I’ve been thinking more about family secrets and unearthing family skeletons. I discovered something today while searching an index for records in the county where members of my mother’s family (the side I’m researching) lived, worked, and died. It’s related to a family secret that wasn’t that much of a secret, really. In fact, it’s related to something my own mother told me when I was a teen. Now I just have to wait for the records to confirm what I think I discovered today.
My research is taking me in all kinds of directions, which I love. Not just genealogy, but the larger history of a place or a period of time (even a house), and what it means to write a family history memoir, the end goal of my project. I’m fascinated by how families tell their stories, to reveal or to conceal, to uplift or to discourage, to celebrate life events or to regret what happened or what could have been.
I don’t expect to learn everything I want to know, especially as the older generation ages and dies. But I’m starting to feel like this is my life’s project and is the book I am meant to write, not for any direct descendants (as neither my siblings nor I have children), but for me. Perhaps it’s a sort of vanity and a way to live in a past that I never experienced. But really, it’s more about wanting to know my mother, who died when I was 19, and whose life was a closed book in many ways, as well as knowing better the grandmother who meant so much to me and whose loss I still mourn.
As I prepare to move next month, I am working on my memoir project sporadically. However, I am trying to gather photos, documents, etc. Yesterday I was very excited to receive a precious photograph of my grandmother circa the 1930s, when she would have been in her 20s, from my aunt, who is helping with my research. I only have one photograph that is older, from 1927 (when my grandmother was 16) ~ it’s a very small picture and has yet to be digitized. I do not possess many photos of my grandmother when she was young, so I’m happy to add this one to my collection, which may end up being the cover of my book.
I read an interesting op-ed in the New York Times this morning:
I Loved My Grandmother. But She Was a Nazi.
It makes me think about what I may discover during my own genealogical research. I do want to know everything, the good and the bad. It reminds me, too, of how for years I disowned aspects of my own heritage, first the Polish side, because of how my classmates teased me once they discovered I was part Polish during a family tree assignment (we’ve all heard the jokes). Then the German side, because I equated Germans with Nazis, or at least, authoritarian behavior. In fact, I have a friend who is Jewish who seemed to think the same thing about Germans and didn’t understand why I wanted to learn the German language, for example. However, the more I learned about German culture and intellectual history before the Nazis ever came to power, and how progressive the country seems today, the more I wanted to reclaim that part of my ancestry.
Reclaiming my Polish heritage was easier, esp. after I got past the juvenile stereotypes perpetuated by my classmates. My maternal grandmother was a very loving presence in my life, whereas I did not always feel that in my own nuclear family. That I should want to research the Polish side of my family is therefore not surprising.
What skeletons will I uncover, if any? Perhaps none, but my research will continue undaunted.
I feel like a lot has happened since I wrote the first post of my new blog. I’ve done some basic research on my own, mostly via Google, which led to some discoveries. However, with a shout-out to a Polish genealogy group on Facebook and my librarian-genealogist friend (thanks, Joyce!), who were very helpful, more information has been unearthed, including some digitized documents.
Where to begin? Well, I have some valuable information on my Polish great-grandparents, including various primary sources — their marriage license, death certificates for both, and an immigration record for my great-grandmother, who sailed from Belgium to Philadelphia in 1899 (as a single gal), and had most recently been living in Równe, Poland. What was most interesting is that, according to their marriage license application, my great-grandparents listed Austria as their birthplace, not Poland. I read a bit about the Austrian partition of Poland, but that happened about a century before my great-grandparents were born (in 1872 and 1873). Their death certificates listed Poland as their birthplace. Further investigation is warranted 🙂
So I’ve learned a lot! For one thing, I thought that my great-grandparents had arrived in America as a married couple, but they did not. In fact, it appears that they arrived in different years. My great-grandmother arrived in 1899 (now confirmed), whereas I was told by living relatives that my great-grandfather arrived in 1891. I have yet to find his immigration record. I’m speculating that they met in a Polish immigrant community in Philadelphia, or more likely, Reading, Pennsylvania. They married in Reading, PA in 1903.
More to discover on this amazing genealogical journey (so far, only digitally) …
I’ve been sorting through old papers and files, preparing for my move in April. I found a file with a project idea that I never worked on, which I started researching (on a preliminary basis) when working as an academic librarian.
Here’s the idea: I’d like to write a memoir interspersed with some history — specifically, women who worked in knitting mills in Reading, PA, my hometown. The link is my maternal grandmother, who worked in a knitting mill when she was young (in the late 1920s or 1930s), which was (many years later) converted to factory outlets. When I was around the same age (in my early 20s), I worked at the outlet that had been the mill (as did my sister). So we have that connection with our grandmother’s past. I want to write about my relationship with her, and my hometown, and our work history (my own career path, from retail to clerical to professional, versus my grandmother’s more constricted journey, from factory worker to wife and mother).