Godparents: Ideal Candidates for Analysis Via the FAN Principle

Who were your ancestors’ FANS?  Genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills first suggested this handy acronym for Family, Associates, and Neighbors and explained, “To prove identity, origin and parentage, study individuals in the context of their FAN club.”1 When it comes to researching my Catholic ancestors, some of my favorite FANS include the godparents that are named on their children’s baptismal records.

Why Godparents?

According to Catholic Canon Law, godparents must be baptized and confirmed members of the Catholic Church who have received the Eucharist.  They must also be at least 16 years of age, although exceptions can be granted, and they may not be the same as the parents.  Typically there is one godfather and one godmother, although sometimes additional godparents were named, especially for the baptism of a noble child.  Godparents were often relatives of the child, as is still the practice today, although there is no requirement for this, and it’s not uncommon for parents to ask close friends to serve as godparents.  Depending on the family culture, godparents might be a married couple, or one might come from the father’s side of the family and one from the mother’s side.  The role of godparents is to provide spiritual support to the parents as they raise their child in the Catholic faith, and some families have an understanding that the godparents will assume financial responsibility for the child in the event of the parents’ death.  Since this is such an important role, godparents are clearly worthy of some of our attention as genealogists.

Godparents are also especially noteworthy as FANs because at least one of them is always a woman, which can provide clues about women’s married names in the era before women were commonly named as legal witnesses. Let’s examine some of the ways in which godparents can shed some light on questions of identity in genealogical problems.

The Naciążek Family, Revisited

In my last post, I wrote about my great-great-grandmother, Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka, the frustrating lack of birth, marriage or death records for her, and why it’s possible that her birth and marriage records might no longer exist, based on where those events were likely to have taken place.  I also examined evidence regarding a contemporary of hers named Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska, who is likely to be a relative based on the rarity of the surname and the geographic proximity of her village of residence to that of Antonina.  However, one piece of evidence I did not examine in that post was the issue of godparents:  If Antonina Zarzycka and Marianna Kowalska were cousins or even sisters, as I suspect, then one would expect each of them to be named as a godmother to a child or children of the other.  So what do the records say?

Unfortunately, there are no baptismal records available for the five known children of Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska.  That leaves the baptismal records for the eleven children of Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka, which are summarized in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Summary of Godparents of Children of Ignacy Zarzycki and Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka.figure-1

 

And there we have it — the “smoking gun” is the godmother of Florentyna Zarzycka — Marianna Kowalska.  Kowalski (in combination with the feminine form of the name, Kowalska) is a very popular surname, and if we were to consider only the names of the godparents in absence of other data, it would not be obvious which Marianna Kowalska was meant here.  However, in light of the other evidence that Antonina had a cousin or sister with this name who lived nearby, it seems likely that these Marianna Kowalskas are one and the same.

So who are these other godparents?  There is documentary evidence that Ignacy Zarzycki had just three siblings:  a brother Wincenty, and twin siblings Wojciech and Wiktoria.  Wiktoria’s first husband was Ludwik Karol Pszenicki, and Wojciech’s wife was Aniela Tempińska,. so it’s reasonable to conclude that those four godparents — Aniela Zarzycka, Wojciech Zarzycki, Wincenty Zarzycki, and Wiktoria Pszenicka — were siblings to Ignacy Zarzycki by blood or marriage.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the list, there are no obvious matches to known members of the Zarzycki family, and certainly not to the Naciążek family, about whom we know so little.  At first glance, Marianna Marcinkowska’s name stood out as a possible clue. As discussed in my previous post, Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska was remarried to Stanisław Marcinkowski in Giżyce in 1881. However, it’s obvious that the timing does not work for this to be the same person as Tomasz’s godmother, since he was born in 1856, 25 years earlier.  Given the propensity for families to intermarry in those days, the fact that the Marcinkowski family was associated with the Naciążek family may still be significant. None of the other surnames mentioned were associated with the Naciążek family (0r any variant of that surname) in any of the indexed records in Geneteka, anywhere in Mazowieckie province.

It’s still possible that these other godparents might be related to the Zarzycki/Naciążek family, and that the proof of the relationships lies in records that simply have not yet been indexed, or in records that no longer exist.  However, it’s also possible that some of these godparents were merely good friends of Ignacy and Antonina, which is the clear drawback of godparent analysis.  Some of the godparents’ surnames (e.g. Zieliński) are so common that, in absence of any direct evidence, it will be difficult to tie them to the Zarzycki/Naciążek family with any degree of certainty.  Some of them, like Bugajka, are tantalizingly rare, and it’s fascinating to note that one of the only parishes in which this surname is found in Geneteka is Sochaczew, which is one of the two parishes that seems to be associated with my Naciążek family (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Geneteka search results for death records with the Bugajka surname in Mazowieckie province.figure-1

Could it be that Antonina Naciążek had a sister named Jadwiga who married a Bugajka, and it is she who was named as godmother to Józef Zarzycki in 1859?  Might she even be a daughter-in-law to one of the widows whose deaths are reported here?  It’s possible, maybe even probable, but at present, there’s not enough evidence to draw any conclusions.  My family should have no reason to wonder why I have insomnia some nights.

Speaking of insomnia-provoking questions, who the heck was Weronika Jaroszewska, and why was she named as godmother to three of Antonina’s children?  Another question for another sleepless night.

To sum up, in this example, we hypothesized that two women were siblings, predicted that they should be named as godmothers to each other’s children if that hypothesis were true, and then examined the evidence, which supported the hypothesis.  In my next post, I’ll offer an example of how this sort of analysis can also be used in reverse, to suggest a mother’s maiden name in absence of direct evidence for that.  In the meantime, happy researching!

Sources:

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. QuickSheet: The Historical Biographer’s Guide to the Research Process. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2012, p. 1.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1845-1854,” 1850, #48, baptismal record for Maryanna Zarzycka.

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1845-1854,” 1853, #60, baptismal record for Paulina Zarzycka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń, 1855-1862,”1856, #48, baptismal record for Tomasz Zarzecki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1855-1862,” 1859, #15, baptismal record for Józef Zarzycki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1863-1869,” 1861, #36, baptismal record for Florentyna Zarzecka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1863-1869,” 1863, # 72, baptismal record for Aniela Zarzecka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1863-1869,” 1866, #27, baptismal record for Jan Zarzycki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1863-1869,” 1868, #67, baptismal record for Joanna Walentyna Zarzycka.

10 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1863-1869,”1869, #93, baptismal record for Karol Zarzycki.

11 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1870-1880,” 1872, #15, baptismal record for Roman Aleksander Zarzycki.

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

In search of Antonina Naciążek: Mining Geneteka for Clues in Absence of Direct Evidence

The year is drawing to a close. 2017 lies before us, all shiny and new, like a gift waiting to be unwrapped.  Like many of us in the genealogical community, I find New Year’s Eve to be a great time to reflect on the research triumphs and frustrations of the past year, and to make research plans for the coming year. When it comes to genealogical New Year’s resolutions, there are so many ancestors I’d like to learn more about, so many families that I’d like to understand better in their cultural and historical context.  But one of them in particular is at the top of my research to-do list for 2017:  Antonina Naciążek.

Antonina was my great-great-grandmother, notable because she is my only great-great-grandparent about whom I know little more than her name.  My first encounter with her was through the marriage record of her son (my great-grandfather), John Zazycki (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Marriage record for John Zarzycki and Veronica Grzesiak from Buffalo, New York, 5 August 1901.jan-weronika-zazyki-marriage-1

Subsequent research turned up John’s baptismal record in the parish of Rybno, Sochaczew County, Poland, where her name is spelled “Antoniny z Raciążków” (Antonina née Raciążek, Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Baptismal record for Jan Zarzycki, Rybno parish, 5 March 1866.jan-zarzycki-birth-1866

Anyone who’s been doing genealogy for a while is familiar with the inconsistencies in surname spellings that frequently crop up in records prior to the 20th century, and Polish records are no exception.  Typically, however, the variations that one sees revolve around a common root with different endings, e.g. Grzesiak can become Grzeszak, Grzeszkiewicz, Grześkiewicz, etc.  So I was a little surprised to see Maciążek become Raciążek.  In fact, as further evidence accumulated and additional birth, marriage and death records for Antonina’s children were discovered, the most common variant of Antonina’s surname that emerged was Naciążek.  Naciążek appeared in the documents a total of 9 times, while Raciążek appeared 7 times, and Maciążek appeared just twice.

Unfortunately, I have yet to obtain any documentation that indicates Antonina’s parents’ names.  Based on the birth records for her children, I estimate that Antonina was born circa 1828 and married Ignacy Zarzycki circa 1849.  Her children all seem to have been born in the village of Bronisławy and baptized in St. Bartholomew’s church in Rybno.  However, she herself must have been from another parish, because neither her birth or marriage record, nor her death record, was found in the records of Rybno at either the parish or the local civil records office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego, or USC).  A search of Geneteka for Naciążek, Raciążek and Maciążek anywhere in Mazowieckie province failed to produce any birth records for an Antonina born circa 1828.  So where was Antonina from?  Who were her parents?  She was last mentioned as a surviving widow in the marriage record of her youngest son, Leonard Zarzycki, in 1904, so she must have died after that time.  But where?

Geneteka reveals exactly one record that might give us a clue regarding this family’s origins. Figure 3 shows the results of a search of marriage records in Rybno for the Naciążek surname.  Searches for Maciążek and Raciążek produced no results, nor were there any birth or death records for Rybno associated with any of these surnames, apart from records pertaining to known children of Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka.

Figure 3:  Geneteka search results for the Naciążek surname in marriage records for Rybno parish.roch-kowalski-marriage

Of the four records shown, numbers 1, 3 and 4 pertain to known children of Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka.  However, record #2 (boxed in red) is for the marriage of Roch Kowalski to Anastazja Błaszczak.  Further examination of that record (Figure 4) reveals that Roch was “….born and residing in the village of Giżyce, son of the late Aleksander and still-living Marianna née Naciążek, the spouses Kowalski” (text underlined in red), and that he was age 26, suggesting a birth year of about 1877.

Figure 4:  Excerpt of marriage record of Roch Kowalski and Anastazja Błaszczak in Rybno parish, 2 February 1903.  roch-kowalski-marriage-excerpt

Since Roch Kowalski was a contemporary of Antonina Zarzycka’s children, it stands to reason that Roch’s mother was of the same generation as Antonina herself.  Since the parish of Giżyce is located just 8.2 km (about 5 miles) from Bronisławy, and since Naciążek is a relatively rare surname, both in the present-day and historically, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that Antonina and Marianna were related, perhaps even sisters.

Records for the parish in Giżyce are indexed on Geneteka from 1810-1905 with some significant gaps.  One such gap exists from 1826-1890 — during the time when Antonina Naciążek is most likely to have been born (1828-1829).  However, there is a rather tantalizing birth record in 1824 in Giżyce for a Marianna Naciążek, daughter of Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska.  Could this be the same Marianna Naciążek who married Aleksander Kowalski?

Frustratingly, a province-wide search using both the Naciążek and Kowalski surnames does not produce a marriage record for Marianna and Aleksander, which would hopefully reveal Marianna’s parents’ names, nor does it produce Marianna’s death record.  However, it does produce marriage records for four additional children of that couple (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Geneteka search results for marriage records in Mazowieckie province that contain both the Naciążek and Kowalski surnames.naciazek-kowalski-marriages

Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the column after “Naz. matki” indicates that Józefa Kowalska, Ignacy Kowalski, Ludwik Kowalski, and Stanisław Kowalski were all siblings of Roch Kowalski and children of Marianna Naciążek and Aleksander Kowalski.  Examination of the three records for which scans are available indicates that Józefa and Ignacy were also born in Giżyce.

Note that the search result for Józefa Kowalska’s marriage notes an alternate spelling of her mother’s maiden name, “Naciąszek.” Geneteka’s search algorithms do not automatically recognize Naciąszek and Naciążek as phonetic equivalents, so Naciąszek must be searched separately.  This subsequent search in Geneteka for Naciąszek produces an  especially intriguing result: a marriage record in Giżyce for Stanisław Marcinkowski and Marianna Kowalska in 1881 (Figure 6).

Figure 6:  Geneteka search result for Naciąszek surname in Mazowieckie province.marcinkowski-kowalska-marriage

The marriage record itself verifies that this is indeed “our” Marianna Kowalska, widow of Aleksander (Figure 7):

marcinkowski-kowalski-marriage-1856

The underlined text in Russian and Polish reads, “…Marianna Kowalska née Naciąszek, widow of Aleksander Kowalski [who] died in the village of Giżyce in the year 1878; born in the village of Czerwonka, now in Giżyce… residing, age 44.”

Pay dirt!  Although this record does not tell us the names of Marianna’s parents, it does tell us where and when she was born.  Czerwonka is a village that belongs to the parish in Sochaczew, and her age at the time of her second marriage suggests a birth year of 1837.  Clearly, this Marianna can’t be the same as the Marianna Naciąszek born in 1824 in Giżyce. Figure 8 shows the location of all these villages in relation to each other in Sochaczew County.

Figure 8:  Geographic  locations of Giżyce, Bronisławy, Sochaczew and Czerwonka.map-of-czerwonka

Records for Sochaczew are indexed in Geneteka, but unfortunately, there is no perfect match for a Marianna Naciąszek or Naciążek born in 1837 in Czerwonka.  However, there is a reasonably close match:  the birth of a Florentyna Marianna Naciążek in 1836 in Czerwonka, daughter of…. (dramatic music!)…..Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska, the same couple who were the parents of the other Marianna Naciążek who was born in Giżyce in 1824! If the Marianna who was born in 1824 died prior to 1836, it’s possible that her parents would have honored her by naming a sibling Florentyna Marianna but calling her Marianna.  So maybe she’s our bride of Aleksander Kowalski?  Unfortunately — and frustratingly — there is no marriage record to prove it, nor is there a death record for the Marianna who was born in 1824.

 

Let’s take a moment to recap what we know so far:

  • Only one other Naciążek record exists in Rybno parish, where Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka lived.
  • That record is a marriage record for Roch Kowalski, born in Giżyce, son of Marianna Naciążek and Aleksander Kowalski.
  • Roch Kowalski is the same generation as Antonina Zarzycka’s children, suggesting that Marianna Naciążek is of the same generation as Antonina, perhaps even her sister.
  • Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska’s second marriage record reveals her place of birth as Czerwonka (Sochaczew parish) in 1837 and her place of residence as Giżyce.
  • The closest match for Marianna’s birth in the records of Sochaczew parish is for a Florentyna Marianna Naciążek, born in Czerwonka in 1836, daughter of Mateusz and Petronela (née Trawińska).
  • Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska were parents to another daughter named Marianna Naciążek born in Giżyce in 1824.  Although the Trawiński surname is fairly common, the relative rarity of the Naciążek surname makes it likely that this is the same couple as the one mentioned in the records in Sochaczew.

So, the focus is definitely on Giżyce and Sochaczew for the births and marriages of both Antonina Naciążek and her putative sister, Marianna Naciążek. Marriages for Sochaczew are indexed on Geneteka from 1826-1835,and 1879-1901, leaving a gap when Antonina and Marianna would have married, which would explain why her marriage record does not show up in the Geneteka index. Geneteka’s indexed birth records for Sochaczew cover 1781-1802, 1826-1841, 1849-1864, 1868-1870, and 1874-1884. So Antonina’s birth in 1828-1829 should be there, if she were born in Sochaczew.

But what if Antonina were born in Giżyce, and not Sochaczew?  Geneteka has births indexed for Giżyce for 1810, 1823-1825, and 1891-1905, so there’s a gap for both 1828  when Antonina would have been born, and also for 1849, which is approximately when she would have married. Unfortunately, in reviewing the available ranges of years for available records for both Sochaczew and Giżyce on LDS microfilm and at the Polish State Archives, the hope of identifying Antonina’s and Marianna’s parents definitively seems slim. It appears that Geneteka has indexed all the existing records for these parishes, so the records needed to fill those gaps no longer exist.  One of my goals for the new year is to have a researcher in Poland confirm this for me, and verify that there are no additional records available for either of these parishes at the parishes themselves or in a diocesan archive. Even if those early records are gone, and Antonina’s birth and marriage records are lost forever, it should still be possible to track down her death record after 1904, so that’s on my agenda, too.

If you’re like me, you like wringing every last drop of information from a data set, particularly in cases like this where data are limited.  So what else can Geneteka tell us about the Naciążeks in Giżyce and Sochaczew? Figure 9 shows Naciążek births in indexed records for all of Mazowieckie province.

Figure 9:  Geneteka search result for Naciążek births in Mazowieckie province.naciazek-births-in-mazowieckie

I’ve underlined the ones in red that I believe pertain to the same family.  Notice that the father’s name is sometimes recorded as Mateusz and sometimes recorded as Maciej.  This might be an artifact of the transcription and translation process.  Based on my experience with the records from Sochaczew for this time period, these records are likely to be in Latin, and those names in Latin might be written as Mattheus or Matthias — potentially difficult to differentiate if the handwriting is bad.  It’s also possible that the priest used either spelling indiscriminately, especially since he seems to have been a bit careless with Petronela’s name, which is recorded as Trawińska in most of the records, but as Slawińska in one of them.  Copies of these records are available from the Diocesan Archive in Łowicz, and I plan to order those in the New Year, so hopefully the originals can shed some light on this.

Based on these data, and data from the death records as well, a clearer image of the Naciążek family’s timeline emerges:

  • 1824:  Daughter Marianna born in Giżyce.
  • 1826:  Son Michał born in Sochaczew. (Note that Michał’s birth is recorded twice in the index, as record #134 and record #136.  Information contained in the infodot reveals that #134 is the Latin church record while #136 is the Polish-language civil copy.)
  • 1832:  Son Stanisław Andrzej born in Sochaczew.
  • 1834:  Son Ignacy born in Sochaczew.  (Again, both the Latin church version and the Polish civil copy are available for this record.)
  • 1836:  Daughter Florentyna Marianna born in Sochaczew.
  • 1837:  Son Ignacy dies in Sochaczew.
  • 1840:  Son Jan dies in Sochaczew.  Jan is noted to be 6 days old, and birth records for Sochaczew exist for the time of his birth, so it’s unclear whether his birth record is missing due to an omission by the priest or by the indexer.

If great-great-grandma Antonina does, in fact, belong to this family, her birth would fit into that 6-year-gap between Michał’s birth in 1826 and Stanisław Andrzej’s birth in 1832. Since her birth was not captured in the records for Sochaczew, it’s possible that the family returned to Giżyce for that time period.

One final record worth noting that pertains to the Naciążek family in Sochaczew and Giżyce is the marriage record in 1826 of Franciszek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska.  (Figure 10).

Figure 10:  Geneteka search results for Naciążek marriages in Mazowieckie province.franciszek-and-marianna-naciazek

Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the “uwagi” column reveals that the groom, Franciszek Naciążek, was from Giżyce although the wedding took place in the bride’s parish in Sochaczew. Franciszek and Marianna could also be potential parents for Antonina Naciążek, although they seem to disappear from the records.  They are not mentioned as parents on any of the indexed birth records in Mazowieckie, and the only other mention of them is in Marianna’s death record in Sochaczew in 1844.

Despite the lack of direct evidence concerning Antonina Naciążek, the indexed records in Geneteka offer a powerful tool for gathering hints about her possible family origins.  While it’s disappointing that Antonina’s birth and marriage records may no longer exist, there’s still some hope of finding her death record, and Sochaczew and Giżyce would be logical places to look for it.  Maybe 2017 will be my lucky year in terms of locating that document, and maybe I’ll get even luckier and it will include her parents’ names, so I can know for certain whether Antonina Naciążek is the daughter of Mateusz and Petronela (née Trawińska) Naciążek. May 2017 be a lucky year for your genealogical research as well. Here’s to finding our dead ancestors!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

 

 

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

 

On Antibiotics And the Brief Life of Wiktoria Zarzycka

Yesterday I had to see my doctor for a possible Lyme disease rash.  He agreed that it looks suspicious and prescribed a course of prophylactic antibiotics.  And oddly enough, that got me thinking about genealogy.  Lyme disease is one of many diseases known to modern-day physicians that is readily treated with antibiotics, and has an excellent prognosis if it’s caught early.  But life was very different for our ancestors, and I often remind myself of this fact when I start romanticizing those by-gone, simpler times.

As I’m sure is true for many of us, I find some ancestors’ stories to be more compelling than others.  For me, one such compelling ancestor is Wiktoria Zarzecka, one of my great-great-great-great-grandmothers.  I first encountered Wiktoria in this 1826 marriage record for her son,  Józef Zarzycki, and his bride, Joanna Krzemińska1:

Jozef Zarzycki and Joanna Krzyminska marriage 1826

The record describes the groom,  Józef Zarzycki, as a “bachelor, of Szwarocin residing, master of the shoemaking profession, born in the village of Szwarocin of Adam and Wiktoria née Stolarska, the married couple Zarzycki; having twenty-two years of age.”1  Interestingly, this record is the only time we see Wiktoria’s maiden name recorded as Stolarska.  In her own marriage record to Adam Zarzecki in 1802, shown below,2  the priest calls her only, “Victoria, from the voivodeship of Sieradz, the names of whose parents I do not know” and tells us that she was age 23 at the time of her wedding, suggesting a birth year of about 1779.  Bransk

 

The Sieradz Voivodeship (Palatinatus Siradiensis), where Wiktoria was said to have been born, existed at that time as an administrative division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and encompassed 6 counties and close to 200 Roman Catholic parishes.  Without knowing her parents’ names and an exact place of birth, further research on this line will be difficult at best.  Wiktoria was born into tumultuous times for Poland.  The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had already been diminished in size after the first partition of Poland in 1772, and Poland would be partitioned twice more, in 1793 and 1795, until it no longer existed by the time of Wiktoria’s marriage in 1802.  Both her birthplace, and her new hometown in the parish of Rybno, had become part of the Prussian Empire when she married Adam Zarzecki, gave birth to their only son, and died on 19 May 1807.  This political situation was as brief as Wiktoria’s life, however: just two months after her death, the Duchy of Warsaw was created by the Franco-Prussian treaty signed at Tilsit on 9 July 1807, creating a semi-autonomous Polish state that was in personal union with the Kingdom of Saxony.

One wonders why the priest might have recorded Wiktoria’s surname as Stolarska on her son’s marriage record in 1826, when it was unknown in 1802.  Perhaps her name truly was Stolarska, but the priest in 1802 was careless in his premarital examination, forgot to ask this information or failed to remember it, and then recorded later that he simply did not know her parents’ names?  How could she not have known her at least her father’s surname, if not her parents’ given names?  Was she born to an unwed mother, and perhaps she was orphaned at a young age?  How did a young, unmarried woman come to travel a distance of perhaps 90 miles from her home and settle in a distant village?  Did she travel with other family members, perhaps?  Unfortunately, the records of Rybno remain silent in regard to most of these questions.  The surname Stolarski does not appear in the parish records at all during this time period,3  which suggests that no other family members accompanied Wiktoria to Rybno.   The name “Stolarski” itself, like all Polish surnames with the root “Stolar-,” derives from the word, “stolarz,” meaning “joiner, carpenter,” so it’s also possible that the priest in 1826 created this surname for Wiktoria when he recorded her son’s marriage, perhaps based on someone’s recollection that her father was a carpenter.  As one might expect with such an etymology, the surname is not uncommon in Poland today, and is widely distributed geographically.  However, it does display a moderately increased prevalence in present-day Piotrków Trybunalski County, which was contained within the Sieradz Voivodeship.  It’s tempting to speculate that perhaps this surname really was used by Wiktoria’s family from that area, whose descendants still live there today.

Wiktoria’s life was sadly brief.  Following her marriage in 1802, she became the mother of her only child, Józef Zarzycki, who was born some time between August 1803 and March 1804 in Szwarocin.5   One might expect to see births to a married couple every two years, on average, but this was not the case for Wiktoria and Adam Zarzycki.  Unfortunately, fewer births mean fewer records which might mention Wiktoria and provide us with glimpses into her life.  In 1807, she died at the age of 28.6  This close-up of her death record tells us that she died of “petocie,” which is mentioned here as an old Polish form of the Latin word, “Petechiae.”  Victoria Zarzycka death crop.png

Petechiae are small, red or purple spots on the skin, caused by minor bleeding from a broken capillary, and can have a variety of causes ranging from infectious diseases, to trauma, to leukemia, and a variety of autoimmune or otherwise non-infectious causes.  However, an infectious, contagious disease is suggested here, since at least eight other deaths on this page were attributed to the same cause (two are shown here).  Two serious illnesses that cause a rash and were common during this time are scarlet fever and typhus.  Both of these illnesses are presently treated with antibiotics, and these diseases are no longer life-threatening with timely intervention.

As a 21st-century American, I’m very grateful for the easy access to antibiotics which I enjoy, and which is one reason why rashes and fevers no longer terrify us as they did our ancestors.  We’ll never know what Wiktoria’s life might have included had she lived longer.  Probably she would have lived quietly, just another illiterate peasant woman, raising her family, tending to her home and garden, and supporting her husband’s shoemaking business in whatever ways she was capable. She probably never imagined that one day her descendents would live all over the world.  Although her story is short, it’s one that captivates me.  Rest in peace, Wiktoria.

 

Sources:

1Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów 1826-1828,” 1826, #11, marriage record for Józef Zarzycki and Joanna Krzymińska.

2Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów 1790-1802,” 1802, #9, marriage record for Adam Zarzecki and Victoria, parents’ names unknown.

3Justyna Krogulska, Warsaw, Poland to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Zarzycki research notes; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA.

4Hoffman, William F. Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. (Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 2012), 729.

Justyna Krogulska, Warsaw, Poland to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Zarzycki research notes; privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA. .”I didn’t find the birth certificate of Józef Zarzycki! There is a gap in the documents in the Aug 1803 – Mar 1804. It follows that Joseph was born at the turn of the year 1803-1804.  In the years 1802-1807 were not born other children of Adam Zarzecki and Wiktoria.”

6Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga zgonów, 1802-1807,”1807, #39, death record for Victoria Zarzecka.

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

 

 

What’s in a name? My Zarzycki family of Buffalo, Rybno and Brańsk

I’ve been very busy with adding new data to my family tree for my Zarzycki family, thanks to my fabulous researcher in Warsaw, Justyna, who visited my ancestral parish in Poland to obtain records that are not available on microfilm, online, or in any archive.   By way of introduction, my maternal grandmother’s father was Jan/John Zażycki, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 18951 and eventually settled in North Tonawanda, New York.  My extended Zazycki family always insisted that the surname was spelled “Zażycki,” rather than the phonetically-equivalent “Zarzycki,” and furthermore, I was told by some that anyone with the surname “Zarzycki” was not likely to be related to us.  It may indeed have been the case that my great-grandfather preferred the spelling without the “r.” As you can see from the signature on his civil marriage record, John clearly spelled his name as “Zażycki”2:  Jan & Weronika Zazycki Marriage 2
John Zazycki’s naturalization papers contain both spellings, but one could argue that the places in which it was spelled with the “r” were the result of carelessness on the part of the clerk, since there is one place on the naturalization certificate where John’s name not only contains the “r,” but also appears as “Jarzycki”3:

Jan Zazycki naturalization certificate 2

Compare this with the Petition for Naturalization1, which John himself signed at the bottom:

Jan Zazycki Petition for Naturalization

However, any experienced family historian can tell you that one needs to be flexible and keep an open mind regarding variant spellings of surnames, and that is true in this case as well.  In records from Poland, I have only rarely seen the surname spelled as Zażycki.  For example, in records in which Jan’s father, Ignacy, is mentioned, the surname is spelled as “Zarzycki” on 17 occasions and as “Zarzecki” on 3 documents. In documents pertaining to Ignacy’s father, Józef, the surname has been spelled as “Zarzycki” 7 times, and as “Zażycki” only once.  In fact, that’s the only time I have ever seen the name spelled as “Zażycki” on a document from Poland.

My Zarzycki family was from the villages of Szwarocin and Bronisławy, which belong to the Roman Catholic parish of St. Bartholomew in Rybno.  All of these villages are presently in Sochaczew County, Mazowieckie province, but were in the Warsaw province of the Russian Empire at the time of my great-grandfather’s birth in 1866.  Literacy rates were quite low in the Russian Empire in those days — one estimate places the overall literacy rate of the Russian Empire at 24% in 1897, while the rural literacy rate which would include small villages like Bronisławy, was as low as 19.7%.4  Despite this, there is evidence that Ignacy Zarzycki was literate:  his signature appears as distinct from that of the priest, on the birth records of two of his children.  Below is the birth record for Ignacy’s son, Leonard Zarzycki, in 1876.5   Ignacy clearly signed his name as “Zarzycki.”  Leonard Zarzycki birth 1876

The same is true on this birth record for his son, Roman Aleksander Zarzycki in 18726:

Roman Aleksander Zarzycki birth 1872

So although it may have been the case that my great-grandfather preferred the spelling “Zażycki,” it appears that that preference may have begun with him, and has no bearing on the spellings that we see on records from Poland for this family.  In fact, not only does the spelling with the “r” predominate, but John’s own father spelled his name that way.

According to the paper trail for this family, Jan Zażycki was the son of Ignacy Zarzycki and Antonina Maciążek,2 and Ignacy was the son of Józef Zarzycki and Joanna Krzemińska.7 Going back one generation further on the paternal line, Józef Zarzycki was the son of Adam Zarzycki and Wiktora Stolarska.8  In records pertaining to Adam, we see a different trend in spelling.  Out of twelve documents found to date in which he is mentioned, six of them give his name as “Zarzecki,” five of them spell it “Zarzycki,” and only one of them (the marriage record for his son, Józef) shows the spelling, “Zażycki.”  Interestingly, the documents that contain the spelling “Zarzecki,” tend to be older (1802-1812) whereas the spelling “Zarzycki” is found on documents dated between 1812-1828.

The record for Adam’s first marriage to his wife, Wiktoria, states that he was a newcomer to the community in Rybno, having moved there from his original place of birth in Brańsk:9

Bransk

If there were any doubt about which place called Brańsk was meant, it would be cleared up by the record for Adam’s second marriage to Agnieszka Kruczewska in 1810, in which Adam is said to be from Podlachia (Podlasie):10

1810 crop

Taken together, these two documents suggest the town of Brańsk, which is currently the seat of gmina Brańsk in Bielsk County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, approximately 143 miles from Rybno:

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Adam Zarzycki was born about 1769 to Kazimierz Zarzycki and his wife, Zofia,9 but there are no vital records for the parish in Brańsk available for this time period from the Polish State Archives. The LDS Family History Library does have some vital records for Brańsk on microfilm including death records from 1797-1823, but no birth or marriage records from this or any earlier time periods, which suggests they might have been lost or destroyed.  So although it may not be possible to locate a birth record for Adam Zarzycki, it might be possible to locate death records for his parents, and this is an obvious direction for future research. Some of the existing records are indexed on Geneteka, including marriages from 1885-1896, and a search for “Zarzycki” reveals two marriage records with the spelling “Zarzecki”:

Bransk

Taken together, these data suggest that the original spelling of the surname was “Zarzecki,” and that it evolved to “Zarzycki” after Adam Zarzecki migrated to Rybno.  Analysis of the geographic surname distributions for both variants of the name (based on data from 2002) confirms that, although the “Zarzecki” spelling is generally less popular in Poland, it is significantly more common than “Zarzycki” in Bielsk County (124 bearers for Zarzecki/a vs. fewer than 50 for Zarzycki/a).

As this case demonstrates, surnames can evolve significantly over time and place, and the spelling variants that one sees may follow a particular pattern, rather than occurring at random. Tracking these changes can sometimes lead to a better understanding of a family’s geographic origins.  It will be interesting to see whether I can find additional traces of this family in the microfilmed death records from Brańsk — it’s unclear from Adam’s marriage record whether he was from the Brańsk area generally, or from that parish specifically.  But if I am able to find additional records there, you can be sure that I’ll pay close attention to how the Zarzycki/Zarzecki surname is spelled.


Sources:

1Erie, New York, #1892, Petition for Naturalization for Jan Zazycki, 12 July 1900.; Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin St. Buffalo, NY 14202.

2Buffalo, Erie County, New York, 1901, #202, marriage record for John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak.; Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin St., Buffalo, NY 14202.

3Erie, New York, #1892, Certificate of Naturalization for Jan Zazycki, 8 August 1900.; Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin St. Buffalo, NY 14202.

4“Likbez.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 29, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Likbez#CITEREFGrenoble.

5Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1870-1880”, 1876, #87, baptismal record for Leonard Zarzycki.

6Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga urodzeń 1870-1880”, 1872, #15, baptismal record for Roman Aleksander Zarzycki.

7Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Early birth records (before 1831)”, 1828, #34, baptismal record for Ignacy Zarzycki. 

8Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów 1826-1828”, 1826, #11, marriage record for Józef Zażycki and Joanna Krzymińska.

9Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów 1790-1802”, 1802, #9, marriage record for Adamus Zarzecki and Victoria, parents’ names unknown.

10Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga ślubów, 1803-1810”, 1810, #8, marriage record for Adamus Zarzecki and Agnes Kruczewska.

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz