Family History Case Study: Uncle Sonny

Family History Case Study: Uncle Sonny

Over the last year, I’ve learned far more about my father’s family than I ever knew before. We’ve never lived close to any of his parents or siblings, so visits were few and far between and became pretty scarce in my adolescence, so I never spent a significant amount of time with my grandparents. They were divorced, so the time I did spend with them was usually split between two vacations, and ultimately they both passed away far from where I was and I didn’t even make it to the funerals because I couldn’t afford to fly in.

Piecing together a genealogy after the fact has been a little challenging, but my dad has four siblings which means there are aunts and uncles and cousins to help me fill in the blanks. One recent mystery of mine started with this photo:

I suspected that the little boy on the far right was my dad, so I posted the photo in a family Facebook group to ask my aunts about it. As it turned out, the photo is of my aunts and a few cousins, taken before my dad was born, and it’s of the children after Gerry’s wedding. Who is Gerry? Gerry was Uncle Sonny’s wife. Who is Uncle Sonny? Uncle Sonny died in World War II.


This was all news to me because I had a bare-bones family tree full of names and dates, but nobody on there was named either Gerry or Sonny. It turns out that Sonny was a nickname for my grandma’s brother, who died while fighting in World War II and left behind a young wife and a baby son he never met. This sounded like a story I wanted to flesh out, but a search for his name as I had it in the tree (Casmir Krzyczewski) came up with very little, even after I accepted alternate spellings. No military records, no marriage license, no tombstone with the right dates. Although it’s an odd name for me, that name was surprisingly common among Polish immigrants born at the beginning of the last century and I couldn’t seem to find a family where the parents and siblings named fit.

I’d hit a wall.

Walls are inevitable in genealogy and sometimes you can hit them early, particularly if you don’t know the names of someone’s parents or if a father isn’t listed on a birth certificate. Here, though, I had the parents’ names and the siblings’ names and the wife’s name and a date range in which he must have passed on. There had to be something else I could search for!

To bypass my roadblock, I decided to look for information about his parents instead. Often, bypassing a roadblock by doing heavy research on a close relative works, because there may be information included in an obituary, news article, or will that puts you back on track. It might seem strange to accumulate a lot of information on someone you aren’t generally interested in (such as the brother or second wife or a 3rd great grandparent) but it’s time well spent if it gets you past your wall.

In my case, the people I was researching are direct grandparents of mine, so I was happy to take the time to search thoroughly. I was hoping to find an article regarding the fact that they lost their son in the war, so I looked at newspapers from the area where they were living and searched for articles regarding war casualties. As you can imagine, this was slow work and a little sad since there were so many young men from the Chicago area who lost their lives, but ultimately I came across an article that seemed to fit.

This was interesting, because I had been searching for a Kazimer and Natalia Krzyczewski who lost their son Casmir, but it turned out that everyone was going by Americanized versions of their names after they had immigrated. Kazimer was going by Charley, Natalia was going by her middle name (Alice) and they had shortened their last name from Krzyczewski to the more manageable Kryski.

Knowing this opened up a ton of articles about them and what they were up to and also gave me more to go on as far as finding Uncle Sonny’s war records. He used the name Kryski in service, which is why I hadn’t been finding him. Once I had the right last name, I found information about his service and his death in active duty.

The best find of all, however, came when I shared this information with my family on that Facebook page. It turned out that my aunt had a copy of the memorial that has run in my grandmother’s high school newspaper, which was his alma matter and would have been a small enough print distribution that I never would have found it on file in any library or online database. The memorial finally sketched out a nice picture of this man I never knew I was related to and I feel like I found what I was looking for:

My search for Uncle Sonny’s story isn’t over, but now I have more information about his service and I can use history books related to World War II to get a better picture of what his time in the war must have been like. I also have the correct name, a lead on his high school, and the knowledge that he left behind a baby boy (my dad’s first cousin) that I’ve never met.

Hopefully, this case study gave you some ideas on how to break through your own roadblocks. The information is out there somewhere – you just have to track it down!

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