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?
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!