The Stories My Grandmother Told Me

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette)

Congratulations and a BIG thank you to Jasia at Creative Gene for hosting and organizing 100 editions of the Carnival of Genealogy. All I can say is WOW. Frankly I don't think capital letters are big enough for this WOW, but they will just have to do. As a newbie to COG--my first post was only in April of this year--I have found it so enjoyable that I consider participating a priority each month. COG offers a wonderful opportunity for all of us, newbies and established geneabloggers alike, to write on topics we might not write about otherwise. Jasia, you are awesome!

There's One In Every Family

Initially I had trouble trying to decide who to write about for this topic. After considering the options, I finally decided to write about my grandmother, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko. My grandmother is the person responsible for sparking my interest in family history and genealogy. When I was little my grandmother would tell me stories about her parents, about the grandfather I never knew, about life in the Polish community on Vernon Hill in Worcester, MA, and about Poland.

A Very Brief Biography

My grandmother was born in a village in the former Lomza province of Poland in 1896. She was the second and last child of Antoni Bulak and Ewa (Kowalewska) Bulak. She came to the United States in 1897 with her mother and sister Helen. They met Antoni, who was already working in the states, and settled in the Chicago area. In 1900 the family moved to Worcester, MA where my grandmother spent the next 90 years of her life. She married my grandfather Adolf on February 11, 1920. My mother, their first child, was born at home in July of 1921. Two more children followed. In 1940 my grandparents moved from their Polish neighborhood on Vernon Hill to the rural outskirts of the city. Tragically my grandparents' middle child died in 1955 leaving three young children behind, and my grandfather died at the age of 64 four years later. My grandmother lived for another 31 years after the death of her husband and died at the age of 94 in 1990. At the time of her death she left two children, six grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

These are the facts, the important "when and where" bits of information we genealogists collect to piece together the details of a person's life. Pretty dry reading, at least to me. While the dates provide basic information they don't tell you anything about who she was as a person. They don't adequately describe the grandmother I knew--the vibrant, funny woman who loved
gardening, was a superb seamstress, had a beautiful contralto singing voice, and was totally devoted to her family. Even though she died in 1990 I still miss her and think about her almost every day. My grandmother Antonina, or Anna as everyone called her, lived two houses away from where I grew up in Worcester. I spent a significant amount of time at her house throughout my childhood and teen years. During our time together, my grandmother would talk about her parents, about coming to America, about her youth, and about her life with my grandfather and their three children.

Family Stories Provide Clues to the Past
So much of what I've been able to figure out about our family history is thanks to her. The bits and pieces of information she included in her family stories have been important to me and to my research. Even when she was in her nineties she remembered life events in great detail. She didn't embellish. She pretty much told things how she remembered them.

One of her often repeated stories was how my great-grandparents, Ewa and Antoni, met while they worked on an estate owned by the Glinka family in the Ostroleka area of Poland. According to my grandmother, Ewa was chosen to live and work at the local manor house as a seamstress because of her talent for sewing. (For examples of her work see
here and here.) The Countess Glinka liked my great-grandmother and taught her how to read and write which was unusual for a peasant girl in late nineteenth-century rural Poland. My great-grandfather Antoni worked in the stables on the estate. Ewa and Antoni met and eventually married. According to my grandmother the countess was godmother to their first child, my grandmother's sister Helen.

A couple of years ago, after several years of trying, I finally discovered the name and location of the estate where my great-grandparents met. I found an entry in my Aunt Helen's travel diary from her
trip to Poland in 1937 that mentions the village of Govorovo. The name of the village, combined with the details of my grandmother's stories, led me to the Palac w Szczawinie in Szczawin, Poland. Szczawin is located south of Ostroleka and neighbors the village of Goworowo.

I initially looked up Govorovo on the Internet without luck. I eventually remembered that w sounds like v in Polish, so I tried Goworowo. I found a website which mentioned Goworowo, northeast of Warsaw. One of the nearby attractions listed on the website was the Palac w Szczawinie, the former estate of the Glinka family. I clicked, and there it was. I cried. I couldn't believe it. I actually found the estate my grandmother told me about all those years ago. One hundred years, two world wars, a Soviet occupation, and it is still there. Apparently the the manor house was taken from the Glinka family by the Germans during World War II. After the war the house fell into disrepair but has recently been restored and now serves as a bed and breakfast.

My grandmother's story about the Palac w Szczawine is just one example of how her stories gave me the information I needed to puzzle together the pieces of our family's history. I wish I thought to formally interview her before she died, but I didn't. My grandmother's stories are her legacy to me, to my son, and to our family. When I think about who I am today, I know a large part of my personality, interests, and joys in life come from her. My grandmother's stories keep not only her memory alive, but the memory of those who came before her alive as well.

So thanks Gram. Thanks for sharing your memories, your love, and your stories. Your legacy lives on...

Named Persons:

~ Bulak, Antoni (1868-19 Feb 1940)
~ Bulak, Ewa (Kowalewska) (1873-20 Mar 1924)
~ Bulak, Helen (21 Oct 1894-09 Feb 1985)
~ Szerejko, Adolf (11 Apr 1895-19 Dec 1959)
~ Szerejko, Antonina (Bulak) (30 May 1896-22 Sep 1990)

Photograph: Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko at age 21 (taken about 1917)

Other Posts You Might Like:
A Matter of Habit: Solving a Mystery
Where They Lived: Every Address Tells a Story
COG 97: Researching "The Coldbrook Tragedy" (Part 1 of 4)
Meditation: The Strength of Ordinary Women


Carol said...

Story gave me the chills, finding the family "home" like that. I have had that happen a few times, it is an awesome experience.

Lovely story, great post. Enjoyed it so much!

Susan Clark said...

Bravo! Beautiful, beautiful post. Would have commented when I first read it, but I was crying, too.

You do more with shards of information than anyone I know, Cynthia. I am all admiration.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Susan, thank you for your lovely compliment. Sometimes "shards" are all we have to work with. When you don't have much, you have to do the best you can with what you've got. It's kind of like that lemonade out of lemons thing.

Carol, I've had two "life changing moments" as far as my genealogy and family history research goes. Finding the Palac w Szczawinie was one of them. You are right, it was an awesome experience. Thank you for your kind comment.

Kristin said...

I enjoyed this post so much. The photograph is beautiful too.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Kristin - Thank you so much for your comment. I love this photo. It's one of my favorites. Photos speak to us as much as words, just in a different way.

Greta Koehl said...

Your grandmother truly did leave you a wonderful legacy with her memories and her talents. It must have been such a privilege to know her - thank you for sharing her with us.

Barbara Poole said...

You keep researching, and it always pays off. I love the house, and can imagine that a trip there might be in your future. How fortunate to have known your grandmother like that and to have remembered so many of her stories. I'm envious. BTW, I would have cried too. Very nice tribute to her, and she loved flowers, I can "see" her at Fuller Gardens now.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Greta and Barbara - Thank you so much for your kind comments. I appreciate them. My grandmother was a special person. She really was "the one."

Janice said...

Cynthia, this post about your grandmother is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing her with us.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Janice - Thank you so much for your nice comment.

Dawn said...

Nice job on writing this post, Cynthia! I love how we as family historians now serve as a bridge between past and future generations.

Cynthia Shenette said...

Dawn - I love your bridge analogy. What a great visual to express the connection between generations. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment!