Our ancestors’ life stories

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. 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.

Genealogy research for newbies

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) …



My family history project

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).