The Mystery Brother

Mary Witkowski2
Mary (Witkowski) Marczynski // Restoration by Robin Clark

In July of 1907, Maryanna Louisa Witkowski, the daughter of Nicholas and Marcella (Mintkiewicz) Witkowski, left Poland for the small town of Dunkirk, New York to marry a man she had never met. She and Casimir Marczynski, a widower with six young children, were wed on August 26, 1907 at St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church. At the time, Casimir’s penny-candy store was a success, and the family had some extra money set aside. Casimir was able to pay passage for Mary’s three siblings–Casimir, Joseph and Agnes–to travel to Dunkirk over the next five years.

Casimir Witkowski, the oldest of the Witkowski siblings, arrived in Philadelphia in 1911 and remained in Dunkirk until his death in 1926. He married Stella Anastasia Nowak, a young woman from (the former) Posen, Poland, and had four children: Joseph (b. 1910), Ignatius (b. 1917), Sophie (b. 1920) and Theresa (b. 1923). Mary’s younger brother, Joseph, also had four children–Clement (b. 1918), Frank (b. 1920), Bernard (b. 1921) and Theresa (b. 1929)–and I’ve shared her sister, Agnes’, story here before. I thought I’d discovered all of the information available on the Witkowski branch of my mother’s family tree; that is, until I received a letter from my grandmother’s cousin in the mail.

I’m not the only–and certainly not the most talented–genealogist on the Marczynski side of the family tree. My grandmother’s cousin has been researching her mother’s and father’s families for decades, and when I expressed an interest in genealogy, she immediately took me under her wing and taught me everything she knows. She had written to share two letters with me that she’d found among her mother’s belongings: the first was a letter written to Mary by her mother, Marcella; the second, though, was penned and signed by a brother we had never heard of in our combined years of researching. He wrote, on September 25, 1932 from Poznań, Poland:

Joseph Witkowski
Mary’s brother, Joseph Witkowski (not the mystery brother!)

Dear Sister:

Praise be to Jesus Christ. Letting you know that I received both letters in good condition. Thank God I’m feeling pretty good and wish the same for all of you.

Dear Sister please do not feel angry that I haven’t answered your previous letter. 

Katie and Zane thank you for your kind heart. Zane received his first Holy Communion the beginning of June, and that is one reason I haven’t written, because wanted to send you a photograph, but didn’t have the funds to take them. Somehow managed and did take some, so I’m sending you one now. 

Dear Sister I feel very bad and sad about brother Casimer, that he has so many problems with his back and suffers so much; your writing that he has terrific pain in his back. In Germany they call it slipped disc. I also had the same problem, couldn’t even put my shoes on, my wife had to put my shoes on, until I started to wrap a woolen piece of material around my waist, and tighten the belt as tight as one can stand it, and this helped me. So tell him to do the same and maybe it can help him also. Keeping it warm helps a lot. 

Dear Sister, Katie’s husband is in Argentina, city Buenos Aires, since Easter, and till today hasn’t sent anything yet. And God knows if he will return to his family. 

Dear Sister I have one child left and have so much sorrow and woe and this has a lot of bearing on health. But God gave us such a will, and we must accept it and wait patiently for better times. 

Dear Sister we have very hard times. Half of summer is gone and thousands of people are without work, what will happen when winter comes only God knows. Workers’, owners’, and pensioners’ wages are cut thirty percent. I was cut 70 Zloty. Food products, rent, coal, wood, are the same price. Clothes and shoes have come down in price, but people are not buying much because they can’t afford it. Regardless of reduction of price, it’s still too high, according to people’s wages.

Our crops were not too bad, regardless of the terrible weather, storms, hail and lightning. Regardless of all this bad weather conditions we have been having we will not starve. Only feel sorry for those that will lose their jobs, those will have it bad. Like the saying goes too little to live too much to die. It was very sad to read in the paper about the people that were killed due to lightning, bad weather of downpours, thunder and hail it was terrible.

Now Dear Sister sending my best regards to all of you. Katie and her children also send their regards. 

Your Brother.

When you write to me, let me know how the photograph arrived. Hope it wasn’t damaged.

My takeaway? When you believe your research to be nearly complete, that’s when you’ve only just begun. I don’t know this mystery brother’s name; I don’t know if Katie was his only living child or if the rest of his children merely moved away. I don’t know where in Poznań he lived, when he was born or how old he was when his sister left for New York. And yet, this letter makes me feel as though I do know him, in some small way. He wrote with a warm and loving tone, and he recounted his community’s experiences in a way that has allowed me to envision the difficulties he must have faced that winter. I need to know his story; I guess it’s time to get back to work. 

19 thoughts on “The Mystery Brother

  1. We’ll why would he need to sign his name, of course she’d know who her brother was, just like we know all real names of “Me” that are written on the backs of old photos 😄

    How old was Maryanna when she became stepmother to these six children?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know 🤦‍♀️ I just wish everyone would’ve written names and dates on everything—it’d help me fill in so many gaps!

      Mary had just turned 23 the month before, and he was 36. I’m glad they were married (or I wouldn’t be here!), but it’s weird, to say the least. I don’t know how she found the courage!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! And it’s become an interesting story lately–he had two wives and nineteen children that I know of, but over the last couple weeks my cousin and I have found a record that indicates he may have had a third wife and more children back in Poland. Cringeworthy…but incredibly interesting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I started my research I imagined there would be a time when I’d be “finished” but new stories and people just keep popping up. I really enjoyed reading your post. A sad letter but good to know they never lost touch.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I imagined the same thing; then I was hoping I’d get to a point on each line where it made sense to stop researching and start compiling family history books. Neither of these have happened–and I doubt either ever will!

      Thank you for the kind words, and thank you for reading! I’m really glad the letter resonated with you, too. He writes in such an interesting style.

      Liked by 2 people

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