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.


  1. Oh good. I am so vested in this story, I am glad it continues.

    1. Glad to hear that, Miss Merry. We'll continue with a few more bumps in the research road. You know there will always be more of those.


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