The video didn’t really have much commentary, so I wanted to do a Part 2 to explain it all from the beginning and how I go to where I did: basically flying out to Poland and driving to a town of 1,600 people to corroborate some graves and find some ancestors! Super glamorous stuff.
It all started in about February of 2015. It was a slow time at work and I was thinking of ways that I could be productive and not be bored out of my mind. I remembered (pretty randomly) that my grandpa had given me a family tree a year or so ago that was the work of my aunt (his sister). One side of our family tree is Russian and the other is Polish. From what I had remembered by looking at it over a year ago, the Polish side was a lot more sparse. Naturally, this intrigued me. “Maybe I could pick up where she left off,” I thought.
I have always loved researching and investigative work, so I dived right in. In April 2015 I hit multiple dead ends. Now looking back I don’t think they were really ‘dead ends’ so much, but at that point in my research what I really needed was to be able to get a hold of records from Poland.
Let’s do a side bar here for a minute… There are some really great free resources and data bases online that you can use to search. I recommend utilizing them all and exhausting your American resources. I used multiple free trials of Ancestry and others. What was interesting was that my aunt couldn’t seem to pin point where my great great grandmother was from. I think she put Austria, which was no fault of hers. It’s luck that I just happened to find her on the Ellis website. With a search on the Ellis Island website, I found out that she put her place of origin as Dobrzechow. And that was the biggest clue and most important piece of information I could have possibly recovered, which at the time I was unaware of. Back then that part of Poland would have been ‘Galicia’, which at one point I do think was under the rule of the Austrian empire.
For instance, all the old records from the church were written in Latin back then instead of Polish. Which makes looking at names and records even more fun!
So, by now I knew my grandmother Paulina was from Dobrzechow and I had exhausted all my American resources. But I NEEDED to know more. Randomly one day while searching through some blog posts, I read a blog of a blog, that linked a website, which linked to another website, and, well, you get the idea. I came across Your Roots in Poland. They offered genealogy services in Krakow, Poland, straight from the source. Their site is not super impressive, but with some digging around I came to the conclusion they were super legit! I was also desperate to finish my puzzle.
I reached out to them with all the information I had at the time, and they set off to work on my case. They were able to pull many records from Dobrzechow for me. Again, the biggest and most important piece of information I had in this whole things was that she was from Dobrzechow. Without that, I don’t think I could have gotten anywhere. This was something that was overlooked by my aunt, who probably didn’t search the Ellis island directory. So again, make sure you use all resources if you plan on finding your ancestors.
Justina’s Birth Entry
Within a few weeks they sent me back not only Paulina’s birth metric from Dobrzechow parish, but those of her siblings: Ignatius, Victoria, and Justina! From the birth metrics I was also able to learn of her parents: Martinus Tenczar and Josepha Szetela. We learned of both Josepha’s and Martinus’ parents from their marriage act. And from there, we learned even more. All the way back to the 1700’s with Martinus Kot, which would have been Paulina’s great great grandfather. You can image what that person would have been to me. My head is spinning just thinking about it.
So we had all these names, now what? I decided to only pursue the Szetela family (Paulina’s mother’s side). They were all known to have come from Dobrzechow, and we found little on where Paulina’s father had come from. Some interesting information we did find on Martinus Tenczar:
1. He was a servant of the estate of court manor house owned by Michalowski, house number 10. It carried a “rich collection of paintings of eminent painters” and “valuable collections of drawings and sketches as well as an archive and library.” This was unfortunately burned to the ground by Russian soldiers in WWI.
Cadastral Map From 1855, House Number 10 and 14 (Paulina’s mother grew up in #14)
2. He lived there, and so did his family including Paulina and her siblings.
3. He was a widower before Paulina’s mother, Josepha. Married to a Marianna Zejac.
4. When he and Josepha married, he was 15 years older than her. A marriage ban took place in Dobrzechow and Gromnik. However we found no record of him being born in Gromnik.
This of course opens up even more questions. Did Martinus have children with Marianna before she died? Who are they and what happened to them? Half aunt’s and uncle’s maybe? A pursuit for a different time, of course. 🙂
So back to the Szetela family, which, by the way is pronounced: shuh-tella. It almost sounds Italian, almost. When there is an ‘S’ and a ‘Z’ together it is pronounced ‘Sh’, like in ‘Shark’. Something I learned in my 1 week crash course of the Polish language, which consisted of me basically landing in Poland and picking it up as I went. Dziękuję!
The team in Poland made a quick day trip to Dobrzechow, which is about two hours Southeast of Krakow. There they were looking for some graves that would be the best chance of belonging to our family members. Without officially corroborating them it is hard to say for sure, but they came up with two. One belonged to a Marianna/Maria Szetela and Wojciech Szetela (who would have been Paulina’s grandparents) with their grandson Kazimierz. All buried together. Another belonged to a Victoria Tenczar, who would have been Paulina’s sister. The dates did match up to about when they would have died given their birth dates. To officially corroborate though, we would need everyone’s death record which was easier said than done.
Since December we had been trying to reach the priest of the parish in Dobrzechow to see if they could get a look at the death records. December was a bad time because of Christmas and the new year, so he said to reach back out in January. They reached out in January and could not get a hold of him for an entire month. Finally they reached him beginning/mid February, but then were told that because Easter was coming it was too busy of a time. So needless to say, I don’t think he was too concerned with my family tree project.
After Easter they reached out again, and he gave them an official appointment to meet with me and an English speaking guide on April 13th, 2016. Yes, we are now in to another year and one month away from my departure to Poland. I was very ecstatic that he agreed to meet, but it was unfortunate that we could not corroborate the graves sooner. While we were visiting Dobrzechow, the Polish team also set up a meeting with the headmaster of the only school in Dobrzechow. He is also a registered historian for the area.
When we finally reached Dobrzechow, it was surreal. I had put in so much work and many hours of research on my own.
Speaking of, I almost forgot to mention Patricia. I also couldn’t have gotten this far without her. On one of my ‘research days’, which sometimes was just plugging Dobrzechow in to Google, I came across Patricia’s database of immigrants from none other than Dobrzechow. I assumed she would probably think I was crazy, but decided to reach out to her nonetheless. Turns out, she is extremely knowledgeable and has visited Dobrzechow on a number of occasions. I can’t begin to think of how many email exchanges we must have. She is quite the wonderful person, and was just as passionate about my family as she was her own. The same man that baptized her grandmother, baptized my family as well.
Patricia was key in helping me find that Paulina was actually married before she married Martin Czech, my great great grandpa. She was left widowed with a child, which she brought back to Poland to live with the grandparents around 1904/1905. Paulina Tenczar was ‘Paulina Godek’ before the Czech clan. That is a whole separate line to follow.
The Tuesday we got in to Poland, we were able to have breakfast in Krakow with Michal and Kinga who had been working my case for the last year. Kinga is the founder and Michal did most of my research. It was so lovely to finally have met them! They also gave me a few gifts of polish candy and more records they found. They had found all Josepha’s siblings (Paulina’s mother) and there were so many! I think around six boys and girls. Again, another story to follow.
When we reached Dobrzechow the next day by car, the cemetery and church were both a lot larger than I had imagined them. We quickly scoured the graves for Szetela and Tenczar which was a daunting task. Turns out Szetela and Tenczar were literally THE MOST POPULAR NAMES from this town. Because nothing can ever come easy, right? We asked the grave diggers about a Szetela family and they actually chuckled at us and pointed in like five different directions. The struggle was real…
It took us about 30 minutes, but after I explained to the grave diggers that there would be a tree directly behind the grave stone, they pointed to a few and we finally found it. Luckily Michal had sent me photos of the graves a few months ago. The grave was very well taken care of, which was something the Polish team initially pointed out. This is always a good sign if it is well taken care of and candles are lit, because that usually means someone still takes care of it, which means the possibility of living relatives. Because of this we do believe we have living relatives in the town, but with last names as popular as ours, it is really hard to say who.
A bit about graves in Poland: Polish graves work differently than they do in the US. There, you lease your grave. So when you die your children or whoever survives you pays a monthly fee for the grave. Graves that are well kept generally have family members tending to them and making payments on them.
The cemetery is situated on a hill and at the very top are the newer graves. We knew Victoria died in about 1943, so we headed that way to look for her grave. We found it a little quicker but it still took us a good 15 minutes. The cemetery really is huge! Her grave looked decently cared for, but not as immaculate as the Szetela grave. We took a few photos and then it was off to meet the headmaster.
I tried to not get too emotionally attached to the graves, because remember, we were not 100% sure if they were theirs. There was no way to know unless we had the death records. Those records we were hoping to look at later with the priest.
The meeting with the headmaster was probably my favorite part. He was so knowledgeable and was also kind enough to give me a bunch of photos and articles. I also bought a book about the history of Dobrzechow that is completely in Polish, so not sure what good that will do me. Sounds typical. If you read Polish, lemme know *wink wink*.
Book: History of Dobrzechow
When he gave me all of the stuff I could feel my eyes watering up. Something about his hospitality really got to me. He also said I was the first one to ever come searching for family here. I was proud of all the work I put in and how far I had gotten, and proud to visit the town my family came from. I nearly cried but held it together. I think I was more grateful than anything.
It was time to meet up with the priest. I won’t go too in depth here because this is getting very long, and we didn’t get that far with the records. The language barrier was hard, and since my guide was not a part of the original research team, he didn’t know my family as well and therefore didn’t know the right questions to ask. Your Roots in Poland was absolutely phenomenal. They currently do not have the credentials to do guided tours, so they have to go through a third party. It is no fault of theirs.
We ended up not being able to corroborate the graves properly. The priest was nice, but definitely didn’t go out of his way or anything. Which I guess I didn’t expect him to. After we looked at the documents, he insisted we see his farm land and his cows. It was actually pretty fun, as you can see in the video. Then he took us in to the church which was almost too immaculate looking for a small town of 1,600 people. It was so gorgeous and there was gold everywhere. Really happy we got to see it, as it’s normally locked.
Inside the Church
Marianna Burek and Wojciech Szetela Marriage Entry, 1831
I could easily sit here and lie and say everything was perfect and the graves are ours. However my $20,000 philosophy degree says that I haven’t yet reached that point of truth. I won’t bend the truth for a blog post or to make it seem like everything went as planned. The truth is, it didn’t. I was disappointed. I still am, but I want to let people know that when you’re searching for a past that is over 200 years old, there are bumps along the way. You must not be afraid to ask questions. That is the biggest thing. The truth is either a best case scenario, or a complete mystery. But it’s there waiting somewhere.
We may have left Dobrzechow with the same few questions we went there with, but we also left having seen and experiencing the land our ancestors lived on. The oldest record we found with the priest was Marianna Burek’s birth entry from 1813. So our family roots go back very far here (over 200 years to be exact). I can’t imagine all the other records we didn’t get to see, which probably go back to the 1700’s.
On the drive home we were met with the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. The sun was full and you could see a perfectly outlined circle of florescent pink, and mom said, “great grandpa always said that a sunset like this means the next day will be warm and sunny.” The next day, it rained all day.
From Poland With Love,