Monday, September 16, 2019

Not Necessarily a Niece

If you have been following along this past week as I unfolded the story of Annie Gramlewicz, the eighteen year old who lived, for a while, with my great-granparents, Anton and Mary Laskowski, you may have realized, as I did, that there was something squishy about Anton's report that Annie was his niece. After all, in that 1915 New York State census, Anton said he was sixty nine years of age. Annie may well have descended from a sister of Anton, but with that age difference, I wasn't sure Anton's sister would be the one who was Annie's mom.

Still, I was glad for any hint to help me piece together a family constellation for my mystery paternal ancestors. At the point when I first grappled with this family history enigma, there were not many online resources—and certainly no reach as helpful as our current connection to genealogical websites based in other countries.

I did, at that time, what most researchers found helpful: I sidestepped the situation by looking at collateral lines. Anything to find a lead to a homeland in The Old Country.

My most fruitful clue came by seeking what became of Annie's sister Helen. Remember, of that Gramlewicz immigrant family in Little Poland in New York City, almost all of their children had died young—except, during those earlier years, Annie and her sister Helen.

My research breakthrough came when I discovered a passenger record showing Helen's return to New York, after the family had permanently returned to Poland. The passenger list included details such as Helen's ability, as a bank clerk, to read and write not only English and Polish, but German as well. Most important—for my research notes, at least—was Helen's statement regarding where, exactly, her parents remained in Poland. Her answer: Żerków.

Sure enough, Żerków could be considered part of that region of origin that my Laskowski great-grandparents had once claimed as their homeland: "Posen." And by now, I have access to some wonderfully helpful online resources based in Poland. Believe me, I've searched for marriage and birth records showing any connection to the surname Gramlewicz—especially if linked to that other surname of interest, Laskowski.

Line upon line, as the saying goes, I built up my case for the connection between Anton Laskowski and Anna Gramlewicz. In the end, it did turn out that Anton had a sister—Marianna—who married a Gramlewicz. But Marianna and her husband, Lorenz Gramlewicz, were not the ones I found in the census records in New York City with children named Anna and Helen; their parents' names were given—admittedly with a great deal of spelling and handwriting angst among those American enumerators—as variations of Miecyslaus and Josefa.

Besides, Josefa's maiden name, as I later discovered, was Byczyńska (do not attempt saying that without your handy pronunciation guide). That tongue-twisting appearance of yet another Polish surname became good news to me, though, for it provided yet another name to search in those newly-found Polish genealogy websites. And it helped me build that family tree for Anton's mystery sister. That, in fact, was what led me to provide a name for that shadow sister, in the end—and to show me that it wasn't just one sister Anton had, but at least two.


  1. I like the start to this week's novella!

    1. I have to say, Miss Merry, this one would be no story at all, if it weren't for the abundance of digitized records coming online at the rate they are. I cannot imagine how a researcher would have been able to piece together this many source documents to even find such a story, if it were not for the online resources we enjoy today.


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