Digging my roots

As I alluded to in my initial post on this blog, one of my current passions is genealogy. Compared to most of my other interests, this one actually came to me relatively recently. I am not really sure why it took as long as it did, to be honest, as I am curious by nature – and what could better pique one’s curiosity than where a person came from? But there were two moments that really provided a spark to that particular curiosity. The first one happened something like twenty years ago, My parents had just received an invitation to a family reunion to be held in Green Bay, and illustrating the flyer was an old photo of my great-great-grandfather, Bartlomiej “Barney” Gliniecki. Now, this was the first time that I had ever seen a picture of an ancestor that I had never met in real life, and it really was something of a revelation to me. There were plenty of pictures of my grandparents, of course, as well as of the one set of great-grandparents that I had known – but this was the first time that I had ever “met” an ancestor by way of an old photograph. That he bore an incredible resemblance to my Dad only served to pique my interest even more. Not too long after that, my Mom was going through some old photos and found two pictures – each one showing a different pair of great-grandparents that I had never known, all of them having passed away before I was born.  She then brought out some old family documents – some concerning ancestors I had known, along with others who were, once again, completely unknown to me until that point. Very fascinating stuff, indeed…but, for all of that, I felt as though I had come to something of a dead end. After that, there were no more documents or pictures in Mom’s collection, nothing at all about the fourth set of great-grandparents…and any curiosity that I carried in my mind was offset by work and family obligations. There are only so many hours in a week, and my schedule conspired with my obligations to prevent me from taking on any new hobbies at that point in time.

Fast forward to 2010.  I have been invited by a former co-worker – a younger guy by the name of Zachary Gilmeister – to his wedding reception. As I walk in, I see Zack talking with somebody. He sees me, calls me over, and introduces me to his father Bryan. After a couple of minutes worth of pleasantries, I ask Bryan a question. My grandmother’s maiden name was Gilmeister…is it possible that we might be related? (I had asked Zach the same question when he started working with me, but he really did not know.) Well, Bryan said…what do you know about your ancestors? I told him that I knew Michael and Lucy were my great-grandparents, but I could not go back any farther. To which Bryan replied: “They were my great-grandparents too”. Which, we realized, made us second cousins.

A huge smile crept across his face. There are some people here you might want to meet, he told me…and I was immediately ushered into the hall, and wound up being introduced to any number of relatives that I never knew I had. This being a stereotypical Wisconsin wedding, there was free beer all night. With that said: Judging by the number of times I heard the question “You’re Chet’s boy?” asked in a genuinely welcoming tone of voice, I would likely have drank for free in any event.

And that was that. The next morning, my curiosity revived, I started searching online to see what I could find out about my Gilmeister family roots; my search soon expanded to the Glinieckis as well, followed by the Klees and the Wilsons. (It did not hurt that by then, the internet had progressed far beyond anything that was out there in 1994, and searching for such information had become infinitely easier as a result.) I was especially curious about my great-grandparents Albert and Frances Gliniecki; I knew next to nothing about them, I had never seen any pictures, and by then my Dad had been gone for two years…so, sadly, it was too late to ask him what he knew. Typing in various search terms, I kept coming up empty. And then…jackpot; I was led to findagrave.com. Of all the sites I could have hit, I never expected a site such as that to be such a wealth of information – but whoever put the pages together for Albert and Frances must have read my mind…several photos, a couple tidbits of information, and links to more ancestors than I had expected. I was off and running, and I never looked back. Or, more accurately, I kept looking back – farther and farther, deeper and deeper. And with every name, every picture, and every story, it was as though I had found another part of me that I never knew existed. With every discovery, I was made more whole.

To anybody reading this, I beg, implore, and plead with you to go ahead and find out what you can about your ancestors while you can. And write it down. But more on that another day…


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