I’ve been very busy with adding new data to my family tree for my Zarzycki family, thanks to my fabulous researcher in Warsaw, Justyna, who visited my ancestral parish in Poland to obtain records that are not available on microfilm, online, or in any archive. By way of introduction, my maternal grandmother’s father was Jan/John Zażycki, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 18951 and eventually settled in North Tonawanda, New York. My extended Zazycki family always insisted that the surname was spelled “Zażycki,” rather than the phonetically-equivalent “Zarzycki,” and furthermore, I was told by some that anyone with the surname “Zarzycki” was not likely to be related to us. It may indeed have been the case that my great-grandfather preferred the spelling without the “r.” As you can see from the signature on his civil marriage record, John clearly spelled his name as “Zażycki”2:
John Zazycki’s naturalization papers contain both spellings, but one could argue that the places in which it was spelled with the “r” were the result of carelessness on the part of the clerk, since there is one place on the naturalization certificate where John’s name not only contains the “r,” but also appears as “Jarzycki”3:
Compare this with the Petition for Naturalization1, which John himself signed at the bottom:
However, any experienced family historian can tell you that one needs to be flexible and keep an open mind regarding variant spellings of surnames, and that is true in this case as well. In records from Poland, I have only rarely seen the surname spelled as Zażycki. For example, in records in which Jan’s father, Ignacy, is mentioned, the surname is spelled as “Zarzycki” on 17 occasions and as “Zarzecki” on 3 documents. In documents pertaining to Ignacy’s father, Józef, the surname has been spelled as “Zarzycki” 7 times, and as “Zażycki” only once. In fact, that’s the only time I have ever seen the name spelled as “Zażycki” on a document from Poland.
My Zarzycki family was from the villages of Szwarocin and Bronisławy, which belong to the Roman Catholic parish of St. Bartholomew in Rybno. All of these villages are presently in Sochaczew County, Mazowieckie province, but were in the Warsaw province of the Russian Empire at the time of my great-grandfather’s birth in 1866. Literacy rates were quite low in the Russian Empire in those days — one estimate places the overall literacy rate of the Russian Empire at 24% in 1897, while the rural literacy rate which would include small villages like Bronisławy, was as low as 19.7%.4 Despite this, there is evidence that Ignacy Zarzycki was literate: his signature appears as distinct from that of the priest, on the birth records of two of his children. Below is the birth record for Ignacy’s son, Leonard Zarzycki, in 1876.5 Ignacy clearly signed his name as “Zarzycki.”
The same is true on this birth record for his son, Roman Aleksander Zarzycki in 18726:
So although it may have been the case that my great-grandfather preferred the spelling “Zażycki,” it appears that that preference may have begun with him, and has no bearing on the spellings that we see on records from Poland for this family. In fact, not only does the spelling with the “r” predominate, but John’s own father spelled his name that way.
According to the paper trail for this family, Jan Zażycki was the son of Ignacy Zarzycki and Antonina Maciążek,2 and Ignacy was the son of Józef Zarzycki and Joanna Krzemińska.7 Going back one generation further on the paternal line, Józef Zarzycki was the son of Adam Zarzycki and Wiktora Stolarska.8 In records pertaining to Adam, we see a different trend in spelling. Out of twelve documents found to date in which he is mentioned, six of them give his name as “Zarzecki,” five of them spell it “Zarzycki,” and only one of them (the marriage record for his son, Józef) shows the spelling, “Zażycki.” Interestingly, the documents that contain the spelling “Zarzecki,” tend to be older (1802-1812) whereas the spelling “Zarzycki” is found on documents dated between 1812-1828.
The record for Adam’s first marriage to his wife, Wiktoria, states that he was a newcomer to the community in Rybno, having moved there from his original place of birth in Brańsk:9
If there were any doubt about which place called Brańsk was meant, it would be cleared up by the record for Adam’s second marriage to Agnieszka Kruczewska in 1810, in which Adam is said to be from Podlachia (Podlasie):10
Taken together, these two documents suggest the town of Brańsk, which is currently the seat of gmina Brańsk in Bielsk County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, approximately 143 miles from Rybno:
Adam Zarzycki was born about 1769 to Kazimierz Zarzycki and his wife, Zofia,9 but there are no vital records for the parish in Brańsk available for this time period from the Polish State Archives. The LDS Family History Library does have some vital records for Brańsk on microfilm including death records from 1797-1823, but no birth or marriage records from this or any earlier time periods, which suggests they might have been lost or destroyed. So although it may not be possible to locate a birth record for Adam Zarzycki, it might be possible to locate death records for his parents, and this is an obvious direction for future research. Some of the existing records are indexed on Geneteka, including marriages from 1885-1896, and a search for “Zarzycki” reveals two marriage records with the spelling “Zarzecki”:
Taken together, these data suggest that the original spelling of the surname was “Zarzecki,” and that it evolved to “Zarzycki” after Adam Zarzecki migrated to Rybno. Analysis of the geographic surname distributions for both variants of the name (based on data from 2002) confirms that, although the “Zarzecki” spelling is generally less popular in Poland, it is significantly more common than “Zarzycki” in Bielsk County (124 bearers for Zarzecki/a vs. fewer than 50 for Zarzycki/a).
As this case demonstrates, surnames can evolve significantly over time and place, and the spelling variants that one sees may follow a particular pattern, rather than occurring at random. Tracking these changes can sometimes lead to a better understanding of a family’s geographic origins. It will be interesting to see whether I can find additional traces of this family in the microfilmed death records from Brańsk — it’s unclear from Adam’s marriage record whether he was from the Brańsk area generally, or from that parish specifically. But if I am able to find additional records there, you can be sure that I’ll pay close attention to how the Zarzycki/Zarzecki surname is spelled.
1Erie, New York, #1892, Petition for Naturalization for Jan Zazycki, 12 July 1900.; Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin St. Buffalo, NY 14202.
2Buffalo, Erie County, New York, 1901, #202, marriage record for John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak.; Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin St., Buffalo, NY 14202.
3Erie, New York, #1892, Certificate of Naturalization for Jan Zazycki, 8 August 1900.; Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin St. Buffalo, NY 14202.
4“Likbez.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 29, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Likbez#CITEREFGrenoble.
5Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1870-1880”, 1876, #87, baptismal record for Leonard Zarzycki.
6Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1870-1880”, 1872, #15, baptismal record for Roman Aleksander Zarzycki.
7Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Early birth records (before 1831)”, 1828, #34, baptismal record for Ignacy Zarzycki.
8Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów 1826-1828”, 1826, #11, marriage record for Józef Zażycki and Joanna Krzymińska.
9Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów 1790-1802”, 1802, #9, marriage record for Adamus Zarzecki and Victoria, parents’ names unknown.
10Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów, 1803-1810”, 1810, #8, marriage record for Adamus Zarzecki and Agnes Kruczewska.
© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz