Friday, August 19, 2016
The Little Surprise of the Family
If Anton Laskowski had reported a niece by the name of Gramlewicz in his household for the 1915 New York State census, that must have meant he had a sister who married a man by that surname. It only stands to reason. After all, each relationship reported in census records was to be given in reference to the head of the family, and that was indeed my great grandfather Anton.
And yet, when I was first contacted by my Polish cousin, she knew of no such occurrence. She clearly outlined for me her family tree—the maiden name of the woman her father had married, then that of her father's father's wife. Not one Laskowska in those women's family names.
Of course, there was always that possibility that Anna Gramlewicz wasn't really Anton's niece. She could be his grand-niece. She could have been staying in the home of a relative so distant, the only culturally appropriate thing to do might be to call him "uncle" out of deference for his age, or his role in her life. Worse, there could be absolutely no relationship between them at all, and I was fooled into researching this line merely because someone was afraid a fellow countryman's vulnerable daughter might be deported when she so strongly wished not to be.
As it turned out, though, I had another reason to support the bloodline connection between the Laskowskis and the Gramlewiczes: Anton's death certificate revealed his own mother was a Gramlewicz.
Contemplating that sort of relationship connection became too messy for me. I opted to believe—for research sanity's sake—that Anna had to be related to Anton, and went with the married sister theory.
But who could it have been? It was already abundantly clear—thanks to New York City birth certificates for the Gramlewicz's many children—that Anna's mother's maiden name was spelled in one of several variations which, I decided with help from Polish genealogy forum members who spoke the language, should correctly be rendered as Zyczynska. That's a far cry from Laskowska.
Complicating the matter was my Polish cousin's report that her grandfather's name was Hieronym. I had no record of any such son in the household of the Gramlewiczes, as late as I could find them in the census records—which happened to be in 1910.
I later found out why I couldn't find any sign of the Gramlewicz family after that 1910 census: according to Anna's sister, they had returned to Poland in November, 1912.
I also discovered why I never found any record of a son by the name of Hieronym: he was supposedly born in that very same year. But not in New York; in Poland.
Of course, I now realize I'm burdened with yet another discrepancy: the date I have for the family's return to Poland occurs after the date my Polish cousin provided for her grandfather's birthday (September 30, 1912).
The date I have for the family's return to Poland was provided, thanks to a verbal report to the officials filling out the passenger list for Anna's sister Helen's return trip to New York in 1920. Perhaps she got the date wrong. Even governmental records can be no better than the information provided to them by mere mortals.
Just as had many families from, likely, the beginning of time, with Hieronym's appearance in 1912, Mieczyslaw was presented by Jozefa with a little surprise: a baby boy when she had turned forty two and her husband was over fifty years of age. This became not only the caboose of the family, but the only Gramlewicz son to survive to adulthood.
Hieronym, in turn, married a woman by the name of—remember, we're back in Poland now—Wanda Jastrzebska, and had two sons of his own. The younger of those two sons became the father of the woman who contacted me, out of the blue many years later, and announced that she and I are distant cousins from that same Gramlewicz family.
While my Polish cousin didn't share much with me about her grandfather Hieronym, she did remember her grandmother, Wanda. Although she didn't know where the family had settled, once they returned home from New York, she did know one thing: upon Wanda's death in 1994, she was buried in a little Polish town called Żerków—the very location for which I'd been receiving so many confirmations.
As it turned out, thanks to a link shared in a comment by fellow blogger Patrick Jones of Frequent Traveler Ancestry, I discovered Żerków was indeed a good place to inspect for further signs of the Gramlewicz family.
Above: "Première tentative de navigation" (first launch), undated (before 1922) oil on canvas by Évariste Carpentier; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.