This particular Second Third post is 90 percent inspiration and 10 percent shameless self-promotion in the form of an opportunity to cross-promote a post I wrote two months ago — a post that I loved, but according to Blogger stat-keeping technology, was largely unread.
Back on St. Patrick’s Day, I posted a piece explaining precisely how Irish I am, and in what ways. (Go on, read it!) I talked about an ancestor who used to go looking for Catholics to fight. Dad reminded me over Easter that this ancestor supposedly became sheriff of Tuscola County, Michigan, during Prohibition, however, and supposedly ignored the moonshining operation of one of my mom’s ancestors in return for a package or two left in the culvert up the road from the farm. Mom’s family was 100 percent Polish Catholic, which just goes to show that a drink between adversaries can occasionally sew the seeds of peace and religious tolerance.
All at once, we fell to googling ancestral names. My sister pulled out a handwritten family tree she’d worked on with my Grandma Thorp, and I quickly turned up a few graves in the cemetery records of rural Tuscola County, then some old obits. Pretty soon we had learned that the sheriff was likely a deputy sheriff and was probably a brother to our brawling ancestor Dad had named at first. We also learned that the particular branch of the family we were investigating appeared to have moved in fits and starts to “the Thumb” of Michigan from a particular area of Ontario, Canada, and that their surname, Hutchinson, may trace back to English royalty in the Middle Ages.
This lit a little fire under us due to a pair of old stories passed down among the Thorps: first, that we are somehow distantly related to an English Queen (Victoria is what I heard as a boy), and second, that a woman among our ancestors was alone in her cabin in the wilds of Canada, and killed an attacking bear with the butcher knife from her kitchen. An hour or so on the internet began to suggest that these stories could, in fact, be true!
We all have great stories and intriguing twists among the roots of our family trees, a few of which I remember (vaguely) and hope to verify:
- My Grandpa Thorp was stationed in the Philippines, I think, at the end of WWII, and was crawling through the underbrush when he found himself beside the largest snake he had ever seen. He didn’t dare fall behind his crawling companions, and his heart raced as he prepared to encounter the head of the serpent, which appeared to be hidden in the foliage ahead…until he realized it was just the snake’s massive shed skin!
- My Dziadzi (JAH-jee, or Grandpa Galubenski) was stationed on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska during WWII and was the company bugler, though he couldn’t play. He paid another guy with cigarettes to cover for him!
- We had always thought my great-dziadzi, Bronislaw (BRONE-ee-swaff, aka Brony, Bruno or Brownie) Galubenski had come to America from Poland, but according the digitized documents on Ellis Island’s web site, he seems to have come by way of Russia, where they had been living. (Also, he may have been a bootlegger…)
- We are rumored to have some American Indian blood in us; that, coupled with the fact that some Pacific Northwest Thorpes (with an “e”) traced themselves to us, has fueled speculation that I may, indeed, be related to the great Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, who, I just now learned, was given the name Jacobus Franciscus Thorp, was baptized Catholic, and was said to have French and Irish blood. Interesting…
- One of my great(-great?)-grandfathers on my dad’s side rolled into Michigan from New York state in his 20s to start a grocery in the Thumb. He stopped by a local farm, introduced himself, stayed for supper, then stayed the night. In the morning, he told the farmer he was starting a business and was in need of a wife. He asked the farmer if he might part with his oldest daughter (age 13), and the farmer reckoned he would — ask, and ye shall receive. According to all I’ve heard, they had a long marriage and many children!
- At Yale, a Polish language professor told me she had never heard of the name Galubenski (Americanized pronunciation: Gal-yoo-BEN-skee; Polish pronunciation should be more like Gah-loo-BEHN-skee). It’s a style of name that should have a meaning; you should be able to see Polish words or roots in it, but they aren’t there. Within our family, at least three different spellings of Galubenski have evolved based on how my great aunts and uncles were taught to write it (by grade-school teachers who didn’t speak Polish and just sounded it out as best they could, I think): Galubenski, Galubinski, and Galbenski. Googling any of these names turns up no results in the old country. These facts make me wonder if, in fact, the original misspelling may have happened on Ellis Island. Perhaps a more common Polish name, like Golubiewski (pronounced roughly Go-lum-BYEV-skee) was misheard and thus misspelled?