Thursday, December 31, 2020

Seeing 2020

 

While there may be some of you who will be more than happy to see 2020 to the door tonight, we need to pause and consider, in this twilight of a difficult year, what the year may have brought to us.

To say that this would be an easy exercise would not be quite inclusive of the difficulties such a year presented for some of us, not the least of which are those families who have lost loved ones to a most unexpected disease. And yet, though we may not be ready to consider it, this strange and unwieldy year has presented us with some hidden benefits, as well. We just need to don spectacles to enable us to see twenty-twenty about this year we're about to bid adieu.

I've learned that developing an attitude of gratitude can help lift up our outlook, so even in this dreary disappointment of a year, I'm choosing to see benefits. It took a year like this, for instance, for me to look forward to an expanded vegetable garden—just in case—and then realize how much more healthy our meals were becoming when we couldn't eat out as much, or had to go back to basics in the kitchen because of supply chain problems emptying our grocery store shelves. Our inventiveness certainly got a workout—but at least we had those creative juices to fuel our inspiration.

Our lawn, as another example, experienced an unexpected revival, after post-drought ravages, because a family friend's lovely plans for a sunset wedding on the beach in San Diego got canceled. We offered, as the only consolation we could think to provide, our humble front lawn for a private garden wedding where extended family could gather safely outdoors. Surprise! The family took us up on what was a far cry from the natural beauty of the Pacific coast, and we all—after hustling to replant our dead lawn—had the opportunity to re-discover how fun it is to just get together, without all the professional trappings of a turn-key event, and enjoy each others' company while celebrating a special day. Added bonus: we again have a green, not dead and brown, lawn for a front yard.

All that to say: difficulties have a way of prompting us to delve inwardly deeper to find the resilience that keeps humankind going. I'm afraid, in our case, our inner resilience had been getting lazy and needed that workout. Even though I wish we could hang out with friends at a favorite restaurant, or travel to places we'd love to visit—just like you do—I've found that, if we have the will to overcome, there will be a way. We will overcome this year's difficulties. And we will be stronger for having faced the challenge.

Looking deep into the stories of our ancestors has provided inspiration, as well. Revisiting the stories of our grandparents' and great-grandparents' generations shows us how their contemporaries dealt with the ravages of the 1918 flu pandemic, or with the decimation of modern warfare developments during the Great War, and provide us inspiration to face our own challenges.

As my family history research reaches deeper into the past, I discover buried stories in documents of generations who came long before our great-grandparents. One such record I'll be adding to my "Twelve Most Wanted" research goals for the new year will be the information gleaned from the will of my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose of colonial Pennsylvania, whose daughter Elizabeth was born right in the midst of that turbulent year of 1776.

Elizabeth's father, as it turned out, chose to share in the struggle that enabled a nascent movement to emerge as a new nation. He will become my Ancestor Number Six for this year's Twelve Most Wanted, and from that focus, hopefully, I'll gain a clearer understanding of what at least one family faced during turbulent times of their own. 


Above: Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851 oil on canvas by German-American artist Emanuel Leutze; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Pink Picket Fence

 

Was it in a dream in the hazy dawn hour this morning when I thought I saw a pink picket fence? Perhaps in such an early waking moment, the vision stuck with me in an altered light, but there it was: a picture quaint, but not quite right. That serves well to describe Ancestor Number Five in this new Twelve Most Wanted for 2021: a woman whose story was nearly obliterated with the early end of her life.

Her name was Sarah Howard Ijams, and she was born to a family likely to yield my husband's sisters more than one claim to membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her unfortunate early death in 1829—possibly due to complications of childbirth—yielded very few records. Most important of those records would be that of her marriage to John Jay Jackson, which somehow was supposed to have occurred at a United States outpost in territory near the current city of Saint Louis, Missouri. How others could use the Jackson line for lineage qualification is not clear to me, given the lack of currently-existing records for that marriage. Perhaps, like the pink picket fence in my dream, the picture must have been shaded by a twilight zone of documentation in those earlier days of DAR.

Still, it is not surprising to find that one near relative of a Revolutionary Patriot could have intermarried with others of the same heritage, and that is indeed the case for this same Sarah Howard Ijams—which is why, this year, I want to approach the puzzle from her own family's side, rather than her husband's Jackson lineage. Even if I never find actual documentation for her marriage to John Jay Jackson, Sarah herself can lead my mother-in-law's descendants to DAR membership qualification. It's just a matter of piecing together some solid documentation and submitting the application—sans pink picket fence—a great goal for my fifth family history focus for the coming year.


 

Above: Winter Scene on a Canal, oil on panel by Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Trying This One Again

 

Who says you can't go back and repeat a goal from a previous year? 

It may have been ambitious to lay out a year-long research plan last year, outlining my focal point for each of twelve months with one apiece of what I dubbed my "Twelve Most Wanted." True, I got caught up with some projects and they ended up stretching out longer than their allotted month in the research sunshine. But even though I decided to apply my "Twelve Most Wanted" project for a second year, that doesn't mean that I can't go back for a do-over.

The idea, both for 2020 and for 2021, was to devote three months apiece to the four family branches I've consistently researched for our family's history. I started with three months—one ancestor apiece for each of those months—dedicated to my mother's family tree. Then I turned to devote three months to my mother-in-law's tree. Following that, I kicked off the second half of the year with three months' work on my father-in-law's Irish roots. The wrap-up quarter tackled my own father's well-disguised ancestry. I needed the whole year to muster that running start for the final challenge.

I'll follow that same pattern for the new year, as you've perceptively noticed for the first three ancestors I've targeted for 2021—all connected to my mother. For today's selection—first of three for my mother-in-law—I want to go back and pick up on the task I laid out for myself last year, but never managed to address. Hopefully, next year's protocol will include better time management for research projects.

With that, I'll revisit that goal from 2020: to discover more about the parents of one of my mother-in-law's third great-grandparents, Mary Carroll. Although I already know Mary Carroll's father's name—Anthony Carroll—that is about all I have dug up from documentation concerning him and his wife. Besides, there may be some discrepancies regarding her mother's name. Thus, in the research slot for Ancestor Number Four for 2021, I'll be looking for Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Carroll, residents of Morgantown in what was then the colony of Virginia.

Don't think this will be an easy project. The time period involved stretches from about 1725 to the early 1800s—an era of history and a location for which records kept may have been sparse. If nothing else, this research project will give me a workout, as well as a refresher course for the training I received last year at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy on Virginia. Hopefully, the result this year for Ancestor Number Four will be more productive than the blank drawn in last year's sequence.


Above: Nineteenth century German lithograph "Der Christmarkt" (The Christmas Market); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Monday, December 28, 2020

Finding Delaney's Family Through D N A

 

The more we discover about our family history through DNA testing, the more willing we are to believe that we can find other details using that same process. In planning my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to research for 2021, my third selection on my mother's side will be one of my third great-grandmothers, Delaney Rosella Townsend, wife of Andrew Jackson Charles.

I've written about the Charles family of Florida before—the family of pioneer traders Reuben and Rebecca Charles, namesake of Charles Spring in the northern part of the state. Their history reaches back far before the place became part of the United States. What I haven't delved into, during that exploration, was where son Andrew found his wife, Delaney.

Born about 1816, supposedly in South Carolina, Delaney was in Florida territory by the early 1840s, when she married Andrew Jackson Charles on March 8, 1841. The only document in which I can find her—albeit with her given name altered to Lania—is the 1850 census. By 1860, ominously, all I could find of her family was her three children listed in her sister-in-law's household. Both Andrew and Delaney had disappeared.

Researching a surname like Townsend is not an easy proposition. It is a fairly common name, one which could easily lead a researcher down the wrong track. And yet, in my thousand-plus DNA matches at each of four of the five companies at which I've tested, I keep getting messages that I connect with others descended from that same Townsend line. Evidently, someone else has found the secret sauce that recomposes that Townsend family.

If I've learned anything from my experience piecing together my father's Polish lines through the sheer power of DNA guidance alone, it is that such clues are possible. From such leads, I can go back and reconstruct the paper trail, not from my present generation working backwards in time, but from that ancestral line reaching forward.

For that third of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2021, this will be Delaney Townsend Charles' moment to have her roots untangled, and to hopefully work my way back at least one more generation. Sometimes, such breakthroughs lead to more than we expect, but I feel positive that, with the guidance of DNA matches, I'll at least be able to reach that level of fourth great-grandparents in the Townsend line.


 

Above: Christmas postcard illustrated by American artist Frances Brundage, circa 1910; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Second Attempt

 

Who says goal setting demands successful completion? It's important to set goals, alright, but we can't let the risk of falling short keep us from setting our sights high. When I began selecting my "Twelve Most Wanted" ancestors to pursue in 2020, of course I had no idea what the future would hold. The important point was to set the course and follow the research plan as closely as possible. Though I often missed the mark, I still accomplished so much more in my family history research than I would have done without setting those monthly goals.

For my Twelve Most Wanted for 2021, I'll likely see that same dynamic come into play—but I'll also benefit from the opportunity to revisit some family history targets for which I fell short in previous years, and pick up where I left off.

My goal selection for February will be a perfect example of that mechanism, for the person I will be researching is one I've attempted pursuing in the past—nearly seven years ago, in fact. Now is the time to retrace that very research trail and see what progress can be made in bringing me closer to that goal of one very special person's story.

Just like my goal for this upcoming month of January, my February "Most Wanted" is not exactly a blood relative, but one who was close enough to members of my family to allow me to draw on my own memories of her. She was my godmother, a close family friend from my mother's early career years. I knew her as Genia Melnitchenko, but most everyone else knew her by her stage name, for she was a ballet dancer.

I've written about her in a brief series which began with this post back in 2014, and continued for the following week. By the time I had finished sharing her story, I realized I wanted to build a family tree for her—I remembered her parents from my childhood visits to their apartment in New York City—but seven years ago, I couldn't quite gain the traction to finish that project. For this February, I will make sure to set aside the time to post a tree online for what I can find on her family.

Don't think, though, that that will be an easy project. It will be a challenge for several reasons, first of which is the necessity of researching an ethnicity for which I know next to nothing. I do recall my mother saying Genia's roots were Russian, but I've since seen indications that a surname like hers would more likely be Ukrainian than Russian—hinting also of some rugged stretches of international history in that region her folks once called home. Then, too, there will be the challenge of a language barrier for this researcher—what? You thought I read Russian?—and the steep learning curve of trying to discover online resources for records from a region buried in two hundred years of disputed history.

Like I said, though, goals are statements of what we intend to attempt to accomplish. That is the beauty of selecting one research goal for each month: I'll spend a month working on this project. I'll give it my best, but when the month is over, I'll carefully mark my spot in the research log so I can pick up this project again in the future, and move on to the next month's challenge. After all, a genealogist's research is never really done; another pass through this project at a future time may yield even more information than what is available now in this pandemic season of our lives.


Above: Image of a tiny Christmas greeting card sent by Genia Melnitchenko; card held in author's private collection.

  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

12 For '21

 

It may be the day after Christmas, but that doesn't mean I stop celebrating. In fact, I've a longstanding romance with the quiet week between Christmas and New Year's Day, so why stop with that? I've learned to expand that celebration period to match up with the traditional twelve days of Christmas.

Being always in pursuit of my family's history, I couple that introspective twelve days with some time to reflect on the twelve ancestors for which I'd most like to learn more. Last year, I dubbed that effort the pursuit of my "Twelve Most Wanted." Because goals help clarify not only what we are seeking, but help us evaluate how far we've come and what is yet to accomplish, it's a worthwhile program to repeat for a new year. So today, I'll begin the process with hopes for a successful research year in 2021.

January is always my month to travel to Salt Lake City and attend the Institute held there, so the class I attend at SLIG determines which ancestor my research will pursue. This year, of course, SLIG will be a virtual experience—alas, minus those glorious hours spent at the Family History Library—but the course I've selected will once again point me in the right research direction.

The course I will be taking next month is In-Depth African-American Genealogy, with lead course instructor LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson. There are several reasons behind my course selection—not the least of which is that I often have beginning genealogy students researching that very topic—but high among those reasons is a personal purpose for attending that course. 

If you remember from years past, I had been seeking some answers to a childhood story passed along by relatives in my mother's family—the story of a man whose name I eventually discovered was King Stockton. Hopefully, my week attending SLIG this January will introduce me to additional resources for finding biographical material on King Stockton. After all, my first breakthrough came when I found his name in a footnote to a historical society journal article. Information is often out there: we just need to learn how to find it.

With that, how can I not kick off the new year with King Stockton as my first "ancestor" to research? Although he is not specifically in my direct line, a few of his descendants are included in my DNA matches—all the more reason to learn more about this remarkable man from the Civil War era.


 

Above: 1907 Christmas postcard by prolific postcard and greeting card illustrator Ellen Clapsaddle; courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Friday, December 25, 2020

A Different Year, a Different Christmas

 

Who would have thought last Christmas, perched just shy of a new year, would have ushered in a year as unexpected as this year has been? And who, at the tail end of this same year, hasn't wished that at least Christmas could have been immune from the ravages of this microscopic monster which has commandeered so many of our life choices.

For at least one day in the midst of this reality, I wish you a respite, a peaceful holiday to devote to the very things which bring you an encouraging calm. Though next year is, again, an unknown, I hope that momentary respite is the gift that Christmas can bring to you this year.


 

Above: "Adoration of the Shepherds," oil painting circa 1622 by Dutch Golden Age artist Gerard van Honthorst; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Moving Toward that Silent Night

 

Sometimes, the world needs that "silent night"—the lull before the anticipated celebration. Perhaps, with a year like this one has been, though we need a celebration, this one will be different than all those we've enjoyed in the past. It certainly has provided time for reflection.

In such times, I often return to those images from art's history which convey a sense of peace or contentment, and for Christmas, this image by Philadelphia chromolithographer Joseph Hoover is one I come back to, year after year. Though we no longer travel by horse-drawn sleigh—and we certainly won't be entertaining at large family gatherings—just looking at this scene evokes that settled feeling of satisfaction often evoked by the culmination of the Christmas season.

No matter how hectic, or disappointing, or devastating this year has been for you, I wish you a capstone holiday weekend which transforms it all into that small haven of peace we hope for in Christmas.


 

Above: "Christmas Eve" lithograph by J. Hoover, undated; courtesy United States Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Year in Review—and What a Mess!

 

If you ask people what their thoughts are on the year of 2020, at best you will get a groan. Worse opinions may border on unprintable. Still, it is a worthwhile effort to take a look backwards, before springing into resolutions for a new year—even if this year was such an insufferable mess.

In the "twelve days of Christmas" leading up to the start of 2020, I decided to take one day for each of those twelve to describe one ancestor for whom I would like to discover additional details. I called the resultant list my "Twelve Most Wanted."

Well, it's been nearly a year since that point—and almost time to repeat the process—so it would be a worthwhile exercise to evaluate my progress. First, though, a caveat: since we can't ever tell what a year may bring us, those plans may suffer a rocky ride through the research seasons. Exhibit A: news reports of 2020, beginning about March. Still, that risk is not sufficient to knock us off track, or prevent us from detailing goals. Just because we can't reach for the stars doesn't mean we shouldn't try. 

So, how did family history research in 2020 go for me? Here is a brief rundown. Keep in mind, the research schedule was formed by taking three ancestors from each of the four family trees I've been working on: my mother's, my father's, and one tree apiece for each of my in-laws. Thus, first quarter was devoted to my mother's ancestors, second quarter to my mother-in-law's ancestors, third quarter to my father-in-law's line, and the final quarter to the struggle over my own father's shrouded ancestry.

January was slated to researching my second great-grandfather William Alexander Boothe of Nansemond County, Virginia. I selected that ancestor because I knew I would be attending a SLIG course in Salt Lake City, where I could consult documents at the Family History Library. Result: I attempted the F.A.N. Club approach and did scout out some neighbors, thanks to tax and land records, but was unable to convincingly identify the right Boothe family.

February's goal was to discover anything further on Frances Reed, wife of Aaron Broyles of Anderson County, South Carolina, and my fourth great-grandmother. While I did review all the footnotes on the Broyles family in a journal kept by a likely Reed relative—Emmala Reed's A Faithful Heart—that and other resources failed to lead to documents allowing me to confirm connections.

In March, my goal was to research the line of my third great-grandmother, Rachel Tilson. My prime reason for that was to document her connection back to her grandfather, William Tilson, as well as link her marriage to James Davis to the Davis family which moved to northeastern Tennessee. My reason was simple: that is the line which would gain me entrance to membership in the Mayflower Society. The sticky part was the fact that these pioneers had long since left their home in Massachusetts and, after wandering around in the southwestern corner of colonial Virginia, surfaced in Tennessee. How to connect that family line via documentation was—and still is, unfortunately—my research albatross. However, knowing this would be a tough challenge, I had doubled up and pulled documents on my January trip to the Family History Library—thinking I'd be back for the NGS conference in May to wrap up that goal. Thanks to COVID-19 plan changes, I'll need to take that one up again in the future.

April and the start of my mother-in-law's line: I pursued Simon Rinehart without much success, though I did find a few documents of interest.

May: same story, only not as beneficial, for the early Ohio settler Elizabeth Stine.

June shows up—still in confinement with this "shelter-in-place" restraint—and my goal for finding Mary Carroll's parents was stymied, though I did find a few interesting details about her husband's family, the Gordons of Pennsylvania, thanks to finding a used-but-useful book at SLIG, back in January.

By the time I leaped into my father-in-law's family tree in July, I had left a miserable research track record behind me. Yet, the goal to discover any details on my father-in-law's great-grandmother Johanna Falvey had one bright spot going for it: DNA matches. Having research collaborators can put a wonderful boost to one's work, even if the results aren't as stellar as hoped. In fact, I poured so much energy into considering all the options that that project spilled over into the next month—and then yet another month more. I blew past my goal of researching Irish ancestors James Kelly and Stephen Malloy in that dogged determination to find an answer on at least one research goal. At the end of September, I finally had to relinquish my iron grip on that research goal from July.

For the last quarter of the year, I pursued discoveries on my father's side. The most gratifying, in October, was using DNA matches to deduce the true identity of my paternal grandfather's mother—and, from that point, her husband, in November. And, once I got the hang of using some Polish websites—hand in hand with Google Translate and several sets of maps, both current and historic—I expanded my understanding of the extended Gramlewicz family in December.

Had it not been for that final month's discoveries, the research year would have been a solid disappointment. But don't think that would be reason to never try again. The practice of lining up a set of research goals for the year is still a worthy process, and I certainly intend to do that again for the new year. The focus is beneficial, as well as a tool to zero in on specific lines which need more work. After all, I have well over twenty thousand people in my family trees—hardly a number small enough to keep each incomplete individual entry uppermost in my mind. It takes some review to see where further work is needed, plus some analysis to determine which goals are most reachable.

Perhaps it is that last sticking point which I need to work on more: determining what goals are do-able, given the current resources. With the unfortunate promise of another year closed up like the quarantine situation we've endured for the past nine months, next year's goals will have to be limited to what can be obtained online. 

In addition, there are other aspects of research which I've realized I also want to plan for: time for reading to glean background information on the time periods in which my ancestors lived, and to learn about the location and the customs of those hometowns. For those of us with limits to the time we can devote to research—in addition to the limits of accessing relevant documents—honing our focus can help shield us from disappointments over lack of progress.

Considering all that, I'm primed to spend some time after a Christmas break to determine those research goals for the upcoming year. There is a certain psychological energy to considering "what's next" that I look forward to. What about you? 

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Reflections on Family Discoveries

 

When we begin our family history journey, we seldom expect to stumble upon deep, dark secrets—let alone unspeakable tragedy. But that doesn't guarantee we will never find it. The pathos of discovering the fate of distant Polish relative, Father Edward Gramlewicz, leaves me pondering the deeper, more meaningful moments in our ancestors' lives.

Finding such vignettes, of course, depends on such personal histories being there in the first place, but it also requires that we mount a search thorough enough to discover what was there to find. And such details will seldom be found, even by the most diligent researcher, unless someone has taken the time to record not only the passage of such events, but the thoughts our ancestors held of having experienced such situations.

For some of our ancestors, we owe a debt of gratitude for the newspapers which catalogued the events in our predecessors' lives—even if the reporters bumbled the spelling or other minor details. At least a record was left to be discovered by the curious among our ancestors' descendants.

For others in our family—usually the unobtrusive, the average, or the downright boring—such research clues may not even be there to be found. In other cases, significant flashes of generosity may only have been captured in history's footnotes—I think here about the footnote in a history journal which, found only by the grace of a search engine's thoroughness, gave me the slightest hint about the man I was researching (and will revisit again, soon), King Stockton.

Yet another set of the ancestors we seek may have been fortunate to have descendants diligent enough to preserve their writings—the letters, journals, diaries in which they recorded their feelings about passing through trying times in history. I think, in that case, of the various members linked to my Broyles line in South Carolina, for whom mentions in such preserved private communications, now shared publicly, enable me to better understand the difficult times in which they lived.

While seeking solid data on the full names, complete dates of significant life markers, or precise locations in which those events occurred may be part and parcel of the genealogical pursuit, I've always sought more. I want to learn what my ancestors were thinking while enduring the experiences in life which befell them. Yes, discovering that Father Edward Gramlewicz suffered an unjust end is a sobering revelation, but understanding what led to that final event grounds the micro-history of my personal family line in the macro-history of world events. That has always been what I've sought in researching family history.

In the coming days, I'll revisit this year's Twelve Most Wanted ancestors to reflect on research progress, and analyze what can be done differently for next year. Then, beginning the day following Christmas and continuing for twelve days, we'll start the whole process over again, selecting twelve new focal points for the upcoming year. I hope you'll consider joining me in the process.  

 

Monday, December 21, 2020

In His Footsteps

 

When we research the collateral lines of our family tree, we seldom expect to run into biographies of those caught in the middle of history's low points. And yet, in following the strands tying together the life story of a man connected to my paternal grandparents' land of origin, the saga points straight toward the early years of the second World War.

Father Edward Gramlewicz, nephew of the Polish-American priest we discussed last week—Father Ignacy Benevenuto Gramlewicz, pastor at Nanticoke, Pennsylvania—was, at first, a name I picked up, only thanks to discovery of a genealogy website in Poland called BaSIA. There, I was gleaning information on every entry I could find for the extended family named Gramlewicz in the tiny town of Żerków. 

My original plan was to piece together a chart which could outline the lines of relationship between my second great-grandmother, Elżbieta Gramlewicz Laskowska, and another Gramlewicz-Laskowski marriage of the same time. If I hadn't discovered a young Gramlewicz woman declared as a niece in my great-grandparents' Brooklyn, New York, household, perhaps I wouldn't have begun such a research journey, but the further I became enmeshed in the research, the more tangled it became.

Thankfully, the discovery of a lengthy memorial article upon the passing of parish priest Father Benevenuto Gramlewicz helped confirm the relationships I had found on the BaSIA website. That niece, Annie Gramlewicz, did indeed have a fascinating heritage, as I discovered when I pieced together her connection all the way back to Blasius Gramlewicz

From her connection to Blasius, I simultaneously discovered his grandchildren Marianna Kujawa, Stanislaus Weinert, and Edward and Hedwig Gramlewicz—all nieces and nephews mentioned in Father Benevenuto Gramlewicz's obituary. That same article mentioned that nephew Edward was also a priest, so I searched to see what information could be found about him, as well.

To say that Edward Gramlewicz followed in his uncle's footsteps is one way to explain the outcome of his life—although the accolades at his life's end were greatly delayed and offered under far different circumstances. To be sure, both nephew and uncle dedicated themselves to serving their Lord in the Polish way of seeing integration of church and life—a viewpoint I can appreciate only after immersing myself in reports of church life written during their era.

Like uncle, nephew Edward was said to have been a passionate social activist. Not unlike the elder priest, for whose newspaper mentions journalists often included imputations of controversy, the younger priest also was said to have had a "hot tempered reputation" and seemed incapable of—or perhaps unwilling to—avoid conflicts, "neither with parishioners nor local authorities."

In a land of freedom of speech, heated discourse might have meant merely that two parties disagreed, but not in Poland. Father Edward Gramlewicz, ordained in Poznań in 1907—only three years before his uncle's passing in Pennsylvania—served in various parishes in western Prussia. By the end of the first World War, during the Greater Poland Uprising, Father Edward was deeply involved in the risky business of sheltering fellow priests targeted by various German terror programs designed to quell Polish opposition.

Perhaps that was a foreshadowing of events to come, both for that Polish homeland and for Father Gramlewicz and his fellow priests. Almost immediately after Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939, various German "operations" detained the "intelligentsia"—teachers, professors, politicians, priests, physicians, community leaders—and destroyed them in mass murders. Estimates of how many Polish leaders and influencers were killed through such Nazi programs reach up to one hundred thousand.

One of those who faced such a fate was Father Edward Gramlewicz who, after being detained, was held in various prisons by the Germans until moved to the concentration camp at Posen, Fort VII, where he died in 1940.

While being outspoken in one's religious duties may brand someone like Father Benevenuto Gramlewicz as "controversial" in an American setting, obviously life's twists did not turn out so well for Father Edward Gramlewicz in German-occupied Poland.

Though memorialized years later in various websites—including one ten-page biography which includes a photograph (on page nine) of his mother, Antonina Nawrocka Gramlewicz, and the same sister Hedwig we've already discussed—the inability of his people to mourn their priest's passing publicly when it happened makes my borrowing these documents for family history research eighty years later seem incongruously chirpy. And yet, I cling to such reports to help me understand—and perhaps all those fellow researchers who bemoan our Polish ancestors' unwillingness to talk about their past life in the land of their birth—why they might have been so tight-lipped.

After all the horror of those years in their homeland—whether for those who lived through World War II, or the Great War, or the many Prussian battles which ravished their town for decades before that point—those (likely German-perpetrated) maligning epithets about Polish people which followed them post-war seem an unfairly-borne after-effect, considering the indignities already suffered. Even in my childhood, long after the close of the second World War, I can remember demeaning jokes about the supposed ineptitude of Polish people. How far I was, at that point, from even knowing I was one of those people, myself, let alone gaining the empathy to understand why such experiences would silence a people so displaced from ever speaking again of their heritage—or sharing its legacy.         

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Of Christmas Cards, Holiday Lights,
and Hopes for a Better Year

 

December has always been an introspective month for me, a time to reflect on where the past year has brought me, and where I'd like to go from here.

Yesterday was a typical example. I started the day off, thinking of Christmas cards. Not many have arrived at our home so far, but then I haven't sent out my traditional batch for the year, either. Perhaps we can chalk it up to that lame excuse of the "pandemic" and how it has hobbled Life As We Know It, in even as small a token as a holiday greeting card—until I think of how many people are no longer on my card list because they are no longer here to check their mailbox.

We went out last night—before our ten o'clock curfew, of course—to view the holiday lights around town. Like everyone else, we needed to see something to bring some cheer to life. In our city, there are usually certain streets which go all out, and we just needed that kind of sight to perk us up. But I was curious to see how many others had decided to add to a public celebration instead of retreating into the year's ongoing morass.

I've entertained a personal theory over the years that people indulge in personal shows of holiday exuberance when the economy has treated them well—and refrain from the usual external show of Christmas lights when times are bad. I didn't think my theory would hold, this season. There are far more reasons besides money for what we saw on our drive. This reason to keep separated—to "social" distance—is not going to overcome our need to connect. That is the real social.

With schools now out for winter break, instructional duties may be over for the year, but teachers still need to grade those final exams. This is the time, too, when some professors ask for student feedback. One plaintive request this week asked for more face time with other people—with other students or even the instructor. Anyone.

Our collective story has become one of pleading for ways to "see" each other—to connect with each other. We miss our friends. Maybe we even miss strangers. Anybody to talk to. I often wonder whether that was the driving force urging all the people who faithfully attended our genealogical society meetings this fall—all of which were presented virtually through a video conferencing service. Amazing how quickly staunch technophobes can adapt to new media when they have enough motivation.

To make plans in this age of uncertainly—how to do it? When, a year ago, I laid out my research plans for 2020, travel to major repositories such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City was no obstacle—until March hit. Granted, major concessions have been made this year by key online services—I think of the opportunities opened up for researching articles through JSTOR, for instance—but uncertainty hobbles the surety of plans.

On the other hand, if we don't make plans, how much can we accomplish without direction? Perhaps the best approach is to plan with the proviso of being prepared to pivot—to be able to change direction at a moment's notice, to shadow the evolving signals of our situation.

Perhaps, just perhaps, those plans need to be a bit more reflective of the times in which we live—to break with the breakneck speed of accomplishment, the need to progress, to include time to reflect, to connect, to learn from the stories of our past. Perhaps with all the adversity encountered by our intrepid ancestors, they can offer some lessons we can glean from their experience.

 

   

Saturday, December 19, 2020

We Start Small

 

When we start small, it can mean all the world, just to see us smile. 


When we leave, a lifetime of treasured memories is left to capture—but only for those who  know how to preserve them.


It takes a lifetime to build a life worth living—but by then, all that's left is the telling. That life worth living, that life once lived, only means something to the ones who received its gift. But the only way that gift can keep giving is if someone takes the time to perpetuate that legacy, to remember and repeat and pass it on.


For Maureen Sander, remembering her life full of love, one year since she left.

For Margaret Stevens, remembering ninety eight years of love and generosity.

 

Friday, December 18, 2020

The One Who Left

 

From time to time when I discuss researching family history with others, I run into people who mention how tight-lipped their immigrant ancestors were about the homeland they left. It is not surprising to learn that some of these ancestors came from the same location as mine: the land that eventually became known as Poland.

I am beginning to realize there may have been a reason for that obstinate refusal of these immigrants to mention anything about the land of their birth. To learn just what it was they refused to speak of takes a willingness to learn more about the history of that land and to then put ourselves in the shoes of people living through such experiences.

Following the story of Father Ignacy Benevenuto Gramlewicz and his nieces and nephews is illustrative of that point. We'll take a glimpse today of what life back home might have been for the young Catholic priest before his decision to leave the land of his birth. On Monday, we'll continue the story with a review of the nephew who, in many ways, followed in his uncle's clerical footsteps.

Thanks in great part to the extensive article in The Wilkes-Barre Record following Father Gramlewicz's 1910 death, we glean some details of the man's early life—details which, in some respects, could not have been documented in any other way at this point, due to lack of available records.

According to that June 6, 1910, article, Father Gramlewicz was born on July 31, 1837, in Żerków—the same small town in Poland where my paternal grandmother was born. Only then, the town was part of a region called by the Germans, Posen. And that region was—depending on the year, the war, and the political decisions—part of a country known as Prussia.

Father Gramlewicz's formal education was completed at the College of Ostrow, located in a city which was recognized as an important center of Polish education—and which eventually became a center of Polish resistance and their national liberation movement.

In 1857, Father Gramlewicz was ordained to the Franciscan order, and assigned his role in the priesthood at Pelplin in 1862, where he said his first mass that April.

His years of finishing his education and entering the priesthood were not particularly peaceful years in Poland's timeline. Prussian politician—and, eventually, Chancellor of the unified German Empire—Otto von Bismarck was deep in the midst of power struggles with the Catholic Church, instigating by 1871 in Prussia a difficult struggle which became known as Kulturkampf. The Chancellor, in essence, blamed the Catholic priests, particularly in the province of Posen, of fostering Polish nationalism—directly in opposition to von Bismarck's diplomatic goals for a unified German empire.

As the Pennsylvania newspaper, The Wilkes-Barre Record, later reported, Father Gramlewicz was one of those who took an active part in opposing the Chancellor's policies. It is no surprise to learn that, in 1875, he was forced to leave his homeland—fled his homeland, as the Saint Stanislaus Church centennial history put it—because he had "helped a brother missionary escape over the border to flee from religious persecution."

At that turning point, the newspaper article reported, Father Gramlewicz's choice was to head to America, "the home of Washington, of freedom and of tolerance of religion."

As outspoken as he was—"fearless in his defense of the Catholic Church," as the Record phrased it—perhaps he was fortunate, as a young priest, to be given that second chance to serve in ministry to "his people" in America. For his nephew—Father Edward Gramlewicz mentioned in the elder Gramlewicz's obituary—his time had not yet come to face a similar ecclesiastical showdown. At a similar decision point in the younger priest's life, the ultimate outcome could not possibly include the same sort of accolades, as we'll see next Monday.    

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Two Nieces

 

Two nieces—one close to home, the other far from it—can possibly cement the connections between a controversial priest and his family back home in Żerków, Poland. We've already explored the connection between Father Ignacy Benevenuto Gramlewicz and the two nephews mentioned in his 1910 memorial, but including the exploration of the family roots of the two nieces also mentioned in that Wilkes-Barre Record article may help clarify some family speculations.

Father Gramlewicz's passing was said to have been mourned by two surviving nieces: "niece Maryanna Kujawska in Europe and niece Jadwiza Gramlewicz of Mount Carmel, this State."

"This state," of course, was the location of priest's parish in Nanticoke: Pennsylvania. But don't think it an easy matter to simply pull up the census record for Mount Carmel and look for "Jadwiza" Gramlewicz. That report, remember, was obtained from a newspaper, and newspapers are known for editorial errors—even when the paper is trying to be nice and say glowing comments about someone after his death.

A little background knowledge on given names in an ethnic community can come to our aid in seeking this "Jadwiza." But first, let's double check something. If you recall, after noticing the error the Wilkes-Barre Record had served up for Father Gramlewicz's mother's maiden name, we double checked on his death certificate to confirm that his mother should actually have been listed as Mary Pawełkiewicz. In that same death certificate, the informant had been listed as one Jadwiga Gramlewicz.

Unfortunately, the state of Pennsylvania did not ask for relationship of the informant to the deceased, but at least we have a clearer idea of what that woman's name might have been.

When we take that newly-confirmed information to the census record for that very year, though, we are once again delayed by a technicality: there is no such person as Jadwiga Gramlewicz listed in either Mount Carmel or Nanticoke.

There was, however, someone named Hedwig Gramlewicz. This is where that knowledge of name equivalents I mentioned can come in handy. Searching for a listing of name equivalents, we find that the Polish given name Jadwiga was originally the old German name Hedwig

Of course, in Polish, the "w" would be pronounced like a "v"—which explains why Father Gramlewicz's niece would show up in a fairly-mangled census enumeration as Hedvigis.

There, in the household of a priest, his assistant, a servant and a boarder, she was listed as "cousin." From that same census record, we learn that Hedwig—or Jadwiga—was twenty eight years of age, giving us an approximate year of birth in 1882, back in Poland. We also learn that her year of immigration was given as 1897.

That, however, was not her only time to travel across the Atlantic to America, for a passenger list a year preceding Father Gramlewicz's death shows a Hedwig Gramlewicz with the same year of birth arriving in New York City on the S. S. Rijndam from Rotterdam. There, her travel plans indicated she was headed to Mount Carmel from visiting her "Cousin Gramlewicz" in Deutschdorf, Posen.

With that clue, we are getting warmer. Our main purpose in exploring all this is to see just how Hedwig connects to this Father Gramlewicz in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. Returning to the Polish website BaSIA to search through transcribed records from that specific region—Posen—we can find a birth record for one Hedwig Gramlewicz, daughter of Peter Gramlewicz and Antonie (actually Antonina) Nawrocka.

 

Though the year of birth is one year off from the Hedwig we've found in Pennsylvania, this is likely the same individual, for we've already discovered, yesterday, that her father, Peter, was a son of Blasius Gramlewicz, same as Father Benevenuto Gramlewicz. Thus we find the simple connection between the woman listed as Father Gramlewicz's niece in his death notice and the inference that the priest's brother was Peter Gramlewicz.

Just as we had discovered in yesterday's search for the second nephew, our search today for the second niece involved an additional research step. That second niece, "Maryanna Kujawska," may well have been a daughter of Peter's sister Julianna.

Julianna, as you may remember from yesterday's post, was also a child of Blasius and Marianna. As we saw from her death record, she had married a man by the name of Onufry Weinert. While yesterday, we were searching for any record of their son Stanislaus' birth—and could find none—with their daughter Marianna, we are a bit more fortunate. Though her birth year apparently landed just before the close of that records gap I've mentioned, there was a transcription of a wedding record which proved most helpful.

 

While the bride's father's name was listed as August, not Onufry, the mother's name was indeed Julianna Gramlewicz. The town was the same as Father Gramlewicz's hometown, and once we recall one detail about surname suffixes for women, we realize this marriage to Martin Kujawa was likely the right record.

Normally, a typical Polish surname, like those ending in -ski, would be altered to indicate the wife or daughter's surname: -ska. In a more archaic form, other Polish surnames would see a similar transition, as well—for instance, the surname Gramlewicz might, for the wife, see the addition of the suffix -owa, as I found in some records from the early 1800s.

In the case of the surname Kujawa, the ending already contains an "a." So how would a Polish person alter that surname's ending for the wife or daughter? I did a search through the BaSIA website to see if I could spot any changes. With only one exception, all people with the family name of Kujawa, whether male or female, saw that surname remain constant. The only exception was in another town in 1830, in which a daughter born to a Kujawa father had her surname entered as Kujawska.

Chalk it up to typo or force of habit, but the "Maryanna Kujawska" in Father Gramlewicz's memorial was likely an editorial error. Father Gramlewicz's niece would have been Marianna, daughter of Julianna Gramlewicz and Martin Kujawa.

With that, of Father Gramlewicz's four family members surviving him in 1910, two—Edward and Hedwig—were descended from his brother Peter. The other two—Stanislaus Weinert and Marianna Kujawa—were children of his sister Julianna. Because I had no other way to determine the relationships of Stanislaus and Father Gramlewicz, himself, I was grateful to find that lengthy article published in the Wilkes-Barre Record upon his passing in 1910.

That long article, incidentally, also detailed more of Father Gramlewicz's history, including his early years in the priesthood in Poland and how, exactly, he ended up coming to America. You can be sure that if the man had no hesitation about speaking out about issues in his adopted homeland, he likely had the same propensity back home in Poland—which was exactly the problem.

When I began this week discussing my tight-lipped Polish ancestors, I had a reason for mentioning that. Learning the history of these two Gramlewicz men who became Roman Catholic priests—Ignacy Benevenuto and Edward—I realize just what type of situations some of our ancestors may have had to endure, back in that homeland they ever after refused to talk about.


 

Images: Top, excerpt of 1910 U.S. Census from Ancestry.com; middle two images of transcriptions from BaSIA; bottom image of Hedwig Gramlewicz's passage to America, the then-U.S.S. Rijndam in New York harbor in 1919 following service during World War I and decommission to commercial service as part of the Dutch-American Steam Navigation Company; image courtesy of NavSource Online via Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Two Nephews

 

Sometimes, genealogy research starts taking on the aura of math. Take the transitive property of equality. You know that: if A = B and B = C, then A = C. If I tamper with that equation just a little bit—to say, for instance, if A is related to B and B is related to C, then would it be possible to say A is related to C?

In some cases, yes. Let's try that with our controversial Polish-American priest, Father Ignacy Benevenuto Gramlewicz, and his two known surviving nephews, Edward and Stanislaus. Wouldn't the relationship similarity between Father Gramlewicz and his two nephews lead us closer to information on how they connected to the Gramlewicz family back home in Zerkow, Poland?

Here's what we were provided in that same memorial article published in The Wilkes-Barre Record shortly after Father Gramlewicz's passing in 1910.


The one nephew mentioned, Edward Gramlewicz, was himself a priest back in Poland. But the second nephew, Stanislaus, may provide us with additional research assistance, simply because his was a different surname. That, of course, means rather than running the risk that we find the wrong Gramlewicz man with a coincidentally similar given name, we must jump through two steps before assuring ourselves we have found the right nephew. Stanislaus Weinert, if a true nephew, would need, among other confirmations, to have a mother with a maiden name of Gramlewicz.

There is one more technicality in our genealogical equation which needs to be satisfied. We've already learned that Father Benevenuto Gramlewicz was son of a man by the name of Blasius. Thus, the father of nephew Edward would, by necessity, need to be a son of Blasius, as well. And the mother of Stanislaus would need to be a daughter of Blasius, as well.

Now, to see what documentation can be found online—since this is not the season for jumping a red-eye to Poland, ourselves—we'll turn to the Polish website BaSIA. However, we've already noted that the transcriptions uploaded to that website have a record gap between 1829 and 1873—prime years for Blasius and his wife to be baptising their children.

However, remember inferences. After trawling through all the search results at BaSIA for the surname Gramlewicz, limited to the ten-kilometer region surrounding Żerków, we come up with a starting point: the death record for Blasius, himself.


This transcription of the 1877 event provides us with some useful information. First, the record confirms the maiden name of Blasius' wife, Marianna: Pawełkiewicz. Knowing the down side both of relying on transcriptions and trusting newspaper editorial staff, it is good to see that that surname agrees with Father Gramlewicz's death certificate in Pennsylvania.

Then, the transcribed 1877 death certificate for the elder Gramlewicz provides us with his age—indicating a birth year around 1812, again out of reach of the date range for the BaSIA transcriptions from Żerków—and a listing of his own parents. So far, I've been able to catalog the relationships within two sets of Gramlewicz extended family—one set belonging to my great-grandmother's line descending from Andrzej Gramlewicz, and the other, from this same Michał, father of Blasius.

That, however, only provides us with a connection to Father Gramlewicz's parents. What about those nephews? 

Going back to the BaSIA website and searching for any records specific to Blasius Gramlewicz in Żerków, my best hope would be to find a death record—or perhaps even a marriage record—for any child of Blasius, as the search function locates names included in any portion of the record.

Fortunately, there were some hits to that search. For one, there was a son named Peter, who died in 1904 at the age of fifty two. Bonus fact: his wife's name was given as Antonina Nawrocka. But we also get an extra boost on the record search, as the BaSIA website defaults to "similarity" at sixty percent, thus yielding us a marriage record in 1878 for one Peter "Grannlewicz" and the very same Antonina as his bride.

Now, let's go back through the website once again and search for any birth records for children of Peter and Antonina. Since the record gap stretched only through 1873, this put us safely beyond that research hazard. 

Sure enough, there was a record for a son named "Eduard" born to this couple in 1878, who could very likely be the same one listed years later in Father Benevenuto Gramlewicz's memorial as a nephew—although, to be sure, we'll need to complete a few more research steps.

For now, though, let's check for that other possible nephew of Father Gramlewicz, the one named Stanislaus Weinert. Returning to the search terms we had used to find Edward, we again look for death records of any child of Blasius and Marianna. There, we find a daughter named Julianna, who died in 1896.

Her entry first listed her married name, Julianna Weinert, followed by the letters, "z d." which means, "z domo"—or what we'd perhaps list as "née." In other words, Julianna Weinert was born a Gramlewicz, daughter of Blasius and Marianna, the very couple we're seeking. In addition, we discover her husband's given name was Onufry.

Now, we're off again to seek any birth records for our newly-discovered couple, Julianna and Onufry, to see whether they had a son named Stanislaus. This turns out to be a less cooperative search term, as the surname Weinert encountered a few spelling permutations—even Winert and Wejnert. Though other children of Julianna and Onufry could be located—and several instances where a Stanislaus Weinert acted as witness to others' certificates in Żerków—there was no sign of a birth, marriage or death record for this Stanislaus.

This is a research task to follow up on further. Still, we see signs of how to connect this Stanislaus to the extended Gramlewicz family constellation, thanks to the mention in the newspaper article for his uncle, the priest in Pennsylvania.

There are two others who can help us pinpoint this Gramlewicz family from Żerków, though. The Wilkes-Barre Record also mentioned two nieces. We'll see if we can discover just how they are connected to the Gramlewicz family, tomorrow.


Top image above, from the memorial article, "Death of a Priest" published on page thirteen of the June 6, 1910, Wilkes-Barre Record, courtesy of Ancestry.com; all other images from search results at BaSIA, the Database of Archival Indexing System.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Another Father Provides Some Clues


Perhaps it is no surprise that when they came to this country, my Polish immigrant great-grandparents settled near a spot in Brooklyn, New York, later known as Little Poland. It was there, too, that my great-grandfather, Anton Laskowski, played host—not to mention uncle—to an eighteen-year-old returning to her native New York City after her parents left America to bring the family back to Poland.

Trying to determine the exact connection between that niece, Annie Gramlewicz, and her uncle, whose mother's maiden name was also Gramlewicz, might seem to be a slam-dunk exercise.

Think again. I've had to reconstruct the entire Gramlewicz population of the small town of Żerków, in the former Prussian province of Posen, in my attempt to arrive at an answer—and I'm still stumped. But I've learned ever so much more about those Gramlewicz kin in the effort.

It's been an effort of several years. Along the way, I ran into bits of information which seemed, at the time, to be inconsequential—but which, after discoveries years later, took on a new light.

Way back then, when I searched for newspaper reports with the name "Gramlewicz," I kept coming up with stories about a man who was not only a fellow Polish immigrant, but a Catholic priest. Not being aware of any relationships which included a priest, I was sure that, despite the rare surname, there was no family connection. And moved on.

Now, I'm finding out differently. Thanks to expanded online newspaper archive resources, that name keeps popping up as I continue my quest to outline those Gramlewicz connections. Included in those many references were the same details I had observed the last time I explored this possible connection: that Father Ignacy Benevenuto Gramlewicz had pastored a church in Pennsylvania—though inexplicably would stop by in Brooklyn on his travels back to his Nanticoke parish—and that he was somehow embroiled in Polish-American disputes which sometimes labeled him as controversial.

Perhaps in researching our roots, it is not only critical to find the information we seek, but to find it in the right sequence and at the right time. This month, finally, provided that right time.

I found the one newspaper article which divulged Father Gramlewicz's own roots. And, thanks now to all the research I've done this month, I have those people organized in my family history records.

At the time of Father Gramlewicz's passing, several local Pennsylvania newspapers published tributes to the man. One of the lengthiest, published June 6, 1910, in The Wilkes-Barre Record, revealed (albeit with the usual editorial deficiencies) enough about his origin for me to place him within the Gramlewicz family back in Poland.

 

It was no surprise that the priest had been born in Żerków; I had already suspected that from the other newspaper articles I had stumbled upon over the years. As for "Blazious," let's adjust that to Blasius. And that mother's maiden name? Forget all about Krukowski. Thankfully, the priest's death certificate set that record straight: it was Pawełkiewicz.

As for how I knew that, though, we need to rely on deductions based on other details provided in the Wilkes-Barre Record because of one small problem: going back to the records in Żerków only helps if you are looking for documents pre-dating 1829. From that year, there is a gap through 1873—right through the point where Blasius Gramlewicz and his wife would have been welcoming infants into their growing family.

That series of connections, of course, will take some time to explain—beginning tomorrow. 


Image above: Excerpt from June 6, 1910, memorial in The Wilkes-Barre Record upon the passing of Father Ignacy Benevenuto Gramlewicz; image courtesy Newspapers.com.

Monday, December 14, 2020

About Those Tight-Lipped Ancestors

 

The virtue of finding cousins through DNA testing is that we often get to connect and discuss those brick wall relatives who've kept us stymied. Having now found about a dozen unsuspecting cousins linked to the ancestry of my mystery paternal grandparents, I haven't missed any opportunities to talk with such potential resources. I ask them such things as, "Well, did they tell you anything about their past?"

In my case, the few relatives I did know on my paternal side recall their parents refusing to talk at all about their roots—going so far as to deny their ethnicity. 

Being the ever-curious sort that I am, I still am not willing to take no for an answer, even to my childhood questions, so when I found those DNA cousins, I saw that as my way around those tight-lipped relatives. I asked if they had heard anything about their Polish immigrant ancestors' remembrances of the "old country." My newfound cousins put it this way: nice people, but tight-lipped.

There was clearly something to this sort of story. Why did none of these immigrants ever want to talk about their past?

Perhaps it takes being faced with a genealogical brick wall to inspire us to take any research detour which could potentially lead us to answers. Since I haven't been able to glean a direct lead, I've tried everything, including taking the broader approach of learning Polish phonics (in case I could discover a new way to incorrectly spell those challenging Polish surnames), and informing myself of the timeline of Polish history.

It was in the process of examining the history of the area once known as west Prussia that I've begun to gain an appreciation for why people might never, ever, ever want to remind themselves of such a past: it may have been too traumatic a memory to relive.

As far as my Gramlewicz connections went—the surname from my family tree I had set as my research goal for December—there was one person claiming that name who kept surfacing in my research for years. I could never quite figure out why he kept showing up when I researched those distant Gramlewicz relatives in Brooklyn—that niece Anna and her family who returned to Poland—but this time, finally, I may have found a connection. If not to my line, at least it is a connection which ties together one branch of that family in a way I can document and verify.

It doesn't hurt to realize this was a person well-known enough to have been mentioned occasionally in newspaper reports spanning a few decades. Apparently, he was considered controversial in his circles. No matter the cause for such controversy, eventually everyone dies, and this man was no exception. Thankfully, noted as he was in his life's calling, his passing was also noted in regional newspapers, including a mention about his origin in Poland and the names of family members.

You can be sure I was on that one, once I discovered it—and despite the tenuous resource of a newspaper article, we'll see this week what connections we can make back to that tiny village both he and my Polish kin once called home: Żerków.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Counting on It

 

There is one thing I can say for setting research goals and steadily plugging away at those goals: eventually, we make progress.

Although I may be tangled up with this month's research goal—the last of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2020, my Gramlewicz connections from Zerkow, Poland—I am nonetheless making progress. That alone is gratifying, although it would be nice to find the answer to my specific question about family connections. After all, how did that collateral Gramlewicz-Laskowski marriage connect to my family? I still don't know, but I have only two more weeks to arrive at the answer.

Thankfully, there is a bit more left to this month (minus the holidays), so here's where I stand after the last two weeks plus the ongoing tree-merge results from last month's research conquest. News flash: combining two trees can make it look like one researcher has been incredibly busy. In the last two weeks, my mother's tree—now my unified tree with roots of both parents blended in, thanks to discoveries about my paternal grandfather—grew by 653 names. The tree now has 24,594 names.

That may seem like a lot accomplished, but it actually wasn't work completed solely in two weeks. Remember, this is a project I've been plugging away at for more than a year, once I started seeing DNA matches who could link to none other than my mystery grandfather. It's just that I finally got brave and connected the nearly 800 names in a private, unsearchable tree I had been constructing with the public tree I had used for my mother's family. The past two weeks has shown the result of finishing that great migration of data.

I made the change in tree configuration to accommodate the change Ancestry made months ago—the one in which subscribers can actually tag and link a DNA match to the specific position in the family tree. Since only one tree could be used for this feature, I had to ditch the idea of keeping a separate tree for each side of the family.

I'm making the same change on my husband's tree by rolling over my father-in-law's smaller tree into my mother-in-law's robust database. Thus, numbers will also seem to grow by leaps and bounds, once I begin migrating her husband's information to her tree, as well. For now, since my Twelve Most Wanted goal focuses on my father's family, there was not one bit of work done on my mother-in-law's tree. It still sits at 19,334, as it has since the beginning of November. With the new year, numbers will begin to pick up there, as well.

With the close of this year and the upcoming holidays, the addition of new DNA matches has dried up to nearly a dribble, making me look forward to the (hopeful) surge of new tests arriving at all five DNA testing companies after the gift-giving season. Those who were curious enough to spring for a DNA test last year have not only gifted themselves with the grounding of knowing more about their own roots, but they have contributed toward others' discoveries, as well. I know I wouldn't have been able to discover where my own grandfather came from, if it hadn't been for nearly a dozen people who decided to try a DNA test for themselves. Sometimes, when we do something for ourselves, we end up benefiting others, too.

While this year begins to wind down, I look forward to planning research adventures for the upcoming year. While discovering new DNA cousins may be fun, there are so many other ways to find answers to our ancestry questions—but to find them requires some focus. By the time I do my year-end wrap up two weeks from now, I'll be launching the planning process for next year's Twelve Most Wanted.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Being Responsibly Social

 

While this online space at A Family Tapestry is devoted to sharing stories of our family connections, this holiday season, of all times, brings us some reasons to consider making those connections more tangible. As we enter what some people have dubbed the "most wonderful time of the year," I'm recalling reminders that perhaps we need to stop and do a welfare check with each other to make sure this season doesn't turn into something far different.

Just over a week ago, an eleven year old boy in a community not far from my home turned off the mic and camera during a break in his online school session and did the irrevocable: he killed himself. In the aftermath, wonderful accolades poured in about how cheerful, kind and considerate that young student always seemed to be as shocked neighbors, school associates and extended family members tried to grapple with the unthinkable.

No matter what the underlying causes might have been, there is no denying that incident was a tragedy which will leave several scarred for the rest of their life. Coupled with a doubling-down of quarantine orders in the face of a relentless pandemic, some are pointing to the negative effects of isolation upon students, and renewing calls for vigilance to combat the devastating side-effects of social distancing upon the emotionally vulnerable.

This, of course, is not something only experienced by eleven-year-olds. On a recent trip to a small rural cemetery, a family friend remarked on his conversation with the manager there. He had asked whether the coronavirus had precipitated a noticeable increase in burials there. On the contrary, the manager replied, there were far more deaths in that community of the despondently healthy than of those who had contracted the virus.

No matter how introverted a person may be, we all have a need to connect with other human beings. Some of us, admittedly, more than others. Think of this need on a sliding scale—I claim introverted status, myself, but even so, cannot abide this continual isolation and need relief from my "house arrest" every once in a while. This pandemic has upset our normal course of affairs, no matter how gregarious we may—or may not—be.

What this latest course of affairs has reminded me is that no matter what age we are, or how introverted we may claim to be, we all are at a vulnerable point at which we need to be more mindful about reaching out and connecting with each other. "How are you?" may be a cliched question we dutifully mumble in perfunctory social interactions, but there isn't a time in which we've needed to reach out more than now and mouth those very words. The ones we know need to know that someone else is thinking of them.   

Friday, December 11, 2020

Checking That List Twice

 

In our ever-ongoing quest to learn more about our family history, sometimes we choose research goals which, in retrospect, remind us of that old saying about "biting off more than you can chew."

For the grand finale to this year's "Twelve Most Wanted" of my ancestors, I had hoped to get a clearer picture of just how all those Gramlewicz relatives actually related to my Laskowskis from Żerków, Poland. The deeper I get into this month, the more I realize how far short I will fall from the hope of completing this goal. I need a longer month.

Goal setting can be like that: if we "bite off" more than we can "chew," but set a time limit on how long we work on that goal, we'll need to face up to the need to revisit that goal in a future research iteration. I never dreamed a tiny town of barely two thousand people could have so many Laskowskis! I am not certain yet just how they all intertwined in their family relationships, but they are not leading me as conveniently as I had hoped to those Gramlewicz kin.

As for the Gramlewicz families in Żerków, I am still at a loss as to how two branches of that surname connect—if at all. While I've had to make some adjustments to that surname in my family tree database, there are still several questions. Perhaps that is the benefit of reviewing one's tree periodically: there are some honest mistakes which would otherwise remain uncorrected. Or details which would otherwise have been neglected.

And so I proceed, slowly, line by line through the family tree, adjusting, updating, and completing what I know about that Gramlewicz line—and tying in the Laskowski family where appropriate. Since I am also migrating my father's separate family tree over to one master tree for DNA-linking purposes, that "list" from my dad's tree is also getting added, one by one, to the master list, as well.

In the meantime, as the tedium of this list-checking continues in the background, there are other tasks which will need to be attended to in this last-month-of-the-year review time. We are about to spring into a new year, a year complete with a whole new set of research goals and plans. It certainly won't be like the year we were planning for, twelve months ago when traveling to, say, Salt Lake City for hands-on research was still a possibility; research plans for next year will certainly be curtailed on account of the same restraint. But plan we must, so that we will have a list to double-check at the end of next December.

A list of goals would not be worth much if we didn't also review what we did accomplish, and reflect on how that process went. It's informative for future goal-setting to know how the last year went, how much was actually accomplished, and what happened to those goals which fell short of the month's mark. I'll be saving some time later this month to reflect on that, as well.

In the meantime, it's back to checking off that Laskowski list in Żerków, and seeing how many of those relatives lead me to connections with my Gramlewicz lines.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Because We Can

 

Ever wonder whether old friends' paths cross again?

Not just because a conscientious researcher should check out all possible angles—F.A.N. Club and all that—but because I was curious, I couldn't just pass by that discovery yesterday of the trans-Atlantic traveling companions of my great grandmother and her three young children. I was fairly certain the Miecyslaus Gramlewicz listed in the passenger records was one and the same as the father of Annie, the eighteen year old "niece" who ended up living with my great-grandparents at the time of the 1915 New York State census. But the other guy: who was he?

I had thought the name didn't quite sound Polish, even though he had declared his residence to be Żerków in the then-Prussian province of Posen. The way it was written on the German passenger record, the name looked like Andreas Laryner. However, I had done enough poking around at the various Polish websites now featuring transcriptions of century-old documents from Poznan to know that Andreas—or its Polish form, Andrzej—was a name which featured in my great-grandparents' extended family.

Just because I can, I decided to take the bait of this rabbit trail and see if any of the Andreas names in that family might include a surname like the one in that passenger record. After all, why would these people be traveling together, if they didn't know each other closely?

Thankfully, search engines allow researchers to manipulate search terms to umpteen permutations, and this is what I discovered. First, that there was a surname in Żerków which was very similar to "Laryner." And second, though it took me a long time to move past the several records, including a man named August with that same surname, there was indeed a young man by the name of Andreas which would fill the bill.

The surname? The not-much-more Polish-sounding family name Langner. After scrolling through decades of transcribed records providing the name August Langner, by the time I reached the late 1880s, I began to see sporadic mentions of someone named Andreas Langner. 

But then—could this have been the wrong person?—the name kept appearing, even after our Andreas Langner supposedly had boarded a ship in Hamburg, bound for New York City in 1889.

A key document transcribed on one of the Polish websites was that of the 1891 marriage of Andreas Langner and a twenty one year old woman named Stanislawa Kalczyńska. Added bonus: Andreas' parents names were supplied and we now know who that oft-appearing August Langner was: the father of Andreas. Witness to the marriage was a man by the name of Peter Gramlewicz—although unhelpfully not one from that family which I had already identified.

So, what became of the Andreas Langner who traveled across the Atlantic with my Gramlewicz relative and my great-grandmother, Marianna Laskowska? Could he have been traveling to New York in the hopes of establishing a new life for his future bride and family before his return home to bring her with him? I had to take a look and see.

Fortunately, there was another passenger record to augment the original one I had found, completed by the German shipping company. It was the more-carefully transcribed record produced by the American officials at the port of New York. There, clearly, Andreas' surname was written as Langner. From this record, we also learn that he was a butcher by occupation.

But what became of Andreas after his 1891 marriage to Stanislawa? Returning to one of the Polish websites—BaSIA—from records dated later that same year, I spotted an entry for the birth of a son, whom they named Stanislaus. So they didn't return to America.

Or did they? I had to consider the possibility that they might have. First, I checked to see what could be found for an Americanized form of Andreas—Andrew—with a wife named Stanislawa. Predictably, her name got mangled in the process, but this 1910 entry in Brooklyn was likely theirs.


While the ages roughly corresponded, as did the length of the marriage, the census showed a life with many sorrows in the loss of eight of their ten children. Although the census did confirm that this Andrew was indeed a butcher, same as the record we had found of a much younger Andreas when he first landed in New York, the enumeration also revealed that Andreas didn't actually return to the United States until 1906—likely several years after his original plan.

Just to confirm, a passenger record did account for Andreas, plus wife and two children, arriving on the S. S Amerika in February of 1906. According to records, they were coming to live with Andreas' brother Casimir in Brooklyn. But Andreas did not remain long in this country he had first seen as a young man's dream; by February 26, 1915, he—or another man with exactly the same name—had died in Queens, the borough just to the north of his brother's Brooklyn home. He was forty nine.

What goes into the individual immigrant stories of our ancestors—and their extended families, friends and associates—is sometimes hard to figure out. Or to fathom. Who knows what entered into the decision making process that led them to their eventual choices. As far as I can tell, that early journey Andreas Langner took across the Atlantic with my ancestors and relatives was, perhaps, because he was young. And hopeful of a better future. Or, maybe he took the journey just because he could.

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