Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Fine Research Mess


If you get the picture, from following my genealogy escapades over the past year here at A Family Tapestry, that my research pathway is a jumble of zigging and zagging detours, your assessment would be spot on. Family history can lead us into such fine research messes.

Take this last "Twelve Most Wanted" family I'll be pursuing for the month of December. I first discovered that Gramlewicz was indeed a surname which linked to my paternal grandmother's roots, not by direct evidence, but by inference. My first discovery of the surname came in the guise of a census entry for New York State's 1915 enumeration. It was discovery of an eighteen year old "neice" in the Brooklyn household of Anton and Mary Laskowski that first raised my eyebrows: who was Annie Gramlewicz?

That particular Laskowski household was the home of my father's maternal grandparents. Born somewhere in Poland—a deep, dark secret kept from later generations—neither sixty nine year old Anton nor his fifty year old wife had been naturalized. But here in their household was an eighteen year old who claimed U.S. citizenship—but didn't even declare her specific place of birth.

The claim of a relationship as close as niece with uncle and aunt lured me into following the trail. At the point of that discovery, I knew nothing about Anton nor Mary. In fact, I was elated that I had made even that discovery. I figured Anna was either daughter of Anton's sibling or Mary's sibling. Simple. All I had to do was learn a little more about this Gramlewicz connection.

As you can imagine, tracing Anna to her parents—and even researching all her siblings, many of whom died shortly after birth in their native New York City—led me to zero answers. I still couldn't find the connection between Anna's parents and the Laskowski couple.

Meanwhile, upon receiving the copy of Anton's death certificate through a transcontinental snail-mail transaction, I was surprised to discover another Gramlewicz clue: Anton's own mother was a Gramlewicz. That—if it wasn't a mistaken entry provided by a grieving relative—was indeed a valuable clue.

Over the years, I've been able to piece together the connection between Anna Gramlewicz and Anton Laskowski—her father was actually Anton's nephew—and move beyond just that one familial connection. Thanks to websites in Poland much like the one which benefited me in my search last month for my paternal grandfather's line in Pomerania, I at least have access to transcriptions of records from Anton and Mary's native Żerków in the Polish province of Poznań.

However, a little bit of information can sometimes be a dangerous thing. As small as the town of Żerków might have been in the mid-1800s, assuming that all people with the same name belong to the same family can lead us down the trail to wrong conclusions. Discovering marriages in the collateral lines connected to my roots between more than one Laskowski-Gramlewicz couple has had me thinking it might be wise to revisit that website in Poznań to double check my work. Time to dig out that Google Translate device and keep it at my fingertips, once again.

While I am fairly sure that the Laskowskis in those marriages were siblings, I have yet to figure out how the Gramlewicz parties might have been related to each other. Were they siblings marrying siblings? Do we have a case of future double cousins? Or was it just coincidental that two Laskowski siblings married people with the same surname of Gramlewicz? We'll take some time this month to see if we can determine the extended family connections.

As for Anna, the eighteen year old Gramlewicz descendant who ended up in the New York City household of my great-grandparents, Anton and Mary Laskowski, she, too, had a convoluted family story. Anna was indeed born in New York City, as were almost all her surviving siblings. But by 1913, none of them had remained in the city—something I discovered when I found her passenger record from Bremen, Germany, to the United States. Apparently, the entire family returned to her parents' homeland in Poland. Anna alone opted to return from Poland to her own birthplace in New York—a difficult decision that must have been for someone so young.

The way I learned that last detail? It was partly thanks to a descendant of Anna's one surviving sibling I had no way of knowing about: the son who was born after the Gramlewicz family returned to Poland.

Following Anna's family back to Poland helped me figure out the actual connection to my great-grandparents, but we'll need to revisit that research trail once again. With tomorrow's post, we'll begin meeting the various Gramlewicz parties to the Laskowski marriages back in nineteenth-century Żerków.

Above: Excerpt from the 1915 New York State census showing the Brooklyn household of Anton and Mary Laskowski, with niece Annie Gramlewicz included in the enumeration; image courtesy Ancestry.com.


  1. I love the zigs and sags, I am sure more than you do!

    1. Well, sometimes they do provide a wild ride, but glad to have you along to share in the fun, Miss Merry!


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