The Sad Tale of the Zieliński Family of Mistrzewice

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Stanisław Zieliński was born on 6 April 1863, the third child and oldest son of the known children of Michał Zieliński and Antonina Ciećwierz. He married Marianna Kalota, daughter of Roch Kalota and Agata Kurowska, circa 1885, probably in Marianna’s home parish of Młodzieszyn. Unfortunately, most vital records for Młodzieszyn were destroyed, including all marriage records prior to 1889, which likely explains why their marriage record has not been found.  The Zieliński family were ethnic Poles living in historically Polish lands that were at that time part of the Russian Empire. Like his father, Michał, Stanisław Zieliński was a gospodarz, which Shea and Hoffman define as a “farmer (one fairly well off, owning his own land), landlord.”Stanisław and Marianna made their home in Mistrzewice, where his parents were living, rather than in the nearby village of Budy Stare, where Marianna was born.

On 16 September 1886, Stanisław and Marianna welcomed their first child:  a son, Franciszek.  A second son, Antoni, was born on 6 May 1889. However, he only lived for 5 months before passing away on 5 October 1890.  Families were all too accustomed to high infant mortality in those days, so perhaps it was some consolation to Marianna and Stanisław that she was already pregnant with their third child as they buried little Antoni.  Their third son, Piotr, was born on 4 May 1891, but his death was recorded in the parish books of Mistrzewice only one week later.

Little Franciszek had already turned six years old when his brother Józef was born on 10 October 1892. Two years later, on Christmas Eve, another brother, Szczepan, joined the family. Stanisław and Marianna welcomed two more sons, Władysław and Jan, on 20 March 1897 and 20 March 1899, respectively, and then three daughters were born:  Władysława, on 25 June 1901, Marianna, on 14 September 1903, and Zofia, on 25 November 1907.  Sadly, little Marianna lived for just two and a half months2 before she joined her brothers Antoni and Piotr in the parish cemetery.

In March of 1907, Franciszek decided to head out into the world and seek employment opportunities in America.  A young man, 21 years of age, he had already completed three years of compulsory military service in the Russian infantry, which was a distasteful obligation for most Poles. It’s not clear what factors influenced him in his decision to leave his homeland, but at the end of March in 1907, Franciszek departed from the Port of Bremen, arriving at Ellis Island on 7 April 1907. He was bound for Buffalo, New York.

There is some evidence to suggest that Frank’s younger brother, Joseph, joined him in the U.S. circa 1909 and then returned to Poland prior to his “official” arrival in the U.S. in 1912. The best match for Frank Zielinski in the 1910 U.S. census was to a man who was boarding with Anthony and Mary Lapinski in Buffalo, New York, along with another boarder, Joseph “Rzolek,” — and one Joseph Zielinski, all immigrants from Russian Poland. In this document, Frank and Joseph Zielinski are reported to be ages 26 and 20, respectively, suggesting birth years of 1884 and 1890, making them both exactly two years older than expected for my relatives. Frank reported arriving in the U.S. in 1906, while Joseph reported arriving in 1909. (No good match for his passenger manifest circa 1909 has been located as of yet.) Both men were working in a foundry (possibly Lackawanna Steel Company), Frank as a molder and Joseph as a core maker.  These occupations are interesting in light of the fact that Joseph reported his occupation as molder on the record of his 1915 marriage to Genevieve Klaus. Nonetheless, Zielinski is a very common Polish surname — so much so that the 1925 New York State Census shows a 35-year-old boarder named Joseph Zielinski living with the family of my great-grandparents Joseph and Genevieve Zielinski in North Tonawanda. When I asked my grandfather, John Zielinski, about that boarder, he remembered the man and insisted he was not a relative, it was just a crazy coincidence.

There is no evidence to suggest that Frank returned to Poland after his arrival in the U.S. in 1907. However, if the Joseph in the 1910 census is my great-grandfather, then he must have gone back to Poland some time after April 27, 1910 and then returned to the U.S. on 3 September 1912 on the S.S. Grosser Kurfürst, which is the date which corresponds to his arrival per his naturalization papers. The passenger described on this manifest is an incontrovertible match to my great-grandfather. On line 3, “Josef Zelinski” is reported to be a 20-year-old Pole from Russia whose last residence was “Mestanice,” and whose father, Stanisław Zelinski, was living in “Mistrzewice, Warsaw.” Joseph was headed to North Tonawanda, New York, and the second page reveals that he was specifically headed to his brother, Franciszek Zielinski at 7 Sawyer Avenue. His place of birth was recorded as something vaguely akin to “Mistrzewice.” Interestingly, Joseph’s answers to the questions about any previous travel to the U.S, support the idea that he was not in the U.S. previously, and it’s difficult to state with certainty that the Joseph Zielinski in the 1910 census is indeed the same man.

By 1915, Frank was boarding with the family of Joseph and Mary Brodowski at 65 7th Avenue in North Tonawanda and working as a laborer in the steel mill.  His brother Joseph was similarly working in the steel mill while boarding down the street with the family of Peter and Bronisława Kwiatkowski at 44 7th Avenue in North Tonawanda — but not for long.  On 5 October of that year, Joseph married 18-year-old Genowefa (Genevieve) Klaus.

Figure 1:  Józef Zieliński and Genowefa Klaus, 5 October 1915, North Tonawanda, New York.Genowefa Klaus and Jozef Zielinski wedding.jpg

Joseph’s brother, Frank, seated on the bride’s left, was his best man (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Wedding party of Józef Zieliński and Genowefa Klaus, 5 October 1915. Genevieve Klaus & Joseph Zielinski wedding party

Genevieve was born in North Tonawanda to Andrzej and Marianna (née Łącka) Klaus, Polish immigrants from the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire. As Józek and Genia (Joe and Jenny, as they were called in English) settled into married life, however, his family in Poland was experiencing dark days. World War I was raging in Europe, and Mistrzewice, situated in the path of the advancing German army on its way to Warsaw, found itself in the midst of battle. The period from December 1914 through July 1915 witnessed the harshest devastation at the hands of both the Germans and the Russians.  German soldiers stripped homes and farms in Mistrzewice, Młodzieszyn, and the surrounding villages of whatever materials they could repurpose for the building of fortifications and trenches. As the Germany army advanced, many Polish peasants became refugees, fleeing eastward in the hope of survival.  However, as the Russian army retreated, they were ordered to “expel the ‘enemy’ nations within,” killing Poles, Jews, and other ethnic groups in keeping with the Tsarist policy of ethnic homogenization. It is estimated that 70,000 soldiers were killed on both sides during this battle of the Rawka-Bzura, some of whom were buried in the cemeteries in Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn, and there are no good estimates for the number of civilian peasants from this area who were casualities of the war.

It was on August 13 of that year that Frank and Joseph’s youngest sister, 7-year-old Zofia, died. Her death certificate does not reveal her cause of death. Did she die of some childhood illness like her siblings?  Was her death a direct cause of the war — being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of a stray bullet? Or did her family try to flee the village, and she perished as a result of the typhus, choleratyphoid, malaria, or dysentery that were prevalent among both soldiers and refugees? What is clear from her death record is that her death was not reported until 31 December 1915 because of the war (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Zofia Zielińska, 1915.Zofia Zielinska death 1915 cropIn translation, this document states,

“#102. Mistrzewice. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the thirty-first day of December in the year one thousand nine hundred fifteen at five o’clock in the afternoon. They appeared, Piotr Szewczyk, age fifty, and Ludwik Grzegorek, age sixty-eight, farmers residing in the village of Mistrzewice, and stated that, on the thirteenth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred fifteen, at six o’clock in the afternoon, died in the village of Mistrzewice, Zofia Zielińska, a girl having seven years of age, daughter of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna nee Kalota, the spouses Zieliński, land-owning farmers residing in the village of Mistrzewice; born and residing with her parents in the village of Mistrzewice. The delay in the registration of this act happened due to the war. After confirmation of the death of Zofia Zielińska, this document was read aloud to the witnesses but was signed only by Us. [Signed] Fr. K. Kopański, administrator of Młodzieszyn parish performing the duties of civil registrar.”

Just four months after Zofia’s death and two months after his son Joseph’s wedding in North Tonawanda, Stanisław Zieliński passed away on 23 December 1915.3  At the time of his death, his sons Szczepan, Władysław and Jan were 21, 18 and 16, respectively, and daughter Władysława was 14 years old. It’s not clear how, or if, the boys managed to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. Szczepan’s death record in June of 1916 mentions only that he was born in the village of Mistrzewice and was residing there with his mother (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Szczepan Zieliński, 1916.4Szczepan Zielinski death 1916 cropTranslation:

“#78. Mistrzewice. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the sixteenth day of June in the year one thousand nine hundred sixteen at six o’clock in the morning. They appeared, Piotr Szewczyk, age sixty, and Ludwik Grzegorek, age sixty-two, farmers residing in the village of Mistrzewice, and stated that, on the fourteenth day of June in the current year, at six o’clock in the morning, died in the village of Mistrzewice, Szczepan Zieliński, bachelor, aged twenty, son of Stanisław and Maryanna nee Kalota, the spouses Zieliński, landowning farmers; born in the village of Mistrzewice and residing there with his mother. After eyewitness confirmation of the death of Szczepan Zieliński, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed only by us.[signed] Administrator of the parish of Młodzieszyn acting as civil registrar, Fr. Kaj. Kopański.”

Although no mention is made of military service, it is nonetheless possible that the Szczepan was fighting in the war.  A genealogist friend in Poland explained that death records would sometimes state that the deceased was a soldier, and indicate what country he was killed in, but that it depended on the priest.  Many priests were afraid to disclose such information. In the parish of Baranowo, he explained, a priest was killed by a Russian officer for singing the song, “Boże, coś Polskę” Many people lived in fear.

Meanwhile, in North Tonawanda, Joe and Jenny welcomed their first child, John Frank Zielinski (my grandfather), on 18 October 1916 (Figure 5).

Figure 5:  John Frank Zielinski, circa early 1917.John Zielinski circa 1916

But while the family in North Tonawanda thrived and grew, the family in Mistrzewice continued to suffer, and on 13 April 1917, Joe Zielinski’s brother Jan died at the age of 18 (Figure 6).5 

Figure 6:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Jan Zieliński, 1917.Jan Zielinski death 1917 crop

Again, no mention was made of the cause of death, and whether it was a direct or indirect result of the war. The record only states that he was born in the village of Mistrzewice in the local parish and was living there with his mother.

On 6 April 1917, the U.S. declared war on the German Empire, and in June of that year, Joseph and Frank were required to register for the draft. As resident aliens, they were supposed to be placed in Draft Class V:  Exempt and Ineligible. However, local draft boards had the authority to assign draft classes on a case-by-case basis, and Frank Zielinski’s status as a single man with prior military experience and no dependents made him a desirable candidate for the draft, regardless of the fact that he was a Russian citizen. The particulars of Frank’s military story are an interesting tale in themselves (and a topic on which I’ve lectured previously), and deserve to be told in depth at another time. But as his service record indicates, Frank was inducted on 24 February 1918, and sent overseas on 7 April 1918 as a member of the 307th Infantry Regiment, Company C. Frank Zielinski was killed in action on 25 October 1918, shot through the head by a sniper’s bullet.6 The oldest son of Stanisław and Marianna Zieliński is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France, although available evidence suggests that he was never naturalized, and there is no evidence to suggest that he ever wished to be an American citizen (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Gravesite of Frank Zielinski.MA-Zielinski, Frank, C-14-10

Joe and Jenny Zielinski’s second child, Frank Walter, was born  on 2 September 1918, named after his uncle who was serving in the war.  The following spring, Joseph Zielinski filed his Declaration of Intent to Naturalize on 18 March 1919. 7 His family in North Tonawanda was growing, and he must have felt that life in the U.S. was good.  As further evidence of Joe’s intentions to remain in the U.S., correspondence with the U.S. Quartermaster General’s office, dated 13 March 1919, indicates that Joe wished to have his brother’s remains returned home for burial in North Tonawanda (Figures 8a and 8b), although he was concerned about the expense of shipping the body.8 

Figure 8a:  First page of letter from Joseph Zielinski to the Quartermaster General’s Office, dated 13 March 1919.Page 23 March 13 1919 Letter from Joseph Zielinski cropped

Figure 8b:  Second page of letter from Joseph Zielinski to Quartermaster General’s Office.Page 24 Letter from Joseph Zielinski p 2

As the family flourished in the U.S., it continued to diminish in Poland. That autumn, on 30 September 1919, Joe’s 17-year-old sister, Władysława, died in Mistrzewice.7 Her death left only 22-year-old Władysław to manage the family farm and care for his aging mother, Marianna. However, eighteen months later, tragedy struck the Zieliński family in Poland once more, as Władysław Zieliński died on 23 March 1921, a few days after his 24th birthday.10  It’s difficult to imagine what a great loss this must have been for Marianna.  She had borne 10 children, and 9 of them preceded her in death, including 8 children who died before the age of 30. Her only surviving son was living in the U.S., leaving her alone in Poland to manage the farm as a 64-year-old widow.

Władysław’s death was almost certainly the impetus for Joe Zielinski’s decision to move his family back to Poland. Although his uncle’s death was not mentioned by my grandfather, Grandpa clearly remembered traveling to Poland as a young boy, and living there for a period of time that he remembered as about 6 months. Their exact departure date is not known, but they were definitely gone by 28 April 1921.  Additional correspondence from Frank Zielinski’s burial records file indicates that a letter sent to Joe Zielinski was returned on that date, marked “undelieverable” by the Post Office in North Tonawanda with the additional note, “Old Country” (Figure 9):

Figure 9:  Copy of envelope returned to the Quartermaster General’s Office by the North Tonawanda, New York post office.Page 31 Apr 28 1921 Envelope to Jos Zielinski marked undeliverable.jpg

When they departed for Poland in the spring of 1921, Joe and Jenny’s family included 4 1/2 year old John, almost-3-year-old Frank, and baby Helen, born 2 August 1920.  Jenny was also newly pregnant with their fourth child, Stanley Joseph (named after his paternal grandfather Stanisław and his father), who would be born on 11 November 1921. The family traveled on board the R.M.S. Olympic — sister ship to the Titanic (Figures 10a and 10b).

Figure 10a: Original postcard from the Zielinskis’ voyage to Poland, showing the Olympic.R.M.S. Olympic postcard

Figure 10b:  Reverse of the postcard.Reverse of postcard from RMS Olympic

Although he was very young, my Grandpa vividly remembered certain experiences from the trip:  tasting bananas for the first time on board the ship, chasing oranges that the sailors would roll across the ship’s deck for the children, and staring at all the soldiers’ helmets still lying in the creek behind his grandmother’s farm, a grim reminder of the recent war. He recalled riding in a horse-drawn wagon to the markets in Sochaczew and Warsaw. And he remembered his grandmother, Marianna, as a rather unkind woman.  This impression was confirmed by Grandpa’s maternal cousin Julia Ziomek, who was three years older than he, and who shared with me her memories of conversations with her Aunt Jenny about that trip to Poland.  Julia’s stories suggest that Joe and Jenny may have considered this as a permanent relocation.  She recalled that Aunt Jenny had shipped packages of household supplies to Poland in advance of their journey, with the expectation that her mother-in-law would keep these things and have them ready for Jenny to set up housekeeping upon their arrival.  Instead, Marianna deemed the items unnecessary, and donated them to the parish priest, which caused some consternation upon Jenny and Joe’s arrival. Cousin Julia also recalled Jenny’s comments about the unkindness of her mother-in-law to her children, scolding them harshly and calling them “dim-witted.” After only a few months, Jenny was ready to go back home to North Tonawanda, and apparently, Joe was persuaded. On 10 August 1921, my American-born grandfather entered Ellis Island with his family to resume the life they’d left behind.

Marianna Zielińska’s remembered harshness seems much more understandable in light of these new death records that tell the whole story of her suffering and loss.  One can easily forgive a lack of patience with the children, given that she had just buried her ninth child when my grandfather and his family arrived in Poland.  Perhaps she was embittered by so much loss and heartbreak, leaving her fearful of becoming emotionally close to her grandchildren. Perhaps Joe and Jenny tried to persuade her to sell the farm and return with them to North Tonawanda, and Marianna’s ill-temper arose from the stress of having to choose between her surviving son and her homeland.  Although those details are lost, it is known that Marianna remained in Poland, moving in with her sister in Budy Stare. She died on 4 April 1936 (Figure 11).11 

Figure 11:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Marianna Zielińska, 1936.Marianna Zielinska death 1936Translation:

“No. 16, Budy Stare. It happened in Młodzieszyn on 4th April 1936 at 8:00 in the morning. They appeared, Stanisław Wilanowski, age 40, farmer of Mistrzewice, and Kazimierz Tomczak, farmer of Juliopol, age 26, and stated that, on this day today, at 5:00 in the morning, in Budy Stare, died Marianna née Kalota Zielińska, widow, age 79, born and residing with her sister in Budy Stare, daughter of the late Roch and Agata née Kurowska, farmers. After eyewitness testimony to the death of Marianna Zielińska, this document was read aloud to the witnesses but signed only by us. Pastor of the Parish of Młodzieszyn acting as Civil Registrar.”

Rest in peace now, Marianna.  Your story has been told.

Sources:

Where possible, sources are linked directly within the text. Citations for sources not available online appear below.

1 Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, In Their Words:  A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents:  Volume I:  Polish, (New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2000), p. 305.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1903, #102, death record for Marianna Zielińska.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1915, #101, death record for Stanisław Zieliński.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1916, #78, death record for Szczepan Zieliński.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1917, #20, death record for Jan Zieliński.

Report from Private Henry Davies regarding Frank Zielinski’s cause of death, Records of the Quartermaster General’s Office, 1915-1939, Burial Case File for Private Frank Zerlintski, serial number 1680271, Record Group 92, National Archives Identifier 595318, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Niagara, New York, Naturalization Records, Declarations of Intent to Naturalize, #4244, record for Joseph Zielinski, 18 March 1919.

8 Letter from Joseph Zielinski to the Quartermaster General’s office regarding disposition of remains of Private Frank Zielinski, dated 13 March 1919, Records of the Quartermaster General’s Office, 1915-1939, Burial Case File for Private Frank Zerlintski, serial number 1680271, Record Group 92, National Archives Identifier 595318, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1919, #75, death record for Władysława Zielińska.

10 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1921, #24, death record for Władysław Zieliński.

11 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1936, #16, death record for Marianna Zielińska.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Niagara River Stories

Rivers seem to run through my blood.  I was born in Western New York, and my first home was on Grand Island, in the middle of the Niagara River.  I have no memory of living there, because we moved to Omaha, Nebraska before I turned three, and then to Cincinnati, Ohio when I was four, but we would often return to Buffalo to visit family, and eventually moved back to Western New York when I was ten.  Even as a child I was impressed by how the narrow, muddy Ohio River just couldn’t compare to the blue depths of the mighty Niagara.

My Dad grew up on the Island, surrounded by the River.  His family moved there from Buffalo when he was about eight. As a teenager, he and his brother Peter played the dangerous game of going down to the water’s edge in winter and jumping from ice floe to ice floe to see how far out they could get, away from the shore.  As a young man, he would borrow Peter’s boat to court my mother, who lived on the other side of the river in North Tonawanda.  And at the age of forty-three, he survived a plane crash into the Niagara, when the water was only thirty-eight degrees and he had to save the pilot’s life and start swimming to shore while hypothermia was setting in.  But that’s another story for another day.

The Niagara River has been a part of my family history since the late 1700s, when my Loyalist ancestors, Robert and Catherine (née Sternberg) Spencer were granted land overlooking the Niagara River in what is now Niagara Falls, Ontario, in gratitude for Robert’s service in Butler’s Rangers during the American Revolutionary War. Before the war, another river featured prominently in their lives — the Mohawk River in what is now Central New York State.  How do I know this? I’m blessed to know a surprising amount about the lives of these ancestors, thanks to the memoirs written by their grandson, Adam Spencer, which were published after his death as a series of newspaper articles in the Norwich Gazette in 1889.  At present, I have a transcript of these articles published in 1977 in the newsletter of the Canadian Friends Historical Association (Adam Spencer was a member of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers.)1 A transcript isn’t as good as the actual newspaper articles on microfilm, of course, so that’s on my to-do list for needed documents, but this is what I’ve got right now.

canadian-quakers-newsletter1

Most of these memoirs concern the life of Adam Spencer himself, not surprisingly, and my direct line goes through his aunt, Sarah Spencer, who married John Hodgkinson, rather than through him.  So the parts that are most interesting to me are the parts about his grandparents, Robert and Catherine Spencer.  I’ll let Adam tell their story in his own words:

adam-spencer-memoirs-p-1

adam-spencer-memoirs-p-22

I have my doubts about the historical accuracy of certain parts of Adam’s story, particularly regarding Robert Spencer’s birth in Ireland, but that, too, is another story for another day.  Today what impresses me is all the lush detail presented in this passage — so many glimpses into the lives of these ancestors who lived so long ago. I like the image (historically accurate?) of Catherine as a girl of about 10, maybe, rowing across the Mohawk to travel to different parts of her parents’ farm in an era when many girls her age might be stitching samplers.  I can picture her and her young husband Robert as newlyweds, hosting the log-rolling bee to clear the land of timber as they set up their new farm near her parents along the Mohawk.  I honor her courage in packing up her six children and traveling to Montreal to wait out the war, hoping and praying for her husband’s safety. I imagine her affectionate smile as she bundled the child up in warm clothing before climbing into the rowboat on that fateful day as they attempted to cross the river to Fort Niagara.  I like to think that maybe she was watching over her 5x-great-grandsons, my Dad and his brother, keeping them safe when they were jumping from floe to floe in the river in the 1950s.  And maybe she was watching over Dad again on the day his plane crashed, when he was  rescued from the frigid waters of the Niagara before he lost consciousness.

It’s just one river, but it has so many stories to tell.

Sources:

1Spencer, Adam.  “OId Time Experiences In the Bush and On the Farm”.  Canadian Friends Historical Association 19 (March 1977):  p. 1.

2Ibid, p. 7-8.

Cover photo:  Sailboat on the Niagara River in front of Old Fort Niagara, courtesy of MaxPixel.FreeGreatPicture.com, is in the public domain.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

In search of Antonina Naciążek: Mining Geneteka for Clues in Absence of Direct Evidence

The year is drawing to a close. 2017 lies before us, all shiny and new, like a gift waiting to be unwrapped.  Like many of us in the genealogical community, I find New Year’s Eve to be a great time to reflect on the research triumphs and frustrations of the past year, and to make research plans for the coming year. When it comes to genealogical New Year’s resolutions, there are so many ancestors I’d like to learn more about, so many families that I’d like to understand better in their cultural and historical context.  But one of them in particular is at the top of my research to-do list for 2017:  Antonina Naciążek.

Antonina was my great-great-grandmother, notable because she is my only great-great-grandparent about whom I know little more than her name.  My first encounter with her was through the marriage record of her son (my great-grandfather), John Zazycki (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Marriage record for John Zarzycki and Veronica Grzesiak from Buffalo, New York, 5 August 1901.jan-weronika-zazyki-marriage-1

Subsequent research turned up John’s baptismal record in the parish of Rybno, Sochaczew County, Poland, where her name is spelled “Antoniny z Raciążków” (Antonina née Raciążek, Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Baptismal record for Jan Zarzycki, Rybno parish, 5 March 1866.jan-zarzycki-birth-1866

Anyone who’s been doing genealogy for a while is familiar with the inconsistencies in surname spellings that frequently crop up in records prior to the 20th century, and Polish records are no exception.  Typically, however, the variations that one sees revolve around a common root with different endings, e.g. Grzesiak can become Grzeszak, Grzeszkiewicz, Grześkiewicz, etc.  So I was a little surprised to see Maciążek become Raciążek.  In fact, as further evidence accumulated and additional birth, marriage and death records for Antonina’s children were discovered, the most common variant of Antonina’s surname that emerged was Naciążek.  Naciążek appeared in the documents a total of 9 times, while Raciążek appeared 7 times, and Maciążek appeared just twice.

Unfortunately, I have yet to obtain any documentation that indicates Antonina’s parents’ names.  Based on the birth records for her children, I estimate that Antonina was born circa 1828 and married Ignacy Zarzycki circa 1849.  Her children all seem to have been born in the village of Bronisławy and baptized in St. Bartholomew’s church in Rybno.  However, she herself must have been from another parish, because neither her birth or marriage record, nor her death record, was found in the records of Rybno at either the parish or the local civil records office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego, or USC).  A search of Geneteka for Naciążek, Raciążek and Maciążek anywhere in Mazowieckie province failed to produce any birth records for an Antonina born circa 1828.  So where was Antonina from?  Who were her parents?  She was last mentioned as a surviving widow in the marriage record of her youngest son, Leonard Zarzycki, in 1904, so she must have died after that time.  But where?

Geneteka reveals exactly one record that might give us a clue regarding this family’s origins. Figure 3 shows the results of a search of marriage records in Rybno for the Naciążek surname.  Searches for Maciążek and Raciążek produced no results, nor were there any birth or death records for Rybno associated with any of these surnames, apart from records pertaining to known children of Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka.

Figure 3:  Geneteka search results for the Naciążek surname in marriage records for Rybno parish.roch-kowalski-marriage

Of the four records shown, numbers 1, 3 and 4 pertain to known children of Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka.  However, record #2 (boxed in red) is for the marriage of Roch Kowalski to Anastazja Błaszczak.  Further examination of that record (Figure 4) reveals that Roch was “….born and residing in the village of Giżyce, son of the late Aleksander and still-living Marianna née Naciążek, the spouses Kowalski” (text underlined in red), and that he was age 26, suggesting a birth year of about 1877.

Figure 4:  Excerpt of marriage record of Roch Kowalski and Anastazja Błaszczak in Rybno parish, 2 February 1903.  roch-kowalski-marriage-excerpt

Since Roch Kowalski was a contemporary of Antonina Zarzycka’s children, it stands to reason that Roch’s mother was of the same generation as Antonina herself.  Since the parish of Giżyce is located just 8.2 km (about 5 miles) from Bronisławy, and since Naciążek is a relatively rare surname, both in the present-day and historically, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that Antonina and Marianna were related, perhaps even sisters.

Records for the parish in Giżyce are indexed on Geneteka from 1810-1905 with some significant gaps.  One such gap exists from 1826-1890 — during the time when Antonina Naciążek is most likely to have been born (1828-1829).  However, there is a rather tantalizing birth record in 1824 in Giżyce for a Marianna Naciążek, daughter of Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska.  Could this be the same Marianna Naciążek who married Aleksander Kowalski?

Frustratingly, a province-wide search using both the Naciążek and Kowalski surnames does not produce a marriage record for Marianna and Aleksander, which would hopefully reveal Marianna’s parents’ names, nor does it produce Marianna’s death record.  However, it does produce marriage records for four additional children of that couple (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Geneteka search results for marriage records in Mazowieckie province that contain both the Naciążek and Kowalski surnames.naciazek-kowalski-marriages

Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the column after “Naz. matki” indicates that Józefa Kowalska, Ignacy Kowalski, Ludwik Kowalski, and Stanisław Kowalski were all siblings of Roch Kowalski and children of Marianna Naciążek and Aleksander Kowalski.  Examination of the three records for which scans are available indicates that Józefa and Ignacy were also born in Giżyce.

Note that the search result for Józefa Kowalska’s marriage notes an alternate spelling of her mother’s maiden name, “Naciąszek.” Geneteka’s search algorithms do not automatically recognize Naciąszek and Naciążek as phonetic equivalents, so Naciąszek must be searched separately.  This subsequent search in Geneteka for Naciąszek produces an  especially intriguing result: a marriage record in Giżyce for Stanisław Marcinkowski and Marianna Kowalska in 1881 (Figure 6).

Figure 6:  Geneteka search result for Naciąszek surname in Mazowieckie province.marcinkowski-kowalska-marriage

The marriage record itself verifies that this is indeed “our” Marianna Kowalska, widow of Aleksander (Figure 7):

marcinkowski-kowalski-marriage-1856

The underlined text in Russian and Polish reads, “…Marianna Kowalska née Naciąszek, widow of Aleksander Kowalski [who] died in the village of Giżyce in the year 1878; born in the village of Czerwonka, now in Giżyce… residing, age 44.”

Pay dirt!  Although this record does not tell us the names of Marianna’s parents, it does tell us where and when she was born.  Czerwonka is a village that belongs to the parish in Sochaczew, and her age at the time of her second marriage suggests a birth year of 1837.  Clearly, this Marianna can’t be the same as the Marianna Naciąszek born in 1824 in Giżyce. Figure 8 shows the location of all these villages in relation to each other in Sochaczew County.

Figure 8:  Geographic  locations of Giżyce, Bronisławy, Sochaczew and Czerwonka.map-of-czerwonka

Records for Sochaczew are indexed in Geneteka, but unfortunately, there is no perfect match for a Marianna Naciąszek or Naciążek born in 1837 in Czerwonka.  However, there is a reasonably close match:  the birth of a Florentyna Marianna Naciążek in 1836 in Czerwonka, daughter of…. (dramatic music!)…..Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska, the same couple who were the parents of the other Marianna Naciążek who was born in Giżyce in 1824! If the Marianna who was born in 1824 died prior to 1836, it’s possible that her parents would have honored her by naming a sibling Florentyna Marianna but calling her Marianna.  So maybe she’s our bride of Aleksander Kowalski?  Unfortunately — and frustratingly — there is no marriage record to prove it, nor is there a death record for the Marianna who was born in 1824.

 

Let’s take a moment to recap what we know so far:

  • Only one other Naciążek record exists in Rybno parish, where Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka lived.
  • That record is a marriage record for Roch Kowalski, born in Giżyce, son of Marianna Naciążek and Aleksander Kowalski.
  • Roch Kowalski is the same generation as Antonina Zarzycka’s children, suggesting that Marianna Naciążek is of the same generation as Antonina, perhaps even her sister.
  • Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska’s second marriage record reveals her place of birth as Czerwonka (Sochaczew parish) in 1837 and her place of residence as Giżyce.
  • The closest match for Marianna’s birth in the records of Sochaczew parish is for a Florentyna Marianna Naciążek, born in Czerwonka in 1836, daughter of Mateusz and Petronela (née Trawińska).
  • Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska were parents to another daughter named Marianna Naciążek born in Giżyce in 1824.  Although the Trawiński surname is fairly common, the relative rarity of the Naciążek surname makes it likely that this is the same couple as the one mentioned in the records in Sochaczew.

So, the focus is definitely on Giżyce and Sochaczew for the births and marriages of both Antonina Naciążek and her putative sister, Marianna Naciążek. Marriages for Sochaczew are indexed on Geneteka from 1826-1835,and 1879-1901, leaving a gap when Antonina and Marianna would have married, which would explain why her marriage record does not show up in the Geneteka index. Geneteka’s indexed birth records for Sochaczew cover 1781-1802, 1826-1841, 1849-1864, 1868-1870, and 1874-1884. So Antonina’s birth in 1828-1829 should be there, if she were born in Sochaczew.

But what if Antonina were born in Giżyce, and not Sochaczew?  Geneteka has births indexed for Giżyce for 1810, 1823-1825, and 1891-1905, so there’s a gap for both 1828  when Antonina would have been born, and also for 1849, which is approximately when she would have married. Unfortunately, in reviewing the available ranges of years for available records for both Sochaczew and Giżyce on LDS microfilm and at the Polish State Archives, the hope of identifying Antonina’s and Marianna’s parents definitively seems slim. It appears that Geneteka has indexed all the existing records for these parishes, so the records needed to fill those gaps no longer exist.  One of my goals for the new year is to have a researcher in Poland confirm this for me, and verify that there are no additional records available for either of these parishes at the parishes themselves or in a diocesan archive. Even if those early records are gone, and Antonina’s birth and marriage records are lost forever, it should still be possible to track down her death record after 1904, so that’s on my agenda, too.

If you’re like me, you like wringing every last drop of information from a data set, particularly in cases like this where data are limited.  So what else can Geneteka tell us about the Naciążeks in Giżyce and Sochaczew? Figure 9 shows Naciążek births in indexed records for all of Mazowieckie province.

Figure 9:  Geneteka search result for Naciążek births in Mazowieckie province.naciazek-births-in-mazowieckie

I’ve underlined the ones in red that I believe pertain to the same family.  Notice that the father’s name is sometimes recorded as Mateusz and sometimes recorded as Maciej.  This might be an artifact of the transcription and translation process.  Based on my experience with the records from Sochaczew for this time period, these records are likely to be in Latin, and those names in Latin might be written as Mattheus or Matthias — potentially difficult to differentiate if the handwriting is bad.  It’s also possible that the priest used either spelling indiscriminately, especially since he seems to have been a bit careless with Petronela’s name, which is recorded as Trawińska in most of the records, but as Slawińska in one of them.  Copies of these records are available from the Diocesan Archive in Łowicz, and I plan to order those in the New Year, so hopefully the originals can shed some light on this.

Based on these data, and data from the death records as well, a clearer image of the Naciążek family’s timeline emerges:

  • 1824:  Daughter Marianna born in Giżyce.
  • 1826:  Son Michał born in Sochaczew. (Note that there appears to be an indexing error — Michał’s birth is recorded twice, as record #134 and record #136.  Again, a request for the originals will tell us more.)
  • 1832:  Son Stanisław Andrzej born in Sochaczew.
  • 1834:  Son Ignacy born in Sochaczew.  (Again, this record is indexed twice under both variants of the father’s name, Maciej and Mateusz, but in this case the same record number, 100, makes it clear that there is only one birth record.)
  • 1836:  Daughter Florentyna Marianna born in Sochaczew.
  • 1837:  Son Ignacy dies in Sochaczew.
  • 1840:  Son Jan dies in Sochaczew.  Jan is noted to be 6 days old, and birth records for Sochaczew exist for the time of his birth, so it’s unclear whether his birth record is missing due to an omission by the priest or by the indexer.

If great-great-grandma Antonina does, in fact, belong to this family, her birth would fit into that 6-year-gap between Michał’s birth in 1826 and Stanisław Andrzej’s birth in 1832. Since her birth was not captured in the records for Sochaczew, it’s possible that the family returned to Giżyce for that time period.

One final record worth noting that pertains to the Naciążek family in Sochaczew and Giżyce is the marriage record in 1826 of Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska.  (Figure 10).

Figure 10:  Geneteka search results for Naciążek marriages in Mazowieckie province.franciszek-and-marianna-naciazek

Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the “uwagi” column reveals that the groom, Franciszek Naciążek, was from Giżyce although the wedding took place in the bride’s parish in Sochaczew. Franciszek and Marianna could also be potential parents for Antonina Naciążek, although they seem to disappear from the records.  They are not mentioned as parents on any of the indexed birth records in Mazowieckie, and the only other mention of them is in Marianna’s death record in Sochaczew in 1844.

Despite the lack of direct evidence concerning Antonina Naciążek, the indexed records in Geneteka offer a powerful tool for gathering hints about her possible family origins.  While it’s disappointing that Antonina’s birth and marriage records may no longer exist, there’s still some hope of finding her death record, and Sochaczew and Giżyce would be logical places to look for it.  Maybe 2017 will be my lucky year in terms of locating that document, and maybe I’ll get even luckier and it will include her parents’ names, so I can know for certain whether Antonina Naciążek is the daughter of Mateusz and Petronela (née Trawińska) Naciążek. May 2017 be a lucky year for your genealogical research as well. Here’s to finding our dead ancestors!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

 

 

Playing “Telephone” Across Generations: Documenting Family Stories

Family stories are always the starting point for genealogy research. Beginners are typically instructed to start with themselves and work backwards, interviewing older family members or generational peers to discover what they remember, or remember hearing, about past generations. Often it feels like a game of “telephone” played out over many decades. You may remember “telephone” as that game in which a number of players stand in a circle, and a complicated phrase is whispered from one person to the next. Repetition is not allowed, so although each person does his best to listen carefully, the phrase becomes distorted, often comically, as it is passed around. Finally the result is whispered to the person who began the game, who announces what the original phrase actually was, and everyone gets a good laugh. As family historians, our job is to sift out the wheat from the chaff, using our ancestors’ paper trail to document what we can from the family stories, but keeping in mind that not everything we were told is going to be verifiable.

I became interested in my family history soon after I was married in 1991. My husband and I were incredibly fortunate to have six living grandparents at that time, as well as plenty of their siblings still living. As I’ve tried to document all the many bits of information I gathered from them, one truth in particular has emerged:  if an older relative remembers a specific name, it’s safe to say that the person is connected to the family in some way, even if it’s not in the way that he or she remembers. Remembered names aren’t just pulled out of thin air.

As one example of this, I interviewed Uncle Mike Stevenson (Szczepankiewicz) about the Szczepankiewicz family history. Uncle Mike was the youngest brother of my husband’s grandfather, Stephen Szczepankiewicz. Although he knew a great deal about his father from his mother’s stories, Uncle Mike had never met him: he died on 14 February 1926,1 and Uncle Mike was born 3 months later, on 23 May 1926.Nonetheless, Uncle Mike proved to be a reliable source. He told me that his father, Michael Szczepankiewicz, had never naturalized. This assertion is validated by the 1925 New York State census, in which Michael Szczepankiewicz is listed as an alien (Figure 1):3

Figure 1:  Extract of 1925 New York State census showing Michael Szczepankiewicz and family.3michael-szczepankiewicz-family-1925

This extract shows that 49-year-old Michael Szczepankiewicz was born in Poland, had been living in the U.S. for 20 years, was an alien (“al”) at the time of the census, and was employed in “building labor.” Since Michael died in 1926, and the naturalization process took longer than a year, it would not have been possible for him to naturalize prior to his death. Uncle Mike also mentioned that his father was a stone mason who helped to build Transfiguration Church in Buffalo. Although I have yet to document this directly (maybe payroll records exist in the archive of the diocese of Buffalo dating back to the construction of Transfiguration Church?), the fact that Michael was a construction laborer is consistent with that claim.

When I asked Uncle Mike about the family of his mother, Agnes (née Wolińska) Szczepankiewicz, he told me that Agnes’s mother was named Apolonia Bogacka. Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out. Records showed that Agnes’s mother’s name was Tekla, as shown by the 1892 census for New York State (Figure 2): 4

Figure 2:  Extract from 1892 census of New York State showing the family of Joseph Wolinski, including wife “Teckla” (sic).4wolinski-family-1892

So where did the name “Apolonia Bogacka” come from? The answer was found in the 1900 census (Figure 3).5  Living with Joseph Wolinski’s family is his mother-in-law, “Paline” Bogacka.  The name “Pauline” was commonly used by women named Apolonia in the U.S. as a more American-sounding equivalent.

Figure 3:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal census showing the family of Joseph Wolinski, including mother-in-law “Paline” (sic) Bogacka.5joseph-wolinski-family-1900-census

So it turns out that Uncle Mike’s great-grandmother had also emigrated, and he was confusing her name with the name of his grandmother!

As another example, my grandfather’s first cousin, Jul Ziomek, told me in a 1992 interview that the mother of her grandmother, Mary (née Łącka) Klaus, was named Janina Unicka. Jul was a very reliable source in other matters, but in this case, her memory did not serve her well. The civil record for Mary Klaus’s second marriage, to Władysław Olszanowicz, tells us that her mother’s name was (phonetically) Anna “Taskavich” (Figure 4).6

Figure 4:  Civil marriage record from North Tonawanda, New York, for Mary Klaus and Władysław Olsanowic (sic).6mary-klaus-second-marriage

The correct spelling of Mary’s mother’s name in Polish is found on Mary’s baptismal record from her home village of Kołaczyce — she was Anna Ptaszkiewicz (Figure 5).7

Figure 5:  Baptismal record from Kołaczyce, Austrian Poland for Marianna Łącka.7marianna-lacka-birth

The section of the record in the red box pertains to the mother of the child and reads, “Anna filia Francisci Ptaszkiewicz ac Salomea nata Francisco Sasakiewicz.” For those who might be unfamiliar with Latin, this translates as “Anna, daughter of Franciszek Ptaszkiewicz and Salomea, daughter of Franciszek Sasakiewicz.”

Believe it or not, it’s quite reasonable, based on Polish phonetics, that an English speaker might come up with a spelling of “Taskevich”for “Ptaszkiewicz.”  But no matter how you slice it, this is pretty far off from “Janina Unicka.”  So where did Jul come up with that name? The 1910 census gives us a clue (Figure 6):8

Figure 6:  Andrew Klaus family in the 1910 U.S. Federal census.8andrew-klaus-fam-1910

Living with the family of Mary Klaus, there is a boarder named John Unicki.  At this point I have traced Mary Klaus’s family back in Poland for another 3-4 generations, which is as far back as existing vital records go, and I’ve seen no evidence of the Unicki surname anywhere in the extended family tree.  I’ve concluded that cousin Jul’s memory was inaccurate on this point. It must have been dim memories of this boarder, Jan Unicki, living with her grandparents that caused her to associate the name “Janina Unicka” with her grandmother’s family.

As one final example, my husband’s grandfather, Stephen Szczepankiewicz, told me that his father, Michael Szczepankiewicz, immigrated from Russian Poland to Buffalo, New York, along with four brothers and no sisters. He recalled the names of his father’s brothers as Bernard, Felix, Alexander and Joseph. It turns out that he was partially correct.  Further research indicates that his father did indeed have brothers who also emigrated from Poland to Buffalo who were named Bernard (Anglicized from Bronisław), Alexander, and Joseph.  What Grandpa didn’t know was that there were two more brothers who emigrated, Adam and Walter (also known as “Wadsworth” — both names are Anglicized versions of his Polish name, Władysław), as well as a sister, Marcjanna, who emigrated to Buffalo along with Bronisław and then disappears from records there (Figure 7):9

Figure 7:  Passenger manifest for Marcyanna and Bronisław Szczepankiewicz, arriving in the port of New York on 3 May 1902.9marcjanna-manifest-cropped

 

Try as I might, I could not document a brother named Felix/Feliks Szczepankiewicz, or find one with a name that was even close to that.  Why would Grandpa remember an Uncle Felix if there never was one? Well, it turns out that there was an Uncle Felix, but it was on his mother’s side, not his father’s side. Grandpa Steve’s mother was Agnes/Agnieszka Wolińska.  If we take a closer look at that 1892 census for the Woliński family shown in Figure 2 and the 1900 census shown in Figure 3, the oldest child in the family is Feliks.  So it seems likely that Grandpa was just mixing up which side of the family Uncle Feliks was from.

As is evident from these examples, family stories work best when used as a starting point for genealogy research, but we can’t let our research end there. Time can play tricks with people’s memories, so it’s important to attempt to document everything we’ve been told.  If conflicts exist between the story and the evidence, consider how these might be reconciled.  As you document each story, you’ll begin to get a sense of the reliabilty of each relative’s memory. If you have any particularly wild stories that you’ve been able to document, please let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear about them!

Sources:

Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Certificates,1926, certificate #1029, record for Michael Sczepankiewicz (sic).

“United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VMDV-RJ7 : 20 May 2014), Michael A Stevenson, 28 Apr 2011; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing), accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, New York, State Census, 1925 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), http://www.ancestry.com, Record for Stepahn Szczepankiewicz, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, New York, State Census, 1892 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), http://www.ancestry.com, Record for Joseph Wolinski household, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1900; Census Place: Buffalo Ward 9, Erie, New York; Roll: T623_1026; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 69, record for Joseph Wolinski household, accessed on 8 November 2016.

6 “New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936″, database, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Family Search, (https://familysearch.org), Wladyslaw Olsanowic and Mary Klaus, 21 Nov 1916; citing county clerk’s office, , New York, United States; FHL microfilm 897,558. accessed on 8 November 2016.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889”, Stare Kopie, 1866, #20, Record for Marianna Łącka.

Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1910; Census Place: North Tonawanda Ward 3, Niagara, New York; Roll: T624_1049; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 0126; FHL microfilm: 1375062, record for Andrew Klaus, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1902; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 0272; Line: 5; Page Number: 132, record for Marcyanna Sczezyoankiemg, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Fun With Genetic Genealogy, Revisited

Back in July, I wrote about a recent DNA match whose great-grandmother, Catherine (née Ptaszkiewicz)  Grzebińska of Buffalo, New York, seemed likely to be the double first cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Łącka) Klaus.  Marianna had a known double first cousin named Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz whose birth record I had obtained from the parish records of their home village in Kołaczyce in what is now the Podkarpackie province of Poland. The DNA evidence was consistent with the relationship I hypothesized, and the birthdate of “my” Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz was fairly close to the estimated birth date of Catherine (née Ptaszkiewicz)  Grzebińska.  However, my newfound cousin did not have a marriage or death record for his Great-Grandmother Grzebińska, so we had no documents indicating her parents’ names or her place of birth.  The year of immigration reported on the 1900, 1920, and 1930 censuses was the same for both John and Catherine Grzebiński, suggesting that they might have married in Poland and emigrated together.  With this in mind, I requested a search of the records of Kołaczyce from the ever-reliable Lucjan Cichocki, whom I frequently work with when I need records from that part of Poland.  He was unable to find a marriage record for Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz, suggesting that the marriage might have taken place in Buffalo.

This past weekend, I was in Buffalo giving a talk for the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State, and I planned an extra day into my trip for some research at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  The Library has a fine collection of Buffalo church records on microfilm, and it was there that I hoped to find the marriage record for John and Catherine Grzebiński.  Sure enough, there it was, in the collection of marriage records from St. Stanislaus Parish (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Record of marriage of Jan Grzebiński and Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz on 24 July 1884 at St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, New York.1jan-grzebinski-and-katarzyna-ptaszkiewicz-1884-closeup

The record states that Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz was the daughter of “Franc. P.” (i.e. Franciszek Ptaszkiewicz) and Anna Łącka, and that she was born in Kołaczyce, exactly as the earlier evidence predicted.  What a nice, tidy way to wrap up a little genetic genealogy puzzle!

As I thought about this, I wondered if my great-great-grandmother Mary Klaus was close with the family of her cousin.  Surely she would have known that her first cousin (double first cousin, no less!) was also living in Buffalo.  But did the families socialize together much?  Amazingly, I found the answer to my question in those very same records from St. Stanislaus Church.  While searching baptismal records for children of Katarzyna and Jan Grzebiński, I stumbled across a baptismal record I’d somehow missed before. Apparently, my great-great-grandparents Andrzej and Marianna Klaus had a child that must have died young, a child unknown to subsequent generations of the family, until now.  In 1895, there was a baptismal record for a Bolesław Klaus, son of Andrzej Klaus and Marianna Łącka (Figure 2)!2

Figure 2:  Baptismal record for Bolesław Klaus, born 24 October 1895 in Buffalo, New York.boleslaw-klaus-1895-crop

The godfather’s name, underlined in red, is a bit hard to make out in that version of the record, but this expanded version (Figure 2a) reveals that he was none other than Jan Grzebiński.

Figure 2a:  Close-up of baptismal record for Bolesław Klaus, showing godfather’s name as “Grzebiński Jan.”jan-grzebinski

The fact that Marianna Klaus asked her cousin’s husband to be godfather to her child suggests that the two families were on good terms.

This record was also an interesting find for me because it helps me to date the arrival of my Klaus ancestors in Buffalo.  Prior to this, I knew only that they were in Buffalo by September 1897 when my great-grandmother Genevieve (Genowefa in Polish) was born there.3  Before that time, the family was living in St. Louis, Missouri, where their daughters  Anna and Pauline were born in 18924 and 1894,5 respectively.  So until now, I knew only that they arrived in Buffalo some time after January 1894 and before September 1897. This baptismal record for Bolesław demonstrates that they were already in Buffalo by October 1895.  All in all, it was a very successful research trip to Buffalo.  It’s such a thrill when all the puzzle pieces fall into place!

Seeing as how I’m stoked about the wonderful discoveries that can be made via genetic genealogy, I’d love to win a copy of Blaine Bettinger’s new book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy.  Geneabloggers is giving away a free copy, and if you check out this link, you can enter the giveaway, too.  Good luck, and happy researching!

Sources:

1Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, New York), Marriages, 1874-1917, 1884, #42, record for Jan Grzebiński and Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz.

2Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1895, #757, record for Bolesław Klaus.

3Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1897, #620, baptismal record for Genowefa Klaus.

4Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), “Church records, 1880-1993,” Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1892, #127, record for Anna Klaus.; 1872178.

5Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), “Church records, 1880-1993,” Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1894, #2,  record for Apolonia Klaus.; 1872178

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Have you ever known something about your family for a fact, yet discovered through research that it’s just not true after all?  I’ve had this experience very recently, and it came about as a result of this blog post.  Recently, my mother-in-law’s cousin shared with me this photograph (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Konczal Fabiszewski family circa 1906 lower resolution 001He wondered if I might have any insight into who the people were.  I was excited to see the photo, and believed I could tell him exactly who these people were because Grandma Barth showed me this same photo before she died, and filled me in. I thought this photo would be a nice subject for a blog post, so I started to gather a bit of background documentation to provide some insight into the lives of the people shown here.  In the process,  I’ve discovered that things aren’t really what they seemed, and maybe — just maybe — Grandma might have been wrong about a thing or two.

I admit that I haven’t done much research with Grandma’s family.  She had accumulated so much information on her own, including where her family had come from in Poland, and preliminary research showed her information to be pretty accurate.  So it was easy to accept all her information as fact, and put this on the back burner while working on lines that seemed more challenging.  By way of background, Grandma Barth’s parents were Albert Drajem and Mary Kantowska, both born in Buffalo, New York, to Polish immigrants.  Mary Drajem, Grandma’s mother, was the fourth of seven children born to John Kantowski and Mary (née Kończal) Kantowska, who came to Buffalo from Łabiszyn, a small town in what is now Żnin County in the  Kujawsko-Pomorskie province of Poland, but what was at that time part of the Prussian Empire.  According to Grandma Barth, her maternal grandmother, Mary Kantowska, had several siblings who also eventually settled in Buffalo:  a brother, John Kończal, and sisters Katherine and Josephine.  Grandma also reported that Katherine married Constantine Fabiszewski and had seven sons, while Josephine married Teofil Mroziński, and had four children.  It is the Fabiszewski family —  Constantine, Katherine, their children, and an old woman, whom we’ll discuss more closely in a moment — who are shown in this photograph.

The Fabiszewski Family of Buffalo, New York

Figure 2 shows the Fabiszewski family in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census:

Figure 2:  Extract of 1910 U.S. Federal Census for Buffalo, New York, showing the Constantine Fabiszewski family:

Fabiszewski family 1910 census

Based on their heights in this photograph, it seems logical to infer that the oldest son, Peter, is standing in the back row, behind his father, with his brother Casimir to the left in the photo, and Leon to the left again, behind the old woman.  The fourth-oldest son, Frank, appears to the be boy holding the candle and prayer book, both of which suggest that this portrait was taken on the occasion of his First Communion.  The very youngest son, Stanislaus, is standing between his parents, with Joseph and Anthony to the left in the photo of the old woman.  So who is the old woman?

The Mysterious Anna (née WoźniakKończal

Grandma Barth told me that this woman was her own great-grandmother, that her name was Anna (née WoźniakKończal, and that she was the mother of Katherine Fabiszewski, John Kończal, Josephine (née Kończal) Mroziński, and Mary (née Kończal) Kantowska (Grandma’s grandma).  Grandma remembered her vividly, even though Grandma was only six years old when Anna died in 1922.  She’s buried in St. Stanislaus Cemetery, whose records indicate that she was 60 when she died,conflicting with Grandma’s assertion that her great-grandmother died at the age of 70.  In 1920, per both Grandma and the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Anna was living with the family of her daughter Mary Kantowski, in the same house as Grandma Barth’s family (Figure 3):

Figure 3:  Extract of 192o U.S. Federal Census for Buffalo, New York, showing the Kantowski and Drajem families at 221 Clark Street.  Anna Konczal is noted as mother-in-law to head of household, John Kantowski. 1920 Census Kantowski family

Grandma Barth appears in this census as “Jennie,” age 3 years 8 months.  The census indicates that Anna is a 70-year-old widow (Grandma wins on the age question!) and a resident alien who immigrated in 1891.  This immigration year is in contrast to her daughter Mary, who immigrated in 1886 with her husband John.

That 1891 immigration year gave me a good lead in finding her passenger manifest,2 which shows Anna and daughter Josepha Konszal (sic) arriving at the Port of New York on 19 November 1892 (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Passenger manifestfor Anna and Josepha Konszal (sic), 19 November 1892:Konszal passenger manifest 1892

 

Anna is 40 here and Josepha is 16, which is consistent with their dates of birth from other sources.  They’re from “Clotildowo, Germany,” which fits nicely with the village of Klotyldowo, a village which belonged to the Catholic parish, in Łabiszyn.  They’re headed to Buffalo, New York, which makes sense.  So we know that Anna came over with the then-single Józefa, but was living with her daughter Mary in 1920.  Where was Anna during those intervening years?

Well, ten years earlier, in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Anna Kończal  seems to be found living with her daughter, Józefa Mrozińska, and family (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Extract from the 1910 U.S. Federal Census for Buffalo, New York, showing the Mroziński family.Teofil Mrozinski family 1910 census

Although we suspect immediately that this is really “our” Anna Kończal and not Teofil’s mother, there are a couple of problems.  Anna’s name is misrendered as “Kończak” instead of “Kończal,” and she is erroneously reported to be Teofil’s mother, and not his mother-in-law.  However, “Kończak” seems pretty close to “Kończal,” and her age and year of immigration match up nicely with the information for “our” Anna that was reported on the 1920 census.  Unfortunately, it can be argued that these latter facts might also be true for Teofil’s mother, so they don’t constitute irrefutable evidence that this Anna is his mother-in-law and not his mother.  Perhaps his mother remarried a man named Kończak after Teofil’s father died, so she was no longer “Mrs. Mrozińska” at the time of the census.  Fair enough.  So how do we resolve this problem?

Next stop, Pennsylvania

Well, Teofil and Josephine’s marriage record should tell us their parents’ names.  Where do well look for that record?  If you’ll notice, the final column on the right in Figure 4 indicates that the oldest two Mroziński children, Stanislaus and Casimir, were born in Pennsylvania, while the younger two were born in New York. Similarly, if you go back to Figure 1, you see that the oldest two Fabiszewski boys, Peter and Casimir, were also born in Pennsylvania.  These data suggest that both the Mrozińskis and the Fabiszewskis might have married in Pennsylvania, prior to the births of their children there.  Sure enough, I found records of marriage for both couples in Shamokin, PA.

The  Mrozińskis’ marriage record  (Figure 6) gave valuable information, but no surprises.

Figure 6:  Marriage certificate for Teofil Mroziński and Józefa Kończal, 1894.Teofil Mrozinski and Jozefa Konczal marriage 1894 crop

Both the bride and groom are from Prussia, consistent with the “German Polish” notation found on census records.  Teofil was living in Shamokin and working as a miner.  His parents were Andreas Mroziński and Rozalia Mrozińska (no maiden name provided).  Josephine was also living in Shamokin, working as a domestic, and her parents’ names are given as Franciszek and Annie Konczal [sic].  Taken together, these facts offer conclusive evidence that the “Anna Kończak” living with the Mroziński family in Buffalo in 1910 really is Teofil’s mother-in-law, and not his mother.

Will the Real Katherine Fabiszewski Please Stand Up?

However, the real surprise came with the marriage record for Josephine’s sister, Katherine, to Constantine (Konstanty, in Polish) Fabiszewski (Figure 7):

Figure 7:  Marriage certificate for Konstanty Fabiszewski and Katarzyna Kubiak, 1894.

Konstanty Fabiszewski and Katherine Konczal 1894 crop marked

Katherine’s name is given as Katarzyna Kubiak, not Kończal, and she’s the daughter of John and Agnieszka Kubiak!  What?  How can that be?  Grandma said that Katherine was sister to John, Mary and Josephine Kończal, and she’s been right about everything else so far!  How could Katherine be a Kubiak?  Could there be two Konstanty Fabiszewskis in Shamokin, both about the same age, both married to women named Katherine?  Well, stranger things have happened, but then where is the marriage record for Katherine Kończal? And didn’t Grandma say that her great-grandmother’s name was Anna (née WoźniakKończal, not Anna (née KubiakKończal?

At this point, I don’t have enough data to resolve this problem.  More work needs to be done. Grandma Barth has proven to be a very reliable source in the past, but this could very well be an instance in which she’s wrong.  I looked back to see where Grandma might have gotten the idea that the surname Woźniak was associated with this family, and found it in Mary Kantowska’s birth certificate, an official copy of which Grandma had carefully preserved (Figure 8):

Figure 8:  Official transcript from 1906 of Mary Kantowska’s 1891 baptismal record from St. Stanislaus Church, Buffalo, New York

Maria Kantowski 1891.jpg

This indicates that Mary Kantowska’s parents were, in fact, John Kantowski and Maria Kończal, and that her godparents were John Kończal and Anna Woźniak. John Kończal is likely to be Mary (née Kończal) Kantowska’s brother, whom Grandma mentioned among the known Kończal siblings. So Woźniaks might indeed be connected to the Kończal-Kantowski family, but this does not explain why Katherine, who was purportedly”née Kończal” Fabiszewska, is actually Katherine, née Kubiak, Fabiszewska.

The Poznań Project Weighs In

Some interesting insight is gained by search results from the Poznań Project. A search for Franciszek Kończal and Anna, no surname specified — which are the names reported for Josephine’s parents on that marriage record — reveals the following (Figure 9):

Figure 9:  Extract of results from Extended Search in the Poznań Project for marriages between grooms with name Franciscus/Franz/Franciszek Konczal and brides named Anna.Franciscus Konczal and Anna Kubiak Poznan Project hit

Here we see Kubiak again, and in Łabiszyn, the home parish of Grandma’s Kończals.  Anna Kubiak’s age in this record suggests a birth year of 1844 –older than what we would expect based on U.S. records, which point to a birth year of 1850-1852, but within the ballpark.  Moreover, a search for Jan Kubiak and Agnieszka, no surname — the names reported for Katherine Fabiszewski’s parents — produces this hit (Figure 10):

Figure 10:  Extract of results from Extended Search in the Poznań Project for marriages between grooms with name Joannes/Jan/Johann Kubiak and brides named Agnes/Agnieszka.

Jan Kubiak and Agnes Konczal

Curiouser and curiouser!  Same parish, and it would seem that Katherine Fabiszewski’s mother was a Kończal.  Taken together, this might suggest a case of siblings marrying siblings — perhaps Joannes Kubiak and Anna Kubiak were siblings, and they married siblings Agnes Kończal and Franciscus Kończal.  The records from Łabiszyn and Buffalo will tell us for sure.

The Mysterious Anna (née Woźniak) (née Kubiak) Kończal

So where does this leave us?  Who IS the woman in the photo, after all?  Is she Grandma Barth’s great-grandmother, Anna (née Kubiak) Kończal?  If so, why is she in a portrait with the family of her probable niece, and not her daughter?  Was Grandma mistaken, and this photo shows Katherine Fabiszewski and her family with her own mother, Agnes (née Kończal) Kubiak?  It appears that Grandma was misinformed about Katherine Fabiszewski being a sister to her own mother, Mary — present data suggest that they were cousins, or perhaps double cousins, but not siblings.  Yet one wonders if it’s even possible that Grandma would misidentify her own great-grandmother in a family photo.  Like Grandma Barth, I was six when one of my great-grandmothers died, and I can easily pick her out in old family photos.  The very fact that this photograph was handed down in Grandma’s family, and not just in the Fabiszewski family, suggests that it was significant to both families, possibly due to the image of a shared great-grandmother.  Moreover, when Anna Kończal died in 1922, her daughter Mary Kantowska was 54, and her granddaughter Mary Drajem (Grandma Barth’s mother) was 31.  Surely they were the ones to pass this photo down to Grandma Barth, and they would have been able to correctly identify their own mother and grandmother.

There are two final bits of information that we can wring out of that 1910 census listing for Anna Kończal in Figure 4.  The “M1” in the column after age tells us that Anna Kończal was married once, and that she’s been married for twenty years.  The next two numbers tell us that she was the mother of six children, three of whom were still living at the time of the census. Starting with those numbers about Anna’s children, the fact that is says three children still living at the time of the census is significant — not four, Katherine, John, Mary and Josephine — as Grandma Barth recollected.  This would make sense if Grandma was wrong about Katherine Fabiszewska being one of the Kończal siblings.   The next bit, about the “M1/20” only adds to the confusion, however.  Josephine Mrozińska is reported to be 36 years old at the time of this 1910 census — making her 16 at the time of her mother’s wedding, if her mother’s only been married 20 years.  So the census-taker appears to have erred with at least some part of that story.  Either this is a second marriage for Anna, or she’s only been married once, but Josephine was born 16 years out of wedlock.

It’s hard to think of a single hypothetical scenario that would resolve all these conflicts in the data. I considered the fact that perhaps Anna Woźniak was married twice — first to a man named Kubiak, with whom she had Katherine, and then to Franciszek Kończal, with whom she had Josephine, John and Mary.  But if that were the case,then the mother’s name reported on Katherine Fabiszewska’s marriage record should be Anna, and not Agnieszka, and we would expect to see two marriage records for Anna in the Poznań Project.  It’s possible that mistakes were made in recording the census, and also possible (though it seems less likely) that a mistake was made in the marriage record.  Further research should be able to resolve these conflicts and reveal the full story.  In the meantime, we’re left with something of a mystery, and questions today where I thought I had answers yesterday.

Sources:

Note:  Where possible, links are provided to sources online.  Other sources are summarized below.  

1St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Cemetery (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA) to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Phone Call, Inquired about a burial for Anna Konczal.  Was informed that she died on April 23, 1922 at age 60 and was buried April 26, 1922  in Sec. K, Lot 79, Grave 7.  Her funeral was at Corpus Christi Church and Urban Funeral Home.

2Anna Konszal, 19 Nov 1892; citing departure port Rotterdam, arrival port New York, ship name Werkendam, NARA microfilm publication T715 and M237 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), accessed on 30 August 2016.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

Walter Wed Where? Wow! A Genealogical Breakthrough

The sweetest victories are the ones that took the longest time in coming.  A couple days ago, I happened upon some documents that fundamentally changed my understanding of my Grzesiak family history, documents I’ve been seeking for many years.  So there is some major happy dancing going on in the Szczepankiewicz house today, albeit limited to just one of its residents.

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo and Buffalo, New York

In a previous post, I wrote a little about the family of my great-grandmother, Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki.  Veronica immigrated from the little village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County to Buffalo, New York, where she was eventually joined by three of her siblings:  Władysław (“Walter”), Tadeusz/Thaddeus, and Józefa/Josephine.  Regarding Veronica’s oldest brother, Grandma told me that Walter had married an actress in Poland, whose name Grandma remembered as “Wanda,” but she didn’t want to leave her career, so he left her and came to the U.S. without her. There were no children from this marriage.

When I began to look for documentation for these family stories, I realized the situation wasn’t exactly as Grandma had portrayed it.  The 1900 census (Figure 1) shows the Grzesiak family all living on Mills Street in Buffalo, consisting of patriarch Joseph, sons Władysław and Thaddeus, daughter Jozefa, and daughter-in-law Casimira — Walter’s wife of two years.  Clearly, Walter’s wife DID come to Buffalo, rather than staying in Poland while he left without her – but her name was Casimira, not Wanda. The census goes on to state that at that time, she was the mother of 0 children, 0 now living, consistent with family reports.

Figure 1:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, showing the Grzesiak family.1900 United States Federal Census - Kazimira Grzesiak

In the 1905 New York State Census (Figure 2), Walter and Casimira were still living in Buffalo, so the marriage lasted at least 7 years.  Subsequent records (e.g. the 1940 Census) do indeed show Walter as divorced or a widower.

Figure 2:  Extract from 1905 New York State Census showing Walter and Casimira Grzesiak.1905 NY State Census for Walter Grzesiak

Walter’s death certificatereports his ex-wife’s name as “Katarzyna Dutkiewicz (Figure 3), and the informant was his brother, Thaddeus.

Figure 3:  Extract from Walter Grzesiak’s death certifcate.Katarzyna Dutkiewicz

Clearly, Thaddeus made a mistake with the first name, reporting it as Katarzyna (Katherine) instead of Kazimiera/Casimira.   So how much faith should we put in his version of her maiden name, Dutkiewicz?  Death records are often viewed with some circumspection, since someone other than the deceased is providing the information, and that person might be grieving or in shock.  However, it was all there was to go on, and it seemed like it should have been a good start:  Name, Kazimiera Dutkiewicz (or similar), born about 1880 (based on those census records), married to Władysław Grzesiak in Poland circa 1898.

The Hunt Is On!

Since Walter Grzesiak was born in Kowalewo-Opactwo, it seemed logical that he would have married somewhere in that vicinity, although not necessarily in that parish.  Things get a little tricky with the records for Kowalewo-Opactwo in that time period.  Records are not online, or on microfilm from the LDS, so one must write to the Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań to request a search.  Moreover, although Walter was baptized in Kowalewo, that parish was temporarily closed from 1891-1910.  Parish operations were tranferred to the church in nearby Ląd, but after 1911, the parishes and their records were separated again.   Unfortunately, the archive reported that there was no marriage record in Ląd for Władysław Grzesiak, or for any of his siblings, during this period.

Initially, this finding didn’t concern me too much.  It’s traditional for a couple to marry in the bride’s parish, so this suggested merely that Kazimiera was from some other parish in the area.  So how does one find a marriage in the Poznań region, when one has no idea what parish the couple married in?  The Poznań Marriage Project, of course.   For those who might be unfamiliar with this resource, the Poznań Project is an indexing effort conceived by Łukasz Bielecki, which is intended to include all existing marriage records for the historic Poznań region from 1800-1899.  Currently, the project is estimated to be at least 75% complete, so there was a good chance I’d be able to find Walter and Casimira’s marriage in there. Frustratingly, there were no good matches, so I assumed that their marriage record must be among the 25% of existing records that remain unindexed.  At this point, finding it would be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I put this on the back burner and went back to more productive research on other family lines.

Until two days ago.

My Breakthrough

It seemed like a perfectly ordinary Wednesday afternoon.  I paid bills, ran some errands, took the cat to the vet, and sat down to check e-mail.   But if you’re like me, some small part of your brain is always thinking about genealogy, and suddenly it dawned on me:  the family story was that Casimira was an actress.  How could she have been an actress in a small village with a couple dozen farms?  She must have been from a big city — Warsaw!

Immediately, I went to Geneteka, my favorite database for indexed vital records from all over Poland.  Normally, I advise people to use documentation from U.S. sources to determine where their ancestors came from before they start randomly searching records in Geneteka, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and I had a pretty specific idea of what I was looking for.  But would the record be there?  Geneteka is not complete — it’s a brilliant, ambitious idea, and new indexes for different parishes and different time periods are constantly being added, but it still represents only a fraction of the vital records available in the tens of thousands of parishes and civil registries across Poland.  In this case, my hunch paid off, and Geneteka came through for me. I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I saw what had to be their marriage record (Figure 4):

Figure 4:  Geneteka search results for Grzesiak marriages in Warszawa between 1897 and 1899.

Geneteka

I hit “skan” to get a copy of the record itself (isn’t Geneteka great?!) and here it is, in all its glory:Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Olczyk 1898 crop

The record is in Russian, because Warsaw was in the Russian Empire in 1898 when the event took place, so here’s my translation:

“223. Koło. It happened in Wola parish on the eighteenth/thirtieth day of August in the year one thousand eight hundred ninety-eight at five o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Adam Franczak and Wincenty Płocikiewicz, both ecclesiastical servants of Wola, on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Władysław Grzesiak, age thirty-seven, miller of Koło residing, born in Ląd, Słupca district, son of Józef Grzesiak, owner, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing, and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, age eighteen, single, with her mother residing, born in Warsaw, daughter of an unknown father and mother Paulina Olczak, seamstress, in Koło residing.  The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns on the 2nd/14th, 9th/21st, and 16th/28th days of August of the present year.  The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them.  Permission was given orally by those present at the ceremony.  The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by the Reverend Jan Kowalski.  This document, after being read aloud, was signed by us and by the groom because the witnesses state that they do not know how to write.”2

Let’s break this down a bit.  First, the double dates are often confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the format of Polish civil records, but they’re a result of the fact that Poland and Western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar  while Russia and the Eastern Europe continued to use the old Julian calendar.  In order to have these records be clear to everyone, both dates were included on legal documents like this.  The second, later date is the date according to the Gregorian calendar, which we would go by.

Second, Kazimiera’s name isn’t Dutkiewicz, as expected — but we’ll worry about that in a minute.  The date of the marriage (1898) is correct, as is the groom’s name, and parents’ names.  His age is a bit off (he should only be 30, not 37), but it’s not unusual for ages reported in these records to be very much “ballpark estimates.”  Walter was actually born in Kowalewo, not Ląd, but if you recall, the parish functions had been transferred from Kowalewo to Ląd at this time, so perhaps this can be interpretted as a reference to that.

Getting back to Kazimiera, her age (18) matches with what we expected based on U.S. records.  The priest doesn’t mention her budding theatrical career, but perhaps her star had not yet risen very far (if it ever really rose at all).  So this is clearly the right marriage record.  But how did we get from Olczak to Dutkiewicz?

The answer lies again in the indexed records of Geneteka (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Geneteka search results for marriage records with surnames Olczak and Dutkiewicz between 1880 and 1900:

Olczak

It appears that shortly after Kazimiera’s birth in 1880, her mother Paulina married Tomasz Dutkiewicz.  Whether Tomasz Dutkiewicz ever legally adopted Kazimiera is doubtful, but this certainly explains why she might have at least informally used the name of her step-father as her own.

But Wait, There’s More!

So all this is nice, right?  But why is a marriage record for a great-granduncle really THAT exciting?  As I mentioned, my great-grandmother Veronica emigrated along with three siblings, Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine.  What we didn’t know until I began researching records from Poland, was that there were two additional siblings — Konstancja3 and Pelagia4 — who did not emigrate.  No descendant of the Grzesiak family in the U.S. that I interviewed was aware that these sisters existed.  The Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań had no record of marriage for either of them, and I was planning to write again to request a search for their death records, assuming they might have died before reaching a marriageable age.  However, I noticed that there was a marriage record for a Konstancja Grzesiak on the same page of Geneteka search results (Figure 4, result 2) that gave me Walter’s marriage record!  Sure enough, the marriage record5 reveals that Konstancja is the daughter of Józef Grzesiak and his wife, Marianna née Krawczyńska, residing in the village of Ląd.

Unfortunately, I still can’t find a birth record for Pelagia, and it’s still possible that she died before reaching a marriageable age.  But the implications of these new data are tremendous for me.  My great-grandmother arrived in the U.S. in March of 1898,6 and in June and August of that same year, her sister and brother each married in Warsaw, prior to most of her family joining her in Buffalo in 1900, while the one married sister stayed behind in Poland with her family in Warsaw.  Wow!   A little further digging confirmed that Konstancja also had children (Figure 6):

Figure 6:  Geneteka search results for birth records in Warszawa mentioning surnames Cieniewski and Grzesiak:

Cieniewski

So I might have cousins in Poland from this Cieniewski line!  However, it’s interesting that there are only two births.  Birth records for this parish, St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Adalbert, in the Wola district of Warsaw, are indexed from 1886 to 1908 without any gaps.  Therefore one might expect to see more than two children born between their marriage in 1898 and 1908 when the records end.  There is no evidence that they immigrated to Buffalo, no good matches in U.S. census records for this family in Buffalo or anywhere else.  So where did they go?

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo, Warsaw, Buffalo, and Borowo

One clue, in Walter’s marriage record, might point the way.  It stated that he was the son of “Józef Grzesiak, farmer, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing”  Borowo is new to me.  This is the first time this place has been mentioned in connection with my family.  And unfortunately, there are at least 20 places in Poland today by that name.  But if Borowo was where her parents were living at the time of Konstancja’s marriage, maybe that’s where she and her young family eventually went to live.  So which Borowo is correct?

Well, Konstancja’s marriage record, from just two months earlier, states that her parents were residing in Ląd.  That, and the fact that there were no good matches for a place called Borowo that’s very close to Warszawa, suggests that this may be the correct place, Borowo in Konin County, about 22 miles east of the Grzesiak’s previous home in Kowalewo-Opactwo:

map

According to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, a nice period gazetteer of Russian Poland published in 1877, the village of Borowo belongs to the Roman Catholic parish in Krzymów, so that’s where we can look for records.  Records are online and on microfilm, but only from 1808-1884, which doesn’t help us any with finding additional births to Konstancja and Julian Cieniewski after 1900.  However, the Branch Archive in Konin has birth records up to 1911,  so this is an obvious next step to take.

The Old Mill, Revisited

There’s one other really cool connection I’d like to make before I sum things up.  In my previous post about my Grzesiak family, I mentioned my grandmother’s recollection that her mother Veronica’s family owned a grain mill near the parish church.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reference to Veronica’s father being a miller.  However, when I visited Veronica’s birthplace of Kowalewo-Opactwo on a trip to Poland last year, I was amazed to see this old windmill, missing its vanes, in close proximity to the church, exactly as Grandma described.  So I found it fascinating that Walter’s marriage record described him clearly as a miller, even though a more general term (“хозяин,” meaning “owner,” but seemingly used as a non-specific synonym for “farmer” or “peasant”) was again used to describe his father, Józef.  This makes me more convinced that the mill in the photo actually was a place associated with Veronica’s family.  Maybe her father didn’t own the mill, maybe he just worked for the miller — but between the existence of this mill where it should be, based on Grandma’s story, and the fact that her uncle Walter was described as a miller, I think there’s good reason to believe that this was the mill that Grandma’s story referred to.  IMG_4542

That’s a Wrap

So what general research insights can be gained from this?

  1.  Once again, my ancestors were more mobile than I expected them to be — and yours might be, too.

When I began my research, I really thought I’d find “the” ancestral village for each surname line and be able to go back for many generations in that same village.  Time and time again, that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.  I was so blinded by my expectation that Walter would have met his bride some place near to where he was born, that I overlooked obvious resources, like indexed records for Warsaw on Geneteka, because it seemed too improbable.  Logic requires us to search in the obvious places first — those associated with the family.  But when searching in the obvious places doesn’t pan out, it’s time to think outside the box.

2.  Family stories can sometimes hold the key.

If you are among the oldest generation in your family, it’s not too late to write down everything you remember from older relatives, for the next generation.  But if you still have any older relatives remaining, talk to them!  My third cousin and research collaborator, Valerie Baginski, told me that her grandmother always said that the family came from Warsaw, rather than Poznań, which was my family’s version of the story.  Once we figured out that our Grzesiaks’ ancestral village was Kowalewo-Opactwo, closer to Poznań than Warsaw, we dismissed that mention of Warsaw.  Since Warsaw was a bigger city than Poznań, we chalked up this discrepancy to our ancestors’ tendency to paint their place of origin with a broad brush, referencing the closest big city.  Now we realize that it’s quite possible her great-grandmother mentioned Warsaw because she was one of the younger siblings who may have lived there for a time, while my great-grandmother mentioned Poznań because she was the first one to leave Poland, and may never have gone to Warsaw with the others.

3.  Pay your dues.

This last “insight” is a shameless plug for Geneteka, the database for indexed Polish vital records that enabled me to find my Grzesiaks in Warsaw.  For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, Geneteka is a project sponsored entirely by volunteers from the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (PTG, or Polish Genealogical Society), in Poland.  Although all the indexing and photographing of vital records (for Geneteka’s sister site, Metryki, which I wrote about previously) is done by volunteers, funds are still required to pay for servers to host the websites.  If you’ve used Geneteka and found it helpful to you, please consider making a donation to the PTG.  Let’s help them to help us find our ancestors!

Walter’s marriage record was a puzzle piece that’s been missing for a long, long time.  It just goes to show you that you never know when that great idea will hit, or when serendipity will strike, so keep chipping away at those brick walls.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

Sources:

1New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, #2600, Death certificate for Walter Grzesiak, 25 April 1946.

2“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie,” Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #223, record for Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, accessed on 17 August 2016.

3Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.

4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016.

5“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie “, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #142, record for Julian Aleksander Cieniewski and Konstancja Grzesiak, accessed on 18 August 2016.

6Ancestry.com, Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 and 1954-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), http://www.ancestry.com, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85, record for Veronika Gresiak, accessed on 21 July 2016.

Featured Image:

Wodzinowski, Wincenty. Wesele. Digital image.Http://muzeuminstrumentow.pl/. Muzeum Ludowych Instrumentów Muzycznych W Szydłowcu, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.  This painting from 1896 seemed very fitting for my cover photo, since it depicts a wedding celebration very close to the time when Walter and Casimira married.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016