By Kathi White
Family records research can sometimes be more like private investigator work. In the beginning stages of research, only the obvious were accumulated, items that did not fit were often discarded. As I followed the paper trail left by my ancestors, I often paid little attention to people and events to which I could not make an immediate connection.
When I started my family genealogy in 1992, I began by working on my maternal Grandfather’s side of the family. He had passed away almost twenty years previous. I obtained his 1906 birth certificate, using it to identify his parent’s names. His father was Michael Kaczmarek and his mother was Bronislawa (C)Helminiak. I confirmed through my Grandmother, that Grandpa had no siblings and that his dad (Michael) died when Grandpa was very young. The circumstances surrounding his death had long been forgotten. All that was known is that it was an accidental death.
I then went to County Hall and requested Michael’s death certificate for the years 1910 - 1915. Twenty minutes later, there I sat, with a 1912 death certificate. "Michael Kaczmarek, cause of death -- tuberculosis." I brought it to my Grandmother and asked how an accidental death could be listed as tuberculosis? We sat around shaking our heads with no explanation. I looked at the parent’s names; I looked at the name of the informant. It was the name of Michael's spouse, but her name was not Bronislawa Helminiak. ?!
My next step was to obtain Michael’s and Bronislawa’s marriage application. Working my way backwards from 1906 when Grandpa was born, I searched for my great grandparent’s marriage record for 1906, 1905, 1904, 1903, 1902, 1901. BINGO! A 1901 marriage for Michael and Bronislawa. Michael's parents were listed as Jakub Kaczmarek and Apolonia Waligora. Back to the 1912 death certificate for Michael. The parents’ names were not Jakub and Apolonia. Over to City Hall again, handed over my 1912 death certificate and exclaimed; "This cannot be my Michael, MY Michael had different parents." Back to the drawing board. Moments later, I was handed a death certificate for another Michael Kaczmarek. This one was dated December 1910. Cause of death: Accidental fall -- coal trestle. His parents were listed as Jakub and Apolonia; the informant, Bronislawa, his wife. Finally, I had the right Michael.
In the beginning stages of my research, I had no inkling that ANYONE in my family ever left a will. I went looking for Michael's because this is what research books instructed me to do! There it was! It was filed after his death by his wife, thus enabling her to file a lawsuit against New York Central & Hudson River Rail Road. The reason -- negligence in causing Michael's death. It also revealed two dependents: Grandpa age 4, and Tador age 1. How can that be? My Grandpa had no siblings!
I studied the death certificate and compared it to the marriage application. The interment was in the cemetery of the Polish National Church -- the breakaway Catholics whose records are not microfilmed. The marriage application was signed simply Rt. Rev. Stephen Kaminski.
Next step was to call the Rectory for the church. "Do you have a death record for my Michael?" I inquired. "Yes, we do. He is buried in our cemetery" was the response. WONDERFUL! Did you have a priest named Kaminski in 1901? Yes, we did. WONDERFUL again!! Now that I ascertained the church where my Michael was married, I asked if the register contained his town of birth in Poland. I was then informed that this type of information was not documented. In 1993, I dropped in to the church. Requesting to view the registers for 1901, I was informed that there is no register for that time. I then requested verification for my Grandfather’s 1906 birth. Without much ado, out came the register and there he was -- Edward Kaczmarek. What about the mysterious Tador?. Remember the dependent listed in the will?
We started towards the end of 1910, working backwards looking for Tador's birth. In a matter of minutes we found the record: December 1909, Teodor Kaczmarek syn Michal Kaczmarek i Bronislawa Chelminiak. "What on earth happened to him?", I thought, "Nobody knows he existed!" As I sat looking at the register, the woman announced, "Here is another Kaczmarek birth, an Eleanor in 1908." "Impossible," I said, "my Grandpa had no siblings." "But look!", she exclaimed, "Eleanor Kaczmarek born 1908 to Michael & Bronislawa Kaczmarek." That is ridiculous I thought, now Grandpa had two siblings that "don't exist." I thanked the woman for her time and went home to examine this new information.
Throughout the next few months, I gathered more information. I copied the full page of Kaczmarek surnames from almost every city of Buffalo directory. There were several Michaels in the 1900 directory. I began my census search with the first one. The only identifying information I had other than his parents’ names, was that Michael stated he was 20 years of age on his marriage application. The first Michael I found was 23, had different parents and had many siblings. I wondered if perhaps this was the same Michael from the 1912 death certificate. The next Michael in the directory proved to be the right one. He was 19 years old in the spring of 1900, his parents were Jakub age 49 and Apolonia age 50. This new information produced two out of three of his siblings' names, John age 16 and Catherine age 11. "Funny," I thought, "the Michael on the first census had a brother named John and so did mine!" This quickly became an issue as I traced them through other census years. Two sets of brothers by the same names, at one point they lived on the same street!
Reversing my approach, I was able to trace the only Jakub Kaczmarek in the 1892 city directory and locate the whole family in the 1892 County census! It revealed the name of the fourth and oldest child, Mary. While at the Historical Society securing Jakub’s address, I proceeded to look through microfilmed newspapers for Michael's obituary. There had to be a record of this accidental fall from a railroad trestle. He was, after all, ONLY 30 years old when he died. Scanning the days after his death, there it was (in part) dated 15 December 1910: "Michael Kaczmarek died Monday, after injuries sustained in an eighteen-foot fall from a coal trestle. He is survived by his widow and four children." EXCUSE ME?! FOUR CHILDREN!? My Grandpa had no siblings!
Back to the church with the news clipping in hand. May I please see your registers again?! Lo and behold! There were the birth entries for Jakub born 1902, Cecelia born 1903, Grandpa in 1906, Eleanor 1908 and Teodor in 1909. This just can't be! Although the newspaper lists four children, I now have five documented! The next logical step would be to trace these children through the 1905 State census and 1910 Federal census when I had more time.
By 1994 I had attempted to gather all three marriage applications for Michael's siblings. Surely a church register would provide me with the clue I needed to bridge the gap to the old country. After several attempts, I came up empty-handed for my Michael's two sisters. I was, however, able to find the marriage record for my Michael's only brother, John. The marriage took place at St. John Kanty Roman Catholic and it was on microfilm! In the following weeks I had what I needed! John's 1910 marriage to Magdelena Jozwiak lists a Polish place name, “Przygo_ Poz.“ This was my first breakthrough. Knowing that I was now looking in “Poznan,” off I set to find my town.
After dozens of attempts at finding my "Przygo_,” I found nothing that matched. I scanned maps; I scanned gazetteers. Sure, there were dozens of towns starting with PRZY, but only a few were in Poznan or all of Provinz Posen for that matter. None had an ending that could fit my description. “Now what?”, I thought. There was only one avenue to pursue, “The Internet.” Picking one of the numerous ten free hour America On Line disks I had, I slipped it in, followed the instructions and used all ten free hours in one day. I was so absorbed by the enormous scope of this "computer thing" that I soon forgot all about why I was there in the first place. I spent months figuring out how to get around, where to find things, and “surfing the World Wide Web.
In the spring of 1995, I placed an "APB" on the Internet. “Can anyone help me read this document and find my mysterious town called ‘Przygo_?’” I was inundated with replies! I sent over a dozen copies of John Kaczmarek's microfilmed marriage entry as it appeared in the church registers. Copies of this document went to Germany, Poland, Australia, The Netherlands and various locations across the United States. After a week or two, the replies started coming in. Each one said the same thing, in essence, this town cannot be found. My heart sunk, I had done everything and more. I resorted to hitting what was to be, my first dead end.
Many months went by, and in September, 1995, I "posted" another message on the Internet. I had learned of a group referred to as the "Roots-L" mailing list. This group of genealogists, who numbered over 5000 at that time, would ask questions of one another and give advice to those who requested it. My request to this group was more of a desperate plea for any help at all. I composed a letter, supplying all the information I could. I spoke of this town called "Przygo_." I explained that my great grandfather's brother was born there and I can't locate it. The one factor that was known was that it was in the Province of Poznan. I went on to say that my great-great-Grandparents, Jakub and Apolonia, were possibly married there around 1870. This was the best I could do with the information they supplied on the 1900 census, married 30 years.
I waited and waited, nothing. It wasn't surprising to not receive a reply, as the odds of finding someone who could find my family were tantamount to winning the lottery. Three months after posting my plea, on Christmas Eve 1995, I received an e-mail from an unknown sender. It began with the following; “I've been waiting to deliver the news as a Christmas gift. "I found your marriage record, in the parish of Grodziszczko, 22 October, 1871." This unknown sender had been working on a Poznan microfilm and took the time to look at the years around 1870. when I thought Jakub and Apolonia were married. Subsequent research indicates this parish covered many towns including one town called Drzazgowo. That was it! This was my missing town of Przygo_. The "P" should have been a "D" and what I thought was a “y” was an “a” with a “hook” under it.
I ordered the microfilm for this parish and for the first time I was looking at the marriage record for MY Jakub Kaczmarek and Apolonia Waligora. Jakub was from Huby Debickie and Apolonia was from Bojnice. Further investigation of the register for Grodziszczko, provided my Michael's birth in 1880. It also uncovered the birth and death records of two other Kaczmarek infants. I then ordered the microfilm for the parish of Maczniki. This corresponded to the town of which Jakub stated he was a native. Unfortunately, this microfilm did not reveal a July 1850 birth record for Jakub. The only Kaczmarek name it did reveal for all of 1850 was an October 1850 marriage. I recorded it and placed it in the infamous circular file!
In between all these revelations, I had completed my US based research. I had obtained the 1900, 1905 and 1910 census for Michael and the 1892, 1900 and 1905 census for Jakub in Buffalo. There was no listing for any Jakub in the 1910 city directory or any later years for that matter. I always marveled at the fact the information Jakub provided in each census never changed. He always indicated that he was born in July of 1850 and was married about 1870-1871. Depending on the time of year the census was taken, 1871 did prove to be an accurate year of marriage. I had no reason to dispute a birth year of 1850.
I did eventually lose track of my Jakub. I found no death certificate through 1920, nor a burial in any local Polish cemetery. This Father’s Day past, I paid my respects to Michael, the great grandfather that I never knew. As I stared down upon the small tombstone, I could only assume that proceeds from the railroad lawsuit went towards its purchase. In bending down to clear overgrown grass, I silently asked him to give me some sign as to where his father Jakub died and is buried. When I realized I was talking to the ground, I abruptly left. Surely my hobby had now turned obsessive! Later that month, while looking for someone else in a 1910 census, I stumbled across the Kaczmarek name. As my eyes focused, I realized they were still here! It was MY Jakub and Apolonia!. They were 60 years old, living just houses away to a “Kazimierz Kaczmarek” family.
In preparation to calling it quits, I made one final attempt to locate Jakub's birth record. I composed an article consisting of the town and parish names in the Sroda area of Poznan. I sent my article for publication to a Polish Genealogical Society with 1500 members who would read my article. Two weeks after my article was published, I received an e-mail from a woman in California who had read my article. It just so happens she is a cousin to my Guardian Angel who found the 1871 marriage record! She had been viewing civil records from an area near Sroda called Wengierskie. She informed me that she found a marriage record from October, 1875 for a Kazimierz Kaczmarek and Magdelena Mary Kazmierczak. What is the significance? The witness to the marriage was none other than a Jakub Kaczmarek. Could they possibily be brothers?
Within days, I received 15 copies of documents pertaining to various Kaczmarek and Waligora families. I could not translate the German script and requested the assistance of a professional translator, Mr. W. Fred Hoffman. He graciously translated what I considered to be the three most pertinent documents. The marriage record for Kazimierz indicated he was 22 years old in 1875. He stated he was from Wengierskie but born in Brzysiak. The document provided another clue to this Jakub -- his age was written out as 24. If I could find Brzysiak, could it lead to Kazimierz's and possibly my Jakub’s birth? The document listed an additional clue, listed were Kazmierz’s parents names, Jozef Kaczmarek and Antonia Jedrasiak. Did these names sound familiar, or was I losing my mind?
The second document was the recording of an infant death in 1876. It was a daughter, three hours old, of Jakub (a stable-hand) and Apolonia. I knew at that exact instant that these were my ancestors and that Jakub and Kazimierz had to be brothers. After three days, I was able to locate Brzysiak on a map. Its correct spelling is Brzeziak, falling under the jurisdiction of the parish of Maczniki. This is the same parish that covers Huby Debickie, where Jacob said he was from! Referring to my Maczniki notes, the only 1850 entry I recorded was the October marriage for none other than Jozef Kaczmarek and Antonia Jedrasiak. I now knew for certain these people were Kazimierz's parents but could they be Jakub's parents as well? Jakub stated was born in July 1850! Was he illegitimate?!
The witness to Kazmierz's October 1875 marriage was presumably my Jakub. If this Jakub stated he was 24 in 1875, this would mean he was born in 1851 not 1850. Did I neglect to look that far in the Maczniki microfilm because I was so sure he was born in 1850? Remembering that Jakub lived next door to another Kaczmarek family in 1910, I scrambled for my census materials. The census revealed the recording of none other than Casimer and Mary Kaczmarek. Their ages were exact matches to the Kazimier & Mary whose marriage record I had. They were born in German - Poland and had five children. Was this indeed part of my extended family that until now, I had no idea they were here!?
On December 13, 1996, I received a reply from the State of New York from a long forgotten request. A six month old query for a twenty-year state wide search for Jakub's death was answered. Enclosed was a copy of Jakub's February 11, 1926 death certificate in Buffalo, New York. Call it Psychic Roots, call it coincidental. This is the exact same month and day my own son was born. My son however, was born long before I indentified these ancestral names. The significance of course is my own son’s name -- Jacob. Who were the parents listed on Jakub’s death certificate? None other than Jozef Kaczmarek and Antonia Jedrasiak whose October 1850 marriage in the parish of Maczniki I've had in the circular file for months. Not only are they the parents to Kazimierz, but now they are my third great-grandparent’s as well. When I now look at my son, I can only wonder if he is some sort of reincarnation on his third great grandfather!
Days before Christmas of 1996, I relayed this story via e-mail to acquaintance Lukasz Bielecki in Poznan. Taking a personal interest in my story, Lukasz was able to locate and confirm Jakub’s July 21, 1851 birth in Poznan. Now that I have received incredible Christmas gifts two years in a row, I am already looking to next year! Jakub’s birth was recorded in the parish of Maczniki; I was left to assume I had made the biggest genealogical mistake of all. Originally checking the register myself, I neglected to look beyond 1850 because I was *so sure* that was Jakub’s birth year.
Referring back to the 1900 census for the “first” Michael I found, it confirmed what I suspected. This Michael, who was 23 years of age, had four siblings as was indeed the son of Kazimierz and Mary Kaczmarek.I have since located the correct 1920 census for this Michael and found he had nine children! His mother was identified as living with them as a widow. Although the Kaczmarek surname from Jakub’s line has ended with my uncle, I now know that Kazmierz’s line has lived on. The 1892 city directory lists only 5 Kaczmarek families in Buffalo, the current phone book however, lists over 100! I am now in the process of tracing the descendants of this Michael’s siblings as well as Michael’s nine children.
My grandfather’s missing siblings? I did find a record of baby Tador’s death in 1911. He is buried in an unmarked plot in the same cemetery as his father Michael, and possibly near Jakub as well. Looking back to my Father’s Day request at the cemetery, I realize why Michael couldn’t tell me where his father Jakub was buried. I was most likely standing on the unmarked family plot when making my request. Jakub was probably beneath me the whole time!. In looking for baby Tador's death record at the church, I located a fifth sibling to my Grandpa! Wladyslaw was born in April 1911, four months after his dad fell off the railroad trestle. These siblings appeared in no census; local marriage records are nonexistent; and Social Security numbers appear to not have been applied for or issued. My great grandmother Bronislawa, remarried the year after her husbands death. Apparently, she did not keep in close contact with her first husbands Kaczmarek family. My Grandfather was raised never knowing of second cousins by Kazimierz’s children. These descendants apparently don’t know “we” exist either -- YET!
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