52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Out Of Place

Arriving In New York, 1854

The trio of girls had several things in common: they came by ship from Europe; they entered this country through New York City; they were children at the time of their immigrations. One was 10 years old, another 12 years old, one 14 years old. One of the girl’s father was a house painter, another’s a peasant farmer, one had an unknown occupation. One child spoke French and German, another English, one Polish. Two were being trained in the arts of needlework and dressmaking while one learned how to be a charwoman. When the girls first came to New York City did they feel out of place? The one girl from London must have felt somewhat at home in Manhattan…bustling, energetic, noisy. The one from France must have felt homesick for the castles nestled along the river of her hometown. The one from Poland must have been mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the huge city. How do children really adjust when they are out of place?

One of the girls had come to America with her mother and her siblings. Her father had died three years before. One of the girls had come to America with other young girls from her town as their parents had all passed away…they were orphans. The remaining girl left behind no records of her New York arrival and parentage. How do children really adjust when they are growing up without a parent/parents…out of place in this world?

The girl from France arrived in New York in about 1840. No records can be found to name her parents. When she was 15 years old, she married a private in the U. S. Army who was ten years her senior. Her name was Maria Magdalen Kramer. In time, she and her husband would settle on a farm in Osborne County, Kansas. She was my second great grandmother. At times, she must have felt out of place in this new country. Eventually, she would feel at home.

The girl from England arrived in New York in 1854. She lived with her mother and siblings. In time, she would marry a Civil War veteran who would also take up farming in Osborne County, Kansas. Her name was Isabella Anna Couchman. She was my second great grandmother. At times, she must have felt out of place in this new country. Eventually, she would feel at home.

The girl from Poland arrived in New York in 1906. Her brother met her at Ellis Island so he could escort her to her job as a housemaid in Connecticut. In time, she would relocate to Philadelphia where she was also a domestic. She married a fellow Polish immigrant and remained in that city. Her name was Anna Mroz. She was my paternal grandmother. At times, she must have felt out of place in this new country. Eventually, she would feel at home.

Ellis Island, 1906

Two of the girls would meet one another: Maria and Isabella. Their children would marry each other. As for Anna, her son would marry Maria’s and Isabella’s great granddaughter. A golden thread ties and binds their families forever, no longer out of place…eventually at home.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: At Worship

Sunday, May 26, 1935: 11 year old Edjui walked devotedly to the altar rail to receive his First Holy Communion. His proud parents Franciszek and Anna witnessed his reception of the Blessed Sacrament at the morning Mass. His old siblings Emilia and Stanley were also seated in the pew. The prayers of the liturgy were spoken in Latin, but the homily addressed to the children was spoken in Polish. Many of the parents were first generation Polish Americans, and they savored the belief that their children were becoming Catholic Christian Americans. Receiving this sacrament was further proof of their deep faiths and commitments to the Lord who had delivered them safely to this new land. The families rejoiced also in the fact that their home parish of Saint Ladislaus was a neighborhood church where the immigrants could worship and serve together.

That special day, Edjui was dressed in his best clothes. It was the Polish custom that the First Communicants wear white ribboned armbands that their mothers had sewn together for them. Some ribbons were embroidered with religious symbols sewn with gold threads. He wore a boutonniere as part of the traditional dress. Each child received a religious scapular and rosary. At some time, Edjui’s mother took him to the local photography studio to have a commemorative picture taken. The studio was staged with a white Baptismal candle for Edjui to hold while a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus rested on a small table. The picture would be printed on penny postcards for Edjui’s family to send to family and friends.

The parish and neighborhood would celebrate the day with cakes, baked by the proud mothers. Small presents of holy cards and coins were received by the children. What a blessed day for the parishioners of this Polish-American church!

Note: Twenty-two years later, Edjui’s little daughter would receive her First Holy Communion. The Mass would be prayed in Latin while the homily was preached in English. Her parish was located in a small Southern town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. What a blessed day for her and her family!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: DNA

Cryptic…that was the flavor of the first email that I received. Suspicious…that was another flavor added to the profile. Annoying…that topped it off. The taste in my mouth, as they would say, was bitter. Who was this strange woman with her questions and insinuations? Where was her evidence? Should I brush her off, not respond, pray she would go away? She wanted to know if my grandfather was her mother’s natural father.

Her first email wanted information about where my grandfather and his brothers lived and visited in their youth. Had they ever gone to a certain Kansas county? Did they have relatives there? Was one of them the father of her mother? No, they had not lived in the area to which she referred. I thought that would end that.

The second email revealed her reason for asking. Her own mother had been adopted. She was bound and determined to find her natural grandfather of whose identity she had no clues. She had located her natural grandmother, but she was not willing and was determined not to reveal the identity of the father of the child she had given up for adoption. Could my grandfather be the father? Was it ever discussed within the family circle? No, I never heard any stories. I wanted her to go away…as fast and as far as she could travel!

About a year went by and the third email appeared. She had had Ancestry DNA done. According to the results, we were a match…dear heavens, help us all…third-fourth cousins. I decided to dig into my tree and see if any males in my grandfather’s family had lived in the area she was searching. My grandfather’s uncle and his family had lived in that location. There were two sons in the family. I supplied her with the names and any information I had which was sketchy.

She reached out to the family and told them her story. The sons of the sons allowed her to interview them. One of the sons, she asked him if he would submit to an Ancestry DNA test. Consent was given. They were a match.

The final email shared with me who she believed her natural grandfather to be…my grandfather’s uncle. She created a story about the two people involved: they met at a social gathering one summer. They dated for a short while. When the girl discovered she was pregnant, she did not know the whereabouts of the boy. She decided to go it alone and place the baby in an orphanage. I answered her email with a note of congratulations and well wishes…

DNA is a marvelous tool in identifying family. However, it does not carry forward stories, truths, and all answers.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Brick Wall


Imagine that the paternal side of your family tree has seven…yes, count them , seven…leaves. This is true for me. A six word sentence explains it all: I am third generation Polish American.

Once upon a time, I set a goal to find my grandparents, Anna Mroz and Franciszek Slabik, in the Ellis Island records. After a year, I had found both of them as they had come separately and unknown to each other. My grandmother’s brother Antoni Mroz was listed as her contact/escort person. Supposedly, he lived in Greenwich, Connecticut. She came in 1906, and she has not been found in the 1910 Census. Also, no Antoni in sight. My grandfather came in 1912, and he was meeting his brother Jan Slabik. He has never been found in any census. No siblings and their families can be located. My grandparents never spoke about their parents to their children. No aunts and uncles came to visit, call, or write. My grandparents and their children lived in Philadelphia.

Once upon a time, I set a goal to find out the names of my great grandparents who remained in Poland…all I sought were their names. I sent for my grandparents’ death certificates. The informant, my aunt and their daughter, only knew the name of her mother’s father: Stanislaw Mroz. The rest of the names were a mystery. I thought about any document that might bear these names. I sent to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for a copy of my grandparents’ marriage certificate. Yes, the names were there! Jakob Slabik and Agata Kendra were my grandfather’s parents while Stanislaw Mroz and Teclas Goruyk parented my grandmother. When the marriage was celebrated in 1914, Babcia’s parents were deceased while Dziadek’s were farmers.

Once upon a time, I yearned just to know where my grandparents were born in that big mess of a country Poland…a country that was not a country for over 100 years. That has been very difficult to research. In reading through research hints by professional genealogists, I may as well be trying to translate Polish without a translator. It is truly overwhelming to me. Will any part of this brick wall come tumbling down…ever?

Ancestry DNA has yielded only one cousin…my first cousin with whom I grew up…his kids got him the test as a gift.

Truly, I am a positive person. I long for the day when someone will say, “Czesc kuzynie…hello, cousin.” Then I can write, “Once upon a time I longed to meet a cousin, and there was a text from her.”