My son Daniel left for Poland yesterday. I’ve been helping him prepare for his trip, and thinking a lot about my own amazing journey through Poland last summer, which included visits to all my ancestral villages that were known at that time. And after my recent post about the 1791 purchase of a home in Zagórów by my ancestors, Andrzej and Marianna Krawczyński, I’ve been thinking more about that line in particular.
My most recent ancestor with the Krawczyński surname is my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak. It was Marianna’s daughter, Veronica, who immigrated to the U.S. as a young girl, married John Zazycki, and eventually gave birth to my grandmother, Helen (née Zazycki) Zielinski. My grandmother died a year ago, but I vividly remember sitting in Grandma’s immaculate kitchen as a young teenager, asking her about her mother’s life in Poland before she came to this country. I wrote down Grandma’s comments and kept them in mind as I began to document my family’s history.
Among the tidbits of family history that Grandma shared with me was the fact that her mother’s parents owned a grain mill. They lived near the church and rectory, and Veronica’s mother sewed all the vestments for the parish priests. Grandma never knew the names of her mother’s parents — it was up to me to find those, by following the paper trail. And unfortunately, the paper trail didn’t exactly corroborate the story about owning a grain mill. Polish vital records typically mention the occupation of the father in child’s baptismal record. In Veronica’s baptismal record, shown below, her father, Józef Grzesiak, is described as, “‘master of the house,’ of Kowalewo, age thirty-seven.”1 The Russian word used to describe Józef’s occupation, “хозяин,” is unfortunately rather non-specific. Shea and Hoffman define it as “master of the house, owner; husband, man”2 although they add that, “сельскій хозяинъ” can be used to mean, “farmer.”
Baptismal records for Veronica’s siblings describe Józef Grzesiak as a “parobek,”3 (farmhand), again with the Russian word “хозяин,”4,7,8 and with the Russian word, “наёмщик,”5 which Shea and Hoffman define as,”hirer, lessee, tenant, lodger.”6 But nowhere do we see the word for “miller,” in Polish or in Russian. I had pretty much decided that this was one of those inaccuracies in family stories, something that had gotten slightly distorted in the oral history as it was handed down over four generations. Until I got to Poland.
On August 3rd, 2015, my husband and I and our tour guide, Łukasz Bielecki, visited the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo, where my great-grandmother Veronica was born. After stopping by the church of Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles and the parish cemetery, we stopped at the rectory to see if the pastor was home, and inquire if he knew of any parishioners with the Grzesiak surname. That was when I saw it, right across the street from the rectory, and just down the street from the church and cemetery (on the left side of the street in this photo):
An old windmill, missing its vanes, long abandoned, from the look of it. Could it possibly date back to Veronica’s youth in Poland in the 1880s and 1890s? The location was striking — so close to the church and rectory, exactly as Grandma had described it to me. And yet Veronica’s father was clearly not a miller, based on the available records, nor were her grandparents described that way. Veronica’s paternal grandfather, Stanisław Grzesiak, was a shepherd from Cienin Zaborny9 and her maternal grandfather, Antoni Krawczyński, was a shoemaker from Zagórów.10
So how do we reconcile this? Perhaps Veronica’s family didn’t own the mill — perhaps she only mentioned that they lived near the mill, and my grandmother misremembered the story? Or perhaps the records which describe Veronica’s father as a “tenant” or “farmhand” could be construed to mean that he was a hired hand, working for the miller? The village miller held a position of some stature , so perhaps the priest recording the baptismal records would have been reluctant to describe Józef Grzesiak that way if he was only employed by the miller but did not own the mill. I have no doubt about the truth of the story that Veronica’s mother, Marianna, sewed vestments for the parish priest. Veronica supported her family as a seamstress after her husband died, and was known for her strong Catholic faith. So it’s tempting to believe that somehow, that old mill near the church in Kowalewo might really be the one from Grandma’s stories, and might be connected with my family in some way. What do you think?
1“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1876, # 72, birth record for Weronika Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/65/skan/full/9J-ASKf3S2mu9O7J_5zYew.
2Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002, p. 430.
3″Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),” Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1867, births, #39, record for Władysław Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczynski.; Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78, Konin, Poland.
4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016 http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/58/skan/full/ntP5qVh00anymNp2qgDJRw
5Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.
6Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002, p. 392.
7“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1874, births, #17, record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/63/skan/full/yD_N2CH4hl_7FF3PNvsoAg.
8“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), “Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów”, 1881, births, #15, record for Józefa Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczynski.; Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78 Konin, Poland.
9“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Cienin Koscielny (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), Ksiega urodzonych, malzenstw i zgonów, 1839, births, #4, record for Józef Grzesiak, accessed on 22 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/740/0/6.1/30/skan/full/hSeZeC8-TYbTYBA3GioEiA.
10Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, 1843, Births, #31, record for Marianna Krawczyńska.; 2162128 Item 1.
© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz