Party Like It’s 1899, Continued

In my last post, I wrote about an imaginary visit to the year 1899, prompted by a post in the Facebook group, “GAA (Genealogy Addicts Anonymous)” In that group, Admin Claudia D’Souza recently posed the question to the members of the group, “Imagine you wake up and you are in the year 1899! Who are you going to visit, & what are you going to find out?” I had quite a bit of fun thinking about that question—so much fun, in fact, that I decided to break up my musings into two posts. Since I already discussed my game plan for visiting and interviewing my relatives on my paternal side, I’ll move on now to my plan for visiting my maternal relatives, based on hypothetical time travel to August 31st, 1899. I’ve updated the interactive map to include all the new places I’ll be visiting on my journey.

My Maternal Grandmother’s Family

Many of my Mom’s relatives were already in Buffalo by today’s date in 1899, so I’ll start my journey there. I’ll head first to 25 Clark Street, on Buffalo’s East Side. This is where 22-year-old Weronika/Veronica Grzesiak has been living in Buffalo for a little over a year, boarding with the family of Michał/Michael and Marianna/Mary (née Derda) Staszak.

Figure 1: Wedding portrait of Weronika Grzesiak and Jan Zażycki, 5 August 1901, Buffalo, New York. Left to right, Tadeusz Grzesiak (brother of the bride), Jan Zażycki, Józefa Grzesiak (sister of the bride), Weronika Grzesiak.Veronica Grzesiak & John Zazycki wedding

Veronica, who will be my great-grandmother, named Michael Staszak as the relative she was going to join, and her passenger manifest clearly states “brother-in-law and sister,” which suggests that she must be related to his wife. Interestingly, Polish records offer no evidence that Veronica and Mary were related in any way, much less through a relationship as close as sister or half-sister. However, Mary Staszak was from Kowalewo-Opactwo, the same village in which Veronica grew up, so it’s probable that they were good friends. Moreover, Veronica and Mary traveled together on the S.S. Willehad when they made the journey from Kowalewo to Buffalo, along with Michael and Mary’s two children, 9-year-old Józefa and 7-year-old Franciszek.

I know a lot about Veronica’s ancestry, yet I still have questions about her family. I know that at least two of her siblings, Władysław and Konstancja, moved to Warsaw and were married there in August 1898 and June 1898, respectively. What prompted their move? Did any of the other siblings move as well? What happened to Pelagia, the sister who disappears from the records after her birth in Kowalewo in 1869? I know that Veronica is working hard in the kitchen of a restaurant and saving up her money to bring her father and siblings to the U.S. I also know that one year from now, her father, Józef, and siblings Tadeusz, Józefa, Władysław, and Władysław’s wife, Kazimiera, will join her in Buffalo. Why will her mother, Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak, not come as well? Will she merely choose to stay in Warsaw with her daughter Konstancja and Konstancja’s husband, Julian Cieniewski?

By May of 1900 when most of the family leaves for America, Konstancja will already be pregnant with her daughter Wiktoria, due in December. Will she simply plead for her mother to stay with her and help her through the birth, until Marianna finally relents and allows her husband and other children to go to America without her? Or was something else going on? Why will Józef report on his passenger manifest that he was a widower, and why will three of her children appear not to know their mother’s name, reporting it variously on U.S. records as Anna Nowacka, Mary Cebulska, and Marianna Szafron? Why will the story be handed down that Marianna Grzesiak was already deceased by the time Veronica left for America, when in fact she will not die until 1904? All these facts seem to suggest that Marianna was estranged from her family for some reason. Was this the case, or am I just over-interpreting the data?

More answers might be found by visiting her family in the Old Country, so I’ll book passage to Bremen or Hamburg, and from there, make my way to Warsaw, where I hope to find Weronika’s oldest brother, Władysław Grzesiak, and his new bride, Kazimiera (née Olczak), living in the Koło neighborhood within the Wola district of the city. I’ll want to ask Władysław where his parents are living, and which of his siblings are also living in Warsaw. I expect I’ll find the youngest sister, Józefa, here, since family stories handed down among her descendants suggest that she, too, may have lived in Warsaw just prior to emigration. It may very well be that the entire Grzesiak family has moved here within the past year. Władysław’s marriage record from August 1898 stated that his parents were living in “Borowo,” although the record failed to specify which place was meant, out of nearly two dozen places by that name located within the borders of Poland today. However, Józef Grzesiak was apparently living in Warsaw by 27 March 1899, since he was named as a witness on the birth record for his first grandson, Marian Cieniewski, son of Konstancja Grzesiak and Julian Cieniewski. Sadly, the record notes that baby Marian was born alive and was baptized with water, but died the same day.

Once Władysław gives me his parents’ address, I will be eager to visit the home of Józef and Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak, my great-great-grandparents. They’re a couple shrouded in mystery for me, for reasons already described. It’s speculation, but I’ve often wondered if Marianna might have suffered from some mental illness. In an era when mental illness were poorly understood, it was not uncommon for families to distance themselves from their afflicted loved ones, even going so far as to tell the younger generations that their elder relative was already deceased. It’s difficult to understand precisely why Marianna’s death record from 1904 states that she was a pauper, living in Zagórów, the village of her birth, yet survived by her husband, Józef. Why would she have been a pauper, since she had a husband and at least one adult daughter living in Warsaw, who might presumably be able to care for her? A visit to 1899 won’t tell me where and when Józef will eventually die, and his death record has not yet been discovered. Still, I will enjoy the chance to get to know them a bit, and also to discover whether the unique pierogi recipe handed down in my family—filled with a combination of sauerkraut, potatoes, and onions—originated with Marianna, or was an invention of her daughter Weronika. 

When my visit with the Grzesiaks has ended, I’ll head back to Buffalo, to 44 Lathrop Street to visit Weronika Grzesiak’s future husband and my great-grandfather, Jan/John Zażycki. John is a 33-year-old molder in a factory, who has been living in the U.S. for 4 years and has already declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen. I wonder if he and Veronica have met yet? While I know something of Jan’s paternal ancestry, his mother, Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka, has been a stumbling block for me. Maybe he can tell me where she was born, and where his parents were married. Maybe he can tell me something about her siblings and parents. Was he really the only one of the 11 children in his family who immigrated to America, as present data suggest? What prompted that move?

Antonina herself was still alive in 1899, so when I’ve finished my interview with John, I’ll return to Poland (imaginary travel is cheap, after all!) and make my way to the small village of Bronisławy, about 43 miles west of Warsaw. There I’ll find Antonina and her husband, Ignacy Zarzycki. Ignacy is a 71-year-old peasant farmer who owns his own land—a gospodarz, in Polish. His wife is about the same age, and they are the parents of 11 children, although they have already buried four of them, including a son, Roman, who died 8 years ago at the age of 19. Ironically, their son John will also have a son named Roman who will die an untimely death at the age of 23, but they don’t know this yet. I’m sure they’ll be eager for information about John, and how he’s faring in America. I’ll be equally eager for information on the whereabouts of their son, Tomasz, for whom I’ve not yet been able to locate a marriage or death record. Given the difficulty with obtaining records from parishes in this area, it’s likely that he married and settled in another nearby parish, but which one? 

Mostly, however, I’ll want to hear Antonina’s story. Is my current hypothesis correct, that  her parents were Mateusz Naciążęk and Petronella Trawińska? Who were her siblings? It will be fascinating to meet this woman whose origins have been such a mystery to me, my most recent ancestor about whom so little is known. Antonina won’t be able to tell me where she will die, of course, but I will be sure to ascertain the whereabouts of all of her living, adult children, since she may go to live with one of them when her husband Ignacy passes away in two years’ time. I have evidence that two of her children, Leonard and Karol, moved to Warsaw, while two daughters, Aniela Gruberska and Marianna Gruberska, were living in villages within the nearby parish of Młodzieszyn.  A third daughter, Ewa Klejn, was living in the vicinity of Sochaczew in 1880, but at the present time that’s all I know. 

My Maternal Grandfather’s Family

Having concluded my visits with my maternal grandmother’s family, I’ll book passage back to America to meet my maternal grandfather’s relatives. My journey will take me back to Buffalo once again—back to Clark Street, no less—where my great-great-grandparents, Andrzej/Andrew and Marianna/Mary (née Łącka) Klaus, are living at 43 Clark Street, less than a block away from the home of Veronica Grzesiak.

Figure 2: Wedding photo of Mary Łącka Klaus and her second husband, Władysław/Walter Olszanowicz, 21 November 1916, North Tonawanda, New York. Back Row, left to right: Apolonia/Pauline Klaus Sobuś (Mary’s daughter), holding her son, Edward Sobuś; Stanisław/Stanley Sobuś (Pauline’s husband); Anna Klaus Gworek (Mary’s daughter); Jacob Gworek (Anna’s husband); Genowefa/Genevieve Klaus Zielinska (Mary’s daughter, my great-grandmother).
Front Row, left to right: Julia Sobuś Ziomek (Cousin Jul, daughter of Pauline Klaus Sobuś); Unknown (most probably the groom’s marriage witness, Mary Jedrychanka); Walter Olszanowicz ; Mary Łącka Klaus; Joseph Zieliński (Genevieve’s husband, my great-grandfather); Marie Gworek Glitta (crouching on floor, Anna’s daughter); Helen Klaus (Mary’s daughter)null_00001

In 1899, Andrew is a 33-year-old day laborer and the father of three daughters, Anna, Pauline, and Genowefa/Genevieve (my great-grandmother, Figure 3). He and his 32-year-old wife Mary have already buried two children, a daughter named Zofia/Sophia, and a son named Bolesław. Andrew is also the step-father to Mary’s two sons, Joseph and John, who were born prior to their marriage. On this date in 1899, Mary is heavily pregnant with the couple’s sixth child, Edward, who will be born on September 11th. I know a great deal about both of their families, but there are still missing details.

Figure 3: Genevieve Klaus on her First Communion day, circa 1907.Genevieve Klaus 1st Communion circa 1907

I’ll want to ask Andrew what happened to his brother Michał, who disappears from the records in Poland. I’m also curious to know why he chose to move on to Buffalo, New York, instead of remaining in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, where his brother John Klaus was already living. I’ll be very interested to ask Mary what happened to her father, Jakub Łącki, and her brother, Józef/Joseph, who immigrated with her. Jakub disappears from the records completely after the passenger manifest documenting his arrival in New York in 1884. There’s a family story about a family member who died on the voyage, but it was supposed to be one of Mary’s and Andrew’s children. There’s no evidence that Mary and Andrew knew each other until he arrived in Buffalo circa 1890; could it be that the story got confused, and it was Mary’s father, Jakub, who died on the voyage? Evidence for Joseph Łącki after emigration is also scant. Where is he now? 

After planting a kiss on the forehead of the toddler who will be my great-grandmother, it’s time to return to Sochaczew County in the Russian Empire, this time for a visit to the village of Mistrzewice. Once in the village, I’m sure the locals will be able to direct me to the farm of Stanisław and Marianna (née Kalota) Zieliński, my great-great-grandparents. Stanisław is a 36-year-old farmer (gospodarz) whose father first moved to Mistrzewice from the nearby village of Bibiampol, just a few miles to the south. Marianna grew up in the village of Budy Stare, about five miles to the east. They are the parents of seven sons, although only five of them are currently living: 13-year-old Franciszek, 7-year-old Józef (my great-grandfather), 4-year-old Szczepan, 2-year-old Władysław, and baby Jan, who was just born in March.

Figure 3: Wedding photo of Joseph Zielinski and Genevieve Klaus, 6 October 1915. The best man, Franciszek/Frank Zielinski, seated on other side of the bride, and the woman seated on the other side of the groom is most likely the maid of honor, Josephine Urbaniak.Genevieve Klaus & Joseph Zielinski wedding party

I have a pretty good handle on the deeper ancestry of both Stanisław and Marianna, for at least a few generations. Due to the difficulty in accessing records, I don’t know the names of Marianna’s maternal great-grandparents, but then again, she may not know them, either. Mostly, I’ll enjoy this opportunity to get to know the two of them, observing their interactions with each other and with their children. There are no family stories whatsoever about what Stanisław was like, but the stories that have survived about Marianna, who will die in 1936, don’t paint a picture of a very kind woman. That said, Marianna will experience a great deal of loss in her life, as she will outlive her husband and nine of her ten children. But right now, that’s mostly in Marianna’s future. Perhaps now, in 1899, she is a more cheerful, hopeful woman—a younger wife and mother, still in the prime of her life.

I have one final stop to make before I leave the year 1899, to the village of Budy Stare, to meet Marianna’s father—my great-great-great-grandfather, Roch Kalota. In his prime, Roch was a farmer, but now he’s about 61, and I wonder if he’s starting to slow down and let his sons do more of the hard work around the farm. My understanding of Roch’s family is somewhat incomplete. I know that he married a 21-year-old widow, Agata (née Kurowska) Orlińska, in 1858, and that they had at least seven children together. There are a few gaps in the chronology of their children’s births, however, due to difficulty in accessing church records from their parish, so hopefully Roch can fill those in for me. Agata passed away in 1895, and most of his children are married and have children of their own. The youngest two (that I’m aware of), Katarzyna and Antoni, are still unmarried and living at home, and I’ll enjoy chatting with them as well.

That will wrap up my time-travel to the year 1899. All in all, this was a pretty enjoyable exercise, imagining the life of each of my ancestors in that particular year in their lives. Pondering what is known about each person also helps me to see how much is still unknown in each family’s story. In some cases, this information may yet be discovered without any time machines, so I don’t mean to suggest that every question raised here is necessarily a “brick wall.” It may be that the answers will be found easily, once I make time to do the research, or once I’m able to gain access to the records. So it’s probably time to get back to the present and start looking for the documents that will lead me to the answers I seek. 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

The Leonard Zarzycki Family of Warsaw

Genealogists are often too familiar with the frustration of painstakingly gathering documentation to identify an ancestral village, only to discover that the family didn’t stay there for long, nor did they leave any hint about where they went. Sometimes, it’s just a branch or two that disappears from the records, but in such cases, it can be really difficult to find people in the absence of indexed records. I have quite a few family lines that dead-end this way, but the good news is that indexing efforts in Poland are bringing more and more of these missing relatives to light. Just yesterday, in fact, I managed to discover evidence for a previously unknown Zarzycki cousin who went to Warsaw.

I’ve written about my Zarzycki/Zażycki family in the past. This is the family of my great-grandfather, Jan Zażycki, who was born in the village of Bronisławy in Sochaczew County in 1866, and immigrated to Buffalo, New York. The village of Bronisławy belongs to the parish of Rybno, and it’s challenging to obtain records from this parish since so few of the parish books were ever transferred to the state or diocesan archive. Most of them are still onsite at the parish itself, but thanks to the diligence of my onsite researcher, Justyna Krogulska, and the generous pastor who was willing to permit access to the records, I’ve been able to gather baptismal records for Jan and his siblings, trace the family’s roots a bit further back, and also trace some of Jan’s siblings forward, to identify their spouses and at least some of their children. However, some of Jan’s siblings disappeared from the records in Rybno. Did they die in infancy, and their deaths were somehow not recorded? Did they move and perhaps marry elsewhere in Poland? So far I haven’t found evidence of emigration (I’ve looked), but maybe a surname was dramatically altered?

Today, one of those missing siblings emerged, in the indexed records for Warsaw in the vital records database, Geneteka. Leonard Zarzycki was the youngest brother of my great-grandfather Jan. Leonard was born 6 November 1876,and his marriage to Marianna Majewska was recorded in Rybno parish on 14 February 1904.2 After that marriage, however, the couple disappeared from the records. No birth records for their children were discovered in Rybno, and I had no idea where they went until today, when I discovered the following marriage record for Leonard and Marianna’s son, Zygmunt, at All Saints Church in Warsaw in 1929.3

Zygmunt Zarzycki and Henryka Kurkiewicz 1929 crop

The translation of the record is as follows:

“#525. This happened in Warsaw in the office of All Saints parish on the eighth day of September in the year one thousand nine hundred twenty-nine at ten o’clock in the morning. We declare that — in the presence of witnesses, Leonard Zarzycki, public works entrepreneur, and Michał Kurkiewicz, railroad official, adult residents of Warsaw — that on this day, in this church, was contracted a religous marriage between Zygmunt Zarzycki, bachelor, office worker, having twenty-four years of age, born in the parish of St. Stanisław, son of the living Leonard and Marianna née Majewska, the spouses Zarzycki, residing in Warsaw on Krochmalna Street in house number five thousand four hundred ninety eight in St. Andrew’s parish, and Henryka Michalina Kurkiewicz, single, [residing] with her father, having twenty-four years of age, born in the parish of St. Barbara in Warsaw, daughter of the living Michał and the late Leokadia née Miałkowska, residing in Warsaw on Pańska Street in house number one thousand two hundred forty-three in the parish here. The marriage was preceded by three announcements, proclaimed in the parish of St. Andrew’s and here, on the eighteenth and twenty-fifth days of August and the first day of September. The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Jan Mecheta, local vicar. This document was read aloud to the newlyweds and witnesses, and we signed. [Signed] Fr. Mecheta, Zygmunt Zarzycki, Henryka Kurkiewicz, Michał Kurkiewicz.”

 

The ages reported here suggest that both Zygmunt and his bride, Henryka, were born circa 1905 in Warsaw. The parish in which Zygmunt was baptized, St. Stanisław, Bishop and Martyr, was founded in 1611 in the Wola district of Warsaw, and Zygmunt’s birth record was subsequently located in the records from that parish. The address at which Leonard Zarzycki’s family was living at the time of Zygmunt’s marriage, 5498 Krochmalna Street, appears not to correspond to any present address there, but this is hardly surprising, given that 90% of Warsaw was destroyed during World War II. Krochmalna Street itself was a very poor neighborhood, largely Jewish, and the eastern part of the street was within the area walled off by the Nazis in November 1940 to form the Warsaw Ghetto, just 11 years after the date of Zygmunt and Henryka’s wedding.

I have to wonder what happened to the Zarzyckis during the war. Did they leave the city and go back to family in Bronisławy? Were they forcibly relocated? Might they have participated in the Warsaw Uprising? One resource to check for answers to these questions is the “Loss” database. In 2006, The Polish Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Institute of National Memory) and the Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego (Ministry of Culture and National Heritage) developed this database to assist families in discovering the fates of individuals who suffered the loss of life or property as a result of Nazi oppression. A broad search for Zarzycki/Zarzycka, with father’s name Leonard (to locate Zygmunt) or Ignacy (to locate Zygmunt’s father, Leonard) did not produce any likely matches, suggesting that the family might, indeed, have left Warsaw before the war.

Another broad search in the indexed records at Geneteka for St. Stanisław Church in Warszawa-Wola reveals a large number of births to Zarzyckis between 1904, when Leonard and Marianna were married, and 1908, when indexed records end for this parish. I hoped that some of these might be for additional children of this couple, so I examined each record individually, since the index is of the “bare bones” variety which lacks key identifying information such as mother’s maiden name. Unfortunately, none were for children of Leonard and Marianna. Zygmunt’s marriage record stated that the family was living in Warsaw in St. Andrew’s parish at that time, so perhaps they moved there soon after he was born, and additional siblings can be found in those records. Birth records for St. Andrew’s are not indexed in Geneteka for the period from 1904-1912, but they’re available (unindexed) at Geneteka‘s sister site, Metryki. So perhaps I’ll be able to discover a few more children of Leonard and Marianna Zarzycki in due time. Stay tuned!

Sources:

Featured Image: All Saints Church in Warsaw, Poland, image courtesy of Wikipedia user Masti, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.5.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1870-1880, 1876, #87, baptismal record for Leonard Zarzycki.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl, 1904, #15, marriage record for Leonard Zarzycki and Maryanna Majewska, accessed on 28 September 2017.

Ksiegi metrykalne parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wszystkich Swietych w Warszawie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl), Ksiega zaslubionych 1929 r., #525, marriage record for Zygmunt Zarzycki and Henryka Michalina Kurkiewicz, accessed on 28 September 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Walter Wed Where? Wow! A Genealogical Breakthrough

The sweetest victories are the ones that took the longest time in coming.  A couple days ago, I happened upon some documents that fundamentally changed my understanding of my Grzesiak family history, documents I’ve been seeking for many years.  So there is some major happy dancing going on in the Szczepankiewicz house today, albeit limited to just one of its residents.

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo and Buffalo, New York

In a previous post, I wrote a little about the family of my great-grandmother, Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki.  Veronica immigrated from the little village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County to Buffalo, New York, where she was eventually joined by three of her siblings:  Władysław (“Walter”), Tadeusz/Thaddeus, and Józefa/Josephine.  Regarding Veronica’s oldest brother, Grandma told me that Walter had married an actress in Poland, whose name Grandma remembered as “Wanda,” but she didn’t want to leave her career, so he left her and came to the U.S. without her. There were no children from this marriage.

When I began to look for documentation for these family stories, I realized the situation wasn’t exactly as Grandma had portrayed it.  The 1900 census (Figure 1) shows the Grzesiak family all living on Mills Street in Buffalo, consisting of patriarch Joseph, sons Władysław and Thaddeus, daughter Jozefa, and daughter-in-law Casimira — Walter’s wife of two years.  Clearly, Walter’s wife DID come to Buffalo, rather than staying in Poland while he left without her – but her name was Casimira, not Wanda. The census goes on to state that at that time, she was the mother of 0 children, 0 now living, consistent with family reports.

Figure 1:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, showing the Grzesiak family.1900 United States Federal Census - Kazimira Grzesiak

In the 1905 New York State Census (Figure 2), Walter and Casimira were still living in Buffalo, so the marriage lasted at least 7 years.  Subsequent records (e.g. the 1940 Census) do indeed show Walter as divorced or a widower.

Figure 2:  Extract from 1905 New York State Census showing Walter and Casimira Grzesiak.1905 NY State Census for Walter Grzesiak

Walter’s death certificatereports his ex-wife’s name as “Katarzyna Dutkiewicz (Figure 3), and the informant was his brother, Thaddeus.

Figure 3:  Extract from Walter Grzesiak’s death certifcate.Katarzyna Dutkiewicz

Clearly, Thaddeus made a mistake with the first name, reporting it as Katarzyna (Katherine) instead of Kazimiera/Casimira.   So how much faith should we put in his version of her maiden name, Dutkiewicz?  Death records are often viewed with some circumspection, since someone other than the deceased is providing the information, and that person might be grieving or in shock.  However, it was all there was to go on, and it seemed like it should have been a good start:  Name, Kazimiera Dutkiewicz (or similar), born about 1880 (based on those census records), married to Władysław Grzesiak in Poland circa 1898.

The Hunt Is On!

Since Walter Grzesiak was born in Kowalewo-Opactwo, it seemed logical that he would have married somewhere in that vicinity, although not necessarily in that parish.  Things get a little tricky with the records for Kowalewo-Opactwo in that time period.  Records are not online, or on microfilm from the LDS, so one must write to the Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań to request a search.  Moreover, although Walter was baptized in Kowalewo, that parish was temporarily closed from 1891-1910.  Parish operations were transferred to the church in nearby Ląd, but after 1911, the parishes and their records were separated again.   Unfortunately, the archive reported that there was no marriage record in Ląd for Władysław Grzesiak, or for any of his siblings, during this period.

Initially, this finding didn’t concern me too much.  It’s traditional for a couple to marry in the bride’s parish, so this suggested merely that Kazimiera was from some other parish in the area.  So how does one find a marriage in the Poznań region, when one has no idea what parish the couple married in?  The Poznań Marriage Project, of course.   For those who might be unfamiliar with this resource, the Poznań Project is an indexing effort conceived by Łukasz Bielecki, which is intended to include all existing marriage records for the historic Poznań region from 1800-1899.  Currently, the project is estimated to be at least 75% complete, so there was a good chance I’d be able to find Walter and Casimira’s marriage in there. Frustratingly, there were no good matches, so I assumed that their marriage record must be among the 25% of existing records that remain unindexed.  At this point, finding it would be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I put this on the back burner and went back to more productive research on other family lines.

Until two days ago.

My Breakthrough

It seemed like a perfectly ordinary Wednesday afternoon.  I paid bills, ran some errands, took the cat to the vet, and sat down to check e-mail.   But if you’re like me, some small part of your brain is always thinking about genealogy, and suddenly it dawned on me:  the family story was that Casimira was an actress.  How could she have been an actress in a small village with a couple dozen farms?  She must have been from a big city — Warsaw!

Immediately, I went to Geneteka, my favorite database for indexed vital records from all over Poland.  Normally, I advise people to use documentation from U.S. sources to determine where their ancestors came from before they start randomly searching records in Geneteka, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and I had a pretty specific idea of what I was looking for.  But would the record be there?  Geneteka is not complete — it’s a brilliant, ambitious idea, and new indexes for different parishes and different time periods are constantly being added, but it still represents only a fraction of the vital records available in the tens of thousands of parishes and civil registries across Poland.  In this case, my hunch paid off, and Geneteka came through for me. I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I saw what had to be their marriage record (Figure 4):

Figure 4:  Geneteka search results for Grzesiak marriages in Warszawa between 1897 and 1899.

Geneteka

I hit “skan” to get a copy of the record itself (isn’t Geneteka great?!) and here it is, in all its glory:Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Olczyk 1898 crop

The record is in Russian, because Warsaw was in the Russian Empire in 1898 when the event took place, so here’s my translation:

“223. Koło. It happened in Wola parish on the eighteenth/thirtieth day of August in the year one thousand eight hundred ninety-eight at five o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Adam Franczak and Wincenty Płocikiewicz, both ecclesiastical servants of Wola, on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Władysław Grzesiak, age thirty-seven, miller of Koło residing, born in Ląd, Słupca district, son of Józef Grzesiak, owner, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing, and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, age eighteen, single, with her mother residing, born in Warsaw, daughter of an unknown father and mother Paulina Olczak, seamstress, in Koło residing.  The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns on the 2nd/14th, 9th/21st, and 16th/28th days of August of the present year.  The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them.  Permission was given orally by those present at the ceremony.  The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by the Reverend Jan Kowalski.  This document, after being read aloud, was signed by us and by the groom because the witnesses state that they do not know how to write.”2

Let’s break this down a bit.  First, the double dates are often confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the format of Polish civil records, but they’re a result of the fact that Poland and Western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar  while Russia and the Eastern Europe continued to use the old Julian calendar.  In order to have these records be clear to everyone, both dates were included on legal documents like this.  The second, later date is the date according to the Gregorian calendar, which we would go by.

Second, Kazimiera’s name isn’t Dutkiewicz, as expected — but we’ll worry about that in a minute.  The date of the marriage (1898) is correct, as is the groom’s name, and parents’ names.  His age is a bit off (he should only be 30, not 37), but it’s not unusual for ages reported in these records to be very much “ballpark estimates.”  Walter was actually born in Kowalewo, not Ląd, but if you recall, the parish functions had been transferred from Kowalewo to Ląd at this time, so perhaps this can be interpretted as a reference to that.

Getting back to Kazimiera, her age (18) matches with what we expected based on U.S. records.  The priest doesn’t mention her budding theatrical career, but perhaps her star had not yet risen very far (if it ever really rose at all).  So this is clearly the right marriage record.  But how did we get from Olczak to Dutkiewicz?

The answer lies again in the indexed records of Geneteka (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Geneteka search results for marriage records with surnames Olczak and Dutkiewicz between 1880 and 1900:

Olczak

It appears that shortly after Kazimiera’s birth in 1880, her mother Paulina married Tomasz Dutkiewicz.  Whether Tomasz Dutkiewicz ever legally adopted Kazimiera is doubtful, but this certainly explains why she might have at least informally used the name of her step-father as her own.

But Wait, There’s More!

So all this is nice, right?  But why is a marriage record for a great-granduncle really THAT exciting?  As I mentioned, my great-grandmother Veronica emigrated along with three siblings, Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine.  What we didn’t know until I began researching records from Poland, was that there were two additional siblings — Konstancja3 and Pelagia4 — who did not emigrate.  No descendant of the Grzesiak family in the U.S. that I interviewed was aware that these sisters existed.  The Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań had no record of marriage for either of them, and I was planning to write again to request a search for their death records, assuming they might have died before reaching a marriageable age.  However, I noticed that there was a marriage record for a Konstancja Grzesiak on the same page of Geneteka search results (Figure 4, result 2) that gave me Walter’s marriage record!  Sure enough, the marriage record5 reveals that Konstancja is the daughter of Józef Grzesiak and his wife, Marianna née Krawczyńska, residing in the village of Ląd.

Unfortunately, I still can’t find a birth record for Pelagia, and it’s still possible that she died before reaching a marriageable age.  But the implications of these new data are tremendous for me.  My great-grandmother arrived in the U.S. in March of 1898,6 and in June and August of that same year, her sister and brother each married in Warsaw, prior to most of her family joining her in Buffalo in 1900, while the one married sister stayed behind in Poland with her family in Warsaw.  Wow!   A little further digging confirmed that Konstancja also had children (Figure 6):

Figure 6:  Geneteka search results for birth records in Warszawa mentioning surnames Cieniewski and Grzesiak:

Cieniewski

So I might have cousins in Poland from this Cieniewski line!  However, it’s interesting that there are only two births.  Birth records for this parish, St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Adalbert, in the Wola district of Warsaw, are indexed from 1886 to 1908 without any gaps.  Therefore one might expect to see more than two children born between their marriage in 1898 and 1908 when the records end.  There is no evidence that they immigrated to Buffalo, no good matches in U.S. census records for this family in Buffalo or anywhere else.  So where did they go?

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo, Warsaw, Buffalo, and Borowo

One clue, in Walter’s marriage record, might point the way.  It stated that he was the son of “Józef Grzesiak, farmer, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing”  Borowo is new to me.  This is the first time this place has been mentioned in connection with my family.  And unfortunately, there are at least 20 places in Poland today by that name.  But if Borowo was where her parents were living at the time of Konstancja’s marriage, maybe that’s where she and her young family eventually went to live.  So which Borowo is correct?

Well, Konstancja’s marriage record, from just two months earlier, states that her parents were residing in Ląd.  That, and the fact that there were no good matches for a place called Borowo that’s very close to Warszawa, suggests that this may be the correct place, Borowo in Konin County, about 22 miles east of the Grzesiak’s previous home in Kowalewo-Opactwo:

map

According to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, a nice period gazetteer of Russian Poland published in 1877, the village of Borowo belongs to the Roman Catholic parish in Krzymów, so that’s where we can look for records.  Records are online and on microfilm, but only from 1808-1884, which doesn’t help us any with finding additional births to Konstancja and Julian Cieniewski after 1900.  However, the Branch Archive in Konin has birth records up to 1911,  so this is an obvious next step to take.

The Old Mill, Revisited

There’s one other really cool connection I’d like to make before I sum things up.  In my previous post about my Grzesiak family, I mentioned my grandmother’s recollection that her mother Veronica’s family owned a grain mill near the parish church.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reference to Veronica’s father being a miller.  However, when I visited Veronica’s birthplace of Kowalewo-Opactwo on a trip to Poland last year, I was amazed to see this old windmill, missing its vanes, in close proximity to the church, exactly as Grandma described.  So I found it fascinating that Walter’s marriage record described him clearly as a miller, even though a more general term (“хозяин,” meaning “owner,” but seemingly used as a non-specific synonym for “farmer” or “peasant”) was again used to describe his father, Józef.  This makes me more convinced that the mill in the photo actually was a place associated with Veronica’s family.  Maybe her father didn’t own the mill, maybe he just worked for the miller — but between the existence of this mill where it should be, based on Grandma’s story, and the fact that her uncle Walter was described as a miller, I think there’s good reason to believe that this was the mill that Grandma’s story referred to.  IMG_4542

That’s a Wrap

So what general research insights can be gained from this?

  1.  Once again, my ancestors were more mobile than I expected them to be — and yours might be, too.

When I began my research, I really thought I’d find “the” ancestral village for each surname line and be able to go back for many generations in that same village.  Time and time again, that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.  I was so blinded by my expectation that Walter would have met his bride some place near to where he was born, that I overlooked obvious resources, like indexed records for Warsaw on Geneteka, because it seemed too improbable.  Logic requires us to search in the obvious places first — those associated with the family.  But when searching in the obvious places doesn’t pan out, it’s time to think outside the box.

2.  Family stories can sometimes hold the key.

If you are among the oldest generation in your family, it’s not too late to write down everything you remember from older relatives, for the next generation.  But if you still have any older relatives remaining, talk to them!  My third cousin and research collaborator, Valerie Baginski, told me that her grandmother always said that the family came from Warsaw, rather than Poznań, which was my family’s version of the story.  Once we figured out that our Grzesiaks’ ancestral village was Kowalewo-Opactwo, closer to Poznań than Warsaw, we dismissed that mention of Warsaw.  Since Warsaw was a bigger city than Poznań, we chalked up this discrepancy to our ancestors’ tendency to paint their place of origin with a broad brush, referencing the closest big city.  Now we realize that it’s quite possible her great-grandmother mentioned Warsaw because she was one of the younger siblings who may have lived there for a time, while my great-grandmother mentioned Poznań because she was the first one to leave Poland, and may never have gone to Warsaw with the others.

3.  Pay your dues.

This last “insight” is a shameless plug for Geneteka, the database for indexed Polish vital records that enabled me to find my Grzesiaks in Warsaw.  For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, Geneteka is a project sponsored entirely by volunteers from the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (PTG, or Polish Genealogical Society), in Poland.  Although all the indexing and photographing of vital records (for Geneteka’s sister site, Metryki, which I wrote about previously) is done by volunteers, funds are still required to pay for servers to host the websites.  If you’ve used Geneteka and found it helpful to you, please consider making a donation to the PTG.  Let’s help them to help us find our ancestors!

Walter’s marriage record was a puzzle piece that’s been missing for a long, long time.  It just goes to show you that you never know when that great idea will hit, or when serendipity will strike, so keep chipping away at those brick walls.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

Sources:

1New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, #2600, Death certificate for Walter Grzesiak, 25 April 1946.

2“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie,” Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #223, record for Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, accessed on 17 August 2016.

3Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.

4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016.

5“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie “, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #142, record for Julian Aleksander Cieniewski and Konstancja Grzesiak, accessed on 18 August 2016.

6Ancestry.com, Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 and 1954-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), http://www.ancestry.com, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85, record for Veronika Gresiak, accessed on 21 July 2016.

Featured Image:

Wodzinowski, Wincenty. Wesele. Digital image.Http://muzeuminstrumentow.pl/. Muzeum Ludowych Instrumentów Muzycznych W Szydłowcu, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.  This painting from 1896 seemed very fitting for my cover photo, since it depicts a wedding celebration very close to the time when Walter and Casimira married.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016