Our Genealogy Trip to Poland

blog by Chris Cronk

 

It was a wedding picture taken in Poland with my grandmother sitting next to the bride. This was amongst the 50 or so pictures from a fancy photo album that was left by my grandmother to my mother, and which I took when my mother passed away in 1994. Almost none of the pictures had information identifying the people in the them. And I had no idea who those people were. However, I did remember being told that we had another aunt, who stayed in Poland and about whom no one spoke.

 

Wedding in Albigowa, with my grandmother seated next to the bride (Genowefa). At the far right in the first row is my grandmother’s sister, Agata.

 

Antoni Falger and Maria Kuźniar Falger (my grandparents) came from Albigowa, Poland, a village in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains near Łańcut that was part of Galicia, the Austrian partition of Poland. Along with many other men and some women from the village, my grandfather came to America in the early 20th century to find means of support— things were bad at home, not enough land to grow food. He first came heret in 1905, when he was just turned 20, to work in the mines near Pittsburg. He stayed and worked there till 1908 when he returned to Albigowa to marry my grandmother (then just 18 years old). They had two daughters, my mother Elźbieta (Betty) in October of 1910 and my aunt, Bronisława (Bernice) in August of 1912.  In May of 1913, my grandfather went back to America, again to work in the coal mines in Pennsylvania. But this time he couldn’t return because World War I started. This left his family to fend for themselves in Poland.

 

According to a journal he kept, my grandfather moved around to different small towns near Pittsburgh (Wyano, Summer Hill, New Salem perhaps boarding with others), but by 1918 had moved to Detroit and was living with Wojciech Bem and his wife (both born in Albigowa).  He began working at one of the automobile assembly plants after this and made enough money to bring his family over. So in November of 1920, my grandmother, mother and aunt traveled to Rotterdam and boarded the Noordam for America. The family lived in Detroit on 28th street. My mother and aunt married and began raising families, and both were out of their parents’ home by the mid-1930s.

I did not know that my grandmother returned to Poland after coming here. But in the midst of my ancestry research, I found a travel record for her coming back to the US from Gyndia Poland in October of 1936. She had been issued a visa in June. Her sister, Agata, was listed as the contact in Albigowa. I thought maybe this trip was one she made for the wedding pictured in the photo.

Left, my grandfather in America. Right, my grandmother (seated), my aunt Bernice and mother on either side of her. Standing- my grandfather’s sister, Salomea. Circa 1914 .

 

Photos of people I did not know till I found my cousin (see story). Left, Genowefa’s 1st communion circa 1927; Right: Antoni Kuźniar’s first communion circa 1946.

 

Genowefa, Antoni and Tadeusz with his accordion circa 1960.

I spent a lot of time trying to sort out many details from the mother’s side of the family, including the mystery of my grandmother’s trip back to Poland, the picture of the wedding and pictures of people I did not know, but with little luck.
So all of this led to the genealogy trip to Poland through PolishOrigins.  I provided PolishOrigins with what I knew about my Polish family, and gave them access to my family tree on Ancestry.com.

By the time we arrived in Kraków (in September 2019), PolishOrigins (specifically Aga and Zbigniew) had found my 2nd cousins (children of my great uncle, Franciszek) and the first thing we did was go to a lovely breakfast at Jadwiga’s (the grand daughter of my grandfather’s brother).

Several other 2nd cousins were there, and they shared information about the family. One of my 2nd cousins, Andrzej, had tried to find our family when he visited America several years before, but without success.

Jadwiga gave me a book about Albigowa written by my great uncle. In the back of that book were some of the same pictures that were in my grandmother’s album—all labeled! We talked and I learned much about their branch of the family.  After our breakfast, my cousins took me to the Village Museum in Markowa that showed what life was like when my mother was a child.

I was still preoccupied with finding out what happened to the aunt who remained behind in Poland. Zbigniew and I started by going the civil records office in Albigowa. After some haggling, they allowed me to see my mother’s birth record, but no others. We then traveled to the state archives in Rzeszow and spent much of the time there looking at marriage records. We found my grandparents marriage record. But as it happened, the available records only went up through 1930.  So no information about the wedding from 1936 was available.

Though we had asked my 2nd cousins about the aunt who had stayed behind, they were unaware of her. Zbigniew and I started to think that maybe she died as a child. He decided to try one last thing. He took cadastral maps from the mid1800’s along with a list of property owners in Albigowa. Once he identified the natal property of my grandmother’s family (the Kuźniars), he anchored the cadastral map to a current map using stable landmarks (like rivers) and was able to figure out the current address of that property.

A section from the cadastral map of Albigowa.

 

The drive at the address Zbigniew identified as my grandmother’s natal home.

 

We went there later that day. There was a woman in the garden working as we pulled up to the drive. Zbigniew talked with her at some length and I showed her the picture of the wedding. She thought her husband might know something. So we went up to their house. He looked at the picture and said he wasn’t sure, but thought the bride in the picture might be the mother of the man who lived in the next house. The man walked with us through a grove of trees to that house and pushed the buzzer on the fence outside. Eventually a tall thin woman came to the gate. After I had shown her the wedding picture, she said that yes this was her husband’s mother, though her husband was in poor health and might not be able to talk much.

Nonetheless, she invited us in and introduced us to her husband whose name was Antoni Kuźniar. I remembered that one of the few labeled pictures had that name on the back—it was a picture of a little boy in 1st communion garb. When I showed that picture to him, his face lit up. He took a collection of photos down from the wall and on it were several of the same pictures that I had, including one of my grandmother standing outside the house I grew up in. I took his hand and said “We are cousins!”

We shared more pictures and stories. His mother, Genowefa, was born in October of 1919. Her birth record listed my grandfather as her father (thus her name was Genowefa Falger), but his actual father remains a mystery.  When my grandmother left for America in 1920, she gave the care of Genowefa (who had just turned 1 year old) over to her older sister Agata. From what Antoni told me, my grandmother was in continuous contact with their family throughout Genowefa’s childhood, and frequently sent packages to them.

Some of the pictures from her album were of Genowefa as a child (her first communion picture-see above), others of the family when Antoni was older. When Genowefa  married Tadeus Kuźniar in 1936, my grandmother traveled back to Albigowa for the wedding. She sat next to the bride for the wedding photo and her sister, Agata who raised Genowefa, sat at the far end of first row. Antoni was born in 1938, Genowefa’s only child. He became a musician, and worked in schools teaching orchestra and choir.

I remain in touch with all of the cousins I met in Poland. I am deeply grateful to PolishOrigins and particularly Zbigniew Stettner for the diligence with which they helped me find and come closer to my family in Poland.

Chris

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One Response to “Our Genealogy Trip to Poland”

  1. Shellie Gray says:

    Hi Chris,
    Wow! Your story is what makes genealogy so wonderful! How exciting to walk into a home in Poland, thousands of miles from your home and see a photo taken in front of your childhood home! I had a similar experience when I was in Poland and taken to visit a distant cousin. This new-found cousin brought out a bag with dozens of old photos. There we discovered photos of my father when he was a child and one from my parent’s wedding! Thank you for sharing your story and I am so very happy for you. I hope you continue to have such exciting discoveries and enjoy your new-found family in Poland. Happy New Year! Shellie

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