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, √Čvariste Carpentier; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Oh yes there is a story here. Reverse migration. Interesting.

    1. It certainly took me by surprise, Grant. Then again, apparently others have found that story in their family history, as well, judging from the comments the other day.

  2. Replies
    1. I'm clueless. Maybe my Polish cousin might have heard from her grandfather...


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