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
Source: Ancestry.com
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!

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