Now they know who they are!

Maria Hughes 2
Maria Hughes 2

Longridge’s Maria Hughes, nee Bryszkiewski, helped to research the Polish side of her family before she died last year– here’s their story so far

WHEN The News profiled Longridge mum, writer and theatre-lover Maria Hughes back in 2005, she had already discovered that the family had a second cousin in Chicago, author and publisher Leonard Kniffel.

He had researched his Polish roots in 2000, written his account in “A Polish Son in the Motherland – An American’s journey Home” and been “discovered” in an initial search in the internet by Maria’s sister-in-law, Anne, widow of her brother Jan.

And that is how the route to the Longridge Bryszciewski family started

Excited correspondence between the families on both sides of the Atlantic followed, with Maria hoping to build on all the new discoveries by writing about them, looking back also on the history of her Polish father, Francizceck, who came to England as a prisoner of war and who met her mum, Kathleen Margerison, when he was working on a farm in Goosnargh.

Maria had also hoped to find more records of the family by visiting Poland – and definitely wanted to meet her second cousin Leonard in Longridge, in the US or even in Poland.

But sadly for Maria, the family and Leonard that was not to be. For this daughter of Longridge who moved away from the place she was born and brought up in a new home in Cl there died suddenly last August at the age of 53 after a short illness.

But she was the middle child of a big, connected family, originally of seven children, and it was the four who survive her and their families who were able to greet Leonard when he came over to meet what he calls his “Polish family in Lancashire” in August, almost a year after Maria’s death.

Her sister, Monica, said: “It was a brilliant success and such an occasion for us all to meet up with Leonard. However, it was also a special time to remember Maria – a kind of tribute to her – to talk about her and her enthusiasm for family history and memories, and to tell Leonard all about her.”

Leonard had arrived in England from the States a few days earlier, been met in York by Anne Bryszciewski and shown the sights of the city before travelling to Longridge the next day where.

He writes in his account of the visit: “The British Bryszciewskis began when Francizceck met his love Kathleen Margerison.

“Anne picks me up with her grandchildren, Jordan and Shannon... various members of the family have assembled at the Old Oak pub to meet me and Anne asks me if I am ready for this and advises that the family is quite an interesting cast of characters!

“As we pull in to Longridge, Anne takes a detour so we can ride past the house at 20 Queens Drive – the family lived there and the children grew up there, her husband (Jan) among them.”

Another sister, Cath, and brother Frank, together with Monica, helped to revive memories as a trip was made to the farm off Pinfold Lane the family rented.

Current members of the family posed for a photo where, 60 years ago, one of “granny and the pig” was taken, granny being Francizceck’s mother-in-law and granny to the cousins the other side of the family, sisters Angie Cole and Sheila Phoenix.

Over dinner, Frank told Leonard how difficult it was for his father in a new land with a new language, with him later working in a factory making synthetic fibres and exposing workers to chemical dangers.

Leonard noticed, however, that the Polish language – which was something Maria had promised herself to learn – was now no longer in evidence in his “new family, but what he quickly realised was that the Lancashire accent of this extended family was sometimes almost as difficult to understand as a foreign tongue!

“It’s an ‘impenetrable dialect – but music to my ears!” wrote Leonard in his account.

“My ears are on overdrive, but I start to see that no-one has any trouble understanding me, as they also understand the English of American music and television.”

He summed up his visit with these words: “When I was a child, it must have seemed to my grandmother that I was lost, always looking for something. For I remember her asking many times ‘what are you looking for?’ and then she would pause and add ‘Yesterday?’

“Perhaps I was looking for yesterday. I would like to tell her that I have found it, and having done so I understand that, known or unknown, it is the past that brought me here and every moment matters.”

How Maria would have loved and appreciated those sentiments, and the fact that these two strands of her family have met at last and forged such close links.