Favorite Find – A Description of My Ancestor, the Smuggler

The theme for Week 2 of the 2022 edition of “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” is “Favorite Find.” I’ve had several favorite finds in the many years of researching my ancestors, and my favorite tends to be the the latest record, fact, photo, or person I found. But I have to admit that this find was rather unique and still makes me smile.

Prussia’s Most Wanted!

When I research my family tree, most of the ancestors are merely names and dates without any stories or context about who they really were as people. But, depending upon the circumstances, or the peripheral information about their occupation or town or family, some ancestors seem to call to me as if they have a story to tell. Jan Drogowski, one of my 3rd great grandfathers, is one of those ancestors. Maybe because he was the son of a farmer who became a linen merchant. Or because he lived during most of the 19th century (from 1818 to 1894). Or because he had ten children and I have dozens DNA matches among his many descendants. But his story got even more interesting with my favorite find.

I wrote about Jan’s life for the 2015 “52 Ancestors” challenge for Week 17 (“Prosper”). I assumed he had prospered since he was the son of a farmer who, at age 20, was already a linen merchant when he married the daughter of a farmer. He also was literate, which was not common at the time. He and his wife Konstancja had ten children together.

Years after I wrote that post, I used a rather unscientific form of research: a quick Google search. I put in just the surname and town name (Wilczyn) and found a reference to Jan on a list in a German newspaper. At first glance, I could tell it provided his physical description, so I was excited about that. I thought it might be a military draft listing. But then it dawned on me — he was from the Russian partition, so why would he be on a draft list for Prussia?

Upon closer inspection and translation, it is a list of people for whom the police have issued warrants! Both he and his uncle Kajetan (who is six years younger than Jan) were seen smuggling merchandise across the border. They were extradited for being “burdensome, troublesome.” My ancestor was a smuggler! Since he was sticking it to both Prussia and Russia who had divided up Poland, I felt proud of that fact.

Wilczyn is circled in red – the dotted line above & to the left represent the border between Prussia and Russia

In 1856, my ancestor Jan Drogowski, age 36, and his uncle Kajetan, age 30, both linen weavers from Wilczyn, are listed in a Prussian newspaper for outstanding warrants from 1855. Jan is described as 5’6” with blond hair, blue eyes, a blond beard, an oval face, a healthy complexion, and medium build. Kajetan is 3 inches shorter with dark hair and no beard.

Jan and his uncle were only six years apart due to a 50-year age difference between Jan’s father, Wojciech, and Wojciech’s half-brother. The pair not only smuggled together, but they must have been close friends since they married sisters.

I guess they never got caught, and now I know how Jan was able to support ten children! His granddaughter (my great-grandmother) lost the blond hair and blue eye connection and had brown hair and eyes.

It’s incredibly rare to obtain a physical description of an ancestor from the early or mid 19th century. It’s also rather rare to get a sense of story or personality from that far back. Usually all we have are names and dates. So I’m very happy with this accidental find. Wilczyn was really right on the very edge of the border between the two countries. I’m sure it was profitable to sell goods on the “other side.” At the time, he had about seven kids. My great grandmother wasn’t born until 1860, so I’m happy he wasn’t caught.

Newspaper SourceAmtsblatt der Königlichen Preußischen Regierung zu Bromberg. Published 1856. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized November 3, 2009. Pages 48-49. Accessed via Google Books.

Map Source: Józef Michał Bazewicz, Atlas geograficzny ilustrowany Królestwa Polskiego  (Litografia B. A. Bukaty, Warsaw, 1907); digital images, Mapster, http://igrek.amzp.pl/mapindex.php?cat=BAZAKP1907, Powiat słupecki guberni kaliskiej (Note: original has been cropped and edited to highlight Wilczyn.)

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