The Case of the Zombie Bride

Genealogy friends are pretty great to have.  Some of them are even so awesome that they remember your parishes of interest and surprise you with a gift of records from that parish, just because they know you’ll be thrilled.  I’m lucky enough to have a friend like that. He happened to have access to some civil registers from my ancestral parish of Młodzieszyn, where my Zieliński and Kalota ancestors were from, and gifted me with some key records for my family.  Since these marriage and death records are more than 80 years old, they’re open to the public.  However, my friend’s generosity saved me from a lengthy wait for the civil registrar to reply to my letter, or from the necessity of hiring a researcher to obtain these documents from the local registry office on my behalf.

The records answered a question that’s been plaguing me for several years now:  why don’t I have any living Zieliński relatives in Mistrzewice?  I rather expected that I would. I’ve been able to connect with cousins in Poland who were still living in another village, Bronisławy, which my great-grandfather Jan Zarzycki left in 1895.  Based on this experience, I expected to find some trace of my Zieliński family in Mistrzewice, the village in which my great-grandfather Józef (Joseph) Zieliński was born, and where he lived as recently as 1921, when he returned to Poland with his American-born wife, Genowefa (Genevieve), and three children, including my grandfather. From what I can gather from family stories, his intention was to stay in Poland and take care of the family farm, after having made some money in the U.S. However, family stories suggest that his wife Genevieve did not get along well with her mother-in-law.  After about six months, Joseph, Genevieve and their children returned to the U.S., and Joseph finally obtained U.S. citizenship.  Although I had little hope that any present-day residents of the village would recall Joseph and Genevieve’s six-month sojourn in their village, I had another reason to suspect that my family might still be remembered in Mistrzewice. During the course of my research, I discovered that Joseph had six younger siblings, who were previously unknown to our family. Surely some of them must have stayed in Mistrzewice, married, and had children there?

However, in 2013, a professional researcher who visited the village and interviewed residents there was unable to locate any Zielińskis who were related to me in a way that could be easily determined.  When I visited the village in 2015, I confirmed his finding.  There are residents of the village with the surname Zieliński who are probably related to me more distantly, but there were no descendants of any of Joseph’s younger siblings. Perhaps it seems obvious that that my Zieliński family is no longer in Mistrzewice because the family either moved away, or died out.  As a genealogist, however, I’d like to know which one it is.  With that in mind, let’s begin by examining the evidence that existed for my Zieliński family prior to this new gift of records from my friend in Poland.

The Zieliński Family of Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn

My great-grandfather, Józef Zieliński, was the fourth child of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna née Kalota from Mistrzewice, in Sochaczew County.  Originally, Mistrzewice had its own parish church. However, in 1898 the parish was closed and the village was assigned to the nearby parish in Młodzieszyn, so records for this family are found in Mistrzewice until 1898 but in Młodzieszyn after that. Their family included:

No marriage or death records for any of the youngest six children were found in the scans online for Mistrzewice or Młodzieszyn at Metryki. However, scans only go up to 1898 for marriages and 1901 for deaths, so all I really knew was that Szczepan, Władysław, Jan, Władysława, Marianna, and Zofia did not die before 1901.

A lucky marginal note on the baptismal record for one of the daughters, Władysława, gave me an additional clue about her fate (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Polish marginal note on 1901 Russian baptismal record for Władysława Zielińska.116-119

The marginal note states that Władysława Zielińska entered into marriage with Józef Żak on 22 April 1923 in the parish church in Bęczkowice.  There’s only one place in Poland called Bęczkowice, and it’s about 100 miles south of Mistrzewice (Figure 2):

Figure 2:  Geographic relationship between Mistrzewice and Bęczkowice, courtesy of Google Maps.Mistrzewice map

From this we know that at least one of Joseph’s younger siblings survived to a marriageable age, we know her married surname, and we know she had no descendants left in Mistrzewice because she moved to Bęczkowice.  So did the whole family leave the village, then, or just Władysława?

A partial answer to this was found in the death record for the family matriarch, Marianna (née Kalota) Zielińska, which I requested from the local civil records office in Młodzieszyn several years ago (Figure 3):

Figure 3:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Marianna Zielińska, 1936.1Marianna Zielinska death

The death record describes the deceased as, “….Marianna (née Kalota) Zielińska, widow, age seventy-nine, born and residing with her sister in Budy Stare, daughter of the late Roch and Agata née Kurowska, farmers.”  So Marianna, at least, died while residing in a village within the parish of Młodzieszyn, suggesting that the entire family didn’t move to Bęczkowice together. Moreover, the fact that she was living with her sister in Budy Stare, rather than with one of her children on the family farm in Mistrzewice, lends further support to the idea that the other children had also moved out of the village or were already deceased at the time of Marianna’s death.

The Zombie Bride

This was the point to which my research had progressed until this week, when my friend gave me the records I needed to finally understand what happened to each of my great-grandfather’s youngest six siblings.  I’ll have to tell most of this story another time, but suffice it to say that there is evidence in the marriage or death records for all but one of them. However, this evidence wasn’t completely unambiguous.  Among the records I found was this 1919 death record for none other than Władysława Zielińska — the same Władysława whose baptismal record contains the marginal note about her marriage in 1923 (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Władysława Zielińska, 1919.Wladyslawa Zielinska death 1919 crop

In translation, the record states,

“#75, Mistrzewice. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the second day of October in the year one thousand nine hundred nineteen at ten o’clock in the morning.  They appeared, Piotr Szewczyk, age sixty, and Stefan Kęski, age twenty-eight, land-owning farmers in the village of Mistrzewice, and stated that, on the thirtieth day of September of the current year, at one o’clock at night, died in the village of Mistrzewice, Władysława Zielińska, single, age seventeen, daughter of Stanisław, no longer living, and Marianna née Kalota, the spouses Zieliński, land-owning farmers; born in the village of Mistrzewice in the local parish, living with her mother in the village of Mistrzewice. After visual confirmation of the death of Władysława Zielińska, this document was read to the witnesses, who are not able to write, and was signed by us. [Signed] Administrator of the parish of Młodzieszyn acting as Civil Registrar, Fr. K. Kopański.”

The parents’ names indicated here, Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota, are exactly the same as those on the 1901 birth record for Władysława Zielińska.  The age of the deceased, 17 years, is approximately consistent with what we’d expect for a young woman born in 1901. Technically, she should have been reported to be age 18, but this amount of variation is within the norm for Polish records from this time period. There was definitely only one Zieliński couple living in Mistrzewice with the names Stanisław and Marianna, so it’s not possible that the priest simply recorded the wrong maiden name for the mother of the deceased.  So either we have a zombie bride who died in 1919 and then married in 1923, or there’s some other explanation.

My current hypothesis is that the death record for Władysława Zielińska is correct — she really did die in 1919 — but that the priest recorded the marginal notation about the marriage on the wrong baptismal record.  The only sibling not accounted for in the records given to me by my friend is Marianna Zielińska, born 14 September 1903.  So I think that the priest meant to write that Marianna Zielińska married Józef Żak on 22 April 1923 in the parish church in Bęczkowice. It seems more likely that he would incorrectly record a marriage that took place in a distant parish, rather than the death of a young woman buried from his own parish church, whose funeral he probably conducted personally. Of course, the only way to know for certain is to obtain the marriage record for Józef Żak and his Zielińska bride — whichever sister she was — from the civil registry office in Łęki Szlacheckie, which serves the village of Bęczkowice. Fortunately, Polish privacy laws have relaxed a bit in recent years, and it’s now possible to obtain death and marriage records after only 80 years instead of 100, which was the required interval when I first discovered that marriage notation for “Władysława” Zielińska. (That’s the reason why I didn’t just request a copy of that marriage record right away — they wouldn’t have given it to me because the marriage took place less than 100 years ago.)

Hopefully, the marriage record from Łęki Szlacheckie will tell me everything I need to know. Stay tuned for an update!  In the meantime, I’m going to kick back tonight and raise a glass to my friend in Poland, in gratitude for the gift of family history that he’s given me.  Dziękuję, i na zdrowie!

Sources:

Sources not available online are cited below. Click links in blog post for documents available online.

1 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1936, deaths, #16, record for Marjanna z Kalotów Zielińska.

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

 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

4 thoughts on “The Case of the Zombie Bride

  1. You mention applying for records several times in this post. Can you tell me to whom and how you apply for records? Thanks!

    Tory Wagner >

    Like

  2. Hi Tory, vital records from Poland can be found in a variety of repositories. Some parishes have been microfilmed by the LDS (Mormon) Church, some records are available online, some are in a state or diocesan archive in Poland, and some are still in possession of the local parish or registry office. Everything depends on the parish and time period you need. If you can be more specific about what you’re looking for, I can offer better suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

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