In a previous article, I mentioned my discovery about my 3x-great grandfather Josek Grajewski’s military record. If you haven’t already read that article, I accidentally stumbled on the record while conducting archival research in a small town in Poland in summer 2018. It was an astonishing discovery that completely changed the way I see my family. Not only that, but I was able to take a photograph of the record, print and frame it, and gift it to my grandfather, z”l. Then 96 years old, he was absolutely beaming with pride when he learned of the achievements of his great-grandfather.
Yet in addition to these wonderful things I talked about in my previous blog article, this document also opened the door to a whole new branch of my family that I’d never known about.
As I have mentioned in previous blog articles, my grandfather knew nothing about his father’s family. His paternal grandparents had died before he was born and his father had not been close with them, so there had been no one to transmit information down the line. All knowledge of that side of our family had been lost, until my own research uncovered it.
My own research using databases like JewishGen and JRI-Poland revealed seven out of eight of my grandfather’s paternal lines. I traced one branch back to Warsaw in the 1820s, and others to various villages in several parts of Poland—some near Warsaw, others farther afield. In fact, I visited several of them during my visit to Warsaw in summer 2018 while attending the IAJGS conference and the Gesher Galicia Symposium. Yet the Grajewski line – the source of our own name (through its Americanized variant Grayson) – remained a mystery.
In my initial research, I found my great-great-grandfather Hersz’s parents’ names—Josek and Bluma—but nothing more specific on his father. When I found Hersz’s parents’ 1865 marriage in the town of Radziejow, I was able to trace Bluma’s family there to the early 1800s. However, the surname Grajewski did not appear anywhere except for the marriage. Clearly, Josek was not from the same town Bluma was, but there was no indication on where he may have originated. With nowhere else to look, I had hit my brick wall.
The Mystery Deepens
Searching through databases did not help locate my ancestor. In fact, I could not find any hits for anyone named Josek Grajewski other than the 1865 marriage record I already knew about. I was able to rule out several other Grajewski families as being unrelated to mine, including one that had migrated to Warsaw from Lithuania. However, my attention was captivated by a large Grajewski family living in Bialystok in the mid-nineteenth century.
In fact, this Grajewski family used many of the same given names that my own Grajewski family did: Josef, Rubin, Gerszon. I was fascinated and suspected that there might have been a connection, but there was no way to prove it. This family sat in the back of my mind for quite some time.
When I stumbled on Josek’s military record several months later, I found that it contained more than just a statement of his military achievements. I was astonished to find that it also gave his hometown: Stawiski. Moreover, it gave his father’s name: Gerszon.
When I checked on a map, I found that Stawiski is not particularly close to Bialystok. Still, I was curious enough to roll up my sleeves and do some investigating. I decided to look at the original Russian-language records for the Bialystok Grajewski family from the Szukajwarkiwach website to see if these held any promising clues that had been omitted from the database. In fact, there were!
When I read the old Russian-language records myself, I came upon the death of Golda Rochel Szmuelewna Grajewska, who died in 1889 at the age of 19. By reading and comparing several of the Bialystok records, I was able to find that the progenitor of this Bialystok family was Szmul Grajewski. In fact, Golda Rochla’s death record shows that Szmul was originally from Stawiski, and other records showed that he was also the son of Gerszon! So they were brothers! I had made my connection!
By using records that matched up in such a beautifully elegant way, the history of my family had suddenly become much larger. What emerged was a tale of two brothers from a small town in what is now north-eastern Poland. After growing up together, the older brother—my ancestor—served in the war, then migrated to Warsaw, 100 miles to the southwest while the younger brother traveled 60 miles to the east.
I am ever hopeful that future research will allow me to locate living descendants of this Bialystok branch of my family I never knew I had.