And Contact! Finding the long-lost Rys Family.

April 26, 2018 at 2:19 pm 3 comments

IMG_2956Last year I had the thought–soon obsession–to find my Polish family, last seen when my sister Linda and I visited them for the first and only time in Poland, 50 years ago. My dad, born in Poland, took us and my mom to meet my Grandmother, Valeska, and my dad’s six brothers and sisters and three of our cousins. My grandfather, Pawel Rys, had already passed away so we never met him. We lived in California, enjoying the sunny, privileged lives of kids growing up in the arguably innocent 60’s.

Still under communist rule, Linda and I remember the shock of having to use newspaper for toilet paper in the dimly lit house of my father. IMG_3037It was a five story apartment complex located next to the butcher, where my father worked as a child cleaning up, and my grandmother cooked for the butcher’s employees. She was known throughout Mikolow for her wonderful traditional Sour Soup. We picked berries with our cousins, aunts and uncles, played with them in the park and ate my Grandmother’s delicious pirogies in the darkened dining room. IMG_2980Then we left for the Czech border in a rented Mercedes, which was dirt-cheap, though people ran from their homes to wave at us, thinking we all were something special, and my sister and I waved back like the queens we weren’t.

When my dad turned 16, German soldiers took him into the army. He survived being shot and falling a POW to Tito’s Party. Almost two years later he was honorably discharged and was accepted into Guildford College in London, where he met my mom and married her. They moved to Canada and my sister and I were born. Then Bechtel Corp. hired my dad and we moved across the country to the Bay Area. After I moved to Colorado, my dad passed away at age 59. (Below: Dad and Mom, sisters Elizabeth and Anne visiting Linda at Chico State)IMG_3181

After my mom passed away, I inherited dad’s wonderful hand-written records of places he’d lived since age 16 and important documents. So I began the journey to find his family again. For him, for my sister and I, and our families.

For those who are trying to find their long-lost relatives, it can be a frustrating and daunting experience. I hope my journey will help those of you and maybe inspire others who have thought of doing it. I began on Facebook (like any good baby boomer would, who doesn’t have a clue where to start). I searched for my oldest male cousin, hoping I had the spelling right and when I found someone who looked like Tadek might look, 50 years later, I tried messaging in English. Crickets. I also googled Rys, which means Lynx in Polish, (cool, huh?) and found it was a common name and could also have an accent over the s, which I later found it did. This still led me nowhere.

I tried and Ancestry DNA. Two problems with those: Since it’s Polish, and most of my family is not on Ancestry, and also my grandfather’s name is also Paul Rys, (I always thought it was Josef, from my dad’s middle name, my bad). This really messed up my tree on Ancestry. Now, for my mom’s side I found many relatives since she’s British, but nothing for my dad’s side. Being relentless, (just ask my husband.. who, by the way, was so instrumental and supportive in making this journey happen and overjoyed to discover this new side of our family, and they in turn made him welcome with crushing face hugs) and also passionate about researching (ten years to research and write my MG historical, Ghost Over Boulder Creek) I forged on. (Please give me a blog pass for that terribly convoluted sentence.)

I finally whittled away everything on Mikolow–my dad’s last known address–and I hoped his birthplace. 30571334_10156154126554424_6340773992768471040_oFinally, I got a reply from, what I believe to be since there was no English version on their site, their consulate, which informed me they had found one of the family names I mentioned–Tadek Rys. My cousin. Contact!! Well sort of. They said it was illegal to give me his contact info. and he still was registered in Mikolow and would write to me in German. While I waited for three weeks, I googled him and figured either he sold furniture or was a priest. Still not sure since I never heard from him, but he did contact my third cousin, Karolina Orlowska (daughter of second cousin, Betty and Andrew), who speaks English like many her age in that country. He asked her to contact me and Karolina became my amazing Polish go-to from then on.

My sister joined the journey and I was elated! After much emailing, then messaging, and back and forth re-created family trees, it was all coming together after months of digging and never losing hope. We flew into Katowice, ten miles from Mikolow, picked up my sister who flew in from S.F., then explored energetic Katowice. (Linda and Rick and all of the beer drinkers in Katowice).IMG_2946The Rys family picked us up in the hotel lobby next morning. Of course my sister and I dissolved into tears, especially when we saw how many Ryses Karolina had gathered: unexpectedly our cousin, Kris, (shown below, after he took us to, and waited so long outside the train that would take us to Prague at the end of our two days)30571649_10156154126699424_266146182596657152_owhom we played with so long ago as kids, his lovely wife Margaret, Karolina’s grandmother Irena and her sweet husband George, (seen next to Rick, with Karolina, Margaret, me, Aunt Elizabeth, Irena and Marlena, who is translating.. that’s why it looks like Rick and George are conversing 😉 ).30572015_10156154126649424_5085435892022116352_oThe sour cream gravy on top of the Rouladen (seen below)IMG_3342had to be the special last minute contact with Aunt Elizabeth, my dad’s youngest sister! Karolina and her family finally were able to reach her and bring her to share in the reunion. Later we met Karolina’s loving parents, Betty and Andrew, (Below, Betty is to the left and works at the Mikolow Library. Here we are in the Children’s Dept. How perfect is that?!)fullsizeoutput_61dcand Marlena, (seen here in the middle with her mom, Margaret on the right and Aunt Elizabeth on the left.)IMG_3071Kris’ daughter, who also spoke amazing English. They all couldn’t believe my sister and I came all that way and our dad had never taught us Polish, except for a few words. I think we were just too preoccupied with watching Bewitched and cardboard-sliding down the dried grassy hills of Marin, to learn tongue-twisting Polish. Communication was a challenge, for sure, but thanks to our awesome translators, Karolina, Marlena and Agnes, we were able to learn so much about our family IMG_3043and walk the town square where he walked, visit the church he attended, IMG_3039and see where he spent the first sixteen years of his life. A life too short. But I know he was with us all the way and was smiling that wonderful smile.fullsizeoutput_623b


Entry filed under: Tracing then FINDING family roots..

A Pretty Much Foolproof, Never-Fail, Silver-Bullet Query Opening

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill  |  April 26, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    A wonderful story…and so many things I never knew about you. Truly touching. But that run-on sentence… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  • 3. Elaine Pease  |  April 27, 2018 at 7:03 am

    It was awesome to meet my new extended Polish Rys family. The trip exceeded my expectations.

    Liked by 1 person


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