This is the earliest photograph that I have of my grandfather Joseph Wisniewski, scanned from my aunt’s family album. He died when I was four years old. And while I distinctly remember his voice (and getting yelled at when I got too close to his pigeons in the backyard), much of my knowledge of him and his life is an accumulation of my mother’s stories and memories.
The early life of my grandfather has been a long-standing mystery in my genealogical work. I knew for sure that he was the son of Mary Kroliczak, but his actual father remained ambiguous. He had the “Wisniewski” surname, but he most certainly wasn’t the son of John Wisniewski, Mary’s first husband. He also wasn’t the son of Mary’s second husband Jacob Huk, the only real father-figure in his life. When a child was born out of wedlock, people were a little looser with surnames, it seems. My mother had always said that her father Joseph was a little bit of a black sheep in the family as he was only half-related to all of his siblings.
The only physical record that I had documenting my grandfather’s birth was a letter from St. Charles Rectory (Bensalem, Pennsylvania) dated 1927 saying that my grandfather was baptized there in 1912 and was the son of John Wisniewski, which I knew to be false. I knew that he grew up on a farm on Byberry Road in Bensalem until he was about six years of age, and he was co-raised by his grandparents Peter Kroliczak and Antonina (Nowak) Kroliczak, since his mother Mary was sixteen when she gave birth. Some family stories seem to indicate that my grandfather knew the identity of his birth father, but no one knew his name. According to my mother, my grandfather Joseph once approached a man named Edward, who also participated in the pigeon club in Bridesburg, Philadelphia, claiming to be his half brother. Edward was much younger than my grandfather. He came over to Joseph’s house on multiple occasions, but died shortly after at a young age due to a heart attack. Apparently, my grandfather claimed that he looked exactly like Edward’s father, who was rumored to be a musician on the side. My family didn’t remember Edward’s last name, but my mom seemed to remember that he was married to a woman named Catherine. What a loose web of hypothetical connections. Continue Reading