From: "Rob Reid" USA
To: "Tadeusz Wysocki DHO" POLAND
Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2008 1:55 AM
Subject: Re: your exhibit page > www.Narodowa.pl
I hope you had a great New Year's!
Sorry for the delay. Holidays, family, having to work on the weekends,
etc. Following is the relevant excerpt from my travelogue, for your
exhibit page. I have attached a picture as well:
Third Cousins for the First Time
The following is an excerpt from my
travelogue, "Everybody's Related to Aliens," describing the
discovery of my Polish roots. For the full story, please see
My genealogical research could go on forever, though presumably the
discoveries would be fewer and farther between with time. But
tomorrow, I will finally look for something a little more tangible
than a record on paper. I will visit the tiny village which my great
grandfather left behind some 100 years ago, and where today there is
still a family by the same name. Maybe they'll run. Maybe they'll
bring out a bottle of vodka. Maybe they'll take all my belongings
and tell me to go back to America. There's only one way to know.
Any time my alarm clock goes off at
some ungodly hour when it is still dark, the first thing that comes
to my mind is "what the hell was I thinking?" The same was true this
day, only doubly so, because I was wandering off to an unknown
village in the middle of a foreign country where I had little reason
to expect anything more than frustrating miscommunication. But this
was to be the culmination of months of family history research and a
few weeks of Polish study, and at the very least I wanted to come
back with a story.
The beginning of the trip was ominous.
I waited at the freezing bus station for half an hour in the dark,
wondering if I misunderstood the instructions for where to wait for
my bus. But then the bus rolled in, late as it was, and I was on my
way to Starozreby. It was only then that I decided to look at my
map, and noticed that my destination was some 7 miles from
Starozreby, and I would have to walk there. This was something I
decided to do weeks ago, when it was still pretty nice outside. When
I got to the Starozreby station, which turned out to be little more
than a concrete shelter, things seemed even more ominous. I double
and triple checked the bus timetables to ensure I could in fact get
back and not end up like the frosted plastic water bottles littering
the side of the road. And then, my first steps through town were
accompanied by a chorus of barking dogs
The walk was beautiful; the sun was rising and a faint mist was
rising from the icy road in the midst of pure farm country. Because
there are few roads and many signs, I had little trouble finding my
way to the village. Just as I had arrived in this tiny village, I
walked by a woman with a shopping bag. "Do you know where this
family lives?" "Yes, second house" Now that's the kind of Polish
communication I can handle.
I walked in front of this second house, which was a gated home with
a vast farm for a backyard. I waited in front of the gate until the
chorus of barking dogs and clucking chickens reached a crescendo.
This is the rural Polish equivalent of a "doorbell." Just then, an
elderly but agile man shuffled out of a barn, yelling something I
didn't understand. I mentioned something about being a relative, and
he said, yes, they had received a letter from me a week ago, and he
directed me inside their home. Inside was an elderly woman, a bit
younger and more agile. Above a coal-powered stove was a pot with
two chicken feet sticking out.
Neither spoke a word of English, but
apparently, they understood my letter, which my Polish teacher in
Krakow had helped me to write in perfect Polish grammar. I shared
with them my latest research, and the two of them began throwing out
Polish dates and years as if they were brainstorming a connection.
Yes, their relative Józef must be my great grandfather Ignacy's
brother. But, I wasn't clear how, and couldn't even figure out if my
two hosts were married to each other or were brother and sister. Why
was the woman's phone number the one in the phone book? As we
attempted communication, the matriarch insisted that I have some
herbata (tea), some bread and bacon, another herbata, an apple, and
a bowl of soup. And then some chocolate crackers. And then another
apple (good for teeth!). And then another herbata and a donut.
There was some intermittent success with communication. And there
was a whole lot more confusion. The matriarch was remarkably patient
and seemingly very sharp. She insisted that I take my time and write
my questions and comments in Polish, using my English dictionary.
The man of the house seemed to be yelling at me the whole time, but
I felt better when he explained that he was just hard of hearing. He
was a farmer, grew potatoes and rye, and kept bees (i think)-
different enough from me that I'd be proud to be related to him.
But it turned out I'm not related to
Just then, a much younger women came
in the house. This was their granddaughter, my third cousin,
apparently. And then later two more- a man with a mustache and a
woman a bit older than me, and later a teenage boy. I was hopelessly
confused after the initial introductions. However, although no one
spoke a word of English, their daughter had a remarkable ability to
communicate simply and clearly, which transcended language barriers.
So this elderly couple were not my relatives, after all, they were
live-in in-laws of my relatives! In the end it turns out I was
directly to three of the other four. Two third cousins, and a third
uncle. Now that's cleared up-almost. I don't have a birth record
proving Ignacy and Jozef were brothers, but the village was too
small for us not to be related.
I shared with them a motley collection
of gifts - a bar of chocolate, a Chicago shot glass (to represent at
home), and a Boston Red Sox hat (to represent my birth). And, I
promised that if they came to Chicago I would make them drink five
herbatas to get them back. They told me they wanted me to write
again, and that next time I should visit them in the summer.
My last day in Plock, I returned to the state archives one last
time, looking for absolute evidence that I was in fact related to
the strangers from Piaczyn. The archivist seemed happy to see me
back and tried to shake my hand, but I had misread and thought he
was reaching for my pen. I ended up stabbing him in the hand with my
pen. Such miscommunications transcend all language.
Sifting through the parish birth
records one last time, I found another kind of miscommunication,
this one over a century old. My great grandfather did have a brother
Józef after all- his name had been misspelled in Cyrillic. So we
were related, after all.
proszę kliknąć na miniaturę
Please click on the
photo to enlarge