Being a speaker of fluent English was not a skill set he possessed. Often he spoke half English-half Polish. Conversations were short with often answers of yes or no. He studied my little girl face with a twinkle in his eye as if he were amused with me, his little Marysia (Polish for “little Mary”). He was my dziadzu, my grandfather. He was widowed, and I had never met my grandmother Anna. He lived with my aunt and her family in Philadelphia. He said that long ago he had been drafted into the Prussian army…he had a picture in his uniform. He claimed to have been a good soldier. He told me that he was from Warsaw. He never spoken about siblings. He only had his three children and their families. Basically, those facts were all I knew about him…language separated us as well as distance. I possessed only a handful of pictures of him.
Fifty years later, I began the quest to find my grandfather’s family. My grandfather and his children had all passed away along with his friends. I turned to my cousins with whom he had lived. They offered few clues. Where could I start…I had one small goal…to find the name of his parents. If I could find their names, that would be a great treasure to me.
I started with dziadzu’s death certificate. The informant, my aunt, did not know their names. (It is odd to me that many of the death certificates I have researched where the child of the deceased was the informant, he/she did not know their own grandparents’ names.) No obituary was found. Where to next?
I found him in the Ellis Island records as coming to America in August, 1912. His father was listed as his departure contact and a brother Jan as his arrival contact. The information was hard to read. His information on the Hamburg Passengers’ List was written in German in thick ink…the letters ran together. I did find a transcription and a translation. (Since the time of that research, researchers can visit http://www.familysearch.org and view the Ellis Island records…much easier to do now…more information is listed.)
Research took me next to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s archives of marriage applications. In making the request, I had to state as many of the facts about the bride and groom that I knew. I was not even sure of the marriage year. This process was done by mail and took several weeks. When the records arrived…BINGO…the names of his parents were listed. The document was written in Latin, the language of the Church. The kindly archivist had transcribed the application for me. His father was Jakob Slabik, born in 1837. His mother was Agata Kendra, born in 1849. They were farmers in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. Their names leapt off the page and engraved themselves on my heart. I could call them by name now.
In continuing research, I obtained copies of my grandfather’s naturalization papers and his passport application when he returned for a visit in 1956. To this day, I have found just a few crumbs, just a few morsels of information about my grandfather and his people.
Unusual sources…maybe, not to most. The most work was the thinking process of where information could be gleaned, finding addresses of where to write for records, obtaining record numbers to attach to inquiries. My “computer brain” keeps scanning for other ideas and other searches. With so little with which to work, it seems almost impossible to solve the puzzles. Perhaps, one day the paternal side of my family tree will blossom with the names of my Polish family.
Postscript: Actually, my grandfather was not from Warsaw. I discovered that often immigrants claimed to come from the closest large city from which they came. It has been quite a task to pinpoint exactly where my grandfather was born and raised. Wonder what small goal I should make now…