Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bronislaw J. Grala

"Eo sum genre gnatus." -- Platus*

Bronislaw Jozef Grala was born on October 12, 1891. At the time of his birth his parents, Jozef Grala and Antonina Gorecki, may have resided in Baba, Ostroleka, Mazowiecki, Poland. He died in New Britain, CT on October 10, 1984. In between is a history that spanned two continents and produced the wonderful family of which I am very proud.


While we know little of Jozef and Antonina aside from stories shared by their grandson Frank, Jr., we believe other children included: Jozef Jr., Maryanna, Helena, Bronislawa, Elinora and Franciszek.

When Bronislaw first arrived in America in 1909, he gave his last permanent address as Baba. He moved his family back there in 1921. In 1928, he returned to New Britain, CT ahead of them and took a job with Stanley Works where where he never missed a day of work in 30 years! These events alone paint a picture of a tenacious, adventurous man. Imagine the strength and determination it must have taken to pack up and move a family from one contingent to another ... not once, but twice!

Cousin Cynthia found this photograph of a woman who is most probably one of Bronislaw's sisters! We were fortunate that the father of Cousin Cookie's student was able to translate it for us: The inscription on the back reads, "To ja, siosta, kochany bracie i wnuczka moja, to jest starszezego tosyna corka." The way to say it in English would be, "It is I, your sister, my lovely brother, and my grand daughter from my older son. It is my son's daughter."

*Such is the stock I spring from.

Franciszek J. Grala

Throughout our family's history it is clear there was a strong bond between Bronislaw and his brother Franciszek. So I am happy to share what little I know of him and hope to find some of his descendants as our tree grows!

Franciszek J. Grala was born on December 1, 1898. It is interesting to note that, on the U.S. Census for 1920, he indicated that he was born in Galicja* (Galicia in English). However, it is more likely he was born in Baba, Ostroleka, Mazowiecki, Poland. The youngest child of Jozef and Antonina, it's been said that he was the one to most resemble his mother.

Franciszek immigrated to the United States in 1912 and was headed to Lorain, OH where he planned to join Bronislaw [actual record not yet found]. But he had difficulty adjusting to that environment [his son Frank, Jr. didn't know if it was the steel mills or coal mines, but he did know it was hard labor] and got in touch with Joseph Gorecki who told him that the factories in the Hardware City were hiring ... especially new arrivals.

In New Britain he met Rose Swider and married her in 1915. They lived at 44 Orange Street where Franciszek (Frank) J. Grala, Jr. was born on November 30, 1916. Helena (Helen) was born in New Britain as was Genowfa (Jean) in October 1921. Rosalia died on January 12, 1938 in New Britain. Franciszek died there in 1952.

Bronislaw joined Franciszek in New Britain after the death of Teofilia in 1918. Rose cared for the children while her brother-in-law worked. Frank Jr. wrote that his father and Uncle Bronislaw was church collectors and on Easter and Christmas they wore bright red military-type uniforms as security guards at the tomb and manger.

In 1921 Franciszek's wife and children joined Bronislaw and his family in Baba for a period of one year. Franciszek stayed behind as he was attending night school to become a U.S. citizen. (At the time, the U.S. Government was very anxious to have new arrivals become naturalized and threw in a bonus ... if you became a citizen, your spouse automatically became one also.)

Sadly, Frank Jr. passed away on 27 Feb 1996. I am so thankful to have been the recipient of his colorful gleanings about the Grala family (see "Letter from Frankie")! God bless you Frankie.

*When genealogists use the term "Galicia" they are usually referring to a region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, stretching from roughly Krakow in the west to Tarnopol in the east. Today, this area would be south-Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine. It is highly unlikely it is the place of Franciszek's birth.

Maryanna Grala

Maryanna Grala was born about 1888, likely in Baba, Ostroleka, Mazowiecki, Poland. She arrived in New York on April 13, 1905 aboard the Rhein and was going to her brother Josef Grala in Pittsfield, MA.

On January 25, 1906, Maryanna Grala of Great Barrington, MA married Stanislaw "Stanley" Krzynowek of Lorain, OH. He was the son of Jacob Krzynowek and Sophie Simczyk. Joseph was born about 1882 and died in Hampshire Co., MA in May 1966. The ceremony took place at Corpus Christi Church in Housatonic, MA and was officiated by Rev. J. H. Fagan.

Grala-Krzynowek Notes:
  • When Bronislaw arrived in New York in 1909 he indicated he was going to his brother-in-law, Josef Krsynowski in Housatonic, MA. Josef was actually Stanley's brother.
  • Josef "Joseph" Krzynowek married Stanislawa Krzynowek, the daughter of Ignacy Krzynowek and Marianna Barsoy, on January 30, 1912. The following month, on February 19, 1912, Bronislaw married Teofilia. Sometime later both couples relocated to Lorain, OH.
  • Joseph died in Lorain on November 19, 1918. At the time of his death he was employed by the Clipper Steel Plant and lived at 813 E. 33rd St. Teofilia died in Lorain on the 30th.
  • After Joseph's death, Stanislawa married Stanislaw Papinski (or Lapinski) and made a trip to Poland with her four children (3 from 1st marriage and 1 from 2nd). They returned to the U.S. on August 18, 1922 aboard the Aquitania and were going to her husband Stanlislaw Papinski at E32nd St., Lorain, OH.

Puzzling Pieces

Thinking of you this first day of Autumn with a lovely card I received years ago from Aunt Hedy!

As the leaves begin to change, it's the perfect time to climb back up our family tree in search of clues to some unsolved mysteries. I did find some puzzle pieces up there, but I need your help in fitting them together:

28 April 1902
Adam Lalensky* (28) of Baba, Poland arrived in NY aboard the Ryndam. The manifest indicated he was going to his brother-in-law, F. Pieloscik (sp?), in Housatonic, MA. (*Actually Adam Zalensky on the manifest.)

17 May 1903
Joseph Grala (17) of Baba, Poland arrived in NY aboard the Arcadia. The manifest indicated he was going to his uncle, Adam Zalesky, in Pittsfield, MA.

13 April 1905
When Maryanna Grala (17) of Baba, Poland arrived in NY aboard the Rhein she was going to her brother Josef Grala in Pittsfield, MA. We've determined she was Bronislaw's sister.

20 November 1906
Dorotea Zalinska (38) of Baba, Poland arrived in NY aboard the Oldenburg. The manifest indicated she was going to her husband, Adam Zalenski, in Pittsfield, MA. [This is Dorotea Pielosick.]

19 February 1912
Branislauf Grala (20) of 86 Turner Avenue, Pittsfield, MA married Theophila Rogowska (18) in Housatonic, MA. (86 Turner Avenue was the home of none other than Adam Zalinsky!)

Based on these clues, Aunt Joan and I feel certain that Josef Grala and Adam Zalinsky are related to us in some way ... that perhaps we have more relatives waiting to be found. Afterall, Baba isn't that big a place for so many Gralas to be unrelated! But who is Adam Zalesky and how is he connected to our family history?

If anyone can help us solve this mystery, we'd appreciate hearing from you!

What's in a name?

While surfing genealogical web sites I came across the Gen Dobry Newsletter and wrote to it's editor, Fred Hoffman, to compliment him on the newsletter and get myself on his mailing list. Fred is the author of Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings.

In my email, I asked if he'd ever come across the Grala surname. I never expected him to reply and was amazed at the following response. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did!

Dear Judi:

Back in 2000, a lady named Karen Main ( wrote to ask me about this name. I doubt that email address is still good, but most of the answer I gave her is worth repeating. So I'll repeat it below, modified with some additional info I've picked up since 2000. Karen said of an ancestor (her grandfather, I think):

"The name he took or used or was given in the U.S. was "Grala". My mother says that he hailed from the Carpathian mountain region. She discovered an article in National Georgraphic that described a Polish clan that went by the name of "Gorale" (hyphen over the "o")."

The Gōrale are not really a clan, but rather a kind of sub-culture of Polish mountainmen in southern and eastern Poland, especially the Carpathian region. Because of their geographic isolation they developed a rather insular community with their own customs and such, kind of like the mountain men in the U.S., except they have persisted for centuries.

It's possible a name like Gōral (the singular of Gōrale) could be modified into Grala. Poles pronounce Gōral "GOOR-all," and from that to Grala, "GRAH-lah," is not too big a jump. I've certainly seen names distorted a lot more than that.

I should point out, however, that GRALA is a legitimate Polish name in its own right, seen in records from as far back as 1385. As of 1990, according to the database at (which covered about 94% of the population of Poland), there were 2,739 Polish citizens named GRALA. The largest numbers lived in the following provinces: Kalisz 234, Katowice 212, Lodz 327, Ostroleka 308, Poznan 187 and Sieradz 119.

For more recent data (and more accurate) from 2002, see here: It gives the number as 2,940 and shows the name is found all over, with the largest number (267) in Ostroleka, in northeastern Poland. Still, there is not really enough to give you a reliable notion where a specific Grala family came from. Only research into the family history might uncover that. In your case, it's great to know he came from Baba -- but which Baba? There are 8 places in modern Poland named Baba or with Baba as part of their name. I note, however, that the largest, a village of 330 persons, in Ostroleka county -- the same county with the largest number of Gralas. It's not wise to jump to conclusions, but you have to wonder if this is telling us something?

As for the linguistic origin of the name, Polish name expert Prof. Kazimierz Rymut mantions GRALA in his book Nazwiska Polakow (The Surnames of Poles). He says it can come from the German name Grall, or it can also come sometimes from the root "gra" meaning "to play". GRAŁA, with a slash through the L giving it the sound of our W, is a name meaning "player, one who plays an instrument". It's pretty rare, however, since only 24 Poles bore that name as of 1990 (35 as of 2002). Sometimes names with GRAŁA also have forms with plain L, so GRALA and GRAŁA could sometimes be variants of the same basic name.

By the same token, there were 8,439 Poles named Gōral in 2002, living all over Poland, expecially in the south.

I checked for info on the German name GRALL, but found nothing on it. The Duden Familiennamen, a good book on German names, does mention GRAHL, which is prnounced essentially the same. It says that name can come from an old Germanic term meanin "angry", or from an old Germanic term meaning "noise, upror, boisterousness", or from the Middle High German word for "grail", or from a place name such as Graal in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region.

So, we have a real variety of possible origns to choose from, all of the plausible. Over the centuries, lots of Germans settled all over Poland, and it's not at all rare to find German names borne by Polish citizens. So GRALA could very well have started our as "(son/kin) of Gral", referring to a German named Grall or Grahl. Perhaps he was an angry sort, maybe he was noisy and boisterous, maybe he came from Graal. Then again, he could have been a native Pole who was a "player" in some sense. There's really no way to say for sure.

I doubt the connection with "Gōral" would prove relevant, unless research into the family history proves that the family originally came from the mountainous regions of southern Poland. I'd go with eithr "son of Gral" or "the player". Rymut seemed to think "son of Gral" was the more likely explanation. But as always, a lot depends on what your research turns up.

That's about all I can tell you. I hope it's some help, and wish you the best of luck with your research.

Fred Hoffman
Author, Polish Surnames: Origins & Meanings

The Baba Homestead

Baba is located in Ostroleka, a region in the province of Mazowiecki in Northeast Poland. It was a historically significant source of immigrants to the United States, especially to the Polish communities on the East Coast, as well as large Midwestern industrial cities such as Cleveland and Detroit.
During a visit with Aunt Bernice and Uncle Frank, I was shown an oil painting done by their grandson, Eddie, from stories Frank told him about the farm in Baba. We are so fortunate to have this unique glimpse into our family's past!
Bronislaw liked to tell the story of going to the Polish-American Club in New Britain where members would ask each other where they came from ... the hope was to find somebody who had lived in their area of Poland. Evidently, there were not many members from Baba. When Bronislaw would tell where he was from, it never failed that someone would respond, "I know that! But where did you reside?" "BABA," he'd say. Again, "Damn it! But that was only for nine months!"

Letter from "Frankie"

At a Cousins Reunion, Val suggested we expand our reunion to other branches of the Grala tree. A few days later I sent a note off to Frank Grala, Jr. (Francizek's son) explaining what we'd been up to over the preceeding years, with a copy of our newsletter.

Imagine my surprise when I received his reply. It was of special interest to me for two reasons: I'd found another member of the Grala clan who seemed to love writing as much as I do and discovered where I got that head of red hair I was born with!

Frank's 8-page letter was printed clearly and neatly in fountain pen ... at one point, where the color of ink changes, he writes, "Gee, I ran out of peacock green ink and must continue with blue black." However, there are places where I've added missing words (in parentheses) to make reading go a little easier:

Dear Judi,

Family Tree: This is not a memo but an odyssey. Thus the reply delay. (I) first had to find the lost key to the locked closet door, rattle the skeleton bones, insert a catheter into my brain and put my thoughts of the past together (into) a judicial, memorable presentation.

Gee: What a wonderful surprise to receive a message from a member branch! In my age it was only a small budding tree. Today a large and tall, solid oak tree. I must be living on the second or third floor limbs and do recognize the clan on the tenth floor limbs. But from there to the twelfth floor is a blur.

Observe: New Zealand is where you had experienced one of your happiest moments of your life. (He is making reference to Ralf & I getting married there.) Marvelous! In the early 40s this land was named as (a) rest & rehabilitation center for some U.S. troops returning from a journey visiting an island. The young men dreamed of basking in the sun and exploring the new outer environment. After three days of leisure and free from duties, the atomic bomb strikes again. The order of the day is the usual training, again preparing for another vacation island. The kiwi fruit is delicious. Your chronology of vital events has a GI flavor. Damn good job ... carry on!

Gatherings: The last time I spoke to your parents and the clan was at mother's wake. A year or so later, I received an invitation to attend a party for clan members only at the Crystal Ball Room in New Britain. At the same time, I was accepted as an armed security guard on probation with FBI involvement. Since the Wells Fargo grand robbery in West Hartford (involving a security guard), the FBI came into the picture. My situation (was explained) to Hedy who was to relay the message to the clan (as to) why I was unable to attend.

Grandparents: To emotionalism and stubborn, I think you should add these adjectives: industrious, strong-willed and disciplined. These have been (proven) by the generations as a roll-over from (my) grandparents.

(My grandfather) was sturdy-built with somewhat broad shoulders. The height (was about) 5'7" as (was) Uncle Bronislaw, my father and myself. He had a striking black mustache -- Hitler type. Anybody looking at him would focus on his eyes and mustache first. His looks? Look at Uncle B and you're looking at Grandfather Grala sans mustache. To me, when he was on the horse, the image was as a dignitary which the neighbors did not fail to notice.

Grandmother was to a Mona Lisa type. I don't remember too much of her because I spent most of my time with him (in activities such as) eating homemade cheese in the field. That cheese was damn good and tasty!

During the visit at Baba I had some exploring events, but the one I liked best is named "horse and master." One day, grandfather took Benny and me (around), explaining what we can and cannot do in the area. The last stop was at the barn with a horse. It was also "don't do." I explained my liking the horse because of the color (of its red coat). I once had red hair. At that age, one is only interested in the "cannot do." A few days later, with grandfather in the field, we went to the barn and the horse followed us to an empty wagon. We climbed aboard the wagon with the horse on the side. Benny got on first and I followed with a minor problem. Benny (gave the horse) a sharp slap and we went galloping. Your guess is right ... the horse stopped where the master was working. The next few days both of us had a difficult time sitting down.

I was told by a family member that my father was the youngest of the family and the only one to resemble his mother. It was a puzzle to me why I never met a red hair in the Grala clan until Joseph Gorecki came into the picture. He was a redhead. My parents had some problems with friends (and when) the conversation involved hair, the Gorecki name emerged. Thus, if you know it or not, the red gene is somewhere out there in that tree. At my stage of life I still have not run across a Grala redhead.

My parents:
Frank Grala
Born: December 8, 1898
Place: Same as Uncle B
Married: 1915 New Britain
Died: 1952 New Britain

Rose Swider
Born: 1900 Poland
Died: 1936 New Britain

Oldies but goodies: My father was also a teenager when he first saw Ellis Island in 1913. He was on his way to Lorain, Ohio which proves Uncle B arrived alone. There was a Joseph Gorecki living in New Britain (who) later (became) my godfather, but he was only two years older than my father.

Apparently my father had difficulty adopting to the environment. I don't know if it was the steel mills or coal mines, but I do know it was hard labor. Father got in touch with Gorecki and learned the Hardware City factories were hiring ... especially new arrivals. One item I wish to bring to your attention is (that) a strong bond existed between the two brothers.

44 Orange Street: I was born there on November 30, 1916. Across the street was the Sacred Heart Rectory and on the church property north was the church on Broad Street facing Horace Street facing where Uncle B lived ... about the fourth home.

Years later, when Benny married Pauline, their first living quarters were across the street (from) where Uncle lived. More years later Benny owned a grill and restaurant. I was with Armour & Co. and he was one of my customers.

The next street west was Gold Street where their home was located. Across the street was the church property. On my visits (to see them) I was always treated as a son. Both (brothers) were married here. A Christian mass and burial (was held) for the four of them (and they were buried at the) same cemetery. Both (my father and Uncle B) were church collectors. On Easter and Christmas they wore bright red military-type uniforms as security guards at the tomb and manger.

67 Grove Street: We lived on the third floor facing Orange Street. This is where (we lived when) Uncle B arrived with the children.

Remembering: From the bits of conversations overheard between the brothers, my consensus is that the American dollar was worth a bushel of Poland's zbtys and a better, comfortable living for them (could be found in Poland). We left shortly after (Uncle B and his family) did -- my mother was to lay the ground work. I never learned why father did not come with us. I do know he was attending night school to become a U.S. citizen at the Polish Club. At the same time, the U.S. government was very anxious to have the new arrivals become U.S. citizens. The bonus was if one became a U.S citizen, the spouse became a U.S. citizen also. Thus, my mother became one while in Poland.

Later, I learned the higher-ups at the club convinced my father (that) the future on the horizon would be (an) onerous (one) -- political and economic conditions there were not only (cloudy), but (there was) also a storm (coming). We were ordered to return to the U.S.

Stanley Works: Although I did not graduate with a higher education I had some experience in that field. This will reveal the management's respect for Bronislaw Grala. I graduated high school in 1936 and was seeking a means to continue. (During) the time of the Great Depression, even the dictionary deleted its description of "unemployed" and inserted the word "normal." Yes, Uncle B made arrangements for me to be hired at the plant (in order for me) to continue my education.

Baba: Translation -- female, women, she, etc. They had much difficulty with this word. At that time, the new arrivals in their own conclave environment would meet on weekends, in groups, including all sections. The idea was to find somebody who lived in your (area) of Poland.

The first question would be, "Where are you from?" Answer (father or uncle, "Baba." Again, "Hell, I know that. But where did you reside?" The answer, "Baba." Again, "Damn it! But that was only for nine months."

S.S. Batori: During the recall home, we also boarded it. size? Take your pick (from any) one of Columbus' ships.

Uncle's Travels 1929-1933: Perhaps, but while living with us, the answer is no.

Grala: If you do some research (you) will discover the name is unusual. But the name also has unexplained answers as (is with) the name Smith. Two unmarried brothers named Grala lived in New Britain at that time. Joseph sang in the church choir and Steve worked in the same factory as my father. Steve was a frequent visitor to our home. I never did learn (what) part of Poland they lived (nor did I) learn (of their) family ties (to us). Here is one to ponder before the next chess move.

Gee -- I ran out of peacock green ink and must continue with blue black.

I transferred from the parochial to public school systems. About a week later, one of the teachers called me after a classroom session. She explained (that) because of my name she wanted to know how my cousin was doing in Europe? My answer was positive. She went on (to explain what) maturity (he had) at that age and (that he was) an honor student before the family left the U.S. for Byelo-russia. My only answer was, "Yes ma'am," (before I) walked out confused. It is your move.

In closing: My humble words of dziekuje and bogudzienka plus my own design garden of roses to my uncle and aunt. It is a long list of good deeds, but I must mention some: The night they arrived for my son's wake in 1975 -- he was disabled then -- (they commiserated) with us until closing time. The same at my wife's wake in 1981. Also, since the death of my father in 1952, (they) never missed sending me a Christmas card -- always with positive, handwritten words (of) encouragement. The last time we met in person was at Tony's wife's wake.

Since they would never want to listen to my thank-you after a good deed, I now can speak: Lord, please grant my Uncle Bronislaw and two aunts eternal life, peace and happiness. I pray to thee.

Well: My journey is over and (I'm) back to port. Hope (this) may help in your research.

A family branch,

Frank J. Grala, Jr.

P.S. Your letter and its content are concise, short, understandable and to the point -- wonderful!