“What has become a habit let it remain a habit, and this, what was, what we heard from our fathers, or we have seen already by ourselves, pass to those who will come after us; remembering that where the past was, there, also, the future will be…” – Leon Potocki 1854.
Christmas is one of the most wonderful times during the whole year, and the most important moment during this time is one night – Christmas Eve. We call it Wigilia in Poland. White snow outside the window sparkles with frost and the dark sky has more stars than ever. Among them is the most important one, which we can see as the first star this evening, letting us know that in Bethlehem, as over 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ is born… such a little baby, but so important for the whole world. Every year during this special night, happiness is with us, as it was with our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents many years ago. Besides special feelings, we have also many traditions which tie us firmly to our ancestors, and which will tie future generations to us. Thanks to these traditions, we know who we are.
I was hoping a trip to Osiek Piaseczny would result in some great discoveries! Maybe evidence of the mill from family stories (and visible in the previous photo), some Cybulskis still in the area, an old house? Genealogical research always has surprises. I thought the Cybulskis would be easy to track back to Poland because there were so many records in the microfilm showing large families. Alas, that was not the case. As we drove into the very small village, we took a picture of the village shrine. Many places in Poland have similar shrines created to protect the village. This one at Osiek Piaseczny was especially colorful.
Of course our trip included a visit to the Catholic Church in Lachowo that served the villages of Rydzewo-Świątki (birthplace of Rajmund Wierzbicki) and Kumelsk (where he and his mother were living in 1909). The current building was constructed in 1877 which means it is the exact building where my grandfather was christened and attended the first 17 years of his life. It was an amazing feeling to walk into this church and realize that this distant church would have been such an important part of the lives of my many relatives with the names Wierzbicki, Dąbrowski, and Sadowski.
The following day we returned to Kumelsk to visit Jadwiga. We hit a genealogy jackpot! We begin talking, through Zenon’s rapid translations, and immediately learned we are both former school teachers! Before long, Jadwiga was sharing photo albums and seemed more like a sister than a distant cousin!
On our way from Elk to Kumelsk, we came across a sign taking us a slightly different way than the main paved road. We took the “road less traveled” and were amazed to find a very old rock road that appeared to have been laid by hand. It was several kilometers long but took us into Kumelsk the “back way.”
Before discussing our discoveries, please allow me to digress a little.
The national symbol for Poland, like the United States, is an eagle. Notice the crown on the eagle’s head. Until 25 years ago, it had been missing for many, many years. Why? Under communist rule, Poland’s eagle was not allowed to be displayed with a crown as that went against the communist policy. Today, Poland’s eagle once again proudly has a crown.
This trip was taken in honor of my mother, Wanda Wierzbicki Fortenberry. I wish she had been with me.
Between 1976 and 1984, my father and mother, with help from the rest of the family, researched and published a family history on my dad’s family, the Fortenberrys. During this time, mom would periodically attempt to research her parents’ Polish roots.
Because the internet and digitized records were still in the future, not much could be accomplished. So instead, she wrote the stories she had heard as a child. This is the story of my attempt to find the Polish roots of my grandmother, Pelagia Jaroszewska, from north of Płock and my grandfather, Rajmund Wierzbicki, from north of Łomza.