The theme for Week 8 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Good Deeds” and my ancestor is my 5th great-grandfather, Jan Poláček (Czech spelling – alternate in Polish is Polaćek or Polaczek). Jan’s name was on the document for the purchase of property in 1802. That deed turned out to be a very good deed, indeed, for generations of Czech exiles in Poland.
Jan was born in 1759 in Groß Friedrichstabor, Prussia (Tabor Wielki, Kępno, Poland today). He was the son of Prokop Poláček and Kateřina Tomešová. Prokop was born in Labská Stráň in Děčín district in the Ústí nad Labem region of the Czech Republic. It was right on the border of what was then Prussia, and Prokop was part of the wave of Protestant (Czech Brethren) immigrants from Bohemia that left because they were under persecution for their faith. By 1754 Prokop was married and starting a family in Groß Friedrichstabor (his wife is also a Czech immigrant, but her birthplace is not yet known).
The community of Czech immigrants to Prussia was not similar to the American immigrant “melting pot”. In America, immigrants tended to form communities with other immigrants from the same country. The American-born children of my Polish and German immigrant ancestors grew up surrounded by immigrant families and understood their parents’ native languages and cultures, but they or their children married outside of their ethnic group and thus became truly “American” within a generation or two. In the late 18th Century in Prussian Poland, the Czechs stayed together as a close-knit community – the immigrants’ children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren all maintained the Czech language and their religion.
Jan grew up in Groß Friedrichstabor and worked as both a farmer and a weaver. He married Kateřina Kupcová on June 5, 1782. They had four children together: Josef born in 1783, Marie (my 4th great-grandmother) in 1785, Jan in 1790, and Anna in 1793.
The Czech exiles settled in several towns throughout the area. The larger towns were Husinec (Gęsinec), Groß Friedrichstabor (Tabor Wielki), and Friedrichsgrätz (Grodziec) and the smaller villages included Czermin, Sacken, Sophienthal, and Erdmannsdorf. (Read more about one of my other Czech exile ancestors, Václav Jirsak, from Week 2 of my “52 Ancestors” – his son and grandson were part of the new town with Jan Poláček.)
Some residents of these towns hoped for a larger area where they could all live together and have one pastor for their church. In November, 1802, some of the town leaders in Groß Friedrichstabor, including my ancestor Jan, learned that there was some land available for purchase that was close by – only a 5- day walk. They sent some men to look at the proposed land and it was found to be agreeable. On 20 November, an agreement was written up and signed by the leaders, and it was forwarded from town to town to get more people who were willing to move to the new settlement. In total, 54 men agreed to contribute to the purchase and become landowners, and an additional 65 agreed to make the move.
In November 1802 a contract was signed by the “Founding Fathers” to buy the town of Zelów for the community of Czech exiles.
The seller was the Polish landlord Józef Świdziński who owned a vast amount of land – his “subjects” living on that land were moved to another area. He sold the land to the Czech colonists for the sum of 25,666 Prussian thalers or 154,000 Polish złoty. The sale was final by 21 December 1802. The first settlers arrived in February 1803 and the first child was born in the new town, Zelów, on 23 March. Most colonists arrived in May and June of that year, and in June the final payment was made to Świdziński and elders of the town were chosen as leaders.
The property was divided among the 54 settlers, with some families sharing the financial burden with additional families. There were acres set aside – both forest and meadows – for community use, and more set aside for a church and cemetery.
Jan Poláček was one of the men who signed the contract for the town, and his entire family made the move. At the time, he and his wife were about 44 years old. Their children were 10, 13, 18, and 20. Son Josef got married in Zelów on 30 Sep 1804 and daughter Marie on 21 July 1805.
The early work of clearing the land and building houses was difficult, and even some of the young men died. But, the community prospered and more colonists moved to the town. By 1813 there were 106 landowners in the town.
Jan’s wife Kateřina died on 13 November 1809 at the age of 50. Jan would live long enough to see his other two children get married: Anna (in Buczek, Poland) on 21 October 1810 and Jan in Zelów on 07 May 1811.
Jan died on 12 October 1812 at the age of 53 – almost ten years after signing the deed that created the community.
Jan’s name on the deed is on the lower left.
The best part about this week’s ancestor is that I didn’t know he existed until a few weeks ago. After my post for Week 2 of the challenge, a cousin-I-didn’t-know-yet left a comment. We compared notes, and as it turns out we’re simultaneously 4th, 6th, and 7th cousins from various lines of the Czech exiles to Poland. I had documentation on two of those lines, but our closest connection was my mysterious Miller line. Thanks to participating in 52 Ancestors, and thanks to my new cousin, I now go back several generations on that line after being “stuck” for so long. Jan Poláček is one of our ancestors from that line through his daughter Marie.
Just the Facts
- Name: Jan Poláček
- Ahnentafel: #210 (my 5th great-grandfather)
- Parents: Prokop Poláček (1727-1786) and Kateřina Tomešová (1732-1803)
- Born: 1759 in Groß Friedrichstabor, Prussia (called Velký Fridrichův Tábor in Czech) – today, Tabor Wielki, Poland
- Siblings: Marianna Poláčková (1754-1766), Anna Poláčková Matisová (1757-1791), Johana Poláčková Neverčeřalová (1762-1829). Half-siblings: Kateřina Poláčková (1765-1766), Štĕpán Poláček (1767-), Josef Poláček (1769-1769), Marie Poláčková Šrajberová (1771-1806), Kateřina Poláčková Tucková (1780-1831)
- Married: Kateřina Kupcová (1759-1809) on June 5, 1782 in Tabor Wielki
- Children: Josef Poláček (1783-), Marie Poláčková Šulitka Millerová (1785-), Jan Poláček (1790-1842), Anna Poláčková (1793-)
- Died: 12 October 1812 in Zelów, Poland
- My Line of Descent: Jan Poláček->Marie Poláčková Šulitka Miller->, Matej Miller-> Jan Miller-> Elżbieta Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me
Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 8: Good Deeds