When I first started dabbling in family genealogy, there were certain members of my tree that just felt “easy” to find. In addition to reliably appearing in census data, I had anecdotes and stories to help match names to faces. There was a sense of instant gratification every time I sat down to search.
And then there is my mother’s side of the family…
When I ask my aunt, who is the oldest daughter of my grandparents, I always hear the same refrain. There is absolutely no awareness of my great grandparents’ siblings or their parents. I’m often told, “people just didn’t really talk about their family at that time.” As young children at the time, I know my aunt and my mother probably didn’t hear much about their family, but considering how tightly knit the Polish community was at the time, could it be true that my great grandparents magically showed up in Camden, got married, and started a family without a trace of where they came from? Did they really have no relatives living in the area?
I had a few basic clues on my great grandmother, Mary (Nowakowska) Szczepanski:
- Her maiden name was often written down as a variation of Nowakowska (Nowakosky, Nofocuski, etc).
- While my great grandfather was born in Poland, in every census record she appears in, my great grandmother is listed as having been born in Pennsylvania in 1884.
- There was a rumor that she may have had a sister.
- She married her husband Wicenty in 1902 in Camden, New Jersey and stayed in Camden for the rest of her life residing at 1404 S. 10th Street. No one seems to know how they met.
After months of searching and failing, I’m so happy to report that I had a breakthrough. A MAJOR breakthrough. I found her family. And not only did they bequeath their home at 1404 S. 10th Street to Mary and her new husband to help them start their life in 1902, they also moved right around the corner afterwards… They were right under my nose the whole time. Below I wanted to share the process of researching this “Brick Wall,” as people in the WikiTree community like to call it. I wanted to record the process for my own notes, but also share it as an inspiration to others facing down similar walls in their work. Continue Reading