Postcard Poet: Sister Mary Rose Kantowska

My in-laws came to visit for Easter this year, and I had a chance to sit down with my mother-in-law and sort through a huge box of old family photos that had belonged to her mother, Joanna (Drajem) Barth. Mom was invaluable in identifying the individuals in them, although in some cases Grandma Barth had done this job for us by making notes on the backs of the photos. One of these photos was of Grandma Barth’s maternal aunt, Sister Mary Rose Kantowska, F.S.S.J. (Figure 1).1

Figure 1: Photograph of Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska, circa 1920. Photo restoration courtesy of Karolina Augustynowicz King.

Sister Mary Rose was born Johanna Kundt on 7 October 1884 in Klotildowo, Kreis Schubin (Schubin County), in the Posen province of the German Empire. This location is presently known as Klotyldowo, powiat żniński (Żnin County), in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie province of Poland. She was the oldest daughter of Johann and Marianna (Kończal) Kundt, or Kąt, as the family was recorded in Polish parish registers. According to oral family tradition, the family adopted the surname Kantowski, since they felt it was more acceptable to American ears than their original surname. Joanna Kantowski’s birth record is shown in Figure 2.2

Figure 2: Civil birth record from the registry office in Jabłówko for Johanna Kundt (Joanna Kantowska) born 7 October 1884. Click image to enlarge. Transcription and translation are provided in the footnotes. Note that Jan Kantowski’s signature appears at the bottom of the record.

The Kantowski family immigrated to Buffalo, New York, circa 1886, where another daughter, Stanisława Maria, was born to them on 8 September 1886.3 Figure 3 shows the young family circa early 1887.4

Figure 3: Jan and Maria (Kończal) Kantowski with daughters Joanna and Stanisława (“Stasia”), circa 1887. Photo restoration courtesy of Karolina Augustynowicz King.

In 1900, the Kantowski family was living at 25 Newton Street, according to the 1900 census.5 At 15 years of age, Johanna was employed as a Marble Finisher.

Figure 4: 1900 census showing the John Kantowski living at 25 Newton Street in Buffalo, New York. Click image to enlarge.

Two years later, she entered the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph.6 Her obituary stated that she was a teacher, whose career spanned about 40 years and included teaching positions in Shamokin, Pennsylvania and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Figure 5).7

Figure 5: Obituary from the Buffalo Courier-Express for Sr. Mary Rose Kantowski, published 21 May 1968 (Tuesday).

Sister Mary Rose was also a loving and affectionate aunt to her many nieces and nephews. Her younger sister, Mary Kantowski, married Albert Drajem on 22 October 1912, and by 1916, Albert and Mary were the parents of three children—Victor Albert Drajem, born in 1913, and twins, Joanna and Stanley Drajem, born in 1916. A simplified family tree is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Simplified family tree showing the children of John and Mary (Kończal) Kantowski, including Joanna Kantowska (Sr. Mary Rose), and the family of her sister, Mary (Kantowska) Drajem as it existed in 1917. Click image to enlarge.

The three siblings—Victor, Joanna and Stanley—appear in a photo from circa 1917, shown in Figure 7.8

Figure 7: Victor Drajem and twins Joanna and Stanley Drajem, circa 1917. Photo restoration courtesy of Karolina Augustynowicz King.

Joanna Drajem—my husband’s grandmother, otherwise known as Grandma Barth—preserved three postcards with holiday greetings, addressed jointly to her and to her twin brother, Stanley, by Sr. Mary Rose. Although Grandma wrote on the postcards that they were from 1916 and 1917, it seems that the last postcard, with Easter greetings addressed to little Jania alone, must have been written after Stanley’s death in 1919.9 The first post card is shown in Figures 8a and b.

Figure 8a: Front of Valentine’s Day postcard from Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska to twin siblings Joanna (“Jania”) and Stanley (“Stasiu”), her niece and nephew.
Figure 8b: Reverse of of Valentine’s Day postcard from Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska to twin siblings Joanna (“Jania”) and Stanley (“Stasiu”), her niece and nephew.

The following transcriptions and translations were kindly provided by Dr. Roman Kałużniacki.

Postcard 1: Isn’t It Fun To Be Sweethearts

1916 – 1917

“Czy Jania i Stasiu też tak się kochają
jak te dwoje które na tym obrazku przedstawiają.

Do Jania and Staś love each other also so
as these two who themselves on the photo show?

Jakie one szczęśliwe nic im nie brakuje,
jedno przy drugiem siedzi i swą radość czuje.

How happy they are nothing they lack,
One by the other sit and their joy feel,

Niechaj i waszym maleństwom tak czas miło leci,
By pozostały miłe wspomnienia jak jeszcze były małe dzieci.

Let the time for your youngsters also warmly flow,
That sweet memories remain as little children they still were.

Ze chociaż kłopotu nieraz narobiły
a i bez uciechy dni one nie były.

That though trouble at times they caused
but yet no such days without joy there were.

Kiedy szczebiotaniem naśladować chciały
to co od innych usłyszały.

When they wanted to mimic with twitters
That which they overheard from others.

Tak niech im słodko płyną młodociane dni
Jak błogo jest temu co mu się dobrze śni.

So for them let sweetly flow youthful days
As blissfully as for one who soundly dreams.”

The second postcard is a Christmas card, shown in Figures 9a and b.

Figure 9a: Front of Christmas postcard from Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska to twin siblings Joanna (“Jania”) and Stanley (“Stasiu”), her niece and nephew.
Figure 9b: Reverse of Christmas postcard from Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska to twin siblings Joanna (“Jania”) and Stanley (“Stasiu”), her niece and nephew.

Postcard 2: Christmas Greetings

“Czy Stasiu i Joasia tak smacznie zasypiają
jak oto te dwa dzieciątka co tu spoczywają?

Do Staś and Joasia so charmingly fall asleep
As these two babes who here do rest?

Jedno już się budzi czuje pewnie że coś je czeka
Czy i dla waszych maleństw gwiazdka będzie uciecha?

One already wakens feeling something for it awaits
Will the Christmas star also bring for your little ones joy?

Czy też może w kołysce leżą chore
I zasmucają twarze w tak wesołą porę.

Perhaps they also lay sick in the cradle
And sadden their faces at such a joyful time.

To im życzę jeśli chore by Jezusek mały
Przyszedł je uzdrowić by nie chorowały.

Then I wish if they are ill that little Jesus
Come to heal that they not ail.

Jeśli zaś zdrowe by tem czerstwiejsze
Pozostało ich zdrowie na zawsze.

If else healthy that for them yet ruddier
Remain their health forever.

Aby na pociechę Wam wyrosły
Dużo radości w życiu przyniosły.

That they for you grow up in comfort
That much joy in life they bring.

Życzę im dużo ach dużo dobrego
Od Dzieciątka Jezus nowo narodzonego.

I wish them all oh so much good
From Baby Jesus newly born.”

Finally, the third postcard with Easter greetings is shown in Figures 10a and b.

Figure 10a: Front of Easter postcard from Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska to her niece Joanna (“Jania”) Drajem.
Figure 10b: Reverse of Easter postcard from Sr. Mary Rose Kantowska to her niece Joanna (“Jania”) Drajem.

Postcard 3: A Happy Easter to you.

“Wesołych Świąt małej Jani
Czy ona też tak sobie zasypia że ani kogut jej zbudzić nie może?
Posyłam tu kurkę z całą gromadką kurczatek wszystkie one razem życzą jej.

Happy Easter for little Jania
Does she herself also so falls asleep that not even a rooster can her awaken?
Here I send a hen with her entire clutch, they all together wish her.

1916 – 1917 Siostra M. Róża”

It’s delightful to find such treasures among the documents preserved in Grandma Barth’s personal archives. Through her postcard poetry, written more than a century ago, a bit of Sister Rose’s personality, warmth and affection has been preserved for generations to come.

Sources:

1 Joan (Drajem) Barth, Kantowski/Drajem/Barth/Szczepankiewicz Family Photographs, circa 1880s–2008; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewcz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2022.

2 Urząd Stanu Cywilnego Jabłówko (Jabłówko, Szubin, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), Akta urodzeń [birth records] 1874-1911, 1884, no. 69, Johanna Kandt; digital image, Genealogiawarchiwach (https://www.genealogiawarchiwach.pl/ : 30 April 2022), citing Archiwum Państwowe w Bydgoszczy, Sygnatura 6/1698/0/2.1/031, image 70 of 84.

Transcription:

Nr. 69. Hedwigshorst am 11 Oktober 1884. Vor dem untergezeichneten Standesbeamten erschien heute, der Persönlichkeit nach bekannt, der arbeiter Johann Kundt wohnhaft zu Klotildowo, katholischer Religion, und zeigte an, daß von der Marianna Kundt geb[orenen] Kończal, seiner Ehefrau katholischer Religion, wohnhaft bei ihm zu Klotildowo am sieben Oktober des Jahres tausend acht hundert achtzig und vier Nachmittags um sieben Uhr ein Kind weiblichen Geschlechts geboren worden sei, welches den Vornamen Johanna erhalten habe. Vorgelesen, genehmigt und unterschrieben Johann Kundt Der Standesbeamte ???

Translation:

No. 69. Hedwigshorst on 11 October 1884. Before the undersigned registrar appeared today the laborer Johann Kundt, personally known, resident in Klotildowo, of the Catholic religion, and reported that Marianna Kundt, née Kończal, his wife, of the Catholic religion, living with him in Klotildowo, gave birth on the seventh of October of the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty and four at seven o’clock p.m. to a child of the female sex, which was given the first name Johanna. Read out, approved and signed by Johann Kundt, The registrar ???

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Church records, 1873-1917, Baptisms 1874-1903, 1886, no. 556, Stanisława Maria Kantowska; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 30 April 2022), Family History Library film no.1292864/DGS no. 7897436, image 441 of 2958.

4 Joan (Drajem) Barth, Kantowski/Drajem/Barth/Szczepankiewicz Family Photographs, circa 1880s–2008; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewcz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2022.

51900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 11, Enumeration District 0085, Sheet 39A, household no. 638, lines 1-7, Jan Kantowski household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 30 April 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration publication no. T623, 1854 rolls, no specific roll cited.

6 Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, New York), 21 May 1968 (Tuesday), p 5, col. 5, obituary for Sister Mary Rose, FSSJ; digital image, Old Fulton New York Postcards (https://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html : 30 April 2022), image “Buffalo NY Courier Express 1968 – 7798.pdf”.

7 Ibid.

8Joan (Drajem) Barth, Kantowski/Drajem/Barth/Szczepankiewicz Family Photographs, circa 1880s–2008; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewcz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2022.

9 City Clerk, Buffalo, Erie County, New York, “Buffalo, NY, Death Index, 1915-1919,” Stanley Drajem, vol. 320, no. 1087, 1919; digital image, Internet Archive, (https://archive.org/details/Buffalo_NY_Death_Index_1915-1919 : 30 April 2022), image 266 of 1297.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Grandma Barth’s Box of Genealogical Treasures

My husband’s grandmother, Joanna “Jean” (née Drajem) Barth was the family historian for her generation, and I loved her for it.  I loved her for other reasons, too, of course, but listening to her stories about Buffalo’s East Side in her childhood and youth gave me such a vivid impression of Buffalo’s pious, hard-working Polish immigrants who brought with them their language, culture, faith, and traditions and created a microcosm of Poland in their new homeland.  Grandma Barth was my Grandma-in-law for seventeen years before she passed away in 2008 at the age of 92, but she was mentally sharp as a tack until she died and an incredible font of family knowledge.  She could tell me names, birth, marriage and death dates from memory for the entire extended family for several generations, with stories about each person, all in her East-Side Polish accent that was somehow comforting to hear.

Grandma Barth’s stories laid the foundation for my research into my mother-in-law’s family.  In the spring of 1999, she traveled from Buffalo to our home in Illinois for our third son’s christening.  I remember spending as much time as possible during that visit, cradling my baby in one arm while typing with my free hand, inputting all the family data from Grandma’s memory into Family Tree Maker.  A few years later, she was back for another christening, this time for my daughter, in 2003.  And this time, she brought with her a plastic shoebox that I came to refer to as, “Grandma Barth’s Box of Genealogical Treasures.”

This plastic box contained newspaper clippings, funeral home prayer cards (my family always called them “obrazki,” which means, “pictures” in Polish), and assorted scraps of paper on which Grandma had jotted down bits and pieces of family history.  Never one to waste paper, most of these notes were written in Grandma’s neat, careful penmanship on the backs of junk-mail coupons for pizza and car washes.  What she preserved was amazing.  There were obrazki in there from the 1930s  through the early 2000s. Her parents’ marriage certificate was there, along with other vital records.  There were newspaper articles about her home parish, Corpus Christi, a collection of articles about Fr. Justin Figas (founder of the Father Justin Rosary Hour, a Polish-language radio program) and a series of “Anniversary Books” from Corpus Christi, arranged according to month. Each monthly book covers the years 1898 through 1997, and lists the names of all those who died in the parish during that month in each year.

I tried to photocopy as much of it as I could during her visit, but I recognized that care needed to be taken with this project.  Some of these newspaper death notices had been trimmed into tiny, yellowed bits of paper not more than two inches square.  Moreover, there was clearly an organizational system in place that must be respected. Grandma paper-clipped the scraps of paper together in batches, and put these individual batches into plastic storage bags according to the branch of the family tree to which they belonged. Grandma admitted that in some cases, she didn’t know exactly how some of these people fit into the family, she only knew that they were cousins, which made it all the more important to maintain the associations between the documents which she created through her organizational scheme.

As much as I wanted to photocopy all of it, there was only so much that I could do, given that I had a houseful of out-of-town guests visiting for my fourth child’s christening and only a few days’ time.  Grandma told me there was no rush — she wanted me to have the box when she passed away.  In the meantime, though, she wanted to share it with a cousin.  I thanked Grandma wholeheartedly, congratulated myself on getting as much scanned as I did, and went back to raising my family and researching my family tree.

After Grandma passed away in 2008, we discovered that the box was missing.  The cousin who was supposed to have it didn’t remember anything about it.  My mother-in-law asked around the family, but no one seemed to know what happened to it.  It was presumed to have been thrown out with the trash.  It was an inestimable loss — I was sick at heart over the thought of so much family history, Grandma’s legacy, rotting in a landfill somewhere.

But as you can tell from the photo at the top, the story has a happy ending, and my worst fears never materialized.  One day last spring, my Mom-in-law got a phone call from this cousin, saying he’d found a box of her mother’s things, and he’d like to return it to her.  She called me immediately, and said, “I have some good news for you!  Are you sitting down?  My cousin found the box!”  So this past weekend, several of us got together for breakfast, including Mom, her cousin, Grandma’s youngest sister, and me, and the box found its way back to me at last, looking exactly as I’d remembered it.  Mom’s cousin also kindly shared with me some additional family history treasures from his personal collection.  The poor man was so apologetic — Grandma never mentioned to him about her intentions for the box, and he had no idea what kind of treasure trove he was sitting on.  I’m sure that my discoveries based on the contents of this box will fill quite a number of future blog posts, but it’s going to take some time to process and analyze all of this.  In the meantime, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few of the “goodies” from the box.

Figure 1:  Obrazek from the funeral of Agnieszka (née Jamrozik) Drajem, Grandma Barth’s paternal grandmother, who died 13 February 1946.

Agnieszka Drajem obrazek 1946

 

Figure 2:  Notes from Grandma’s notebook regarding the family history on her mother’s side (Kantowski and Kończal).

Grandma Barth notebook p 1

 

Figure 3:  Photocopy of newspaper interview with John and Mary Kantowski (Grandma Barth’s maternal grandparents), published circa 1934.

Streets of the East John & Mary Kantowski interview

So you can see why I’m pretty excited!  So far I’ve scanned 27 “batches” of clippings, and there’s still more to go.  Here’s to you, Grandma Barth, with love and gratitude for all your love and diligence in preserving the family history for future generations to enjoy.