My mother grew up in the small town of Torrington, Litchfield, Connecticut.  The population of Torrington was 36,383 as of the 2010 Census. That may not seem all that small but it is if you’re related to half the town.  Jonas “John Michael” Grinvalsky & Anna Zaharek had seventeen children between 1901-1926, many of whom stayed in Torrrington, CT and had children of their own. John Michael Grinvalsky also had two sisters and a brother that came from Slovakia and settled in Torrington, CT. They all married and had between six and nine children of their own who then would marry and mainly stay in Torrington, CT. Anna Zaharek had two brothers and a sister come over from Slovakia as well and settled in Torrington, CT. Combined her siblings had 20 children born in Torrington who then had children and so on. Remember, this is just my mother’s paternal side.

Mom’s father is James Jacob “Jack/Jake” Grinvalsky, one of the seventeen born to John Michael & Anna Grinvalsky. He would marry Julia Margaret Tomala and have four children, mom being the youngest. In kindergarten, my mother would meet her best friend of sixty two years. They went through school together and both attended St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduation, my mother went to work at Mass General in Boston, Massachusetts. Her best friend returned to Torrington, CT, married her high school sweetheart and had two children.

In 1998 what they had always joked about actually happened. One of her best friend’s sons announced he was engaged to be married. He would be marrying the granddaughter of my mother’s Aunt Susan Grinvalsky [her father’s sister]. The wedding took place in 1999 in Torrington, Connecticut with my mother in attendance. It was a beautiful wedding, but for best friends of 62 years it meant even more. My mother and her best friend were now legally cousins, remain close, and will be attending their 50th High School Reunion together this fall.


If you can believe it, this is just one family. This is my maternal grandfather’s family. The elderly looking woman in the center of the picture actually gave birth to seventeen children – yes I said seventeen. One unfortunately died at a young age. This family picture was taken to commemorate my grandfather’s brother becoming a priest on 26 May 1938.

My grandfather’s father Jonas “John Michael” Grinvalsky was born in current day Slovakia. He and his brother Conrad arrived in New York in 1899 and they moved to Torrington, CT. Anna Zaherek was born in current day Toporec, Slovakia and in 1898 her and her brother James arrived in New York and they moved to Torrington, CT. John Michael Grinvalsky and Anna Zaharek married 9 June of 1900.

In 1901 they had their first child and they would go on to have a total of seventeen. My maternal grandfather was child number eight/ James Jacob Grinvalsky [Yes – I always refer to them by their name and birth order number]. The last child was born in 1926. Family lore says Anna was actually pregnant 20 times, but had three miscarriages. Can you imagine being pregnant for 25 years? Or raising seventeen children? I chalk it up to fertility and devout Catholicism.

What I find strange is that the children did not follow suit and have large families. Most of “The Original Seventeen” as I call them only had one or two. My mother is from a family of four which is the second largest besides Dr. Henry Grinvalsky [number 15] and his wife who had ten. Five originals would never even marry. Maybe, growing up in such a large family they decided to have smaller families, however I can only speculate. Unfortunately, all the originals passed before I started researching my family history. On the bright side it’s been fun tracking down cousins I never knew I had and hearing their stories.

In Beloved Memory Of

Margaret Mary “Marge” (Palker) Grinvalsky

Wife of the late Dr. Henry Grinvalsky