Monday, November 6, 2023

I'm Still Listening


Knowing my paternal grandparents' extended families included several with musical talents, I wasn't surprised to learn that some of them considered themselves to be in the entertainment industry. After all, these were sons of immigrants who settled in New York City, where there were plenty of opportunities to hit it big with such talents.

To discover that several of Uncle John's in-laws went so far as to change their surname from the unwieldy Aktabowski to the more streamlined Hark, though, seemed an act that was a bit too corny. Still, I thought it might be worth a try to find them under their new, non-Polish-sounding surname in the city's newspapers of that time period. Result? How about hundreds of entries printed in December newspapers for church choirs singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Not the kind of helpful leads I had envisioned—though I'll surely keep listening for any further notes on those Hark brothers in show biz.

For my next act, I tried searching through the listings of each Aktabowski brother in the census records for their time period in the early to mid 1900s. After all, that was my research plan after I decided how to handle mid-life name changes. I needed to check the score on how many of the brothers actually went with the stage name instead of their Polish-born father's surname.

Not all of the sons made the change, it turns out. That was probably influenced by which ones were in the entertainment field, and which sought their living by more mundane methods. Eldest son Benjamin, for instance, raised a family of at least five children on the commissions he made as an insurance agent—and somehow survived in business despite keeping his Polish surname. Next eldest son John took a position as a glass blower to support his family of three children, also opting to stick with tradition. 

It wasn't until we get to son William, six years younger than his eldest brother Benjamin and long after Uncle John's wife Bronisława was born, that we begin to see family members willing to shed their traditional Polish surname for a more Americanized—or at least streamlined—model. William, who also married a woman named Bronisława who was dealing with her own Polish name issues, may have followed his wife's lead. She had reinvented herself as Bessie for the 1920 census, so it is no surprise to see the entire family listed with their brand new surname model as Hark for the 1930 census.

I kept looking at records to see if anyone else in the family followed this act. Sure enough, in that same census year, William's younger brother Gustave, though (incredibly) keeping his foreign-sounding given name, also opted to transform himself into a Hark. And yet, after that point, no one else among his brothers seemed to follow suit—with the exception of Zygmunt, who seemed to disappear so completely that I suspect he chose a more radical transformation for his own identity.

That, at least, narrows the search field for me to the two brothers—William and Gustave—who opted to liven up their act with a streamlined name. Now that we have that list narrowed to two, we can try putting our ears to the ground again and listen for any new clues about an act involving the Hark brothers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...