Friday, February 7, 2014

Genowefa Stefanja Dabrowska (#2 - 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series)

Grandma and her brother, Joseph Dabrowski, c. 1935

I always called my maternal grandmother "Grandma." My paternal grandmother died years before I was born, so Grandma was the only grandmother I knew. I have several photos of myself and my brother visiting with her and my grandfather, but my memories are few. As sometimes happens with families nowadays, they move away and spread out. Sometimes they grow apart due to misunderstandings or biases from the previous generation. For us, my family moved from New Jersey to Idaho just before I started high school. I only saw my grandparents twice before they died. I was lucky enough to become interested in genealogy as a pre-teen and had the foresight to interview both of them many years ago. I still know very little about their families except for what I gathered from that interview long ago.

For a long time, that information sat in my files. Because my grandparents were Polish, I was somewhat intimidated, so I spent time researching my other family lines. It wasn't until the 1920 census came out that I pulled out those Polish records and tried to find them. Even though I knew they should have been in Connecticut, I could not find them. I got discouraged and put the files away again.

My grandmother died this summer at the age of 96. This event renewed my interest in the Polish side of my family. My grandmother was a first generation American. She was born in Stamford, Fairfield, Connecticut in 1917, but her family went back to Poland when she was 3 years old. It wasn't until she was 17 when she came back to the United States, alone. I remembered her telling me how Grandpa was the one who met her when she arrived in New York, but otherwise she didn't talk much about her family.

Armed with renewed interest and a smattering of details, I began to research what I could find out about my grandmother, who I knew as Jean (Americanized from Eugenia) Chrzanowski, born 2 March 1917. Her maiden name was Dabrowski. The following narrative is a working version of the results of my research.

Genowefa Stefanja Dabrowska was born on 28 Feb 1917, in Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut. She was the second child of nine born to Frank Dabrowski and Stephanie Gorska. [1]. She joined an older brother who was also born in Stamford. During their brief time in the United States, Frank and Stephanie Dabrowski became friends with the Chrzanowski family, who were also living in Stamford. They, too, were immigrants from Poland. As my grandmother conveyed to me, some family emergency had happened in Poland and her family had to return there. This must have happened around 1920 because another son was born in Stamford in 1919 who died in Poland about 1921. This was the reason I could not find them on the 1920 census; they were either enroute or already in Poland.

I don't know much about what happened while they were in Poland. Poland's politics were in unrest during the 1920s. The family owned land and during this time agrarian laws were enacted distributing land from the rich to the poor. I don't know if they received their land during this time or owned it prior–family lore says they were szlachta (upper class) and owned a large farm in Karwowo. The Polish-Soviet War was going on, which made sense to me since my grandmother had told me Russian soldiers came uninvited into their home. Poland also went from a democracy to an authoritarian government during this time. In 1933, Hitler seized power in Germany. In the following years, many anti-Jewish laws were passed in Germany, but by 1934, anti-Jewish violence was widespread.

Because she was a U.S. citizen, the decision was made to send my grandmother back to America. It was generally understood in our family that her older brother accompanied her, but according to the ship manifest of the SS Pulaski, Genowefa Stefania Dabrowska arrived alone in New York on 27 June 1934. She was going to live with a cousin, Stela Sokolski, in Stamford, Connecticut. [2] Unfortunately the manifest doesn't say who met her at the ship–Grandma always told me it was my grandfather, which is how they met.

My grandmother loved to dance and went to many dances with her older brother. She was a beautiful woman and she had her choice of escorts, but on 23 Jan 1937, she married Walter Chrzanowski in Jersey City, New Jersey. [3] They made their home on Woodlawn Avenue [4] and lived there for a number of years. Jean was employed as an operator in the cottons industry and was an excellent seamstress. One of my mother's memories is that my grandmother made almost every outfit she and her sister wore. She sewed money into the lining of clothing which she sent to her family in Poland to help them come to America.

Walter & Jean Chrzanowski, 1937

After raising two children, Walter and Jean moved to Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, in a house they lived in until Walter was moved into a nursing home in his senior years. Jean became a widow in 2003 and continued to live in her house for several years. She and Walter had been married for 66 years. I remember her telling me stories of the trips they went on. They loved to cruise and traveled the world. She made many trips to visit her family in Poland, some of which were extended stays for months at a time.

I remember spending a week with my grandparents one summer when I was just a kid. My grandmother was always well groomed and well dressed. She and my grandfather followed many of the old Polish traditions, were devout Catholics, and often spoke Polish together, especially when they didn't want me to understand what they were saying. I learned a few naughty words in Polish that way. Their house seemed very grown up to my child's eyes; white carpets and fancy furniture that children were not allowed to play around. My brother and I had to obey strict rules and watch our manners at the formal dining table. One of my fond memories is of my grandfather teaching me how to make "big pancakes" and Grandma showing me how to slice a grapefruit for breakfast and sprinkle it with sugar and place a cherry on top.

I only saw them twice after we moved to Idaho. On one visit, my grandmother went hiking and fishing with us. It was the playful side of her I rarely saw and the only time I saw her wearing jeans. She was a strong woman, having conquered breast cancer and having had a double mastectomy. Her childhood was also a difficult one; she didn't talk about it much. The only story she told me was the time after they had returned to Poland. Grandma remembered her mother saying the rosary while she rocked her little brother who was very sick. My grandmother remembered him reaching out for his mother while he died in her arms. She also had a younger sister who died at age 11. Although she visited them frequently in Poland, her parents never immigrated to the United States and rarely visited. They remained in Poland where they died and are buried. It must have been difficult to live so far away from them.

Grandma lived alone well into her eighties. Sometime around 2009, she moved into an assisted living facility in Connecticut, where her sisters and extended family lived in and around New Britain. When she could no longer live alone, she was moved to St. Patrick's Nursing Home in Framingham, Massachusetts, where she could be closer to her youngest daughter, Stephanie and her family. My grandmother lived out the remainder of her life here, and died on 8 Aug 2013, at the age of 96, having outlived all of her doctor's expectations. She is buried next to her husband in Sacred Heart Cemetery, in New Britain, Connecticut. [5]

Genowefa Stefanja Dabrowska and Walter Frank Chrzanowski had two children, both daughters, one who lives in the northeast and one who lives in the northwest. They each have spouses and two children.


[1] Fairfield, Connecticut, birth certificate no. 319 (1917), Genovefa Dombrowski; Stamford Town Clerk, Stamford. The birth certificate is notable for the numerous given name and surname mispellings which were crossed out and rewritten.

[2] "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," online images, ( : accessed 11 Sep 2013), manifest, SS Pulaski, 27 Jun 1934, p. 204 (stamped), Genowefa Stefanja Dabrowska, age 17, Gdynia, Poland, to New York, New York; citing NARA micropublication T715, roll 5506.

[3] Walter Chrzanowski (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey), interview by Karin Coppernoll, 3 Sep 1994; transcript privately held by Karin Coppernoll, Monroe, Washington; Walter, the interviewer's grandfather, spoke from personal knowledge about his family.

[4] 1940 U.S. census, Hudson, New Jersey, population schedule, Jersey City, enumeration district (E.D.) 24-129, sheet 6-A (penned), p. 1325-A (stamped), household 110, Jean Chrzanowski in Walter Chrzanowski household; digital images, ( : accessed 1 Aug 2012); citing NARA microfilm T627, roll 2,404.

[5] Obituary, "Jean Chrzanowski," The Record/Herald News, 17 Aug 2013, online obituaries ( : accessed 19 Aug 2013).


No comments:

Post a Comment