Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"Start With What You Know"


It's still sound advice: when researching your family's history, start with what you know. Think of yourself as a contestant in the game of Geneapoly*: do not pass Go, do not collect 200 ancestors until you sequester yourself with your computer and some serious genealogical research into the documents supporting your relatives' assertions about their favorite family legends.

Thus, as we begin our exploration of just how my paternal grandmother's family was somehow intertwined with relatives claiming the name Gramlewicz, we will need to do just that: start with what we know.

What I know began with the discovery, thanks to my great-grandfather's 1939 death certificate, that his mother's maiden name was Elżbieta Gramlewicz. Well, that was not entirely correct; the certificate actually wrote the surname as Granlewicz. I envisioned it as an elegant French-Polish mash-up—you know, like Le Gran Wicz...whatever a Wicz was.

There is, however, no such surname as Granlewicz. It is a typo. Or poorly-transcribed evidence. But that is exactly how it was written on Anton Laskowski's death certificate.

Take, however, the surname Gramlewicz, and we are in business. In all the entire world—well, at least as recently as 2014—there are only fourteen people with that particular surname, a sobering thought on the one hand, but good news for someone like me, trying to research my roots now.

Of those fourteen Gramlewiczes in the world right now, thirteen currently live in—you guessed it—Poland. I can almost guarantee that ninety nine percent of those living Gramlewiczes are fourth cousins of mine. But I'm not quite ready yet to lay down any money on that conjecture. I have to do my research, remember? Start with what we know.

It was a long journey before I could confirm just where in Poland those Gramlewiczes originally lived. Wars and displacements and economic upheavals bring many changes, even to people accustomed to living in the same ancestral village as the last umpteen generations. But eventually, I discovered—through errors entered on U.S. census records, for which I am most grateful—that the family came from a place called Posen.

"Posen," of course, is what the Prussians called the region—and city—of Poznań. My first task, after this discovery, was to determine just where in Posen my great-grandparents bid their relatives goodbye before their long trip to America. That's where discovery of one useful genealogy website in Poland became my gold mine: The Poznań Project.

Officially the "Poznań Region Marriage Indexing Project for 1800-1899," the website offers search capabilities for surnames from that time period and locale. There are options for advanced searches, but in this case, knowing there likely weren't too many people with that particular surname, even back then, I tried the website's general search for the surname Gramlewicz.

Even setting the search parameters at 95% "similarity," the results included over thirty exact matches. Over twenty of those were either civil or Catholic parish records for a place called Żerków. That, in later conversations with a distant Gramlewicz cousin who found me via my posts in those so-nineties genealogy forums, was the place she confirmed as the family's original home.

Having this website available for further research has been helpful, despite the fact that they offer only transcriptions, not the actual documents, themselves. It's a start. I could find, for instance, both a civil record and a church record for my great-grandparents' 1879 marriage. The civil record, filed in nearby Żółków, was helpful in that it included the parents' names for each of the parties. Thus, I could see, once again, that Anton Laskowski's mother was a Gramlewicz.

From that, it wasn't difficult to also locate Anton's parents' marriage transcription. For that 1844 event, the transcription available was only the parish record from Żerków. The listing then showed the parties as Matthaeus Laskoski and Elisabeth Gramlewicz, likely a Latinized version of their Polish names.

With the ease of computer-based search options, I couldn't help but notice that, just one year prior to this marriage, there was another Gramlewicz-Laskowski wedding in Żerków: for Laurentius Gramlewicz and Marianna Laskowska. This is what got me wondering about the relationships between all the Gramlewicz entries from that same town of Żerków.

Indeed, the later marriage records often included entries for the parents of bride and groom. It was possible to glean from those entries the likely siblings of my known family members—once again, starting from what I knew and building outward from there. A second option, using the advanced search, allowed me to add parents' names specifically.

The only drawback was that this was a website dedicated to transcription of one type of record set: marriages occurring in the region of Poznań during the 1800s only. To build on what I now knew, I needed other resources.

Thankfully, the website itself provided links to some of those resources, introducing me to yet another Polish site to help me build out even further from what I had already discovered. Now, I could move on to the question of just how the one Gramlewicz-Laskowski marriage might have connected with the other one.


Image above from search results for term "Gramlewicz" at the Poznań Project.

*With sincere apologies to Hasbro, Parker Brothers, Charles Darrow, Lizzie Magie—and even Ralph Anspach.



  1. Hooray for Geneapoly! You have done such a great job learning about Pomerania. I have stuck my toe into that region doing research for a friend. They had no idea that they came from northern Germany and the area is now Poland. Keep up the good work. I so enjoy your posts, Jacqi.

    1. Thanks so much, Sandy! Yes, those shifting borders in central and eastern Europe keep a researcher on her toes--not to mention that "politically-correct" penchant for calling a country by its current name. So many who saw their ancestors in a 1920 census with the label "Germany" really had to delve into history to know what that actually might have meant.


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