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

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

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