For over 150 years, Milwaukee has been home to a large community of people of Polish descent. The Milwaukee Polonia Project hopes to show the interweaving, intertwining family trees that resulted in this community. It is hoped that, eventually, all the families can be connected to one another. The Milwaukee Polonia Project is also a means to explore our common history and celebrate our shared heritage.


Monday, September 30, 2013

A Hard Life

There is no doubt that many of the Poles who came to Milwaukee did have a hard life.  However, the lot of poor little Wladyslawa Bialorucki was deemed so exceptional as to be newsworthy.  The following article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on April 4, 1913:

It appears that Wladyslawa was returned to her father.  Wladyslawa was often anglicized as "Charlotte." The 1920 census shows a Lottie Bialorucki, aged 7 and born in Wisconsin, living with her father, Joseph, and his wife, Catherine.  I assume this is the same family mentioned in the article.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Featured Profile #32 - Gilda Gray (Maryanna Michalski)

Gilda Gray (Maryanna Michalski) ( circa 1896 - 1959)

The life of Gilda Gray (born Maryanna Michalska) resembles both a hero from a classic drama and many of our modern celebrities.  Starting from very humble beginnings, she rose quickly to fame and fortune, but it didn't last.  In the end, the fortune was all dissipated.  The fame remained, but it was tarnished, covered with a patina of the pathetic.

The details of her rise and fall are covered by many articles, but here is the general outline.  Born in Poland, she came to Milwaukee as a child.  She married, at an early age, to John Gorecki, son of Martin Gorecki (Featured Profile #31.)  Maryanna first became a professional dancer at Jack Litza's Polish Saloon on Mitchell Street.  She was nice to look at, put on a good show, and pleased the (mostly male) audiences.  Outgrowing Milwaukee, she moved first to Chicago and then to New York where she drew larger and larger crowds.  She eventually was one of the principal performers in the Ziegfield Follies.

Her signature move was the shimmy, which she either invented, or named, or did neither, depending on whom you wish to believe.  If you've never seen the shimmy, Gilda performs it toward the end of this video:

The eroticism of the dance is apparent and it was even banned by some dance establishments. Its flagrant style became iconic of the Roaring Twenties with the name of Gilda Gray indelibly attached.  So much so, that F. Scott Fitzgerald used it to set the tone in his masterpiece of the era, The Great Gatsby.   Speaking in the voice of Nick Carraway, the narrator of the tale, Fitzgerald described the opening of one of Gatsby's wild parties:

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.

Suddenly one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray's understudy from the Follies. The party has begun.

As can be seen by the above clip, Gilda graduated from the stage to the movies.   She is credited with ten movies ranging in dates from 1919 to 1936.  Here is a tribute to her composed of some of her movie stills and publicity shots:

While her professional life steadily rose, her personal life suffered set-backs.  She divorced her first husband about 1924 so that she could marry her second, an owner of numerous New York dance halls.  Unfortunately, it was not a happy match.  She sued him for divorce 1928 claiming that he drank too much and verbally abused her in public. He threatened to counter-sue alleging Gilda had committed adultery while in London filming Picadilly.  In the end, he did not even attend the trial, claiming that he had been beaten up in NY by two of Gilda's "gorillas."  

A further setback occurred in 1929 when she lost most of her money in the Stock Market Crash.  Then her mother died in 1931, and Gilda, herself, suffered a heart attack or a nervous break-down.  The family was on public support when her father was committed to the Milwaukee infirmary as an alcoholic in 1932. He died just a month later.

Perhaps reeling from these tragedies, Gilda married her third (and last husband) in 1933.  He turned out to be the worst of all.  He managed to spend through her remaining money and abandon her by 1935.  At that time, Gilda's career was virtually at an end.

Despite the fact that her career had died, Gilda still retained her compassion for others, especially those from her native Poland.  During WW II, she tried to help Poland by raising money, and then during the Cold War, she brought six Polish citizens from behind the Iron Curtain, and subsidized their education in the U.S.

In the 1950's, her career had somewhat of a revival.  The television show, This is Your Life, put her once again before the public eye.  Liberace, who credited with Gilda for giving him the encouragement to  launch his own career also put her on his show:

Gilda did not long outlive this revival.  She died of another heart attack in 1959.  At the time, she was once again penniless, and the expenses of her burial were paid by the Motion Picture Relief Fund.  However, her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame still shines as bright as all the others.

Gilda Gray with her son, Martin, and parents Wanda and Max Michalski, Milwaukee Sentinel, 12/18/1928

Much of the information of Gilda's early life is contradictory.  Jay Joslyn had to deal with these contradictions when he wrote a piece for the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1981:

Born in 1895, or 1898, in Crakow, Poland, or in a dirt-floor hovel on a farm near Crakow, or some place in Germany, Marianna was brought to America and Cudahy when she was 5 or 8.

Since that piece was written in 1981, the date of Gilda's birth has changed again.  Nowadays, most references on the internet list her place and date of birth as Kraków on October 24, 1901.  The source of this information is unclear.  Personally, I find the date highly unlikely and the location dubious.

It is well documented the Gilda's only son, Martin, was born in 1913.  To say that she was pregnant by 11 and gave birth by 12 stretches one's credulity.  It was possible, maybe, but not very probable.

Let's look at the available documentation.

First, it is agreed upon by all that Gilda's given name was Mary Michalski, that her father was Max Michalski, that her mother's name was Wanda, that she had a sister named Josephine, and that they were all living in Milwaukee by 1910.  There is only one family in the 1910 US Census in Milwaukee that meets all these characteristics.  They were living on Second Avenue on April 21, 1910.  The family was composed of the following:

Max, age 40 , married 16 years, born in German Poland.
Wanda, age 37, married 16 years, had two children, both of whom were living, born in German Poland
Mary, age 14, single, born in German Poland
Josephine, age 6, born in New Jersey

Based on this, Max was born about 1870, Wanda about 1873, and Mary in 1896 - all in German Poland.  (Remember that Kraków was in Austria at that time.  It was never in Germany, at least at any time relevant to this discussion.)  Also, the fact that Josephine was born in New Jersey indicates that the family was in the USA by at least by 1904.  This is supported by the census entry that state that Max has been in the country for seven years.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal, Gilda's mother, Wanda, died in Cleveland, Ohio on September 9, 1931.  Her death record (which is available on lists her birth date as 1873 and her birthplace as Poznan, Poland which was part of Germany, so it matches the above census record.   It also means that, if she were married in Pozńan, a record just might show up in the Pozńan Project.  Finally, the name of her father listed on the death record is transcribed as "Kinaz."

Here is the death notice which ran in the Milwaukee Journal on September 13, 1931:

In the death notice, her maiden name is listed as "Kuras."

Here is a record from the Pozńan Project that matches what we know about the marriage of Max and Wanda including their first and last names, year of marriage and ages at time of the marriage:

Góra Żnin is not really the name of a town.  It is the name of two towns that used to lie next to one another.  However, Góra has now been absorbed into Żnin.  Neither one of them are anywhere near Kraków.  They are about 490 km to the northwest.
Could the Michalskis have moved from Żnin to Kraków before Maryanna was born?  It is possible but not probable.  The obituary of Max that was published in the Milwaukee Journal stated that he had arrived in the US from Germany, not Austria.  Moreover, I found the name of Max Michalski on the manifest for the Graf Waldersee sailing out of Hamburg in 1903.  Here is part of it:

The second word starting with "B" is Bayonne and that is the intended residence of Max in the US.  Therefore, the 1903 arrival date and the intended residence match the information about the Michalskis arrival in the US based on the 1910 census.  Also, remember that it was stated that Gilda was about 8 when she came to the US. A 1903 arrival date would make Gilda about 8 when she arrived in the US, if she was born in late 1895.

Finally, the first word starting with "B" in that manifest listing is the last residence of Max.  I am not sure what location that is, but it could be Biskupin, a small village just south of Żnin. If the last residence listed in this manifest is, in fact, Biskupin, then I think it pretty strong evidence that Gilda Gray was not born in Kraków.

The bottom line is that if I were to search for Gilda's baptismal record, I'd start with the Góra and Żnin records in late 1895, not those of Kraków in 1901.

So where does the birth information of "Kraków on October 24, 1901" come from?  I don't know.  I assume it was from Gilda.  By some accounts, Gilda was the type of person who never let the exact truth get in the way of a good story.  Moreover, it is certainly not unheard of that actresses will often lie to make themselves seem younger than they actually are, which may explain the 1901 date.  Moreover, the Kraków origin may have come about as a way to may make herself seem more glamorous. It has been estimated 88% of the Poles in Milwaukee came from the German Partition.  When you're a Polish dancer in Milwaukee, what better way to set yourself apart then to say you were born in the romantic city of Kraków, which was in the Austrian Partition?  That's my theory anyway.

[Update:  After completing this entry, I ran across this article which states that Gilda was adopted!  This is the only source that I have seen that has made this claim.  Whether this is accurate, or another of Gilda's fabrications, I have no way of knowing, and maybe that's the point.  Maybe this was something that Gilda made up that would be unverifiable and that would smooth over some of the prior inconsistencies in her history.  Again, I don't know, but it does  go somewhat against the 1910 census which states that Wanda had two children born to her which were both living at the time of the census.  If Gilda is not one of those children, where is the other?]

Relation to Nearest Featured Profile: (Martin Gorecki, Featured Profile #31):  Daughter-in-law

Path From Nearest Featured Profile:  Martin Gorecki > son, John Gorecki  > (ex) wife, Gilda Gray

"Gilda's Father, Michalski, Dies," Milwaukee Journal, November 7, 1932, p. 2

Gilda Gray on IMDB

Gilda Gray on Wikipedia

"Gilda Gray Asserts Husband Was Toper," Prescott Evening Courier, August 17, 1928, p.5

"Gilda Gray is Wed Third Time," Milwaukee Sentinel, May 24, 1933, p. 22

"Gray Rites Set; Son of Movie Star," Milwaukee Sentinel, July 8, 1969, p. 14.

"Gilda Gray, 'Shimmy Queen,' Dies," Milwaukee Sentinel, December 23, 1959, p. 1

"Gilda Gray's Trunkful of Gorgeous Garments," Palm Beach Post, February 28, 1930, p. 25. 

Joslyn Jay, "Shimmy Was Born When She 'Stood Straight, Made My Muscles Move'", Milwaukee Sentinel, August 7, 1981, p. 13

"'Shimmy' is Banned by By Dancing Masters," Pittsburgh Press, August 26, 1919, p. 8 

"The Shimmy Queen," on Wisconsinology

Sobol, Louis, "What's Become of Gilda Gray Who Invented the Shimmy?", Milwaukee Sentinel, February 9, 1941, p 25.

Van Duzer, Winifred, "The A-B-C Romance of the Shimmy Cinderella," The DelMarVia Star, March 16, 1924, p. 18.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Status Update - September, 2013

Family Names Added Since Last Update:


Profiles Added Since Last Update:  211

New Intra-Connections  (Lucht to Fons):

 172)  .... Stella (Jarecki) Myszkowski > brother, Julius Jarecki > wife, Florence (Ryczek) Jarecki > father, Joseph Ryczek > brother, John Ryczek > daughter, Irene (Ryczek) Ruskiewicz > husband, Harry Ruskiewicz > father, Stanislaw (Jimmie) Ruszkiewicz > brother, Wallace Ruszkiewicz...

173)  ....Julius Jarecki > daughter, PRIVATE (Jarecki) Komassa > husband, PRIVATE Komassa > father, Franciszek Komassa > brother, Albin Komassa.... 

174)  ....Ralph Budzisz > wife, PRIVATE (Link) Budzisz > mother, Pauline (Brandt) Link > mother, Anna (Sommer) [Wutscheck] Brandt > daughter by first husband, Cecilia (Wutscheck) Hamernick > husband, Steve Hamernick > sister, Martha (Hamernick) Schabowski > son, Frank R. Schabowski > wife, Martha (Klinkosh) Schabowski > mother, Anna (Tulikowski) Klinkosh > sister, Valeria (Tulikowsk) Philipp....

175)  ....Frank R. Schabowski > sister, Clara (Schabowski) Rakowski > husband, Frank Rakowski > brother, Stanley Rakowski > wife, Louise (Tomczyk) Rakowski > sister, Eva (Tomczyk) Kitzke.... 

176)  ....Frank Drozniakiewicz (II) > Wanda (Woida) Drozniakiewicz > sister, Barbara (Woida) [Hentschel] Radtke > daughter, Dolores (Hentschel) Kaluzny > husband, Edward Kaluzny > brother, George Kaluzny....

177)  .... Barbara (Woida) [Hentschel] Radtke > husband, Joseph Radtke > brother, Raymond Radtke > wife, Rosamund (Hentschel) Radtke > sister, Dolores (Hentschel) Kaluzny... 

178)  ....Peter Dluszkowski > sister, Anna (Dluszkowski) Brzycki > husband, Martin M. Brzycki > second wife, Adeline (Martynski) Brzycki > mother, Mary (Nowakowski) Martynski....

179)  ....Salomea (Paczkowski) Serocki > Victoria (Brzycki) Paczkowski > brother, Frank Brzycki > son, Martin M. Brzycki....

180)  ....August Filip > sister, Julianna (Filip) Mathea > son, Alexander Mathea > wife, Victoria (Kleba) Mathea > sister, Theresa (Kleba) Philipp > husband, Frank Philipp > brother, August Philipp....

181)  ....Julianna (Filip) Mathea > son, Victor Mathea > wife, Victoria (Kleba) Mathea....

182)  ....Joseph Budzisz > brother, Thomas Budzisz > daughter, Christina (Budzisz) Rotta > son, Anton Felix Rotta > son, John Joseph Rotta > wife, Sophie (Gralak) [Rotta] Zabinski.... 

 PCN:  2.9
(For an explanation of the PCN - "Project Completeness Number") see Status Update - February, 2012 and Status Update - March, 2012)
Historical Data:
September 2013:  2.9
August, 2013: 2.71          
July, 2013: 4.28
June, 2013:  3.01
May, 2013: 6.33
April, 2013: 3.33
March, 2013:  8.2
February, 2013: 2.1
January, 2013:  8.0
December, 2012: 3.29
November, 2012: 6.0
October, 2012:  12.25
September, 2012:  6.4
August, 2012: 3.89
July, 2012:  4.57
June, 2012:  7.75
May, 2012:  9.33
April, 2012:  16.67
March, 2012:  16
February, 2012:  12.8
January, 2012:  19
New Alternate Spellings:
Brzonkala Bronkalla
Czaplewski Csaplewski
Detlaff Dettlaff
Hamernik Hammernik Hamernick Hammerling
Kleba Klebba
Klinkosz Klinkosh Klinkorch
Konkol Konkel
Kureski Kurecki
Schabowski Schaboroski
Sierzchulski Szyszulski
Slupecki Slupek
Swierczak Swierciak Swieciek
Tulikowski Pulikowski