Tuesday, September 17, 2019

That Other Sister

It is one thing to find an ancestor to fit on the family tree, when you are working your way backwards in time from the relatives you know now. It is an entirely different thing to commence the search from a hundred years ago and on a different continent. Once I was able to jump "the pond" with my great-grandfather Anton Laskowski, though, a world of Polish online resources showed me the possibility that I could.

The key was finding just one Polish genealogy website. I somehow stumbled upon a volunteer online project dedicated to transcribing old marriage records from that very province which my great-grandparents once called home: Posen, or, as the city at its center is called now, Poznań. That website is called, in English, the Poznan Project. Later, and through a recommendation I found at that first site, I discovered a second resource at the database called BaSIA.

What I did, once I discovered those online resources, was rather tedious: I looked up every instance in which any of my paternal ancestors' surnames showed up, linked to the area around Żerków, their ancestral homeland, the place I had discovered through various passenger records. Each time there was a mention of the surname Gramlewicz, for instance in the Poznan Project marriage transcriptions, I would write down who that person was, who that person was marrying, and names of any parents or witnesses.

Eventually, that mass of names, clustered in groups of surnames like Laskowski or Gramlewicz or the several other affiliated families, sorted itself into logical categories. For instance, since I already knew from my great-grandfather Anton Laskowski's death certificate what his parents' names were, all I had to do was isolate all the marriage records—and later, the birth records from BaSIA—to see who else claimed Mateusz Laskowski and Elzbieta Gramlewicz as parents.

As it turned out, there were four children in that group: Anton, of course, and the sister whom we discovered became the direct line ancestor of Annie Gramlewicz, the one who returned to New York City to marry after her family returned to Poland. And there was the brother I mentioned last week, as well.

There was, however, yet another sibling to account for. Her name was Agnes, and from what I could find in those Polish websites, she was born in 1852 in Żerków. Fortunately for me, I could also find additional records showing me a glimpse of the rest of her life. She was married in 1874, for instance, to Alexius Szumski. Even better, those Polish websites revealed that she and Alexius had at least three children: Victoria, Ludwig, and Joseph.

Life must not have been kind to Agnes, however, for the Szumskis lost their firstborn within six years of her birth, and their youngest—Joseph, born in 1881—lived barely a year. He died the same year as his father, Alexius, leaving Agnes with her then-four-year-old son, Ludwig.

As often happened to young widows in such situations, Agnes eventually married again. This time, it was five years into her widowhood when, in 1887, she married a man from the same village with the impossible-to-spell name of Ignatz Giernatowski.

From that point onward, there was nothing to be found in those Polish websites—not a surprise, seeing they had a limited date range for the collection. This also, however, presented a research dilemma: though the process was tedious to search through those Polish websites, they did, in the end, give me exactly what I was looking for—but nothing more. I could find anything about those surnames I wanted, as long as it was a transcription of a birth, marriage, or death record within a very limited time frame. What became of those people after that point, I couldn't tell. The record set's silence about such answers was reasonable to expect, but frustrating for someone wanting to know what happened to her ancestors' families.

From that point onward, in searching for what became of this family, I had two hopes. One, of course—you knew this would pop up again at some point—was DNA testing. The other, a much less scientific approach, was to take a leap of blind faith.


  1. Such a sad era for mothers. Fingers crossed we find Agnes.

    1. Pursuing family history does expose us to realities of life for our ancestors, and many of those stories were of hardships we have never experienced. It is an unexpected learning curve which comes as a package deal when we sign on to the notion to learn about our family's roots.


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