Sometimes we meet a relative in the records about whom little is known. This happens often with babies or children who died young, and I’m always a little saddened when I find those records of lives cut short before they even had a chance to begin. Sometimes, however, the relative is someone who may have lived a full life, but who left few traces in the records nonetheless. One such relative in my family tree is Małgorzata Kurowska. Małgorzata was the sister of my 3x-great-grandmother, Agata (née Kurowska) Kalota, and Agata Kalota was a great-grandmother of my maternal grandfather, John Zielinski, on his father’s side. I met Małgorzata through her death record, which is the only document discovered for her to date (Figure 1).1
Figure 1: Death record from Młodzieszyn civil records office for Małgorzata Kurowska.
The translation, as I read it, is as follows:
“No. 96, Budy Stare. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the 15th/28th day of July in the year 1902 at 11:00 in the morning. Roch Kalota appeared, farmer, age 63, and Franciszek Orliński, farmer, age 57, residents of the village of Budy Stare, and stated that, on the 13th/26th day of July of the current year, at 3:00 in the afternoon, Malgorzata Kurowska died in the village of Budy Stare, unmarried, age 72, daughter of the late Andrzej and Katarzyna, the spouses Kurowski. After eyewitness confirmation of the death of Małgorzata Kurowska, this document was read to the illiterate declarants, and was signed only by Us.”
Although I’ve discussed documents like this before, perhaps it’s worth mentioning some basic features about this record again. Although Małgorzata was Polish, the village of Budy Stare where she lived all her life was at that time under Russian control, and Russian was the official language required for use in all legal documents such as this. The dates mentioned in the document are expressed according to both the Julian calendar, used in Russia and in the Orthodox Church, and the Gregorian calendar, used by Poles and throughout Western Europe. Since this is the calendar we use today, we would say that Małgorzata died on 26 July 1902. The death record follows the standard narrative format used in Russian Poland since 1826, in which the local Roman Catholic priest, acting as Civil Registrar, stated the date, place and time at which the document was written. Death records such as this one, which required a statement of eyewitness confirmation of the death by the registrar, were commonly recorded within about three days after the death occurred, presumably on the day that the priest/registrar presided over the funeral of the deceased. The two men named at the beginning of the record, who serve as legal witnesses to the death, were often family members. Occasionally one sees documents in which their precise relationship to the deceased is stated.
Budy Stare is a small, rural village even today, and its residents belong to the parish Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in the nearby village of Młodzieszyn. Although the parish has existed since the 14th century, the church building itself has been rebuilt a number of times. The church that is there today was rebuilt after World War II and is not the one that Małgorzata would have been baptized in or buried from. The severe damage that the church sustained during the war may be the reason why the parish website states that they only have records since 1945. Neither does the Diocesan Archive in Łowicz have any records for this parish, leaving only some relatively recent records housed at the Grodzisk Mazowieckie branch of the State Archive of Warsaw, which are available online, with births dating back to 1885 and marriages and deaths dating back to 1889.
Figure 2: On the steps of Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny, 31 July 2015.
The limited availability of vital records for Młodzieszyn makes research into the Kurowski family challenging, but what other types of records might exist? A search of all archival fonds for Młodzieszyn held by any of the State Archives reveals about a dozen collections of 19th-century records available for this village, including some fascinating items such as records from the Oryszewska Fabryka Cukru — a sugar factory that was built in Młodzieszyn in 1850. The records consist of photographs of employees, cash receipts, and payroll lists dated between 1898 and 1903. While these records are worth checking out, it’s unclear how much light they will shed on the relationships between individuals living in Młodzieszyn and surrounding villages at that time.
So for now, that leaves us with just this one record from which to know about Małgorzata. Her death was announced to the priest by her brother-in-law, Roch Kalota, my great-great-great-grandfather. Does this suggest that Małgorzata was close with her sister, Agata? The other witness named in the record, Franciszek Orliński, is not known to me. Could he have been another brother-in-law, married to another of Małgorzata’s sisters, whose name is unknown? It’s entirely possible. From the limited vital records that are available, I know of only these two siblings, Agata and Małgorzata. Surely there were others?
Małgorzata’s age in this record suggests that she was born circa 1830, which would make her a bit older than her sister Agata, who was probably born circa 1837, based on Agata’s own death record from 1895.2 Both sisters were children of Andrzej Kurowski and his wife, Katarzyna, whose maiden name is unknown. If Małgorzata was their oldest child, and Katarzyna was perhaps 20 when Małgorzata was born, then we can guess that Katarzyna was possibly born circa 1810, and Andrzej was probably a few years older. Yet these are only rough guesses, because it’s equally possible that Agata was Katarzyna’s youngest child, born when she was perhaps 45, which would suggest that Katarzyna was born closer to 1792. With so few records available, there are more questions than answers.
Agata Kalota’s death record states that she was born and died in Budy Stare. Although Małgorzata’s death record does not state her place of birth specifically, it seems probable that she was born in Budy Stare like her sister, and that she lived out her whole life in this same village. Małgorzata Kurowska never married, and if she had any children out of wedlock, we may never know. There are no marriage or death records in any indexed parish in Geneteka within 15 km of Młodzieszyn for a child born to a mother named Małgorzata Kurowska and an unnamed father, and available birth records do not exist for Młodzieszyn for the time frame encompassing most of Małgorzata’s childbearing years.
Given the time period in which Małgorzata lived, it’s likely that she lived with family members and spent her days contributing to women’s work on the farm, rather than working in the local sugar factory or doing anything that might merit a mention in archival records. This one glimpse may be all that we get of a woman who lived, laughed, loved, cried, worried, prayed, worked, and played. Rest in peace, Małgorzata.
1 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland),” Księga zgonów 1902-1913, 1902, #96, death record for Małgorzata Kurowska.
2 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland),” Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: Projekt Indeksacji Metryk Parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), Jednostka 301, Ksiega zgonów 1889-1901, 1895, #69, death record for Agata Kalota, accessed on 5 June 2018.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018