As I blogged about my Markoskis, I began to explore Holyoke, MA’s online resources to give me a greater context for their lives. It became apparent to me that it would be a good idea to visit the Holyoke Library’s History Room and Wistariahurst Museum’s Research Room to see if I could uncover some off-line resources. After all, Holyoke is only a two hour drive away. A day trip would be very fruitful if I did some careful planning, just like I’ve read about on other genealogy blogs.
The first thing I needed to do was decide what day of the week to go. Wistariahurst’s Research Room had open hours on Monday and Thursday, and Holyoke Library’s History Room was open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So Thursday it would be! Wistariahurst’s website said it was open until 1pm, and the Library until 4pm, so I would hit the museum first, then the library. That would give me some time to squeeze lunch in between.
Both websites had finding aids for their collections. Awesome! This helped me see what was in their collections, what might apply to the Markoskis, and how to easily locate the items for a pull request if needed (at the museum, it is always needed). It also helped me prioritize what I wanted pulled.
Another thing I wanted to do if I had the time was visit the “old neighborhood” (what used to be Fountain Street), which has long since been razed and redeveloped, and Mater Dolorosa Cemetery, which was just over the Connecticut River in South Hadley. I’d already been comparing pre-redevelopment maps with Google Maps, so I knew where Fountain Street was; I just had to plot out the most efficient route to drive, as well as determine where to park.
Research Stops and Their Bonuses
First stop: the Research Room at Wistariahurst Museum, which was in its Carriage House. The first thing I learned was that the posted closing hours was at noon, not 1pm (and I arrived at 11:30)! (Lesson: always, always call ahead.) Going in, I was a little apologetic (“I know research hours are almost over, but can I still take a look?”). The small staff was very helpful and accommodating, especially when I provided them my list of things I wanted to look at (that made it so much easier for them and faster for me). I didn’t find anything mind-blowing, except for a few photographs of the area, including an area shot of the Lyman Mills tenements, which they kindly allowed me to photograph.
Bonus: the museum was only a block away from an apartment building my grandparents lived in during the late 1970s, so I was able to take a quick walk to take a picture.
After lunch at a friendly McDonald’s (seriously!), it was off to the library, whose ample parking was just across a non-busy street. A funny side note about both the McDonald’s and the library: the public bathrooms are locked; you have to ask for a key. Judging by the surroundings being somewhat run-down, perhaps this was to keep undesirables out.
It turned out that most of what I needed at the library was available on the shelves. My favorite collection was the Holyoke High School yearbooks, going back to 1915. Neither my grandfather nor his siblings seemed to have graduated from HHS (and older yearbooks didn’t have underclassmen pictures like they do now), so I only found my mom’s generation, which included her cousins who lived in Holyoke as well. In my search, it was neat to see the photos from the 1910s and 1920s and all the hairstyles of the day! I also did a little newspaper microfilm searching, since I had just a few events with definite dates to search under. It was nice to know that I remembered how to use the machine!
As I was getting ready to leave, one of the workers asked if I found everything I was looking for. I said, “Well, your finding aid didn’t list anything for the Kosciuszko Club, so I doubt you’d have anything on that.” “Let’s check!” said the gentleman, and he did in fact have one small folder with two newspaper articles about the club, which he copied for me. Moral of the story: even if you don’t think a repository has something, ask about it anyway; you never know! And even if they don’t, they may know where you can get more information. In this case, the worker suggested the Polish Center of Discovery & Learning in Chicopee (which will be my next road trip for this area).
I had plenty of time to make my more sentimental side-trips. The first stop was the old Fountain Street area, which modern maps basically show as St. Kolbe Drive. Again, parking was no problem, as the lot for the now-closed Mater Dolorosa Church was open. It was sad to see the church that my great-grandparents attended and that hosted my grandparents’ funerals; it was all fenced off due to being closed and on-going issues with the diocese.
The one building in the old neighborhood that I remember from my early childhood was the Mater Dolorosa School, which was built in 1959. My grandparents’ rental house was right next to it and my grandmother had worked in its cafeteria for a time. Today, Pulaski Park stretches behind the school and along the Connecticut River. Back in my great-grandparents’ time, it was known as Prospect Park and was named after General Count Casmir Pulaski in 1939. Today, it is very hard to envision the old buildings and tenement housing that stood where some of the park currently extends to. I tried to picture just where my grandparents’ house was, knowing that there was an old tree in their yard. But today there are quite a few trees that have grown large since the mid-1970s.
From Pulaski Park, you can see the mouth of the canal that fed the mills, and you can see the mill buildings down-river. Despite being a couple blocks from the former industrial are, the old “neighborhood” looks pretty suburban now.
Finally I had time to run over to Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley. I had not been there since my grandmother’s burial in 2000, and the cemetery is rather large, with its sections unmarked. This is how I found my grandparents’ grave: at my grandfather’s 1992 burial, my uncle took a picture of all of us at the site, showing the surrounding headstones and houses in the background. The houses told me that the grave was not far from the street. I went to Google Maps Street View and saw what the houses looked like today, and the approximate position along the street that the grave would be near. Then I looked at the unique-looking stones and the nearby names. It took a little while, but there it was! My eyes filled with tears as I made my way to the heart-inscribed stone.
After a little visit with my grandparents, I wondered if I could possibly find my great-grandparents in this vast cemetery. Pulling up Find-A-Grave, I looked at the photo taken by Vicha and noted the sloping shape of the stone, as well as the fact that it was in front of pavement — it had to be along a driveway! Since the cemetery is loosely organized chronologically, I thought maybe they might be buried near the next “block”. Looking that way, I saw some sloping headstones along the driveway. “I bet that’s them!” I said, as I walked there.
Well, not only did I find Stanislaw and Joanna Markoski, but right next to them was oldest son Max and his wife, Catherine! (Special bonus photos for my second cousin, who was not able to make the trip.)
After a good-bye to my ancestors, I stopped for supper at the Friendly’s that was around the corner from my grandparents’ last apartment, which we would go to together when visiting my grandparents. (No locks on the bathroom there!) And on the way out, I had to drive by the house that held that apartment. I was so glad to have plenty of time to spend on the sentimental portion of my journey, thanks to good planning on the research side of it!