On this day, December 12, 43 years ago, my great Uncle Clem died.  I’m terrifically grateful to my Uncle Clem.

Clem, who died with the surname Doskey, was my paternal grandmother’s brother.  A sweet man, by all accounts.  He was three years younger than her, born 27 November 1896.   My grandmother always spoke of him adoringly.  I had the impression they were very close as children, and it would appear that closeness continued into their young adulthood.

My grandmother, who I knew as Harriet Hill, married Joe Hill in October of 1917. Some time after that, her beloved brother Clem met Joe’s sister Helen, and in 1922, they married.  Harriet and Joe had one son – my father.  Clem and Helen had a daughter, named Delma.  Delma was about as close to a sister as my father would ever have.

This story is a simple one to tell, for sure.  Or so it would seem.  Actually, this simple tale masks a far more complex set of relationships and lost names.

Clem was baptized Clement Dziedzikowski.  My grandmother had an equally Polish name at birth: Jadwiga Dziedzikowska.  They were two of the seven children of Jan Dziedzikowsi and Pelagia Szweda.  Berea, Ohio Census records show Jan and his family changing their names en masse, around 1900.  At that time, he simplified the last name to Doski.

This information was relatively easy for me to figure out.  Although she never told me any of this while she was alive, my grandmother left me the centennial yearbook for the church the family attended.  Both she and her sister Charlotte appear in a choir picture from the early 1900’s, and the picture is labeled with their real names.  Charlotte, notably, was originally Leokadia.

The bigger puzzle was my grandfather.  I always knew that our surname – Hill – was bogus. My mother had told me so, and she showed me a name – Golembiewski – that she had seen in an obituary once.  “The person who died was your father’s aunt on his father’s side.  So this must be your real name.”  For years, I accepted that as my true name.

Sometime during my 20’s, I wrote to St. Augustine’s Church in Cleveland, where my mother told me my grandparents married.  I asked for their marriage records.  I gave their marriage date, and the names Harriet Doskey and Joe Golembiewski.  The church wrote back to me saying that they had no one by that name getting married on that date, but they did have a Hatti Doski and Joseph Gurzinski.  I set this aside – I was in graduate school and, well, this was not the right name.

It wasn’t until about three decades later that I was introduced to Family Search and Ancestry, and I began poking around looking for my mysterious Polish ancestors.  The name Golembiewski yielded nothing.

Doski, and later Doskey, was more fruitful.  And this is where we get to my gratitude to Uncle Clem, and his wife Helen.  While my grandparents seemed set on erasing their true identity, Clem and Helen were not so inclined.  I found their marriage record. It was for Clement Dziedzikowski.  And Helen’s name – well, for the second time in my life, I encountered the name Gorzynski/Gurzenski.  Helen’s maiden name.

Within that same evening of research, I found Helen’s death certificate, and sure enough – her daughter gave Helen’s maiden name as Gorzynski.

I’d had it all along – my true family name.  But thanks to Clem and Helen, the evidence was secure.  Once I had that name, my quest to rectify our family name was nearly complete.

I would like to say Clem and Helen lived happily ever after, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case.  The were buried in different cemeteries, Helen with the Gorzynskis and Clem with the Doskeys.  They supposedly lived with their daughter when they got older, and my mother reports they didn’t seem all that happy.

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