Years ago – well before Social Media, it happened.
I was researching my Polish roots. E-mail did exist, in its earliest form. I started e-mailing a gentleman from Sanok, Poland. I found him through the tourist information portion of the town’s website. I reached out to him to see if he could help me find my ancestors – they had long, deep roots in that area.
I had also great success writing to the Polish Catholic Church Archives, despite some of the horror stories that I had heard.
At one point, I told him that I had a picture that was taken in Sanok – would the photography studio still be there or am I crazy? Well, he did say that I was crazy – after all, this photo would have been taken around 1900 or so – but he did something that I did not expect…
…he put the picture in the local newspaper.
Days passed and I didn’t really think much about sending him the picture until I received another e-mail from him. He had received a letter from someone stating that they were part of the family in the photo and that they had the exact same photo to prove it! What were the chances? I was beside myself with joy. I ran around the office (OK, not running, but certainly a bit out of breath) telling anyone who would listen what happened. Most stared at me like I had gone completely mad. But then – almost as quickly as the elation came – the dread occurred. They only spoke Polish. I could not really rely on my contact in Poland to help me as he was only a worker in what we would call a Visitors’ Bureau. It wouldn’t be fair to him.
I did have a Polish co-worker who was willing to help me write a few letters. This was key. I was able to write as much as I could with books and dictionaries and then he would fix them so that they didn’t sound completely broken, like a pre-schooler. I gained confidence and continued to write, broken Polish and all. It didn’t matter. This was family and they didn’t seem to care. We exchanged photos and some information – in fact they knew of family in Pennsylvania that my mother didn’t know we had!
I was even able to show my mother a picture of her Great Aunt Karolina (far left), after whom she was named. It was definitely a ‘Kodak’ moment!
If I hadn’t reached out, I would have never made this connection. That was 12 years ago and I am still in touch with both that gentleman AND my family in Poland. My Polish has improved and thanks to tools like Google Translator, it’s close enough that we can figure out what each other are saying.
As the title states, leave no stone unturned. You never know what you may find. It may just come from some pretty unexpected sources.
Feel free to share your unexpected discoveries in the comments section as well!