Friday, September 13, 2019

Cousin Bait Connects Again

In an era now, in which genetic genealogists bemoan the lack of responses from their own DNA matches, it may be hard to believe that only a few short years ago, there was a community of family history enthusiasts who thrived on their online connections. In the online forums of the 1990s and early years of this century, genealogists were quite eager to share those troublesome research details which stumped them. There would be notes from people trying to locate information on ancestors who seemed to disappear from the paper trail, requests for death certificates, marriage records, or even wills. Folks seemed quite happy to share what they could find for each other, all thanks to online connections.

At some point during those halcyon days, I must have posted a comment about the hard-to-find surname Gramlewicz on one of those genealogy forums—which was a good thing, because I had just found a puzzling record concerning Annie Gramlewicz, the niece who had been living with my great-grandparents, Anton and Mary Laskowski. Though Annie had reported in the 1915 New York State census that she was born in the United States, the record I found was a passenger list reporting her arrival in New York from Poland.

Anna, sailing from Bremen, Germany, aboard the SS Friedrich der Grosse, arrived at the Port of New York on December 3, 1913. In the passenger records, Anna gave as her date of birth June 24, 1897. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she was returning to an address at "Grenpoint" on Long Island. This would not be a surprise to anyone who knows that Greenpoint, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its concentration of Polish immigrants, was once nicknamed "Little Poland." It was not long after her arrival in New York that Anna showed up in the 1915 state census, not in her parents' household, but in the Laskowski household.

Just why she ended up there—or came there from Poland instead of the more reasonable location in one of the neighborhoods of Brooklyn—would have remained a mystery to me, except for one fortunate connection. Because I, as had many other researchers before me, had taken advantage of online resources for genealogists and posted my questions about the Gramlewicz family, someone else had spotted my questions and decided to get in touch.

You can imagine my surprise when I received a message from someone with the surname Gramlewicz, writing me from Sicily, claiming to be a possible distant cousin from a family in Poland. But as we discussed over the course of a very helpful correspondence, there was a reason for Anna's passage, though a U.S. citizen, from Poland in 1913. At some point after the Gramlewicz's disappearance from American census records—I couldn't locate them after the 1910 census—they had decided to give up the immigrant struggle in the rough and tumble neighborhoods of New York City and return to their homeland. The whole family left; the only one who requested to return was Anna. That 1913 passage was what must have been the result of her very difficult decision.

Her parents and sisters, however, also faced some difficult times: that family split happened on the eve of a brutal war. Yet, the family fared well enough to welcome into their home a new son, Hieronim, born in Żerków, Poland, in September of 1912. That new son eventually became the grandfather of the woman who had contacted me, thanks to the cousin bait I had posted on one of those genealogy forums, years ago.

Annie—the one who came back to America—herself went on to marry and have a family of her own. Thanks to other connections from those now-outdated forums, I've been able to connect with relatives from this branch of the Gramlewicz family, as well. And the cousin who originally contacted me from Sicily mentioned remembering the older relatives exchanging letters in English with the sibling who went back to America—until one day when the letters no longer came, and, remembering, she always wondered what became of her American relatives.

Cousin bait, in the end, brought each of us together, and gifted us with the answers we were seeking.

Above: Line from a 1913 passenger record reveals that sixteen year old Anna Gramlewicz returned alone from Europe to live, once again, in Brooklyn, New York; image courtesy


  1. Great story. A community can help put the family together!

    1. Genealogy has traditionally been a crowdsourcing endeavor, Miss Merry. I like how you put it: it takes a community to find the answers we are seeking!

  2. My great grandparents settled in NJ about 1892, but returned to Slovakia about 1897. My grandmother was born in NJ in 1893, but returned to the U.S. in 1910. She never went back to Europe and, although she saw her father a couple of times when he came back for short periods of time, she never saw her mother again and never met her youngest brother, who was born in 1917. The decision to stay/return or go back home must have been a difficult one.

    1. Linda, it is stories like the one you just shared that illustrate my contention that, though they seem to be average everyday people, our ancestors endured such drama and intricate detail in their lives as to make it well worth our while to learn about it. Their stories, as it turns out, are quite compelling, and a cause for some introspection on our part--especially considering: what would we do if we were in their shoes?


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