Daily Connector | Discovering my Polish Roots: The Letter | Larry Less

The Polish history of my family has been shrouded in mystery.  My Grandfather Marcin (Martin) Les(s) immigrated from Poland in 1912, travelling alone at the age of 19 as I learned from a passenger list of the steamer Cincinnati that departed from Hamburg.   He died when I was about a year old and my father passed away when I was 13.  Although we were somewhat close to aunts and uncles who lived on Polish Hill in Pittsburgh, we never discussed much about the “old country.” 

Being a labor economist for the State of Ohio, I had the good fortune in 1996 to be invited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to write a research paper and present it at a weeklong conference held in Warsaw that summer.  So I made a trip over to Polish Hill to ask my relatives what else they could tell me about our Polish heritage, and also to learn some basic Polish phrases since they had grown up speaking Polish at home.  I was told that my Grandfather had only one brother, that they had both immigrated to America in the early 1900s, that they came from Bialystok, near the border with Belarus, and that they both died in the early 1950s.  They had no information about his name or where my Great Uncle had settled in America.  As far as they knew, there was no one to look up in Poland.

Fast forward 20 years to the availability of low cost autosomal DNA tests which could provide information on your ethnic heritage.  The results confirmed that I was about half German/half Polish with about ten percent Scandinavian ethnicity.  That all made sense, but I did not pursue it further.  In the meantime, Sally and I have always found programs like The Genealogy Roadshow and Finding Your Roots to be fascinating and had continued to work on expanding our family trees.  Several years ago Joshua Taylor from the Roadshow was the featured presenter for a “Family History Day” hosted by the Ohio Genealogical Society so we attended and also met with him.  We were introduced to the Franklin County Genealogical Society, became members and also joined the ‘DNA Interest Group.’

That is when our education into the wealth of information available through DNA skyrocketed.  I began my research to discover these hundreds of ‘DNA relatives’ as I shared in an earlier blog, while also continuing with traditional genealogical research.  My Polish history remained a mystery.  Several years after my Dad’s youngest sister passed away (the last of that generation), my cousin asked me to help him go through some boxes of materials that she had left behind with pictures, letters, etc.  So I once again visited Polish Hill.  There were only several items in those boxes that were useful for my genealogy research: a letter from a Mrs. John Lesh to my Grandfather in 1945 and several pictures of my Mom and Dad visiting somewhere in Ohio in 1951, the year that they married. 

The letter reported that John Lesh had no phone and expressed sympathy over the death of my Grandmother, Mariana Lewandowska.  She also invited him to the wedding of a nephew over the Labor Day weekend in 1946.  This was an enormous clue that unlocked a suitcase full of additional leads because it led to the discovery of where Martin’s brother lived, and later to an obituary notice with the revelation of other members of their family, including another brother, Michael (Michal), who settled in Hamtramck, MI.  But those will have to be stories for another blog.  The family photo is one of my Grandparents in 1928, the year that my Dad’s oldest sister, Eva Marie, entered the convent at the age of 14.



Sally & Larry w Josh Taylor                                                                                  Martin, Mariana, and Eva Less 1928