Mathias & Pauline (Thompson) Firmenich family, Ashland, Wisconsin - 1895 - Family Group Sheet

Thoughts on Being Without Grandparents

With the death of my maternal grandfather this week, I hit one of those sad life milestones. I now have no more living grandparents, and it’s an odd feeling. I was fortunate to have all four of my grandparents throughout most of my life. I got to spend time with all of them. My children also got to meet most of their great-grandparents on my side, which can be a rare thing.


Richard Zalewski (1921-1999)

I lost my first grandparent in April 1999 at 19 with the death of my paternal grandfather. That death did actually have a lot to do with my journey into genealogy. After that there was a long gap until August 2011 when I was 31 when my paternal grandmother passed away. This year has been particularly rough, especially for my mom, who lost her mom in February 2015 and now her father in November 2015. I am in awe of her perseverance and strength these last 12 months.

For some reason, I was hit hardest by the deaths of my grandfathers. If you would have asked me, I honestly would’ve thought it would have been the other way around. I think it was mainly due to timing. My first grandfather’s death wasn’t completely sudden, but it was quick (pancreatic cancer), so that fact along with it being the loss of my first grandparent hit me hard. I’ve wrote a few times about his funeral and when I broke down while waiting in the car after hearing a favorite song of mine come on the radio.

News of my maternal grandfather’s passing came to me during my morning drive to work while I was in traffic. It wasn’t completely unexpected as he was not doing so well for the last few months. At first, I had a feeling I knew what the call was about so I handled it well, but after I hung up and, specifically, when I thought about how my mom was feeling, I teared up a bit (thanks, empathy.) Let me tell you that driving in morning rush hour traffic with teary eyes is no fun. Coincidentally, the same song that set me off when my paternal grandfather died 16 years ago was on my car radio this morning. Eerie. After I parked, it took me a few minutes to text my wife the news, since after every other word I would get choked up and have to pause.


LeRoy & Marge Thielke

Comparatively, the deaths of my grandmothers didn’t feel as sad. They both had issues prior, so I wasn’t caught off-guard. I got to say goodbye to both (actually all four) of them on my own terms that helped me better accept their deaths. Though, I do regret, with all of them, not talking to them more about their lives and their ancestors. I kept putting off taking some time with my grandfather and having him look at some old photos and asking him questions. To anyone else, do it now, don’t put it off.

So, now everything just feels a bit different. That phase of my life is over. What I can do now is to teach my children about how amazing they were and keep the legacy going. I love you, Grandpa Z, Grandma Z, Grandma T, and Grandpa T. I’ll see you when I get there.


Take Care, Grandpa

LeRoy Thielke

LeRoy Arthur Thielke

16 November 1925 – 1 November 2015

Today we lost a wonderful, hard-working, funny man, my grandfather, LeRoy Thielke. Growing up, he was one of the funniest people I knew, and his wit and sense of humor was still sharp until the end. The bright side is that he wasn’t without the love of his life for very long before being reunited with her. My son is indirectly named after my grandpa, who was usually called Lee, which is my son’s middle name.

LeRoy Arthur Thielke was born on 16 November 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents, Arthur & Madora (Last) Thielke, had moved to the area from Wisconsin a few years prior. They probably moved to the area to follow a job of some sort. The family including his older sister, Eleanor (who is still alive) and his two younger brothers, moved back to the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin area by 1930. Sadly, he was only 2 weeks shy of his 90th birthday. He married my grandmother on 28 August 1948 and they were married for 67 years before she passed away in February 2015.

What I remember about Grandpa from when I was younger is that he always seemed to smell like motor oil. He was constantly working on something around the house or at the cottage on Pike Lake. To this day, the smell of motor oil reminds me of him. I like to think that my quick wit and sense of humor partially came from him as he was always fast with a quip or a joke. I always liked when he said “Hi, Grandpa” on the annual Christmas home video in response to “Say ‘Hi’, Grandpa!”

Within the last few years, I learned a little bit about his time during World War II in the European Theater traveling through England, France, Belgium, and Germany. A few years ago, I did a large post about his service that I am extremely proud of. I do regret not asking him more about his service before he died, which is a lesson to everyone else out there. Ask early and ask often.

His passing is also a sad milestone in my life as I have now lost all four of my grandparents. It’s an odd, empty feeling, I guess. I do plan to post more about that aspect in a day or so.

Grandpa, thanks for making me laugh, teaching me to fish (even though it didn’t really stick), showing me all of your machines, pointing me down the right path, and just being an all-around awesome grandpa. We’ll miss you everyday, but we’re glad that you’re now taking care of Grandma and, honestly, probably giving her a hard time.

Here is the video I created for his memorial. (Video will pop-up on site.)

And as I float along this ocean
I can feel you like a notion
That won’t seem to let me go
‘Cause when I look to the sky
Something tells me you’re here with me
And you make everything alright
Train – “When I Look to the Sky”

Revisiting the Connection

The other day I happened to run across the Digital Collections of the Milwaukee Public Library. As any genealogist does, I got lost in it for an hour or so. I then found their WWI Military Portrait collection and searched for “Zalewski.”

I found entries for my great-grandfather, Joseph Frank Zalewski. While it did not have an actual portrait for him, it did have a war service document from the “War Mothers of America.” Most of the information on his document wasn’t new, though it did mention that he participated in no major battles during the war.

There was another Joseph Zalewski listed, which I correctly assumed was my great-grandfather’s cousin, son of Jacob Zalewski. His information was also pretty familiar. He did participate in a battle, the Château-Thierry Vesle Offensive. The part of his document that caught my eye was under the field titled Next of kin. He listed Joseph Goralski. I have been trying to figure out the connection between the Zalewski, Goralski, and Gwiazdowski families for years now.

Joseph Zalewski, Next of Kin

There are many instances of these families crossing into each other, but I just can’t confirm anything. My hope is that connecting them may finally allow me to break down this old Zalewski brick wall. Though, this is the first time that Joseph Goralski is specifically mentioned as “kin” even though that may not really mean blood relation. More mysteries, indeed.

The Zalewski Connection

ancestrydna-zalewskiOne of those days I was waiting for finally happened. A DNA match contacted me that is from the Jacob Zalewski line that I had always assumed was the brother of my great-great grandfather, Frank Zalewski. This proves that Jacob and Frank are definitely related. They are probably brothers (as all other evidence points to) but not proven 100%.

Unfortunately, the match comes to me from AncestryDNA. While AncestryDNA is one of the most popular, it also gives the least amount of advanced tools. I cannot see where we match on our DNA as there is no Chromosome Browser like every other site has. I have contacted my match and asked if they would upload their data to GEDMatch so we can do the more advanced matching. I’d really love to see which part of my chromosome comes from my Zalewski line. That could point me towards more Zalewski relations and possibly finally breaking down more of that monstrous Zalewski line brick wall.

The possible Jacob-Frank connection all started back in July 2009 when I noticed a Jacob Zalewski family living with and quite near Frank and his family in Milwaukee in multiple city directories. After many years and finding more and more cross-family connections, I just assumed they were brothers as the pile of evidence was getting quite large. Though, I was always waiting and hoping for a DNA connection. I was planning on trying to convince a few distant cousins from that line that I had found to do a DNA test (I would probably even have paid for it.)

I’m excited. We’ll see where we go from here.

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