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Archive for the ‘Polish Records’ Category

Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) in Old Town Warsaw. Yes, my great-grandfather lived on Beer Street!

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… W is for Warsaw! When I officially began my family history research and my father told me his grandfather, Jan Piątkowski (John Piontkowski) was from Warsaw, Poland, I thought: Yeah, right! Being a native-born Philadelphian, I am familiar with people “borrowing” my city as their place of birth because no one ever heard of the tiny suburban town they were born in. The fakers exclaim: “Well, it’s near Philadelphia!” So when I heard my great-grandfather was from Warsaw, I wondered exactly where he was born. My other great-grandfather said he was from Warsaw sometimes too, but he was from a town 27 miles away. Close doesn’t count when you’re searching for birth records.

But then a funny thing happened…I discovered he really was from Warsaw! Thanks to numerous Warsaw church records that are available online, I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record that confirmed his birth as he reported on his Declaration of Intention. My Piątkowski family was from Warsaw!

Prior to this discovery, I visited the city in 2001. I unknowingly visited some of the family’s sights such as the Archcathedral of St. John (Archikatedra św. Jana). At the time, I had no idea my great-grandfather was baptized there. Technically, of course, it is not the same church – most of Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944-5. It is estimated that 80% of the old buildings were destroyed, including most of the Old Town area and the churches. Eventually the buildings were rebuilt – some are exact replicas of what once stood, others are not.

There is still a lot of research to do (or more accurately, there is a lot of deciphering Russian to do), but so far I have discovered that my great-grandfather’s father, Stanisław Piątkowski, was in Warsaw by 1863. It was then he married Apolonia Konopka in Holy Cross Church (Kościół św. Krzyża). Neither was originally from the city: Stanisław was from Mogilev (Belarus) and Apolonia was born in Konopki in the Augustów province.

Stanisław was listed in records as a “private official” and a valet. I have yet to determine for whom he worked, but there is one characteristic of Stanisław that sets him apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER POLISH ANCESTOR – he could write his name. My factory workers and craftsmen – even some merchants – could not. I continue to wonder what a private official did in late nineteenth century Warsaw. At that time, Warsaw was undergoing a population boom – the city’s population more than doubled in twenty years.

Not all church records are available yet, but so far I’ve discovered two other sons of Stanisław and Apolonia, Jan’s marriage record and two children’s baptisms, and several records for the family of the brother of Jan’s wife, Rozalia Kizoweter (aka Kizeweter or Gizeweter). Since the addresses are provided in the church record, on my next visit to Warsaw I can re-visit some of the streets where they lived!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…K is for Księgi Parafialne (Polish for “Church Books”) via the website http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/. If your family history is Polish, this site is a must and yet it is not mentioned very often among guides to Polish research or “best of” lists. What is it? A site that lists, by province, every town that has church books indexed. The indexes (indices) are all on other sites – this is merely an index of indexes and links are included to get you there. As such, this site is only helpful once you’ve discovered the name of the town from which your ancestors came.

First, click on “Województwa” to find the province. Since the entire site is in Polish, you must look for the Polish name of the province (Pomorskie for Pomerania, etc). Each province has a separate page with a list of towns. Find the town name in the first column, parafia / USC. If available at one of the online sites, it will be listed. The dates in the columns show what records have been indexed for Chrzty/Urodziny (Baptisms/Births), Małżeństwa (Marriages), and Zgony (Deaths). Under Strona www is a link to the web site with the indexed records. There are over a dozen sites that have images (or at least indexes) of the records available. Included among them are Geneteka, which I’ve praised here before, and the Polish church books included on FamilySearch.org. What’s not listed? Anything on microfilm available via FamilySearch – this site lists only records/indexes available online. As with any record site, some provinces have many more towns with online records available than others. But towns are added weekly and the site is a great way to keep track of  what’s available for your ancestors’ towns. There are hundreds listed – is your ancestors town among them?

On the main page next to “Województwa” you will also see “II Rzeczpospolita” or “Second Republic”. This list includes areas once associated with Poland during the interwar period. There is also a heading “Dokumenty metrykalne” which offers documents that describe the format of the records. However, as the documents are in Polish, it will not nearly be as helpful as various translation guides in English.

For those of you with Polish ancestry, how cool is it to have a site that lists all available online records? I think it’s great…I just wish Germany had a similar site! Happy searching…

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Józef Pater's prisoner photo. Source: Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau

Who was Józef Pater?  I came upon Józef by accident while searching for my 2nd great-grandfather of the same name. I discovered that this particular Józef was my ancestor’s nephew, his brother Marcin’s son. What I learned with that search result was a forgotten story of a family – my family – who perished in the Holocaust.

If Józef’s cousins in the United States knew of his fate, it never reached the ears of their descendents. Most of what I learned about my courageous cousin came from sources written in Polish, but even those sources were limited and hard to find. The few facts I was able to piece together paint an interesting portrait of the man.  Who was Józef Pater?  He was an artist, a decorated soldier, a government employee, and a leader in the Polish Resistance.  He was a son, brother, husband, and father. He was Catholic, and he was Polish. He died at Auschwitz. Who was Józef Pater?  He was my cousin.

Józef Pater was born on 31 July 1897 in Żyrardów, Błoński powiat, Warszawske gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire. He was the son of Marcin and Paulina (nee Dreksler) Pater, both 37 years old. The family moved to Częstochowa by the time Józef was in middle school. Beginning in 1914, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow to study painting.

As a teenager – as early as age 15 – Józef Pater became involved in politics by joining the Polish Socialist Party – Revolutionary Faction (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – Frakcja Rewolucyjna), or PPS. The PPS was a pro-Polish independence party founded in 1892 that sought ideals such as equal rights for all citizens (regardless of race, nationality, religion and gender), a universal right to vote, freedom of speech, assembly, and press, and basic labor laws such as minimum wage, an 8-hour workday, and a ban on child labor. The “Revolutionary Faction” developed in 1906 under the leadership of Józef Piłsudski and the primary goal was to restore a democratic, independent Poland.

In November 1914, at the age of 17, Józef Pater served in the Polish Legions, a Polish armed force created in August of that year also by Józef Piłsudski.  The Legions became an independent unit within the Austro-Hungarian Army.  Józef Pater’s service began in the 1st Squadron of the 1st Lancer regiment in the First Brigade led by Piłsudski.  In July 1916, Pater was in the 6th Infantry regiment.  During these years, the Polish Legions, many of whom like Józef were citizens of Russia, took part in many battles with the Imperial Russian Army.

A short biographical sketch of Józef Pater that I found in Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944 indicates that beginning in November 1916, he worked in boards of recruitment in Siedlce and Łuków. However, it is highly likely that Pater was part of the Polish Legions that were involved in the so-called Oath Crisis.  When the Central Powers created the Kingdom of Poland on 05 November 1916, it was essentially a “puppet state” of Germany and not independent at all. In July 1917, the Central Powers demanded that the soldiers of the Polish Legions swear allegiance and obedience to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.  Based on the example of their leader, Piłsudski, the majority of the soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Legions declined to make the oath. The soldiers who were citizens of Austria-Hungary were sent to the Italian front as part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, and the soldiers from the rest of occupied Poland were sent to prisoner of war camps.  Since Pater is listed later in life as a member of the Association of Former Political Prisoners of the former Revolutionary Faction, it is assumed that he was one of the young soldiers interred for refusing to take the oath.  Later, in 1932, he was the president of the Kutno branch of the Association of Former Ideological Prisoners.

On 04 October 1917, the 20-year-old Józef Pater married Helena Feliksa Palige in All Saints Church (Wszystkich Świętych) in Warsaw.

Signatures on the marriage record of Jozef Pater and Helena Palige.

From November 1918 to November 1920, Józef Pater served as a volunteer in the Polish Army. At some point he must have continued his studies at the Academy, for he was awarded a diploma in 1921 as an artist-painter.  Pater rejoined the army in November 1924 and served there as non-commissioned officer in 4th air regiment.  He retired from military service on 31 December 1929.

While I have little more than dates and assignments about Pater’s time in the military, I found one fact that speaks volumes: he was decorated four times with Cross of Valour and also with the Cross of Independence with Swords.  The Cross of Valour is a Polish military decoration created in 1920 for one who has demonstrated deeds of valor and courage on the field of battle.  Józef received the decoration the maximum amount allowed – four times.  It is unknown if he received the commendation for his actions with the Legions in World War I, or if it was for any actions during the Polish-Soviet War from 1920 – 1923.  The Cross of Independence is one of Poland’s highest military decorations.  There are three classes, and the Cross of Independence with Swords is the rarest of the three.  Developed in 1930, it was awarded to those who laid foundations for the independence of Poland before or during World War I. Józef Pater received this honor in 1931.

Józef Pater may have been a painter, but I’m not sure he ever painted for a living because following his busy military career he began to work as a clerk for the government.  From 1930 to 1933 he worked in the towns of Toruń, Kutno, and Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and from January 1934 to June 1935 he worked as a clerk in the Broadcasting Agency of the Polish Radio in Warsaw. In 1935, Józef Pater became town councilor in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and he still held this position when Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939.

The invasion by Germany was far more than a military occupation.  According to Poland’s Holocaust by Tadeusz Piotrowski, the Germans attempted to remove Polish culture and way of life through closing the banks, devaluing the currency, confiscating possessions, destroying libraries, forbidding the teaching of Polish history, and banning Polish music.  Himmler would announce on 15 March 1940:

“All Polish specialists will be exploited in our military-industrial complex.  Later, all Poles will disappear from this world. It is imperative that the great German nation considers the elimination of all Polish people as its chief task.” (Piotrowski, 23)

Within a month of Poland’s invasion (by one source, another says a few months later), Józef Pater became the chief commanding officer (listed in narratives as having the rank of “Major”) of a Polish Resistance group called the Gwardia Obrony Narodowej (National Defense Guard) or GON.  In April 1940, the GON was joined with the Związek Czyny Zbrojnego (Association of Arms) or ZCZ.  This group joined with several other Resistance groups in October 1940 to establish the Konfederacja Narodu, or National Confederation – the main Polish underground organization throughout the war. The National Confederation organized a single armed force for the good of the Polish nation.

Józef Pater became one of the many leaders of the underground.  From January 1941, he was in charge of police and security issues for the movement.  Most participants in the Resistance movement were known to each other only by code names.  Józef Pater used the names of “Inżynier” – in English, “Engineer” – as well as the name “Orlot,” which does not have a direct English translation but is a fighting eagle.

The symbol of the Polish Underground is the flag of the Armia Krajowa; the symbol on the flag is a combination of letters "P" and "W" for Polska Walcząca or Fighting Poland.

The role of the Polish Underground during the German occupation was twofold.  First, they were to do everything possible to make the lives of the German military as miserable as possible.  That meant sabotage, disruption of supply lines or communication, theft, damage to equipment, and similar acts. In addition to acts of destruction, the Resistance movement also sought to keep hope alive for the Polish people. Since the only authorized press was German, the Underground published and disseminated accurate information about the war to the Poles as well as getting the message out of the country. In addition, the Underground movement’s message fostered a sense of fierce pride among the Poles and offered hope that their culture and nation would survive.

On 15 February 1941, Józef Pater – and presumably his wife, Helena – were arrested in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and sent to Pawiak Prison in Warsaw.  Pawiak was used by the German Gestapo for interrogations, usually brutal in nature, as well as for executions.  It is estimated that at least 100,000 Catholics and Jews were sent to Pawiak – approximately 37,000 were executed there, and 60,000 were sent to various concentration camps.

In a book called Meldunek z Pawiaka I was able to learn about Józef’s character as well as the bravery of those involved in the underground movement.  Franciszek Julian Znamirowski, commander of the ZCZ, became friends with Józef Pater in 1940 as co-conspirators when their two resistance organizations joined forces.  Znamirowski survived the war and described Pater in a letter to author Zygmunt Śliwicki in 1970:

“The man was courageous, generous, friendly, a great patriot, the soul of a painter, and devoted to his family.  He downplayed the danger.  He lived in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with his family. He had a radio and listened to messages, sending them in a secret letter. At this he was caught, and we lost him. When I learned about the arrest and his confinement in the Pawiak, without much thinking I decided to move out and help him escape.”

It was rumored that Pater had typhus and was in the prison hospital, so Znamirowski obtained fake documents that identified him as a doctor of infectious diseases.  Znamirowski told the guards that he was Pater’s family doctor, and he bribed them with money for entry to the prison.  He described Pater as being very surprised to see him.  Contrary to the rumor, he was not sick at all.  He was wearing pajamas, and the two retreated to the bathroom to talk without fear of wiretaps.  They talked “freely about everything” for an hour.

Znamirowski explained that he was there to help Pater escape – he believed it was possible.  However, Józef’s wife, Helena, was also imprisoned there.  Józef feared that if he escaped without her, there would be reprisals and she would suffer even more.  He asked Znamirowski if he could return with enough money to buy their way out of the prison with the guards.

Znamirowski recalled in 1970:  “He [Pater] asked urgently for help by buying him out, and it was a lot of money.  We were not able to collect the cash.  He was being interrogated, but he did not incriminate anybody. He held out heroically. He authorized me to take over the organization and manage it in accordance with his ideas.”  It was the last time Znamirowski ever saw him.

On 17 April 1942 Józef Pater was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim.  He was registered as Polish political prisoner and received the number 31225.  He died there on 24 June.

Józef’s wife, Helena Palige Pater, was presumably arrested at the same time and also sent to Pawiak.  On 22 September 1941, she was transported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and was killed (date unknown). Ravensbrück, located in northern Germany, was known as the women’s concentration camp.

Józef’s older brother, Bronisław (born 06 September 1890), was also involved with the Resistance. On 17 January 1943 he was sent to Majdanek concentration camp and was killed (date unknown).

One source (Za Murami Pawiaka) reports that there were two sons of Józef and Helena that were also killed in the camps.  Another book, Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944, reports that one son, also named Bronisław (born 1920), was killed at Majdanek; however, there is conflicting information because there were two men named Bronisław Pater, one the brother and one the son of Józef. One of these two was transported to Majdanek on 17 January 1943 and never returned.  They may have both died at that particular camp, but I lack the appropriate evidence to say for sure.

Reports differ widely on the number of deaths in the country of Poland at the hands of the Nazi regime. The commonly accepted number is six million Poles – both Catholics and Jews – died, which was roughly 17% of the total population of Poland before the war. It is estimated that of the six million Polish deaths, three million were Jewish and three million were Catholic. As the Jewish population of Poland was much smaller, Germany killed about 85% of Poland’s Jewish population and about 10% of Poland’s Catholic population.

Józef, Bronisław, Helena, Bronisław.  Their names were forgotten in my family.  May we never forget them again.

###

The brothers Józef and Bronisław Pater are first cousins of my great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his brothers (Wacław, Stefan) and sisters (Franciszka, Ewa, Wiktoria).  Louis’ father, also Józef Pater, is Józef’s uncle and a brother to his father, Marcin Pater.  My ancestor Józef immigrated to America in 1905.  His nephews would have been 15 and 7 years old at that time.  My great-grandfather Louis did not leave Poland until August, 1907, and he was living with his adult sister, Franciszka.  Given that Franciszka married Paweł Niedzinski (Nieginski) in Częstochowa in June, 1906, it is likely that both branches of the Pater family left Żyrardów and were living in Częstochowa together.  Louis/Ludwik was nearly 14 years old when he left Poland; cousin Józef was 10 and Bronisław was 17.

This post has literally been a couple of years in the making.  I had help with some initial research by footnoteMaven, and I would not have known much without some translations by Maciej Róg.  I was further assisted with both research and translations by Matthew Bielawa .  Their help is greatly appreciated!

Source: Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945

Sources used for this post:

Vital Records:

Parafia Matki Bożej Pocieszenia (Żyrardów, Błoński, Warszawske, Vistula Land, Russian Empire), “Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów 1897 [Records of Births, Marriages, Deaths 1897],” page 160, entry 637, Józef Pater, 31 Jul 1897; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl,  Archiwum Państwowe m. st. Warszawy, Oddział w Grodzisku Maz. (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=1265d&sy=134&kt=1&skan=0635-0638.jpg)

Parafia Wszystkich Świętych (Warszawa, Warszawaske, Regency Kingdom of Poland), “Akta małżeństw 1917 [Records of Marriages 1917],” page 67, entry 133, Józef Pater and Helena Feliksa Palige, 04 Oct 1917; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl, Księgi metrykalne parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wszystkich Świętych w Warszawie (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=9264d&sy=341&kt=1&skan=133.jpg)

Death record 12625/1942, Józef Pater, 24 June 1942. Biuro informacji o byłych więźniach, Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau (Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau)

Books:

Dębski, Jerzy and State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Death Books from Auschwitz: Remnants. München : K.G. Saur, 1995.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof.  Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1996.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof. Słownik Biograficzny Konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944.  Warszawa: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX, 1987.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Piotrowski, Tadeusz.  Poland’s Holocaust. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1998.

Wanat, Leon. Za Murami Pawiaka. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1972.

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Sometimes my genealogical research takes an organized and methodical approach akin to the scientific method – or at least obsessive compulsive disorder.  And then other times my research resembles the dog in the animated movie Up who gets distracted every time a squirrel runs past him.  While the former research approach may be more useful when it comes to documenting sources or following the genealogical proof standard, the latter can be much more serendipitous and fun.  You never really know what you’ll find when you don’t start off searching for anything in particular or you go down roads you didn’t intend to follow!

Such was the case one day in my web surfing when I took my own advice (see #9 of my Top Ten More Ways to Celebrate Pol-Am Heritage Month) and searched for a town website.  My maternal grandmother’s mother’s side (surnames Ślesiński, Drogowski, Michałowski, Kubicki) comes from the town of Wilczyn in Poland (powiat Koniń, Wielkopolskie).  The town’s borders have shifted as Poland’s have.  According to the site:

During the pre-Partition period Wilczyn belonged to Trzemeszno county (small town about 30 km from Wilczyn), and to Powidz county (small town near Strzelno) during the Napoleon Campaign 1793 – 1812. From 1812 to 1815 it belonged to Pyzdry county and after the Vienna Treaty got included in Konin county. From 1867 to 1934 Wilczyn belonged to Slupca county and from 1934 again to Konin, where it lies to present day.

The town’s website, http://www.gminawilczyn.pl, has some English translations but is mostly in Polish.  Some words are easy to translate, such as historia, and using an online translator can usually give you the essential meaning of the text.  I clicked on the link for dokumenty and wondered what sorts of documents were on the site.  Clicking on the first document, I found a birth certificate:

SOURCE: http://www.gminawilczyn.pl/ under "Dokumenty"

I know enough genealogical Polish to read the record for the birth of Józefa Drogowska, born 23 November 1865 to Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubicka. Wait a minute! Those names sound familiar…the parents are my 3rd great-grandparents! Józefa is the sister of my 2nd great-grandmother, Stanisława Drogowska (born 04 Jun 1860 in Wilczyn – died 30 Dec 1918 in Dobrosołowo).  There are only four documents on the site, and this is one.  There is no explanation as to why this particular document is shown on the site.  It is also shown with the images under Wirtualne muzeum or virtual museum.  I would love to know why it is posted on the site and if a descendent of Józefa was responsible for posting it. Now I have real research to do!

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Daj mi buzi - give me a kiss!

Everyone can have fun celebrating Polish-American Heritage Month, as we proved yesterday. But if you have Polish ancestry, there are also some fun genealogical things you can do.  Today I present:

Top Ten Genealogical Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month

1. Listen to Polish pronunciation of names and places with Expressivo.  I wrote about it here but the company has since changed the site so the links don’t play the recordings.  However, it will take you to the new site, Ivona text to speech.  You can still enter some words or phrases and choose the Polish voices to “speak” to you.

2. Learn to decipher a Polish record.  These translation aids can help.

3. Learn all about Polish genealogical research.  Start with Poland Gen Web or Polish Roots or Polish Origins.  Or, read a book such as Going Home:  A Guide to Polish-American Family History by Jonathan D. Shea or Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy by Ceil Wendt Jensen.

4. Explore the Polish records on Family Search. They don’t have much yet, but the good news is that there are some!

5. Explore Geneteka’s records.  I wrote a primer here.

6. Virtually visit some of Poland’s Archives.  Stanczyk presents a list here.

7. Join a Polish genealogical society.  Perhaps PGSA or PGSCTNE?  There are many!

8. Browse the Poland-related mailing lists at Rootsweb. Here’s a list of all, just look around for Polish-related lists.

9. See if there’s a website for your ancestor’s hometown.  Try a Google search, or else try the town name in between “www” and “pl”.

10. Create a surname map for one of your Polish surnames. It’s both fun and educational!

So there you have it.  How are you celebrating Polish-American Heritage Month?

 

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After some success at Finding Polish Records Online, I decided to snoop around some more, this time with the Poznan Project.  While many of my Polish ancestors come from the area in or around Warsaw, a whole other branch comes from the wielkopolskie province in what is known as “Greater Poland”.  I have two ancestral lines from the town of Wilczyn in this province, which is covered by the Poznan Marriage Indexing Project.  I entered some of my family surnames into the search form, and immediately I found several matches.

But one find really confused me.  The groom’s name and his parents’ names were familiar to me already.  The bride’s name and her parents’ names were too.  Except these two individuals are from different branches of my family tree!

I actually had to plot it out on paper to figure out what had happened.  The “note” in the indexed record helped as well: he was a widower; she was a widow.  Their deceased spouses’ names were my ancestors – both the deceased and the two newlyweds are my 4th great-grandparents.

After charting it out, I was able to see that my great-grandmother’s father’s maternal grandparents were Franciszek Michałowski (b. 1788) and Julianna Pałuszyńska (b.1797). Her mother’s maternal grandparents were  Józef Kubiński (b.1795) and Apolonia Lewandowska (b.1796). At some point, Franciszek died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Elżbieta Michałowska (b. 1824). Likewise, Apolonia died, leaving behind at least one daughter, Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896).

In 1839, the widow Juliana and the widower Józef got married, which made their two daughters step-sisters. The previous year, Józef’s daughter Konstancja had already gotten married to Jan Drogowski (1818-1894).  But Juliana’s daughter, Elżbieta, was only 15 years old.  When Elżbieta eventually got married in 1844 to Józef Ślesiński (1821-1866), her step-father Józef was a witness to the marriage.

Still with me?  Elżbieta had a son, Wincenty (1850-1919).  Konstancja had a daugther, Stanisława (1860-1918).  Wincenty and Stanisława got married in 1879 and had my great-grandmother, Wacława (1885-1956) and a bunch of other children.  Although Wacława has eight great-grandparents like most of us, her father’s grandmother married her mother’s grandfather after their spouses had died!

Once I was able to see this second marriage, it actually explained what I thought was a discrepancy in the records.  In Elżbieta Michałowska’s death record, her maiden name is not listed as Michałowska, but as Kubińska – her step-father’s name.  Until finding this marriage record, I wasn’t able to figure out that apparent name change!

One find in an index led to mapping out the family tree to see the connection.  This just goes to show that you never know what you might find!  I don’t usually look for second marriages in indexes, and if I hadn’t found this I would not be able to find the death record of the widow since I’d be looking under her first husband’s surname.

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Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for "Piatkowski"

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for "Piatkowski" in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on "skan" next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

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Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an “easy” button for genealogy?  Can’t find a record? Just press the “easy” button!  Well, occasionally even genealogists get lucky and find something easily.  Since so many record are available online, a lot of research can be as easy as clicking a button.  But when your ancestors lived in a state as vital-record-strict as Pennsylvania, or from parts of Poland and Germany that don’t seem to work with the big online record sites, “easy” isn’t common.

For my new year genealogy resolutions, I made a wish list list of 11 goals for 2011.  A few were research-specific, including number 9 – “Find the marriage record for Stanisław Piątkowski & Apolonia Konopka.”  I didn’t necessarily put it on the list because I thought it would be easy; it was just one of those records I needed to find in order to continue researching each of those ancestral lines.  I didn’t expect to achieve that goal eight days into the new year.  And it was easy!

I found the couple’s marriage record online.  Now, in today’s genealogical world, that doesn’t sound unusual.  It is quite common to find records online.  But a marriage record from Warsaw, Poland?  From 1863?  On a free online site that isn’t called FamilySearch and isn’t affiliated with Ancestry?  To borrow a phrase from Randy Seaver, I was genea-smacked.  If only the rest of my genealogical research could be this easy.  The source of my great-great-grandparents’ marriage record is called Geneteka.  If you want to learn more about what it is, what records are available, and how to use it, stay tuned for my next post.  If only research was always this easy…

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October is Polish-American Heritage Month!  The Polish American Center describes this event as “a national celebration of Polish history, culture and pride.”  Even if you don’t have any Polish ancestry, it’s a great time to learn more about Polish history and culture.  Last year What’s Past is Prologue hosted a month-long Polish History and Culture Challenge – all contributions can be found in this post.  I’m not quite as organized this year, but I want to offer some tips on celebrating your Polish heritage with the Top Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month:

If you have Polish Ancestry…

  • Locate an immigrant ancestor’s place of origin ~ Ancestry magazine has a great guide to help here.
  • Find a church record for one of your ancestors ~ here are some translation aids to help once you find it.
  • Find and translate the Słownik Geograficzny entry for your ancestor’s hometown ~ here’s a guide to assist.
  • Learn the origin and meaning of one of your Polish surnames ~ read my interview with author Fred Hoffman, and then run out to buy his books on Polish surnames!
  • Join a Polish genealogical society ~ such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

And even if you’re not Polish…

  • Read a book by a Polish author ~  Many are available in English translations.  Are you a science fiction fan? Try Stanisław Lem.  Enjoy non-fiction?  Try Ryszard Kapuściński.  In the mood for sweeping romantic historical epics?  Definitely try Henryk Sienkiewicz.
  • Learn about an event in Polish history ~ Several important anniversaries occurred or will occur in 2009, such as the 230th anniversary of the death of General Casimir Pulaski (father of the American Cavalry) and the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
  • Watch a Polish movie ~ Try Three Colours (Polish: Trzy kolory), the collective title of the trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa, or Katyń, directed by Andrzej Wajda.
  • Make a recipe for some Polish food ~ who wouldn’t want some pierogi?  Did you hear about the Polish nun who has become a best-selling cookbook author?
  • Learn how to polka! ~ Sheri gave us a good intro to the polka for my Polish History and Culture Challenge!

Polish-PrideKiss Us, We’re Polish (and Proud…)!

As always, I encourage my readers to also check out some great blogs of my fellow Polish-American genea-bloggers:
Steve’s Genealogy Blog ~ read about Steve’s visit to Poland, or see samples of expert translation of vital records!
Creative Gene ~ Jasia writes about “genealogy and more” including her Polish heritage, Detroit Polonia, and Polish crafts!
Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research ~ Al’s blog gives you exactly what’s in the title of his blog – solid genealogy research that serves as an example to us all!

If you have a blog about Polish genealogy, history, heritage, or culture, tell us about it in the comments!

(Polish Pride image from the Polish Heritage Gift Shop – buy your favorite Pole an expression of pride today!)

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In Part 1 of “The Slesinski Sisters” I presented some photographs passed on to me by my grandmother that showed her mother and aunts: Laura, Josephine, Mary, Jane, and Sophie Slesinski, from “somewhere” in Poland.  The remaining photograph that I inherited from my grandmother is shown below.  All I had to begin my research were their (maiden) names – would I be able to find anything with such little information?

The Slesinski Sisters

The Slesinski Sisters

I had already researched my great-grandmother; her Polish name was Wacława, but in America she used Laura.  She came to the U.S. in 1903 following her husband, Józef Zawodny, who arrived a year earlier.  While the couple was easy to find in passenger list records, the key to Wacława’s birthplace would later come through researching her sisters.

I could not locate any of the Slesinski sisters in the census records, so I had to assume that they were married either at the time of arrival into the U.S. or at least at the time of their first census.  If they were married before they arrived here, I had no idea how to find their married names.  So I began with the assumption that they were single when they arrived – or at least some of them!

With luck, I found 3 of the 4 sisters on the same passenger arrival record: the SS Adriatic sailing from Southampton to New York, arriving on 15 October 1920. On the record, their surname was spelled Sleszynska and the first names fit with the information I had from the photographs.  Sailing together were Janina, age 19, Zofia, age 17, and Marianna, age 23.  They were all listed as dressmakers from Dobrosołowo.  Their destination was to their “brother-in-law Mr. Sioracki” at 600 Hazel Street in McKeesport, PA.

Research Tip: Be flexible with first names.  This can apply to either foreign translations like Zofia=Sophie, “adopted” names that are not translations like Wacława=Laura, or “like” variations of a name like Maria=Marianna=Mary.

Also, don’t discount similar spellings of the last name.  “Sleszynska” was similar enough to “Slesinska” to warrant a look at the record.  If the first names and ages offer a good match (and in this case, the destination), it may be the correct record.

This information meant that their sister Josephine was already married and living in McKeesport by 1920 – now I had a name to search on the 1920 census.  I wouldn’t find anything under “Sioracki” though, nor under the Soundex search, so the name was not spelled correctly.  However, I did find her using the address instead: Vincent and Josephine “Shieraski” at 600 Hazel Street.  Vincent is 33 and immigrated in 1904, while Josephine is 29 and immigrated in 1911.  One sister’s married name down, three to go!

Research Tip: Can’t find a name in an index or soundex?  It may be spelled or indexed wrong.  An alternate is to look up by address, which can be found in a variety of sources including city directories, marriage licenses, passenger lists, or personal records like photographs or family papers.

Because the three younger sisters arrived too late for the 1920 census enumeration and were not listed on the 1930, it was easy to assume that all three were married sometime during the 1920’s. The next step in the research was a search of Allegheny county marriage records through the mail.  Amazingly, all three marriage licenses were found!

  • On 14 October 1922, Maria Slesinska married Adolph Majewski
  • On 17 January 1924, Sophia Slesinska married Joseph Goreski
  • On 22 June 1925, Janina Slesinski married John Smilovicz

Research Tip: Some Polish surnames have masculine and feminine endings.  A daughter or a wife of a man with a name ending in -ski would use a -ska ending to the name.  However, this is not set in stone – especially once the couple or the woman immigrated to the U.S.  For purposes of searching records, search for both variations of the name.

Armed with the sisters’ married names, I searched the 1930 census in McKeesport.  The Majewski family lived at 804 Park Way: Adolph, age 38, Mary, age 28, and son Bolesław, age 6 (born in PA). Adolph works in a steel mill and is a WWI veteran.  This solved the mystery of who “Mr. Adolph Majewski” was on the photograph (see Part 1).  Because of his marriage to Maria/Mary, it also confirmed that the labeling on the photograph of the sisters was likely correct since Mary matches the woman standing with Adolph as “one of the family”.

Two of the sisters lived at 1202 5th Avenue.  The first family was Joseph Goreski (age 30), wife Sophia (age 21), and daughter Irene (age 5, born in PA).  Joseph also works at a steel mill.  Although listed on a different sheet, the “Sieradzki” family lived at the same address: Wincenty (age 41) and Josephine (age 38).  Wincenty (Vincent) worked as a die caster.

Finally, at 2817 Garbett Street were John Smilovicz (age 39), wife Jane (age 27), and son Henry (age 3 and 11/12, born in PA).  John works in a tin mill and was also a WWI veteran.

By researching just a few record sources I managed to find all four sisters’ marriages and a few children born by 1930.  After one sister’s social security application pointed back to Dobrosołowo, Poland – matching the passenger arrival record – I decided to find the births records of my great-grandmother and her sisters.  The three sisters’ marriage records in the U.S. provided some clues as to their parents names.  One did not list the parents at all, but the other two agreed on their father’s name – Vincent Slesinksi.  Their mother’s name was listed on one as Stella and the other as Stanislawa, but the surname matched: Drogowski (Stella was often used as an English variant for Stanislawa).  This was more information than anything I was able to uncover about my great-grandmother through her own records in the U.S.

Research in Poland proved to be difficult despite these many facts.  Fortunately, the youngest child, who happened to be Sophia (Zofia), was born in Dobrosołowo – the other children were found in nearby towns.   And there were more than five children in the family!  Birth records were found for the following children of Wincenty (Vincent) Slesinski and Stanislawa Drogowska:

  • Wacława Marianna, 29 Aug 1880
  • Józefa, 01 Jan 1883
  • Feliks, 24 Dec 1885
  • Konstancja, 18 Jul 1888 – 13 Aug 1889
  • Wincenty, 03 Apr 1893 – 02 Apr 1896
  • Marianna, 06 Apr 1896
  • Janina, 12 Dec 1898
  • Zofia, 10 Aug 1901

The birth records proved what the photographs showed: there was a large gap in the ages between the oldest and youngest sister – 21 years!  In fact, Zofia (Sophie) was only two years old when Wacława (Laura) left for America!   The sisters also seemed to shave a few years off of their ages for the census-takers, but that was common and is the main reason why census records are not completely reliable for ages. It is uncertain what became of their brother Feliks – no death record was found in Poland, but no definitive immigration record was found in the U.S. either.

I was even able to find the “end of the story” with regard to my great-grandmother’s sisters – they are all buried in St. Mary’s Polish Cemetery in McKeesport, PA, and a survey of the tombstones is available online.  While the birth years on tombstones can never be regarded as accurate, at least the death years can. The deaths are recorded as follows:

  • SIERADZKI, Wincenty 1888 – 1969
  • SIERADZKI, Jozefa S. 1891 – 1964
  • MAJEWSKI, Adolph 1892 – 1973
  • MAJEWSKI, Marya 1900 – 1955
  • SMILOWICZ, John 1888 – 1974 (Pvt US Army WWI)
  • SMILOWICZ, Jennie 1904 – (no death date listed)
  • GORESKI, Joseph 1900 – 1976
  • GORESKI, Sophia 1908 – 1990

Research Tip: EVIDENCE…which record do you believe?  For a birth year, birth or christening records obviously hold more weight than a person’s marriage record (they may have been underage, considered “too old” to be getting married for the first time, or older than their spouse), census record (they may be trying to stay young, or embarrassed if they are older than a spouse), or a death record (the person giving the information may not know the truth).

I assumed this was “the end” of my research into the Slesinski sisters.  While I had not done any research on the three children identified on the 1930 census – my grandmother’s first cousins – I had gone back to Poland and learned the names of not only their parents, but also their grandparents!  I was well on the way to continuing my research backwards into the Slesinski ancestry.  But a funny thing happened on the way…my research was “confirmed” in an unusual way.

Coming up in Part 3 – My research is confirmed!  By more photographs!

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Poster designed by footnoteMaven!

Poster designed by footnoteMaven!

During the month of October, which was Polish-American Heritage Month, I presented a challenge to all genea-bloggers, regardless of their ancestry, to learn more about the history and culture of Poland and write about it on their blogs.  I’m happy to say that a few folks did just that!  The following bloggers participated in this challenge:

Alwierz at the Polish-American Genealogy Research Blog writes about Polish genealogy every day!  But specifically for this challenge, Al turned his focus on the histories of his ancestors’ hometowns in Poland.  Al says, “I’ve researched and attempted to translate the histories of the area and parishes within the Kujawy area of Poland, specifically within Powiat Aleksandrow. Polish history is very rich and proud, so I had tried to translate these histories with the utmost respect. I had used two online translation tools, Google Translator and Poltran, along with my Polish – English English – Polish (Langenscheidt’s Pocket Dictionary). Any errors with any of the translations are my fault and will be corrected as they are pointed out.”  His articles for this challenge are:

This was a fascinating look at the Kujawy area in Poland.  Thanks, Al!

Jasia at Creative Gene also wrote a series of posts.  Her series focused on the crafts of Poland.  The slide shows and photographs in Jasia’s posts are beautiful, and really show the best of Polish art.  Her series about her Polish art collections are:

Aren’t they beautiful?  Thanks, Jasia!

Next, Sheri Fenley, The Educated Genealogist, learned how to polka.  Well, she tried to learn how to Polka!  Who knew it would be so hard?  Disappointed, but still wanting to participate in the challenge, Sheri instead offers a wonderful look at the polka in The Problem with Polka!  A-one, and a-two, and a dziękuję to Sheri!

Lisa, at 100 Years in America, writes about the connections and friendship between Poland and Hungary in Two Good Friends: The Pole and the Hungarian.  What a beautiful proverb!  Thanks for participating, Lisa, and for your friendship!

The footnoteMaven has presented us with the fascinating life story of a little-known Pole who was quite famous in her day.  Read all about Madame Helena Modjeska in Today I am an Honorary Pole! We’re grateful for this glimpse into her life, and you’re welcome to be an honorary Pole any day.  In fact, in appreciation you shall be called footnoteMavenska for today!  Thanks so much.

Finally, I offered a hodge-podge of various posts here at What’s Past is Prologue as follows:

I hope my readers enjoyed this challenge and the wonderful posts from those that participated.  Thanks to all!  Or rather, to say it in Polish, dziękuję!

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October has been a celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month here at What’s Past is Prologue.  Today I’d like to introduce my readers to Ceil Wendt Jensen, CG and her website, Michigan Polonia.  In our interview you will read about how she developed an interest in genealogy, her experiences with finding her Polish roots, and get some of her expert advice!  Ceil had over thirty years of experience as a teacher of art and social studies.  In 1998, she became a professional genealogist.  Since then, not only has she traced her Polish ancestry back to the 1600s, but she has used her teaching skills to become an international speaker on Polish genealogy.

Ceil has authored numerous articles in genealogy magazines and journals, as well as several books, including Detroit’s Polonia, Detroit’s Mount Elliott Cemetery and Detroit’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.  Her upcoming book, Sto Lat: A Quick Guide to Polish Genealogy, will offer both traditional and digital research techniques to finding your Polish ancestors in North America and Poland.

The header from the Michigan Polonia site - mipolonia.net

The header from the Michigan Polonia site - mipolonia.net

Visit the Michigan Polonia site for more information on Ceil’s books, speaking engagements, and articles. Ceil is currently upgrading the site to include adding audio and video files.  She also maintains the following blogs:

I can’t imagine how she had any free time with all of the above activities, but Ceil somehow found the time amid blogging, writing, teaching, and researching to graciously respond to my questions.

I read that you became interested in genealogy with a grade school project (as I did).  Can you tell us a little about that and how that led you on the path to become a certified genealogist?

My father was my first genealogical interview. He showed me a canvas wallet that held the documents my grandfather and great grandfather carried to the US from Mühlbanz (Milobadz), Dirschau (Tczew), and West Prussia (Poland). His death a few months later made me start asking questions of living relatives.

Przytula Family, Detroit c. 1908

Przytula Family, Detroit c. 1908

I visited with my maternal grandparents and great aunts who willingly borrowed documents from their cousins to get our research started.  One of my best collaborators was my Great Aunt Lilly- we went cemetery hopping together.  She provided me with a copy of the birth certificate of our uncle Mikołaj Przytula, born in Cibórz, Kreis Strasburg (now Brodnica – the certificate was issued in Lautenburg [Lidzbark]), and a great family photo of Mikołaj, his sister Stanisława and parents Adam and Johanna (Pszuk) Przytula. I featured it in my book Detroit’s Polonia. Unfortunately, when I took the documents to the local Family History Center in the 1970s the volunteer tried helping me find the villages with a current map of Europe. I needed a pre-World War I map to find the locations.  I set the research aside during the years I taught high school. But even as I traveled overseas with my high school students, I wondered how and when I would visit Poland.

When my great Aunt Lilly died at the age of 102, I pledged at her funeral that I would finish the research we had started in the early 1970s. It was a great time to resume my research. The Internet was developing sites for genealogical research, and I had earned a teaching degree in Social Studies and knew how to use primary and secondary sources.  In 2000 I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and found many of the teaching techniques I used in the classroom would segue into genealogy.  I also realized that most researchers were text based, and my background as an art teacher allowed me to bring maps, graphics, photos, and other media into the genealogical field.

I submitted my certification portfolio to the Board of Certification in Washington DC, and the judges awarded my credentials on December, 13, 2003. I am currently updating my materials for recertification.

What do you think are some common mistakes made by beginning researchers?

I volunteer at our local Family History Center and see several common mistakes new researchers make when they begin their Polish research. The first problem is putting the name into proper Polish.  Searching for William, Betty, or Chester will not yield any results. I help the patrons find the correct given name and surname by using Fred Hoffman’s books.  I also have them use Steve Morse’s Gold Form for searching ship manifests since it has the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex created to work with Slavic languages.

The second technique I offer researchers is the trick of putting a syllable of a name in a search engine instead of all the information known about their ancestor.  In fact, I found my great grandmother’s passage to America by entering just the first three letters of her infant son’s name into the ancestry.com search engine along with his year of birth and possible passage.  Jac*, born in 1888 and traveling between 1888 and 1889 brought up the manifest for Jacob Watkowiak (sp) , age  9 months. The last name was misspelled as WATKOWIAK instead of WOJTKOWIAK.  They sailed on the same ship that her husband Piotr took a year earlier.

What are your top three practical suggestions for Polish researchers?

1.  Use the Polish spelling of the given and surname when looking for them in their first US Census. They may not have immediately anglicized their names.

2. Research collateral lines- aunts, uncles, and cousins. They may have recorded needed information that is not noted in your direct ancestor’s documents. And, don’t forget to request records of family members who joined religious orders, their archives hold personal histories and necrologies.

3.  Use Google Images to find maps, photos, and stories about your ancestral villages in Poland. Try using Polish words instead of English such as “Rogalinek Parafia”. Google Web and Images will return interesting hits from Poland.  I found Marek Wojciechowski’s website featuring current photos of the region using this technique.

Your specialty is Michigan, specifically Detroit.  Can you tell us how your books came about?

While some Polish families first settled in an Eastern state before coming to the Midwest, my ancestors all came directly to Michigan.  The Adamskis and Wojtkowiaks first settled in Calumet, Houghton Co., Michigan but soon came to Detroit, where my Przytulski, Wendt, and Zdziebko ancestors resided.  So, it was natural that when I began to think of developing genealogy projects my hometown of Detroit would be featured.

Like so many other genealogists, I enjoy vintage photos and the local histories published by Arcadia Publishing.  I taught both black and white and digital photography in my classroom, so I felt prepared to develop Detroit’s Polonia – a book of vintage photos that could serve as a community photo album. I contacted Arcadia to find out the process of becoming a published author. They offered a complete package and outlined how to bring a book from an idea to a product. All along the way the staff offered constructive criticism, encouragement, and an editor.  I started with my own collection of family photos, and my colleagues in the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan shared images. I visited local private such as the Felician Sisters in Livonia, Michigan and public archives like Detroit Public Library’s Burton Collection to find poignant images. We held a Detroit’s Polonia “Launch Lunch” for the book around Pączki Day, 2005 at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy, Michigan.

The book was arranged on the cycle of life, and the last chapter featured Bill Gorski’s collection of tombstone portraits photographed in the 1970s. The chapter on burial practices let to the next two books Detroit’s Mount Elliott Cemetery and Detroit’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. I wrote the books with the intent to use the royalties to place headstones on the unmarked grave of my ancestors buried at the cemeteries. On Memorial Day, 2008 we placed a ledger on the gravesite of our great grandfather Piotr Wojtkowiak.

Why did you decide to write about cemeteries?

In my case it’s a matter of honoring my ancestors. I have grandparents and great grandparents buried at Mount Elliott and Mount Olivet Cemeteries. They died before I was born – but I feel I know them after researching our family history in Michigan and Poland.

Piotr Wojtkowiak – my maternal great grandfather- was like so many other immigrants in the late 1880s. He took a chance on America. There are no photos of him but historical records tell his story. He was born in Tulce, Sroda, Posen to Mateusz Rychlewicz Wojtkowiak and Franciszka Szymnkowiak – the ninth of ten children. He worked as a locksmith on the manor farm of Count Edward Raczyński and ledgers for the manor reveal he was paid in grain and marks.

Piotr sailed from Bremen and arrived at the port of Baltimore Nov. 11, 1886. Her was headed to Calumet in the UP to join Finns, Italians and Cornish in the mines. Employed by the Calumet and Hecla mining company he was employed until he broke his leg in an accident.

After the injury Piotr settled in Detroit with his young family. Babies arrived every two years. They were to be „half orphaned” when Piotr contracted typhoid leading a crew of Detroit city workers digging sewers.  He died and was buried in an unmarked grave at Mt. Elliott Cemetery. Three weeks after his death, his wife Marianna gave birth to their seventh child. The curly haired infant  was named Peter in honor of his father.

In 1975 I started searching for my great grandfather’s grave at the oldest extant Catholic cemetery in Detroit. I was told by the office that he wasn’t in the ledger. I drove down there and sure enough, he was in the book- his name was entered as Peter Wojskowiak instead of Peter Wojtkowiak. He was buried in a single grave without a marker. In fact, in that area of the cemetery there were very few grave stones.

His unmarked grave was my incentive in writing the book Detroit’s Mount Elliott Cemetery published by Arcadia.  I dedicated the book to Piotr Wojtkowiak (1863-1897) who died in Detroit at the age of 37. He left six children behind, wife Marianne giving birth to their seventh child three weeks later. A local newspaper writer picked up the story: Remembering Piotr.

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Thanks, Ceil!  I enjoyed this opportunity to chat, and I certainly hope my readers were as inspired by your own search for your family’s history as I was.  We look forward to your upcoming book! I hope to make it to the next United Polish Genealogical Societies conference for which Ceil is one of the main organizers.  Mark your calendars for April 23-26, 2010 at the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

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In our continuing celebration of Polish-American Heritage Month, What’s Past is Prologue is delighted to highlight one of the best sites on the internet devoted to Polish genealogy – PolandGenWeb.  I’ve invited PolandGenWeb’s coordinator, Marie Dallas, to tell us more about the site and what researchers can find there.  Marie and I have known each other for quite some time now, and unlike some other “virtual” friends I’ve made on the internet, we are actually “real live” friends that went to college together.  In fact, we started on our Polish genealogy quest together about twenty years ago!  We still haven’t discovered if we’re related or not, but we’re working on it!  I am also a PolandGenWeb province host for two provinces, though I admit I don’t spend as much time as I should to update those sites (both will be updated by the end of the year).  My name is also listed on the site as “creative consultant” but I really can’t take any credit for all that you’ll see there – it’s all Marie’s talents that have put it together.  Marie, on the other hand, spends most of her time keeping the main PolandGenWeb site up-to-date by providing relevant and useful information to family researchers, especially beginners.  I don’t know how she finds the time, because she does all of this for free while running a household with a husband, three beautiful children, and several pets!

Can you describe PolandGenWeb – what’s its purpose?

PolandGenWeb is part of the WorldGenWeb Project, a non-profit organization devoted to providing free genealogical information and resources. The site is intended to help genealogical researchers uncover their Polish ancestry by providing research guidance, maps (historic and present day), town locators and town lists, translation aids, archives addresses, and much more. In addition, each Polish province has its own website devoted to researching one’s ancestors specifically within those boundaries and can be accessed from the PolandGenWeb home page. The site is free to access and run by volunteer effort. Over the past 10 years, it’s grown tremendously in content.

What are some of the good resources we can find there? Do you have anything no other site has?

One of the better resources of PolandGenWeb, I think, is the Basics of Research page. It covers “newbie” information, such as how to effectively begin one’s research and what resources can be used to find the information one is looking for. Another good resource is the Poland Catholic Records Microfilms set of pages. Peter Gwozdz maintains the content and has provided very detailed information on how to work with the parish and civil records microfilmed by the LDS. I’m very grateful for his contribution to PolandGenWeb.

And of course, there’s Rafał’s Polish Surname List. This unique resource is an alphabetical list of surnames submitted by those researching ancestors of Polish ethnicity or those who lived in Poland (occupied territories or present-day boundaries). Each entry includes an email address to contact the submitter and most include the town or region where the submitter’s ancestors were from. At present, there are over 37,000 entries.

Tell me about the “Records Transcription Project” – it looks like you have quite a collection! What’s on your site? Is it hard for others to contribute?

The Records Transcription Project is the highlight of PolandGenWeb.  All of the content housed on the site is contributed by volunteers, and the majority of transcribed records are births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths from parish or civil records microfilmed by the LDS. There are a couple of sets of records whose content was taken directly from the parish registers in Poland and has not yet been microfilmed by the LDS. While the project does include resources outside of Poland, such as ethnic Polish cemeteries in other countries, the focus is on providing data from Poland (both historical and present-day areas).

In addition to the vital records, PolandGenWeb has a growing collection of transcribed cemetery inscriptions and War Memorials.  Debbie Greenlee is spearheading the effort to encourage folks who either live in or visit Poland to transcribe the names found on memorials erected to commemorate those town residents who were killed during war time – particularly those who were killed during WW2. Most are not soldiers’ memorials but memorials to murdered civilians.

It’s relatively easy for anyone willing contribute to the project.  If one rents a microfilm containing parish or civil records in Poland, instead of extracting the information from only the records for one’s ancestors, one can can extract additional information for the Transcription project. If one is visiting Poland, one can photograph and/or transcribe the names found on tombstones and war memorials in the places they visit. More details on how to contribute to the transcription project can be found here.

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Thanks, Marie!  I hope others find PolandGenWeb as useful as I do.  Take a look at all the site has to offer, especially if you are just beginning your research.  Once you’re an experienced researcher, give back by contributing to one of the transcription projects.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

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Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One unusual record source for those with Polish ancestry is Haller’s Army records.  What was Haller’s Army?  During World War I, Poland did not exist on any “official” map of the world.  General Jozef Haller formed a regiment of Poles in France to join the fight in the name of their homeland, with the ultimate goal of Polish independence.  They were also known as the Blue Army because of the color of their uniforms.

Many people have never heard of Haller’s Army or of their contributions during “the Great War”.  Because it isn’t well known, many Americans of Polish descent may be very surprised to find out that their ancestors, who had already immigrated to the U.S. prior to 1917, volunteered to fight for the Polish Army in France under Haller.  It is estimated that nearly 25,000 Polish men, immigrants to the U.S. and Canada, volunteered and fought in France.  Most were recent immigrants who had not yet become American or Canadian citizens.  Despite immigrating to a new country, these young men were fiercely proud of their homeland.  They willing volunteered to fight for Poland’s democracy and independence.  Because of the Partitions of Poland, none had grown up in a free Poland, and Haller’s Army was the first free Polish Army since Napoleon’s time.  At the war’s end on November 11, 1918, when Poland officially regained its independence, Haller’s Army continued the fight in the Polish-Soviet War until 1921.

Did Your Ancestor Volunteer?

The Polish Genealogical Society of America holds the recruitment records, and while the records themselves are not available online, the index is searchable by surname at the PGSA site.  If you find a match, the records can be obtained through PGSA by mail for a minimal donation – see complete information on how to order copies at http://www.pgsa.org/hallerreqform.htm.

I’ve referred to this as an index of those that volunteered for Haller’s Army, but if you find your relative’s name it does not necessarily mean they served.  A search for the surname “Pater” found several matches, but I was surprised to find “Ludwik Pater” from Philadelphia.  Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis, my great-grandfather.  I ordered a copy to see what I could learn.  The form is in Polish, as are the applicant’s responses, but the volunteer who looked up the record also provided a translation for most of the entries.  An online copy of the form is available in English here.  For the responses, a Polish-English dictionary will help.

The record provides a wealth of genealogical information including date and place of birth, address, marital status and number of children, name and address of nearest relative in both America and Poland, and a full physical description.  The U.S. WWI Draft records are similar and from the same time period, but the form for Haller’s Army is more detailed regarding relatives both at home and in Poland as well as the physical description, which includes not just the eye and hair color, but also height, weight and other features such as teeth, chin, and “distinguishing marks”.

Another feature of the Haller’s Army recruitment papers is some very detailed questions that could offer clues for searching other records.  The form asks:

  • Are you a citizen of the United States of America (second papers)?
  • Did you serve in the Army?  Type of arms?  How long?  Rank upon discharge?
  • What Polish organizations in America do you belong to?
  • If you belong to the Falcons, for how long…and do you hold any office?

Responses to these questions could lead you to naturalization, military, or fraternal organization records.  [Note: The Falcons were established in Chicago in 1887 as an immigrant aid society concerned with physical education, Polish culture and heritage, and gaining Polish independence.  The organization still exists today.]

My great-grandfather filled out his registration card for the U.S. Draft on June 5, 1917.  At the time, he was 23 years old with a wife and 3 young children.  On November 12, 1917, he volunteered for Haller’s Army.  I had never heard about military service during a war by any member of the family, so I assumed he wasn’t accepted because he had a family to support (which is why he was not drafted by the U.S.).  As I researched this article and found the English translation of the form, I learned, with some surprise, that he was sent to the training camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on November 18, 1917 – less than a week after he volunteered.  But the information provided by the PGSA didn’t indicate an actual record of service in the Army, so what happened?

I’m not sure, and I’m rather puzzled to finally notice that he went to training camp!  I will have to investigate this further.  I do know that he was home in Philadelphia by May, 1918 because his fourth son, Victor Pater, was born the following January.  If he did make it through the training camp successfully, he could not have served in the Army long enough to make the journey to France to fight.

It does speak volumes about the Polish character if young men like my great-grandfather were willing to fight for their homeland – even though they no longer lived there.  My great-grandfather immigrated at the age of 14 and had lived here ten years by the time he volunteered, but he felt strongly enough about the cause for Polish independence to fight in a foreign land.

If you have Polish ancestry, it’s worth typing your surname into PGSA’s index search to discover if your ancestor played a role in Haller’s Army.  The Haller’s Army website best describes these Polish immigrants, recent arrivals to a new country but with a deep love for the old country.  The site proclaims: “They fought for their family. They fought for their ancestors. They fought for their freedom. Most of all they fought for their homeland – Poland.”

[Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image: Polish_Army_in_France_WWI_recruitment_poster.jpg]

For more information on Haller’s Army:

[Posted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: research experiences and techniques.]

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Zyrardow on the mapMy immigrant ancestors came from many different places. Some came from large capital cities that had very old beginnings and long histories (Warsaw, Poland). Other hometowns were not as large as a city, but they were large market towns born in the 1300’s that continue to have vibrant communities today (Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany and Mszczonów, Poland). Some of my ancestors came from much smaller places, centuries-old farmlands that evolved from feudal lands to modern villages (Puch, Germany and Komorowo, Poland). But of all the hometowns of my ancestors, the one that first captured my heart isn’t very old at all. In fact, compared to the ancient histories of these other places, it is modern in comparison. Although it lacks a history as long as other European towns, it makes up for it with the interesting way in which it was born. The town is Żyrardów, Poland.

The biography of Żyrardów begins in France. In 1810, the French government had a competition for inventors to create a mechanical linen spinning mill. The prize to the successful inventor was 1 million francs. One enterprising engineer, Philippe de Girard (1775-1845) from Lourmarin, succeeded. But with the fall of Napoleon, France could not pay the prize. Girard’s luck went from bad to worse as he endured debt, business failures, and bankruptcy. But his luck turned in 1825, when the government of the Kingdom of Poland invited him to help create a textile industry in Poland based on his invention.

Zyrardow coat of armsGirard originally opened a factory in Marymont, 2 miles outside of Warsaw, in 1831. For unknown reasons, Girard moved the operation two years later to a small farming village and forested area called Ruda Guzowska, approximately 27 miles WSW of Warsaw. This factory was very successful. More and more workers came to the area, and the settlement grew larger. In Girard’s honor, Ruda Guzowska was renamed Żyrardów. In the Polish language, the letter “ż” is pronounced similarly to the letter “g” in the French language: Żyrardów means “of Girard”. Girard was not able to see the success of his namesake town, however; he died in 1845, a year after returning to France to open more linen factories.

Arial View

Żyrardów continued to thrive in Girard’s absence. The factory was taken over by a pair of German industrialists, and by 1880 they employed 5,600 workers. The town literally grew around the factory building, and today it is one of the best preserved towns to see 19th Century architecture. It resembles a university town, with nearly every building – from the factory, to the apartment-style homes, to the churches and hospital – made from the same red brick. The area grew from a small farming village to an industrial settlement of approximately 175 acres. By 1880 the factory had 16,000 spindles with over 1,650 mechanical looms, and the value of their annual production (in 1880) was 2.2 million Silver Rubles. The former forest and farmland became responsible for the majority of linen production for the Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Workers in ZyrardowOne unique aspect of the town is that it was multi-cultural. The majority of workers were Poles, but there were also a large number of ethnic Germans working there as well. The factory itself had German managers, and there were also a number of Czechs, Scots, and Irish. The town itself had both a Roman Catholic church and an Evangelical Lutheran church, and there was a thriving Jewish community as well. The Słownik Geograficzny entry from 1895 indicates that the town had 7,126 registered inhabitants by 1880, including 5,134 Catholics, 1,541 Protestants, 244 Jews, and 207 belonging to other denominations.

The town was not without discord, however. Rather than ethnic disputes, there were employment disagreements. The government did not allow unions, but the workers were concerned about working conditions and low wages. There were many strikes at the factory throughout its history, beginning with the first in 1883.

Naturalization for Louis Pater

My Pater family immigrated from this town from 1905-1909; it was the place they called home. They were all weavers, which means they all worked in the factory. I don’t know why they left, but maybe they thought they could earn better wages in the United States. All of them became weavers in Philadelphia’s textile industry. My great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his father, my 2nd great-grandfather Józef Pater, were born in Żyrardów (Louis in 1893, and Józef in 1864). Józef’s father, Jan, was born in Ruda Guzowska around 1834. Jan’s father Hilary pre-dates Żyrardów’s history and was born in a small village nearby.

RC Church, WiskitkiI had the opportunity to visit Żyrardów in 2001. It was a sudden visit with not enough advance planning, but I was grateful to see the town. My Pater ancestors were baptized and married in the nearby village of Wiskitki, and I was thrilled when my guide was able to sweet-talk the young priest into opening the church for me. My family probably attended this church because the main Catholic church in Żyrardów was not built until 1903. Wiskitki is a settlement that dates from 1221, with the first mention of “town” status in 1349. Over the centuries, the town declined and became smaller. After World War II, Wiskitki and Żyrardów were combined as one district, but in 1975 Wiskitki once again received rights as an independent town.

My Miller / Müller family also immigrated from Żyrardów; however, I have not yet found a birth certificate as proof that anyone was actually born in the town. My research indicates that the Miller family may be among the ethnic Germans from Bohemia that emigrated to the area to work in the textile industry. My great-grandmother’s brother, Emil, immigrated to the United States. In 1910, he and his family returned to Żyrardów – perhaps because of the death of his father. When the first World War broke out, the family could not return. Emil died in Żyrardów. His wife and American-born son later returned to the US, but his Polish-born daughter and American-born daughter remained.

Besides my ancestors, Żyrardów was the birthplace of some more famous citizens, including the Polish writer Paweł Hulka-Laskowski (1881-1946) and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller (b. 1946).

Sources for this article:

[This post was written for the 47th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Place Called Home.]

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For several months I’ve been corresponding with the Polish State Archives [Archiwum Państwowego] to obtain a copy of a birth/baptismal record for my grandfather’s brother. Why go through the trouble for a collateral ancestor? Because my grandfather was born in Philadelphia and his older brother and sister were born in Warsaw. My finding one of their baptismal records, I hoped to pinpoint exactly where the parents came from more than just the city name.

I knew “Uncle Joe’s” birthdate from two sources: his death record (not always a reliable source) and his father’s naturalization papers. Since I’m from Philadelphia, I’m aware of how difficult “big city” research can be when you don’t know a specific address or the name of a church. But, I placed my faith in the archives and paid my fees — and his record was found! Here is a copy of the record:

Jozef Piontkowski Baptismal Record

Translated from Russian, it reads:

434. Warsaw. This happened in Wola parish on the 8th (21st) of February, 1903, at three p.m. Jan Piontkowski appeared, a tanner, age 32, and – in the presence of Jozef Kizoweter and Ludwik Czajkowski, [both] of age, day laborers from Warsaw — he showed us a child of the male gender, stating that it was born at number 2 Karolska Street on the 21st of October (3rd of November) of last year, at 5 p.m. to his wife, Rozalia nee Kizoweter, age 35. At Holy Baptism performed on this day, the child was given the name Jozef, and the godparents were Jozef Kizoweter and Zofia Kizoweter. This document was read aloud to those present, who are illiterate, and signed by Us. [Signature illegible]

Note: Two dates are given because Russia used the Julian calendar at that time. The second date is the Gregorian calendar in use in Poland (and much of the rest of the world) then and now.

Aside from the obvious facts, I’ve also learned a few key points from this record that will aid in my future research on this family. First, the record came from św. Stanisława i Wawrzyńca w Warszawie (Wola), or Sts. Stanisław and Lawrence of Warsaw, Wola. I can now check to see if Jan and Rozalia were married in this parish. As there are quite a few churches in Warsaw, it will be much easier to check one first rather than randomly search many.

I also have the family’s address which may also prove useful. Hopefully they did not move as often as they did once they came to the US! I’d like to find their marriage record and it would be quite easy if they were married in the same parish. Unfortunately, they seem to have a different address for each census and/or other event in the US, so anything goes. I am interested in finding out more about Wola, which is the section of the city of Warsaw in which they lived. Here is a brief history from Wikipedia and Wola’s website in Polish.

I finally have a confirmation of my great-grandmother’s surname, Kizoweter. My grandfather said that it was her name, but since it is not of Polish origin I wanted to see confirmation in a Polish record source. According to German Names by Hans Bahlow as well as an email from the Polish surname expert William “Fred” Hoffman, it is a variation of the German name Kiesewetter, which means “Check the weather” or “weather watcher”. Are the godparents her brother and his wife? Or her brother and sister?

As always, one record found leads to more questions. But, for me this was a step in the right direction. While I have gone back many generations for other “sides” in my family, I am still searching for the origins of my Piontkowski great-grandparents. Once you dedicate some time to the search, success is possible. Stay tuned for more information once I (hopefully) find their marriage record.

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