Friday, October 25, 2013

Sepia Saturday 200 Rerun from Week 13 Frank Ostrowski

So here I sit at keyboard in Minnesota, USA looking back oh so fondly at how many years it has been since I first learned of and participated in Sepia posts. Sepia got me to blogging and researching my roots and afforded the way to use so many old photos. Now as we are celebrating our 200th week of Sepia posts, I have chosen my contribution from Week 13,  February 27, 2010.  I am excited about Alan's proposal to publish our collection into a volume for week 200. Here with very slight updating is  my Sepia Week 13 post about my great grandfather, Frank ( Francis) Ostrowski. 
Frank Ostrowski
Frank Ostrowski is my maternal great grandfather who was a coal  and sometimes iron ore miner in Poland, Prussia and in the United States. I knew my family was entirely Polish on all sides, (2013 note:but after submitting my DNA to for analysis in 2012, I learned there is a very slight trace of Ireland or the British Isles as well, proof that the British Navy was everywhere in the world once.   I have found no connection to that Brit ancestry yet, despite periodic suggestions of 8th or so cousins however many times removed).  However, I have learned a lot more since 2010 and my research indicates German, Prussian, and  Polish heritage matching with my study of  Poland's history that reveals how often it was invaded, conquered and annexed to another country.  Those Poles are a hearty stock though and do not go down without a  strong fight.

My grandmother and her sisters spoke Polish as did my mother and aunt; it was especially annoying to me as a child because I could not understand what they were saying. I know that was the reason they spoke it around me! But little by little I learned enough to eaves drop and discern the secrets.  I discovered Frank in 1977 when my great aunt Francie gave me the photo of the Ostrowski (aka Ostroskie) gathering which I posted last week on Sepia Saturday. I spent most of my childhood with my grandmother, Rose, Frank’s daughter from his second wife. How I wish I had known about him back then and could have asked my Baba (babacis in Polish) about her father. She talked very little about her family or else I paid little attention, but said that her father died of stomach cancer as did several others in the family; she feared that and sadly she died of pancreatic cancer and  diabetes; perhaps that was Frank’s diagnosis too.

Frank Ostrowski my maternal great grandfather
Coal miner, pick axe,  lantern hat and white shirt
After Aunt Francie gave me the gathering photo she also found this snapshot of Frank in his miner’s hat which I had copied and enlarged into a 5 x 7 Sepia print that has been prominently displayed in our home ever since.  It is a good conversation piece. My grandmother’s hand writing is on the back so at one time she had the photo but there is no date. I adore the old coal miner hat. Those were the most dangerous days of the mines and many Europeans flocked to the states to do the dangerous dirty work. My mother and aunt were of no help in verifying dates, saying that they never knew any grandparents but lots of aunts and uncles. Notice the clean shirt and the pick axe over his shoulder, arm crossed and holding hands with someone.  Likely this was not what he wore into the mine, but there must have been some special occasion to pose.  Someone really had to work at keeping that shirt clean and starched, back then, without today's automatic  washers and dryers.

Frank married three times and outlived two wives. By his photo he does not appear to be that handsome, but staunch, determined and I suppose an employed coal miner in America was a good catch for the times. If the historical fiction “A Coal Miner’s Bride “by Susan Campbell Bartoletti has any truth, the old miners wanted a woman to care for them. Frank fathered many children so that would also account for his need to remarry when one wife passed on. I notice he has one eyelid that droops and my grandmother had the same affliction; I in 2013 notice the same has happened to my right eyelid so that ultimately I will have to have that "fixed" or lifted..

The spelling of the name Ostrowski changes depending on who recorded it, Ostrowski, Ostroski, Ostroskie, etc.  I have two different years for his birth 1855 and 1857 and have been unable to confirm which is correct. However, the date of November 11 is certain making him my fellow Scorpio. Perhaps on our next trip to PA I can visit the Union cemetery in Arnold where he is buried and that may clarify date of his death. I should hope it will not add yet another date. (2013:  Note several years ago we visited the Union cemetery; the office building was not open but there was a note on the door that if one wished to locate a grave submit a letter in writing and pay a fee of $15 or more and allow several months.  We tried roaming and found some  caretakers who directed us to the area known as Polish hill, far in the back, with few gravestones, quite over grown with shrubs, etc.  No luck finding Frank's grave.  I suppose one of these days I will send that letter and the fee and wait and wait.  This is a strange thing as most older cemeteries are very helpful at no cost and willingly look in their records.) 

Frank was born in Prussia, Poland or Germany to Franz Ostrowski and Katazinea (Kor Catherine) Biegonski. who likely immigrated to America with the children, but the records of when and where they arrived are sketchy. His sisters were Kate, Mary and Pauline who is recorded to have been born in Cleveland, and a brother Maryn John. It is possible that they came through Canada, but I have hit a block wall with that as well.

Information shows Franz was buried in Detroit, Michigan in 1893 and Catherine died in 1910 and is buried in Cleveland, Ohio.  That date makes me wonder if the mystery Ostrowski photo taken in Ohio which I dated at about 1910 could have been for Frank’s mother’s funeral; perhaps confirming some of what my mother alluded to of a funeral in Ohio. ( I used that photo last week for my Sepia contribution; here is the link  )While some of her research is flawed, I am grateful to my 2nd cousin who attempted to piece all this together with infrequent trips to PA. Maxine lives in Utah today is in poor health but as a member of the LDS church had access to many records. Still, I know she had some errors in the lineage and names and am skeptical of some of the information where dates show as "appx."   Maxine spent some time interviewing my grandmother in the 1960’s, but I know that my grandmother could be evasive as  were many of the Polish.  Whether they were untruthful to avoid attention or sometimes could not understand the questions,  I cannot determine. I know that they feared and respected government authority and as immigrants escaping tyrants or worse in Poland, or the old country, they kept quiet about many things. Someone usually knew someone back in “the old country” though and kept in touch, frequently sending some  cash along to help out.

Frank married his first wife Frances appx. 1877. Her last name is incorrectly recorded as my maternal grandfather’s last name on the documents so I know that is wrong. She was born in Poland and died appx 1888 in PA. They had three children Joseph (born 1878 with a twin John who did not survive the birth), John (the second son to be so named born appx. 1882), and Benjamin Frank who was distinctly given the middle name (born 1883 appx.) Years ago Sharon, a cousin I had not previously known, granddaughter of Benjamin contacted me. When I asked my mother and aunt about this, they shrugged their shoulders. While they knew nothing about a grandfather they recalled their aunts and uncles and made no distinction of their being half brothers and sisters.

Frank’s second wife who was my grandmother’s mother was Frances Swartz (aka Schwartz) whom he married about 1889. Frances came from Poland, was born in 1869, died in 1902 in PA. Sometime during this marriage they dropped the “w” from Ostrowski off and on. They had five children although I recall my grandmother mentioning that some of her brothers died when very young; there is no record of others. These were Walter  (born 1889 in Detroit, MI who went by Bill and changed the family name to Austin), Mary (born 1891 in Salamanca New York), Veronica Bernice (born 1892 in PA), and Rose (my grandmother born 1894) and Adam Maryan who died at birth in 1899 or shortly thereafter. My grandmother said he was her mother’s last child and did not live. I never referred to any of her sisters or brothers as "Great" they were all aunt and uncle to me; I  called them the Polish word for aunt, “czotczhe”.
Helen Sajikowski aka Sekoski, Frank's 3rd
and last wife

Frank married his third wife, Helen Sajowksi (aka Sekoski) in 1905. Their only child was Frances born in 1906 and was always known as the baby sister. Helen is seated next to Frank in the Ostrowski Ohio gathering, the photo I shared last week.  Helen would survive Frank who died April 19, 1915 making him either 60 or 62 depending on which birth year is correct.  My grandmother was fond of her step mother Helen and spoke well of her.   Whether Frank fathered more than nine children is unknown but each wife seemed to give birth annually. How they traveled around from Michigan, to Ohio, to New York and to Pennsylvania is a mystery; I suspect it was by rail car. They certainly did not own vehicles to drive. Tracing the different places the Ostrowski's moved from Salamanca area of New York, Michigan and Ohio before settling in Pennsylvania,  it appears Frank was following the mines in the heyday of coal mining; some how Pennsylvania must have offered him steady employment because he set roots there and his children did so as well. It was hard dirty work that the immigrants took on.  Today, his descendants are all over the eastern United States, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and on to Michigan and Ohio into Newfoundland, Canada as well as some in California. All my years living in California I was never aware of any Ostrowski relatives there. (2013 note:  A few years ago another contacted me from southern California where she still resides.  They spell the last name Ostroskie).  When I see the Ostrowski (Ostroski) name today I wonder if that is a shirt tail relation. Writing this piece I googled and found many; one example is Frank, a "falsely accused murderer in Canada" released on bail to his daughter. 

Coalfield in Pennsylvania, father,  Frank and son , John
Finally here is the last photo I have of Frank with his son, John. I found this in a drawer after my mother died in 2004. The back has the names and says "coalfield", but no date. My grandmother told that she learned to cook as a very young girl because her father was skinny but ate like a horse and said that her daughter, my aunt, Virginia took after him. Not all Frank’s progeny were as lean as this photo where Frank is poking John’s belly! John who was born in 1882 must be at least  20 years old here which would date this to 1902. I can only imagine what was being said.  But there he is my great grandfather, Frank Ostrowski, I wish I could have known him or learned more when my grandmother was alive. 
Click here to travel across the pond to the   Sepia website and visit other posts from shared stories.


  1. I see reading others' Sepias that they left all former comments too, I did not, so we start anew..

  2. Neither did I Pat, but Alan did say there were no rules.
    I enjoyed reading your post about Frank. What an interesting man, and you photos are great.

  3. You Know,I Really Do Warm To Frank.Hard As Nails but A Survior.I Like His Style!

  4. I didn't print the original comments either, but oh well. This post is new to me since I didn't discover SS until late November 2011. The photo of your great grandfather in his work clothes with his tools is a fine piece of history. Like you, I like how Alan's prompts help us find the story to tell about our family.

  5. I so remember that coal-mining photo of Frank. It is such a classic - so interesting.
    I imagine many of the eastern Europeans were evasive about the past, particularly if they were victims of the pogroms. They wanted to forget the horrors of the past and get on with their lives, and who could blame them?

  6. I'm another whu did not include the previous comments, not that there were many. My American son-in-law's family has a Polish origin and in 1996 he took his father back to where he was born and to his parents grave. Frank is one of thousands whose stories must not be lost, So glad you shared it again.

  7. Mining was such hard and dangerous work back then. I guess it still is dangerous now. Great post for Sepia Saturday!

  8. I like the idea of you learning enough Polish to eavesdrop. I hope you didn’t hear anything you wish you hadn’t!

  9. Many years ago, I took my wife and son on a tour through a West Virginia coal mine now turned into a heritage center. It was sobering to go deep underground and feel the cold, dark environment that so many men, and boys too, had felt everyday. Work can't get much harder.

  10. Oh yes, the amazing story of dear Frank. I especially recall the photos, each one striking and vivid in its own right! great choice for our book.

  11. Very enjoyable post, Pat. And I love that photograph of Frank in his lantern hat. Superb!

  12. I too was going to mention liking the coal miners hat. The pictures are really great of telling stories themselves of time long gone by.

  13. Great photos! I too am descended from miners - Cornish tin miners who came to Australia chasing gold. Glad to get to see this post - I only joined SS in Jan 2013

  14. This was quite doe history of your family members, Pat. I wish I knew more about my own grandparents and beyond.

  15. You were able to gather quite a lot of information about Frank and his family. Very interesting. I have miner ancestors, too, and almost used that early Sepia Saturday post this week. Hard, dirty, and dangerous work, that mining.

  16. While many questions remain, I feel you've given this your best shot [so far]. Keep digging!! That last shot is quite funny!!