Meeting the other you
Sitting at his desk in Downtown Milwaukee, an email popped up from Jim Owczarski's Twitter account, a direct message from a Tweep: "You dudes gotta be related, right?"
Owczarski was a little confused.
Then his phone buzzed. It was a text message from his wife.
Then another text, from his sister-in-law in the west suburbs of Chicago.
At this point, Owczarski was baffled.
"I'm like, what are you all talking about?" he remembered. "I had no idea. Then I noticed (the tweet) included a link to your first blog post, and I went 'Oh, that's what's going on.' Very cool."
I reached out to Jim Owczarski after this Twitter introduction and we decided to meet.
How could we not?
He seemed to have a sense of humor about it, and I'd never met a Jim Owczarski that's not my dad, so I was curious.
We set the meeting for the Calderone Club on Old Word 3rd Street and the first thing we had to get out of the way was our ages – he's 46, I'm 31. We had to get the whole switched-at-birth thing out of the way immediately.
He is Deputy City Clerk for the City Of Milwaukee, a long time public servant here in the city. We then discovered right away some commonalities:
Our wives are named Michelle.
Our grandfather's name, on our father's side, is Stanley.
We both vehemently protested the use of our full name, James, in favor of Jim at a young age.
He used to be a newspaper reporter, as well, covering government for The Journal.
And, our families settled on the same pronunciation of our surname – Oh-zar-ski.
His family came to Chicago from Poznan, Poland, in the mid-1890s before relocating to Milwaukee in 1917 where his grandfather helped build The Basilica of St. Josaphat and Town of Lake Water Tower.
My family arrived in Chicago in 1906 and put down roots. Our family history, unfortunately, is a bit more blurred at this point as my great-grandparents did not wish to communicate anything about where they came from. They could not speak English, and the younger generations of my family were never taught Polish. We are fairly sure however, that our family did not come directly from a major city like Poznan.
If there is some familial relation, it would probably predate any known record.
It turned out he was the Jim Owczarski I discovered nearly 10 years ago in my first Google search of my name years ago.
He had also discovered me in a similar search years ago, and as a former newspaperman himself, appreciated the grind I was on, covering high school sports as a young reporter. He can also still recall the first time I won a national award.
"I remember the day, very vividly," he said. "I was sitting at home on the laptop at the kitchen table and I was like 'Alright me, nice job.'"
Our meeting lasted about an hour, and we had some fun finding out these commonalities and differences. Both families have history in world conflict, hard labor building structures or working on railroads here in the Midwest, and the humor and stubbornness often found in Polish households.
We also had some fun with our waitress at Calderone's, Jessica Walz, when the check came.
"That's amazing," she laughed. "I feel like I should congratulate you but I don't know for what."
Neither did we, but that was the fun of it.
People search for themselves all the time, for serious things like identity theft protection and for fun things, like finding out other you's are astrophysicists. Social networking and genealogy sites have helped in this way, too, connecting people of the same name from around the globe.
But how often can you find another you, with a relatively uncommon name, living and working in the same city?
"Everybody I've told this to at the Hall and the universal reaction is "No. No," Jim Owczarski said with a laugh. "Now I can build extra levels with 'His wife, his grandpa.' It's funny. I'm sure it's coincidence but it's still pretty cool and I think a pretty unique thing being able to do this."
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