When I started researching my genealogy in the Spring of 2011, I only had a few family stories and names to guide me. I knew my grandmother’s maiden name–Zielinski–and that her mother went by “Hattie.” I found an old wedding photograph of Hattie’s parents at the bottom of a drawer, but the back of the photo was blank. My grandmother had told me stories of her grandfather’s penny candy store in Dunkirk, New York and of her grandmother’s accomplishments as a seamstress, but I still didn’t have any names.
I decided to create an online family tree to see what I could find. I wanted to know more about the wedding photograph I found amid the shuffle of papers, postcards and clipped newspaper articles at the bottom of a drawer–out-of-sight and out-of-mind. The couple’s rigid poses and distant expressions were unfamiliar to me, and I wanted to know the names and stories of my great-great-grandparents. Where were they from? How did they meet? What were their lives like?
I began by researching my great-grandmother, Hattie Zielinski. I remember visiting her small, yellow house in Dunkirk as a young girl and picking apples and pears from the fruit trees in her backyard. I started there, searching for her house, her nickname and her married name until I found an obituary for a Hattie Marcynzski. According to the obituary:
“The former Hattie Marczynski was born in 1913 in Dunkirk, the daughter of Casimir and Mary Witkowski Marczynski. She was known for her cheerful hospitality and for the way she would always greet visitors: “Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?”
Attached to my great-grandmother’s obituary was an identical photograph to the one I had found. I now knew my great-great-grandparents names, but I had to know more.