When I originally began my journey my intended goal was to find my Birth Mother. This was to only obtain medical information since I had suffered a heart attack at the early age of 31.
While on the search for my Birth Mother I would receive information that would not only startle me but also would ignite an interest within me that I would pursue for the next eighteen years.
In early 1986, after believing I had exhausted all other avenues and had come up empty, I decided to write the state of Michigan to see if their was a record of death for my maternal grandfather.
Within three weeks I received my answer. Yes, my maternal grandfather was deceased. This is not what surprised me. My grandfather's name was John Robert Adams. The death certificate listed his parents as John Piechowiak and Frances Luczak Piechowiak. I was startled by the difference in last names. The fact that my last name was Adams as well as my mother's maiden name and my grandfather's was all understandable. Where did the name Piechowiak come from? Was I really Polish rather than English?
Since my initial pursuit was to find my Birth Mother I decided to place this tidbit of information in my memory file to be brought up at a later time.
My maternal grandfather's death certificate was the information I needed to allow me to find my Birth Mother just hours after receiving it. I determined I would ask her about this name of Piechowiak.
When my mother and I eventually met in New York City I asked her about this.
Yes, I am Polish my mother informed me. Of course my mind wandered embarrassingly back to the many Polish jokes I had told over the years. But why isn't our last name Piechowiak I asked?
The answer that followed would set a course of research that lasts today, more than seventeen years later.
My grandfather, Wladyslaw Piechowiak was born on October 2, 1902. At some point during his teenage years he rebelled against his family as well as his heritage. He appeared ashamed that he was of Polish descent. He decided around 1919 to change his name. Many Poles during that time changed their last names during this time. Most of the changes involved just changing the spelling. My grandfather however took it much further. He legally changed his entire name to John Robert Adams. How he came up with the name is unknown.
Hearing of the apparent shame my grandfather had for his heritage hit me quite hard. I was one who had gone without an identity to claim as my own throughout my life at that point. I could not comprehend how one who always knew his heritage could reject it.
I made a decision then and there that I wanted to find out about my family and a heritage that had just become my own. I wanted to learn about the Poles, their traditions and way of life.
My grandfather may have been ashamed that he was Polish but I was not. I would learn all I could and I would embrace it!
These facts as my Birth Mother provided them only aroused more questions from within. I was however to be disappointed with her responses.
When my grandfather changed his name he was disowned by his own family and became the "black sheep."Shortly after he entered the U.S. Marine Corp. He would remain in the service until 1929. He would find his first wife in Elmira, New York. They would settle there and have three daughters within five years time.
America was in the height of the Depression at this time. He was unable to secure work to be able to provide for his family. His wife left him and he was left on his own to raise three girls.
He returned to Michigan but not to the city where he was born and raised. He found a job that he would remain at throughout the rest of his life. He remarried. He never returned to the city of his birth and had only rare contact with his other brothers and sisters. His parents had both passed away while he was in the Marine Corp.
My mother indicated that she was never taught any of the Polish traditions. She knew nothing of her father's family. She only knew he had come from Bay City, Michigan, a city with a large Polish contingent. She, as her father, had no interest in her heritage or others in the family.
If I was to learn anything about my great grandparents, their children, how they came to America, their lives...I would have to do the journey on my own. Thus the subject of genealogy came to life.
WOW, is all I can say to the discoveries that would be made.