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.
We met Henryka and Anna on Tuesday morning in Lubatowa to walk through the cemetery. Henryka showed us her husband’s and father’s gravesites. The cemetery was amazing, like nothing I had ever seen before or imagined.
Zenon met us at the hotel about 9:00 and we laid out plans for the day. He had contacted cousins in advance of my arrival and we were scheduled to meet at their home that evening so the challenge was to fill up the day.
I had done much research prior to my arrival to avoid spending too much time stuck inside a church or archive searching for records. Because of this I had birth and marriage records for many of my ancestors. This turned out to be both good and bad! For while I discovered additional family information that would help me while in Poland I missed the actual “Discovery” events that I might have had upon seeing these records for the first time. In the end I am glad that I did that research in advance as we had a difficult time getting access to records at the church.
Zenon took us to the Rural Architecture Museum (Skansen) in Sanok to give us an idea of what life might have been like when my ancestors lived in this area. The beautifully re-created buildings, churches and villages was well worth the time. The open air museum covers many acres.
Planning for my Poland Adventure began in 2011. I had been researching my family history for about 2 years before. I discovered the name of the village in Poland where my ancestors originated from. With that knowledge in hand I began thinking about actually travelling to Poland. Researching guide services quickly lead me to PolishOrigins as one of the top options. The moving accounts of other’s visits and their testimonials not only accelerated my planning but pretty much made my decision on which organization I would rely on to help me during my visit….”PolishOrigins”. I originally set my sights on travelling to Poland in the summer of 2013 (read the first part of Rick’s story written in 2013), but then work got in the way and I was forced to alter my plans. As the summer of 2014 approached I was able to lock in a July date with Zenon and make travel arrangements.
Usually, when we think about the First World War in Europe the image of the western front line appears before our eyes. In France this conflict is called “the Great War” and some of the famous battlefields were at Verdun, Marne and Ypres.
The Eastern European front line is sometimes forgotten and we should remember that many battles took place in the territories of today’s Poland. When World War 1 ended in 1918, Poland was able to regain its independence, after many decades of foreign rule.
Polish people had been living under three partitions: Prussian, Austrian and Russian, and the Polish soldiers fought for all 3 of these armies, sometimes against each other. Just another dramatic fact in our turbulent history.
After visiting the Dudzik house we check into a very nice Agro House right there in Mecina. We discover word has gotten out into the village (population 3,000) that visitors from the USA are in town.
We race over to the historian’s home of Ludwika Dudzik and she is able to find our grandmother’s house and her husband, Stanisław will actually take us there. We drive down a small and twisting road to the home of Elisabeth Krzak Kielbasa and her family. How Elisabeth is related: grandma’s brother Stanislaus’s granddaughter.
The family is very welcoming and Elisabeth is so excited and just so darn cute! They do not speak English so our wonderful interpreter Paweł has to work overtime keeping up with all the conversation that is happening all at once. We are invited into their home for tea/coffee and cake and soon an older woman walks in. This woman is our grandma’s niece (Stanislaus’s daughter) Casimira. WOW! Someone who knew grandma. She is so welcoming and excited to talk to us too. Casimira remembers our grandma’s visit to Mecina in the 1960s. Casimira told us that grandma and grandpa knew each other very well before leaving the village and that a group of them traveled together to America.
They took us over to house 222 which is located right next to Elisabeth’s home. No one is living in there now. It has been renovated since our grandma lived there (she left Mecina in 1912) by her brother Stanislaus, he died in 1987. The home is extremely small. I can see why grandma left! It is so much smaller then our grandpa’s home. We enter the front door and told the area where we stood is where animals were kept, we turn right and this is the living area. I am led to believe this area is where they slept, ate and cooked. Very, very small.
Grandma’s house 222, Męcina.
It was difficult to leave this family. They wanted us to stay longer however we had to keep our dinner date we made earlier with the fire chief’s family.
Left to right: Kim, Elisabeth’s husband, Susanne, Casimira, Paweł (guide) and Elisabeth
The following day we woke up early, feeling a little uneasy due to all the vodka we drank at the fire chief’s home, to meet a woman who let us into the church were generations of our family were baptized. It is a 17th century wooden church of Saint Antony the Great.
I must include that the village is beautiful, the homes are so pretty and well kept and the people were all so very nice to us.
Susanne’s Genealogy Tour with PolishOrigins took place in June 2014. All the events described here happened in one day!
We had a successful trip to Poland. We actually met family and entered the homes of our paternal grandfather the Dudzik’s and or maternal side the Krzak’s. The Dudzik home, according to my research, can be dated back until the 1600s.
It’s a very exciting story filled with emotion but I will try to keep it brief. My sister Kim, Steve (Kim’s husband) and myself drove to Mecina with our interpreter Paweł. He told us that we will go to the home of Ludwika Dudzik, a retired teacher and the town historian. When we arrived in Mecina, Paweł called her from the church parking lot and told her about our mission and asked it we could come over. I had no idea it was a cold call! She said yes. We took a short drive to her home to find her very excited and nervous. I was also nervous and started to think this was a bad idea as it was awkward. She sits us down in the dinning room and quickly prepares tea and gathers cookies. Her husband, Stanisław, is cautious and doesn’t really talk. We determine we are not related, however she has all the home numbers in Mecina and a list of who owns the homes. She tells us number 32 was owned by Zdzisław Dudzik and house 222 owned by a family with our grandma’s last name, Krzak.
We start with the Dudzik side: There was a lot of discussion between Ludwika and Stanisław, Paweł interrupts that Zdzisław Dudzik died 16 years ago. He was a fireman. He has a son however they are estranged and he lives in another village. Zdzisław suffered from Gangrene and the current fire chief’s family cared for him until his death. Since Zdzisław had no one to leave the home to he gave it to the fire chief’s family. As Paweł translates this story to us, Stanisław makes a phone call and soon after there is a knock on the door, in comes the Mecina fire chief, Eugeniusz! Eugeniusz and Stanisław took us to Zdzisław’s grave and there are a few people listed on the same grave stone, I check my research and now I am sure this is a relation.
Dudzik Gravestone. Piotr is our grandfather’s brother.
Piotr worked at Pullman Car Company in Chicago, IL but obviously went back to Poland. Małgorzata is Piotr ‘s wife and Zdzisław their son.
Eugeniusz and Stanisław (who is now so excited he is with us at every turn) takes us to house 32 located in the Eugeniusz’s backyard. We approach an old home in very poor condition. No one has lived there for 16 years.
No one has lived there for 16 years.
We walk through the house and all along I am thinking this IS the Dudzik house. Then the Eugeniusz opens a bed side table and reveals three photos. They are really dirty and I can’t see the images right away but as soon as he clears the glass I see our grandparent’s wedding photo and family photo. Photos I have in my home in Michigan.
Photos found in house 32
Incredible! These photos have been in this house for 80-100 years! My emotions were running high! It was like something out of movie. To think I was in the home of the Dudzik family that dates back until the 1600s, and maybe even further back! WOW!
Eugeniusz, Paweł, Susanne, Edward, Kim, Stanisław in front of the house 32, Mecina.
House 32 is now in the hands of the fire chief’s family who plan on giving the land to their son (who right now is a teenager).
Later that evening we were invited back to their home where there was a big celebration. Polish food, vodka and more vodka. Soon they were singing songs and celebrating. It was so much fun. We were so honored to be there. They told us how wonderful it is that we traveled so far to learn about our Polish family. Between the discovery of house 32 and the dinner celebration we went to our grandmother’s house.
We left the agro-tourism at 8:30am. It was a 5 drive to Warsaw. We drove through the Swietokrzyskie Province. That was quite interesting to me as at one point I was the webmaster of this Province for PolandGenWeb. Zenon was kind enough to drive us to the airport hotel. We stayed at the Marriott, which is directly across the street from the Chopin airport. I can’t say enough good things about Zenon and his company PolishOrigins. We started our trip to Poland with the fantastic Magda Smolka and finished with the most excellent Zenon Znamirowski. Thank you for making this a genealogical trip of a lifetime!
We spent the morning at a Skansen, which is an open air museum. It was very interesting to learn the true beginnings of the people of this area. Definitely a must-see for genealogical tourists who have family in the area. We always say that our ancestors came from Poland. But, where did our Polish ancestors come from? The Skansen tells all.