This is something I've been thinking about writing for a very long time - a piece of narrative non-fiction about my Polish grandfather who had what you might call an eventful life. I'll probably tackle it in the same way as I researched and wrote A Proper Person to be Detained. Except that you couldn't get much further from my forebears in that book if you tried.
Anyway, I thought I'd blog a bit about it here - not to pre-empt the book, because I'm still not quite sure where that will take me and it will be about more than just family history. Nevertheless, I'm happy to blog occasionally about the process of researching it and the feelings it inspires. I did quite a lot of research on this topic many years ago, long before the internet, and I have a big box full of paperwork: letters, pictures, notebooks and photocopies from that time. It's invaluable. But now, there's so much more online and I'm only just beginning to realise how much there is still to be discovered.
Above is a picture of my Polish great grandmother Anna Brudzewska.
She figures in a wonderful and very detailed Polish genealogy, worked on by one M J Minakowski. Her full name before her marriage into the Czerkawski family was Anna Brudzewska von Brause and she was born circa 1870. Her father was Edward Brudzewski von Brause, born in 1838, and her mother was Zofia Katarzyna (that's my own name - Catherine) Moraczewska.
Edward is intriguingly described as 'landowner and insurgent'.
He served in the ranks of the Prussian cavalry and took part in the January uprising against the Austrian authorities. He was exiled to France, as were so many insurrectionary Poles, but when things settled down, he returned to Poland and became a friend of the playwright, painter and poet Stanislaw Wyspianski. For those who know nothing about Polish literature and art, it's a bit like finding out that your great great grandfather was bosom buddies with Ibsen or Chekhov or - since he was a brilliant artist - Renoir or Manet. Edward apparently features in one of Wyspianski's dramas called Liberation. He lived near Krakow at a place called Korabniki where Wyspianski was a frequent visitor. And here it is. The original house was built in the mid 16th century, oddly enough by a remote relative of a different branch of the family. Edward bought it in the 1880s, so Anna would have been a girl here.
|The Brudzewski Manor House at Korabniki |
When I stopped salivating over such a very beautiful house, I started thinking about my great grandmother, Anna. You look at that slightly prim and proper picture of her - it was included in a book that one of my father's cousins wrote about yet another branch of the family - and what do you see? What would you expect from that firm mouth, that neat hair, that slightly hostile stare and withdrawn expression? Or - as a friend said - somebody who was saying 'Don't tell me how to live my life!'
I find myself browsing through Wyspianski's paintings and wondering if he painted her.
I'll tell you what you wouldn't quite expect. That she gave birth to my grandfather Wladyslaw in winter, in a sleigh. And that as a widow, she scandalously married her estate manager, much against the wishes of her family, and gave birth to a daughter.
So there you go. Today, I've been thinking about that a lot. Aren't photographs deceptive? Or, when you dig deeper, informative. Are you intrigued yet? I know I am!