So often, what we find in our genealogical search process depends on what we’re looking for. We all come in with some preconceived notions about our ancestors based on oral family history, and although those stories often contain a kernel of truth, it’s embedded within a distorted narrative. Sometimes those narratives are quite compelling, and it’s hard to let them go, but it’s necessary to do that in order to examine our ancestors’ stories objectively and ask the right questions that will lead us to the truth.
For quite a while now, I’ve been wrestling (albeit intermittently) with the question of where and when Joseph and John Klaus were born. They were the oldest brothers of my great-grandmother, Genowefa/Genevieve (née Klaus) Zielinski. There’s a captivating story that they were born in Texas while their parents, Andrzej/Andrew and Marianna/Marya/Mary (née Łącka) Klaus lived there for a while circa 1890 before moving to St. Louis, Missouri, and then on to Buffalo and finally North Tonawanda, New York. I’ve written about this research previously (most recently here), and about the problematic timeline for their proposed birth events in Texas. To quickly summarize the evidence regarding date and place of birth for each of them, the 1900 census states that Joseph was born March 1891 in New York, and John was born June 1892 in New York.1 However, that same census also states that their sisters Anna and Pauline were born in New York, although birth and baptismal records for Anna and Pauline confirm that they were born in St. Louis, consistent with the family story.2 Joseph’s World War I draft registration states that he was born 17 February 1886—however, Andrew Klaus did not immigrate to the U.S. until 1889.3 Joseph’s marriage record suggests a birth year of 1887, and his death certificate states that he was born 25 February 1886 in Buffalo.4
John died at the age of 15, leaving only a very brief paper trail. In addition to the 1900 census, he was mentioned in a newspaper article about his arrest for stealing coal, dated 27 January 1905 .5 He was reported to be age 15 at that time, suggesting a date of birth circa 1889. John died of tubercular meningitis on 18 June 1905 at the age of 15 years, 8 months, 3 days, suggesting a date of birth of 15 October 1889.6 According to his death certificate, he was born in New York.
So all the evidence pointed to a birthplace in New York for both Joseph and John, but their birth records remained elusive, and I was still somehow hoping that I’d find them in Texas. I’d checked all the ethnic Polish Roman Catholic parishes in Buffalo that were in existence at the time of their births (St. Stanislaus, St. Adalbert, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and had not found their baptismal records. Since Andrew Klaus and Mary Łącka did not marry until 21 January 1891 in Buffalo, it seemed likely that Joseph and John were both born out of wedlock, or that Mary was married previously. However, I could find no evidence for a prior marriage for Mary in the records from St. Stanislaus, the parish to which she belonged when she married Andrew Klaus.
Yet sometimes I amaze myself with my own stupidity.
There I was, standing at the kitchen sink the other night, washing up the dinner dishes, not thinking about anything in particular, when suddenly it hit me. Despite the fact that I knew that one or both of the oldest Klaus boys was likely to have been born out of wedlock, what name did I search for when I checked the baptismal index for St. Stanislaus? Klaus! (Stupid, right? Gah!) Somehow, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, I was assuming a scenario in which Andrew was still the father of Joseph and John, even if they were born prior to his marriage to Mary. Immediately I ran to my computer to check the baptismal index for Józef Łącki, and lo, and behold—there he was (Figure 1)!
Figure 1: Baptismal record from St. Stanislaus Church for Józef Łącki, born 25 February 1888.7
He was there all along, right where he was supposed to be. Born 25 February 1888 in Buffalo, consistent with existing evidence for his date of birth, Joseph was baptized the following day and was noted to be the illegitimate son of Maryanna Łącka of Kołaczyce, Galitia [sic]. Godparents were Mikołaj Kołodziej and Marya Graca. Done and dusted.
So now I’ve found Joseph, but where’s John? A search of the baptismal index for Łącki births failed to turn up any additional children born to Mary Łącka, and the marriage index did not indicate any other marriages for her besides the one to Andrzej Klaus in 1891. Could John have been baptized in another parish—maybe in Texas? There’s got to be some truth to that family story, right? Cousin Jul accurately reported the family’s sojourn in St. Louis, so why would the tale about Texas be untrue?
I decided to go through the all the baptisms from St. Stanislaus in 1889 individually, and that’s when I found John Klaus—more or less (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Stanislaus parish for Jan Konieczny, born 10 October 1889.8
According to this record, Jan Konieczny was born 10 October 1889 and baptized the same day. He was the son of Maryanna Łącka of Kołaczyce, Galicia—unmistakably the right mother. But his father was noted to be Jan Konieczny of “Brzyski, Gal.” This suggests the present-day village of Brzyska in Jasło County, which is just a little over 2 miles from Kołaczyce. The date of birth and mother’s name mean this has got to be our John Klaus, but there’s no marriage record for Jan Konieczny and Mary Łącka in the records of St. Stanislaus. There is, however, a marriage record for Jan Konieczny and Karolina Nyc, who married at St. Stan’s on 2 September 1889, a month before this child’s birth (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Marriage record from St. Stanislaus parish for Jan Konieczny and Karolina Nyc, 2 September 1889.9
According to the marriage record, Jan Konieczny married Karolina Nyc on 2 September 1889. He was the son of Maciej Konieczny and Katarzyna, whose maiden name was not specified, and he was born in “Brzesko, Gal.” Brzesko is a village in Galicia located approximately 43 miles east of the village of Brzyski mentioned in the baptismal record. Karolina Nyc was another native of Galicia, born in the village of Brzeźnica to Bartłomiej Nyc and Maria Polniaszek. There were three unique places in Galicia called Brzeźnica, so further research would be needed to determine in which one of these villages Karolina was born.
So what’s going on here? Are there two different men named Jan Konieczny, one from Brzyski who married to Mary Łącka and was the father of her child, Jan, as suggested by the birth record, and a second Jan Konieczny from Brzesko who was the husband of Karolina Nyc? A survey of indexed records from Ancestry and FamilySearch does not support the hypothesis that there were two different men named Jan/John Konieczny, both from Galicia/Austrian Poland and living in Buffalo concurrently. Moreover, the difference between the two records in the spelling of Jan’s place of origin, Brzesko vs. Brzyski, is a minor discrepancy of a sort that’s common in the records from St. Stanislaus. In fact, in baptismal records for the children of Andrew and Mary Klaus, Andrew’s place of origin was recorded as Maniówo, Maniewo, Szczeciny, and Monowice, when in fact he was born in Maniów in gmina Szczucin.10
If we believe, then, that Jan Konieczny, the father of Mary Łącka’s child, is the same Jan Konieczny who married Karolina Nyc just a month earlier, what are the implications of that? The birth record does not explicitly state that the child, Jan Konieczny, was born from the legitimate marriage of Jan Konieczny and Mary Łącka, it only states that Jan was the father. It would be unusual, but not unheard of, for a father to acknowledge such a child born out of wedlock. In such cases there is sometimes a notation on the baptismal record, “pater naturalis,” or “natural father,” but this record includes no such notation.
Could it be that the father’s given name was recorded incorrectly? This seems more plausible. The evenness and consistency of the handwriting throughout these images suggests that these records may have been recopied at some point prior to microfilming by the Latter-Day Saints. If originals are available at the diocesan archive in Buffalo, and if access to these records could be obtained, they might contain some answers. So if we suppose that Mary Łącka was married previously to another man named Konieczny, who was he, and where is their marriage record? It seems like it should be at St. Stan’s, since that was the parish in which Mary was living when she gave birth to her oldest sons Joseph and John in 1888 and 1889, respectively, and also the parish in which she was living when she married Andrew Klaus in 1891. Yet the only record of marriage for a woman with the surname Łącka or Łączka between 1874-1894 in St. Stanislaus parish (as determined by searching Kasia Dane’s online index of marriage records from St. Stan’s) is the record for Mary and Andrew Klaus. Similarly, there are no Konieczny marriage records that suggest that the bride may have been Mary Łącka under a badly misspelled or mistranscribed surname. However, that index does reveal a connection between the Konieczny and Łącki families. On 30 June 1886, Maria Łącka and Jakób (or Jakub, in modern Polish) Konieczny were witnesses to the marriage of Jan Lewczyk and Katarzyna Węgrzyn (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Marriage record from St. Stanislaus parish for Jan Lewczyk and Katarzyna Węgrzyn, 30 June 1886.11
According to this record, the bride was also a native of Kołaczyce like Mary Łącka, although neither the surname Węgrzyn nor her mother’s maiden name, Ochałek, appears in my family tree. This suggests that Katarzyna and Mary may have been more distant cousins, or perhaps just old friends. More relevant to the question at hand, this record offers evidence of a Jakub Konieczny with whom Mary Łącka was at least acquainted as of June 1886. Could the birth record for Jan Konieczny have been recorded in error—should it have been Jakub Konieczny who was the father?
All of this is entirely speculative, since there’s not much evidence to go on, in absence of a marriage record for Mary Łącka to any man with the surname Konieczny. While there’s always the possibility that Mary eloped and married in a “Gretna Green” location (Erie, Pennsylvania seems to have been such a location for people in the Buffalo, New York area), elopement was far less likely for ethnic Poles. Babies might be born out of wedlock for a variety of reasons, and I have no interest in speculating on the circumstances of their conception or pronouncing moral judgments on my ancestors. Nonetheless, the fact that those babies were always baptized within a few days of birth is a testament to the importance of the Catholic faith in the family’s culture, so it’s extremely unlikely that Mary would have settled for a civil marriage outside of the church. Moreover, if Mary Łącka had been married prior to her marriage to Andrew Klaus, there should be not only a marriage record, but also a death record for her first husband dated some time between 1889 when Jan Konieczny/Klaus was conceived, and January 1891 when Mary married Andrew Klaus. However, searches of the Buffalo, New York death index from 1885–1891, as well as the New York State death indexes from 1889, 1890 and 1891, did not reveal any Konieczny deaths.
Of course, not every immigrant who came to the U.S. remained here. Many worked for a few years and then took their savings back to the Old Country with them. Could it be that Jakub fathered a child with Mary and then returned to Poland? A search of indexed records at FamilySearch and Ancestry does not offer evidence for a Jakub/Jacob/James Konieczny from Galicia/Austrian Poland who was already in Buffalo by 1890. Church records were also examined to determine the given names of all the Konieczny men mentioned in them. Both marriage records from 1874–1894, and baptismal records from Volumes I, II and III, which cover the years from 1874–1895, were examined. Based on these, the following Konieczny men were identified:
- Walenty (father of Anna, 17 July 1890, and Zofia, 16 April 1893)
- Wojciech (father of Andrzej, born 26 November 1882; Anastazja, born 6 April 1889, and Józefa, born 17 August 1887)
- Szczepan (father of Helena, born 5 May 1880, and Franciszek, born 4 October 1881)
- Jan (father of Władysław, born 24 December 1890; Marya, born 21 January 1893, and Stanisław, born 24 August 1895). According to marriage records, Jan was the brother of
- Andrzej (father of Anna, born 5 December 1893, and Honorata, born 4 October 1895).
There’s no further mention of Jakub Konieczny in these church records after the marriage of Jan Lewczyk and Katarzyna Węgrzyn in 1886, suggesting that he may have moved back to Poland or relocated within the U.S.
Ultimately, we may never know who the father of Jan Klaus really was. As so often happens with genealogy, each new answer creates additional questions. Despite these uncertainties, I’m convinced that the Jan Konieczny, who was born in Buffalo, New York on 10 October 1889 and baptized the same day at St. Stanislaus parish, son of Marya Łącka and “Jan Konieczny,” was, in fact, the same child who grew up with Andrew Klaus as his foster father, and was later known as John Klaus. John Klaus, my great-granduncle—or half great-granduncle, as appears now to be the case, wasn’t born in Texas after all, nor was his oldest brother (or half-brother), Joseph. So why the elaborate story about the family living in Texas? Maybe it was intended to be an amusing tall tale that was misunderstood as the truth by Mary Klaus’s grandchildren. If nothing else, I’ve learned another lesson in examining my assumptions as I research. Farewell, Texas. You were never part of my family history after all.
1 “United States Census, 1900,” Buffalo Ward 11, Erie, New York, Enumeration District 84, Sheet 28A, line 41, Andro Klano [sic] household, accessed as digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 17 June 2019), New York > Erie > ED 84 Election District 3 Buffalo city Ward 11 > image 55 of 59; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), Baptismal Records, January 1, 1888–May 5, 1895, 1892, no. 127, record for Anna Klaus, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1880-1993,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019), Film 1872178/DGS 7856319 > Item 4, Baptisms > image 283 of 1149; and
Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), Baptismal Records, January 1, 1888–May 5, 1895, 1894, no. 2, record for Apolonia Klaus, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1880-1993,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019), Film 1872178/DGS 7856319 > Item 4, Baptisms > image 301 of 1149.
3 “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 19 June 2019), Joseph J Claus, 1917-1918; citing Chautauqua County no 1, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,712,292; and
Staatsarchiv Hamburg, “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934” (database with images), record for Andrzey Klaus, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 19 June 2019), Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII B 1 Band 077; Page: 361; Microfilm No.: S_13155.
4 Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York, marriage certificate no. 431 (1910), Joseph Klaus and Mary Brzuszkiewicz; Dunkirk City Clerk’s Office, 342 Central Avenue, Dunkirk, New York; and
Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York, death certificate no. 130 (1918), Joseph Claus, 7 October 1918; Dunkirk City Clerk’s Office, 342 Central Avenue,
Dunkirk, New York.
5 “Coal Thieves Were Fined,” The Evening News (North Tonawanda, New York), 27 January 1905, p. 1, Old Fulton New York Post Cards (https://fultonhistory.com. : 4 August 2017).
6 North Tonawanda, Niagara, New York, death certificates no. 2016 (1905), John Klaus, 18 June 1905; North Tonawanda City Clerk’s Office, 216 Payne Avenue, North Tonawanda, New York.
7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), baptismal register II, 1883-1890, p. 368, no. 137, record for Józef Łącki, born 25 February 1888 accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) Baptisms 1874-1903 > image 502 out of 1979.
8 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), baptismal register II, 1883-1890, p. 532, no. 702, record for Jan Konieczny, born 10 October 1889, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) Baptisms 1874-1903 > image 584 of 1979.
9 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Matr. 1873–1891, p. 154, no. 88, marriage record for Jan Konieczny and Karolina Nyc, 2 September 1889, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019), image 1385 of 1979.
10 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), baptismal register III, 1890-1895, p. 640, no. 757, record for Bolesław Klaus, born 24 October 1895, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) image 502 out of 1979; and
Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), baptismal register IV, 1895-1903, p. 196, no. 620, record for Genowefa Klaus, born 28 September 1897, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) image 1074 out of 1979; and
Ibid., p. 352, no. 396, record for Edward Klaus, born 11 September 1899, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) image 1155 out of 1979; and
Ibid., p. 426, no. 476, record for Władysław Klaus, born 10 October 1900, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) image 1194 out of 1979.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019
11 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Matr. 1873–1891, p. 90, 1886, no. 64, marriage record for Jan Lewczyk and Katarzyna Węgrzyn, 30 June 1886, accessed as browsable images, “Church records, 1873-1917,” FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : 19 June 2019) Marriages > image 1353 of 1979.