Visit to historian's office turns up clues to his own past
By Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
Niagara County's newly elected county clerk, whose job includes overseeing the county's efforts at preserving key historical records, recently paid a visit to the county historian's office to explore new policies aimed at making the agency more accessible to the public.
County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski modified work schedules to add 153 hours of office time each year for researchers among the public seeking access to the county's trove of historical and genealogical records. The first person to benefit from that change may have been Jastrzemski himself, however, as his visit opened an unexpected window into his own past.
Jastrzemski, who hails from Wilson, where he served as town supervisor for a decade, originally grew up in North Tonawanda - a city noted for, among other things, its large Polish-American population.
During Jastrzemski's visit with historian's office personnel, Deputy County Historian Craig Bacon surprised his new boss by showing him the record of his own grandparents' emigration to the U.S.
"It was amazing, seeing my grandparents' names in this great big volume, what was called a 'Naturalization Docket' in its day," Jastrzemski said. He and Bacon quickly found his grandfather, Frank, who immigrated from Poland in 1942, and his grandmother, Sophie - who was listed, in 1954, as "Stateless - last of Poland."
The Naturalization Docket volume, which spans the World War II and early Cold War years of the 1940s and 1950s, runs heavy on Eastern European immigration - although Eastern Europe lags far behind the largest group of immigrants to Niagara County, Canadians.
"I've always been a fan of the county historian's office's work," Jastrzemski said, "And when I decided to visit with the staff, I thought I'd have an interesting look at some dusty Civil War-era newspapers and some documents from the county's founding. I never dreamed I'd see something so personal."
Jastrzemski noted the documents came at an important time.
"My mother passed in January, and this was something that I was able to share with my dad, who I know has had family on his mind a lot lately" he said. "It was really special for us to see such an important moment from our family's history there in that book."
The county clerk noted his own experience highlighted the value of the historian's office to county taxpayers.
"We all have family stories, we all have gaps in our family trees we'd like to know more about. Our historian's office is a great place to start looking," Jastrzemski said. "It's also an important tool for scholarly research. Folks should take advantage of this resource, that sometimes gets overlooked since it's one of the smallest parts of our county government."
The Niagara County Historian's Office is located in the former Civil Defense Building, which is also the original home of the Niagara County Clerk's Office. The small stone building, which is adjacent to the County Courthouse in Lockport, is located at 139 Niagara St.
With increasing public access in mind, Jastrzemski set new regular hours of operation for the historian's office: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. The historian's office can be reached at 716-439-7324.
"You just never know what you might find in our historic records," Jastrzemski said. "I should know."
County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski's grandfather, Frank Jastrzemski, is among the names cataloged in a 1940s Naturalization Docket at the Niagara County Historian's Office.