Meet my grandmother. Anna Zagninska (Zagninski) nee Zaliwciw. Born 26 January 1926 although she did also list her date of birth as 26 January 1924 on her marriage registration. For those who have been following this is the first time I have found something significant in my search for my family. Just to recap: I did a DNA test in January this year, blithely ignorant of the possibility that I may get a result I was not expecting. The night before I got the results back I remember laughing with my family members saying "imagine if they came back and said I wasn't Polish". We all laughed. My youngest son said "don't be stupid mum, you're the most Polish person I know".
Well that was exactly what happened.
So. Every family has a secret right? Every time I have dug into this so far I have hit a very dead end. But yesterday one of those dead ends gave way. Like pulling at threads on a knot. I finally found the one thread that triggered an unravel.
I had previously been working on the assumption that my grandparents (or the people I know to be my grandparents) had been in the displaced persons camp at Bagnoli, Italy. This was where most European refugees who departed Europe from Naples ended up and I had evidence they departed Naples for Melbourne on 02 May 1949. But I hadn't been able to find anything. Out of frustration I started trawling records of other camps in Europe looking for relatives. Anyone with the last name Zagninski, Zagninska, Zaliwciw or even misspelt versions of the same.
Bingo. I found them. The knot unravelled. I cannot describe the shock of opening yet another random file to find my grandmother staring back it me.
In April of 1949 they left Camp De Niederlahnstein in Germany, a camp for displaced persons. They spent a few months in Koblenz Tuttlingen before travelling to Sankt Goarshausen (all in Germany) before going to Naples, arriving on the same day they boarded the SS Skaugum along with 1,621 other refugees bound for Melbourne and a new beginning in Australia. And I say 'they' because I also found the registration of their marriage. In Lebach-Caserne. One document says on 24 June 1946 and another November 1945.
There is one thing that seems clear to me looking at her face. She is my grandmother. She was born in Libochora (now spelt Lybokhora) in the Lviv Oblast province of the Western Ukraine. Which matches the DNA results exactly.
And then the knot unravelled a little more. As I searched for more about her I found more people - Bassilius, Pawlo, Wassil all with the same surname - Zaliwciw - all born in Libochora/Lybokhora around the same time. And one of them had listed parents on some documentation - Petro and Parazka. Now Lybokhora is and always has been a tiny farming village in the mountains and with less than 1,000 residents. These people must be related. Digging a little deeper it didn't take me long to realise they had a very different path during the war, placed in various camps and finally making their way to the Pennsylvania and New York in the USA. But even so I feel safe making a bet that they are her family.
And I found more about my grandfather. Relatives in Kielce, Domaszowska, Szlatkowa (Poland). I think maybe two brothers, a sister and a mother. But apparently I have no relatives in that area so am I connected to them?
I know with a sense of certainty I am connected to this woman. I found a record saying she was forcibly moved from her home, arriving in Germany in 1941. Was that when she left Lybokhora? She would have been 15 at that time. What happened to the rest of her family? How did she get from the Western Ukraine to Germany? How old was she when she left home? Why was she separated from her siblings? Where was she from 1941 to 1946 when she turned up at a registry office in a little town near the French Border and married a Polish man? Did she marry for love or, with the war ending and so much uncertainty, was it for protection?
So many questions. The knot seems to have become fixed tight again. But if nothing else I now know if I keep picking something will come loose.
Side note: most of the people I found from Lybokhora listed themselves as being 'Polonaise' (a French word meaning Polish - it seems most of fer displaced persons documentation was written in either French or German). On one occasion my grandmother wrote 'Ukrianian' and crossed it out before replacing it with Polonaise. What's that all about?