Solving the Puzzle: Establishing a Paper Trail to Match DNA Evidence

In my last post, I wrote about a new DNA match that I’ve been puzzling over, between my mother and our genetic cousin, Ron Wilczek, who gave me permission to use his name on my blog. However, in looking at this research again more closely, I’ve been able to solve the puzzle and figure out how Ron and I are related, thanks to a document gifted to me by a friend, which provided the crucial bit of evidence that was the key to solving the problem.

To quickly recap, Ron’s great-grandfather, Izydor Wilczek, was a Polish immigrant who arrived in the U.S. circa 1903 and settled in North Tonawanda, New York. In 1895, Izydor married Zofia Krawczyk in the parish of Żyrardów, presently located in Żyrardów County, Mazowieckie province, Poland.According to that marriage record, Izydor was born in Budy Stare, a village which happens to be less than 6 kilometers distant from the village of Młodzieszynek where my Wilczek ancestors lived. Both villages were served by the Catholic parish in Młodzieszyn, which was the same parish to which my great-grandfather, Joseph Zieliński, belonged prior to his immigration to North Tonawanda, New York in 1912. It was Joseph’s great-grandmother who was named Marianna Wilczek. So if Ron and I both have Wilczek ancestors from villages in the vicinity of Młodziesyzn, then obviously this must be how we’re related, right? It should just be a matter of documenting the common Wilczek ancestor from whom Ron and my mother inherited that bit of shared DNA?

Not so fast. That same marriage record for Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk also revealed that Zofia was born in Kuznocin, a village which belongs to the parish in Sochaczew and which was home to my Krzemiński, Bielski, and Świecicki ancestors. So was it Izydor or Zofia who was the most recent common ancestor who contributed that single segment of DNA shared between Ron and my mom? We really need some documentary evidence in order to figure this out, and the first step is further research into Izydor Wilczek’s roots in Młodzieszyn and Zofia’s roots in Sochaczew.

In Search of Zofia Krawczyk’s Maternal Ancestry

Zofia Krawczyk was age 20 at the time of her marriage in 1895, suggesting a birth circa 1875. A matching birth record was quickly identified in the indexed records in Geneteka (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for birth records mentioning Zofia Krawczyk in Sochaczew.Geneteka search results for Zofia Krawczyk

The first result, showing Zofia Krawczyk born to Marianna Krawczyk and an unknown father, is clearly a match for the Zofia mentioned in the marriage record to Izydor Wilczek. Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the “Remarks” column reveals that she was born on 14 May 1874, and hovering over the “z” column informs us that a copy of the record can be requested from the Archiwum Diecezjalnego w Łowiczu, the diocesan archive in Łowicz. Although the unknown father presents a roadblock at this point, perhaps we can more easily identify Marianna Krawczyk’s parents?

If we assume that Marianna Krawczyk was between the ages of 13 and 45 when she gave birth to Zofia in 1874, then she herself would have been born between 1829 and 1861. A search for a birth record for Marianna Krawczyk in all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, between 1829 and 1861, produces the results shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Geneteka search results for birth records dated between 1829-1861 mentioning Marianna Krawczyk from all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, omitting results in the parents’ columns. Geneteka search results for Marianna Krawczyk

There are three possible matches, all from Sochaczew parish, but none specifically from the village of Kuznocin where Zofia was born. However, Zofia’s marriage record provided one important clue buried at the end of the record, where it stated, “Permission for the marriage of the underage bride was given orally by the stepfather, Jan Skrzyński, present at the marriage act.” Repeating the search with the date restrictions removed, and clicking over to the “marriages” tab, produces the results shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Geneteka search results for marriages after 1829 for given name Marianna and surname Krawczyk from all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, omitting results in the parents’ columns.Marianna Krawczyk marriages in Geneteka

Bingo! The first item underlined in red is the 1876 marriage of Jan Skrzyński and Marianna Krawczyk, which took place in Sochaczew. According to this indexed entry, the bride was the daughter of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Pietraszeska, and information revealed by the “i” infodot (not shown in this image) states that the bride was 25 years old and born in Gawłów. Although a scan is not available, this record, too, can be requested from the Archiwum Diecezjalnego w Łowiczu.

If Marianna was 25 in 1876, it suggests that she was born in 1851. However, this information does not align perfectly with the information from the available birth records for women named Marianna Krawczyk from Sochaczew shown in Figure 2. The Marianna Krawcyzk born in 1851 was born in Żuków, not Gawłów, and her mother’s maiden name was Piotrowska, not Pietraszeska. On the other hand, the Krawczyk girl born in Gawłów was named Marcjanna, not Marianna, and she was born in 1859, not 1851. Moreover, her mother’s name was still Piotrowska, not Pietraszeska. So how do we reconcile this? We remember that no single document can be trusted to be 100% accurate and completely reliable. Each piece of evidence must be evaluated in light of the total. In this case, it seems more likely that the Marianna Krawczyk born in 1851 is the same as the Marianna Krawczyk who married in 1876, despite the discrepancies in the place of birth recorded in the marriage record and in the spelling of the mother’s maiden name. This assertion is bolstered by the fact that the Marcjanna Krawczyk born in 1859 appears to have died in 1861, which we discover when we click over to the “deaths” tab in Geneteka.

The second marriage record underlined in red in Figure 3 should also inspire confidence in the conclusion that Marianna’s mother’s name was most likely Piotrowska rather than Pietraszeska (although both names are patronymic surnames related to the given name Piotr). That record shows the marriage of Mateusz Krawczyk, son of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska, to Marianna Winnicka in the parish of Młodzieszyn in 1893. Mateusz is clearly a full brother to Marianna Krawczyk, and as additional documents emerge which mention Piotrowski, it becomes clear that the Pietraszeska variant was an anomaly. Having established that Zofia Krawczyk’s mother, Marianna Krawczyk, was the daughter of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska, we come to a dead end. Although further searching in Geneteka can fill out the family tree, producing additional birth, marriage, and death records for children of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska,  there is no marriage record for Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska which identifies their parents’ names. Similarly, no death records were found for either Andrzej or Tekla which might provide this information. All that can be done quickly and easily to trace Zofia Krawczyk’s ancestry in the hope of finding a connection between her and my family has been done, and no connection has been discovered.

In Search of Izydor Wilczek’s Paternal Ancestry

Moving on, then, to research into Izydor Wilczek’s ancestry, we recall that Izydor’s 1895 marriage record described him as age 30, born in Budy Stare to Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka. This suggests a birth year circa 1865, and again we hit a snag because birth records for Młodzieszyn are only readily available after 1885. The situation with marriage records from Młodzieszyn is similarly frustrating, since these are only available from 1889–1898 and then again from 1911–1928. Although it is not possible to easily obtain Izydor’s birth record or his parents’ marriage record, a search for a death record for his father, Andrzej Wilczek, pays off (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Geneteka search results for death records for given name Andrzej and surname Wilczek in Młodzieszyn parish.Geneteka search results for Andrzej Wilczek

According to this indexed entry, Andrzej Wilczek died in 1900 in the village of Budy Stare in Młodzieszyn parish. The record is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Death record from Młodzieszyn parish for Andrzej Wilczek, 16 August 1900.2Andrzej Wilczek death 1900 marked

The record is written in Russian, which was the official language required for all church and civil vital records in this area at the time, and the full translation appears in the footnotes. It states that Andrzej Wilczek was a farmer, born and residing in Budy Stare, age 72, which suggests a birth year circa 1828. The most important part for solving our DNA puzzle is the section underlined in red, which translates, “…son of Jan and Joanna née Winnicka. He leaves after himself his widowed wife, Anna née Kornacka…” The statement of his wife’s name confirms that this death record does indeed pertain to Andrzej Wilczek, father of Izydor Wilczek, rather than to some other Andrzej Wilczek who might have been living in Budy Stare at the same time. Having determined that this is definitely the right guy, the information about Andrzej’s parents becomes the link which allows me to connect Ron Wilczek’s family to my own, because I have preliminary evidence that Jan Wilczek was the full brother of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Marianna Wilczek.

Why Genealogy Friends Are the Best Kind of Friends

How do I know that Jan and Marianna Wilczek were siblings? As mentioned previously,  records from the parish of Młodzieszyn are not readily available, as the only existing copies of books prior to 1885 are onsite at the parish itself. The current pastor, Fr. Dariusz Kuźmiński, is understandably busy with tending to the spiritual needs of his congregation, and has little time for research in old records. However, last November, my friend Justyna Cwynar visited the parish on my behalf to request some Masses for the deceased members of my family, and while she was there, Fr. Kuźmiński kindly permitted her to spend about ten minutes with the parish books. It was unfortunately all the time that Fr. Kuźmiński could give her since he had other commitments, so Justyna worked quickly. She first located the marriage record for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek which was discussed in the last post, and she also discovered this marriage record for Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Marriage record from Młodzieszyn parish for Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka, 20 January 1828.3Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka 1828 copy 2 crop

The record is written in Polish, and states in translation,

“This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the twentieth day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-eight at twelve o’clock noon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Grzegorz Orliński, land-owning farmer residing in Budy Młodzieszyńskie, age thirty, and Izydor Wilczek, land-owning farmer residing in Budy Młodzieszynek, having sixty-two years of age—on this day was concluded a religious marriage between Jan Wilczek, a bachelor born in Budy Młodzieszynek to Izydor and Katarzyna nee Chlupińska, the spouses Wilczek, residing in that same place as land-owning farmers; living with his parents, having nineteen years of age; and Miss Joanna Winnicka, daughter of Maciej, already deceased, and Jadwiga, the spouses Winnicka, residents of Budy Młodzieszyńskie; age sixteen, born in Budy Młodzieszyńskie and living with her mother. The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the sixth, thirteenth, and twentieth days of January of the current year in the parish of Młodzieszyn, and likewise by the oral permission of those present at the marriage act—the mother of the bride and likewise both parents of the groom. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds stated that they had made no prenuptial agreement. This document was read to the declarants and witnesses, who are illiterate. [signed] Fr. Wawrzyniec Kruszewski, pastor of Młodzieszyn.”

And there you have it.

Unlike the marriage record for my ancestors, Marianna Wilczek and Antoni Kalota, which only stated that she was the daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna without specifying Katarzyna’s maiden name, the present record states that Katarzyna’s maiden name was Chlupińska. Although Wilczek is a fairly common Polish surname, especially in this part of Poland, the name Izydor is sufficiently uncommon to permit a reasonable certainty that there were not two distinct couples named Izydor and Katarzyna Wilczek who were living concurrently in the same parish. However, the possibility still remains that Izydor Wilczek could have been married sequentially to two different women named Katarzyna. Lacking evidence from additional marriage and death records in the parish, the hypothesis that Marianna Wilczek and Jan Wilczek were full siblings and both children of Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska remains tentative. Jan Wilczek’s age in this record suggests that he was born circa 1808, and an added bonus in this record is the fact that the first witness, 62-year-old Izydor Wilczek, was almost certainly Jan’s father. We can therefore infer that Izydor was born circa 1766.

That’s a Wrap (For Now)

Despite the limitations on available records for Młodzieszyn, further research can be done in the indexed records in Geneteka to identify additional children of Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka. (Note that one such child, Paulina (née Wilczek) Orlińska, turned up during the search for Andrzej’s death record shown in Figure 4.) However, for the purpose of understanding the DNA match between Mom and Ron, we have already established a paper trail, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Relationship chart showing documented relationship between Ron Wilczek and my mother, showing their proposed common descent from most recent ancestral couple, Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska.relationship-chart-for-ron-and-mom.png

The chart indicates that my mom and Ron are fifth cousins, a relationship which is consistent with the amount of DNA they share (26.3 centimorgans, cM). Of course, the established paper trail does not prove conclusively that the shared DNA must come from the ancestral couple of Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska. In order to do that, it would be necessary to identify additional living descendants of this same couple, who match Ron and Mom on this same DNA segment. Ideally, those tested would descend from Izydor and Katarzyna through other children besides Marianna and Jan Wilczek, such as the Paulina (née Wilczek) Orlińska mentioned in the death record in Figure 4. But present documentary evidence is sufficient to establish this relationship as a preliminary hypothesis for further testing, if one wished to determine beyond the shadow of a doubt that this particular DNA segment was inherited from either Izydor Wilczek or Katarzyna Chlupińska.

Personally, I’m satisfied with this progress. This DNA match spurred me to new discoveries about the interrelatedness of the Polish immigrant community in North Tonawanda; it pointed to a new migration pathway to ponder, which brought migrants from Sochaczew County to Żyrardów County; and it opened paths to further research into the descendants of my 5x-great-grandparents, Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska. This should keep me busy for quite a while. I’m deeply grateful for the kindness and generosity of two individuals: my friend Justyna Cwynar, who made time during her trip to Poland to stop by Młodzieszyn for me, and Fr. Dariusz Kuźmiński. who permitted access to these priceless vital records. Without them, these discoveries would not have been possible.

And now, back to those Walshes!

Sources:

1 Roman Catholic Church, Żyrardów parish (Żyrardów, Żyrardów, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne parafii rz-kat. w Żyrardowie, Księga UMZ 1895 r., marriages, no. 63, Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 24 May 2019).

2 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie,” Ksiega zgonów 1889-1901, 1900, no. 55, death record for Andrzej Wilczek, died 16 August 1900, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 24 May 2019). Translation: “No. 55, Budy Stare. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the fourth/seventeenth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred at eleven o’clock in the morning. They appeared, Franciszek Orliński, farmer, [having] fifty-five years, and Mateusz Orliński, farmer, [having] sixty-three years from birth, residents of the village of Budy Stare, and stated that, on the third/sixteenth day of August of the current year, at eleven o’clock in the morning, in the village of Budy Stare, Andrzej Wilczek died; a farmer, having seventy-two years of age, born in the village of Budy Stare, son of Jan and Joanna née Winnicka. He leaves after himself his widowed wife, Anna née Kornacka, residing in the village of Budy Stare. After eye witness confirmation of the death of Andrzej Wilczek, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed by Us only. [signed] Fr. J. Ojrzanowski.”

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1828, marriages, no. 1, Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka, 20 January 1828, Parafia Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Młodzieszynie, Chodakowska 1, 96-512 Młodzieszyn, Poland.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

Puzzling Through a DNA Match

Although I’m mostly working on my Walsh research these days, there’s some Polish research that’s in the back of my mind that I thought I’d write about today. This research relates to an exciting DNA match I found recently on my Mom’s side. Although I still don’t know exactly how we’re related, I’m sure we’re on the right track.

Like many of you, I regularly check my list of new “close” matches (4th cousins or better) at the sites where I have done DNA testing with various family members. Since I’m fortunate enough to have test data for both my parents, I prefer to check their match lists rather than my own since their matches yield better information about earlier generations of the family. During one of the checks on Mom’s matches, I noticed a 4th-cousin-level match to Ron Wilczek, who gave me permission to use his name in my blog. Ron had a tree linked to his DNA data, and I was immediately intrigued by the fact that his grandfather was reported to be a Polish immigrant to North Tonawanda, New York, named Stanisław Wilczek. Both the surname and the location were significant to me, because my mom’s grandfather was another Polish immigrant to North Tonawanda named Joseph Zielinski, and Joseph’s great-grandmother was Marianna Wilczek.

The Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn Parish

Marianna was born circa 1810, and she married Antoni Kalota in the parish of Młodzieszyn in 1830. The record of their marriage was kindly obtained for me through onsite research at the parish by my friend Justyna Cwynar, and is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Marriage record from Młodzieszyn parish for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, 31 January 1830.1Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek 1830 crop

The record is written in Polish, and in translation it states,

“No. 2. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the thirty-first day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred thirty at twelve o’clock noon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Antoni Chaba, land-owning farmer of Młodzieszyn, having forty-eight years of age, and Antoni Wilczek, land-owning farmer of Budy Młodzieszynek, having twenty-seven years of age, brother of the aforementioned Marianna Wilczkówna—on this day was concluded a religious marriage between Antoni Kalota, bachelor, land-owning farmer of Budy Młodzieszynek, age twenty years, son of Grzegorz and Helena, the spouses Kalota, former residents of Młodzieszyn; born in Młodzieszyn; and Miss Marianna Wilczkówna, age nineteen, daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna, the spouses Wilczek, residing as land-owning farmers in Budy Młodzieszynek; born in that same place and living there with her parents. The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the tenth, seventeenth, and twenty-fourth days of January of the current year in the parish of Młodzieszyn and likewise by the oral permission of the parents of the bride, present at the marriage act; on the part of the groom, permission was officially declared by the family council before the village mayor of gmina Trojanów on the ninth day of January of the current year. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds stated that they had made no prenuptial agreements. This document was read to the declarants and witnesses who are unable to write. [signed] Pastor Fr. Fabian Hirschberger.”

Marianna’s name was recorded as Wilczkówna, but this is merely an old-fashioned form indicating an unmarried woman of the Wilczek family. She was noted to be the daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna, whose maiden name was not provided in this document.

The second witness on the marriage record for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek was Antoni Wilczek, who was also identified as her brother, and whose age suggests a birth circa 1803. The record states that Marianna was born and residing with her parents in “Budy Młodzieszynek,” a place which does not appear in the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands). It’s unclear from this record whether the village of Młodzieszynek was intended, or instead the village of Budy Młodzieszyńskie, both of which belonged to the parish in Młodzieszyn. According to the Słownik, Budy Młodzieszyńskie had 44 homes, while Młodzieszynek had 15 homes circa 1827, contemporaneous with the time frame for the marriage of Marianna and Antoni Kalota. 2

The DNA Match

Mom and Ron share a single segment of DNA on Chromosome 17. The matching segment consists of 26.3 cM and 11,008 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), according to the chromosome browser at MyHeritage, where Ron uploaded his raw DNA data from Ancestry. The Shared cM Tool at DNA Painter, which offers statistical probabilities for each relationship that is possible based on a given amount of shared DNA, reports a 55.88% chance that the relationship between Mom and Ron is pretty distant, along the lines of 4th-8th cousins, but encompassing a number of possible relationships within that range (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Most probable relationships predicted by 26.3 cM shared DNA, according to DNA Painter.Shared cM Screenshot for DNA shared between Ron and Mom

26.3 cM is likely to be identical by descent, indicative of shared ancestry, rather than by identical by chance, i.e. a false positive. However, the Wilczek surname is sufficiently common throughout Poland that we cannot assume that this is necessarily how Ron and Mom are related without documentary evidence to prove the relationship (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Approximate geographic distribution of the Wilczek surname throughout Poland, circa 2009, courtesy of Nazwiska Polskie. Numbers in colored circles indicate approximate number of bearers of the surname in that region.Wilczek surname distribution

So what do we know—or what can we discover—about the origins of Ron’s Wilczek ancestors that might help confirm the hypothesis that the connection lies with the Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn parish?

The Wilczek Family of North Tonawanda, New York

According to Ron’s tree, his grandfather, Stanisław, was the son of Izydor and Sophia Wilczek, both of whom also immigrated from Russian Poland to North Tonawanda. Izydor is not an especially common Polish given name, and its appearance in both Ron’s family and my own offers further evidence that our connection lies somewhere within the Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn. The 1910 census shows the Wilczek family living at 36 Eighth Avenue in North Tonawanda (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Extract from the 1910 census showing Izydor Wilczek and his family in North Tonawanda, New York.3Wilczek fam 1910 census

According to the information in the census, Izydor was born circa 1874 in Russian Poland and had been married for 15 years, suggesting a marriage date circa 1895. He was reported to have immigrated in 1903 but was not a naturalized citizen. His wife, Sophie, arrived three years later in 1906. Although there were only four children living with the family in 1910, the census revealed that Sophie was the mother of 8, so we know there were four additional children that we need to identify in order to get a complete picture of the family.

In addition to the 1910 census, Ron’s tree contained one another piece of information that was especially interesting. His tree stated that his grandfather, Stanisław Wilczek, was born in Żyrardów, Poland, a town which is located some 40 km south of Młodzieszyn (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Locations of Żyrardów and Młodzieszyn within the Mazowieckie province of Poland, courtesy of Google Maps.Map of Zyrardow to Mlodzieszyn

If Ron’s Wilczek ancestors were originally from Żyrardów or nearby villages, that would fly in the face of my hypothesis that we descend from common Wilczek ancestors in Młodzieszyn. Could his information be incorrect? Or did his branch of the Wilczek family move south, and if so, how long ago?

Geneteka to the Rescue, Again!

Fortunately, this was an easy thing to check. Records for Żyrardów are indexed in the popular Polish vital records indexing database, Geneteka, for the time period when Stanisław Wilczek and his siblings were born. A quick search for records pertaining to Izydor and Zofia (the Polish version of the name Sophie) Wilczek demonstrated that Ron’s oral family history was accurate: Stanisław Wilczek was born in Żyrardów (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Geneteka search results for birth records pertaining to Izydor and Zofia Wilczek, searching all locations in Mazowieckie province. Geneteka Search Results for Izydor Wilczek

In addition to Stanisław’s birth record, this search also produced birth records for the two Polish-born siblings mentioned in the 1910 census, Feliksa and Antonina. Furthermore, it identified two of the children born to Zofia Wilczek who were reported to be deceased prior to 1910, Zofia Stanisława and Józef. Their death records can be found by clicking over to the “Deaths” tab in the search results. Best of all, the marriage record for Izydor and Zofia was also indexed and linked to a scan, which is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Marriage record from Żyrardów parish for Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895.4Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk marriage 1895

The marriage record is written in Russian, and is translated as follows:

“No. 63. Teklinów and Budy Stare. This happened in the town of Żyrardów on the 12th/24th day of February 1895 at 7:00 in the evening. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Antoni Peńsko and Jan Wysocki, both adult laborers residing in Ruda Guzowska—on this day a religious marriage was contracted between Izydor Wilczek, bachelor, reserve solder, farmer, born in Budy Stare in Młodzieszyn parish, and residing in that place with his parents; son of Andrzej and Anna née Kornacka, the spouses Wilczek, age 30; and Zofia Krawczyk, single, seamstress, born in Kuznocin, Sochaczew parish, and residing in Teklinów, daughter of the unmarried Marianna Krawczyk; age 20. The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns in the local parish church and in the parish of Młodzieszyn on the 10th, 17th, and 24th days of February of this year. No impediments to the marriage were found. The newlyweds stated that they had made no premarital agreements between them. Permission for the marriage of the underage bride was given orally by the stepfather, Jan Skrzyński, present at the marriage act. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Kazimierz Nowosielski, vicar of the local parish. This document was read aloud to the newlyweds, witnesses, and stepfather, who are illiterate, and was signed by Us. [signed] Acting Civil Registrar, Fr. Jan Ka??? [illegible]”

So Izydor was indeed born in a village belonging to Młodzieszyn parish, and he was still living there at the time he married Zofia. This confirms my hunch about Izydor’s origins and suggests that I’m on the right track. It may be that the common ancestor shared between me and Ron was a Wilczek from Młodzieszyn. The record goes on to identify Izydor’s parents as Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka, who were unknown to me, so further research in the records of Młodzieszyn is needed to elucidate the relationship between Izydor Wilczek and my great-great-great-grandmother Marianna (née Wilczek) Kalota. However, the record also presents a plot twist: the bride, Zofia Krawczyk, was a native of the village of Kuznocin in Sochaczew parish! This is potentially relevant because I’ve traced my Krzemiński, Bielski, and Świecicki ancestors back to villages belonging to Sochaczew parish, so it muddies the waters quite a bit when it comes to determining the common ancestor from whom Mom and Ron inherited that segment of DNA on Chromosome 17. Moreover, it’s problematic that Zofia’s father is unknown, as our connection might lie with him.

Although an answer to this problem is not immediately apparent, it may be that additional research can present the solution. In the meantime, it’s obvious that we’re on the right track. This is a story that will be continued…. stay tuned!

Sources:

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1830, marriages, no. 2, Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, 31 January 1830,  Parafia Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Młodzieszynie, Chodakowska 1, 96-512 Młodzieszyn, Poland.

2 Filip Sulimierski, et al., Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] (Warszawa: Nakładem Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1902), Tom VI, 536, “Młodzieszyn,” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 17 May 2019).

3 “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M5HJ-T4L : 17 May 2019), Izidor Wilczek household, North Tonawanda Ward 3, Niagara, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 126, sheet 20A, family 309, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1049; FHL microfilm 1,375,062.

4 Roman Catholic Church, Żyrardów parish (Żyrardów, Żyrardów, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne parafii rz-kat. w Żyrardowie, Księga UMZ 1895 r., marriages, no. 63, Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 17 May 2019). 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

If Wishes Were Horses: the Premarital Agreements of Marianna and Barbara Kalota

We all have things we wish for, hope for, and dream about. As genealogists, sometimes our dreams might be considered a little unusual, like longing for an extant copy of the 1890 U.S. census for each enumeration district where one had relatives living at that time. But as the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” In some cases, all the wishing in the world will be in vain, because the thing we want may no longer exist—like the 1890 census. Sometimes it’s possible to obtain the same information in some other way—for example, using a state census or city directory to document an ancestor’s residence in a certain location circa 1890. At other times, we just have to resign ourselves to the reality that what we want is truly unavailable, and the information will be difficult or impossible to obtain by any other means.

When it comes to my Polish ancestors, I’ve always dreamed about prenuptial agreements. Continue reading “If Wishes Were Horses: the Premarital Agreements of Marianna and Barbara Kalota”

DNA to the Rescue! Evidence for Helena Panek’s Parentage

In my last post, I wrote about my research into my newly-discovered Panek ancestry. To briefly recap, the marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Michał Zieliński and Antonina Ciećwierz, stated that Michał was the son of Piotr Zieliński and Marianna Panek. Piotr and Marianna’s marriage record is indexed in Geneteka, and states that Marianna was the daughter of Helena Panek, with no father’s name given. Although this suggests that Helena was an unwed mother, I believe she was actually Helena (née Święcicka) Panek, wife of Tomasz Panek, of Kuznocin in Sochaczew County. The fact that Helena was married to Tomasz Panek at the time of Marianna’s birth does not necessarily mean that Tomasz was Marianna’s father, however, so the question remains as to whether he was named on Marianna’s marriage record and merely omitted from the index, or whether the marriage record itself states that Marianna’s father is unknown. Of course, the actual marriage record is needed here and may shed some light on the situation, and I have requested a copy from the diocesan archive in Łowicz. However, since I requested a large number of records, and since the archive is closed from now until the end of July, it might take some time before I have Marianna’s marriage record in my eager little hands. Since patience is not always my virtue, I turned to DNA to see if there was evidence to prove or disprove my hypothesis that Marianna Panek was the daughter of Tomasz Panek and Helena Święcicka.

Panning for Paneks

Considering the distant time frame of the research problem, it’s better to analyze my mother’s DNA match list rather than my own, since she is one generation closer to these elusive Panek/Święcicki ancestors than I am. I searched her matches at Ancestry for the surname Panek, and came up with 3 distant cousins with this surname in their family trees. Of these matches, two had family trees which were locked, and one had a public tree. I could request access to the locked trees, but I have no reason to suspect anything earth-shattering there, because the matches are only 10 centimorgans (cM, a unit of genetic distance) across 2 segments, and 7 cM across 1 segment, respectively. Such small segments suggest a very distant match at best, or perhaps even a matching segment that is identical by chance (a false positive). The public family tree of the third Panek match revealed that his Panek family was from Oblekon, Świętokrzyszkie province, which isn’t especially close to Sochaczew, where my Panek family lived. Panek is not an uncommon surname, and moreover, that match, too, was only about 10 cM, so it won’t be an easy task to identify our common ancestors.

The fact that Mom doesn’t yet have any strong matches to Panek cousins does not in itself offer evidence regarding the question of whether Tomasz Panek was Marianna’s father. It’s entirely possible that Tomasz Panek could have been Marianna’s father, but that Mom simply did not inherit the right bit of DNA to match another of Tomasz Panek’s descendants. It’s also entirely possible that a match will show up some day as more people test. At the moment, the vast majority of Mom’s 117 DNA matches at the level of 4th cousins or closer, appear to be people living in North America who have traced their ancestry back to Poland, rather than Poles living in Poland today. DNA testing is still unaffordable for many Poles, and Ancestry DNA is not well known in Poland, so there are very few Poles in their database. As DNA testing becomes more affordable, hopefully the situation will improve and more Poles will become interested in testing with Ancestry, increasing the likelihood that I’ll find cousins from Poland in my match list. However, at this point, the search for cousins from the Panek family didn’t pan out, so it was time to try a different angle.

Searching for Święcickis

I searched Mom’s matches for the surname Święcicki with much more promising results. A fourth-cousin match immediately popped up to “D.K.,” as well as one 5th-8th cousin match to “J.G.” Both of them have public trees, and based on these trees, D.K. and J.G. are related to each other as well as to Mom. Note that diacritics matter when searching DNA matches in Ancestry, as a search for “Święcicki” will produce different results than a search for “Swiecicki.” If you try to get around this problem by checking the box to include similar surnames, all hell breaks loose. In the case of this search, Mom’s list suddenly jumped from two matches to 68 matches, many of whom had surnames that weren’t remotely close to Święcicki/Swiecicki. Rather than wading through all these matches, I chose to focus on just the first two Święcicki matches see if I could determine how we might be related.

The Gontarek Family of Minnesota and Młodzieszyn

Both J.G. and D.K. trace their ancestry back to the Gontarek families of Minnesota. Their family trees document several siblings — Michał, Wiktoria, Ludwik, Rozalia, Bronisława, and Lena — who emigrated from Russian Poland to locations in Steele, Le Sueur, and Waseca Counties, west and south of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The fact that they settled in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was immediately interesting to me, since previous research led to me discover that this area was the destination for other ancestral cousins from Sochaczew County. Although the family trees are well-documented through census records, it’s not immediately clear what evidence they have for the names of the parents of these siblings, since the trees are a little light on vital records. Nonetheless, both family trees report that these immigrants were all children of Stanisław Gontarek and Marianna Święcicka. Furthermore, J.G.’s tree states that Marianna Święcicka was the daughter of Piotr Świecicki and Anna, maiden name unknown, and that she died in Kuznocin on 9 December 1890, and in her gallery, I found a note indicating that she hired a professional genealogist in Poland to find this information.

By this point I was sitting on the edge of my chair. Kuznocin was exactly where my Święcicki ancestors were from, so this could not possibly be a mere coincidence. A quick search in Geneteka revealed the births of most of these siblings in Sochaczew and nearby parishes, including Młodzieszyn, where the most recent generations of my Polish family lived (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for births of children born to couples with surnames “Gontarek” and “Sw,*” searching as a pair in Sochaczew and indexed parishes within a 15-kilometer radius.

Gontarek births

My matches’ family trees suggest that “Lena” was born circa 1860, so she may be the same as the Julianna who was born in 1858. Józef and Walenty are new — perhaps they remained in Poland and did not emigrate, or perhaps they died young. There are unfortunately no death records for any of these individuals, but at least 4 of them emigrated to the U.S. and died there, so their deaths would not be indexed in Geneteka. There is also no birth record for the Ludwik/Louis found in the Gontarek family trees on Ancestry. He was born circa 1872, but if he were born in Młodzieszyn like Bronisława, that could explain his absence from this list, since indexed birth records for Młodzieszyn don’t begin until 1885. In fact, if the family moved to Młodzieszyn after the birth of Walenty in 1870, that could also explain the 15-year gap in births that appears between Walenty and Bronisława. A move to Młodzieszyn would similarly explain the absence of marriage or death records for Józef and Walenty, since all records for Młodzieszyn that are available from the state archive in Grodzisk Mazowieckie are very limited. (Between the archive and the local civil records office, marriage records exist from 1889-1898 and from 1911-1928, and death records exist from 1889-1925. Additional, more recent records after 1928 are almost certainly available as well, but access to records after 1937 is restricted to immediate family.)

Bronisława’s birth record from 1885 is the only one linked to a scan. Birth records for the Gontarek children who were baptized in Sochaczew are only available at the diocesan archive in Łowicz, and Rozalia’s birth record from the parish of Brochów is in the possession of the parish archive. Working with what we have, then, let’s take a quick look at Bronisława’s birth record (Figure 2).1

Figure 2: Birth record from Młodzieszyn for Bronisława Gontarek, 3 August 1885.1

Bronislawa Gontarek birth 1885 marked

In translation from Russian, the record states that Bronisława was born in Młodzieszyn on 3 August 1885 at noon. Her father was described as Stanisław Gontarek, a laborer residing in the village of Młodzieszyn, age 59. The text pertaining to her mother, underlined in red, states that the child Bronisława was born “….of his [Stanisław’s] lawful wife, Marianna née Swięcicka, age forty-eight.” Marianna’s age suggests that she was born circa 1837, and if that was the case, then she would have been about 21 at the time of Julianna Gontarek’s birth. This is quite reasonable, and consistent with the hypothesis that all the children found in our Geneteka search belong to the same couple.

So far, so good. We’ve found additional evidence to support the information found in the family trees of Mom’s DNA matches, indicating that the Gontarek siblings who settled in Minnesota were children of Stanisław Gontarek and Marianna Święcicka or Swięcicka of the parishes of Sochaczew, Brochów, and Młodzieszyn, all located in Sochaczew County. The next step was to find Marianna Gontarek’s death record, which was discovered by the professional genealogist in Poland and was the basis for the information in J.G.’s family tree that Marianna Święcicka was the daughter of Piotr Święcicki and Anna, maiden name unknown, and that she died in Kuznocin on 9 December 1890. This document was easily located in Geneteka (Figure 3).2

Figure 3: Death record from Młodzieszyn for Marianna Gontarek, 9 December 1890.2

Marianna Gontarek death 1890

Here’s the full translation of this document from Russian, as I read it:

“A. 79, Biała Góra. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the 29th day of November/11th day of December in the year 1890 at 11:00 in the morning. They appeared — Maciej Szewczyk, laborer, age 46, and Stanisław Giza, laborer, age 26, residing in the village of Biała Góra — and stated that, on the 27th day of November/9th day of December of the current year, at 4:00 in the morning, died in the village of Biała Góra, Marianna Gontarek, wife, laborer, age 56, born in the village of Kuznocin, residing in the village of Biała Góra, daughter of the late Piotr and Anna, the spouses Swięcicki. She leaves after herself her widower husband, Stanisław Gontarek, residing in the village of Biała Góra. After eyewitness confirmation of the death of Marianna Gontarek, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed by us only. [Signed] Fr. Antoni Morski.”

Since Marianna was reported to be age 56 when she died in 1890, she was probably born circa 1834. Lo, and behold, there are two matching birth records in Geneteka for Marianna Święcicka or Swięcicka in 1835, recorded in Sochaczew which is the correct parish for the village of Kuznocin (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Search result for birth of Marianna Swiecicka, born between 1830 and 1840 in Sochaczew parish.Marianna Swiecicka birth

The two records shown here are the civil record and the church record. It’s possible to tell which is which because the “i” infodot in the “Remarks” column indicates that the second record was taken from the Latin church book, so the first record must be the Polish-language civil transcript. Both versions are only available from the diocesan archive in Łowicz, so it looks like I’ll be placing another order with them. Marianna’s mother’s maiden name is recorded as Janiak, which is new information for me, and presumably for my DNA matches as well.

Another search in Geneteka quickly produced Piotr and Anna’s marriage records — and revealed how I am related to D.K. and J.G. (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Geneteka search result for marriage of Piotr Swięcicki and Anna Janiak.

Piotr and Anna Swiecicki marriage

Piotr was the son of Stanisław and Urszula Święcicki, my putative 6x-great-grandparents!

Boom!

I say “putative,” because at this point I still don’t have a single shred of direct documentary evidence that I have any ancestors with the Swięcicki/Święcicki surname. I only have a theory based on indirect evidence that my documented ancestor, Helena Panek, was born Helena Swięcicka, daughter of Stanisław and Urszula. Up until this point, one could argue that there might still be an unmarried Helena Panek who was actually my ancestor, but who was not found in the indexes in Geneteka because those indexes are incomplete and don’t cover every year in every parish in the vicinity of Sochaczew. However, the discovery of this DNA evidence certainly adds substantial weight to my theory. Based on the paper trail, both J.G. and D.K. are 5th cousins once removed to my mother, and the amount of DNA shared by my mother with each of them supports this relationship. Due to the random nature of DNA inheritance through recombination, D.K. and my mother share 40 cM of DNA over 2 segments, while J.G. and my mother share only a single segment of 8.6 cM. However, both of these values fall within the normal range of centimorgans shared by people who are 5th cousins once removed. According to Blaine Bettinger’s handy Shared cM Project chart, people who are 5th cousins once removed might share anywhere from 0 to 79 cM of DNA, with an average of 21 cM shared DNA.

Of course, the DNA evidence in itself is not “proof” of my descent from Stanisław and Urszula Swięcicki. It’s true that DNA doesn’t lie, but in cases such as this, where DNA evidence is used to confirm a relationship that’s further back than parent-child, DNA evidence is still open to interpretation. The possibility exists that Mom (and I) might be related to D.K. and J.G. through some other set of common ancestors. However, one can invoke the law of parsimony here and conclude that Stanisław and Urszula are, indeed, our common ancestors because that explanation is the simplest, given the substantial body of indirect documentary evidence that’s accumulated. To put it another way, when you hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not zebras.

I just love it when the pieces fall into place like this. I just heard back yesterday from both J.G. and D.K., and I’m delighted to have an opportunity to share all this new information with them. And of course, I still can’t say whether Tomasz Panek was Marianna’s father or not, so that remains a mystery for now. Hmmm….. maybe I’ll go and reexamine those DNA matches with the surname Panek in their family trees. This may be my lucky day!

Sources:

1 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie” (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1885-1895, 1885, no. 105, birth record for Bronisława Gontarek, 3 August 1885, accessed as browsable images, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 20 July 2018).

2“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie” (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga zgonów 1889-1901, 1890, no. 79, death record for Marianna Gontarek, 9 December 1890, accessed as browsable images, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 20 July 2018).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just One Glimpse of A Quiet Life

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.Malgorzata Kurowska death 1902 crop

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.IMG_4191

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.

Sources:

1 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland),” Księga zgonów 1902-1913, 1902, #96, death record for Małgorzata Kurowska.

“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

The Sad Tale of the Zieliński Family of Mistrzewice

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Stanisław Zieliński was born on 6 April 1863, the third child and oldest son of the known children of Michał Zieliński and Antonina Ciećwierz. He married Marianna Kalota, daughter of Roch Kalota and Agata Kurowska, circa 1885, probably in Marianna’s home parish of Młodzieszyn. Unfortunately, most vital records for Młodzieszyn were destroyed, including all marriage records prior to 1889, which likely explains why their marriage record has not been found.  The Zieliński family were ethnic Poles living in historically Polish lands that were at that time part of the Russian Empire. Like his father, Michał, Stanisław Zieliński was a gospodarz, which Shea and Hoffman define as a “farmer (one fairly well off, owning his own land), landlord.”Stanisław and Marianna made their home in Mistrzewice, where his parents were living, rather than in the nearby village of Budy Stare, where Marianna was born.

On 16 September 1886, Stanisław and Marianna welcomed their first child:  a son, Franciszek.  A second son, Antoni, was born on 6 May 1889. However, he only lived for 5 months before passing away on 5 October 1890.  Families were all too accustomed to high infant mortality in those days, so perhaps it was some consolation to Marianna and Stanisław that she was already pregnant with their third child as they buried little Antoni.  Their third son, Piotr, was born on 4 May 1891, but his death was recorded in the parish books of Mistrzewice only one week later.

Little Franciszek had already turned six years old when his brother Józef was born on 10 October 1892. Two years later, on Christmas Eve, another brother, Szczepan, joined the family. Stanisław and Marianna welcomed two more sons, Władysław and Jan, on 20 March 1897 and 20 March 1899, respectively, and then three daughters were born:  Władysława, on 25 June 1901, Marianna, on 14 September 1903, and Zofia, on 25 November 1907.  Sadly, little Marianna lived for just two and a half months2 before she joined her brothers Antoni and Piotr in the parish cemetery.

In March of 1907, Franciszek decided to head out into the world and seek employment opportunities in America.  A young man, 21 years of age, he had already completed three years of compulsory military service in the Russian infantry, which was a distasteful obligation for most Poles. It’s not clear what factors influenced him in his decision to leave his homeland, but at the end of March in 1907, Franciszek departed from the Port of Bremen, arriving at Ellis Island on 7 April 1907. He was bound for Buffalo, New York.

There is some evidence to suggest that Frank’s younger brother, Joseph, joined him in the U.S. circa 1909 and then returned to Poland prior to his “official” arrival in the U.S. in 1912. The best match for Frank Zielinski in the 1910 U.S. census was to a man who was boarding with Anthony and Mary Lapinski in Buffalo, New York, along with another boarder, Joseph “Rzolek,” — and one Joseph Zielinski, all immigrants from Russian Poland. In this document, Frank and Joseph Zielinski are reported to be ages 26 and 20, respectively, suggesting birth years of 1884 and 1890, making them both exactly two years older than expected for my relatives. Frank reported arriving in the U.S. in 1906, while Joseph reported arriving in 1909. (No good match for his passenger manifest circa 1909 has been located as of yet.) Both men were working in a foundry (possibly Lackawanna Steel Company), Frank as a molder and Joseph as a core maker.  These occupations are interesting in light of the fact that Joseph reported his occupation as molder on the record of his 1915 marriage to Genevieve Klaus. Nonetheless, Zielinski is a very common Polish surname — so much so that the 1925 New York State Census shows a 35-year-old boarder named Joseph Zielinski living with the family of my great-grandparents Joseph and Genevieve Zielinski in North Tonawanda. When I asked my grandfather, John Zielinski, about that boarder, he remembered the man and insisted he was not a relative, it was just a crazy coincidence.

There is no evidence to suggest that Frank returned to Poland after his arrival in the U.S. in 1907. However, if the Joseph in the 1910 census is my great-grandfather, then he must have gone back to Poland some time after April 27, 1910 and then returned to the U.S. on 3 September 1912 on the S.S. Grosser Kurfürst, which is the date which corresponds to his arrival per his naturalization papers. The passenger described on this manifest is an incontrovertible match to my great-grandfather. On line 3, “Josef Zelinski” is reported to be a 20-year-old Pole from Russia whose last residence was “Mestanice,” and whose father, Stanisław Zelinski, was living in “Mistrzewice, Warsaw.” Joseph was headed to North Tonawanda, New York, and the second page reveals that he was specifically headed to his brother, Franciszek Zielinski at 7 Sawyer Avenue. His place of birth was recorded as something vaguely akin to “Mistrzewice.” Interestingly, Joseph’s answers to the questions about any previous travel to the U.S, support the idea that he was not in the U.S. previously, and it’s difficult to state with certainty that the Joseph Zielinski in the 1910 census is indeed the same man.

By 1915, Frank was boarding with the family of Joseph and Mary Brodowski at 65 7th Avenue in North Tonawanda and working as a laborer in the steel mill.  His brother Joseph was similarly working in the steel mill while boarding down the street with the family of Peter and Bronisława Kwiatkowski at 44 7th Avenue in North Tonawanda — but not for long.  On 5 October of that year, Joseph married 18-year-old Genowefa (Genevieve) Klaus.

Figure 1:  Józef Zieliński and Genowefa Klaus, 5 October 1915, North Tonawanda, New York.Genowefa Klaus and Jozef Zielinski wedding.jpg

Joseph’s brother, Frank, seated on the bride’s left, was his best man (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Wedding party of Józef Zieliński and Genowefa Klaus, 5 October 1915. Genevieve Klaus & Joseph Zielinski wedding party

Genevieve was born in North Tonawanda to Andrzej and Marianna (née Łącka) Klaus, Polish immigrants from the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire. As Józek and Genia (Joe and Jenny, as they were called in English) settled into married life, however, his family in Poland was experiencing dark days. World War I was raging in Europe, and Mistrzewice, situated in the path of the advancing German army on its way to Warsaw, found itself in the midst of battle. The period from December 1914 through July 1915 witnessed the harshest devastation at the hands of both the Germans and the Russians.  German soldiers stripped homes and farms in Mistrzewice, Młodzieszyn, and the surrounding villages of whatever materials they could repurpose for the building of fortifications and trenches. As the Germany army advanced, many Polish peasants became refugees, fleeing eastward in the hope of survival.  However, as the Russian army retreated, they were ordered to “expel the ‘enemy’ nations within,” killing Poles, Jews, and other ethnic groups in keeping with the Tsarist policy of ethnic homogenization. It is estimated that 70,000 soldiers were killed on both sides during this battle of the Rawka-Bzura, some of whom were buried in the cemeteries in Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn, and there are no good estimates for the number of civilian peasants from this area who were casualities of the war.

It was on August 13 of that year that Frank and Joseph’s youngest sister, 7-year-old Zofia, died. Her death certificate does not reveal her cause of death. Did she die of some childhood illness like her siblings?  Was her death a direct cause of the war — being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of a stray bullet? Or did her family try to flee the village, and she perished as a result of the typhus, choleratyphoid, malaria, or dysentery that were prevalent among both soldiers and refugees? What is clear from her death record is that her death was not reported until 31 December 1915 because of the war (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Zofia Zielińska, 1915.Zofia Zielinska death 1915 cropIn translation, this document states,

“#102. Mistrzewice. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the thirty-first day of December in the year one thousand nine hundred fifteen at five o’clock in the afternoon. They appeared, Piotr Szewczyk, age fifty, and Ludwik Grzegorek, age sixty-eight, farmers residing in the village of Mistrzewice, and stated that, on the thirteenth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred fifteen, at six o’clock in the afternoon, died in the village of Mistrzewice, Zofia Zielińska, a girl having seven years of age, daughter of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna nee Kalota, the spouses Zieliński, land-owning farmers residing in the village of Mistrzewice; born and residing with her parents in the village of Mistrzewice. The delay in the registration of this act happened due to the war. After confirmation of the death of Zofia Zielińska, this document was read aloud to the witnesses but was signed only by Us. [Signed] Fr. K. Kopański, administrator of Młodzieszyn parish performing the duties of civil registrar.”

Just four months after Zofia’s death and two months after his son Joseph’s wedding in North Tonawanda, Stanisław Zieliński passed away on 23 December 1915.3  At the time of his death, his sons Szczepan, Władysław and Jan were 21, 18 and 16, respectively, and daughter Władysława was 14 years old. It’s not clear how, or if, the boys managed to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. Szczepan’s death record in June of 1916 mentions only that he was born in the village of Mistrzewice and was residing there with his mother (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Szczepan Zieliński, 1916.4Szczepan Zielinski death 1916 cropTranslation:

“#78. Mistrzewice. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the sixteenth day of June in the year one thousand nine hundred sixteen at six o’clock in the morning. They appeared, Piotr Szewczyk, age sixty, and Ludwik Grzegorek, age sixty-two, farmers residing in the village of Mistrzewice, and stated that, on the fourteenth day of June in the current year, at six o’clock in the morning, died in the village of Mistrzewice, Szczepan Zieliński, bachelor, aged twenty, son of Stanisław and Maryanna nee Kalota, the spouses Zieliński, landowning farmers; born in the village of Mistrzewice and residing there with his mother. After eyewitness confirmation of the death of Szczepan Zieliński, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed only by us.[signed] Administrator of the parish of Młodzieszyn acting as civil registrar, Fr. Kaj. Kopański.”

Although no mention is made of military service, it is nonetheless possible that the Szczepan was fighting in the war.  A genealogist friend in Poland explained that death records would sometimes state that the deceased was a soldier, and indicate what country he was killed in, but that it depended on the priest.  Many priests were afraid to disclose such information. In the parish of Baranowo, he explained, a priest was killed by a Russian officer for singing the song, “Boże, coś Polskę” Many people lived in fear.

Meanwhile, in North Tonawanda, Joe and Jenny welcomed their first child, John Frank Zielinski (my grandfather), on 18 October 1916 (Figure 5).

Figure 5:  John Frank Zielinski, circa early 1917.John Zielinski circa 1916

But while the family in North Tonawanda thrived and grew, the family in Mistrzewice continued to suffer, and on 13 April 1917, Joe Zielinski’s brother Jan died at the age of 18 (Figure 6).5 

Figure 6:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Jan Zieliński, 1917.Jan Zielinski death 1917 crop

Again, no mention was made of the cause of death, and whether it was a direct or indirect result of the war. The record only states that he was born in the village of Mistrzewice in the local parish and was living there with his mother.

On 6 April 1917, the U.S. declared war on the German Empire, and in June of that year, Joseph and Frank were required to register for the draft. As resident aliens, they were supposed to be placed in Draft Class V:  Exempt and Ineligible. However, local draft boards had the authority to assign draft classes on a case-by-case basis, and Frank Zielinski’s status as a single man with prior military experience and no dependents made him a desirable candidate for the draft, regardless of the fact that he was a Russian citizen. The particulars of Frank’s military story are an interesting tale in themselves (and a topic on which I’ve lectured previously), and deserve to be told in depth at another time. But as his service record indicates, Frank was inducted on 24 February 1918, and sent overseas on 7 April 1918 as a member of the 307th Infantry Regiment, Company C. Frank Zielinski was killed in action on 25 October 1918, shot through the head by a sniper’s bullet.6 The oldest son of Stanisław and Marianna Zieliński is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France, although available evidence suggests that he was never naturalized, and there is no evidence to suggest that he ever wished to be an American citizen (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Gravesite of Frank Zielinski.MA-Zielinski, Frank, C-14-10

Joe and Jenny Zielinski’s second child, Frank Walter, was born  on 2 September 1918, named after his uncle who was serving in the war.  The following spring, Joseph Zielinski filed his Declaration of Intent to Naturalize on 18 March 1919. 7 His family in North Tonawanda was growing, and he must have felt that life in the U.S. was good.  As further evidence of Joe’s intentions to remain in the U.S., correspondence with the U.S. Quartermaster General’s office, dated 13 March 1919, indicates that Joe wished to have his brother’s remains returned home for burial in North Tonawanda (Figures 8a and 8b), although he was concerned about the expense of shipping the body.8 

Figure 8a:  First page of letter from Joseph Zielinski to the Quartermaster General’s Office, dated 13 March 1919.Page 23 March 13 1919 Letter from Joseph Zielinski cropped

Figure 8b:  Second page of letter from Joseph Zielinski to Quartermaster General’s Office.Page 24 Letter from Joseph Zielinski p 2

As the family flourished in the U.S., it continued to diminish in Poland. That autumn, on 30 September 1919, Joe’s 17-year-old sister, Władysława, died in Mistrzewice.7 Her death left only 22-year-old Władysław to manage the family farm and care for his aging mother, Marianna. However, eighteen months later, tragedy struck the Zieliński family in Poland once more, as Władysław Zieliński died on 23 March 1921, a few days after his 24th birthday.10  It’s difficult to imagine what a great loss this must have been for Marianna.  She had borne 10 children, and 9 of them preceded her in death, including 8 children who died before the age of 30. Her only surviving son was living in the U.S., leaving her alone in Poland to manage the farm as a 64-year-old widow.

Władysław’s death was almost certainly the impetus for Joe Zielinski’s decision to move his family back to Poland. Although his uncle’s death was not mentioned by my grandfather, Grandpa clearly remembered traveling to Poland as a young boy, and living there for a period of time that he remembered as about 6 months. Their exact departure date is not known, but they were definitely gone by 28 April 1921.  Additional correspondence from Frank Zielinski’s burial records file indicates that a letter sent to Joe Zielinski was returned on that date, marked “undelieverable” by the Post Office in North Tonawanda with the additional note, “Old Country” (Figure 9):

Figure 9:  Copy of envelope returned to the Quartermaster General’s Office by the North Tonawanda, New York post office.Page 31 Apr 28 1921 Envelope to Jos Zielinski marked undeliverable.jpg

When they departed for Poland in the spring of 1921, Joe and Jenny’s family included 4 1/2 year old John, almost-3-year-old Frank, and baby Helen, born 2 August 1920.  Jenny was also newly pregnant with their fourth child, Stanley Joseph (named after his paternal grandfather Stanisław and his father), who would be born on 11 November 1921. The family traveled on board the R.M.S. Olympic — sister ship to the Titanic (Figures 10a and 10b).

Figure 10a: Original postcard from the Zielinskis’ voyage to Poland, showing the Olympic.R.M.S. Olympic postcard

Figure 10b:  Reverse of the postcard.Reverse of postcard from RMS Olympic

Although he was very young, my Grandpa vividly remembered certain experiences from the trip:  tasting bananas for the first time on board the ship, chasing oranges that the sailors would roll across the ship’s deck for the children, and staring at all the soldiers’ helmets still lying in the creek behind his grandmother’s farm, a grim reminder of the recent war. He recalled riding in a horse-drawn wagon to the markets in Sochaczew and Warsaw. And he remembered his grandmother, Marianna, as a rather unkind woman.  This impression was confirmed by Grandpa’s maternal cousin Julia Ziomek, who was three years older than he, and who shared with me her memories of conversations with her Aunt Jenny about that trip to Poland.  Julia’s stories suggest that Joe and Jenny may have considered this as a permanent relocation.  She recalled that Aunt Jenny had shipped packages of household supplies to Poland in advance of their journey, with the expectation that her mother-in-law would keep these things and have them ready for Jenny to set up housekeeping upon their arrival.  Instead, Marianna deemed the items unnecessary, and donated them to the parish priest, which caused some consternation upon Jenny and Joe’s arrival. Cousin Julia also recalled Jenny’s comments about the unkindness of her mother-in-law to her children, scolding them harshly and calling them “dim-witted.” After only a few months, Jenny was ready to go back home to North Tonawanda, and apparently, Joe was persuaded. On 10 August 1921, my American-born grandfather entered Ellis Island with his family to resume the life they’d left behind.

Marianna Zielińska’s remembered harshness seems much more understandable in light of these new death records that tell the whole story of her suffering and loss.  One can easily forgive a lack of patience with the children, given that she had just buried her ninth child when my grandfather and his family arrived in Poland.  Perhaps she was embittered by so much loss and heartbreak, leaving her fearful of becoming emotionally close to her grandchildren. Perhaps Joe and Jenny tried to persuade her to sell the farm and return with them to North Tonawanda, and Marianna’s ill-temper arose from the stress of having to choose between her surviving son and her homeland.  Although those details are lost, it is known that Marianna remained in Poland, moving in with her sister in Budy Stare. She died on 4 April 1936 (Figure 11).11 

Figure 11:  Death record from Młodzieszyn for Marianna Zielińska, 1936.Marianna Zielinska death 1936Translation:

“No. 16, Budy Stare. It happened in Młodzieszyn on 4th April 1936 at 8:00 in the morning. They appeared, Stanisław Wilanowski, age 40, farmer of Mistrzewice, and Kazimierz Tomczak, farmer of Juliopol, age 26, and stated that, on this day today, at 5:00 in the morning, in Budy Stare, died Marianna née Kalota Zielińska, widow, age 79, born and residing with her sister in Budy Stare, daughter of the late Roch and Agata née Kurowska, farmers. After eyewitness testimony to the death of Marianna Zielińska, this document was read aloud to the witnesses but signed only by us. Pastor of the Parish of Młodzieszyn acting as Civil Registrar.”

Rest in peace now, Marianna.  Your story has been told.

Sources:

Where possible, sources are linked directly within the text. Citations for sources not available online appear below.

1 Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, In Their Words:  A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents:  Volume I:  Polish, (New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2000), p. 305.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1903, #102, death record for Marianna Zielińska.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1915, #101, death record for Stanisław Zieliński.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1916, #78, death record for Szczepan Zieliński.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1917, #20, death record for Jan Zieliński.

Report from Private Henry Davies regarding Frank Zielinski’s cause of death, Records of the Quartermaster General’s Office, 1915-1939, Burial Case File for Private Frank Zerlintski, serial number 1680271, Record Group 92, National Archives Identifier 595318, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Niagara, New York, Naturalization Records, Declarations of Intent to Naturalize, #4244, record for Joseph Zielinski, 18 March 1919.

8 Letter from Joseph Zielinski to the Quartermaster General’s office regarding disposition of remains of Private Frank Zielinski, dated 13 March 1919, Records of the Quartermaster General’s Office, 1915-1939, Burial Case File for Private Frank Zerlintski, serial number 1680271, Record Group 92, National Archives Identifier 595318, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

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

10 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1921, #24, death record for Władysław Zieliński.

11 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1936, #16, death record for Marianna Zielińska.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

The Case of the Zombie Bride: Epilogue

In my last post, I mentioned a recent batch of records gifted to me by a friend in Poland, which finally gave me insight into the reason why I have no remaining cousins left in Mistrzewice, which was the ancestral home of my great-grandfather, Józef Zieliński. To briefly recap, I’d been holding out hope that there might be some Zieliński cousins in the village of Bęczkowice, since a marginal note on the baptismal record for my great-grandfather’s sister, Władysława, stated that she married Józef Żak in that parish in 1923. However, I discovered the death record of this same Władysława Zielińska in 1919, suggesting that one of these records was incorrect:  either the priest recorded the wrong name on the death record, or he recorded the marriage notation incorrectly. I had hoped it was the latter — on my first pass through that recent batch of records for Młodzieszyn, I did not see any marriage or death record for my great-grandfather’s sister, Marianna Zielińska. I hoped that perhaps the priest meant to record her marriage in 1923 and recorded it on her sister’s baptismal record by mistake. The only way to know for certain was to call the parish in Bęczkowice or the civil registry office in Łęki Szlacheckie, and request a copy of the marriage record.

This past week, I received my answer, and it was not an outcome I’d anticipated. It was, indeed, Władysława Zielińska from the parish in Młodzieszyn who married Józef Żak in Bęczkowice in 1923. However, it was a different Władysława Zielińska. As you can see from a search of birth records in Geneteka for this parish, there were two girls named Władysława Zielińska who were close in age (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Search result for births in Młodzieszyn of girls named Władysława Zielińska.Geneteka search for Wladyslawa

My great-grandaunt was the one born in 1901, daughter of Stanisław and Marianna Kalota. The marriage record from Bęczkowice specified that the bride’s parents were Władysław and Weronika Nowicka. So the priest recorded the marriage notation on the wrong baptismal record, and Bęczkowice is a dead end for me — there is no hope of finding Zieliński cousins there.

What, then, became of Władysława’s sister, Marianna Zielińska?  A second, more thorough pass through the records produced her death record in 1903.1 What of the other siblings, Szczepan, Władysław, Jan, and Zofia?  I’d like to tell their story in more detail, within the context of the family history, in another post.  So until next time, happy researching.

Sources:

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie, 1903, #102, death record for Marianna Zielińska

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

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

 

The New Face of Geneteka: A Tutorial

Please note: While the original version of this post appears below, a more comprehensive tutorial was created in 2018 and can be found in three linked parts, starting here.—JRS

If you haven’t stopped by the popular Polish vital records database Geneteka lately, you’re in for a real treat. Our friends at the Polskie Towarzystwa Genealogiczne (PTG, the Polish Genealogical Society) have made some significant improvements to the search interface, making a good thing even better. This seems like a good time for a tutorial on how to use Geneteka, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it. I’ll highlight some of the improvements along the way, for those of you who already have some experience with this database.

What is Geneteka?

So what is Geneteka? As mentioned, it’s a database of Polish vital records that have been indexed by surname, from parishes and registry offices which are grouped according to the contemporary province in Poland in which they lie. Geneteka is part of a family of websites sponsored by the PTG. Each of these “sister sites” is wonderful in its own way, and several of these will probably be discussed in more detail in future blog posts. (One of these, Metryki, was already discussed in one of my previous blog posts.) But today, let’s focus on Geneteka.

At Geneteka’s home page, not much has changed. Here’s the page with English chosen as the language:

homepage

This main page offers an interactive map where we can click on the name of a province of interest, as well as a search box near the top right, where we can type in the name of a parish to see if records for that parish have been indexed here. Some indexes for locations in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine are also included. Below that search box, there is a list of Polish provinces. Click the name of a province to search for records from that entire province, as an alternative to clicking it on the map. To the right of the list of provinces, there is information on the number of parishes and civil registry offices that have been indexed for each province, as well as the total number of indexed records. From this we can get a feel for how good the coverage is for each particular area. For example, there are fewer than 300 parishes and registry offices that have been indexed for the Lesser Poland province (województwo małopolskie), with about half a million vital records, whereas there are over 1,700 parishes and registry offices indexed for the Mazovia province (województwo mazowieckie), with close to 6 million records.

It’s important to remember that Geneteka is still a work in progress. New indexes are being added weekly, all created by volunteers, who are the unsung heroes of the genealogy community, and to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude. However, many parishes have not yet been indexed at all, or have not yet been indexed for the particular range of years needed for one’s research. Therefore I still recommend that you determine your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin first, using records created in his new homeland, rather than trying to make the leap back to Poland by checking Geneteka first. It’s all too easy to attach spurious ancestors to one’s family tree by haphazard searches in Geneteka, especially if the surname is common, or there is a lack of identifying information such as parents’ names for the immigrant ancestor.

Starting a Search

With that caveat out of the way, we can move on to the nitty-gritty. Let’s take the example of a search for ancestors in Mazowieckie province. We click “Mazowieckie” on the map or in the list of provinces, and arrive at this screen:language

Immediately, a number of changes are apparent to those who have used this resource previously, but let’s start at the top. In the past, if one wished to use the site in English, it was necessary to change the language at the home page.  If a search was begun within records for a province, and one tried to switch to English, one was returned to the home page and all search results were lost. Now it’s possible to switch languages at any time during the search process, which is very convenient for those who might not be completely comfortable with Polish.

Next, we see that it is now possible to search using both a person’s surname (Nazwisko) as well as his given name (Imię). Note that diacritics aren’t important here, so you can type “Jozef Zielinski” and still find results for Józef Zieliński. Assuming we add no other identifying information, here’s what that search would produce:

jozef-zielinski

As you can see, there are over 25 pages of results, because as it happens, Zieliński is a very common Polish surname. As you look through the results, you’ll notice that the search algorithm is also designed to return not only the target name, but also names that are phonetically similar. This can be very helpful because surname spellings weren’t always consistent until perhaps the 1930s. However, if you only wish to see results for “Zieliński,” you can check the box for “Exact Search”/”Wyszukiwanie dokładne” and only results for “Zieliński” will be returned. Note that you still don’t have to enter correct diacritics even with an “exact” search: typing “Zielinski” will still give you results for “Zieliński.”

It should be noted that the “exact search” feature will also produce gender-specific results in cases where a given name is not specified. For example, if I search for “Zieliński” with no given name specified, I get even more results, but they’re for both Zieliński and Zielińska, as well as approximate phonetic matches. Searching for “Zieliński” with the “Exact Search” box checked will not only eliminate phonetic matches, it will also eliminate results for feminine surnames. Obviously, as soon as I specify a given name, I’m also excluding results for the opposite sex.

Results can be narrowed in other ways as well. At the top near the left, there is an option to narrow the range of years for which results are returned.

Jozef Zielinski 1885-1995.png

So by entering both a given name and narrowing the range of years, we’ve already cut our search results down to a mere 5+ pages.  Progress!  Of course, one of the best ways to narrow results is by using a second surname for the search. In this case, I know my great-grandfather Józef Zieliński was the son of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota. So even if I don’t narrow the range of years at all, if I just enter his mother’s maiden name in the second search box, I can immediately zero in on his family.

zielinski-kalota

Note that I didn’t bother to specify both his parents’ given names, even though I knew them. That’s because making a search too specific can lead you to miss documents that actually are for your family, but might have been recorded incorrectly (e.g. mother’s name written as Anna instead of Marianna). Some priests were much more careful about those details than others, so a good researcher must learn to critically evaluate all the data in a source to determine whether such an error is likely, or whether the evidence points to some other explanation, such as a second marriage.

Understanding the Search Results

Let’s take a closer look at how these results are displayed:zielinski-kalota-closeup

The first thing we notice — another recent improvement to Geneteka’s search interface — is that results for births, marriages and deaths appear on separate tabs, so it’s no longer necessary to search each type of vital event separately. The search algorithm is looking for any vital records which mention both surnames, Zieliński and Kalota, in any of the indexation columns. Note that records which might mention one of these names as a witness or godparents will not be returned, because at present, indexers are not instructed to include those data on the spreadsheet. On the births page, the results consist of baptismal records for the children of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota. The columns report the year and the record number for each entry, as well as both the parish, and the place within that parish, where the vital event occurred. In this case, we see that the first six births were recorded in Mistrzewice, while the last four were recorded in the neighboring parish of Młodzieszyn — even though the next column tells us that each child was still born in Mistrzewice.

So how do we interpret that? Does this change in parishes suggest that our ancestors could pick and choose what parish they baptized their child in, much as we do today?  No. It’s important to remember that Roman Catholic priests were also civil registrars in those days. Each village was assigned to a particular parish, and when a birth or death occurred in that village, villagers were required to report it to the parish in which the event occurred. In this case, it’s a bit of an historical sidenote, but this article explains that the parish in Mistrzewice was closed in 1898 and the village was transferred to the parish of Młodzieszyn. The timing explains perfectly the results we see here, wherein Władysław Zieliński was born and baptized in Mistrzewice in 1897, but his brother Jan was born in Mistrzewice and baptized in Młodzieszyn in 1899. So, if you see a sudden change in parish but the entry indicates that your ancestors’ village has remained the same, you may want to investigate the history of the parishes in that area to detect a reassignment or the establishment of a new parish.

Getting back to the discussion of Geneteka search results, you’ll notice that there are some little yellow “infodots” in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column on the far right.  If you hover your cursor over each of them, additional information is revealed. For example, in the first entry for Franciszek Zieliński, hovering over the “i” reveals his exact date of birth, 16 September 1886.frank-zielinski-dob

Similarly, hovering over the “Z” indicates the name of the archive that holds the original record which was indexed here. In this case, originals are at the Grodzisk branch of the State Archive of Warsaw. This is not to suggest that the copies might not also be found some other way, such as at one of the online repositories, or on microfilm from the FHL. In this case, there is a “scan” button which we can click to obtain a scan of this vital record. Hovering over the “A” reveals the name of the volunteer indexer to whom we owe our debt of gratitude.

Let’s take a look at the results obtained under the “marriages” tab for this same search.zielinski-marriages-closeup

It’s evident here that neither of these marriages pertains to my family. The basic search algorithm looks for the names “Zieliński”and “Kalota” or approximate phonetic variations thereof, in any data field from the original indexing spreadsheet. So in the first instance, it picked out a record for which the groom was Jan Kalot and his mother was Marianna Zielińska, from a marriage that took place in 1839 in the parish of Brzóza. In the second case, the algorithm returned the marriage record from Leszno for a groom named Jan Zieliński and his bride, Apolonia Osińska, whose mother was Franciszka Kalota. This is where another one of Geneteka’s new search options comes in very handy. Suppose you’re looking for a Zieliński groom and a Kalota bride, and you want the algorithm to ignore any results with those surnames in the fields for parents of the bride and groom. In that case, you can tick the box for “skip search in parents column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach.” If this search is repeated with that box ticked, there are zero search results, as expected. However, in other cases, it could be used to refine the search hits and reduce the extraneous results that are reported.

Let’s take a look at the results returned under the “deaths” tab before we move on to a further discussion of the new search tools. zielinski-deaths

These results aren’t too different from what we’ve seen previously, but you’ll notice that under the “remarks” column, there’s no “i” column that provides the precise date of death. In fact, as you explore Geneteka in more detail, you’re likely to notice that the content of each index varies quite a bit. Some indexes have scans attached, some do not. Some include only the names of the baptized child, the deceased, or the bride and groom, along with the year, the parish, and the record number, but no other identifying information, such as parents’ names. This is because Geneteka is an evolving entity. In its early days, these digital indexes were created from the year-end indexes that the priests made within each parish register. Presently, there is more of an emphasis on making the indexes as complete as possible, utilizing information from the records themselves.

Obtaining Scans

Having successfully identified some records of interest, how do we obtain those scans? Obviously, we start by clicking the “skan” button, but we also want to make note of the record number for the record of interest. For example, if we want to obtain the death record for Piotr Zieliński from 1891, we note the record number, 5, circled here:

Zielinski deaths

Now we click “skan,” and we’re taken to this screen:deaths 1891 In this case, the index entry is linked to a scan within the Metryki database, although some indexes are linked to scans in Szukajwarchiwach or possibly elsewhere. In the middle of the screen, where it says “Pliki” (“Files”), the scans are arranged according to the record numbers they contain. So for example, the scan entitled “01-02” holds death records 1 and 2 from Mistrzewice in 1891. Since Piotr’s death was #5, we want to click on the next file, circled here, which contains deaths 3-6. Clicking on that file takes us to the next screen, which is the scan of the record book itself.

piotr zielinski death

Since Mistrzwice was in Russian Poland and this death occurred after 1868, all records are in Russian. However, as was typical for vital events in this period, names of key participants were written first in Russian, then in Polish, so the viewable portion of the record shown here includes his given name in Russian, Петръ, as well as his full name in Polish, underlined in red. Two useful icons are circled above, on the left in this image:  the “ladder” icon takes us back to the preceding page, where we can select a file to view, and the “floppy disk” icon on the right will allow us to download a copy of this image.

Searching Within a Specified Parish

Since we know that my Zieliński family was from Mistrzewice before 1898 when the parish switched, it’s possible to choose to view just the records from that parish by selecting the parish from the drop-down menu below the province name. This is not a new feature, but we now have the additional option of changing the province while keeping all the search parameters the same, instead of having to change the province, then retype all the search parameters. Here is the result of a basic search for “Zielinski” just in the parish of Mistrzewice.Mistrzewice

Note that timeline bar that I circled in red. This tells us exactly what marriage records have been indexed for this parish. Although this information was included previously in the “parish” drop-down menu, it’s nice to have the graphic depiction. The bar will change as you select births or deaths if different ranges of years have been indexed for those vital events. It’s very important to pay attention to these ranges of years for indexed records, because more often than not, this explains why we don’t find a particular vital event in Geneteka, even when we know that event took place in a particular parish. In some cases, such as this example for Mistrzewice, all existing records for a parish have been indexed on Geneteka. If a record is not found there, it no longer exists. However, in other cases, the problem is merely that the record has not yet been indexed but is still available if you know where to look.

Sometimes it happened that our Polish ancestors moved around a bit within the general area of the ancestral village we originally identified. To address this issue, Geneteka offers the option to include in the search all parishes within 15 km of a selected parish. For example, records from Mistrzewice told me that my great-great-grandmother Antonina (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska was the daughter of Jan Ciećwierz and Katarzyna Grzelak, and that Jan Ciećwierz was the son of Wojciech Ciećwierz and Katarzyna, whose maiden name was not specified. A search of Mistrzewice plus nearby parishes for surnames “Ciecwierz” and “Grzelak” produces four records for my family in Mistrzewice, but also a marriage record for Jan’s sister, Marianna Ciećwierz, to Karol Grzelak in Mikołajew in 1830.search-nearby

The actual parishes included in this search, as well as their distance from the specified parish, are shown here. Again, remember that there might be additional parishes within a 15 km radius of the target parish, but if they aren’t indexed, they won’t show up here.

These particular search results illustrate another issue to consider when designing search strategies: the earlier records are less likely to mention a mother’s maiden name. Even if you have a hint of a maiden name from one document or another, it’s better to leave it off and search according to given names. So let’s say we want to follow up now on that hint about Mikołajew and search for children of Wojciech and Katarzyna Ciećwierz. When we search in Mikołajew for children of surname “Ciecwierz” and given name “Wojciech” paired with given name “Katarzyna” we obtain the following:mikolajew-ciecwierz

So far, so good. We have 5 children born between 1810 and 1824, a reasonable range of years, to parents Wojciech and Katarzyna, all born in the village of Wyczółki within the parish of Mikołajew. But we have two different maiden names reported for the mother, Pietrzak and Szymaniak. Hmm…. did Katarzyna Pietrzak die after 1820 and did her husband remarry a woman named Katarzyna Szymaniak before 1824? And where is Jan Ciećwierz, my ancestor, the father of Antonina Zielińska?

The answer to the first question is another story for another day, but the answer to the second question offers a nice opportunity to illustrate another search tool offered by Geneteka, which is wildcard searching. A wildcard is a character that can be used to replace other characters in a search string. Geneteka allows the use of the asterisk (*) to replace one or more characters in a search term. (The use of “?” to replace just one letter is not supported, however.) There are definitely times when it’s advantageous to search this way, but understanding when that is requires a bit of a deeper discussion about Geneteka’s search algorithms.

Geneteka’s Search Algorithms and Wildcard Searches

The indexers at Geneteka are instructed to record surnames as they are written in the record, without making an attempt to standardize them according to modern spelling rules.  Consequently certain letter combinations are treated as equivalents, so names with an e/ew, such as Olszeski and Olszewski are equivalent, as are oy/oj names like Woyciechowski/Wojciechowski, and ei/ej names like Szweikowski and Szwejkowski.  Similarly, search results include common phonetic substitutions, such as changing “sz” to “ś” such that searching for “Szczygielski” will include results for “Ścigielska,” and “Szcześniak” will include results for “Sciesniak.” Although “ż” is phonetically equivalent to “rz,” Geneteka does not equate “z” with “rz,” because it ignores diacritics so it “sees” z, ź and ż as equivalents. Consequently, names like “Zażycki” and “Zarzycki” need to be searched separately.

Since the original records indexed in Geneteka might be in Polish, Russian, German or Latin, the indexers must be familiar with those languages, and the search engine must be able to handle transliterations between these languages.   Therefore we find that the German “ü” is interchangeable with “u”, “fitz” with “fic”, etc.  A search on the name “Schmidt,” for example, results in a wide range of phonetic equivalents:  Szmit, Schmiedt, Schmit, Szmitt, etc.  In addition, the search engine truncates names ending in “e”, “y” or “a,” so searching for Mischke will result in Miszka and Mischka.

Going back to our present example, this means that Geneteka’s search algorithm automatically equates “Ciecwierz” with “Ciećwierz” and reports results for each, as in the above example. However, some approximate phonetic matches might nonetheless be missed. So if we repeat the search using “C*” instead of “Ciećwierz,” we find my missing ancestor:jan-ciecwierz

Ta da!  There’s Jan’s birth in 1815, which fits precisely with the year of birth suggested by his death record from Mistrzewice.

What’s immediately apparent here is how many variant spellings of Ciećwierz and related surnames are not returned by Geneteka’s search algorithm, including Czetwirz, Ciecwierski, Cieczwierz, etc. Additional careful research, including full review of the documents themselves from the diocesan archive in Łowicz, is needed before I can state with confidence which of these records pertain to my family and which don’t. But without doing a wildcard search, I would have missed out on finding many of these.

Now suppose I want to find marriages for children of Wojciech and Katarzyna Ciećwierz in Mikołajew or in any of the surrounding (indexed) parishes. If I repeat this search, checking the “search nearby parishes” box, I get the following:marriages search not as a pair

Some of the results returned are marriages for grooms named Wojciech C* and brides named Katarzyna, but results are also returned for marriages in which the groom’s father was Wojciech and the bride’s mother was Katarzyna, or the bride was Katarzyna and her father was Wojciech, etc. — not what we’re looking for. To eliminate these stray hits and help us focus on the results we want, there’s a new feature, “Relationship search/wyszukaj jako para,” which allows us to search using the specified names as a pair.  When we repeat this search after checking this box, the results include only those marriages between a groom named Wojciech C* and a bride named Katarzyna, or those marriages for which both Wojciech C* and Katarzyna were named as the parents of either the bride or the groom.

Marriages search as a pair

Finally, for those of you who find searching in Geneteka to be addicting, there is a new feature which allows you to search only indexes which have been added recently (past day, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 31 days).

Recent additions

In my case, repeating this search with that box ticked indicates that none of these indexes which include my Ciećwierz ancestors have been added recently, so apparently I’m late to the party, just now tripping over these ancestors who have been waiting here for me, deep within the wonder that is Geneteka.

“Ask not what Geneteka can do for you….”

Hopefully this discussion will give you a better idea of how you can search Geneteka effectively to find your ancestors in Poland. Of course, no discussion of Geneteka can be complete without a final word of gratitude to the volunteer indexers and the PTG, and also an appeal to those of you who find this tool as helpful as I do. If you’re competent with reading vital records in Polish, Russian, German or Latin and want to give back to the genealogical community, please consider volunteering to index records for Geneteka yourself.  Most volunteers index records from their own parishes of interest, which is why it’s not possible to submit requests for particular parishes to be indexed. Indexing instructions are provided.. ”

Maybe you don’t feel comfortable with indexing, or don’t have the time?  You can still help out by making a donation to the project.  Although all the records for both Geneteka and its sister site, Metryki, are indexed or photographed by volunteers, the PTG still must pay for server space to host these online, and those costs add up.  If we hope to see this valuable resource remain online and free to everyone, donations are needed, and every little bit helps.  Happy hunting!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

“Grandma said she was from Poznań”: Decoding Stories About Ancestors from Poland

Most of us use family stories as the starting point for our genealogy research. However, the truth can sometimes get distorted, and it’s our job as family historians to sort out the historical fact from the fiction.  With that in mind, I’d like to offer some suggestions based on common misinterpretations, to help you decode those family stories and understand what Grandma really meant.

Story:  “Grandma said she was from Poznań.”

Analysis:  Most of our ancestors were from small villages, not big cities, so in all likelihood, Grandma didn’t mean she was from the city of Poznań proper.  Often an immigrant would generalize her place of birth to the closest big city under the assumption that her listener wouldn’t recognize the name of whatever small village she was actually born in.  We still do this today:  if I’m talking with someone who’s not familiar with Western New York, I might say, “I’m originally from Buffalo,” although it would be more accurate to say that I used to live in Williamsville, a village about 12 miles east of the city of Buffalo itself.  When I’m talking with another Western New Yorker, I can be more specific. In my family history, the Great-Grandma who said she was from Poznań was from the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo, about 48 miles east. Looking for her in records from the city of Poznań itself would be an exercise in frustration and a waste of time.

Story:  “On Great-Grandpa’s World War I draft registration, he stated that he was from Płock, but on his passenger manifest he said that he was from Bieżuń.  Which one do I trust?”

Analysis:  Both.  Sometimes our ancestors referenced a larger administrative division rather than the smallest one, just as I might sometimes say I was born in New York, rather than Buffalo.  Gather all the bits of evidence for your ancestor’s place of origin, then check a gazetteer to see if they can be reconciled.  In this example, the village of Bieżuń was the seat of gmina Bieżuń within the Sierpc powiat and the Płock gubernia of Russian Poland.  (A gmina is an administrative division similar to a township, serving multiple small villages, but smaller than a powiat, which is comparable to a county.  A gubernia is like a province.)  Consequently, any reference to Bieżuń, Sierpc, or Płock on documents pertaining to Great-Grandpa’s place of birth might be consistent with the same location.  Not sure which gazetteer to use?  Check out the section entitled “Maps, Phonetic Gazetteers, and Period Gazetteers” in this previous post.

Story:  “Grandpa was Polish, and he was born somewhere near the Russian border.”

Analysis:  As discussed in a recent post, Poland didn’t exist as an independent nation from 1795 until 1918.  So statements like this one, which presuppose that Grandma was born in Poland near the border with Russia, are immediately suspect.  In most cases, “near the Russian border” means somewhere in Russian Poland – either the Kingdom of Poland or the Kresy (the eastern borderlands that were part of Poland between the world wars). Similarly, “near the German border” suggests Prussian Poland, and “near the Austrian border” suggests Galicia.

In my experience, these “border” stories were an attempt to reconcile the apparent conflict between the fact of someone’s Polish ethnicity and his documented Prussian (for example) nationality.  Grandpa may have come from someplace solidly within Prussian Poland, not particularly close to the actual border with Russia, but nonetheless the “border” stories persist.  Since ethnicity has more to do with language, culture, and religion than with citizenship, even if Grandpa was a citizen of Prussia, we should not infer that he was ethnically German, for the same reason that I would not suddenly become an ethnic Mexican if Mexico were to invade the U.S. tomorrow.

Story:  “Great-Grandma’s passenger manifest from 1900 says she was 20, but the 1930 census says she was only 45. Therefore she must have lied about her age on the census.”

Analysis:  I always cringe when I hear accusations that ancestors lied about their age. Unless it’s something really egregious, I like to give Grandma the benefit of the doubt and assume that any discrepancy was an innocent mistake, rather than assuming an intent to deceive. In rural, agrarian society it just wasn’t necessary to know one’s birthdate precisely, and many of our ancestors didn’t know their exact birthdate, or they might remember the day, but not the year.  When evaluating records for your Polish ancestor, it’s not uncommon for someone’s reported age to be off by a few years in either direction.  This is as true in records from Poland as it is in U.S. records.  For example, many parish priests had a tendency to round the ages of declarants and witnesses, which is evident when all the key participants just happen to be 30, 40 or 50 with nary an odd-numbered age in the bunch.

Story: “Great-Grandpa Albert must have lied about his birthdate.  He said it was in April, but I found his baptismal record from Poland and he was actually born in September.”

Analysis:  This is a corollary to the situation described above, but with a twist.  Many Americans don’t realize that in Polish culture, name days were traditionally more important than birthdays.  Name days (imieniny) are the designated feast days dedicated to canonized saints within the Roman Catholic church.  For example, the feast of St. Adalbert is celebrated on April 23, so men named Albert/Adalbert or Wojciech (the equivalent of this name in Polish) would be celebrated on that day, regardless of when their actual birthdays were.  In practice, the feast day calendar sometimes influenced the choice of names given to a child, with parents naming their child after a saint whose feast day was on or close to the child’s actual date of birth.  However, your mileage may vary with this.  In some cases, multiple saints bore the same name throughout history, e.g. St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, St. John Kanty, St. John of God, St. John Nepomucene, etc., so the same name might have multiple feast days associated with it throughout the year.  In this case, there’s really no way of knowing just which Saint John was your ancestor’s patron unless it is specified in his baptismal record.

Story:  “I’d love to find Grandma’s birth record in Poland, but I’ve heard it’s no use, because all the records were destroyed in the wars.”

Analysis:  This misconception has prevented many a family historian from trying to explore his roots in Poland.  I’ll be honest — at one point, I fell for it, too.  Back in the earlier days of my research, I determined that my great-grandfather, Józef Zieliński, was born in the village of Mistrzewice, in Młodzieszyn township.  Thanks to the old Rootsweb genealogy mailing lists, I found another researcher who was also interested in the Zieliński surname in Młodzieszyn.  He’d been to Poland, visited the parish, and assured me that all records prior to 1945 were destroyed.  This was about 12 years ago, before it was easy to check online for availability of records in the Polish State Archives, and back before anything much was online, so I don’t blame that researcher at all.  He was going on the best information that he had, but it’s up to each of us to do our own due diligence.  At that point, I assumed that I would never learn anything more about my Zieliński family in Poland, and with a heavy heart, I moved on to other lines of research.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I discovered that some records for Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn did survive the war, and were indexed on Geneteka. (If you’re interested, that story is told here).  Admittedly, the range of years covered by the surviving records is limited, but between these documents and some letter-writing to the local civil registry office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego, or USC) in Młodzieszyn, I was able to add another 1-3 generations of ancestors (depending on the line) to my Zieliński family tree.  If I’d believed the story that all the records were destroyed and had stopped looking, I’d have missed out.

These are a few examples of common misunderstandings that I’ve heard from people as they begin to research their Polish ancestry.  What about you?  What are some misunderstandings that you had when you began your research?  What are the stories in your family that you’ve discovered weren’t quite accurate, once you dug a little deeper?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!  In the meantime, happy researching.

Featured photo credit:  Detail of map, “Posen 1905”, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017