The Missing Decades of "Dear Aunt" Agnes Grzeskowiak (1898-1970)

This is the 4th of 52 weekly posts planned for 2018. It was inspired by the #52Ancestors writing challenge issued by professional genealogist, Amy Crow Johnson. The challenge: once a week, for all 52 weeks of the year, write about a relative in your family tree.

This week we have another relative who seems to have disappeared from the history books, though she lived to be 71. Agnes E. Grzeskowiak (pronounced gresh-KO-viyak) is my 2nd great aunt. She never married and had no children. Information about her during the three decades between 1940 and her death remain elusive.  

This is what is known of her story. 

Agnes Grzeskowiak (1898-1970)

Agnes Grzeskowiak was born on November 29, 1898 in Detroit, Michigan. She was the youngest of 12 (possibly 13) siblings. Her parents were Albert Grzeskowiak (1849-1931) and Agnes Szaroleta (1854-1918), both immigrants from Poland. They came to the U.S. in the 1880s and settled in Detroit.

Here is the Grzeskowiak family, probably sometime between 1900 and 1905. As the youngest it seems likely that Agnes is the little girl standing in the front row, between her parents.

 Grzeskowiak Family

Grzeskowiak Family

My great grandmother, Marianna Grzeskowiak Pawlowski (1879-1941) may or may not be one of the older girls in this photo. Marianna was married in 1903.

I've written about the Grzeskowiaks in other posts. Here are a few of them:

Now, back to Agnes.

I connected with a 2nd and 3rd cousin who share my Grzeskowiak roots. One of them had the following photograph. It was said to be taken in 1920 at the wedding of Anthony Grzeskowiak (1892-1944) and Helen Szpunar Grzeskowiak (1895-1971). Anthony (center) was Agnes's older brother, making him my 2nd great uncle. 

 Wedding of Anthony Grzeskowiak and Helen Szpunar (center). Agnes Grzeskowiak seated, far right (1920)

Wedding of Anthony Grzeskowiak and Helen Szpunar (center). Agnes Grzeskowiak seated, far right (1920)

The bridesmaid on the right is identified as Agnes Grzeskowiak. The man on the right and the woman on the left are unknown. I am working on clearing up some confusion about the man on the left, who was identified as a Chester Stuve. Agnes would have been about about 22 when this photograph was taken. 

We know where Agnes lived from Federal Census records:

  • 1900: 467 Canfield Ave. in Detroit with her parents and 8 of her siblings
  • 1910: 339 Canfield Ave. in Detroit with her parents and 4 of her siblings
  • 1920: 339 Canfield Ave. in Detroit wither her father (her mother had died by now) and 2 of her siblings
  • 1930: 1315 Canfield Ave. (this was the same 339 Canfield house as before, but the Detroit addresses were renumbered sometime after the 1920 census). She is listed as living with her father, Albert, at 1315 (rear). Her brother, Casimir Grzeskowiak was living in the front of the house with his family.

Agnes's father, Albert, died in 1931. Interestingly, living at the same address (1315 rear) by herself in 1940 was a "Maria Grzeskowiak." Though I have never seen her name listed as Maria, this most certainly has to be her. Agnes had also changed her name to "Graskey" or "Greske" as had her brother, Casimir, who was still living at the front of the house. 

1940 was also the first year that Agnes was listed as having an occupation: Cigar Maker. 

Since the census records after 1940 are not yet available I can't be sure how long Agnes lived at that address. The next step would be to check the Detroit city directories. 

The next documented evidence of Agnes's existence only came in the form of her obituary in the Detroit Free Press on January 7, 1970. I also have her funeral prayer card.


 Agnes Grzeskowiak (Greske) - funeral prayer card

Agnes Grzeskowiak (Greske) - funeral prayer card

Agnes is buried in the Grzeskowiak family plot at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit. I paid a visit to Mt. Olivet a year or two ago and took some pictures of the Grzeskowiaks (and others) that were there. Here is a closeup of Agnes's stone that simply reads "Dear Aunt". 

 Agnes E. Grzeskowiak - Mt. Olivet - Detroit, MI

Agnes E. Grzeskowiak - Mt. Olivet - Detroit, MI

Here is a video I took of the larger family plot:

Where did Agnes go between her last known address in 1940 until her death? I've searched several newspaper clipping sites and have found no mention of her.

The most likely source of personal first (or second) hand knowledge about Agnes probably rests with any of the descendants of her brother and neighbor, Casimir Grzeskowiak (1893-1960). I have not made contact yet with this branch of my tree, but I hope to. Casimir and his wife, Marie Wanalek Grzeskowiak (1910-2002), had two sons that I am aware of.

As I think about Agnes and my family tree I am reminded of the mission of The Psychologenealogist: Exploring the spaces where psychology, genealogy, and history converge - one story at a time.

The genealogist in me wants to know:

  • Where did Agnes live after 1940?
  • What cigar factory did she work at?
  • Where was she living and with whom at the time of her death?
  • Why is her name listed as "Maria" in the 1940s census? (I have ordered her Michigan death certificate so this might give us some clues)

The Psychologist in me wants to know:

  • Did Agnes ever consider marrying?
  • Was she expected to take care of her father until he died?
  • Was she lonely?
  • What does it feel like to be the last of your siblings surviving, especially if you don't have an immediate family of your own?
  • Was she close to any of her nieces and nephews?