New York State census for 1905. Given the myriad possibilities for misspelling, though, their entry was not readily apparent. It took a search, name by name, for wildcard possibilities with a fixed location of Brooklyn, to finally find them.
At least, I think I found them. In a jumbled up entry, in which a non-relative was inserted right in the midst of their listing, I found Annie, her parents and her one remaining sibling—Helen—under the surname "Gramlewitz" in the New York State census for 1905. On Stockton Street, back in Brooklyn, Annie's parents were listed as John and Josie. Granted, that might have been a stretch—until realizing that one of their son's birth record was listed with a first name of Jan (transcribed in error as Jane, but I have a copy of the actual certificate confirming the entry as Jan). Perhaps dad, usually listed as Mecislaus, was actually Jan Mecislaus. At least this man—whoever he was—had worked as a mason, too.
Using that same search technique didn't yield any results when I searched for the couple in the 1892 state census, despite the likelihood that they might have been married by then. More to the point, though, was the fact that I couldn't find any trace of the family—besides Annie at her uncle's house, of course—in the 1915 census. And by the 1920 census, the entire Gramlewicz surname had vanished from New York City records entirely.
There was, of course, a reason for that disappearance. And it wasn't something I could discover, even through painstaking searches through census records for the rest of the state. It was mostly on account of the gift of the rest of the story, thanks to my Polish cousin, that I discovered what had become of the family—and why it was that Annie, alone, had remained in New York City.
There was, however, one additional document which helped reveal the story.
Above: Fairground in Kerselaere by Flemish Impressionist artist, Modest Huys; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.