Tracing his family’s history was man’s passion
By Denise baran-Unland Correspondent November 4, 2012 5:26PM
Updated: December 6, 2012 6:08AM
Chuck Dzarnowski’s youngest brother, Ken, who lives in Florida, is now good friends with a relative he never knew existed, thanks to Chuck’s persistence in following up with genealogical clues.
In 2011, Chuck encountered a cousin who had moved from Poland to Canada and later settled in Florida, just a couple of miles from Ken.
“They meet for breakfast and go to each other’s houses,” said Lorraine Dzarnowski of Shorewood, Chuck’s wife. “It all happened because this cousin had looked at Chuck’s family tree. It’s a small world, like they say.”
Chuck became fascinated with his family’s history after his mother traced it back to the 14th century. When post-polio syndrome forced his retirement in 2000, Chuck made it his “business” to continue the research and update his website’s home page with interesting facts about family members.
Each day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Chuck worked in his basement office, so engrossed that he often forgot about meals.
“One of my daughters-in-law is a triathlete, so he’d post pictures of her meets,” Lorraine said. “He’d update the home page each time someone in the family — living or deceased — had a birthday and add interesting historical facts for that day.”
In addition to using online resources, Chuck cross-checked his findings with a good friend who worked in the Family History Library in Utah, since she had access to sources Chuck did not. Often, Chuck would modify his research based on new information.
Because of Chuck’s detailed website, many people from around the world contacted him to see if he and they might be related. Sometimes Chuck and another individual might share a common last name but after some digging discover they had no familial ties. Other times, new family connections became established.
Eventually, Chuck’s ability to keep up with his “job” faded. The pain from post-polio syndrome already had prevented him from bowling and playing basketball and golf, and Chuck now required periodic steroid injections to manage back pain.
Yet before ill health had the final word (Chuck was 75 when he died Aug. 10), Chuck blessed Bay Cliff Health Camp in Michigan, where Chuck spent seven summers until he was 14 (Chuck contracted polio when he was 4 years old). Because his family was so poor, a county health nurse drove him there and back. In all those years, Chuck’s mother was able to visit only once.
Chuck’s doctors and nurses sent home pictures and wrote letters about Chuck’s progress. Chuck’s mother compiled them into a scrapbook, which Chuck shared with the current staff.
Lorraine plans to donate the scrapbook to the camp as part of the legacy from the bravest man she knew.
“Chuck was a big, gruff man with a burly beard, but he was also a very courageous and sensitive person,” Lorraine said. “He was very self-disciplined. When he decided to do something, he was determined to do it.”
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or