Monday, August 15, 2016
Meet My Polish Cousin
It was one of those emails all genealogists hope to get: a note from far away, declaring as fact the cousinhood of a complete stranger.
In this case, it wasn't owing to any post I had written—a hope each one of us genea-bloggers harbors—but an email sent, thanks to a query I had placed on one of those throwbacks to 1990s research: the genealogy forum.
The email reached me on October 18, 2005, giving you an idea how long this part of my research has remained dormant. For the next two years, this newly-introduced cousin and I exchanged many emails—about those Gramlewicz family members who had returned to Poland from Brooklyn and what had become of them, about our mutual ancestors, about family now, about life.
This cousin started with a simple introduction. She told me her name—an anglicized form of her Polish given name plus the surname Gramlewicz—and explained that she had found my information on the Internet. She had likely been Googling her surname in hopes of discovering something about her roots.
To prove her cousinhood, this stranger laid out her specific connection to my family tree. She gave me her father's name—he is still alive and living in Poland—and his father's name. That elder man was the one child born to Anna Gramlewicz's parents after they had left Brooklyn to return to their homeland. They had named him Hieronim—the English equivalent being Jerome.
Just to make sure of the connection, her introductory letter detailed much more about the Gramlewicz children who had been born in New York. She told me whom each of the daughters had married and what had become of them. She shared so much more detail in this note and in the many that followed, that it would be difficult to do it all justice by trying to cram it all into one post here.
It was enough to know I had made a connection with an unknown cousin—especially one born in Poland, where the family had returned—but to have an ongoing relationship with such a cousin, well, I treasured the opportunity. Not just because of the genealogical information she provided or the way in which we could work together to piece the entire story together, but because I now had a tangible connection with an aspect of my paternal roots which, inexplicably, my own grandparents had worked so hard to keep hidden.
Then the emails tapered off. Life has a way of interfering like that. After the end of 2007, a few notes were exchanged in the next year, then nothing for an entire year after that. The last I heard from this cousin was just before Christmas in 2013.
It's hard, when you get to know someone solely from online contact, to see that person entirely vanish after that. A friendship built entirely on the mental constructs evolving from that many correspondences may seem unreal—as if not ever having met face to face "in real life" equals never getting to know someone—but it seemed just as tangible to me as if we had gotten together each week to chat over coffee.
This week, I'll share some of the information this cousin revealed on what became of those immigrant Gramlewiczes who chose rather to return to their homeland than remain in the adventure they had attempted in a new land. It certainly broadened my horizons to access these details I'd never otherwise have been able to know. Hopefully, in sharing these details online, this may someday, again, be the inspiration for someone else to connect and say, "Hi, I found your information on the Internet."
Or—who knows?—perhaps find my missing cousin, all over again.
Above: "A Path at Les Sablons," 1883 oil on canvas by Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.