Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Doin' the Happy Dance With Ray!

Yesterday I solved a mystery, one I wish I could have solved years ago. I wasn't looking to solve this mystery for myself (although the mystery person is a relative of mine, 1st cousin 3x removed) but for my cousin Ray. Ray was one of my "genealogy cousins" who I met several years ago via the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan.  I won't go into my relationship with Ray here and now. If you're interested you can read about him in my Ode to Ray, a eulogy of him written shortly after his death in 2006.

One of the first people Ray asked me about when we first conferred on the topic of our shared family tree was his Grandaunt, Julia Laska. At the time, I didn't even have Julia in my Legacy database. To Ray, Julia was that one brick wall ancestor who eluded him. It was like an itch he couldn't scratch. Over the few years Ray and I shared our research, he would ask me repeatedly about Julia. I racked my brain for suggestions of where he might look for information about her... sources he hadn't already searched. He ran off with my suggestions like a dog with a bone, anxious to check each and every one of them out. To no avail.

I've done my share of looking for Waldo Julia over the years since Ray's death, always hoping I could find her for his sake. My efforts didn't pan out until last night. And then like a well orchestrated animation, all the puzzle pieces came together in the span of just a few minutes. I found Julia.

The information I had to work with was:

  • Julia Laska was born in Podborze, Poland to Franciszek Laska and Anna Mach on February 15, 1878.
  • She immigrated via Ellis Island on February 28, 1901. The ship manifest indicated her destination was Chicopee, Massachusetts where her brother Marcin resided. 
  • Family members told Ray that when she died she was living in either Chicago or Cicero, Illinois.
  • The same family members told Ray that she married someone named "Marpowicz" and had a son named Eddie. 
Ray said he had checked all the obvious sources (census, online death records, social security death index, etc.) but couldn't find anyone with the surname Marpowicz. I believe he was thorough in his efforts.

Last evening, on a lark, I pulled up the FamilySearch.org web site and entered Julia's maiden name without specifying a location. The first record I found that made me curious was a birth record for a young girl named Felixa who was born in 1907 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Her mother was listed as Julia Laska. Her father was Peter Nartowicz. Hmm... Marpowicz/Nartowicz sound eerily similar. Looking a little further I found a death certificate for another child, Adolfa Nortowicz, whose parents were Julia Laska and Peter Nortowicz (indexed as Hortowicz) deceased in 1909 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Hmm... I wondered if this was Ray's Julia and if she had married in Massachusetts too. I did another search on the web site, specifying marriage records, and came up with nothing promising.

Then I tried a lookup using "Peter Nartowicz" thinking perhaps Julia's name had been misspelled. No, it wasn't that easy. But I tried again using the Polish spelling of his name, Piotr Nartowicz, and BINGO! Piotr Nartowicz married "Julija Liasek" on April 22, 1907 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Still not convinced? Neither was I. However, the marriage record lists Julia's father as "Franciszek Liasek" (same first name as our Julia's father) and her mother as "Anna Machow" which was indexed as "Anna Lmachoco" (the leading L was actually an X on the document). Julia's mother's name was Anna Mach. The "ow" was probably a Polish feminine surname ending. 

I did another quick search, this time for Edward Nartowicz, hoping to find a birth record for the son Ray was told about. No luck there but I did come across a 1920 Census record for a 10 year old Edward Nartowicz living with his mother, Julianna Nartowicz, in... Cicero, Cook County, Illinois... just where the family members said she was! Since this record was an index only, I then went to the Heritage Quest website and did a search for Julianna Nartowicz and found her, a widow, living with her 10 year old son Edward in Cicero, Illinois. 

I know it was at that exact moment that Ray began his happy dance up in heaven. It's when I began my happy dance here on earth. How I wish Ray was here to share the joy and discover what happened to his Grandaunt Julia! 

Obviously I have a good number of other sources to check for more information on Julia and her son Eddie. But even if I don't find anything else, at least I know something about her life after her immigration to the U.S. I know Ray will rest happy now and I'm happy too. I actually made some progress with "filling the holes"... my research plan for 2011!