In my last post, I introduced my Kalisiak ancestors from the parish of Mikołajew, and shared some of my struggle with conflicting evidence from vital records indexed in Geneteka. Such conflicts are very typical with genealogical research, but it’s important to resolve them if we’re going to have any confidence in our conclusions. As genealogists, we are compelled to carry out “reasonably exhaustive” research before we can state that a fact is proven definitively, so it frequently happens that we make qualified conclusions which must then be revised as new evidence appears. Of course, the more important a research question is, the harder it is for us to live with uncertainty in our research conclusions. These days, I’ve been losing sleep over the question of the legitimate birth of Marianna Panek.
The Panek Family of Sochaczew
Recently I discovered solid evidence that my great-great-great-grandfather, Michał Zieliński, was born in Bibiampol and was the son of Piotr Zieliński and Marianna Panek. Armed with this new information, I headed over to Geneteka to see what additional records I could find for my ancestors there. Michał Zieliński’s birth record popped up immediately, along with birth records for his siblings, Wincenty, Wiktoria, and Marianna.
A search for the marriage record of Piotr Zieliński and Marianna Panek turned up a promising match. The year of marriage, 1824, makes sense given that their first child was born in 1825. The “i” infodot reveals that the bride was from Kuznocin, and that the bride and groom were both 18 years of age, suggesting that they were born circa 1806. The real payoff was the discovery that Piotr’s parents were Grzegorz and Agnieszka, and Marianna was the daughter of Helena Panek. The record appears in the index twice because the archive holds two original versions — the Latin church record, and the Polish civil record. Note that parents’ names appear to be mentioned only in the civil version of the record, rather than the church version, although this may reflect a difference in the information that each indexer chose to include.
This is where it gets interesting, and maybe a little frustrating. On the surface, the situation seems very straightforward: Marianna was born out of wedlock to an unknown father and Helena Panek, a single mother. However, we cannot confirm that with Marianna’s birth record, since a search for this record in Sochaczew resulted in no matches. A closer inspection of data contained in the indexes for Sochaczew reveals that there’s a gap in the birth records for the period from 1803-1809. Unfortunately, this gap is real, in that it reflects a lack of available records during this time, not just a lag in indexing efforts. Therefore no birth records for either Marianna Panek or Piotr Zieliński are likely to be forthcoming, barring a miraculous discovery of the missing records. (Hey, it could happen — hope dies last.) Marianna Zielińska’s death record, which might also report her parents’ names, is similarly unavailable.
A search for a birth record in Sochaczew or any nearby parishes for Helena Panek, Marianna’s mother, produced no relevant results. Perhaps she married after Marianna was born, however? No such luck — I could find no evidence of a marriage record for Helena Panek. However, when I clicked over to view the results from that search under the “births” tab, there were four records for children of Tomasz Panek and Helena, whose maiden name was reported on two of the records as Swięcicka. Three of the births occurred in Kuznocin, which is the same village that Marianna Panek was reported to be from on her marriage record to Piotr Zieliński.
There were two births prior to that gap in the birth records, but then no more births to this couple until 1815, despite the fact that birth records became available again starting in 1810. For kicks, I tried searching for Tomasz Panek, and the situation became more intriguing. Unfortunately, no marriage record is available for Tomasz and Helena, but that’s not surprising, since existing marriage records for Sochaczew don’t begin until 1802, and their first child was born in 1801. Check out these births, however.
In that gap from 1810-1815, there were two births to Tomasz Panek and his wife, whose maiden name was again reported as Swięcicka, but this time, her given name was reported as Julianna instead of Helena. It seems pretty improbable that there were two men named Tomasz Panek living in Kuznocin concurrently, married to the Swięcicka sisters, Helena and Julianna. Yet the priest mentions Julianna a third time, with the birth of Barbara in 1821. Since the references to Julianna are not chronological, there’s no reason to suspect a situation in which a first wife died and Tomasz then remarried her sister. However, if the priest merely recorded her given name in error, it’s odd that the same error would be repeated three times over a period of 11 years. There’s also a third Swięcicka “sister,” Antonina, who crops up on the birth record for Rozalia in 1825. What’s going on here?
A quick look at death records tells us that the same Andrzej Panek who was born to Tomasz and “Julianna” in 1812, died in 1817 in Kuznocin. This time, his mother was, indeed, reported to be Helena Panek. Tomasz Panek himself died in 1828, and the info dot tells us that he was age 60, and husband of Helena, née Swięcicka.
Interestingly, the same Rozalia Panek whose mother was reported to be Antonina on her birth record, shows up again in 1896 with the death record of the widow Rozalia Wódka in Mistrzewice. (The infodot next to her surname reveals that her maiden name was Panek, as does the linked scan.) This is the same parish to which my Zieliński family migrated — the Zieliński family that I now know to be descended from Helena Panek. The Wódka surname is also familiar to me, as members of this family were often godparents and witnesses to vital events in my Zieliński family — an observation which makes perfect sense in light of the fact that Rozalia and Marianna were at least half-sisters. Rozalia’s death record states that she died at the age of 76, implying that she was born circa 1820, which is reasonably consistent with Rozalia Panek’s actual date of birth in 1825.
At this point, we have a growing body of evidence that Tomasz Panek was married to Helena (née Swięcicka) Panek from at least 1801 until his death in 1828. We can put to rest any lingering doubts about a prior marriage between Tomasz Panek and Julianna Swięcicka by searching for a death record for Julianna Panek, wife of Tomasz. None exists, although a search for a death record for Julianna Swięcicka reveals that a young woman by this name died at the age of 17 in Kuznocin in 1807.
This suggests that Julianna was born circa 1790, so she might potentially be a younger sister to Helena. Perhaps the girls looked alike, causing the priest to mix up their names? It’s all speculation unless Julianna’s parents’ names were noted on her death record, but were simply omitted from the index, since no birth record for Julianna circa 1790 can be found with a search of indexed records from Sochaczew and nearby parishes (below).
However, this same search gives us a clue to the parents of my Helena Święcicka. A 1781 birth year is very reasonable for a woman whose first child was born in 1801, so it’s likely that Helena Panek was the daughter of Stanisław and Urszula, who had several other children born between 1781 and 1792. As a final piece of confirmation, a search for Helena Panek’s death record produces just one result, the civil and church versions of the 1831 death record for a 53-year-old widow, Helena Panek, daughter of Stanisław and Urszula. Her age suggests a birth year circa 1778, just a few years before the existing birth records begin in 1781. Note that in the entire period from 1783 through 1888, there is no death record for a Helena Panek who was unmarried, which further suggests that the only Helena Panek who lived in Kuznocin was the wife of Tomasz Panek.
What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been
Let’s recap the evidence for the Panek family thus far. It appears that Tomasz Panek was married to Helena Święcicka, and only to Helena Święcicka. Helena was born circa 1778 to Stanisław and Urszula, and she married Tomasz circa 1800. Tomasz and Helena had at least 8 children, born between 1801 and 1825.
They may have had additional children who were born in that gap in the existing birth records from 1803 through 1809. This brings us full-circle, back to my 4x-great-grandmother, Marianna Panek, whose marriage record to Piotr Zieliński stated that she was born circa 1806 to Helena Panek, no father’s name specified. Since neither Marianna’s birth record nor death record is presently available, we cannot rely on the information in those documents to identify Marianna’s father or verify her mother’s marital status. However, after examination of all existing evidence, it appears that the only Helena Panek who was having children in Kuznocin at that time was a married woman, wife of Tomasz. Logically, there are only two possibilities:
(a) Tomasz Panek was Marianna’s father and his name was somehow omitted inadvertently from either her original marriage records or from the marriage index in Geneteka; or
(b) The omission of the father’s name was deliberate, and Tomasz Panek was not Marianna’s father, although he was married to her mother at the time of her birth. These things happen, obviously, but how would it have been such public knowledge that it shows up in Marianna’s marriage record? The only possibility that comes to mind is that perhaps Tomasz was known to be away from the village at the time of Marianna’s conception, due to military service or some other work obligation.
At this point, I really can’t wait to get those marriage records from the diocesan archive to see what they have to say about Marianna’s parentage. Certainly, this case demonstrates the importance of scratching below the surface if we want to understand the lives and stories of our ancestors. Situations are frequently more complex than they may seem, and it is our job as family historians to dig deep and gather as much evidence as we can, and then and analyze the data thoroughly before attempting to draw firm conclusions. I’ll be sure to post an update to this story when I receive my records from the archive. Until then, happy researching!
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018