Monday, January 19, 2015

Finding Bronislawa's Ancestral Homeland

Source: Liberty Ellis Foundation
The primary goal of a research trip I made to Schenectady, NY, in 2013 was to discover the ancestral villages of my Polish great grandparents. The searching involved lots of leg work, including visits to churches, cemeteries, former residences and city government offices. The death records of my great grandparents obtained from the city hall did not provide the names of their ancestral villages. This fact caused me to visit one more parish office that hot summer weekend before driving back to Massachusetts. Ultimately, this visit tipped the balance between a limited finding and an exciting discovery.  Before I share that discovery, a little background will show the full circle of a passionate genealogist.  

Genealogy searches often begin with either a census record or a ships manifest; true in this case as well. Several years ago, through diligent research done at the California Genealogical Society and Library in Oakland, CA, and with the help of my friend and genealogy colleague, Jerry McGovern, I learned of the fourteen day Atlantic crossing of my paternal great grandparents, Bronislawa and Albin Szulinski (later anglicized to Bessie and Albert).  In Hamburg, Germany, they embarked on the Pretoria (shown above) destined for a new life in New York on May 5, 1901.  A little research on Polish history pointed to the likely reason for their trip.  The country was involved in an extended period of poverty in the 1890s which caused a mass emigration.  Bronislawa and Albin may have simply wanted to emigrate for a better life in America. Notice the one letter variation of the surnames (Szulinski and Siulinski).  The name change appears to have been brought about by my grandfather, Adam T. Siulinski, before or at the time of his Maine marriage in 1928.

1901 Pretoria's manifest listing the names of Bronislawa and Albin Szulinski
Obtaining the records of immigrant ancestors after emigration is a far less complicated endeavor than obtaining records generations later. When I am able to make the ancestral trip to my familys Polish homeland, I will need to know exactly where to go.  Thus, I never gave up my quest to discover where Bronislawa and Albin came from in Poland.  Hearing my grandfather talk about his upbringing, I understood his family to have been devout Catholics, so I focused my research on the two Polish-connected Catholic churches in Schenectady: St. Adalberts and St. Marys.  The parish office at St. Adalberts provided the burial locations and causes of death for Albin and two of his sons, Walter and Joseph, but did not offer any information related to places of origin in Poland.

Thomas Adam Szulinski's baptismal record from St. Adalbert's parish records.
-name later changed to Adam T. Siulinski-
The other Catholic parish office I visited is where I struck gold in the form of a sacramental record.  St. Mary’s Church had since closed so it was a challenge to find the location of where the records were being stored.  After being rerouted a few times from one office to another, I found the right place and the right person to talk to.  Kudos to Debbie May at the Church of St. John the Evangelist who did the Szulinski lookups for me.  A few months after my Schenectady visit, an envelope arrived in my mailbox containing a copy of the sacramental record of my grandfather’s baptism (see image), and which happened to reveal the names of the ancestral villages of both Bronislawa and Albin (see image above).

Baptism record of Bronislawa (Podorski) Szulinski
Source: Salt Lake City Library microfilm.
Having discovered these Polish place names, I ordered birth and marriage microfilms from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City specific to the areas shown on the baptism.  A few weeks later, I was searching through rolls of microfilm trying to find the birth and marriage records of Bronislawa and Albin. So far, I have found Bronislawa’s birth record from 1870 (see above), and what a find that was. There is nothing more pleasing to a genealogist than finding original records.

Google map image of Kraszewo Czubaki, Polish ancestral homeland of Bronislawa (Podgorski) Szulinski showing the close proximity to Warsaw.  My grandfather had always said his family was from Warsaw.

All the time, travel, and effort were well worth acquiring the knowledge of my immigrant ancestors’ places of origin. I look forward to the day I will visit these towns in Poland.  When I do make the trip, I expect to be as fortunate as I was with Jacki and Stephanie, to meet more Szulinski family members.  Minimally though, I am certain to find more exciting discoveries!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The "Gully" Alongside Sargent Street

Our former residence on Sargent Street and the "Gully" behind as it looks today
Growing up along the site of a long-gone canal (part of the larger Cumberland and Oxford Canal) in Westbrook led to a lot of play and exploration for the neighborhood kids.  Back in the day, our name for the canal was the "Gully" which today looks a lot drier, more green and not as deep.

My sister, Paula Lowell, has many memories of the "Gully":
I spent my life in that gully! I played in it all the time including winter but the fondest memories are with the Tarzan swings. They were soooo much fun. We used to dig for those old medicine bottles. Every house on Sargent Street had a slew of them in their windows. Some of us kids used to collect frogs from the ponds. I used to put frog's eggs in buckets and bring them home. Mom must have loved that! Lastly, the gully was a great shortcut to walk to Canal School and I did that so many times.
So, how and when did the canal come to be and what were its uses?  It wasn't long after the state of Maine became a state in 1820, that the State Legislature created a lottery to raise funds for the construction of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal.  

The Warren House in Westbrook
with remnants of the canal in the foreground
Irish laborers began construction in 1827 to what would become a hand-dug waterway 20 miles long, 34 feet wide and 4 feet deep to accommodate flat-bottomed boats pulled by horses.  It officially opened in 1832, and provided a means of transporting lumber and farm goods from the lakes region to the coast.  For example, farmers in Harrison could have their farm products be sold in Portland.  On the return trips, furniture and other manufactured goods were transported inland.  
The canal began at Sebago Lake near White’s Bridge, and followed the general course of the Presumpscot River through four towns ending up in what today is called Thompson Point in Portland.  The Westbrook portion of the canal used to run alongside Sargent Street cutting over from Spring Street before it ran parallel with Glenwood Street near the present sight of Canal School.  

Source:  Image taken from a copy at the Maine Historical Society
Literacy rights are held by the Baker Library at Harvard University 
The value of canal transportation declined with the advent of the railroads.  The canal served its purpose for nearly 40 years, and was even used once to transport a man to the House of Correction (see above).  The handwritten receipt comes from an account book of Dexter Brewer.  He was a toll collector at one of the many locks along the route.

Other sources:
A Guide to the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, a booklet by Ernest H. Knight
Article by Dr. Joel Eastman in the Sun Journal, May 14, 2003
Maine Memory Image of the Warren House

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tribute for Cap't Jack - The 5 Qualities

Preface: This post and the previous two posts represent a reprinted version of the speech given on April 6, 2013 at  the service for Jack W. Siulinski. 

     There are five qualities, to speak of, that really defined my Dad. The first quality was his love for animals. You may know that he loved dogs and was devoted to our family dog, Buffy, even though he seemed to yell at her a lot. Buffy did have a mind of her own! Dad would befriend dogs out in public every chance he got. He also loved birds and horses, which he was able to enjoy in his final years. His favorite activity at the Veteran’s Home was, no doubt, the horseback riding they offered there.

     The second quality was his humor. Dad had a pervasive sense of humor throughout his life as Paula shared. Some examples of his humor from the interviews in 2007: He was asked about school life in Rochester to which he replied, “I lived in a dormitory with a bunch of other schmucks!” When asked if he had an original plan for the size of his family, he said that he wanted a basketball team (5 on a team). I reminded him that he had more than a basketball team, and he responded: “well, more or less; I had a spare.” 

     The next quality that defined my Dad was his love of nature and being outdoors. I am glad that his service is in the spring. He was definitely an outdoor enthusiast.The short list of his preferred active passions is tennis, skiing, boating, camping, and biking. He also loved to BBQ.

The fourth quality was his love of travel, and Dad did a fair share of it, especially with his kids living in so many places.  During the interviews, he gave a thumbs-up for cruises, and particularly the food on the cruises.  Did you know he also traveled to Hawaii and Europe?  The picture to the left was taken in Heidelberg, Germany in 1996.  Two of the most fascinating experiences he ever had was flying over the Aleutian Islands when he was in the Navy, and flying in a helicopter over "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific", Waimea Canyon, on Kauai's West Side with Mom in 1994.  It was great that he got to see this beautiful place. 

Waimea Canyon
     The last quality and the one that defined Dad the most, for lack of a better word, was his sociability.  His social nature of connecting so easily with others was true in both his personal and work life.  As a child, I remember getting the impression that he was so important and well liked which made me feel important as well. 
     Dad's social skills never faltered even to his last days. The caretakers at the Veteran's Home in Scarborough, Maine, would often say they loved my Dad. When we would stroll along the halls and grounds, they would stop us to say hi, to whom they called Cap’t Jack, and sometimes gave him a hug.  I believe this quality of sociability got passed on to all of the Siulinski kids, and what I suspect is that it will also be highlighted in our services when our time is up.

Closing thoughtsHaving moved back to the east coast for a new job last fall, I was able to spend much time visiting my Dad during his last months. Speaking on behalf of my siblings: by being there for him, we were able to give back a little to the Dad who was always there for us.  No matter how different we were as kids and as adults, he always wanted us to be happy. During the family history interviews back in 2007, I asked my Dad how he would like to be remembered.  His response was: ”just being a nice guy..."
Click below to see a slideshow tribute:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tribute for Cap't Jack - Family and Career

     Jack’s career, his marriage, and the start of his family all began around the same time in the early 50’s.  When he got out of the service in 1950, he bought a new car and started taking courses at Portland Junior College - which later became USM.  It was his high school friend, Bud McCue that introduced Jack to Pauline.  How that came about: Pauline was living at Pine Point, and spending much time with her friend Sue Breton.  Since Bud and Sue were good friends, and Jack and Bud were hanging out again, one Sunday they drove out to Pine Point in his new car, and here is where Jack meets Pauline - this was the summer of 1950. Not to date my mother but 60 years ago she married Jack, and they moved to NY where he finished his 2nd year of college at RIT.  He graduated in 1952 and their first child was born in 1953.

Jack was a real photographic artist and film man.  He loved it so much that for many years we had a working darkroom in the cellar on Sargent Street.  Because photography was a passion not just a job, it extended to his family life, and therefore we have so many great pictures from throughout the years. The following images come from Jack's portfolio of photographic talents.  Since I wrote the speech, I get to show a baby pic.  I do not know how he got me in that pose or in those clothes!

     Dad was proud of his work.  After the interviews in 2007, he gave me reels of film that he had saved.  I am looking forward to getting them digitized at some point.  Probably, he was most proud of the work he did for the children at the Pine Tree Society.  I think he was also very proud of a special he filmed on whales that he really enjoyed doing.  If I was to choose his greatest film accomplishment, it would be the work he did on whales.

     One of my most positive childhood memories was going on work assignments with my Dad.  A few years ago, I wrote a journal entry about one those times.  I wrote:

It was great having a father as a photographer working in television. A couple of times I tagged along with him when he was assigned to film the governor at the State House. I remember entering the exclusive grounds of the oval office and being introduced to Governor Curtis sitting behind the big desk as my Dad began testing voice and lights. I had always viewed my Dad's work as special, and it having a coolness factor to it. This was one of those times.

     The Siulinski kids got to appear in local TV commercials and be a guest on the Lloyd Knight show.  In Dad's obituary, I wrote about the time I went on a plane ride in a 4 seater while he was filming the Prince of Fundy cruise liner for a TV commercial (see the image above).  What I did not say was I got so dizzy from that plane ride that I almost got sick.  When we finally landed, I felt like I was walking on the moon!  Still, it was a unique experience I will never forget.

Speaking of the moon, another distinct memory I have of something I did with my Dad was watching the 1969 moon landing live on the monitors in the CBS television studio in Portland.
In 1990, Jack retired after 27 years as a commercial photographer and camera operator for WGME-TV.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tribute for Cap't Jack - Early Life

Preface:  The next few blog posts are segments from the speech I delivered on April 6, 2013 to celebrate the life of my Dad, Jack William Siulinski.

     Good morning everyone. Thanks to everybody for coming especially to the family who flew in from all over the country. Today I will talk briefly about Jack's younger years, his life in the Navy, the start of his family, and his career. Then I will conclude with the 5 qualities that I think defined my Dad. I hope from hearing what I have to say that you will get the essence of who my father a young person, as a brother, as a husband, as a family man, as a co-worker, and as a friend. 

     From interviewing my Dad for about 5 hours in 2007, I got to know him on a different level. He really provided me the motivation to research our family history. I wanted to know more about the family that he knew so little about on his father's side. The picture to the right is Jack's grandfather, Albert Szulinski, who lived in New York.

     One of the things I learned from the interviews was that Jack grew up in two very different environments:  the city life of Portland where he graduated from Deering High School, and the rural community of Jemseg, New Brunswick, Canada, where he spent many summers visiting his mother’s extended family.  One of Dad’s earliest memories was a long car ride to Canada where he distinctly remembered looking out a small window while his uncle drove the long, winding, dirt roads through the wilderness of Maine to get to Canada (see the map below).

Courtesy of google maps 
The Dykeman's of Jemseg had a farm with chickens, a few cows and a few horses. Their family dinners often had more than 20 people, a contrast to the small family life in Portland.
Jack's grandmother, Hattie Dykeman, always had homemade butter, bread and pies.  In talking with Dad’s brother, Adam, recently, the scent came back to him even today of the homemade butter and hot molasses over fresh bread. A fond memory of something Dad did with his grandfather, Joshua Dykeman, was getting up at 4:30 in the morning to go turn out the light in the lighthouse at Grand Lake.
The Siulinski’s of Portland were much loved by their Jemseg relatives, and the yearly visits were much anticipated. Only 5 years ago, in 2008, the Siulinski brothers, Jack and Adam, and their wives took a trip to visit the Canadian relatives for a family reunion in Saint John, New Brunswick, but did not visit Jemseg.  It was June of 1996 that Dad last visited the farm and the lighthouse on Grand Lake.

Before my Dad went into the Navy, he had six weeks of military training while still in high school at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. He referred to the transition from the academy to the Navy as “coming out of the frying pan and into the fire”.  What may have led Dad to choose to enlist in the Navy was seeing the fleet visiting Portland when World War II was still going on.

Source: wikipedia
Life in the Navy took Dad from the heat of the South Pacific to the frigid climate of Adak, Alaska. He entered the Navy in August 1946 as a Construction Electrician. In California, he attended a Radio and Communications school in the Seabees program. 

The next post will explore the marriage, family and career of Jack which all began in the early 1950's.  

Note: Some of the pictures in this post were provided by Adam and Jean Siulinski of South Portland, Maine, and Marilyn Currie of New Brunswick, Canada.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tidbits from the Interviews

On August 13, 2007, Jack and Pauline were interviewed at their home in Portland, Maine. Recently, I reviewed the transcripts from that interview and decided to share some tidbits of information from the conversation. The day of the interview culminated a series of recorded conversations about their lives.

Source:  Hurricane Ski Slope
All of the answers provided below are paraphrased from Jack and Pauline reflecting on their lives. The pictures shown in the post relate to the answers.
Thinking it would be kind of fun, I have decided to use a quiz format. Sadly, there are no prizes to give away. Of course, the answers are located at the end of the post. 
So here we go…

1. Where did the Siulinski's almost move to?

2. Where did Jack and Pauline spend their summers in childhood?

3. What other occupation might Jack have chosen for a career?

4. What one value from Memere made an impression on Pauline?

5. What favorite places did Jack and Pauline name as having traveled?

6. In retirement, Jack had a part-time job. What was it?

7. What sport did the Siulinski family most enjoy together?

8. What location did Jack and Pauline take the family to for regular vacations?

The answers:

1.     Around 1960, while the family was living in Augusta, Maine, Jack pursued a work opportunity in Florida. The family came very close to relocating to Florida. The neighbors in Augusta actually hosted a going away party at a local hotel for Jack and Pauline where they accepted a gift; a silver bowl with "Westwood" engraved on it. Jack soon after decided not to take the job.

2. One of the most distinct memories of Jack's childhood was his many summer trips to the farming town of Jemseg, New Brunswick in Canada. Likewise, a vivid childhood memory of Pauline was summers spent at the family residence on Crescent Lake in Raymond, Maine.

3. Some of the training Jack had in the Navy was in the area of electronics so he thought he might have gone in the direction of being an electrician. As it turned out, he turned what was a hobby (photography) into a profession. Being paid for doing what you love is a great lesson in life. In my case, I am hoping to one-day turn my passion for oral histories and genealogy into a supporting income. 

4. Both her mother and her father influenced Pauline's faith in God.

5. For Jack, Hawaii and for Pauline, Niagara Falls (she was overwhelmed by the waterfalls). Jack also mentioned he liked going on cruises.

6. Jack worked for National Car Rental, driving cars from one location to another.

7. Skiing - it was the sport we all learned at a young age and practiced every season when Jack and Pauline purchased family passes. Our training mountain was Hurricane in Falmouth, Maine; no longer in operation but remembered by the Ski Museum of Maine. When then progressed to King Pine in New Hampshire which is still in operation. 

Source: I4BarHarbor
8. Bar Harbor was our rustic family getaway. 

Feel free to add any of your memories attached to these answers by adding a comment below or by sending an email.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dykeman Origins in Early New York

Jack’s maternal line (Dykeman) ascends from the earliest European families who chose to settle on Manhattan Island around the time the English wrestled control of the colony from the Dutch in 1664. Our immigrant ancestor, Jan Dykeman, journeyed across the Atlantic around 1666.

The image above shows the connection of Jack's mother, Ouida Dykeman to Jan Dyckman. Notice the difference in the surnames – this is caused by the turmoil of the American Revolution when a Loyalist faction of the Dykeman family moved to Canada to resettle on lands provided by the British government. 

Jan presumably came to the New World with very little, but became a prominent figure in the community. Arriving at a time that Dutch rule changed to English rule; he must have been involved in many impressionable and turbulent dealings. He married twice and was involved in numerous business transactions that led to him becoming a prosperous land owner in upper Manhattan (called New Harlem at the time) when he died in 1715.

Since the earliest European colonists to New York came from the Netherlands, the Dutch called the area New Netherlands. New Netherland consisted of settlements mainly along the Hudson, Delaware, and Connecticut Rivers, which today are parts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.[1] 

The name New Amsterdam was given to the growing Dutch village on the lower tip of Manhattan, and was a very diverse place both in terms of customs practiced and languages spoken.  Many of the original Dutch documents from the seventeenth century are currently being translated, transcribed and published through an ongoing project in Albany called the New Netherland Project and Institute