A common problem with photographs passed from generation to generation is that the names of the people pictured often aren't noted, nor is the occasion that brought the people together.

What follows is strictly for people who can trace their ancestry to three Smolinski brothers who emigrated to the United States near the beginning of the 20th Century from a town called Kolno, in what was then Russia-occupied Poland (often listed as Russia-Poland).

To anyone who reads this, please be patient while I provide background. If you spot errors, please contact me with corrections.

My maternal grandparents, Boleslaw (William) and Helena Smolinski, were married before they left Poland. Boleslaw's younger brothers, Ignacy (James) and Joseph, married a few years after they arrived in the United States. James remained in Solvay, NY; Joseph, who had enlisted in the United States Army, was assigned to West Point, and lived most of his life in nearby Highland Falls, New York.

I believe Boleslaw and Helena emigrated a few years before the rest of the family. Initially, they settled in New Jersey, where Helena gave birth to their first child, Wanda, in 1904. Afterward, they returned to Poland where their second child, Boleslaw (William) Jr., was born, in 1906.

Months later, they returned to the United States, this time settling in Solvay, just outside of Syracuse. They had two more children — Helen, in 1908, and Edward, in 1910.

The 1910 United States Census has ten Smolinskis living in Solvay: Boleslaw, Helena and their four children; Ignacy and Joseph, and the brothers' parents, Stanley and Rosa Smolinski. (Living with them was one boarder, Peter Naja, 23, also of Poland.)

STANLEY SMOLINSKI apparently returned to Poland in 1910 or 1911. The 1911 Syracuse Directory lists Ignatz (Ignacy), Joseph and William Smolinski as living at 310 Second Street, Solvay, and notes that Berwis Smolinski was removed to Poland. Berwis Smolinski was listed as living with the other Smolinskis in Solvay in the 1910 Syracuse Directory. I cannot explain the name Berwis, but I suspect it was Stanley who went back to Russia-Poland.

Stanley's wife, Rose, remained in Solvay. My mother, in providing family tree information for my son, Jeffrey, in the 1970s, said Rose had two husbands after Stanley. Whether those marriages were technically legal, I have no idea, because I found no record of a divorce from Stanley, nor an indication that he died.

What I did find on familysearch.org was a record of a marriage in August, 1913 (New York County Marriages, 1908-1936) between Rosie Smolinski, 40, daughter of Martin Koziol and Marian Bugnacki, and Stanley Karulevski, 42, in Onondaga County.

Rosie (aka Rose, Rosa and Rosalia) almost certainly was my great-grandmother. Her maiden name was Koziol, though she must have been at least four years older than the age given.

Karulevski was more often spelled Karolewski. He died in 1915, freeing Rose to marry again. That is, assuming she had been legally free to marry Karolewski.

Meanwhile, on January 12, 1912, Ignacy Smolinski married Jadwiga (aka Iadwiga and Agnes) Baceska (Baczewski).

On April 11, 1915, Joseph Smolinski of the United States Army married Catherine Margaret Lewis, and they lived in Highland Falls.

Which — finally — gets us to the mysterious photograph at the top of the page.

Who's who?
As the notation on the back of the photograph indicated, that is Helena Smolinski standing on the left. She was my grandmother; we knew her best as Nana, and co-workers at the Solvay Process Company, where she was a cook, knew her as Helen. Her maiden name was Kalinowska.

The woman seated is Nana's mother. We knew her as Bobka (BOB-kah), probably how my family pronounced the Polish word "babcia" (bahp-CHAH), which means "grandma." (The "babcia" pronunciation is something I found online. I suspect the emphasis should be placed on the first syllable.)

I assume Bobka's given name was something else, but I never heard what it was. Nor do I know what her maiden name was. As with many people, my interest in family history didn't begin in earnest until most of the people who could help me with first-person recollections were dead. This photo was taken about 20 years before I was born. My personal recollection of Bobka is that she was a widow. I never heard anything about a Mr. Kalinowska, or whether she was married more than once.

Among the Smolinskis, Bobka was grandmother only to the children of Helena and Boleslaw. Yet she was known as Bobka to everyone in the family. Whether my grandmother had siblings, I do not know, though I suspect she did, and that they lived in or around Scranton, Pennsylvania. I do not recall ever meeting any Pennsylvania relatives, but I have photos taken in the early 1930s of my parents, with Nana and my uncle Edward Smolinski, during a trip to Pennsylvania. Other people in those photos are unidentified.

Which gets me to the man identified as "Dziadek", sitting next to Bobka. "Dziadek" (pronounced jah-dek) is a Polish word for "grandpa." This would indicate he is Bobka's husband, but I am not convinced. More on this later.

The man and woman identified as "J. Smolinski's mother and stepfather (Peter Lubak) may well be Rose Koziol Smolinski Karolewski Lubak and her third husband. Until this photo arrived with Kathy Pole's email, I had never seen a picture of my great-grandmother Smolinski, who was the subject of some interesting newspaper stories I discovered on fultonhistory.com.

I have no reason to doubt the identification, though their presence in a photograph with my grandmother, Helen (or Helena) raises the question ...

Newspaper articles reveal Rose Lubak was Peter Lubak's wife in Solvay in the 1920s. They probably were married earlier, but their wedding could not have taken place before 1916, because in 1915 she was Mrs. Stanley Karolewski.

Interestingly, according to Pennsylvania County Marriages (1885-1950), William Smolinski, 28, a native of Poland, and son of Rose and Stanley Smolinski, married Catherine Zalewska, 21, daughter of Anna and John Zalewska, on November 10, 1915, in Hallstead, Pennsylvania. I am not absolutely sure this William Smolinski was my grandfather, but it is a strong possibility.

Which means ... that when the photograph at the top of this page was taken, my grandmother, Helen, who really knew how to hold a grudge, is posing along with the mother of the man who walked out on her a few years earlier. (I do not know if there is any significance to the grim expressions on the faces of everyone in the photo, but suspect that my grandmother, at least, was not a happy camper that day.)

I'm stumped to come up with an occasion for the photo. I'm even more stumped IF the man seated — the man identified as Dziadek — is actually my grandfather, Boleslaw. I raise that possibility only as a possible reason for the photograph — something intended for the children of Helena and Boleslaw, and also because I note some similarity between "Dziadek" and Boleslaw as he appears in his wedding photo (below), taken some 15 years earlier.

I FIND IT difficult to guess the ages of the five people in the photograph at the top of the page. I believe the photograph was taken before 1920, and I arbitrarily set the date as 1917, but can offer no good reason why.

My grandmother, Helen (Helena), was born in 1887. If this photo were taken in 1917, she would have been 30 years old. So far, so good.

Peter Lubak was born between 1882 and 1886. (His obituary in 1961 said he was 76 years old; the United States Census in 1940 listed him as 57 — which would have made him 78 at the time of his death.) Using 1917 as the date of the photo, then he would be between 32 and 34 years of age. I can believe that, though he seems even younger, perhaps in his late 20s.

Rose was at least a dozen years older than her third husband. So she would have been between 46 and 50 years of age in 1917. To me, she looks younger than that in this photo, which may explain Lubak's attraction to her.

I'd guess Bobka was about the same age as Rose, perhaps a year or two older. She seems the oldest person in the photo, and, to my eyes, "Dziadek" looks a few years younger than Bobka.

Why are there flowers on Bobka's lap? Why are the men wearing white bow ties? Why are their flowers in their lapels? Is Bobka marrying "Dziadek"?

My guess at the date of the photograph would suggest it could be connected with another wedding — between Rose and Peter Lubak, but if that were the case, I'd expect them to be seated, with the flowers in her lap. And I can't imagine my grandmother attending.

All in all, it's a puzzlement.

Unfortunately, my mother would not talk about her father. Nor did she ever say much about Bobka, and never mentioned her material grandfather.

I also find it strange that I never saw this photo until it was sent to me by a member of Joseph Smolinski's family, though we remained much closer to the Highland Falls Smolinskis than we did to James Smolinski, his wife and children who lived only a mile away from us in Solvay. In fact, I don't recall ever meeting any of them.

I think if I had, many of my questions would be answered, though it may take a member of the Kalinowska (or Kalinowski) families to identify "Dziadek."

Helena Kalinowska and Boleslaw Smolinski (circa 1902)

As for Kathy Pole, who sent the photo to me, she is the daughter of the late Raymond Mesaris, the only child of Olga Smolinski and Joseph Mesaris. Olga was the daughter of Joseph Smolinski, brother of Boleslaw and son of Rose Koziol Smolinski.

1940 United State Census: Peter Luback, 57, and his wife, Rose Luback, 71, are living in Scranton. The spelling of the last name is one letter different, but I don't doubt these are the Lubaks who lived in Solvay in the 1920s. Peter Lubak will return to Central New York; Rose dies in Pennsylvania in 1940.
1950: According to myheritage.com, William [Boleslaw] Smolinski died this year, in Pennsylvania.
April 17, 1961: Peter Lubak, listed as 76 years old, dies in Syracuse. He is survived by a brother, Felix Lubak, of Syracuse, and a sister, Mrs. Rosalie Kulesa of Poland. (From an obituary in the Syracuse Post-Standard, April 19, 1961).