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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