Missing the Forest for the Trees: Discovering the Marriage Place of Andrzej Klaus and Marianna Łącka

Yesterday was one of those days when I couldn’t decide whether I should kick myself for being stupid, or rejoice at finding the answer to a question that’s been bothering me for years. I finally figured out where my great-great-grandparents, Marianna/Mary Łącka and Andrzej/Andrew Klaus, were married, and it wasn’t where I expected.  I don’t think I’ve blogged about them previously, so let me introduce you, and explain the problem.

The Łącki family of Kołaczyce

My great-great-grandmother was Marianna Łącka, who was born on 21 April 1866 in the village of Kołaczyce, which was at that time located in the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire and is now in the Podkarpackie province of Poland (Figure 1).1  She was the third child, and only daughter, of Jakub Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz. Jakub and Anna’s second-born son, Jan, died in infancy2,3, but another son Jan was born in 1872,4 in addition to oldest son Józef, who was born in 1863.5

Figure 1: Baptismal record of Marianna Łącka, born 21 April 1866 in Kołaczyce.1Marianna Lacki birth cropped

Marianna Łącka’s baptismal record tells us that her father, Jakub/Jacob, was a shoemaker, and that her mother, Anna Ptaszkiewicz, was the daughter of Franciszek Ptaszkiewicz and Salomea Sasakiewicz, who was the daughter of Franciszek Sasakiewicz. Anna (née Ptaszkiewicz) Łącka died in 1879 at the relatively young age of 45,and perhaps her death was a factor in the family’s decision to emigrate. In 1884, the remaining members of the Łącki family left Kołaczyce, and traveled from Hamburg to the port of New York on board the Moravia, arriving on May 6th (Figure 3).7,8

Figure 3:  Hamburg Emigration List showing Jakob Lacki, age 50, Marie Lacki, age 17, Joh. (Jan) Lacki, age 9, and Jos. Lacki, age 24, with previous residence noted as Kołaczyce.7

Closeup of Hamburg Emigration record for Lacki family

The Klaus Family of Maniów and Wola Mielecka

Meanwhile, Marianna Łącka’s future husband, Andrzej/Andrew Klaus, migrated to America independently, in 1889.9 Andrzej was born on 25 November 1865 in Maniów, Galicia, Austrian Poland,10 son of Jakub Klaus and Franciszka Liguz. At that time, the village of Maniów belonged to the parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Szczucin, which is where Andrzej was baptized.

Figure 4:  Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Szczucin, Malopolska, Poland, July 2015.IMG_3611

However, in 1981, a new parish was founded in Borki, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary, and the village of Maniów was reassigned to this parish. All the old records for Maniów were transferred to this new parish, so it was in Borki that I was able to see Andrzej Klaus’s baptismal record10 with my own eyes, when I visited the parish in 2015 (Figure 5). (Note that these records are also available on microfilm until 1 September 2017 from the Family History Library.)

Figure 5: Baptismal record for Andreas Klaus, born 25 November 1865 in Maniów, Dąbrowa County, Galicia, Austria. Godfather’s place of residence, Wola Mielecka, is underlined in red.Andrzej Klaus baptismal record marked

Although Andrzej was born in Maniów, the Klaus family was originally from Wola Mielecka, about 15 miles away, where Andrzej’s father, Jakub, was born, and where his uncle and godfather, Mattheus (Maciej) Klaus was still living at the time of Andrzej’s baptism.11 Andrzej himself also lived in Wola Mielecka just prior to his emigration, as evident from his passenger manifest (Figure 6).12

Figure 6:  Hamburg emigration manifest for Andrzey (sic) Klaus, departing 26 March 1889.12Andrzej Klaus manifest marked

This manifest seems like a good match for “my” Andrzej Klaus — he was reported to be 24 years of age in 1889, suggesting a birth year of 1865, which is consistent with data from other sources, and his year of immigration is consistent with the time frame (1888-1890) which he reported in later census records. The place of residence fits, and although his destination — Plymouth, Pennsylvania — was previously unknown to our family, it’s not unreasonable to believe he might have gone there to work for a while before moving on. However, the problem has been that both Andrzej Klaus and the Łącki family drop out of the records for a time after their respective arrivals in the U.S. Until yesterday, I hadn’t been able to find any trace of Andrzej and Marianna until 1892, when their third child was born. Jakub and Józef Łącki seem to disappear completely, and I don’t find Jan Łącki in a record that I’m certain pertains to him until 1903, when he was naturalized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

But yesterday, I finally discovered Andrzej and Marianna’s 1891 marriage record, in Buffalo, New York — a place where it was completely unexpected, and yet, makes perfect sense, since the family did eventually settle in Western New York. So why on earth did it take so long for me to find it there? I guess sometimes what we see depends on what we look for, and where we look. I was so focused on documenting the family story of where they were supposed to be, that I didn’t think to check someplace that, in hindsight, seems pretty obvious. Here’s the story.

The Klaus and Łącki families of….Texas? (And St. Louis, and Buffalo, and North Tonawanda)

Back in 1992, I interviewed my grandfather’s cousin, Julia Ziomek, to see what information she could provide about the Klaus family history. Cousin Jul had clearly been the kind of child who sat at the knee of her grandmother, Mary (née Łącka) Klaus, listening to family stories, and I’ve spent the past 25 years trying to document everything she told me. In some cases, she was absolutely accurate. In other cases, she was partially correct — for example, remembering that a particular name was associated with the family, but incorrectly recalling the exact relationship. In still other instances, she was just plain wrong. So it’s difficult to know how much stock to put in her story of the Klaus family origins, but as she told it, Mary Łącka and Andrew Klaus married back in Poland, and lived in Texas when they first arrived in the U.S. It was during this time in Texas that their oldest sons, Joseph and John, were born, but by 1892, the family had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where their oldest two daughters Anna and Apolonia/Pauline, were born in 1892 and 1894, respectively. Circa 1895, the family moved again to Buffalo, New York, where my great-grandmother, Genowefa/Genevieve, was born in 1897. Two more sons, Edward and Władysław/Walter, were born in Buffalo, before the family finally settled in North Tonawanda, New York, where their youngest children, Rudolf and Helen, were born.

Unfortunately, the timeline is problematic. Even before I found this marriage record in Buffalo, there was pretty good evidence that Cousin Jul was wrong about her grandparents’ place of marriage. Andrew and Mary could not have married in Galicia, since their passenger manifests make it clear that they emigrated separately. Could those be the wrong manifests, after all? It seems unlikely. I spent years looking for a manifest that supported the scenario of Andrzej and Marianna Klaus migrating into a southern port such as Galveston or New Orleans, that would be consistent with a first home in Texas, but never found one, nor have I found any evidence for Marianna Klaus traveling under her married name through any port, nor is there a marriage record for them in her home parish of Kołaczyce. In contrast, both the manifest for Andrzej Klaus and the manifest for the family of Jakub Łącki match existing evidence very nicely.

In hindsight, the fact that both Andrew and Mary entered the U.S. through the port of New York should have been more of a clue to look for their marriage record somewhere in New York — for example, in Buffalo, where they were known to have lived later in life. However, a search in city directories for Buffalo between 1889 and 1892 revealed no trace of Andrew Klaus, so until yesterday, I didn’t see much point in checking Buffalo church records for their marriage. Moreover, if I were going to suspect that they’d married somewhere other than Texas, where their first two children were purportedly born, existing evidence would point to Pennsylvania, rather than Buffalo, since Andrew’s manifest mentioned a destination of Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and since Mary’s brother John was naturalized in Pittsburgh in 1903. However, rather than trying to guess where they might have married in Pennsylvania circa 1890, I assumed that Cousin Jul was correct about the family’s general migration pattern from Texas to St. Louis to Buffalo to North Tonawanda, and I reasoned that Andrew and Mary most likely married in Texas prior to Joseph’s birth circa 1890.

Although she was mistaken about Andrew and Mary’s place of marriage, Cousin Jul was spot-on about the Klaus family’s residence in St. Louis. Anna Klaus’s baptismal record from St. Stanislaus Kostka parish in St. Louis (Figure 7) is unmistakeably correct, as is that of her sister, Apolonia/Pauline.13,14 Since Jul correctly identified which Klaus children were born in St. Louis, Buffalo, and North Tonawanda, I had reason to believe her claim that Joseph and John were born in Texas, and it seemed more logical to predict that Andrew and Mary would have married there as well, rather than marrying in Buffalo, and then moving to Texas and St. Louis before returning to Buffalo.

Figure 7: Baptismal record for Anna Klaus from St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, St. Louis, Missouri.13Anna Klaus baptismal record

Don’t Mess with Texas, or Mary Klaus

Another reason why I’ve been inclined to believe Cousin Jul’s claim that the family lived in Texas, despite the difficulties in the timeline, is that she recalled one very specific event from their time there. Jul told me that Texas was a pretty rough place back in the early 1890s, and the locals weren’t always delighted to have Polish immigrant neighbors. A day came when someone was trying to break into the Klaus family’s home by climbing in through a window. Mary Klaus grabbed an axe and cut off the man’s hands. (You go, Grandma Klaus!) It may have been this incident that precipitated the family’s move to St. Louis. I’ve often pondered this story over these many years, because on the one hand, it seems pretty far-fetched. And yet, if ever such a story would be true, it seems more plausible in the Wild West than in any of the other places associated with this family.

Part of the difficulty with tracing my Klaus family in Texas is the fact that there were more than a dozen Polish parishes that existed there by the early 1890s. Rather than searching through the records for all of them, I hoped to find some clue first as to where in Texas they might have lived. Theoretically, this should have been easy, since both Joseph and John were (supposedly!) born there, and one might expect their places of birth to be recorded on their marriage and death records. But as we all know, theory doesn’t always line up with reality.

Evidence for Joseph Klaus

Joseph Klaus (or Claus, a spelling he seemed to prefer) married Mary Brzuszkiewicz (Brooks) in St. Hedwig’s Church in Dunkirk, New York on 16 August 1910.15 According to their marriage record, Joseph was born in Buffalo, New York, circa 1887. His World War I draft registration states that he was born 19 February 1886.16 The 1915 New York State Census (in which his name appears as “Cloos”) also suggests a birth year of 1887, and only states that he was born in the U.S. 17 The 1910 census suggests that he was born circa 1885 in New York.18 In the 1905 New York state census, he was not listed with his family, and it’s unclear whether he was living independently at that point, or if he was merely omitted from the census due to error or miscommunication.19 Joseph Klaus died of influenza on 7 October 1918, and his death certificate states that he was born 25 February 1886 in Buffalo, New York (Figure 8).20

Figure 8: Death certificate for Joseph Claus (sic), indicating birth on 25 February 1886 in Buffalo, New York.20Joseph Klaus death certificate

In all these documents, the details such as address, occupation, and parents’ names confirm that they relate to the same individual, despite the misspellings or variant spellings of the surname. Moreover, all these documents point to a date of birth betwen 1885-1887, probably in February of that year, and they all consistently claim that he was born in New York State, probably Buffalo. In light of the new evidence that his parents were married in Buffalo after all, maybe I should finally believe all this documentation and look for his baptismal record in Buffalo?  I’m definitely more inclined to do that now, but I’m still not 100% convinced that the Texas story is completely false. For one thing, these dates of birth are clearly impossible, given that his father didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1889, so who’s to say that Joseph was not similarly ill-informed about his place of birth? And what about John Klaus? What do the records tell us about his place of birth?

Evidence for John Klaus

John Klaus’s story was even briefer than his brother’s. My grandfather was not even aware of his existence — it was Cousin Jul who first mentioned him, and I’ve since been able to verify his existence. (Score another point for Jul.) Like Joseph, he is not mentioned in the 1905 census with the rest of the family.19 John’s life was documented in only three records that I have discovered to date: his death record, dated 18 June 1905; a newspaper article from the North Tonawanda Evening News, dated 27 January 1905 (Figure 9); and the 1900 census.

Figure 9: North Tonawanda Evening News article mentioning John Klaus.21

John Klaus coal theft

Although this article does not mention his parents’ names, my Klauses were the only family by that name living in North Tonawanda at the time. John Klaus was reported to be 15 years of age in January 1905, suggesting a birth year of 1889-1890. This is consistent with his death certificate, which reports his age as 15 years, 8 months, 3 days when he died on 18 June 1905, from which we can calculate a date of birth of 15 October 1889.22 The death certificate further states that he was employed as a “meter carrier,” that he was born in New York, and was the son of Andrew Klaus and Mary Lenke (sic), both Austrian-born. John died of tubercular meningitis.

Again, we have a problem with the timeline. How is it possible for John Klaus to have been born in New York in 1889? Do we believe the body of evidence gathered for Joseph and John, or do we believe those passenger manifests?

1900 Census to the Rescue!

For me, the 1900 census goes a long way toward resolving this conflict (Figure 10).23

Figure 10: Extract from the 1900 census for Buffalo, New York, showing the family of Andro (sic) Klaus.1900 United States Federal Census - Andrzej Klaus

Even though both Ancestry and FamilySearch indexed the family as “Klano,” rather than Klaus, there’s no doubt that this is the correct family. In 1900, the family was living at 43 Clark Street in Buffalo, New York. Andrew reported his date of birth as November 1863, reasonably close to his actual birthdate of November 1865. Similarly, his year of immigration (1888) and place of birth (“Poland-Aus”) were pretty consistent with other evidence. Mary reported that she was born August 1864 in Austrian Poland — a little bit off from her actual date of birth of April 1866, but we can live with it. She reported that she arrived 1887, which is also a little off from her actual arrival date of 1884, but is at least consistent insofar as she confirmed that she arrived in the U.S. before her husband. Andrew and Mary reported that they’d been married for 10 years, suggesting a marriage year of 1890, which fits nicely with the date on the marriage record I just discovered for them, in January 1891 (more on that in a minute).

Turning now to the children’s places of birth, we note with some dismay that all of them were reported to have been born in New York — no reference to Texas here. However, the fact that all the children were reported to have been born in New York — including the two for whom there is documented evidence of birth in St. Louis, Missouri — implies that it’s still quite possible that the oldest two might have been born somewhere other than New York — Texas, for example. All evidence suggests that the Klaus family was anything but affluent — barely making ends meet, even stealing coal to heat their home in January. Perhaps the effort of putting food on the table was sufficiently overwhelming that an accurate accounting of the children’s places of birth was simply not important to them. Who cares where the children were born? Let’s just say they were all born in New York.

Andrew and Mary were equally imprecise when reporting their children’s dates of birth. In this document, we see that 9-year-old Joseph was reported to have been born in March 1891, 7-year-old John was reported to have been born in June 1892, and 4-year-old Annie was reported to have been born in July 1896. Andrew and Mary’s system for estimating their children’s ages seems to have broken down completely by the time they reached Apolonia, since her reported date of birth was August 1896, implying that she was exactly one month younger than her sister Anna. They did somewhat better with the younger children: Genowefa’s date of birth was reported as June 1897, whereas she was actually born 28 September 1897,24 and Edward’s date of birth was reported as October 1899, while his actual date of birth was 11 September 1899.25

Clearly, these dates are off:  We know that Anna was born November 1892, and we know now that Andrew and Mary were married in January 1891. If we assume that children aren’t typically spaced closer than 11 months, that would suggest that John Klaus was born no later than December 1891. This, in turn, suggests that Joseph was either conceived out of wedlock prior to his parents’ marriage in January 1891, or that he and John were twins.  Although twins were common in both the Klaus and Łącki families (Mary’s father, Jacob, was a twin, and Andrew had two younger brothers who were twins), it seems unlikely that such was the case here, since one might expect Andrew and Mary to report on census records that the boys were the same age, even if they couldn’t remember exactly how old they were.

In any case, it’s unlikely that Joseph Klaus was born as early as 1885-1887, as he reported in documents later in life, because there’s a big difference between a child of 9, and a teenager of 13-15. Even if the parents couldn’t remember his exact date of birth, they’d be unlikely to be so far off in reporting his age. On the other hand, according to the proposed timeline, Joseph would have been born in 1890, and John would have been born in 1891, which seems pretty plausible, given their ages reported here.

So what about that marriage record for Andrew and Mary Klaus, and where does this leave us with knowing where Joseph and John might have been born, as well as finding their birth records?

The Rest of the Story

I discovered Andrew and Mary’s marriage record in a wonderful online index to church records from St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo, created by Kasia Dane. Her index isn’t new, it’s been online for some time now, and I use it frequently. In fact, it’s such a great resource that my Polish friend, Waldemar Chorążewicz, recently reformatted it and added it to the Polish vital records database Geneteka (under “Pozostałe,” at the bottom of the list of provinces on the main search page) to aid Poles seeking their family members who might have immigrated to Buffalo. However, I just hadn’t thought to search for the Klauses in that index until yesterday, for all the reasons mentioned here. It was only in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned that I decided to check the index, never really expecting them to be there. You could have knocked me over with a feather when they actually were.

Figure 10: Entry for the marriage of Andrzej Klaus and Marya Łączka (sic) from Kasia Dane’s index of marriages from St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo, New York, 1889-1894:

Klaus entry.png

I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the original record on my next trip to Buffalo. (St. Stan’s church records are available on microfilm at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.) I’ll also analyze the marriage record more fully in my next blog post, because this one record has prompted some interesting further discoveries. For now, I’ll just conclude by mentioning that I did, of course, check Kasia’s index to baptismal records at St. Stan’s for the baptisms of Joseph and John, and they were not there. In fact, the only Klaus children that were mentioned there were children of Andrew and Mary, all of whom I had documented previously — Genowefa/Genevieve, Edward, Władysław/Walter, and a son, Bolesław, who was born in 1895 and died in infancy.26 This doesn’t necessarily imply that Joseph and John Klaus weren’t born in Buffalo, it only means that they weren’t baptized at St. Stanislaus. Other Polish parishes that were in existence in Buffalo circa 1890-1891 were St. Adalbert’s, founded in 1886, and Assumption in Black Rock, founded in 1888. Records from both these parishes are on microfilm from at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, so I’ll be excited to check them out on my next trip to the library.

All in all, I’m thrilled to have finally found Andrew and Mary’s marriage record, even if’s slightly humiliating that it was under my nose all this time. One more piece in the family history jigsaw puzzle has now fallen into place, and my understanding of my ancestors’ journey is a little bit clearer. Whether their migration path took them through Texas for a brief window of two years, or whether that was all a bizarre tall tale, remains to be seen. I’m looking forward to discovering the truth!

Sources:

Featured Image: Wedding photo of Mary Łącka Klaus and her second husband, Władysław/Walter Olszanowicz, 21 November 1916, North Tonawanda, New York. Back Row, left to right: Apolonia/Pauline Klaus Sobuś (Mary’s daughter), holding her son, Edward Sobuś; Stanisław/Stanley Sobuś(Pauline’s husband); Anna Klaus Gworek (Mary’s daughter); Jacob Gworek (Anna’s husband); Genowefa/Genevieve Klaus Zielinska (Mary’s daughter, my great-grandmother).
Front Row, left to right: Julia Sobuś Ziomek (Cousin Jul, daughter of Pauline Klaus Sobuś); Unknown (most probably the groom’s marriage witness, Mary Jedrychanka); Walter Olszanowicz ; Mary Łącka Klaus; Joseph Zieliński (Genevieve’s husband, my great-grandfather); Marie Gworek Glitta (crouching on floor, Anna’s daughter); Helen Klaus (Mary’s daughter)

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

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births”, Baptismal record for Joannes Łącki, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1864, #36; report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1864, #55, record for Joannes Łącki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1872, #25, Record for Joannes Łącki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1863, #3, record for Josephus Łącki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889”, Stare Kopie, 1879, #45, record for Anna Łącka.

Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), http://www.ancestry.com, Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1731, record for Jakob Lacki, accessed on 3 August 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1884; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 475; Line: 46; List Number: 506, record for Jacob Lacki, accessed on 3 August 2017.

Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), http://www.ancestry.com, record for Andrzey Klaus, accessed on 3 August 2017.

10 Roman Catholic Church, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary (Borki, Szczucin, Dąbrowa, Małopolska, Poland), “Ksiąg Metrykalnych,” 1865, births, #37, record for Andreas Klaus.

11Roman Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Parish (Książnice, Mielec, Podkparpackie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1615-1919, 1830, #16, baptismal record for Jakub Klaus, FHL film #939982.

12 Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), http://www.ancestry.com, record for Andrzey Klaus, accessed on 3 August 2017.

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

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

15 New York, Chautauqua, Dunkirk, Office of the City Clerk, Marriage Certificates, 1910, #431, marriage certificate for Joseph Klaus and Mary Brzuszkiewicz, 16 August 1910.

16 U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005), www.ancestry.com, Chautauqua, New York, Roll: 1712292; Draft Board: 1, record for Joseph J. Claus, accessed 4 August 2017.

17 New York, State Census, 1915 (population schedule), Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York, Election District 03, Assembly District 02, page 38, Joseph Cloos household, https://www.ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 4 August 2017.

18 1910 U.S. Federal census (population schedule), Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York, E.D. 115, sheet 14B, Joseph Cloos in Elizabeth Couhig household, https://familysearch.org, accessed 4 August 2017.

 

19 New York, State Census, 1905 (population schedule), North Tonawanda, Niagara, New York, Election District 01, page 60, Anderes Kraus (sic) household, https://www.ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 4 August 2017.

20 New York, Chautauqua, Dunkirk, Office of the City Clerk, Death Certificates, 1918, #130, death certificate for Joseph Claus, 7 October 1918.

21 “Coal Thieves Were Fined,” The Evening News (North Tonawanda, New York), 27 January 1905, p. 1, https://fultonhistory.com.com, accessed 4 August 2017.

22 New York, Niagara, City of North Tonawanda, Office of the City Clerk, Death Certificates, 1905, #2016, death certificate for John Klaus, 18 June 1905.

23 1900 U.S. Federal census (population schedule), Buffalo, Erie, New York, E.D. 84, sheet 28A, Andro Klano (sic) household, https://familysearch.org, accessed 4 August 2017.

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

25Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1899, #396, baptismal record for Edward Klaus.

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

 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

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

A Geneteka Christmas

The Advent season, with its preparations for Christmas, is always nostalgic for me.  I was very close to my grandparents, John and Helen Zielinski, and Grandpa told me stories of how his mother, Genevieve (née Klaus) Zielinski, loved Christmas, too.  He was the oldest of the five children in his family, and at some point before Christmas, she would draw him aside and show him the gifts that she had gathered to give to his younger siblings, sharing with him her anticipation of the joy that those gifts would bring.  Of course, she didn’t show him the gifts that he himself would receive, but the honor of being co-conspirator in creating Christmas joy for his siblings was clearly a source of pride for Grandpa.  Grandpa’s family also had a tradition of giving the children one gift before Christmas.  Whether this custom had its origins in the Polish tradition of gift-giving at the feast of St. Nicholas (Święty Mikołaj) on December 6 is unclear, but Grandpa and Grandma strongly felt that children should not have to wait throughout the whole of Advent without some small gift.  As a child, I certainly had no objections to this practice.

Grandpa passed away in the pre-dawn darkness of a February night in 2003.  He had been suffering from prostate cancer for some time, and we knew the end was near. At the time, I was pregnant with my fourth child, Catherine, and when I spoke with him on the phone for the last time, a few days before he died, Grandpa told me that he was holding out to know that Catherine had arrived into this world safely.  Catherine was born a few minutes after dawn, just hours after Grandpa died.  He never got to meet her, but I know in my heart that he knew all about her.  I’ve tried to share my memories of my grandparents with all my children, especially at Christmas when those memories are so dear and Grandma and Grandpa feel so close.

So what does this have to do with Geneteka?  Fast-forward to October of 2012. I was still plugging away at my research on Grandpa’s Zieliński’s family, but I hadn’t obtained any information prior to the emigration of Grandpa’s father, Joseph Zielinski, and Joseph’s brother, Frank Zielinski. I had progressed to the point where I had identified the Zielinskis’ ancestral village of Mistrzewice, Mazowieckie province, and I had determined that some records for this parish were held at the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim (the Grodzisk Mazowiecki Branch of the Polish State Archive of Warsaw).  In October 2012 I wrote a snail-mail letter to the archive to request a copy of my great-grandfather’s birth record, hoping that at last I might have some documentation from Poland for this family.  Most of my research in Polish records at this point had been done in LDS microfilms, and I was as yet unaware of the growing treasure-trove of Polish vital records coming online in greater numbers each day.

It was while I was waiting for my reply from that archive, that Grandpa gave me my best Christmas gift that year, on December 16 — a little early, because no one should have to wait all the way until Christmas without some small gift.  That was the day I discovered Geneteka, and found the birth records for his father, Joseph Zielinski, as well as for Joseph’s brother, Frank Zielinski, and eight other siblings who were previously unknown to our family (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Geneteka search results for children of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota.zielinskis-in-geneteka

For me, finally reading great-grandpa’s baptismal record, after so many years of seeking it, was such a thrill (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Baptismal record for Józef Zieliński, son of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota.joseph-zielinski

As you may notice, the record is in Russian, which was the required language for all legal documents from this part of Poland at that time. Having this fantastic data set that I couldn’t read because all the records were in Russian, was also a gift in its own way.  Although I’d dabbled in Russian translations with a few records before this, it was these records that forced me to finally get serious about learning to read Russian vital records.  During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, while we were in Buffalo visiting with our extended family, I sat down and immersed myself in these records and in Shea and Hoffman’s game-changing translation guide until they finally started making sense and I could read them with relative ease.  The fact that my family indulged me in that, and gave me the time and space for genealogy research in the midst of holiday cheer, was yet another Christmas gift.

(If you’re curious about what that baptismal record says, here’s the translation.)

“This happened in the village of Mistrzewice on the 30th day of September/12th day of October 1892 at 4:00 in the afternoon. He appeared, Stanisław Zieliński, farmer residing in Mistrzewice, 28 years from birth, in the presence of Tomasz Kęska, farmer, age 33, and Piotr Szewczyk, farmer, age 33, residents of the village of Mistrzewice, and showed us a child of the male sex, stating that it was born in the village of Mistrzewice on the 28th day of September/10th day of October of the current year at 6:00 in the morning of his lawful wife Marianna, née Kalota. (Marginal note, whose text should be inserted here, reads, “To this child at Holy Baptism was given the name Józef.) and godparents were Tomasz Kęska and Waleria Zakościelna. This document to the declarant and to the illiterate witnesses was read, and signed only by us.”

Unfortunately, Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn, the two parishes which held records for my Zieliński family, were in the path of the Nazis in 1939.  Many records were destroyed, as was the parish cemetery in Mistrzewice, so my knowledge of the family is incomplete.  I do know that my 5x-great-grandparents were Wojciech and Katarzyna (maiden name unknown) Ciećwierz, probably born in the 1790s.  Their son, Jan Ciećwierz, married Katarzyna Grzelak about 1836.  Jan and Katarzyna’s daughter, Antonina Ciećwierz, married Michał Zieliński circa 1853, and together they had 7 children, including my great-great-grandfather, Stanisław Zieliński, who married Marianna Kalota.  Michał Zieliński died in February 1872, a fact which I know only because it was mentioned in the marriage record when his widow Antonina remarried Ludwik Grzegorek. Surviving marriage records for Mistrzewice only go back to 1855, and death records only go back to 1890, so I will never be able to determine Michał’s parents’ names from either his marriage or his death record.

On the Kalota side, I can trace back as far as my 4x-great-grandparents, Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, whose son Roch Kalota married Agata Kurowska, daughter of Andrzej and Katarzyna (maiden name unknown) Kurowski, circa 1855.  Had they married in Mistrzewice, their marriage record might have been captured in the surviving records, but unfortuately the Kalota family was from Młodzieszyn, where all the records prior to 1885 were destroyed.  Roch and Agata Kalota had six children that I have been able to discover, including my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Kalota) Zielińska.

Geneteka’s interface has changed considerably since I began my research that Christmas, and it offers more powerful and flexible search options than it did four years ago.  Moreover, records are being added to Geneteka regularly, so it’s well worth your time to revisit your research periodically, even if you think you’ve been thorough.  For example, a new feature that has been added since I first began researching my Zieliński family is the ability to conduct a province-wide search using both a surname and a maiden name.  So I can now search all of Mazowieckie province for records which mention both the names Ciećwierz and Grzelak — which I just did, while writing this blog post, with exciting results (Figure 3)!

Figure 3:  Search results for Ciećwierz and Grzelak in Mazowieckie province.ciecwierz-and-grzelak

If you’ll notice, there are three marriages that occurred in Mistrzewice, and I knew about those already.  However, there are two births for children of Jan Ciećwierz and Katarzyna Grzelak in the parish of Mikołajew — Feliks in 1838 and Marcjanna in 1840.  The dates are right on the money to make them siblings of my 3x-great-grandmother, Antonina (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska.  Moreover, there is an 1830 marriage record for a Marianna Ciećwierz to a Karol Grzelak, also in Mikołajew, as well the death record for this same woman five years later. If you hover your cursor over the “i” in that indexed entry for the death record, you see that Marianna was age 25 when she died and her maiden name was indeed Ciećwierz. The death index specifies that the parents of Marianna (née Ciećwierz) Grzelak were Wojciech and Katarzyna, which means that Marianna was most likely a sister to my 4x-great-grandfather Jan Ciećwierz. Jan’s death record from 1897 states that he was age 82 when he died, suggesting a birth year of 1815, and if Marianna was 25 when she died in 1835, then she was born in 1810 — just 5 years older than Jan.

The fact that these records are from Mikołajew is also fascinating to me.  My great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, emigrated in 1912 with his cousin, Stanley Mikołajewski. Although he initially settled in North Tonawanda, New York, where my family lived, Stanley eventually moved on to Cleveland where he changed the family surname to Michaels. The families remained close and would often travel back and forth between North Tonawanda and Cleveland for visits.  Etymologically, “Mikołajewski” is a topographic surname, deriving from the names of towns such as Mikołajew.1 So essentially, the surname “Mikołajewski” means, “that guy from Mikołajew,” and I have long suspected that the Mikołajewskis who settled in Młodzieszyn and married into my Kalota family, must have been from the nearby village of Mikołajew originally (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Map showing proximity of Mikołajew to Młodzieszyn and Mistrzewice.map

Surnames were often surprisingly changeable in the first half of the 19th century in Poland, and as I consider these new data, I wonder if perhaps it was Stanley Mikołajewski’s grandfather or great-grandfather who might have used a different surname previously, but migrated to Młodzieszyn, perhaps at the same time as my Ciećwierz ancestors, and became known as “Mikołajewski.”  Further pondering and research are required to fully understand all this, but at the moment, I’m thrilled with this wonderful new discovery!

Somehow, it seems like another Christmas gift from Grandpa in heaven.

Sources:

1 William F. Hoffman, Polish Surnames:  Origins and Meanings (Third Edition), (Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 2012), p. 450

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016