Snow was falling lightly at Krakow International Airport as I waited for my flight to Rome. I had to ruminate over the previous three weeks spent in a city in which I had come to feel very comfortable.
When I arrived in Krakow, I only had an outline of information on my biological mother’s family. I had accumulated some death certificates and I had been able to get a bit of information out of Ancestry.com through my cousin’s account.
I had felt certain that Krakow was the place to visit in Poland because it was near the Ukrainian border and my mother’s family is Polish-Ukrainian. Even though no one had ever uttered “Krakow” in my presence, it just made sense to visit this city and check out any archival information that I might find.
Well, Krakow was a tremendous learning experience. I found that no one in my family had lived in the area. Everyone had actually lived in what is now modern day Ukraine. This is some of the information that I was able to find. I found dozens of family names. I found the actual address of my grandfather! I had only a rough idea of the name of my grandmother’s city. Yet, I nevertheless found the actual city (with the help of my host, Aleksander).
I found professions, religious affiliations. I gathered more information than I expected. Yet, as is common with me, I became frustrated that I hadn’t found yet MORE. What else did I expect? I had the foundation for the information I was seeking. I had the beginnings for my book. Eventually, I realized that Krakow served its purpose. And I fully believe that Lviv will serve its respective purpose.
When I arrived in Krakow, I didn’t know what to expect. I truly went by the seat of my pants. I think I even mentioned such in an earlier posting, lamenting about how, so often, I just blast into something with only the slimmest of preparation. Yet, oftentimes, my efforts yield gold.
And my efforts did such this time, too. I couldn’t have expected to achieve such results in my search. Had I had, at the beginning, the clarity I achieved from Krakow, I might never have even chosen to visit the city.
I think that, sometimes, one must fly by the seat of his pants. Too much information can sometimes be a detriment and an actual obstacle. It can cause a person to overanalyze the situation or superimpose over an issue a problem isn’t there.
Yes, Krakow served its purpose. I won’t lie and say I have everything I need. If I did, why would I continue on to Lviv? I really do wish there had been some way I could have found the family members that currently live in present-day Poland. Maybe that is later.
But maybe finding actual distant relatives is something to be saved for Ukraine. Maybe the information I seek will be there. Will anyone have any information? Will it be weak? Will it entail the people in my family tree? Will it be compelling? Or will it be a dud?
This is what I mean about too much information. I have only documentation about relatives’ existence. I have nothing about their lives. And that is what I seek. If I can tap into what their lives were like during such extraordinary circumstances during their time, I will have found my Atlantis.
My last night in Krakow was spent with Aleksander, my host. I have to admit that I was kind of sad to say goodbye to him, to Krakow, to Main Market Square and my coffee shop. Aleksander had been so much help and so considerate that I felt I had made a friend.
I wanted to treat Aleksander to another nice meal for all his help and information. Was it serendipity that I chose him out of dozens of people on Airbnb? How could it be that I chose to rent a room from a guy who was so knowledgeable about genealogy, political history, social history and geography? How could it be that I chose to stay with a guy who turned out to be so interested in what I was pursuing that he actually helped me search??
Was it divine direction? Was it serendipity? Was it both? Whatever it was, I wasn’t complaining.
Anyway, after a dinner of salad, black ravioli and red wine for Aleksander and Polish tomato soup, perch filet with creamed horseradish sauce and a Kir Royale for me, we chatted about the previous three weeks. Across from us were two American couples chortling happily as they exhorted the waitress to take their photo.
After dinner, Aleksander ordered apple pie and ice cream for dessert and I ordered an Irish coffee. The two couples got up to leave and addressed us.
“We thought about having you take our photos instead of the waitress because we knew you were American”, a lady said.
I introduced them to Aleksander, my host, and they inquired as to what brought me to Krakow. I gave them the crib note version of my labyrinthine life and they stared at me.
“That’s fascinating”! they exclaimed. “And now you’re going to Ukraine? What do you do?”
“I’m a starving American author.” I gave them my business card. One of the gentlemen took it and went to get the coats. “You can read a bit about this journey on my blog or website.”
“How exciting. My husband is Bureau Chief for the New York Times in Warsaw.” I nearly fell off my chair.
The New York Times? Seriously?
Who knows if that chance five minute meeting will lead to anything. But it stokes the fire in my belly to continue to pull a Nike and “just do it”. Without reservation. Without a safety net. Without over-planning.
What does await me in Ukraine???