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.


  1. Looking forward to reading more about this Polish connection in your family!

    1. Glad to have you along for the journey, Marian! One thing I can say is, after having given up on this search for so long, I'm delighted to discover so many more helpful resources, now that I'm revisiting this family mystery.

  2. Your email address still being valid after all this time is remarkable - to me anyway.

    1. Well, it's not as good as it may sound, Iggy. It wasn't necessarily through any efforts of my own.

      One of the bonuses (in my opinion) of those old genealogy forums is that you could post your questions or comments on the forum without necessarily having to divulge your email to the world (better for avoiding becoming a spam target!) and the forum service would alert the respective parties of responses to queries by individual email. So no email address needed to be posted publicly.

      A corrolary to that service was that, should a participant subsequently change his or her email address, as long as the participant went back to the website and updated his private email information, those alerts could be forwarded to the updated address.

      As it turns out, I had changed my email address a couple times since I first started posting on that site, but I was always careful to do the "forwarding address" correction, so notices would always follow me.

      Of course, once my cousin made contact with me, we exchanged addresses and continued to contact each other directly.

      Now, I fret over the possibility that she is the one who has changed her address. Even though I've sent notes, I never get responses--not even return messages that the email is no longer in use. It's likely it was one of those easy-to-get email services (like Yahoo or hotmail) that now lie dormant and forsaken, but not shut down.


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