In my last post, I shared an article I wrote for the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s journal, Rodziny, about finding a new DNA match to a cousin who knew only his grandmother’s birth name, Wanda Gruberska, but little else about her, since she was adopted as a child and had her name changed. Today I’d like to provide a few updates to the story, based on new research findings since its publication.
To briefly recap, when I was contacted by this DNA match, I recognized the Gruberski surname because my maternal grandmother’s Zazycki family had multiple ties to the Gruberski family in Poland through marriage. However, Wanda Gruberska herself was not in my family tree, and at that point, I did not know who her parents might be. By process of elimination I was able to identify Wanda’s parents as Jan/John Gruberski and Marianna/Mary (née Pindur) Gruberska, demonstrate that they immigrated to Minnesota, prove that Mary died in 1918, and discover that one of the Gruberskis’ children was living in an orphanage in St. Paul in 1920. However, I still had no direct evidence of Wanda’s birth to these parents or of her own placement in that orphanage. I suspected that Wanda might have been baptized at St. Adalbert’s church in St. Paul, Minnesota, based on her family’s address in city directories.
The Smoking Gun, and a New Sister
What I did not realize at that time was that baptisms and marriages from this parish, as well as other Polish parishes in Minnesota, were indexed by John Rys and compiled into searchable databases which can be accessed via the website of the Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota. John kindly provided me with a copy of Wanda’s baptismal record (Figure 1),1 as well as a copy of the baptismal record for another sister, Helena Josepha (Figure 2).2
Figure 1: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s church, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Wanda Grubarska, born 7 May 1916.1
Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s church, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Helen Josepha, born 18 March 1914.2
Wanda’s surname is spelled “Grubarska” in the first record, and her year of birth, 1916, makes her a full three years younger than her family suspected. However, this birth record is nonetheless a “smoking gun” — the direct evidence which irrefutably identifies Wanda as a child of the parents whom I predicted for her, based on all prior evidence. Although I was previously unaware of another sister, Helena, it makes sense that John and Mary might have had another child born in the U.S. if Wanda was born as late as 1916. John and Mary’s oldest children, Stanisław and Genowefa, were born in Poland in 1908 and 1910, respectively, and arrived in the U.S. in April 1913 with their mother Mary and uncle Bolesław (Bill) Gruberski. Helena had to have been the first of John and Mary’s children born in the U.S., since her March 1914 birth date suggests that she was conceived in June 1913.
Helena’s godfather, Leon Gruberski, was another surprise, since I don’t have him in my family tree. However, my data on the children of Marianna Zarzycka and Józef Gruberski are still incomplete. As mentioned previously, the family lived in Bronisławy, a village belonging to the parish in Rybno. The majority of the 19th-century records for Rybno have not been microfilmed, nor are they available from the Polish State Archives (apart from a narrow range of years starting in 1886). Instead, the records are still in possession of the local Catholic parish. Thanks to a gracious pastor and a diligent researcher (Justyna Krogulska), I have been able to obtain records for my family from this parish, but it looks like another round of research is in order, focusing specifically on the Gruberski family.
Figure 3a: Extract from first page of passenger manifest for Leon Gruberski.4
Figure 3b: Extract from second page of passenger manifest for Leon Gruberski.4
The manifest informs us that Leon arrived in New York on 5 May 1909, that he was single, and that he was born about 1885 in “Bronislawa.” His nearest relative in that place was his father, Józef Gruberski, who was living in “Bronislawa, Warschau,” and Leon was a citizen of Russia. All of this is consistent with the village of Bronisławy, which was located in the Warsaw gubernia (province) of the Russian Empire. On page 2, we see that he was headed to his “step brother,” Piotr Przanowski, living at 153 Box (?) Street in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leon may have used the term “step brother” in a rather broad sense. The Przanowski family was clearly associated with the Gruberski family because Leon’s brother, Roman Gruberski, was married to Julianna Przanowska, who was the daughter of Stanisław Przanowski and Franciszka Dobińska. A quick check in Geneteka reveals that Julianna did indeed have a brother named Piotr Przanowski, who married Łucja Gajowniczek in Iłów in 1897, and this is probably the Piotr Przanowski mentioned in Leon’s passenger manifest. Assuming that further research does not turn up evidence of a closer relationship, Piotr can’t properly be called a “step brother” to Leon. However, our ancestors typically employed a very expansive concept of family when reporting their relationships to contacts in the U.S., and this fact, compounded with the language barrier, probably explains the notation on the manifest.
In any case, Leon seems to disappear from U.S. records subsequent to that 1909 passenger manifest. We know he must have remained in the U.S. through 1914 at least, since he was godfather to his niece, Helena Józefa, in April of that year. This, in turn, implies that he should be found in the 1910 census. Very often, Polish immigrants can be tough to locate in U.S. census records because their names were misspelled by the census-taker on the original form, or mistranscribed during the indexing process. One of my favorite tricks for getting around this is to omit the surname entirely and search using other known data. However, a search of the 1910 census for men named Leon, no surname specified, born 1880-1890 in Russia, living in St. Paul, Minnesota, produced no promising hits. I also checked for his contact in the U.S., Piotr Przanowski, since occasionally one might see a boarder mistakenly recorded on a census record under the surname of the head of household. I successfully located the household of Peter Przanowski — misindexed as Peter Pozanowski — living in South St. Paul in 1910. I’m sure it’s the right family, because his wife’s name was Lucy and he and his wife reported that they’d been married for 13 years, suggesting a marriage date of 1897. Both of these facts match the marriage record in Geneteka precisely. However, there was no Leon living with them, so for now I’ll put Leon on the back burner and move on.
Crowdsourcing at its Best
Since publishing that article, I also obtained Mary Gruberski’s death certificate (Figure 4).4
Figure 4: Death certificate for Mrs. John (Mary) Gruberski, 11 December 1918.
At the time of her death, the Gruberskis were living at 844 Gaulthier (sic) Street in St. Paul. Mary’s date of birth was reported to be 25 March 1880, but based on her age reported on her marriage record, 1890 would be a more probable birth year for her. Mary died of epidemic influenza on 14 December 1918 and was buried two days later in Calvary Cemetery. She was reported to be the wife of John Gruberski, but the document is worded in such a way that it makes no distinction between a wife, a widow, and a divorcée, so we cannot tell from this information whether or not John Gruberski is already deceased. However, the fact that John himself was not the informant is potentially significant. The name of the person who was the informant is unclear, but he did not know Mary’s parents’ names, or her precise place of birth, which suggests that he may not have known her well.
I was really bothered by the fact that I couldn’t read the informant’s name on this document. The disjointed appearance of the signature made it look almost like a short name, e.g. Geo. (George) Doun or Dorn, followed by a phrase, which I thought might contain some clue about the relationship of the informant to the deceased. Moreover, the 1910 census did indeed show a man by the name of George Dorn who lived at 1058 Rice Street in St. Paul in 1910, less than a mile from the Gruberskis’ address on the death certificate. However, this theory was blown out of the water last night by the amazing Kasia Dane in the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook.
One of my favorite strategies when I need another pair of eyes or a fresh perspective, is to crowdsource the problem by posting in a Facebook group. I posted this record in Polish Genealogy recently, and after some discussion, Kasia produced irrefutable evidence that the informant was a Belgian immigrant named Georges Dommels-Huizen. Kasia’s most compelling piece of evidence was this World War I draft card, which informs us that Georges was employed as a records clerk at the City and County Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a hospital records clerk, Georges would have had access to the basic information contained in Mary’s medical chart when she was admitted to the hospital.
Bill Gruberski’s Day in Court
Rather than resting on her laurels, Kasia dug a little deeper and turned up a spectacular find in Internet Archive. It’s often surprising what information one can find by a simple internet search using the name of a research subject combined with an identifying fact or two. In this case, a search for “Mary Gruberski 1918” produced a book entitled Minnesota Reports, which is a summary of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, published in 1922.5 The case summary tells us that Mary took out a life insurance policy on herself in 1918, shortly before her death, naming her brother-in-law, Bolesław “Bill” Gruberski, as the beneficiary. The insurer was the Brotherhood of American Yeomen, which was a fraternal beneficiary organization. The policy was issued in September of 1918, but prior to issuance of the life insurance certificate, the insurer required Mary to undergo a physical examination and to answer questions about her own health history, family health history, and her physical condition. The medical examination took place on 18 August 1918, and one of the questions asked was, “Are you pregnant?” At the time of the exam, Mary was 5 1/2 months pregnant, and she delivered a full-term baby on 15 November 1918, one month before her death.
Since the death claim was made so soon after the policy issued, it seems that the insurer balked at making the payout on the policy. They argued that the policy was void if any of the statements made during the medical exam regarding Mary’s physical condition were untrue, and they claimed that Mary stated that she was not pregnant. Never mind that her death was completely unrelated to her pregnancy, the whole case came down to the question of whether or not the statements made during the exam were warranties that could invalidate the insurance certificate if proven to be false. The plaintiff, on the other hand, charged that the medical examiner erroneously inserted Mary’s answers into the medical report, and that Mary did, in fact, admit to being pregnant. Mary was known to be illiterate, with limited English-speaking skills. Both sides offered conflicting testimony regarding Mary’s actual oral statement, and whether or not an interpreter was used, and it was noted to be strange that the medical examiner recorded her waist measurement, yet did not realize that she was 5 1/2 months pregnant. When the case was first tried in the Ramsey County District Court, it was judged in favor of the plaintiff — that is, the insurer was required to pay a death benefit of $1,000 to Bill Gruberski for his sister-in-law’s death. The defendant appealed that verdict, but it was upheld by the State Supreme Court.
So what are the genealogical implications of this new evidence? First, we now know that John and Mary Gruberski had at least 5 children prior to Mary’s death in 1918: Stanisław, Genowefa, Helena, Wanda, and this new baby born in November 1918, just a month before Mary’s death. Second, these data support my suspicion that John Gruberski might have preceded Mary in death. It’s a little odd that she would have named her brother-in-law as her beneficiary if her husband were still alive. Perhaps her intention was to have Bill use the money for the care of her children. In any case, the question remains as to when John Gruberski died, and the probable timeframe for this event is pretty narrow. If John and Mary’s youngest child was born in November 1918, the baby would have been conceived in February of that year. Therefore John must have died some time after the baby’s conception, but before Mary applied for the life insurance policy in August 1918, and named her brother-in-law, and not her husband, as beneficiary. It’s also theoretically possible that John did not die in 1918, but rather abandoned his family and moved back to Poland, and I hope to address this question with further research.
The Seven Siblings
There’s one final new development that I want to share in this next chapter of the story. As mentioned previously, John and Mary’s oldest son, Stanisław, was reported in the 1920 census to be an inmate at St. Joseph’s German Catholic Orphan Society Home in St. Paul, Minnesota. I contacted the Archdiocesan Archives for St. Paul to inquire about records from the orphanage, and was delighted to learn that they do have records for Wanda and all her siblings, which I can request from their archive 100 years after the date of the record. The earliest records will be available in January 2019 and the latest in September 2025. It seems a long time to wait, but I’m in this for the long haul. The surprise came when the archivist wrote that they have records for seven Gruberski children, not just five. Based on the dates of birth of the children previously discovered, the remaining two children must have been born in 1915 and 1917. Given how large this family was, it seems odd that Stanisław was the only one of the siblings who was reported to be living in the orphanage in 1920. Prior to my correspondence with the Archdiocesan Archive, I assumed that the younger children might already have been adopted by 1920, leaving only Stanisław there. However, assuming that the release dates on the orphanage case files correspond to the dates when each child was legally adopted, there should have been three additional Gruberski children reported on the census, based on the census date of January 1920. Why they were not reported on the census is another mystery for another day.
There’s also the mystery of where these children would have been baptized, since the only baptismal records found at St. Adalbert’s were for Wanda and Helena. The obvious answer is that they must have been baptized in a different parish, so I took a look at the family’s addresses in city directories to determine what other parish they might have lived in. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t help much. In the 19147 city directory for St. Paul, John Gruberski was reported to be living at 720 S. Concord Street, which isn’t especially close to any of the ethnic Polish Roman Catholic churches in St. Paul. In 1915,8 he was listed in several places in the directory. He appears first in the alphabetical listing of residents, which confirmed the previous home address of 720 S. Concord Street, and was also mentioned in the business directory under both “blacksmiths” and “horseshoers” where it was noted that his blacksmithing business was located at 161 Milford. In 1916,9 the only Gruberski listing is for “Jochim,” although it’s clearly the same as our John, since he’s a blacksmith working at 161 Milford. This time his residence is reported to be 865 Rice Street, but that’s still only a mile away from St. Adalbert’s.
In 1917,10 I found John’s brother, Bill Gruberski, living and working at his brother’s former address, 161 Milford. Moreover, the 1917 directory shows “Joachim Gruberski,” also a blacksmith, living at 887 Albemarle. Google Maps informs me that 887 Albemarle is about 26 feet away from 161 Milford, so right next door. By 1918,11 there’s no longer any mention of any John, Jochim, or Joachim Gruberski, but William Grubarski is mentioned as a “helper” living at 844 Galtier, which is again, quite close to St. Adalbert’s. 844 Galtier is an address we’ve seen before: it’s where Mary Gruberski was living at the time of her death in December 1918. Moreover, both of these facts are consistent with our present hypothesis, that John Gruberski died (or perhaps abandoned his family) between February 1918 and November 1918. It seems quite plausible that Mary and her children might have moved in with her brother-in-law and his family if her husband died suddenly while she was pregnant with her seventh child.
Although this analysis of the city directories has helped us to understand some aspects of the story, it did not suggest any other parishes where the Gruberski children might have been baptized, since all the addresses associated with the family point to St. Adalbert’s. At this point, I don’t have any answers, merely speculation. Maybe, for some reason, some of the children were baptized at nearby St. Stanislaus parish, even though it was an ethnic Czech parish and therefore probably not the first choice for Polish immigrants? They were most likely not baptized at the ethnic Polish St. Casimir church in St. Paul, because their baptisms would have been captured in John Rys’s database. So this, too, remains another mystery for another day.
To Be Continued….
To sum it up, this next chapter in the saga of the Gruberski family in St. Paul has been pretty interesting, and the pieces of the story are starting to come together. We now have Wanda’s baptismal record, which provides direct evidence for her parentage, and we have a baptismal record for one additional sibling, Helena. We’ve learned of the existence of three more siblings, previously unknown, and we know the dates on which we can request adoption records for each of the seven siblings from the Archdiocesan Archive. We’ve discovered Leon Gruberski, John’s brother, and have a plan in place for further research in Polish records to obtain his birth record, and the birth records for all additional children of Józef Gruberski and Marianna Zarzycka. The report of a successful lawsuit, brought by Bill Gruberski against the Brotherhood of American Yeomen after their refusal to pay the death claim on Mary Gruberski’s life insurance policy, provided key genealogical details including the date of birth of Mary’s youngest child, and the fact that Mary named her Bill, rather than her husband, as her beneficiary. This, in combination with data from Mary’s death record and city directories, contributed evidence to our developing hypothesis that John Gruberski died between February 1918 and August 1918. Some questions still remain, of which the most important are those regarding the fate of John Gruberski, but hopefully further research can resolve those. Stay tuned!
1 Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Parish (St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota), Baptisms, 1911-1923, 1916, #61, baptismal record for Wanda Gruberska.
2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Parish (St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota), Baptisms, 1911-1923, 1914, #15, baptismal record for Helena Josepha Gruberski.
3 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (images and transcription), Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1257; Line: 14; Page Number: 149, record for Leon Gruberski, accessed 31 August 2017
4 Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics, Death Certificates, 1918, #8746, record for Mrs. John (Mary) Gruberski, died 14 December 1918 in St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota.
5 Minnesota Reports, Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota (1922), Bill Gruberski v. Brotherhood of American Yeomen, a Fraternal Beneficiary Organization, May 6, 1921, Case number 22,197, pp. 49-53.; book digitized by Google from the library of Harvard University and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb., Internet Archive (https://archive.org/), accessed 31 August 2017.
6 1920 United States Federal Census (image and transcription), Year: 1920; Census Place: St Paul Ward 11, Ramsey, Minnesota; Roll: T625_855; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 140; Image: 1041, https://www.ancestry.com, Record for Stanislaus Gruberski, accessed 31 August 2017.
7U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1914, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for John Gruberski, p. 734, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.
8 U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1915, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for John Gruberski, pp. 698 and 1757, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.
9 U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1916, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Jochim Gruberski, p. 712, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.
10 U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1917, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Bill and Joachim Gruberski, p. 708, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.
11 U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1918, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Wm. Grubarski, p. 501, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017