Holy Week and Easter – part 2.

April 16th, 2014

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday was (and still is) the day of blessing water, fire and food. On this day a big bonfire was prepared in front of the church. After the ceremony of blessing the fire, everyone wanted to take home at least a small part of a burning twig to protect their home and land against storms and hail. During the first spring plowing farmers spilled ashes from this bonfire onto the ground.

After the ceremony of blessing fire there was the ceremony of blessing water. Everybody took some blessed water home. The men sprinkled everything in the house and farmyard including the animals with it. The leftover water was kept until the next Holy Saturday. It was used in case of illness and at time when God’s blessing was needed.

During all of Saturday, priests were blessing food, which were eaten the next day. On this day nobody brought their food to the church as we do today. It was the priests who wandered from manors to backwaters and villages. In villages women met together in one place, put their baskets on the ground and uncovered what they had brought. There was a big quantity of everything (not just the symbolic dishes that we take to church today) and it all smelled good. After six weeks of fasting, the contents of the baskets must have teased the noses of the people. There were in these baskets pisanki, fresh cottage cheese, eggs, horseradish, butter, salt, bread, sausages, smoked bacon and sometimes pound cake and even piglet. All of this was decorated with myrtle so it had to be a real temptation after so many days of fast.

According to old beliefs, blessed food had great power. After coming back home, people carried the basket of blessed food (called in Polish Święconka’) around the house three times to protect provisions against rats and mice and to secure affluence. What more, the ‘Święconka’ was supposed to protect villages against any disasters.

In the old days Holy Saturday ended with a Resurrection Mass at midnight. Today this Mass begins on Sunday morning (at 6.00 A.M.). Everybody wanted to attend this Mass because whoever was not present in church was deprived of the right to eat the food blessed the previous day. Who would like to deserve such a punishment? ;))


Resurrection Procession. Source: http://www.kalwaria.eu

At the beginning of the Resurrection Mass, the people went in procession around the church three times, following a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament and singing joyful Easter songs. After this Mass, the most frequently used word was Alleluja, which means Glorify the Lord. Also, after this Mass people greeted each other with the special words “Christ rose from the dead” to which one replied “It is true that He rose from the dead”. Today in many homes we can hear the same words on Easter Sunday morning.

Easter Sunday

Sunday morning brought what was most longed-for during Lent – the chance to be a glutton. Family breakfast began (and still does) by sharing blessed eggs (similar to Christmas Eve supper, which began by sharing a blessed wafer). After this ceremony you could eat whatever one wanted: veal, pork fat, sausage, eggs …… and everything with horseradish. This day was reserved for family, and only on Monday did neighbors pay visits to each other.

Easter Monday

The Monday after Easter was a day of joy and frolic. But first of all it was a day of sprinkling everybody with water.

Śmigus Dyngus

Śmigus Dyngus. Source: http://wrzesnia.w.interia.pl

It had various names. Today we know it as “Śmigus-Dyngus” or “Lany Poniedziałek”. There were many techniques of sprinkling, from gentle sprinkling with perfume to pouring full buckets of water on one another or throwing somebody into a pond. Although it was not always nice, no girl wanted to stay dry because that would mean a lack of popularity with the boys.

For more even fun, boys sitting on tree branches or on the top of a roof delivered short  rhymes, often very  malicious, in honor of the girls. But the real offence would be the lack of such a rhyme for a girl, so each of them wanted to hear something about herself.

There was one more custom connected to Easter. During Christmas boys were wandering ”po kolędzie”,  and similarly during Easter they wandered “po dyngusie”. They went from one home to another singing, wishing the best for their hosts and waiting for some food and booze.

Easter is a time of happiness. It is the time when Jesus defeats death and gives people hope for eternal life. Spring brings sun and together with that promises and hopes for rich crops and full granaries. And it is the end of the gloomy and hungry time of Lent, when both good food and games were forbidden. When Easter comes you can eat what you want and have as much joy as you wish. And whenever Poles had the opportunity, they never suffered from a lack of will to have a good time.

Author: Magdalena Znamirowska, with special thanks to Nancy Maciolek Blake for valuable comments and English proofreading.

Read the Polish version of the article: http://polishorigins.com/document/easter2_pl

Polskie Tradycje Świą…teczne by Hanna Szymanderska, Warszawa 2003

Photo album of pisanki / Easter eggs

Forum: Discuss or ask a question regarding this article

Holy Week and Easter – part 1.

April 16th, 2014

“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.

Each year we celebrate Easter sometime between March 21 and April 25 on the Sunday that comes just after the first full moon of Spring. This date was fixed during the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Many other holy days in the church’s calendar are determined by this date, for example, the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday) or Palm Sunday.

Easter is the most important holiday for Christians. It comes in spring when, thanks to the sun, day by day the earth become warmer and warmer and each farmer is ready to start work on his land, as our ancestors did. That is one of the reasons why Easter time was so important in peasants’ beliefs. The weather during each day of Holy Week was thought to herald the weather during the whole year: Wednesday indicated what the weather would be like in spring; Maundy Thursday, the weather in summer; Good Friday, the weather during harvest and lift time (potato harvest); while Holy Saturday was the herald of the winter weather.


After the morning Mass called ‘jutrznia’, all church bells fell silent until the Mass of the Resurrection. In place of the sound of the bells, young boys wandered through the villages making noise by using rattles to remind everybody that fasting was still in force and eating meat was forbidden.

On this day farmers went to their fields and were sprinkling land with holy water (blessed the previous year) to ensure a rich crop.

Maundy Thursday: the day of the Last Supper

To commemorate the fact that Jesus Christ washed the feet of the apostles, there was in Poland the custom that bishops and kings did the same for old men. The king who initiated the tradition was Zygmunt III. In the time of Stanisław August, it happened one year that every one of the old men was over 100 years old and one of them was even 125 years old. After this ceremony the old men were led to tables and dignitaries served them to show their humility, as Jesus Christ used to do.

To commemorate the Last Supper, a family supper was eaten in every house. According to old tradition, many Poles did not eat at all after this meal until Sunday breakfast.

Good Friday: the day of preparing Christ’s Grave in the churches

The Graves were guarded by the most respected men.


Guards of Christ’s Grave.
Source: http://www.sekowa.rzeszow.opoka.org.pl/

Old tradition said that you had to visit the Grave. In towns where were more than one church, you had to visit all of the Graves for a short prayer and leave alms for the poor at each.

grob panski

Christ’s Grave. Source: http://info.wiara.pl

The end of Lent—and at the same time the end of stomach’s torments—was very close. As a token of that, housewives took out pots with ash and spilled it on the soil. Then they broke the pots to make sure that the fast did not come back. All people were sick of herring and ‘Żur’ (of course, the version that was eaten during fast days —without any bit of grease inside). They were happy they could say goodbye to these dishes, so they had a ritual funeral for them. Pots with ‘Żur’ were carried outside the house and poured out. It happened sometimes that it was poured on the door where a nice girl lived. Herrings were also rightly served. In an act of revenge, they were hung up on tree branches or were hammered to the trunks of trees.

People believed that this day had its own magic, so they planted fruit trees on that day to guarantee rich fruits’ harvests. Housewives made butter, which was used all year as a medicine in case of injury (for both people and animals). They also attributed unusual power to eggs laid on this day. Supposedly, they would never go bad and if thrown into flames they had the power to put out the fire. Just before sunrise, the water in rivers and ponds had  therapeutic properties, so they washed themselves and also their cows (for good milk).

The peasants believed that eggs had the power to chase away jinxes. So eggs were rolled on the back of each cow to make the animal as round as the egg, and especially on horses to make them as fast in running as an egg can roll. One of the most beautiful traditions of this day was (and still is) painting eggs called ‘pisanki‘ (in the plular form or ‘pisanka’ in the singular).  There were many techniques for making ‘pisanki‘. Patterns could be scratched on colored eggs or they were drawn with hot wax and then put into an infusion that colored them. They were also decorated by sticking to them very delicate and light rushes which had been prepared in autumn. Many infusions were used to dye eggs. Each of them gave a different color.  So there were in use: onion skin, bark of young trees like apple, oak or alder, dried flowers of buttercup, also violet, crocus or hollyhock, rye and other grasses, leaves of  myrtle, mistletoe, alder’s cones, bilberries, and maple leaves.

Colorful ‘pisanki’ were a favorite Easter gift. Young girls offered the most beautiful ‘pisanki’ to boys to win their love. Also, if a girl took ‘pisanka’ from a boy and in return gave him her own, it could mean that she reciprocated his affection. ‘Pisanki’ were also the objects of plays. The most popular game was to try to hit one ‘pisanka’ with another one. The winner was the one whose egg was not broken and as a prize he could take all the ‘pisanki‘ of his opponent.

Author: Magdalena Znamirowska, with special thanks to Nancy Maciolek Blake for valuable comments and English proofreading.

Read the Polish version of the article: http://polishorigins.com/document/easter_pl

Polskie Tradycje Świą…teczne by Hanna Szymanderska, Warszawa 2003

Photo album of pisanki / Easter eggs 

Forum: Discuss or ask a question regarding this article


April 16th, 2014

“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.

 After the cheerful days of carnival (in old Poland it was called “zapusty”) comes Lent, a time of penance and preparation for the most important days for Christians – Easter. It lasts for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to the beginning of the Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday (Sundays are not counted). It is not a coincidence that it lasts 40 days. This number refers to the 40 years of long travel through the desert by the Israelis and to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for His death and Resurrection.

Lent comes just after carnival – a time of wonderful parties and joy, to which nobody wants to say goodbye. But the last day finally has to come. On this day all the parties were great but lasted only until midnight, when both behavior and diet had to change.

There was an old Polish custom to say goodbye to carnival by preaching a special “ash sermon”, during which one of the partygoers, dressed in a shirt in place of a surplice and with a belt around his neck, spun a story full of anecdotes and jokes and filled it up with stupidity and Latin maxims without any sense to cause laughter and admiration.

After this ornate speech at midnight the sound of church bells reverberated everywhere, the music fell silent, bright lights went out and the end of joyful days was announced. Then the hostess disappeared and went to the kitchen to prepare “Podkurek” (a breakfast eaten before the first rooster crowed). When the bells fell silent the hostess brought out a platter with a lid and all stood around her. The host raised the lid and a bird (usually a sparrow) flew out, symbolizing fickleness. The meal eaten afterwards (Podkurek) consisted of herrings, eggs and milk. The same dishes were served in both rich and poor houses. This was the way of saying goodbye to meat and it was supposed to be the diet for the next 40 days. If, after eating, there was some milk left, it was put on a spoon and splashed on the ceiling to read the future by looking at stains (I wonder what hostess would agree to this, or who would try to do it nowadays ;)).

All musical instruments had to be hidden, as well as trinkets and mirrors (if not, they had to be at least covered up with scarves). Women changed clothes by choosing dark and modest ones. All kitchen accessories and especially frying pans were thoroughly cleaned – no remains of fat could be left.

The next morning was Ash Wednesday. The first thing that had to be done was participating in Holy Mass. During this service, the priest sprinkled (and nowadays they still do it) all heads with ashes (made by burning palms from the previous year). Poles were so devout that even when ill they asked to have some ash brought to them and sprinkled on their heads in their beds.

The people did not want to lose the cheerful atmosphere so fast, so among those going to the church were boys – jokers – who tried to pin eggshells, crow’s feet, bones tied up with string or turkeys’ necks to the women’s dresses – all this to amuse the crowd during a very serious Mass. Over the doorsteps of inns, a strainer with ash was hung and everybody entering had a little “ash shower”. The very serious custom of sprinkling ash on heads in church became a contribution to the village’s fun. So youths filled sacks with ash and hit one another with them or dumped a great quantity of ash on the head of someone of the opposite sex. Sometimes a pot full of ash was thrown very close to somebody to make a cloud of ash dust and to dirty this person. The custom of throwing such pots against the door at midnight in the middle of Lent survived in Poland for a very long time. It was a symbol of tightening up the fast. In the old days in Poland the fast was strictly observed, especially in the early days of Christianity. In those times, in the second half of Lent, people did not eat any boiled dish and they ate only bread, dried fruits and smoked fish.

The middle of Lent was also the time of drowning or burning a straw dummy, called “Marzanna”, which was a symbol of the death and winter.


Marzanna. Source: portal.muzeum-radom.pl

This custom is still alive but the date has changed to March 21, the first day of spring. After this symbolic goodbye to winter, people came back to the village with a spruce decorated with colorful ribbons and painted eggshells and with a cheerful song: “Our gaik (the decorated spruce) green is beautifully decorated…” (click here: to listen to Gaik zielony melody). They sang and wandered from one house to another and demanded small gifts, usually food.



A big part of Lent always falls in March, the time of sowing. Peasants very much wished to start sowing this month in order to have rich crops.  Regardless of bad weather or wet soil all of them went to the field. They started to sow after a special ritual during which they threw seeds four times to the four sides of the world “for God’s glory, as a benevolence for goblins, as an offering for the soil, water, air and all living creatures both good and bad”, then they made the sign of the cross and started to sow. 

A very cheerful day in the middle of Lent’s sadness was Palm Sunday, the last Sunday before Easter. On this day all people went to church with palms in their hands. It often happened (and still does) that this day fell in April, so the atmosphere was joyful (as it is in spring), and thanks to the palms in church this day was really colorful and happy. Palms were made, as nowadays, of willow twigs, myrtle, colored blades of grass and dried flowers, but today we make them small and in the old days they could be two or even three meters long. (Photo of palm. Source: wikipedia.org, author: Aneta S.)

Blessed catkins had a lot of symbolic functions: if burned they became a penance ash, left in a corner of a field they protected plants against pests and bad weather, put in a window during a storm they drove away bolts of lightning. They were also put behind crosses and paintings of saints as a guard for the house and a request for God’s blessing. After the Mass people hit each other with palms, wishing them good health, wealth and bumper crops.

Palm Sunday commemorates the day when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem before His death and Resurrection. To commemorate this day in old Poland (until the 20th century) Catholics imitated the Savior’s entrance into Jerusalem. So one of farmers was dressed as Jesus, seated on a donkey and among shouts of joy and cheerful songs led to the church while people threw willow twigs under his legs. It often happened that farmers would refuse such an honor because of humility, so in place of a man a wooden sculpture of Jesus seated on a donkey was used. Such a figure was pulled by the most respected men in the village.


Palm Sunday in Lipnica Murowana. Source: wikipedia.org, author: Maciej Szczepańczyk

On this day boys also got even with Judas. They made a dummy Judas of straw, string and old scarecrows. They placed a money bag with thirty pieces of broken glass on his neck as a symbol of the 30 pieces of silver, then threw the dummy out of the church tower and then hit it with sticks. Even one piece of “Judas” could not remain, his leftovers were burned or thrown into water.

Easter was very close. All were busy cleaning in and around their houses. All houses were painted and in those where a girl old enough to get married lived, one of the walls was only splashed with paint as a sign for bachelors.

Before Easter Sunday everything had to be cleaned: body and soul, inside the house and in the farmyard.

Lent started by sprinkling ashes on heads, giving to the poor the remains of carnival parties and  putting carnival clothing into closets. During this time people put jam or oil on bread and did not use butter. They ate herring without cream. Coffee was served without sugar. They drank herbal drinks and ate cookies with only a little sugar inside called “everlasting” (because they could be eaten half a year after baking). Lively melodies were forbidden. It even happened that children toys were hidden and only the most toil-worn ones were left. In place of fairy tales the life stories of saints were read. In the 19th century men had to renounce alcohol, cigarettes and even the pleasures of love.

Lent seems to be a sad, gloomy and gray time, but even at that time of year, Polish tradition included many colorful and charming customs.

 Author: Magdalena Znamirowska, with special thanks to Nancy Maciolek Blake for valuable comments and English proofreading.

Click here to read the Polish version of the article: http://polishorigins.com/document/lent_pl

Polskie Tradycje Świą…teczne by Hanna Szymanderska, Warszawa 2003

Forum: Discuss or ask a question regarding this article

Szczawnica: modern spa resort in good, old style.

March 6th, 2014

Szczawnica is a resort town, located about 100 kilometers south-east from Krakow. It is  well-known for being a tourist attraction since the mid-nineteenth century. Due to the presence of sorrel springs and the favorable climatic conditions, many respiratory and digestive tract illnesses are treated there.

Before the war the resort was owned by the Stadnicki family and since 2005 it has returned to the family descendants. Recently they managed to restore its former splendor and elegance.




Wood carved decorations in Szczawnica


Old style sign with the house name.


Old style sign with the house name.


Wooden, decorated villa in Szczawnica.


Wooden, decorated villa in Szczawnica.

Szczawnica is also a great place to admire wooden architecture. It is different than Zakopane. The villas and hotels in Szczawnica are created in Swiss and Tyrolese styles, resembling the resorts in the Alps. The wood carved balconies and galleries, colorfully painted wood decorations and some timber framing are prominent here. Each guest house in Szczawnica has a name, like “Under the Rose”, or “Under the Highlander’ or “Under the Squirrell”. The old boards with these names have survived to this day. The town is quite hilly, so you need to climb up and down a little bit. The most attractive places are upper and lower parks, Dietla Square with the oldest and most beautiful resorts buildings.


Szczawnica by night.


Szczawnica by night.

This area is also famous for the Dunajec river raft and two beautiful castles, just a few minutes drive from Szczawnica. You can read more about it here: http://polishorigins.com/document/dunajec

Click here to see the details of our ready-made tour ‘Wooden treasures of southern Poland’: http://polishorigins.com/document/wooden_treasures

Website about Wooden architecture in Szczawnica: http://www.drewniana.malopolska.pl/?page=obiekty&id=191&l=en

Offical website of the resort owner: http://www.thermaleo.pl/en/

Aga Pawlus
PolishOrigins Team

PO Galicia Tour Video.

February 21st, 2014

Here it is. PO Galicia Tour video.

We have tried to fit in the five minutes all those emotions, landscapes, sounds, tastes and emotions that we have witnessed in last season of our tours in 2013.

We hope that our video will help you to feel this ambiance:


See more details about PO Galicia Tour, including dates available for 2014: http://galicia.polishorigins.com .

PolishOrigins Team

Ray from Minnesota: His Family Search. Part 2.

February 20th, 2014


The purpose of writing the story of how I found my family in Poland for you is to show that successful family history involves much more than looking at book, articles and microfilm. I did spend very many hours in libraries doing that. But if it were that easy, it wouldn’t give that much enjoyment or (or take so long).

It involved learning much about the history, names, language (a bit) and geography of Poland (and Prussia). It required a good computer program to keep track of many of the names, dates and facts that get uncovered during the course of research. I use The Master Genealogist that allows me to record more than one date, name or place for an event, and give them reliability ratings.

I learned about resources and research techniques by joining many computer forums and mailing lists and seeing what other people were doing. I participated in them by providing information on what I was seeking and by helping others when I had information from which they might benefit. Some people became good friends (even though we never met in person) and were important providers of help to me.

I have found that most serious family researchers are among the most friendly and helpful people that you will ever find on the Internet, or in probably in person. One reason for this might be that most of us often spend long periods of times in front of a “brick wall” as they say, not learning anything. But we don’t quit.

We understand that if we keep at it long enough, we may achieve success. So one way to occupy oneself is to help others with their research. Some people have found most of what is possible to find and spend many hours helping others. I am thinking of Debbie on the Polish Genius list or Fred Hoffman, the author of Polish Surnames: Origin and Meanings; Rafal Prinke, etc. Real genealogical “saints.”

Now is a good time to get serious about researching in Poland and Europe. When the Internet got going in 1994 or so, very few Europeans had computers, or if they did, they had to pay for internet time “by the minute.” Many weren’t interested in family history. But that seems to be changing. People like Zenon here on the PolishOrigins site are making a difference and I’m sure we will see more local help coming from people in Poland (and Germany).

Many people today think that all you have to do is ask Google or Yahoo and they will come up with the answer, and if they don’t, then there is no answer. That’s wrong. It may take some time, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of internet sites, forums and mail lists that have people willing to help you find your family.

One important thing to remember about your research if your “brick wall” still finds you in the United States or other foreign country. Spend your time getting to know other researchers who have achieved some success. In what is called “chain migration”, many immigrants came to places in the U.S. because friends and relatives had gone there before them and had written back saying there was good land or jobs to be had.

For a start, check out “Cyndi’s List”, the definitive list of everything you would ever want to know about Poland. Today there are 367 such lists on her page: http://www.cyndislist.com/poland.htm .

Thank you for reading my story. I hope it might give you some ideas as to how to proceed on your story.

Ray Marshall

Ray from Minnesota: His Family Search. Part 1.

February 19th, 2014

Finding an ancestor is quite difficult, especially for those of us whose ancestors came long before the time when the U.S. Citizenship papers required specific information on the town in Poland from which the ancestor came.

My story which begins in 1976 might be of some help to others in their search.

My great-grandfather, Jan Marszalkiewicz and his older brother, Andrzej, emigrated to Duluth, Minnesota, in 1872.  All I knew about their life in Poland, through my Dad, was that they were from “Poznan”, and that Jan had served in the Prussian army in the Franco-Prussian War, had been at Paris at the end in 1871 (date determined by history books) and soon after emigrated to the U.S.

U.S. and Minnesota census documents confirmed this information.  Andrzej, now called Andrew Marshall, is listed on the 1875 Minnesota Census in Duluth with his wife and the two children who emigrated with them.  Jan, now called John, didn’t appear until the 1880 Census after he was married and it is not known where he was in the interim.

I was fortunate that the family remained in Duluth and I did not have to follow them to different cities across the United States as so many did.  Between census, city directory, church, government, newspaper and other records, I have been able to put together a quite comprehensive record of the families.  But I still was not able to determine from where they had come.

Naturalization (Citizenship) papers, the “Declaration of Intent”, determined that both brothers were in Duluth by the Summer of 1872.  The many volumes of the “Germans to America” book series gave me the name of the ship that they had sailed on and its arrival date in New York City and I retrieved that information.  The only information of value on that record was that they originally were headed to Detroit.  In 1872, Duluth was a “boom town” and probably job recruiters diverted the brothers to the Minnesota city before they could settle in Detroit.

From then on, I was at a brick wall.  But I listed what I did know on Rootsweb, the LDS site, Ancestry and the other websites in those days and joined a lot of web forums to seek possible clues as to where my ancestors had lived.

Since there was a goodly number of Poles in Duluth and they had formed their own parish by 1883, I attempted to find out from them where their ancestors had lived (few knew) and I helped some with some aspects of their search.

I stayed in contact with some of them, from time to time learning a bit, and teaching a bit.  I got to be somewhat well known as a contributor to the St. Louis County, Minnesota, GenWeb site as an expert on the Poles of Duluth.

Someone once (about 1990) informed me that that an Ignasiak family (Andrew’s wife’s maiden name was Ignasiak) has lived in a town called Przysieka.  A map search told me that there were nine or ten tiny towns of that name.  I really didn’t feel like looking at that much microfilm so I didn’t do anything about it.

A few years later, maybe 1992 or 93 someone sent me a photocopy of a citizenship document from Duluth for a man named “Mallerskiewicz.”  This was in about 1918, after World War I. (45 years after my ancestors had arrived in the same city).  The document said he was from Lechlin.  Even though the name might be a bad spelling of “Marszalkiewicz”, it had been so much later that it seemed like a long shot so I didn’t do anything about it.

Then, a few months later, a man from Duluth saw a post I had made on a genealogy forum and he recognized my name from an earlier time when I had helped him with something and he sent me an email saying he thought he had found my Ignasiak ancestors.  Well, I remembered the man and recalled that I was suspicious of some of his genealogical assumptions.  He tended to assume that people who lived fifty miles or more distant from each other might meet and marry.  Well, I know matchmakers were used, but I don’t believe that you can assume that a couple living that far apart would marry.

But he gave me the name of the town:  Lechlin!  I looked at a map and saw that near Lechlin was a tiny town of Przysieka, one of the 10 of that name I had ignored some years earlier.  I figured it was too much of a coincidence and so I rented the microfilm from the LDS and within one half hour of my first visit to a Family History Center I found my ancestor and his brother, their parents and six other brothers and sisters in the tiny village of Budziszewko between Rogozno and Skoki, northeast of the city of Poznan.

Luck, yes, but staying active on genealogical forums, helping people, keeping scraps of paper that might not be important, but might be, also and staying with the search all allowed me to find my family in Poland.  Computers and email are very helpful, too.

A few years later I made contact with a student in Rogozno who drove over to Budziszewko one weekend and asked a few people if they had ever heard of the Marszalkiewicz family.  None had.  So after 130 years, World War I, World War II, major border changes and communism, little is known of my family.

But Marszalkiewicz is a fairly rare name and I am in the process of emailing and writing people of that name to see if they might have relatives who once lived in Budziszewko.

Ray Marshall


Two questions and no answers: My long search for my ancestry and identity. Part 5.

February 14th, 2014

In the course of the following months I learned a few more details about them. My great-grandmother Rozalia Bryjak was from Dlugopole, my great-grandfather  Jacob Rol from the nearby village of Banska. He died in August 1894 at age 35 years in Dlugopole. Some years later my great-grandmother remarried, had two more children, and died in January 1954 at age 89 years in Dlugopole. They are both buried in the nearby Ludzmierz cemetery. Their three children, Jozef, Franciszek, and Karolina emigrated to the United States.

I have yet to track down my great-grandparents’ marriage record and their children’s birth and baptism records. My grandfather’s sister’s birthplace is incorrectly indexed as Dlugopole in the ship manifest. Later records indicate that all three children were born in Budapest, where I assume my great-grandparents went in search for work when they were young. Budapest was a booming city at that time that attracted countless numbers of people from nearby towns and rural areas to work in industry and construction. However, the family must have returned to Dlugopole at some point of time. My great-grandfather’s death record indicates that their residence was at house no.7 in Dlugopole when he died in August 1896. I don’t know what happened that he died at such a young age and why and when the family returned to Dlugopole. Their daughter Karolina’s baptism record that I received recently lists the district they lived in in Budapest, so I have to continue my research in Budapest some day. But that’s another project.

Finally, after many years of search, I have answers to my questions about my birth father and my paternal grandfather’s origin, and thus my own ancestry and identity. I have over 6,500 individuals in my family tree so far, and the research goes on. During the last years I have focused my research on the region in South Poland known as Podhale where I know my paternal grandfather’s ancestors lived and are buried. Learning more about what their life must have been like back then helped me to understand why my grandfather and his two siblings, like many others from this region, left their home village and family in order to find a better life in America for themselves and their children.

I see my father’s face smiling at me from a photograph on my desk and wish I could tell him about it. And I close my eyes and see my German grandmother’s dear face. Her patience and unshakable love helped me to find my way in life, and I am deeply grateful to her. If only I had one more chance to thank her and to tell her how much I loved her, to ask her all the questions I didn’t ask when I was young and that I don’t find answers to today. I know it’s too late, and I can do no more than remember the ones I loved and have lost and appreciate what they did for me. I don’t want them to be forgotten.

Ute H. Wyatt,

Two questions and no answers: My long search for my ancestry and identity. Part 4.

February 13th, 2014

I started with family research in 1999, after my uncle’s passing, using the information he had collected on the maternal side of my family, the names and dates I had taken from my paternal grandparents’ headstones, and the information my father had given me about his parents. Within the last three years I had lost two people I dearly loved, my father and my uncle who was my mother’s only sibling. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and a relapse after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation had destroyed our hopes that she could win the battle against cancer. Today, when I’m reflecting upon the reasons why I suddenly developed such a strong interest in family research that at times almost became an obsession, I believe it was the shock of losing one whole generation of my family within a short period of time and the painful realization that we hadn’t talked enough, that there were many open questions, and that I hardly knew anything about my ancestors on both sides of my family.

I remember sitting with the adults at family gatherings when I was a kid and teenager and listening to them talking about family, work, things that were going on in their lives, and my grandmother talking about her parents and siblings. I’m sure it would have made her happy if I had shown a little more interest in the conversation and the family, but I listened to all this with only half interest and snuck out as soon as I got a chance. I also remember my uncle showing me his family research folder and his efforts to get me interested in it as well, but it never seemed much fun to me. Learning about the old people and things that had happened so many years ago was simply not important to me at the time.

Now, decades later and in a different phase of my life, I was eager to learn more about my family. I visited my mother two to three times a week during her sickness, and we sat and talked about her life growing up in a small town in Germany, her parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, friends and classmates, and the things they did. We looked at the records my uncle had put together and at old family photos, and there was usually a little story to go with each picture. I listened to my mother as she talked about her life, about happy years and about years filled with problems and disappointment. As a teenager, when I had asked her about my birth father, she hadn’t answered my question. I never understood why, and although we got along well otherwise, that was something that always stood between us. Now she spoke openly about him and their relationship and tried to explain why she had been so reluctant to talk about him. Each fact that I learned about my mother and her difficult life helped me to understand her better and moved me closer to her. It was very important that I made peace with her in my heart, and I will always be grateful for the special time I had with her during the last months of her life.

I learned quite a bit about the maternal side of my family during this time, but still knew very little about my father’s ancestors and nothing whatsoever about where my father’s father originally came from. With the Internet opening many doors it was tempting to try to find out more about this side of my family as well. Just out of curiosity I started to look for information on the family name Roll in the web and was amazed by the large amount of genealogy information on that name. There were more than 400 entries for the name Roll in the Ellis Island database alone. Soon I spent all of my spare time at the computer checking out all kind of genealogical records that were available online, posting queries at genealogy message boards, and corresponding with other family researchers and volunteers who answered my questions and did lookups for me.

Although I searched at length for information on my father’s father, I made little progress until a volunteer found my grandparents’ church marriage record and later also my grandfather’s death certificate. My grandparents’ church marriage record indicated that my grandfather was from Budapest, the son of Jacob Roll and Rosalie Bejach, and that he married Julia Szott from Pilzno, Poland, the daughter of Jacob Szott and Agatha Obrych on August 6, 1912 at St. John Cantius Church, Chicago, witnessed by Joseph Bryjak and Anna Szott. My grandfather’s death certificate listed his and his parents’ place of birth as Budapest again and confirmed that his father’s name was Jacob Roll. His mother’s name was not given in the death certificate.

I now had the names of my grandfather’s parents, and once again I searched all available databases to find a Hungarian-born Frank Roll, Jacob Roll, or Rosalie Bejach — without success. However, there was an entry in the Ellis Island database for a seventeen year old Franciszek Roll who arrived at the port of New York in June 1909. The ship manifest indicated that his ethnicity was Polish, his citizenship Austrian, his place of birth Dlugopole, his nearest relative abroad his mother Rozalia Roll in Dlugopole, and that he was headed to Chicago to join his brother Jozef Roll. What puzzled me was his Polish ethnicity, his Austrian citizenship, and that Dlugopole was a village in South Poland, while the records I already had indicated that my grandfather was born in Budapest, about 140 miles away from Dlugopole. The age also didn’t fit. My grandfather would have been 18 years old in June 1909 and not 17 years, as given in the ship manifest. No, that couldn’t be my grandfather! There were too many pieces to the puzzle that didn’t fit together!

At that time I didn’t know that official records are often incorrect regarding age, place of birth, spelling of names and locations, and so on, and that they should be interpreted with this in mind. I also didn’t know yet that back in 1909 there was no such thing as “Hungary” or “Poland” as we know it today. Until World War I, Poland was partitioned into three parts, the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian part. Budapest as well as Dlugopole were part of the Austrian Empire at this time, and a person born in the Austrian part was legally a citizen of Austria, regardless of his or her Polish ethnicity.

The information given in my grandfather’s obituary that had appeared in the “Dziennik Chicagoski”, Chicago’s leading Polish newspaper, when he died in 1940 added an important piece to the puzzle. Among his surviving relatives were a brother Jozef Roll and a sister Karolina Chrobak. I found several Jozef Rolls in the Ellis Island database, but neither one of them fit to the information I already had. However, there was an entry for an eighteen year old Carola Rol who arrived at the port of New York in September 1912. Part of the information given in the ship manifest agreed with that in Franciszek Roll’s: Her ethnicity was Polish, her citizenship Austrian, and Dlugopole was indexed as her place of birth. The manifest also indicated that her nearest relative abroad was her uncle Jendrzej Bryja, and that she was headed to Chicago to join another uncle by the name of Jendrzej Bryjak.

So, back to the Ellis Island database! There was an entry for a Josef Bryjak from Dlugopole who arrived in the United States in November 1905 to join his brother J. Bryjak in Chicago. Could he have been the Joseph Bryjak in my grandparents’ church marriage record? Carola Rol’s uncles’ names were Bryja resp. Bryjak, and a Joseph Bryjak was one of the witnesses in my grandparents’ marriage — that couldn’t be a coincidence! Marriage witnesses were often close relatives or godparents of the bride or groom — there had to be a connection between the Roll and Bryjak families!

But how were they connected? Was it possible that my grandfather’s mother’s last name was misspelled in my grandparents’ marriage record? Was the correct name ‘Bryjak’ instead of ‘Bejach’? It wasn’t more than a guess, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. A search at the LDS website revealed that the Dlugopole parish records weren’t microfilmed. I had reached a point in my research where I needed somebody familiar with the Polish language who could do research on my behalf in Poland. Again, I posted queries at genealogy message boards hoping that somebody would be able to help me. And I had luck! A Polish genealogist who lives close to Dlugopole responded and offered to search the records he had access to for me. And he indeed found records that proved my assumption: A Jacob Rol had been married to a Rozalia Bryjak from Dlugopole. My great-grandparents!

Ute H. Wyatt,

Two questions and no answers: My long search for my ancestry and identity. Part 3.

February 12th, 2014

People are sometimes surprised to hear that I love spending time on family research. Some of them are showing interest in what I’m doing and are asking questions, some smile incredulously and frankly say that they don’t understand why I’m spending so much time with this, that the past is over and done with and that it is more important to live in the present and to look at the future rather than wasting time dwelling on the past. I don’t discuss this subject any more. There’s no doubt that we should live in the present and enjoy what we have now, but we must not forget that the good life most of us have today is the result of our parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ hard work and struggles. That’s what our ancestors wanted for us, that’s what they struggled for, to get ahead and create a better life for us, and for that we owe them respect, gratitude, and remembrance. Like a tree that is blossoming and producing fruit because it is well connected to its roots, most of us have a good life and are doing fine, not because we are separated from the past, but because we are connected to our roots and to the roots of past generations.

When I think about my character and how I turned into the person I am today, I sometimes wonder where my stubbornness and persistence comes from, my need for independence, my love for animals and the simple life, why learning languages always came easy to me, while I have no feeling for numbers. When I got to know my biological father, I discovered that I have a lot from him, I see traits and characteristics in myself that are known to run on the maternal side of my family, and I see others that I don’t know where they come from. I’ll never know. I just know they must come from the past, from genes passed on to me from my ancestors, and that ignoring the past and the relationship between the past and the present would be ignoring what has shaped me into the person I am today.

While I seriously began researching my family history in 1999, my personal journey to the past began much earlier, in spring of 1983, when I began to search for my American birth father. I grew up in Germany, predominantly with my mother’s parents, and knew nothing about my father except for his name, that he was from Chicago, and that he had been an American soldier in Germany after World War II. I was in my late thirties when I finally found him and talked to him on the phone for the first time. I can’t describe what it meant to me to hear my father’s voice for the first time after all the years of not knowing who and where he was. It was as if a whole new world opened up to me, a new world of hope, love, and forgiveness.

I couldn’t wait to meet him in person, however, it took six more years until it was possible. In the meantime, we exchanged letters and photos and told each other about our past and present life. In 1989 we finally met for the first time and spent three weeks together that year, one week in Germany, where my parents saw each other again after 44 years, and two weeks in Chicago, where my father introduced me into his family and friends. He was a warm-hearted person, easy to get along with, and friendly with everyone. We got along well right away and felt like we had known each other forever.

Of course I was curious to learn more about his side of the family. When I asked him to tell me a little more about his childhood and parents, he took me to the house he and his siblings had grown up in and told me about their life when he was a child. He and his nine siblings that had survived to adulthood were raised under conditions of hunger and poverty. I could tell from his voice that it wasn’t easy for him to talk about the poor conditions he had grown up in, but he tried. He told me that his mother was from Poland, he didn’t know where exactly from, and that they had never found out where his father originally came from.

One day during my stay in Chicago we went to St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles, a near suburb of Chicago, where my father’s parents are buried. We walked around the big cemetery for quite a while until we found the headstones. I didn’t bring a camera this day to take pictures, but I quickly scribbled down the dates of birth and death that were on the headstones before we left the cemetery — Frank Roll, 1890-1940, Julia Roll, 1888-1973 — not sure yet what I would do with it.

When my father and I said goodbye at O’Hare Airport when I boarded my flight back to Germany we were full of hope that we would meet again soon, in spite of thousands of miles between us, but we never saw each other again. Soon afterwards his health began to deteriorate, his letters became less and less frequent, and finally ceased altogether. I tried in vain to find out how he was doing, my letters remained unanswered. Finally, one day, I received a letter from his family telling me that they had moved and that my father had passed away a month ago. Not to know how he was doing had been hell for me, the news about his death broke my heart into pieces. Getting to know him and to spend some time with him was one of the happiest experiences in my life, but there was also a lot of pain associated with the experience, times of deep sadness and despair that I lost him again so soon.

The thoughts about my father and of how it could have been if I had met him earlier in my life occupied me for a long time afterwards. Many years have gone by now, I have had good years and not so good years, good and not so good experiences with people I cared about. Thinking about my father still hurts, like a wound that doesn’t want to heal and starts to bleed when you touch it. I still cannot look at his picture without tears coming to my eyes. But my life had to go on, and I had to learn to accept that things went the way they went, that I have to let go my ‘if onlys’, and be grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know him and to learn more about my paternal heritage. And, in spite of all the scars it left behind, it was a healing process for myself. Knowing where I come from makes me feel complete and fills that empty space inside of me that I lived with for many many years.

Ute H. Wyatt,