20 years ago. April 18th, 1999. That dates holds a few key moments in my life and in my genealogy research. My paternal grandfather, Richard Zalewski, passed away on that day. He was the first grandparent I had lost, so it was a life milestone. Also, I always use that day as the day I started my voyage into genealogy. I’ve told that story before.

Last year I made the realization that it was the same amount of time from when I was born to the day he died and that same day until last year, 19 years. I had known my grandfather as much as I was without him. So, now the realization is that this year the balance is tipping in the latter direction.

Since that day in 1999, I have now lost all of my grandparents, but fortunately that has only happened recently, so I was able to enjoy their company for many years. His death was always harder on me since it was the first major death that directly affected my life, which made the later ones a bit easier to swallow after experiencing it once.

For the longest time (almost 20 years) my Zalewski line was the shortest and most difficult to crack. A few years ago I did make some headway into that brick wall and then only a few months ago I finally slammed through it and made many more discoveries (and ran into another one of those infinite brick walls.)

I always wonder how much quicker I would have made it through that brick wall if I was able to talk to him about his family history. A lot of his ancestors were mysteries for awhile and some of them may have had some interesting stories. I really would have loved to talk to him about his mother, Emily (Troka) Zalewski, who passed away in 1941 when he was only 19 years old and away in Florida in Navy school.

I would’ve loved to talk to him about his grandfather, Frank Zalewski, and about his personality and other small things since he lived until 1941, also, and my grandfather would’ve definitely known him well. He lost his grandfather at the same age I lost my grandfather.

There is this thing I heard somewhere recently, but I forget where, about imagining how far back you can connect to your ancestors by visualizing each ancestor that was able to hold hands with their grandparents, and so on, which in turn connects you to them since you held your grandparent’s hand. If you think about it, based on how long some generations lived, you can sort of feel that connection to your deeper ancestors.

Me, my grandfather/Santa, and my older brother.

So, today is a bittersweet type of day. I fondly remember my grandfather and everything he means to me, but I also thank him for sparking that fire in me that has brought me joy and mystery and challenges and meaning to my life for the past 20 years. Miss you every day, Grandpa.