The Stabbing of Albert Grzeskowiak (updated)

This posted was updated on February 4th, 2017 to correct an error. Check below for details.

In 1910 Albert Grzeskowiak was stabbed with a chisel in Detroit, Michigan. It was reported in the Detroit Free Press on July 24th of that year.

It seems likely that Albert was my 2nd great grandfather. Here is what I know about my Albert Grzeskowiak:

Agnes and Albert Grzeskowiak around 1918

Agnes and Albert Grzeskowiak around 1918

Albert (also known as "Adalbert" or "Wojciech") Grzeskowiak was born on April 8, 1849, in Poland, the son of Marianna and Martini. He married Agnes Szaroleta on November 4, 1873, in his hometown. They had 12 children in 23 years. One of his children was my great grandmother, Marianna Grzeskowiak, who had my grandmother, Claire Pawlowski. Albert died on June 13, 1931, in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 82, and was buried there.

When I started taking my genealogy more seriously I became obsessed with old newspaper clipping sites like newspapers.com and newspaperarchive.com. There are several others, but these two are my favorites.

One day I randomly searched newspapers.com for "Grzeskowiak" and filtered for Detroit, Michigan. This search returned a manageable 80 hits, including the one above that caught my eye. I wondered if this was my relative. 

Grzeskowiak is a very Polish name and is more common than I would have guessed. Currently there 88 Grzeskowiaks listed in the white pages directory if you filter for Michigan. Detroit also had one of the largest populations of Polish immigrants in the U.S. at this time. 

Grzeskowiak is no match for "Smith" or "Jones" in terms of popularity. But, it was no slam dunk either to confirm that this was in fact my Albert Grzeskowiak.

I needed to investigate further.

I searched several other databases for mentions of Albert, even using some spelling variations. Nothing. I did a search for the assailant mentioned, Matthew Kuzar. When filtered again for "Detroit" the only article that came up was the one I already had. I couldn't find any other information in any other database that I had access to.

I contacted my third cousin (once removed) who I had connected with recently through ancestry.com. She had done far more research than I had on the Grzeskowiaks but she had not been aware of this article. She contacted another cousin for some advice and input.

Together they discovered there were no other Albert Grzeskowiaks listed in the Detroit City Directories at the time. The street intersection listed in the article, Chene and Piquette Ave., is less than 2 miles from the known address of of Albert in the 1910 census, 339 East Canfield (see below).

Though Chene and Piquette no longer intersect, if you look at the map it is fair to assume that they once did over a hundred years ago before the major state highways were constructed. Below is a screen capture of a Google Map of the area.

Chene and Piquette, Detroit, MI

Chene and Piquette, Detroit, MI

My next step was to find a map that more closely reflected the city in 1910. For that I turned to fun and useful David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. I found a street map of Detroit from 1897. I've annotated the map to reflect the locations discussed above.

Point A is the intersection of Piquette Ave. and Chene. My assumption about these streets was correct. They did intersect before the highway was built at some later date.

Point B shows the area of Farnsworth and Dequinder where the assailant was "staggering sullenly" and accosted Albert, according to the article.

Point C shows the location of the listed home of Albert Grzeskowiak in 1910 as 339 E. Canfield. The address appears to be between John R and Brush St., just south of what is now a large hospital and medical school.

A neat feature of the Dave Rumsey Historical Map Collection is the capacity to overlay historical maps with current ones using. You can look here for an overlay of the two maps above. It is a great tool that will help you visualize the neighborhoods of your ancestors as they looked at the time they were living there.

So, Is this my Albert Grzeskowiak?

Like many aspects of genealogy research there is often some uncertainty and doubt. I believe though that this evidence here makes a compelling case. What do you think? Is there something I missed or something else I should look into?

Here are a few questions and thoughts that I will leave you with:

  • The article says that Albert lived "near Chene street and Piquette avenue. Albert's known address is "in the area" but is still 2 miles away. These aren't the obvious crossroads one would use to describe where he lived. Was this a mistake by the reporter? Was it just that Albert was in that area, perhaps walking home?
  • How can someone moan, "that he had been fatally stabbed"?
  • Who is Albert's brother referenced in the article? I don't have any information on any of Albert's siblings.
  • What ever happened to the assailant and where could I find out information about him or this event?
  • How does a "fatal" stabbing turn into a "mere scratch"? Is it anything like a flesh wound?
  • What, if any, psychological impact did this event have on my 2nd great grandfather?
  • Why hadn't anyone in my family heard of this story before? Was it too long ago? Is it because this really isn't my relative? Or was it perhaps kept a secret because Albert had an unsavory past that people didn't want to talk about?
  • Was the street address of 339 E. Canfield in the same location as it is listed today?

 

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Update:

A couple of very talented genealogists helped me correct an important error in this post. The correction adds even extra evidence to the hypothesis that this was, in fact, my Albert Grzeskowiak.

One reader (my third cousin once removed) sent me the following:

When you're looking for the current location of the Grzeskowiak's house, you looked for 339 Canfield, which is near the intersection of Brush and John R. However, the houses were renumbered in 1921, changing the address to 1315 E Canfield, which is between Russell and Rivard, just 9 walking blocks from Dequindre and Farnsworth. I wonder if perhaps they got "lived at" confused with "worked at"?

Another reader directed me to the City of Detroit Old and New House Numbers document detailing the overhaul of the cities address system effective January 1, 1921. 

I was also directed to a photo purported to be taken from the location of the Grzekowiak home on Canfield sometime in the 1960s. Prominently displayed is the Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church

Below it is a bird's eye 3D map view of the same location, clearly showing the same building. 

 

View from 339 East (later renumbered 1315 East) Canfield, Detroit, MI

Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, Detroit, MI

What does all this mean? Well the "point C" in the 1897 Detroit map above does not accurately reflect the location of the Grzeskowiak home. Because of the house number change (in 1921) the home is actually located six walking blocks to the East. That is six blocks closer to the scene of the crime!

Conducting genealogy research requires patience and a tolerance of errors. Finding mistakes in your work is inevitable. Those mistakes provide great opportunities to learn and sharpen your research skills. It will also make you a more valuable collaborator who has something to share with fellow genealogists. 

I'm thankful for those who helped me tell this small part my 2nd Great Grandfather, Albert Grzekowiak's, life. 

 

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