Thursday, September 12, 2019
A Sister Where a Shadow Used to Be
It may have been a surprise to discover that my great-grandfather, Anton Laskowski, had a brother, but it wasn't a surprise to learn he had any siblings at all. That clue came to me early in my quest to uncover my paternal origins. And though it was an unexpected discovery, it occurred in the very regular process of checking all documents which contained the names of my grandparents and their family.
My habit, as I work through each person in my pedigree chart, is to attach every document pertinent to that individual in the individual's "sources" column at Ancestry.com, where I keep my online version of each family tree. That would mean, for Anton and Mary Laskowski, for each year they appeared in the census, I would link that digitized image to their individual profile.
In Anton's case, since he arrived in the United States sometime in the 1880s and died in 1939, that means I have a link to his entry for the 1900 census as well as that for 1910, 1920, and 1930. Then, too, because that Polish immigrant family settled in New York City, it also meant having the additional reference of each New York State census—for those available in 1892, 1905, 1915, and 1925.
It was in those state enumerations that I discovered most of the surprises for my father's family. It was there, for instance, that I discovered my father's original surname was something like Puhalaski, not the surname I grew up claiming. It was also in those state records that I learned about a possible sibling for Anton.
In Anton's household on North Eighth Street in Brooklyn, long after his daughter—my grandmother—and her young family had moved out, there appeared in the 1915 census another woman by the name of Annie Gramlewicz. Gramlewicz was a name similar to a surname I had already seen mentioned concerning this family: on Anton's 1939 death certificate, his mother's maiden name was written as Granlewicz.
The census also reported that Annie was eighteen years of age, born in the U.S., and was working as a saleslady. Most importantly, I learned from that census that Annie was Anton's niece. Of course, it could be possible that Annie was related to the Laskowskis through Anton's wife Mary, rather than through Anton, himself, but technically, census instructions indicate that relationships are to be designated in relation to the head of the household.
If Annie was single—and there was no way of telling from this state enumeration—with a surname different than her uncle's, that would mean she was related to him through a sister, not a brother. Somewhere, then, there was a Laskowski daughter in the previous generation who had married a Gramlewicz. Though I didn't yet know her name, at least now I knew there was such a relative.
The chase was on to find any record of a Gramlewicz family related to a Laskowski family—or at least a Gramlewicz daughter born in the United States around 1897. Almost all references, on Ancestry.com at least, seemed to point to one family: that of Mecislaus and Josephina—or similar spelling variations, depending on the year of the enumeration. In that household, Annie was listed as having been born in June of 1897, according to the 1900 census, and though her age seemed to vary unevenly with each subsequent census, the family constellation remained mostly the same.
Miecyslaus—or, as he was listed in the 1905 state census, John—and his wife actually had at least seven children during their years in New York City, though several of them died in childhood. The constants among those names listed in census records were four daughters: Anna and her older sister Helen, and then two very much younger daughters named Wanda and Marta.
Identifying that potential family unit helped me locate more information on the Gramlewicz connection between Annie and her uncle Anton Laskowski, though I didn't find documentation until many years after this initial discovery of Annie in her uncle's household. All I could figure, at that point, was that Annie must have been related to a sister—as yet unnamed—of Anton.
Long before I discovered those online resources in Poland to help pinpoint names and dates for my ancestry in Żerków, however, I got a surprise online message from someone who had found some of my cousin bait, and wrote to tell me the rest of the story about the Gramlewicz connection.
Above: Just when I wasn't expecting it, I stumbled upon a clue implying another branch of my mystery great-grandfather's family tree through a niece living in his household, according to the 1915 New York State census. This is the entry that got me started searching for any clues about Anton Laskowski's implied sister. Image courtesy Ancestry.com.