This portrait is another one of the old Polish ones that my mother saved. Everything about the picture is still and tranquil. The lovely silk flower almost obscures the women’s hands. It is impossible to see if she’s wearing a wedding band or any other rings. Her white blouse and dark skirt look well kept, but not fancy. The small pin or cameo on the collar are the only signs of jewelry. Her eyes have a stoic resolve, and her hair is pulled back severely, yet she looks kind and peaceful. The windows, curtain, and rug look to be part of the studio setting, and not part of her own home. The back of the picture is shown below, and it gives the name of the photography studio, and also where it is located. Grybów is the municipality (gmina) for the towns of Berdechow and Bobowa, in Gorlice County of southern Poland, and that is where our family came from. When I look at this woman I do feel kinship. I simply call her our Polish matriarch.
I think that this is a portrait of my great-grandmother Apolonia “Pauline” Olszewski (1848-1910), and that copies were given to her children, especially those bound for America. If it is indeed Pauline, we do know she was married twice. In 1869 Pauline married Peter Szczerba, also from Berdechow, in the nearby town of Brusnik. They had at least four children: Pawel, Jan, Mariana, and Zofia. After his death on 24 March 1882, she married Laurentius “Walter” Wasik on 26 Oct 1882 in Berdechow. They had at least five children together: Anna, Ludovica, Jan, Stanislaus, and Jozef. Walter Wasik died in 1904, so maybe Pauline had this picture taken after his death. If so, she would have been in her mid to late forties in this portrait.
When Pauline’s daughter, Zofia, arrived in Baltimore, MD in 1906, bound for Carnegie, PA, she states she is from Galicia, Austria, her people are Polish farmers, and that she’s from Berdechow. Maybe Zofia carried this portrait of her mother with her, to give her some comfort and a small reminder of home. When I was trying to figure out who this woman was, my sister-in-law took one look, and said she looks so much like Zofia, it must be her mother. If this is indeed my Polish matriarch, then I carry her mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on only from mothers to their daughters. My mtDNA is Haplogroup H with three variations, and maybe someday I’ll match up exactly with someone else, that is besides my daughters and sister. Half of all Europeans are group H, so I really hope to narrow it down a little bit more!