Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Double Double

Finding my paternal grandmother's Polish family names included in the marriage listings at the Poznań Project was indeed encouraging. I couldn't resist the temptation to follow the trail on the others I found in the little town of Żerków, where my grandmother was born. The website had a search option to include specific surnames for the parents of bride and groom. I put that option to work, endlessly.

Soon, I was able to construct a partial family constellation for relatives of my grandmother Sophie's Laskowski and Jankowski relativesnot to mention, the Gramlewicz aunts and uncles whose surname sent me looking in the first place.

It was inevitable that I would try my luck with a reverse search, seeing if I could find anything on or with the surnames I was finding in this marriage collection. I picked a family member at random who, in this case, turned out to be Sophie's paternal aunt Agneswhich I suppose, if the English translation option weren't engaged, would be rendered in Polish as Agnieszka.

According to the civil record, when Agnes married Ignatz Giernatowski in 1887, she was the thirty six year old widow of a man named Szumski. Thankfully, the civil registry included the name of her parents, or I would never have been able to place her in my great grandfather Anton's family.

I decided to try my hand at finding more records for the newlywed Giernatowskis at Ancestry. I thought my chances were slim at finding any further mention of them, as the Polish collection at Ancestry seems rather focused on select regions and ethnicitiesmine excluded. I, however, was thinking Polish, when Ancestry had something entirely different in mind: an Agnes and Ignatz Giernatowski in none other than Brooklyn, New York!

Admittedly, I did have to make allowances for variations in spellingafter all, what is an English speaking census enumerator to do with all those Polish consonants, right? Most of them would be considered extraneousand a few vowels, to boot.

Still, I was surprised to find an Agnes and Ignatz in any American census record, let alone someone by the given name Ignatz coupled with anything approximating Giernatowski.

The 1900 census wasn't exactly the same spelling, but it came close with a decent phonetic approximation as Gernatofski. The census gave Ignatz's birth as being in June, 1858, and Agnes' as January of 1852not far off from the marriage record, which showed respective years of birth as 1857 and 1851. They stated they were married for twelve years as of 1900, which meant in the year 1888 as opposed to 1887. Still, these details were considerably close.

The census record stated the couple arrived in America in 1887, which was still reasonable, considering they could have married and left for the New World in a romantic gesture of never-ending honeymoonor in a more reality-wise quest to seek a better life for themselves.

One clue to that better hope was the indicator that Agnes was mother of four childrenor, who knows, as the number didn't appear distinctly, perhaps seven childrenbut the devastating fact was, no matter the number, it had been reduced to one. That one was their eleven year old daughter, Blanch, born in New York in 1889.

Prepared to be flexible with alternate phonetic renderings of that Polish surname, I decided to head to the Castle Garden website to see if I could find any passenger records to corroborate the Giernatowskis' immigration report. Nothing showed up with my attempt to enter their name literally, so I resorted to asterisks for those letters which might be wobblersthe "i" in the first syllable, the "w" for a possible "f" or "v" and the final "i" as a "y."

Something came up. But it didn't really help. It was a confusing double entryone for Ignatz Gernatowski, and one for...Ignatz Gernatowski.

I almost thought I was seeing double, until I spotted the different ages: twenty two and thirty one. Both arrived in New York on the same date22 March 1888.

Trying to locate the actual digitized record in another collection in vain (the ship's lists were available at both Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild for 1885 and the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives for 1890, but no record for 1888), I clicked through to see what was transcribed at the Castle Garden website. My hunch was that perhaps Agnes was entered under her husband's name, but no: both entries were for males, even though they both arrived on the same ship, the S.S. Eider, sailing from Bremen.

This seeing double malady was not about to leave me after that one foray into further Giernatowski records. I was beginning to doubt my own eyesight when I pulled up the Ancestry file for their possible New York State census record for 1925. There, in the transcription, the former Ignatz and Ignatz were entered as Agnes and Agnes.

Thankfully, at least here I could pull up the actual digitized copy of the recordand with one long, hard look at the thing, I convinced myself it was actually for "Ignes" and Agnes.

Still, the record had the approximately correct age spread between themIgnatz was about six years younger than his wifeand the thirty three years they were, by then, in the States was almost at the more likely thirty seven.

If, of course, all this seeing double is not tricking me into mistaking two entirely different couples for one and the same family.

Above inserts: Transcription of Ignatz and Agnes Giernatowski's wedding record courtesy the Poznań Project; search results for the couple are shown from the Castle Garden website; and the excerpts regarding the 1925 New York State census are as found at

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Building Out That Family Tree Branch

Now that I've found a Polish resource ripe with all sorts of records dovetailing with my family's surnames and hometown, I've been able to add siblings to a previously sparse branch in my family tree. I never thought I'd be able to do that to a part of my family that was so foreign and out of reach, but with the right resources, anything is possible.

I've put the Poznań Project through its paces, using all the Polish surnames I could think ofon both my father's maternal side and his paternal side, just in case that mysterious "adopted" John T. McCann (alias Theodore Puhalski) would show up in town, as well. That meant searching for my known Laskowski, Jankowski and Gramlewicz surnames as well as the new ones that popped up in the process: tongue twisters like Olejniczak and Błaszczyk, plus names like Pogłodzinski and the more readable Giernatowski.

There were some surprises as I searched. For one thing, the Aktabowski surname that seemed so intertwined with my Laskowskis was nowhere to be found in the historic Province of Posen. Yet the twin spellings for the surname that my adopted grandfatherlater known as John T. McCannhad used turned out to have one standardized spelling in that part of the country: Puchalski. That revelation, and the fact that there were several people by that name in the province, makes me wonder even more about his insistence that he knew nothing of his parents, and that his unexplained relationship to "Aunt Rose"a woman born in Germanymay have had more to do with whoever did adopt him, if anyone. Relying solely on surnames, there is ample evidence that he could have had roots in Poznań, as well.

The beauty of having this search facility at my fingertips is that I can leaf out (so to speak) this branch of my family tree, in hopes of having some path to identify distant cousins who show up on my DNA test results. I do have a few Polish matches at Family Tree DNA, but I've been hard pressed to come up with any rational explanation of how we might actually relate to each other. Now, at least I have some names of siblings of my great grandparents, and in the case of the females in that generation, not only the name of the men they married, but their parents' names, as well.

Of course, the next step, in trying to determine the surnames connected to this Polish line of my ancestry, is to bring those collateral lines forward, listing their descendants for as many generations as possible. This presents a problem in using a website such as the Poznań Project, owing to the limits of their time framethey extend only to 1899. There are other Polish websites which likely have the material I'm seeking, true, but I cringe to think of having to do that mazurka with those online translation services again.

I pushed my luck on using this project, working as close to the cut off date as I could, trying to find marriage records for the children of the siblings I had found in earlier records in Poznań, and in a few cases, I did find some. But there's only so much that can be done with a finite collection like this.

On a lark, I took some of those very foreign sounding surnames and plugged them into, to see if anything might show updiacritical marks and all. I confess I wasn't expecting to see anything, especially in records from the U.S. But I did. There were only a few, but not only did they either match the exact spellingminus the distinct Polish mars, of courseor they matched the phonetic rendering of the surname, given in anglicized equivalents. Astoundingly, they also matched given names of the husband and wife, plus approximated the dates of birth and marriage.

It appears my grandmother Sophie had cousins in Americaand not just the American-born Gramlewicz cousins we had already found.

Above: "The Shepherd Boy," 1875 oil on canvas by Polish artist Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, August 29, 2016

That Elusive
Eastern European Documentation

Discovering the Poznań Project has brought me hours of delight in researching my paternal grandmother's Polish roots. Since mentioning what I found last week, I've been busy poking and prodding the website to see what else I might be able to reconstruct from the Laskowski and Gramlewicz family constellations in and around Żerków, the town of their Polish origin.

My delight is due to one simple fact: I've found a way around the research bottleneck that keeps most of us homebound armchair researchers stymied. If you have been deluded into thinking all you have to do to research your foreign rootsand almost all of us have ancestors who originated in a different location than that of our current residenceis to sign on to the international offerings at or, think again. The offerings for those seeking their Polish roots at Ancestry are fragmented by time periods and ethnic focuses. For FamilySearch, the options are limited, even when including the browse-only collections.

Granted, those two organizations are digitizing records at an amazing speed. It's just that, when you need to have the entire world at your fingertips, it's hard to make headway at any one location.

Patience may be a virtue, and I've learned that waiting often rewards the researcher who checks back regularly. Right now, though, I'm not primed for the waiting game.

Discovering the Poznań Project reminded me there are other websites which can provide the documentation we seek for those difficult eastern European locations. A good place to start in finding those other resources, much as it was when I started online researching over twenty years ago, is Cyndi's List, which has ample selections of websites for not only Polish but other countries in the region.

Just on the Poznań Project itself, though, I'm provided with another resource for further information. We may be spoiled in this Internet-based research era and forget our genealogical-researching roots, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded that much of what we seek may still be patiently waiting for us to discover our answers in those old fashionedand slightly nauseatingmicrofilmed records.

In searching my family the other day, the project provided me two clickable links. One explained where I could get further documentation at the National Archive at Poznań. The other, an information page on the specific parish in which I was interestedŻerków, a church of "4260 souls" in 1888, the year before my great grandmother left home to bring her three young children to Americalisted the towns which are included in that specific parish, and showed how I could access further documentation at the state archive. Plus, it provided the specific microfilm numbers to access further records from the LDS Family History Library.

Now that I'm getting used to researching these Polish ancestors, keeping a tab open to Google Translate, I'm ready to take on some of these less user-friendly interfaces on foreign websites. Like any other challenge, it calls for diligence in mounting a learning curve, and patience while we run the research gauntlet on the digital school of hard knocks. But if we don't attempt these challenges, we don't make the headway we're hoping for. Sometimes, brick walls are in our minds, not in reality. The information is out there, somewhere. It just might be in a language we don't understand, locked in a website for which we simply need to acquire the knack of navigating.

Above: The Flower Bed in the Garden, 1891 painting by Polish artist, Władysław Podkowiński; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Never-Ending DNA To-Do List

Stumbling upon one sure-to-be-confirmed DNA match this past week reminded me of all the work yet to be done. To be sure, I've been chipping away at details in many directions, and my stats have helped buoy my enthusiasm, thankfully. In other ways, though, it sometimes seems I am making no headway.

In reveling in my recent Falvey connection, I've been reminded of tasks yet to do which will help make more connections, now that Family Tree DNA has updated its online capabilities. There are tools to help discern which matches belong on the maternal side and which belong on the paternal. But those tools do me no good, so long as I haven't uploaded an updated GEDCOM to my accounts there.

So, in these past two weeks, rather than race through the family trees, adding more collateral lines and sprucing up hint-laden pages, I've been working on the two trees that have been most neglected in the past few months: the paternal lines for both myself and my husband. Rather than the hundreds of individuals you may have seen me add in prior bi-monthly episodes, I seem to be crawling along, inching up to the end of August.

For instance, on my maternal line, I only added forty four to reach the total of 8,518 in that tree. On my husband's maternal side, I added another forty four to total 8,374. But in sprucing up records on my father-in-law's line in anticipation of determining that Falvey match, for the first time in months, I added thirteen to bring the total in his tree to 1,035. And, rocketing through my recent online finds for my own father's Polish roots this month, I was able to add forty seven individuals to his tree of, now, 275 names. Baby steps, but significant discoveries.

Sales at DNA testing companies always make me glad, for with only a lag time of about six weeks, I start seeing the results trickle in, in the form of additional matches. Matches on my maternal side jumped by thirty in the past two weeks, bringing the total at FTDNA to 1,302 matches. I gained an additional twelve matches at Ancestry DNA, as well, bringing my total there to 355.

DNA matches picked up for my husband, as well. Though I hadn't seen any new matches since July 28, by the second half of August, things picked up, bringing twenty four new matches at FTDNA (grand total there now 810), and another four at Ancestry DNA (to total 150). I was able to make two contacts with matches there, confirming one.

Another task I am going to need to tackle soon is to find specific relatives who would be willing to volunteer for DNA testing. It is so vital to have targeted matches to help draw similar matches in one direction or the othermaternal or paternal. Otherwise, those hundreds of matches become one mass of hopelessly inseparable results. Only when we can figure out which category to place all those third and fourth cousins can we make any headway in connecting missing ancestors to the right branches on our tree. I'll be ecstatic if my husband's distant Falvey cousin from New Zealand leads me to a sibling of our Johanna Falveyor even to the next generation upfor then I can understand how to handle those other results which come up as "in common with."

I'm well supplied with test packetshave DNA test, will travel, I suppose. Upcoming trips to visit relatives back home will likely include the question: "Can you spit for me?" If not, at least I'm hoping to find some relatives willing to take a minuscule toothpick-sized brush to the side of their cheek. Oh, the strange things a genetic genealogist might do on a family vacation...

Above: "Landscape Near Rosia," 1903 work by Polish modernist painter Jan Stanisławski; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

DNA Connections and
Another Surprise Email

As excited as I was to get our DNA test resultsboth my husband and I tested at not one, but two different companiesI've found it to be quite tedious to uncover the verification, on paper, of just how we relate to these hundreds of distant cousins. Still, there can be breakthroughs.

Mostly, in all that grunt work, I find myself the one who makes the contact, sends the emails begging for more informationa posted family tree would be a nice touch hereand follows through with further correspondence. It can get wearying.

How nice it was, just the other day, to be the recipient of an email, this time asking me about my tree.

Actually, correct that. The fellow researcher contacting me was inquiring as to my husband's tree. A specific part of it, in fact. One about which I knew I'd never be able to find anything further.

To explain, I'll have to review some details. Back in 2013when we first got word that our daughter might have an opportunity to study abroad in IrelandI had started preparing for the possibility of doing hands-on research in the homeland of my father-in-law's roots. All eight of this man's great grandparents had come from Ireland, and I already had a pretty good idea of where these ancestors had been born.

Some of those "eight greats" I knew better than others, of course, so the challenge was to study up on the weakest links. One of those was the Kelly family from County Kerrythe last of my father-in-law's ancestors to immigrate to the United States.

Anyone who has researched the surname Kelly realizes how common a name it is in Ireland. Add to this the great misfortune of our man being given the name John, one of the most favored names for sons in many countries, including Ireland.

Since John Kelly seemed a daunting research challenge, I decided to focus on his wife's maiden name, which I thought might be somewhat easier to locate. Though I quickly discovered that Johanna Falvey's surname was also quite common in County Kerry, I did find some material on her, but not much.

Some of the most helpful hints in the search for Johanna came from the newspaper obituaries after her passing in Fort Wayne in 1903. There, I found mention of "several sisters and brothers in Ireland"that was from one newspaperor "several sisters living in Ireland and one in New Zealand."

A sibling in New Zealand? How was I to find that? It was a tempting call for more research, but clueless as to how to begin, I did nothing. Well, I did take a peek at the surname distribution, internationally, and discovered that New Zealand had its fair share of Falveys. But that made the task seem even more hopeless. I didn't pursue it any further.

Enter DNA testing. Specifically, enter a DNA test salewhich, by the way, ends next Wednesdayand only three days ago while the digital ink was still wet on the emailed page, I received a message from the administrator for the DNA test results of one gentleman living in New Zealand. Surname? Falvey!

While this Falvey match to my husband falls in that all too often used slot labeled second to fourth cousin, the numbers are some of the strongest of all his matches. We are certain this is not one of those IBS flukesIdentical By State, where genetic matches are merely coincidentalbut a connection through the line of a surname we've already researched.

The problem, of course, is to locate the most recent common ancestor. What is encouraging is the administrator of this match has done research in Ireland, as well, and has some idea of where the family originated. Working together, we hope to unravel the mystery and gain an idea of this family's originat least the place from which Johanna headed to Fort Wayne and this other Falvey ancestor headed to New Zealand.

Above: View of Bebek near Constantinople, 1872 oil on canvas by Polish artist Jan Matejko; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Could This Be Seeing Double?

In a country like mine, filled with Smiths and Browns and Joneses, a surname like Olejniczak just might stick out a bit. Still, a researcher has to resist the urge to rationalize that same name equals same person. After all, I've already discovered in researching my husband's Irish ancestors that Falvey was not as rare a name in County Kerry, Ireland, as I assumed it was in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There might be a similar discovery awaiting me, now that I'm trawling through unfamiliar waters in the region of Poznań, Poland.

Finding the Poznań Projectthat wonderful website made possible by volunteers who are transcribing the nineteenth century marriage records of the now-defunct Province of Posenopened a door through the brick wall keeping me from my Polish roots. With this tool, plus the knowledge that my father's maternal grandparents came from the small town of Żerków in that same province, I felt like a child in my newfound genealogical playground.

I set to work searching all the Laskowski and Gramlewicz surnames I could find in the region. I was elated to see confirmation of my great grandfather's parents' names. Even though I had set the website to its English translation, the rendering of Anton Laskowski's parents as Matthias and Elisabeth was understandable. For one thing, Catholic Church records, often entered in Latin rather than the national language of the local people, would show Anton's parents' names that way. Besides, putting the two given names through a reverse translation processtaking the English version and bringing it back to its likely Polish formgave me exactly the names that had been provided on Anton's death certificate at his passing in New York City in 1935.

On a roll at this point, I decided to see what I could find for Anton's parents' parents. What about finding the marriage record for Mateusz and Elzbieta? After all, she was the one linking me to that Gramlewicz familyand somehow connecting me to my Polish cousin.

Done! Within less than a minute, up came this result for "Matthaeus Laskoski" and "Elisabeth Gramlewicz." I was ecstatic.

Even better, I thought: what about checking out the newfound maiden name of Anton's mother-in-law? Mostly, I was hoping to find a record that included her parents' names. Like an ever unwinding chain, I could see myself rolling back through the generations, unimpeded by the necessity of travel or hands-on research in dusty archives. I was really beginning to like this site.

I entered the surname Olejniczakthe one I mentioned finding, yesterdayand hit the search button to see what would come up. Sure enough, there was a result here, too. Was there anything this search engine couldn't find?

And there it was! Like a yellow brick road, seductively winding its way through the genealogical mystery of my family's generations, the entry included not only the names of Marianna Jankowska's parents, but their parents, as well.

Just as I was beginning to wonder whether this genealogical genie might grant me a full three wishes, something stopped me in my tracks. Despite this website containing only records of the region in which my family originated, the parish for this marriage record was not the one I was expecting. Rather than showing the name I was expectingŻerkówthis was a record from Jaraczewo, wherever that was.

I took a look on the map.

The parish of the wedding in question is circled at the bottom left of this map inset. In contrast, Żerków is at the opposite corner. According to Google Maps, that would be a trip of about fifteen miles. Perhaps a young man in 1854 might travel that distance to find a bride. Perhaps.

There was one other item concerning me, though. As unusual as the surname seemed to my English-reading eyesto say nothing of how it might sound to my American earsmight I be presuming a bit too much in thinking that the Francisca Oleyniczak of this 1854 entry would be one and the same as the Franziska Olejniczak I had found mentioned in their daughter's marriage record in Żerków in 1879?

Besides, based on birth records for their children, I noticed this 1854 marriage record postdated their daughter's June 1853 birthdate. Perhaps this wasn't the right couple, after all.

Yet, that same trend occurred on the other side of the family as well, if records are correct. Not only did the possible parents of Marianna get married after her arrival, but her husband's parents were married two years after Anton's arrival in 1842.

So, do I assume the surname Olejniczak is phonetically the same as Oleyniczak? And that a marriage occurring fifteen miles from Żerkównot to mention, a year after their daughter's birthis just telling me not to sweat the small stuff?

Or is Olejniczak just the Polish way of saying, "Hi, my name is Smith; what's yours?"  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A New Home for Old Stories

They may just be old pieces of paper, but they tell the stories of people long gone from a place no longer in existence. The papers are marriage records from well over one hundred years ago. The place was once known as the Province of Posenat least to those who took over the territory. To the natives in that area, at least those claiming a Polish heritage, the region was called Poznań.

Poznań was where my father's maternal grandparents were born, and wheresometime after their 1879 weddingthey bid goodbye to their extended family and headed for America.

Finding any proof of that sequence of events had been difficult, until I located the mention of at least Anton's wife and children in a passenger list for the Wieland, arriving in New York in 1889. The ship's document indicated that Marianna Laskowska had reported her last place of residence to be in a small village in Poznań. That place was called Żerków.

Now, knowing the town and the province, one would think I would be equipped to launch out into the wide research world and capture my prize: documents proving the existence of my ancestors. Think again. Not in the international collections at Not at the far-ranging collections offered for free at

My only alternative was to launch out into the deep and brave the international waters, rife with the risks of undecipherable, handwritten notations in languages I cannot read. After all, learning to speak my grandmother's mother tongue is not a genetic propensity.

When a reader at A Family Tapestry passed along the welcome word that there was a website in which I might be interested, I was primed to brave those waters. When I followed the link shared by Patrick Jones, it led me to this site called Geneteka. That became an open doorway to a cache of Polish genealogical records.

There was, of course, one drawback: even in the English language version, it was hard to get around the siteor even to understand exactly what the collection contained.

One bright spot in that struggle, though, was finding a note at the bottom of the website's landing page. It was headed "other databases," followed by clickable links labeled in Polish.

As confusing a language as Polish might seem, with its interminable strings of consonants and its unfamiliar diacritical marks, it does render some words recognizable to English-speaking people, probably because so much of our own lingual heritage is owing to old German words.

Right away, in that list of databases, I spotted the words, "Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie." I recognized Poznań in that phrasesure enough, Google Translate confirmed that hunch when it told me the phrase means "Grand Duchy of Poznań"and I was headed in a direction sure to yield me my heart's genealogical desire.

I clicked on that link, and it brought me to the website of the Poznań Projecta site made possible by volunteers dedicated to transcribing the nineteenth century marriage records of the historic Province of Posen and ordering them in a free to use, searchable database.

The Poznań Project began in 2000. As of this past June, volunteers from several countries have transcribed 1,389,141 marriage recordsan impressive feat, considering the population of the region was only two million total by 1900. The project's coordinators estimate that number of transcribed records covers about seventy five percent of the total records currently accessible for the time frame they have chosenthe entire nineteenth century. Of course, some documents have been destroyed by ravages of war and other hazards, but for those still in existence, this becomes a wonderful resource, especially for those unable to travel to Poland for research.

An impressive cast of players coalesced to make this genealogical dream possible. The idea started with current coordinator, Łukasz Bielecki who, himself, brings an impressive resume to the table. The computer programming enabling the project to materialize is the work of Maciej Glowiak, who created the search engine. The website itself is hosted by the Poznań Supercomputing and Networking Centre. But the numerous names catalogued in the project itself are there, thanks to the efforts of "dozens" of dedicated volunteer indexers. They even have a Facebook page, albeitof coursemostly in Polish

Just as I've already mentioned about my own ancestorsand their relatives who also emigrated from the regionmost people who find themselves fortunate to have discovered their ancestors were from "Posen" turn out to descend from residents from the region, not the city. There is more to do to locate the actual residence of an ancestor whose documents indicate, simply, "Posen." This website helps researchers drill down to the locale where further documents may be located.

There are success stories, of course. The website includes a brief summary of what one researcher did to locate the roots of a high profile U.S. governmental official, using the Poznań Project. I found another victory report of a more common sort in an article posted at HubPages.

While these may be heartwarming stories, there's nothing like being able to tell about your own victory. And so, putting the Poznań Project through its paces, I looked for any sign of my great grandparents, Anton and Marianna.

Without much trouble at allI did have to ditch my original approach of searching for all Laskowskis and drill down to first names, as wellI found what I was looking for: Anton and his bride were married in 1879, with records found both at the local parish and the civil registry.

Above: Image of the search results for marriage records related to the terms Anton Laskowski and Marianna Jankowska, courtesy of the Poznań Project. Bonus gift from the civil registry: confirming Anton's parents' names (which I already knew) and correcting those for his bride (specifically, her mother's maiden name as Olejniczak, instead of Aktabowski).  



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tracing Places No Longer on the Map

It's one thing to research your forebears when they come from a recognizable location like France. Or Spain. You know, those places you can find on a map.

When it comes to finding the records to verify your family's origin in a country no longer in existence, that search presents a new question: how do you find the repository for records from such a place?

For most of the census enumerations conducted since my great grandparents arrived in the United States before 1890, the entry made on their behalf was usually "Germany." And for the decades in which that was noted, it would be correct. At that timewhether it was 1900, 1910, or 1930, the last census conducted before they diedthe region Anton and Marianna Laskowski once called home had changed hands from one set of rulers to another.

If you had paid attention to reports of their origin in the earlier census records, you might have thought Anton and Marianna immigrated from Germany. It wasn't until that slip up in the reporting ritual for the 1920 census that I discovered not the country but the region they once considered their home.

That place was enumerated as Posen.

In trying, now, to go back and locate records of their family's births, marriages and deaths, the key is to find the repository for a political jurisdiction which has long since ceased to exist.

In retracing those steps, the first thing I wanted to do was familiarize myself with not only the history of that region, but the current events of the time frame in which the Laskowski familyand their relatives, the Gramlewiczeschose to leave their homeland.

As I've mentioned before, Posen was how the Germans referred to a city the Polish called Poznań. Learning about Poznań brought up many fascinating details. For instance, it is one of the oldest of Poland's cities, dating back to the tenth century. It is also home to Poland's first cathedral. Political struggles over the centuries meant that the city changed hands often. It also meant the area was often war-torn. By the time my ancestors were ready to flee the area, the cityby then under Prussian rulehad begun building a series of new fortifications in response to all the turmoil.

Knowing that about the city of Poznań was informative, but it missed one crucial point: that name was not just used to designate the city by that name, but also the region surrounding it. Similar to my own circumstancesin which, when I say I'm from New York, I could be indicating either the city or the statewhen my great grandparents told that census enumerator in 1920 they were from Posen, they meant the region, not specifically the city.

That region of Poznań had a history of its own, as well. Established in 1815 following the Napoleonic Wars, it was to be a semi-autonomous part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Designated the Grand Duchy of Posen, it turned out not to be, in practice, the theoretical haven of rights for its Polish residents as had been promised with the Congress of Vienna.

With changes in Prussian governmental dictates, Poles saw increasingly difficult times, which eventually led to revolution in 1848. The main result of the fighting was that Posen lost some autonomy, though it continued, as part of the Prussian domain, to be referred to as the Province of Posen, up through the year 1918.

Of course, with the conclusion of the Great Warnot to mention, the war that followed the War to End all WarsPrussia as a political entity ceased to be. By that point, my direct line ancestors were thankfully long gone from the region of Poznań. But because they once called that region homeand the place where they married and raised their childrenI wanted to retrace the steps of their lives and see what documentation could be found to verify their stay in Poznań.

But where do you look for records from a country no longer in existence?

As it turned out, at least in this case, an intrepid cadre of genealogical volunteers have found a way to help people like me find those records I've been desiring to see. In a website primarily set in the Polish languagebut fairly easily negotiated, thanks to translation servicesI've found (and can't wait to share) the digital home for at least the marriage records of what was once the Prussian Province of Posen.     

Above: Charge of Poznań Cavalry during November Uprising; 1886 oil on canvas by Polish historical painter Juliusz Fortunat Kossak; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Giving Those Online Translators
a Workout

In order to find and put to use those foreign online databases promising to help discover my Polish roots, it wasn't just a matter of clicking "translate this page" and jumping in. Before I could track down those Polish roots of my Gramlewicz relatives, I had to do some foundational preparation.

For one thing, websites like the one recommended in a recent comment by fellow genea-blogger Patrick Jones included clickable icons signifying on-site translation services. Those were, however, abysmal in my opinion.

There was another option. As I've mentioned before, Google Translate has become my friend. I got quite handy at popping back and forth between the open window for my Polish webpage and the window for the Google translation service.

Still, there were problems with this option. If it had been a translation from a language often used in the U.S.—Spanish comes to mind here—results would likely have been far more satisfying in their accuracy than the results I got, moving from Polish to English. There were far too many sentence results that seemed to make no sense whatsoever in the target language—results like "lack of position" or "crawl your Świerczyńska." Obviously, someone needed to head back to the drawing board on these.

There are more options in my translation bag of tricks, obviously. The main tool turned out to be an outright switch from one browser to another. I'm generally a habitual user of Firefox and never opted to make the move to Chrome when it was developed. However, I'm aware of the translating powers of Google Chrome, so when faced with these sticky translation messes, I simply cut and pasted the URLs into a different window, using the Chrome browser.

I have several websites that I've stumbled upon, now that I'm researching my Polish roots, and it helps immensely to be able to understand what those jaw-breaking, consonant-packed multi-syllabic words are saying to me. Between Google Translate for shorter phrases, and Chrome to handle the heavy lifting of entire webpages, I've made some research headway. And even if those failed to provide understandable results, I found that if I just googled the actual website name—or even a portion of what I was trying to find—it would sometimes produce leads to other websites which provided translations in a more intact state.

Still, in researching my roots in a very specific part of Poland, I needed to add yet another step to my preparatory work. Because my family left Poland back in the late 1800s when national borders in that part of Europe were very different than they are today, getting up to speed on which part of Poland would be the correct geo-political location for that time frame became essential. 

Part handiwork in using what translation services were available online, part detective work via search engines themselves, and part putting resultant Polish websites through their paces, all of these steps required yet another process: the work of discovering the very history of a region now no longer in existence: the region the Germans used to call Provinz Posen, and the Polish referred to as Prowincja Poznańska.

Above: "Four-in-Hand," 1881 oil on canvas by Polish artist Józef Chełmoński; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, August 22, 2016

She's Back!

It was only one week ago when I was telling about my Polish cousin—the one I met online, seemingly by accident, over ten years ago—and how, after sharing so much about our mutual Gramlewicz ancestors, she seemed to vanish just as suddenly as she had appeared in the first place.

I had tried many times to reconnect with this cousin, but it seemed it was just not to be. Though I missed our exchange of emails over the years, by 2013, I had succumbed to the thought of never hearing from her again.

While ours was never more than a "virtual" friendship, I did miss the connection. Sometimes, more than others—for instance, when our daughter was accepted to study in Ireland in the Fall of her senior year, and my husband and I were able to travel to visit her during her time there. In preparing for that trip, I discovered that Ireland has a sizeable Polish population, owing to their place in the European Union. How I wished that my Polish cousin and I could have rendezvoused during that visit to Ireland. But I got no replies to my emailed attempts to connect.

Sometimes, it pays to try once more, even though the last time—and the time before that—ended in failure. Last week, after writing my post on my Polish cousin, I figured, what do I have to lose? I sent her another email.

The next morning, I awoke to a wonderful surprise: a response from Poland! I certainly hadn't expected anything, and was just going through my morning routine in checking email.

The note was short—with the nine hour time difference between us, she had just gotten to work when she found my email—but it's the connection that counts. Of course, there will be years of news to catch up on. Much has happened in the lives of family on both sides of the ocean separating us. And perhaps we will be able to work on figuring out the puzzle of our mutual roots, once again.

Hopefully, the new discoveries I'll be sharing this week will help in moving that search ahead in a significant way.

Above: "The Letter," 1896 oil on canvas mounted on cardboard by Polish painter, Władysław Czachórski; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Now Indexing:
U.S. District Court
Naturalization Records 1824 - 1946

When it comes to genealogical giving back, I like to work on projects that contribute to the data sets I'm currently using. Since I've been pursuing my Polish roots in New York City, this month's choice for my indexing project has been New York City's Southern District of the U.S. District Courts. The focus: naturalization records.

You know I'm wishing I could find some of my family's records there.

Working on this set has been a far cry from my experience last month, when I was sifting through records from Chicago instead of New York. Even though the level of difficulty of the project was assessed at the same "3" ranking for intermediate challenge, it seems to be more of a slog to get things done this month. Perhaps it was just that the instructions for indexing didn't seem to match up with the records being presented for the work.

Just to make sure, I did not try just one set, but three, in order to make sure I hadn't been delivered an aberration in the set. Three times a charm and all that.

It didn't help. I'm afraid my 98% score for entries in agreement from last month (each data set is done twice, and an arbitrator becomes the tie breaker in case of disagreements in transcription) is due to plummet with this month's fiasco.

And I thought I would be helping...

Helping or not, when I participated in indexing at FamilySearch last month, I was doing my part during their Worldwide Indexing Event, when they hoped to coax seventy two thousand volunteers worldwide to do as much indexing as possible over the weekend of July 15 through 17. Preserving old records and all, you know.

Fortunately for the cause, they more than exceeded their goal, garnering the assistance of 116,475 indexers, who completed over ten million records that weekend—and hopefully will continue their gesture of selfless service. Each new digitized record which becomes converted into searchable material adds another tool which may help a researcher chip away at a genealogical brick wall. Who knows? It may be yours. It may be mine. Every little bit makes that difference.

So I found myself bumbling around, yesterday, attempting another afternoon of service to the cause. I find if I regularly schedule my good intentions, they are more likely to happen; right now, I choose to sequester myself away in air conditioned comfort on a Saturday afternoon, when not much of anything else is happening. It helps to think I'm being productive when I'm desperately attempting to stay cool.

New York, however, does not present as cooperative a record set as did Chicago. Part of me wants to do more—just to see if I can work my way out of a sticky spot. Another part of me shrinks away in horror that I've really gone and messed things up.

But then, it's encouraging to scroll down this page and see how progress is being made on some select indexing projects. I can see some projects on Irish records are just getting their start—a thought, since I like to participate in regions where I am researching my roots—and can see the encouraging signs that others are closing in on completion, like marriage records for the states of Kentucky and Massachusetts. When we each do our part, eventually we see ourselves crossing those finish lines.

Above: "The first horse races in the Field of Mokotów in Warsaw" by Polish painter, January Suchodolski; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Off the Shelf:
The Stonecutter's Aria

There's a reason why I've delved into examples of stories based on personal family history: I want to sample what other writers have been doing with their own stories. A very different style from the ones I've mentioned before is the book I pulled off the shelf for this month's read.

Last month, I shared a book taken mostly from the journals kept by the ancestors of one writer. For this month's read, I headed in an entirely different direction in exploring how researchers are sharing their family history.

Styled as a three-act play—or more likely, given this writer's Italian roots, an opera—The Stonecutter's Aria, the book I chose to read for August, was a complicated story, yet delivered in a straightforward and warm manner. I guess there are as many ways to share a family's story as there are families.

Told through the voices of the various people in her family tree, Carol Faenzi's 2005 publication is actually billed as "a work of creative non-fiction." It is also part memoir, as the author's search for her family's roots served as a therapeutic antidote to unfortunate events which occurred in her own life.

In filling in the blanks in her family's story, Carol Faenzi of course fictionalized many of the day-to-day events in the lives of her great grandparents. There is no possible way to know the minutiae of what was said, done, and thought during the everyday lives of these residents of the Tuscan village of Carrara. What might be considered, in the eyes of a trained genealogist, as a detractor to her work is amply made up by the life she breathed into the story. It is more likely that the reluctant family audience whose eyes might have glazed over in the strict adherence to verifiable fact alone would not remember as much of their family's saga as would someone treated to Faenzi's handling of her own family tale.

In contemplating how to eventually share my own family's story, I've tried on many different styles and versions—with many more such examples to share as I work my way through my collection. It's become quite obvious to me that, if anyone is to remember the details of an ancestor's life, the writer needs to be able to breathe fresh life into the assemblage of facts from long-gone centuries. With all the twists and dramatic turns in the story of the Faenzi family's generations, Carol has indeed produced a legacy by which her ancestors may be remembered.

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.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Someone Else's Aunt Anna

Perhaps it is owing to the commonness of the given name Anna that so many people can say they have an Aunt Anna. I do. My Polish cousin's father obviously did, for even though Anna Gramlewicz Jablonski was far removed from her family in Poland, she regularly sent letters back home and kept up on the family news.

It was thanks to a genealogy forum almost ten years ago that I discovered yet another person who could call this same Anna her Aunt Anna. Unlike my Polish cousin, this woman was descended from the little brother of Vincent Jablonski, Anna's husband. Anna was actually her mother's aunt; her mother grew up in the same apartment building in Brooklyn, New York, in which Anna had lived after Vincent died in 1943.

I got the first note from this Jablonski relative after she had seen my forum post on what was then Of course, I was ecstatic to connect with someone who said Anna Gramlewicz was her own mother's Aunt Anna. Although the forum concept is so helpful, it was not often that a legitimate response materialized from one of my forays on these online sites.

Because this woman's mother grew up in the same housing complex as her cousins—the children of Vincent and Anna Jablonski—she likely was quite close to those relatives. Subsequent emails came well stocked with details on Anna's children and grandchildren. There was even a little bit on the great-grandchildren of one branch in Anna's tree. She provided me with current addresses of those who were still living, so I had up to date locations of where Anna's descendants had settled, as recently as seven years ago.

This other researcher, as it turns out, had also begun putting her records in a family tree online at, so I've been able to see details as she adds them. And most recently, she mentioned considering doing DNA testing, although because we do not descend from the same common ancestor, it wouldn't reveal any helpful information for Anna's side of the family.

She even shared an old photograph of her side of the Jablonski family, which I loved seeing, even though it didn't include any members of my side of the family. It was still fun seeing how handsome Vincent was, and wondering if that was where his daughter Irene got her own classic facial features that were so photogenic in her engagement announcement, back in 1940.

With every little bit of detail added by these fellow researchers who found me online, the story of our immigrant ancestors grows clearer. I'm certainly thankful for everyone who has been willing to share their part of the family saga.

There was one more member of this Gramlewicz family who didn't share that immigrant part of the story: Anna's baby brother Hieronym. Born somewhere in Poland after his parents decided to leave New York City for good in 1912, his was the part of the family story which eventually provided the connection with my Polish cousin whose initial email to me in 2005 got this whole research project started in the first place.

Above: Undated photograph of the Jablonski family. Standing in the top row, from left to right, are Sigmond, Vincent (Anna's future husband), their mother, Marianne, and Mae; seated in the front row are Bertha, Viola, their father Alexander, Stephen and Lottie. Photograph courtesy Beth Galyon from the family's private collection; used by permission.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Getting to Know Anusia

It wasn't until I had met my Polish cousin, thanks to an online genealogy forum, that I learned the woman I had discovered in my great-grandparents' Brooklyn apartment was known, across the ocean, as Anusia.

Of course, if I hadn't discovered Annie Gramlewicz in the 1915 New York State census and seen her relationship listed as niece, I probably would have been oblivious to the existence of the entire Gramlewicz family connection. Each discovery after that one opened the door to further revelations about this Gramlewicz family—but each new fact emerged only gradually, over a span of years.

In addition, each revelation came courtesy of the help of others. First, it was with the help of the Polish cousin who tracked me down online and was willing to take up an email correspondence that spanned nearly a decade. After that, with the help of other genealogical researchers who realized they and I were searching for the same ancestors. But even before all that, it was thanks to the power of online outlets that I was able to reach out and meet others—and have others reach out and connect with me. It's that receptivity to community effort which has made such "serendipity" we experience in our research possible—something we need to never forget.

While I eventually learned, thanks to the hundred year old documents which sprung me on my path of discovery, that Anna Gramlewicz married Vincent Jablonski in Brooklyn and had two children, it was what I couldn't learn without the input from others that helped bring her story to life.

Take, for instance, Anna's nickname. Remember, Anna was the older sister of the man who became my Polish cousin's grandfather. While Anna returned to New York after going back to Poland with her family, the rest of her siblings remained somewhere in Poland. Because Anna and her older sister Helen were nearest in age of all the surviving siblings, of course they were close and kept in touch. Over the years, despite what was happening around them as the world's tragic history unfolded, Helen and Anna exchanged letters across the ocean.

What was interesting to learn from this Polish cousin is that Anna was not remembered by the family as Anna, or even Annie. Her sister Helen called her Anusia—and that was the only name the younger members of the family remembered ever hearing.

What the family in Poland did know about Anusia was that she was married and had children. She apparently wrote letters to not just Helen, but also to her baby brother's wife—this Polish cousin's grandmother—throughout her life. Although this cousin thinks Anusia never came to Poland—which I subsequently discovered was not so—she was aware of the letter exchange, which continued "with somebody from USA" until "the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s" but "we never asked about it."

Considering this Polish cousin and her siblings would have been very young, that is not a surprise to learn. Unfortunately, the one who last sent the replies back from Poland was this cousin's grandmother, who died in 1994, so even if the current generation wanted to, they no longer can ask any questions. The last remaining relative from that generation is now gone.

Somewhere in her father's home is a photograph of his grandparents and their family—Mieczyslaw, Jozefa and their children—made in Brooklyn before the Gramlewiczes returned to Poland. I can't tell you how I wish I had a copy of that photograph! I am sure, however, that that is not the only copy of that family portrait. Somewhere, back in New York, there are other members of Anusia's family—the branch of the Gramlewicz family which chose to remain in the United States—and I happened to get in touch with a distant relative of theirs who is also researching that family line.

Just as I mentioned earlier that genealogy is often a crowdsourced exercise, it turned out that researching this unusual surname has been the same. A little corroboration via email confirmed the details I had discovered, thanks to online documentation, and allowed me to make another—albeit distant—family connection once again.

Above: "En villégiature" (At the Resort), oil on canvas by Évariste Carpentier circa 1890; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Born in America, Died in Poland

Though I haven't found any passenger lists showing just which of the members of the Gramlewicz family chose to leave the U.S.A. in November of 1912, it's simple enough to deduce who in the family might have been part of that traveling group, based on the most recent census record.

The federal enumeration, taken only two years earlier, showed the household of Mieczyslaw and Jozefa Gramlewicz to include four daughters: Helen, Anna, Wanda and Martha. Helen, at the time of the census, was fourteen years of age. Martha had just been born within that very year.

The gap between twelve year old Anna and her three year old sister Wanda was a silent testament to the members of the family who were no longer with them: oldest son Boleslaw dying earlier that very year, Jan Ferdinand—or "Fred," according to the 1900 census, the only American document other than his birth record on which I can find evidence of his existence until his death record in New York City in early September of that same year—and their sister Sophie, who slipped in and out between those census records in barely a year's time from 1905 to 1906.

According to my Polish cousin, Helen, Wanda and Martha spent most of the remainder of their lives in Poland. Even this cousin's family wasn't aware of that recently-discovered one-year stay Anna made in Poland, the year her family made that return journey.

My Polish cousin, being too young to remember these relatives, had consulted with her father, once she and I started exchanging email letters. Of course, she and her family were delighted to learn there was still a family connection in the U.S., no matter how remote. And I got to learn what became of those returning sisters, Helen, Wanda and Martha.

Helen, the oldest, we already learned had returned to the United States once again in 1920, visiting her by-then married sister Anna and brother-in-law, Vincent Jablonski. My Polish cousin told me, at the time we started corresponding, that Helen's name on her birth certificate (or perhaps baptismal record) was actually Sewerina Helena Gramlewicz, born December 27, 1895 in Brooklyn. She even provided me with Helen's passport number. Helen was undoubtedly considered as, and treated as, a United States citizen.

If only there was a way to know what Helen's intentions were—or even some paper trail of records from which to deduce her life's timeline. My cousin did tell me that Helen married a man called Jan Sotomski, but didn't tell me where the two had met, or where, even, they married. I have not been able to locate any marriage records here—but, of course, not everything is revealed online. Without any clue as to which jurisdiction to zero in on, though, it would be quite a wild chase to search for the marriage documentation, despite the unusual names.

She did tell me that Helen and Jan came back to Poland in the 1960s—but from where? And that after their return to Poland, Jan died in Warsaw. I did try Googling that name, which yielded only a few hits for one specific individual. His profile seems so unusual that I can't be sure it would fit this husband for Helen, for whom I have such little identifying material.

My Polish cousin did tell me that Helen and Jan had no children, and that Helen herself died in Warsaw on April 19, 1987.

Next after Helen among those in the Gramlewicz family who had returned to Poland was their sister Wanda. All my correspondent could tell me about Wanda is that she died in Poland in 1950.

The youngest sister, Martha, was identified by my Polish cousin as Marta. Actually born May 13, 1909, in the Queens borough of New York City, Marta likely remembered nothing of her native land, traveling with her parents to Poland shortly after she turned three. Like her older sister Helen, she also had no children, though she was married twice. The first husband's surname was Rychlewski. Marta's second husband was named Meller. Both marriages were in Poland, so I have no dates or further details...yet.

Though Mieczyslaw and Jozefa had lost their two sons Boleslaw and "Fred," in New York, that was not the end of the story for the couple. They did, after all, have a son who grew to adulthood, carrying on the Gramlewicz surname, as you may have surmised by my astute cousin's desire to contact someone—anyone—researching that very surname. It was that one bearer of that surname who brought it forward to the next generation with two sons of his own—but he was not one of the siblings who had been born in the United States before the family's reverse migration. His story, however, we'll reserve for later, for first we need to spend time on the one remaining Gramlewicz child who was born in New York: Anna.

Above: "La laveuse de navets," (The Turnip Washer), 1890 oil on canvas by Belgian Impressionist painter, Évariste Carpentier; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

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 writtena hope each one of us genea-bloggers harborsbut 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 emailsabout 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 namean anglicized form of her Polish given name plus the surname Gramlewiczand 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 namehe is still alive and living in Polandand 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 Hieronimthe 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 cousinespecially one born in Poland, where the family had returnedbut 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 unrealas if not ever having met face to face "in real life" equals never getting to know someonebut 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.
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