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.
My research was at a bit of a standstill until about a week ago. I was contacted by a distant cousin who connected with me through our shared DNA results, and it took her refreshed perspective to open up a new door in my work. I explained the mystery of my grandfather, but what I didn’t know was that the baptismal records for St. Charles Borromeo were digitized on FindMyPast.org. With that small piece of information, she was able to find the record of my grandfather in the 1912 register. I’m learning something new with each discovery.
Joseph’s first name isn’t listed in the record, but it is definitely him. He is listed under a misspelling of his mother’s maiden name Kroliczak (spelled Kroliccok here). But the dates align as does his mother’s name. The big surprise for me was that his birth father was listed in the register; a man named Adam Krotowski (spelled Krotoski here). Next to the names of the parents, a priest wrote “not man and wife” with the “not” underlined 3 times, which I found rather funny. Mary’s sister Agnes Kroliczak served as a witness alongside an Ignatius Patrewesyneski.
I’ve been investigating Adam Krotowski for the past week or so. Who was he? How did he meet my great grandmother Mary Kroliczak? What was their relationship? Was he a musician? Did my grandfather ever meet him as an adult? Did Adam have a son named Edward who was younger than my grandfather, who died before his time, and who was married to a woman named Catherine?
It appears that Adam Krotowski was a farmhand working in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. According to the The Farm Journal Illustrated Farm and Business Directory of Bucks County (Philadelphia: Wilmer Atkinson Company, 1914), both the Kroliczak’s and the Krotowski’s had farms in Bensalem, with the former being 33 acres and the latter being 43 acres. Adam’s parents were likely a Stanislaw (Stephen) Krotowski and Maryanna (Mary) Pruchniewska. Adam married a woman named Franciszka Borowa in February 1912, a month before my grandfather was born. Their marriage license lists his residence and occupation. Upon his marriage to Francizska, the couple moved to Bridesburg, Philadelphia. While I will never know if they met in person, both my grandfather and his birth father were living in the same part of the city, at the very least. Adam Krotowski never lists my grandfather on his naturalization documents, and the baptism record is the only document thus far linking them together. In 2018, the 1912 birth certificates for Pennsylvania will become public, and I hope to find something further detailing their relationship on my grandfather’s birth certificate.
As for Edward Krotowski, I was absolutely floored to learn that Adam Krotowski and his wife Franciszka did indeed have a son named Edward J. Krotowski. He was married to a woman named Catherine Black and he served in the US Marines during WWII. He was born in 1929, making him younger than my grandfather, and died in 1979 at 50 years old. Could this be coincidence? If not, it seems that my grandfather did indeed know the identity of his birth father, and the family stories about Edward are true.
This is only the beginning of this research. I’m hoping to find some descendants of Adam Krotowski in my DNA results so that I can confirm this relationship beyond paper. But for now, it feels gratifying to add this mystery into the family tree. Many, many thanks to my distant cousin and newfound collaborator on the Kroliczak line. You have opened up a whole treasure trove of information for me and my family.