Monday, November 23, 2009

Ejszyszki (Slownik Geograficzny translation)

Note: My translation, edited by Fred Hoffman, was first published in the Fall/Winter 1999 issue (Vol. 1, No. 2) of Proteviai, the journal of the Lithuanian Global Genealogical Society.  The town of Ejszyszki is now known as Eisiskes, Lithuania.

A government-owned town in Lida powiat [county], 1 km. from the river Wersoka, a tributary of the Mereczanka. It lies at 54 degrees 11 minutes north latitude, 25 degrees 00 minutes east longitude, 35 km. northwest of Lida and 80 km. fromWilno [now Vilnius, Lithuania], with 2,616 inhabitants, mostly Jews, and 300 houses.

Within the town are the office of the 2nd (state) police district, with one police precinct; the 3rd court of peace of the 2nd district (Lida);the administration offices of the gmina [rural administrative district]; a rural school; a post office, which handles correspondence of all sorts; and a Catholic parish church built of brick, a half km. from town. In the year 1866, the town had 135 houses and 715 inhabitants, of whom 610 were Jews, 89 were Catholics, and 16 were Orthodox; it also had 4 breweries, 2 tanneries, and a water mill.

Ejszyszki is famous for its Thursday country markets and its 4-day fairs, held twice a year. One is held on the feast of the Ascension; the people call it szosniak ["6th one"] because it comes during the 6th week after Easter.  The other is held on the feast of Corpus Christi, and is called dziewietnikiem ["9th one"] because it takes place during the 9th week. The main objects traded in the country markets and fairs are pigs and horses. 

If one can rely on official accounts, in 1877, at both fairs, 13,947 rubles’ worth of merchandise was sold, and the total brought in was 22,395 rubles.  Besides the Jews, who control the town’s commerce and pubs, the numerous gentry who live in the vicinity, in settlements restricted to the nobility, also enjoy prosperity, due to the above-mentioned trade in hogs and, to some extent, horses.

The gmina of Ejszyszki is divided in to 6 rural precincts, consisting of 87 villages totaling 453 hearths [houses] and 5,533 peasants. The class-two Catholic church, which is in Radun deanery, has a chapel in Podzitwa (formerly also one in Kolesniki [now Kalesninkia, Lithuania] and 10,460 faithful.

Regarding the founding of Ejszyszki, there are legends in the Lithuanian chronicles.  In the year 1065, the Lithuanian prince Erdziwil, with three subordinate commanders, invaded Lithuanian territories that had been conquered by Kievan Rus.  Once he had liberated them from subjugation by their neighbors and from the tribute they paid to Jaroslaw, he divided them between his comrades in the expedition. 

Of them, Ejsa, or Eiksis or also Ejszius, a Samogitian by birth, founded the grodek of Ejszyszki on the land he received.  Ejszyszki was the dwelling-place of the first Jews (Karaites) to come from Russia to Lithuania in the year 1171.  Attesting to this is a gravestone that still could be seen in this town as of 1798.

In the second half of the 14th century, the bojar [nobleman] Sudymund owned Ejszyszki.  In Krolewiec [aka Konigsberg, Kaliningrad], he, along with other Lithuanian lords, confirmed a bequest of Prince Witold [Vytautus] dated January 30, 1384, ceding all his inheritance to the Teutonic Knights in exchange for reinforcements of people and arms against Jagiello [Jogaila].  This was the cause for which the latter dispossessed Sudymund of Ejszyszki, which became a starostwo after the creation of Wilno province in 1413, and was the chief grod [fortified settlement] of the county and ciwunstwo [bailiff's jurisdiction] of that name.

Ejszyszki lies on what was once the most frequented highway from Wilno to Krakow, which today bears the name “the Radun highway.”  A half km. from the town, on land of the manorial farmstead of Hornostaiszki, is a tract of land, covering about 2 desyatinas [hectares], surrounded by a large rampart and ditch called Horodyszcze in ancient local documents.  There was an optical telegraph station located within these trenches some 20 years ago; today the office of the justice of the peace is there.

The Catholic parish church in Ejszyszki was founded by the Grand Prince Witold, and was named Cialo Boze [Corpus Christi, Body of Christ].  In 1506 King Aleksandr gave it an endowment, and in 1522 Zygmunt I increased its funding.  In 1852 it was finally lined with brick and named Ascension of Our Lord through the endeavors of Prince Kalinowski. 

In 1781 the starostwo of Ejszyszki district was in the possession of the Sollohubs; in 1738 there were 56 taxable hearths, paying a kwarta of 2,470 Polish zloty; in 1797 the kwarta came to 2,000 zloty.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Ejszyszki Connection

In 1994, I was employed as the associate director of the Maine Principals' Association, doing communications and conference planning for a statewide nonprofit organization for educators.  My job took me to the National Principals Public Relations Annual Conference that July.  It was held in Washington, DC, a city I love, and I built some extra time into the trip for sightseeing.  What I wanted most to do was visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which had opened in 1993.

I cannot easily articulate my feelings about the Holocaust.  They have been part of me since childhood.  They have nothing to do with my immediate family background (my father served in the Navy at Iwo Jima in World War II) or anything I learned at school or through the media.  Whatever the public consciousness of the Holocaust was in postwar America, I was oblivious to these horrors. 

And then I saw The Diary of Anne Frank when the movie was released in 1959.  I did not want to leave the theater. I sat through the movie twice and would have watched it again, but my mother and sister had indulged me patiently enough that afternoon, and we left.

The film jolted me into reading all manner of books about World War II in Europe, and about the Holocaust.  Naturally, I knew that Poland loomed large in these events and that my family was from Poland, but I still knew nothing of the geography of the war.  I read about Warsaw and Treblinka and Auschwitz and Theresienstadt, but I could not have located any of them on a map.

The Tower of Faces

Decades later, that July in Washington,  I arrived at the Holocaust Museum well before opening.  I wanted to be the first person in line, and I wanted to see everything.  I read the signs at every exhibit, watched all the films, stared at the Zyklon-B cannisters, felt terrified to board the train car that would signify passage into the world of the concentration camps, felt sick at seeing the mountains of shoes representing so many lives lost to the Final Solution. I stayed at the museum until closing.

The exhibit that held me the longest was the Tower of Faces, a three-story-high, corridor-long gallery of nearly a thousand pre-war photographs.  I searched every face, craned my neck to see as high as possible, studied every image.  I kept expecting to recognize people. At the same time, I kept telling myself that that expectation made no sense. 

I did not know where the photos were taken.  They could have been from Germany, or Poland, or Czechoslovakia, or anywhere in eastern Europe.  If I read a sign identifying the location, it meant nothing to me, and I didn't retain the information.  But the experience was so riveting that I bought a postcard of the Tower and kept it on my refrigerator for years.  I felt haunted every time I looked at it.

There Once Was a World

Fast forward to November 1998.  I was then working in the reference department of the Auburn (Maine) Public Library.  (Yes, I've had a lot of different jobs.)  On a pleasantly slow afternoon, I was browsing at the latest issue of The New York Times Book Review, and there was a photo from the Tower of Faces, featured in a new book: There Once Was a World, by Yaffa Eliach, the woman who, as it turned out, had created the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. 

Of course, I immediately ordered a copy of the book (even though the library was purchasing it too).  Finally, I knew where the photos had originated—in a town known to its long-ago Jewish residents as "Eishyshok," Lithuania.  It was known in Polish as "Ejszyszki" and in Lithuanian as "Eisiskes."  But that had no meaning to me.

At that point, I had been involved in genealogy for a couple of years.  I was directing most of my effort to tracking down birth, marriage, and death information for the living generations of my very large family.  Between the nine siblings in my father's family and the five in my mother's, my two Prokopowicz families had indeed gone forth and multiplied.  I had nearly three dozen first cousins, and their offspring were probably double that number. 

Five miles from Ejszyszki

Only after I had the current generations logged into a database did I begin to research my Polish grandparents.  Beyond "Wilno," wherever that was exactly, I knew nothing of their origins.  Slowly the details emerged.  My cousin A. John Prokopowicz, a genealogist since the early 1980s,  identified the Szczuczyn area as the home of my maternal grandparents, Aleksandr and Stefania. 

A passenger list placed my paternal grandmother near Radun.  A handwritten transcript (written by whom, and when, is uncertain) recorded my grandfather Julian's parish as Radun and his birthplace as the village of Odwierniki a few miles north.

Where his Prokopowicz family lived prior to Julian's birth, I do not know.  Not in Radun parish, it seems, but likely in one nearby.  Perhaps in the parish of Ossow, or Zyrmuny, or Bieniakonie, or Nacza.  Perhaps in the parish of Ejszyszki. 

Before the war, this whole area was part of Poland.  Before the war, people moved freely between Radun and Ejszyszki for business and pleasure.  Though they now lie on opposite sides of the Lithuania-Belarus border, these towns are only 9 miles apart, and Odwierniki is midway between them.

I do believe there is some psychic component to genealogy, some energy that guides us in our search for our ancestors.  This I know for sure:  My grandfather Julian was born in 1895 just 5 miles south of Ejszyszki, the town commemorated in the Holocaust Museum's Tower of Faces. 
Decades later, thousands of miles from Ejszyszki, lacking any knowledge of where my grandfather spent his early years, I fully expected to recognize people among those hundreds of photos—people who were complete strangers to me, but almost certainly known to him.

About My Slownik Geograficzny Translations

My initial plan here was to post my translations of Słownik Geograficzny descriptions of the towns and villages directly relevant to my family origins: Radun, Szczuczyn, and Iszczołna.  Over the past two weeks, I've changed my plan and decided to translate additional entries and include them here.

This may seem like I'm veering off-topic, but I don't think so.  When I tackled Radun and Szczuczyn over a decade ago, I was working with the Polish language for the first time since I was a teenager.  I struggled with the vocabulary and the syntax, and am still grateful for the graceful editing and polishing Fred Hoffman brought to those translations.

Since the late 1990s when I got involved in genealogy, I have done a variety of things to recover the Polish language skills I was fortunate to acquire in childhood.  I read out loud in Polish (because it was, for me, always much more a spoken language than a written one) so that I can see the connection between how words sound and how they are spelled.  I took a year of college-level Polish taught by Professor Jonathan Shea, whom I admire greatly as the most knowledgeable Polish genealogist in the United States.  I spoke Polish during my travels to Poland and Belarus (Lithuania, not so much!).  I speak Polish as the opportunities arise here in the Polonias of New England. I sing kolędy, beautiful Polish Christmas carols, year-round (though terribly off-key, and not where anyone can hear me).

The point is, I can translate Polish text to English a bit faster now.  I still rely very heavily on Polish-English dictionaries, especially the worn old Stanisławski dictionary I inherited from my uncle John Prokopowicz.  And I am still very grateful for any suggestions to improve the sense or fluidity of my translations, which are sometimes awkward and stilted.  Language detailing 19th-century (and earlier) culture is especially challenging, since some practices, titles, occupations, and customs have not survived into the 21st century, and they defy easy explanation.

Delving into micro-history

Another reason I have decided to include additional Słownik translations here is to provide a bigger picture of my ancestors' lives and times.  Not their individual lives—they were all peasants, and not the kind of people one finds immortalized in history books—but the region they lived in for generations and its changes over the centuries.  Reading about one single town is inadequate to understand the region's history.  The more, the better.

For example, this week I translated the Słownik entry on Wasiliszki.  This is a parish a few miles north of Szczuczyn, and the home of my maternal great-grandmother, whom I have not yet introduced here.  Most of the text was similar to what I'd encountered with the other towns: population statistics, brief description of the land and resources, names of founders and officials.  And at the end, a one-sentence reference to the Second Swedish War (also known as the Great Northern War), mentioning that Swedish King Charles XII and his army were camped nearby in Zołudek in February 1706 while Polish King Stanisław Leszczyński was in Wasiliszki accepting a declaration of surrender from some Lithuanian nobles.

Wow.  Small towns like these seldom get mentioned in big histories.  This started my mind racing.  I frankly know nothing about the Swedish-Polish wars, so first I Googled the topic and then yesterday I checked an armload of books on Charles XII out of the Central Connecticut State University library.  In all that I have now read about the battles, skirmishes, and stand-offs that occurred in this region in the early 1700s, I have found numerous references to Grodno but none identifying specific smaller locales to the east.  All of the events on this front are described in connection to Warsaw, Grodno, Wilno, and other sizable well-known cities. 

Yet a Swedish king, his Polish ally, their Russian and Lithuanian opponents, and all their respective armies of thousands of men were fighting, negotiating, marching, and camping all over Lida area over the course of many months.  How did the war impact this quiet countryside—its roads, fields, rivers, forests, farms,  towns, villages, and most importantly, its people?  How were my ancestors affected?  Is this perhaps why the records available for the Catholic parish in Szczuczyn begin in 1718, and not earlier?  Were earlier records somehow removed or destroyed due to the war?  I have no idea.  I have always felt an inexplicable attunement to Scandinavia.  Is there perhaps some Swedish blood in my veins?  (Well, I suppose that could go back many more hundreds of years, if it is the case.)

"She was a seamstress for the czarina"

I'm now working on a Zołudek translation, and my curiosity has been whetted enough to make me want to translate Słownik entries for several other Lida area towns.  Who knows what tiny but fascinating bits of information they will reveal?

One type of data Słownik offers at length concerns property ownership: the names of nobility who owned estates and sometimes whole villages or towns, and the ranges of time they owned them.  Magnate records (at least, the few I've seen) tend to provide a full accounting of all the lands, buildings, livestock, resources, and miscellaneous items owned within an estate.  And sometimes they identify by name the peasants and other laborers who worked in those fields and homes. 

It may be that research into magnate records for Szczuczyn, for example, might yield some information about my family.  My ciocia (aunt) Pauline, who was born there, used to talk about a cousin of my babcia Stefania's being "a seamstress for the czarina."  Stefania came from a long line of women who were very skilled in all types of needlework and who passed those talents along to us, so someone working as a seamstress seemed quite plausible.  But I always questioned the czarina connection as fiction or exaggeration, since I knew my family lived nowhere near the czar's palace in Russia.  Now I understand that ciocia Pauline was probably referring to some szlachta estate in the Szczuczyn area.  Find the magnate, find the peasant—or so I hope.

A Prokopowicz here, a Prokopowicz there

Yet another reason to acquaint myself with the micro-history of the Lida area is that I still do not know the origins of my paternal grandfather's paternal line.  Although my grandfather Julian Prokopowicz was baptized and raised in the Radun area, it appears likely that his father's family was earlier in some other parish.  I have found Prokopowicz records in virtually all of the Lida area parishes that I have explored.  I have not yet figured out if and how they all connect.  So until proven otherwise, I claim the entire Lida area as my family's home.  I love Lida.

In that regard, I am just about ready to post my 1998 translation for Ejszyszki.  I feel a strange connection to Ejszyszki (as I do with Sweden!), even though I have no evidence (yet) that I have any family roots there.  But that is another story altogether, and one I hardly understand myself.

Wasiliszki (Slownik Geograficzny translation)

Note: I have retained the Polish diacritics here, but do not know if they display properly in all browsers.  If they do not, please let me know in a comment here, and I will remove the diacritics. Thanks!

Governmental town on the river Tęcza (or Duma?), Lida powiat, in the 4th police district, gmina and rural district of Wasiliszki, at 35 km. northwest of Lida and 157 km. from Wilno, has 2,728 residents. In the year 1866 there were 244 houses, 1,841 residents (5 Orthodox, 453 Catholics, 1,383 Jews).

It possesses an Orthodox church [of the] Szczuczyn deanery (633 faithful), Catholic parish church, synagogue, police district and gmina administration offices, public school (86 pupils in the year 1885), and post office. Markets are held weekly on Sunday.

The parish church, called by the name of St. Peter the Apostle, was built of wood in 1489 by King Kazimierz, and restored in 1747. A Catholic parish in Radun deanery, it has 8,086 faithful. It had a chapel in Wolczynki.

The rural district encompasses the town Wasiliszki and the villages Aleksandrówka, Bakszty, Chodziele, Dylewo, Dziegciary (Dziechciary), Kaszyce, Kleszniaki, Konstantynowo, Kronki, Krupowszczyzna, Kurpie, Lachówka, Miękiszki (Miakiszki), Psiarce, Roźniatycze, Starodworce, Szkordzie, and Zybały; zascianek [settlement of poor yeomen] Sosna; and szlachta [nobility] areas Dziegciary, Grabniki, Kaszczyce, Krupowszczyzna, Starodworce, Szlachtowszczyzna, Werejkiszki, and Zybały.  In general, in the 1865 census of subjects, 784 souls were treasury peasants, 44 jednodwory [very minor szlachta/nobility],  and 214 enfranchised peasants.

The gmina belongs to the 1st peace district of peasant affairs and 1st conscription district, as well as the 1st circuit court of peace of Lida district, consisting of 3 rural districts (Wasiliszki, Glinicze, and Szejbakpol), comprising 87 municipalities, having 543 houses and 7,514 peasant inhabitants. According to the list of 1861, there were counted in the gmina 1,181 treasury peasants, 55 jednodwory, 3 Jewish farmers, and 1,163 enfranchised peasants.

The terrain is flat, the soil sandy and gravely; there are forests, meadows, and marshes.  Irrigating the area are the rivers Szkordziówka, Lebiodka, Kościeniewka, Wierch Lebiodka, and Niewiczka.  There is here an unenclosed/unfenced settlement, along with extensive appurtenances, that was established long ago and that at that time belonged to the ekonomii stołu królewskiego [land-steward of the king's table?].

The earliest starostas of Wasiliszki were Jan Steckowicz (in the year 1499), Jan Radziwiłł (1500-01), Wasil Lwowicz Hlińiski (1501-04), Stanisław Piotrowicz Kiszka (1505-06), Jan Szczytowicz (1507-15), Jakub Kuncewicz (1518-23), Jan Radziwiłł (1523-41), Kacper Kuncewicz (1546), ks. Mikołaj Radziwiłł (1546-54), Jan Wołczkowicz (1569).

In 1658, Marcin Dominik Limon, judge of the Lida area, subsequently castellan of Witebsk (d. 1670), founded a church with a Dominican monastery, which was granted the estate of Szkordzie by Katarzyna née Abrahamowicz Frackiewicz, an author of Polish literature, who endowed it in 1662 with a bequest of 10,000 Polish złoty.

In 1706, during the Second Swedish War, Stanislaw Leszczynski stayed here with his military forces for some time in February (while King Charles XII [of Sweden] was encamped at Zoludek), and here he accepted the Lithuanian szlachta’s declaration of surrender to him.

In 1766 the starostwo of Wasiliszki was possessed by Michał Ogiński, governor of Wilno, and subsequently by Aleksandrowicz, chamberlain, paying 4,566 Polish złoty, 15 grosz kwarta [tax for upkeep of the army], and 3,500 Polish złoty hyberna [tax for maintaining the army in winter].

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Iszczolna & Kozarezy (Slownik Geograficzny translations)

Note: I translated this text today, and changed the longitude from the Ferro system used in Slownik to Greenwich-based.  The other translations in my blog reflect Greenwich longitude as well.  The latitude here corrects a typographical error in Slownik.  In general, I welcome corrections and suggestions from anyone more familiar with 17th-19th-century Polish vocabulary than I am!


Town and landed estate in Lida powiat, along the post road/mail route from Grodno to Wilno, on the Iszczolnianka River, 37 km. from Lida, 12 km. from Szczuczyn, at 53 degrees 40 minutes north latitude and 25 degrees 28 minutes east longitude; post office. Marl beds [calcium carbonate, valued as fertilizer].

Long ago the Dowoyno estate, after them [owned by] the Limonts. The parish church was founded by the Limonts in 1515; built by Jozef and Marianna nee Wieczkowicz Wall [Wahl?], standard-bearer of the town in 1758. In 1616 the estates of Iszczolna and Szczuczyn, of 220 wlok 13 morgs [6,600 acres total], were divided by the Limonts.

In 1644 Ks. Wiszniowiecka, wife of  the crown equerry, acquired Iszczolna; in 1669 Pollupiety, the governor of Mscislaw; in 1676 Radzymski-Fronckiewicz, treasurer of the court of the W. X. L. [Wielkie Ksiaze Litewskie, or Grand Duke of Lithuania]; in 1694 the heirs of Skarbek-Wazynski, starosta [mayor] of Tyrkszlewski.

In 1701 it was transferred by dowry to Wall [Wahl], the starosta of Fraumberski; subsequently by the very same means to Laskowicz, the judge of Lida; after that, to Skarbek-Wazynski, the marshal of Lida; at present, the heirs of Skarbek-Wazynski.

The town of Iszczolna lies in the 3rd police/administrative district, has 137 residents. In 1866 the town and village had 319 inhabitants. The Catholic parish of Iszczolna, in the Radun deanery, has 2,783 souls [parishioners], and a chapel in Mozejkow [Mozejkow Wielki].

The terrain of the parish is flat, forests and pastures numerous, the soil sandy, pebbly, and somewhat clayey/limey. It is irrigated by the rivers Spusza, Prysa, and Turya.

The Iszczolna rural district in Szczuczyn gmina comprises these villages: Iszczolna, Kiemiany, Bojary, Korzysc, Mociewce, Nowosady, Kozarezy, Wolnilowce, Pilczaki, Naumowce, Korobki, Iwaszewce, Jucewce, Woloka.


Peasant village, Lida powiat, 3rd administrative district, 7 km. from Szczuczyn, 8 houses, 90 residents.

Outlined in orange above are some key locales in this section of the 1928 WIG Nowogrodek map.  The city/parish seat of Szczuczyn is at lower left (west); to its right (east) are the village of Kozarezy (home to the family of my maternal grandfather, Aleksandr Prokopowicz) and a few miles further east, the city of Zoludek.  North of Szczuczyn is the village of Staro Gierniki (home to the family of my maternal grandmother, Stefania Ruscik).  East of Staro Gierniki is the town/parish seat of Iszczolna.  Due north of Iszczolna is the city/parish seat of Wasiliszki.  The distance from Szczuczyn to Wasiliszki is about 20 km., or 13 miles.  Many of the small adjoining villages in this area are within easy walking distance of each other (or at least, they would have been routine walks for peasants who traveled largely on foot or by horse-drawn wagon).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Radun & Family Villages (Slownik Geograficzny translations)

Note: I translated the following entries from Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego in the 1990s.  My translations for Radun, Polunce, Posady, and Skladance, edited by Fred Hoffman, were published in the Polish Genealogical Society of America Summer 1998 Bulletin.  They currently appear on the PGSA Web site.


Radun is a small government-owned town on the Radunka River, Lida powiat [district, county], in the 4th political district, center of a gmina [township, commune] and a rural district; it is an estate belonging to the treasury, 30 km. northwest of Lida, 37 km. from Wasiliszki, and 82 km. from Wilno, on a side road that in the 16th century was the shortest highway between Wilno and Krakow.

In the year 1881 there were 1,526 inhabitants (757 male and 769 female); in the year 1866 there were 91 houses and 869 inhabitants (361 Catholics and 508 Jews); it has a wooden Catholic church and chapel, a synagogue, gmina administrative office, and a public school, which in the year 1885-86 was attended by 56 boys and 2 girls. It is the property of the treasury, which gave the lands back to the peasants for purchase.

About 2 km. from the town, on a vast plain near the village of Horodyszcze, is a large trench, and even though the inhabitants call it the "Swedish" trench, its shape and the name of the adjoining the village shows that it was a fortified citadel of long ago. According to Balinski (Star. Polska, III:259), Radun was called Radomi by 16th-century travelers and writers.

This small town was once a royal estate, from which the income went to pay for the king's court and table. According to a 1538 inspection, it had 7 streets, in addition to the market square, and 210 houses of Christians—Jews were forbidden to settle there. It had 35 saloons for selling beer, 7 for mead, and one only for liquor. Later Radun became the site of a starostwo not affiliated with a grod, and in 1770 that office included the town with appurtenances.

In the year 1766 Jozef Tyszkiewicz, the castellan of Mscislaw [now Mstsislav, Belarus] bought it, and on it he paid a kwarta of 2,616 zloty, 5 groszy, and a hyberna of 2,690 Polish zloty. At the Sejm of 1773-75, the [Polish-Lithuanian] Commonwealth government addressed recurring disputes over the borders of this starostwo by passing a separate law designating six officials as ad hoc commissioners to settle the matter once and for all.

In the Metryka Litewska, the series of Radun starostas begins toward the end of the 15th century with Janusz Kostewicz (1498-1527), followed by Jan Hlebowicz (1527), Szymko Mackiewicz (1532-1541), Stanislaw Kiezgajlo (1546-1549), Augustyn Fursowicz (1551), Jurij Wolczkowicz (1556), Jan Hercyk (1569), and Mikolaj Talwosz (1581).

The Catholic parish church of Our Lady of the Rosary dates from 1838, transferred from the village of Kolesniki [now Kalesninkai, Lithuania], due to the closing of the Carmelite monastery there. Previously there had existed a church from the year 1752, which burned down; rebuilt in 1801, it suffered the same fate again. There is a small chapel in the cemetery. The Catholic parish, of the Radun deanery, has 7,522 souls. At one time there was a branch of the church in the village of Dubicze.

The Radun deanery consists of 11 parishes: Radun, Ejszyszki [Eisiskes, Lithuania], Wasiliszki, Nacza, Bieniakonie, Zablocie, Wawiorka, Iszczolna, Woronow, Ossow, and Soleczniki [Salcininkai, Lithuania], for a total of 58,768 souls.

In this parish the terrain is level and treeless, overgrown in some places with bushes and covered with marshes. The soil is sandy, with a lot of gravel. It is irrigated by the following rivers: Dzitwa, Pielasa, Radunka, Naczka, Sopunka, Jodub. The rural district includes the town of Radun and the villages of Juciuny, Straczuny, Horodyszcze, Jatowty, Popiszki, Skladance, Wojkunce, and the nobles' farm settlement of Poradun, for a total as of the year 1864, according to the treasury rewizja [census] of peasants of 565 serfs, 3 men of jednodworzec [minor nobility] status, and 32 free men.

The gmina of Radun belongs to the 3rd district chamber of peasant affairs in the town of Ejszyszki, as well as to the 3rd conscription center for the same place in Lida district, and consists of four rural districts: Radun, Mozejki, Kiwance, and Pielasa, including 67 villages with 536 houses, inhabited by 6,969 peasants. According to the 1864 census, there were in the gmina 1,740 serfs, according to the treasury rewizja of peasants, 346 enfranchised farmers, 85 of jednodworzec status, 56 Jewish farmers, and 32 free men, for a total of 2,259 souls.


Jatowty, a government-owned village, Lida powiat, in the 4th administrative district, 21 km. from Lida, 42 km. from Wasiliszki, 5 houses, 46 Roman Catholic inhabitants (1866).


Kiwance, 1) a village on the Radunka River, Lida powiat, in the 4th administrative district, Radun gmina, 30 km. from Lida, 37 km. from Wasiliszki, 19 houses, 181 Roman Catholic inhabitants. 2) a peasant village, 6 houses, 42 Catholic inhabitants.


Odwierniki, a peasant village, Lida powiat, in the 4th political district, belonging to the Radun gmina and rural district and treasury-owned estate of Kiwance, 4 km. from the gmina, 34 km. from Lida, and 41 km. from Wasiliszki, has 8 houses and 66 Catholic inhabitants. (25 souls in the rewizja)


Polunce, a peasant village, Lida powiat, in the 4th political district, belonging to the Radun gmina and rural district and treasury-owned estate of Kiwance, 1 km. from the gmina, 39 inhabitants.


Posady, a peasant village on the Radunka River, Lida powiat, in the 4th political district, belonging to the gmina and treasury-owned estate of Kiwance, 2 km. from the gmina, 32 km. from Lida and 40 km. from Wasiliszki, has 9 houses, 92 Catholic inhabitants (42 souls in the year 1864, per the rewizja).


Skladance, a peasant-owned village, Lida powiat, in the 4th political district, gmina, rural district and treasury-owned estate of Radun, 5 km. from the gmina, 23.5 km. from Lida, and 44 km. from Wasiliszki; it has 25 houses, 204 Catholic inhabitants (in 1864 there were 81 souls per the rewizja).

Radun area ca. 1928

Szczuczyn & Gierniki (Slownik Geograficzny translations)

Note: I translated these entries from Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego in the late 1990s. Edited by Fred Hoffman, they were first published in the Polish Genealogical Society of America Summer 1998 Bulletin, and now appear on the PGSA Web site as well.


Szczuczyn [now Scucyn, Belarus] called Szczuczyn Litewski, "Lithuanian Szczuczyn," a town on the Szczuczynka river, in Lida powiat, in the 3rd political district, center of a gmina and rural district, at 53 degrees 36' north and 22 degrees 18' east, on the mail route from Wilno to Grodno, a distance of 52 km. southwest of Lida [now in Belarus] and 146 km. from Wilno [Vilnius, Lithuania].

It has 123 houses, 1,088 inhabitants (as of the year 1866), an Orthodox parish church of brick, a Catholic church, a Jewish house of prayer, a parish school (78 boys and 6 girls in 1885). It is the site of the headquarters of its political administrative district and of its gmina, and has a pharmacy, a post office, a market every Sunday, and fairs on August 15 and October 16.

The Catholic parish church of Jesus Christ was built of brick in 1829 by Prince Drucki-Lubecki. Before that there was a Catholic church in Szczuczyn made of wood, St. George's, which eventually fell into ruin. The Catholic parish, in the deanery of Lida, has 2,057 faithful. It had a chapel in Jatwisk.

The Orthodox parish, Szczuczyn deanery, has 901 faithful. The Orthodox deanery of Szczuczyn [the exact term is blagoczynia, in the Orthodox church a provostry], comprises 10 parishes: Szczuczyn, Dziembrowo, Dzikuszki, Glebokie, Orla, Ostryna, Rakowiec, Sobakince, Turejki, and Wasiliszki, and it includes 10 Orthodox churches, 9 chapels, and 25,795 souls.

The gmina belongs to the 2nd district for peasant affairs, 2nd conscription district, and the 2nd judicial district, consisting of three rural districts (Szczuczyn, Krasne and Iszczolno), with 56 inhabited localities, 412 homesteads, and 6,596 peasant residents. The rural district includes the town of Szczuczyn and the following villages: Bale 1 and 2, Bartosze, Bujwicze, Dogi, Dubrowlany, Gierniki, Kulaki, Lack, Micary, Murawiowka, Nowosiolki, Ogrodniki, Planty, Podgajniki, Rogacze, Rzeszotniki, Topoliszki, Turowka, Worony, Wyzgi, Zaguny, Zarzecze, Zylicze, and the colony of Turya, for a total of 836 souls as of the year 1865, according to the rewizja [census].

Szczuczyn formerly belonged to the Scypio family, who, according to Balinski (Star. Polska, III), supposedly endowed a Piarist college and founded schools there. A 1726 resolution confirmed the Piarist college in Szczuczyn, and gives the name of its founder as Hlebicki-Jozefowicz, Polock wojski. The Piarists settled near the parish church, and, with the permission of the episcopal consistory, took possession of the secular priests' parsonage with all incomes and buildings.

The Piarist college in Szczuczyn was quite prominent, and supported a Piarist seminary and academies, in which even Oriental languages were taught. In the year 1755 the college president was Lukasz Rosocki, professor of oriental languages. The other professors were: Kanty Wykowski, history; Jozef Szaniawski, theology; Eustachy Kurowski, moral studies; Wincenty Kloss, natural history; Jozef Ketrzynski, logic and metaphysics; and Wojciech Komorowski, elocution and poetry.

In the year 1742 Teresa Scypio, née Hlebicki-Jozefowicz, the wife of the castellan of Smolensk, established a congregation of the Sisters of Charity there and founded a hospital. The educational committee for organizing national schools elevated the Szczuczyn school to the rank of subfaculty [podwydzialowy] with three classes. After the Scypios, Szczuczyn was transferred to the princes Drucki-Lubecki, in whose possession it remains to this day. — J[ozef] Krz[ywicki].


Gierniki, a peasant village and private manor, Lida powiat, 3rd administrative district, about 7 km. from Szczuczyn. In the year 1866, the village had 16 houses, 142 inhabitants; the manor had 11 inhabitants.

These vintage postcards show the Szczuczyn rynek, or marketplace. In that era, the weekly market would have provided a major opportunity for villagers and city residents alike to socialize as well as do business.  When I look at the crowd on market day, I wonder if anyone from my family is in that photo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Beyond Maps: Two Invaluable Polish Gazetteers

Being able to pinpoint an ancestral village on a map is a truly wonderful, gratifying experience—but it’s really the first step to further research.  To locate church records, you have to know what parish your family belonged to; for civil records, what governmental/administrative districts had authority over their area.  To get a sense of your ancestor’s day-to-day life experiences, you will want to know about the area’s history, geography, culture, weather, crops, resources, customs, and so on.

The questions never end in genealogy. Fortunately, the array of resources to answer those questions is nearly endless as well—depending on how hard you’re willing to dig for them and, in Polish genealogy, how many languages you’re willing to deal with.

I have two favorite resources for historic background information about specific towns and villages in the Lida area. Both of these very comprehensive gazetteers were published well before Poland’s borders shifted as a result of World War II, so they include lands now in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.  Even just a decade or so ago, these gazetteers could be found only on the shelves of major libraries, or accessed through LDS microfilm. Now, libraries in Poland have made them freely available online. I’ve posted the Web links below, along with some basic info about using these gazetteers.
  • Bystrzycki, Tadeusz. Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z oznaczeniem terytorjalnie im właściwych władz i urzędów oraz urządzeń komunikacyjnych = Registry of towns, places, cities in the Polish Republic, with territorial identification of officials, offices, communication possibilities and others from before World War II, 1931. Ostra, Italy: Muggenthaler Library Publishing House, 2000.
  • Sulimierski, Filip, Bronisław Chlebowski, and Władysław Walewski. Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich : Warszawa 1880-1902. T. 1-15 = Geographic Dictionary of the Former Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Lands. Zbiory XX Wieku Biblioteki Uniwersyteckiej w Warszawie, 35. Warszawa: BUW. Sekcja Dokumentów Wtórnych, 2006.

Skorowidz miejscowości
(Wielkopolska Biblioteka Cyfrowa / Digital Library of Wielkopolska)

Skorowidz identifies even the smallest hamlets and villages. In columnar format, it provides the following information for each place-name:
  • miejscowosc i jej charakter (locality and its type)
  • gmina (district)
  • powiat polityczny (political county)
  • wojewodztwo (province)
  • poczta i telegraf (telefon) (post office and telegraph [telephone])
  • stacja kolej. z odlegloscia km. (railway station and distance in kilometers)
  • najblizsza linja komunik. autobus z odlegloscia km. (nearest bus transportation line and distance in km.)
  • SAD grodzki (city court)
  • SAD okregowy (district court)
  • urzedy parafialne — rz-kat, gr-kat, wsch-slow, orm-kat, prawosl, ewang, ew-ref. (parish offices — Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Eastern Slavic rite, Armenian Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical/Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed)
The three columns most immediately useful for genealogical research are the powiat (county, district) and wojewodztwo (province), and urzedy parafialne (location of the parish church that serves this village/town/city).

You might be surprised how many small villages share the same name in the historic territories of Poland. Skorowidz lists about 80 villages named Zarzecze, which is not even close to being one of the more common place-names in an area that was, at its most extensive, about the size of the American Southwest. Choosing the correct Zarzecze, for example, requires the genealogist to know at least which province (wojewodztwo, gubernia) their ancestor came from and, better yet, what district (powiat) within that province.

The final column in a Skorowidz entry, the parish, is where you hit pay dirt for further research. To access church baptismal, marriage, and death records, you have to know what parish your family belonged to. If you use LDS microfilms for your research, knowing the parish is crucial, because LDS indexes church films by parish seat.

For example, my maternal Prokopowicz family resided in the small village of Kozarezy, which was served by the Roman Catholic parish church in Iszczolna. To locate baptismal, marriage, and death records, I must search the LDS library holdings for Iszczolna parish, not for Kozarezy village.

The “Edition” menu on the left side of the Skorowidz screen provides several options, notably to view content (this requires using a DjVu plug-in), or to download and save the entire gazetteer to your own computer. I use Skorowidz a lot, so I have downloaded it to a flash drive.  The download comprises almost 2,100 individual LizardTech DjVu files, images more or less akin to PDFs. The files are named only by number, so finding the file for a specific place-name can take some time. As I use these files, I rename them with the first place-name on the page. Someday (and I’m not holding my breath here!) I may have all of these files alphabetically named.

Slownik geograficzny
(University of Warsaw Library)
(University of Warsaw Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modeling)

Slownik is a massive gazetteer that identifies even the smallest human settlement and geographic feature of “the Former Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Lands.” The print edition comprises 17 separate volumes (numbered 1-15 with a 2-part addendum), each the size of a city phone book.  It took three men over a decade to research and compile all this information, which encompasses historic development, prominent individuals, population, religious affiliation, natural resources, occupations and businesses, major events, and more.

Given the size of Poland, even with significant chunks of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine included, the coverage here is simply exhaustive. That said, a village that contained eight houses in 1886 may merit only a three-line description in Slownik. But that in itself seems remarkable to me: the street I grew up on in Worcester had about 15 houses, and no one has ever written even a line about it!

Before exploring Slownik, a visit to the Polish Genealogical Society of America Web link is very worthwhile. This provides a detailed explanation of Slownik’s scope of coverage, a breakdown of the range of place-names that each volume covers, and an explanation of the abbreviations commonly used in the text. The latter is particularly helpful in translating a Slownik entry.

Of the two sources for Slownik online, the University of Warsaw Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modeling site is particularly useful for printing out pages. The Idz do (Go to) search box on the left of the screen allows you to select a tom (volume) number and strona (page) number to display.  Above the selected page will be three links: poprzednia strona (previous page), pobierz skan (file download), and nastepna strona (next page). Click on pobierz skan, choose whether to open or to save the file, and then print it.

Obviously, a printed Slownik page is a nice complement to your maps and related research materials. It’s also nice to have hard copy on hand if you want to translate an entry, especially if it’s lengthy.

Armed with an old Polish dictionary (the older, the better, for translating vocabulary used in the 1890s), I translated the Slownik entries for Radun, Szczuczyn, Ejszyszki, and some of their small satellite villages in the late 1990s.  My Radun and Szczuczyn translations (gracefully edited by William F. Hoffman) were published in the Summer 1998 Bulletin of the Polish Genealogical Society of America. My Ejszyszki translation (also edited by Fred Hoffman) was published in the Fall/Winter 1999 issue (volume 1, number 2) of the Lithuanian Global Genealogical Society journal Proteviai. All three of my translations now appear on the PGSA Web site (though the Ejszyszki text ends abruptly and without any acknowledgment to me—szkoda!).

Because these translations are lengthy, and because they relate directly to my family research, I will post them in their entirety in my next blog entries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finding 19th-Century Houses on 21st-Century Maps

Genealogy, like many fields, has its share of myths and misconceptions. A common misconception in eastern European genealogy is this: There is no hope of locating ancestral villages, much less ancestral homes, because so much was bombed, burned, and otherwise destroyed by the wars of the twentieth century. So why even try?

Why try? Because maybe your village was one of the many that survived. And maybe you will find it identified in a map that is so detailed, every building in the village—including your ancestral home—will be represented by a small black square (or similar symbol).

Finding such exquisitely detailed maps of eastern Europe takes some research.  They are not likely to be filling the shelves of Barnes & Noble.

In North America, they are more likely to be available through online retailers and societies that cater to the specific geographic areas in question.  In Europe, bookstores and travel and tourism agencies offer more material than you can fit in your backpack.

Maps of the Lida area

Belarus may not quite match its neighboring Poland or Lithuania in quantity of maps, but it holds its own in quality. The very best maps I’ve seen for the Lida area of western Belarus are contained in a 23-map booklet of Hrodna (Grodno) oblast, or province, published in Minsk in 2002. The scale is 1:200,000 (1 cm: 2 km).

In that booklet, maps numbered 4, 10, and 11 cover the western Lida area that is my ancestral homeland. I am including those maps here.

Map 10 displays the Szczuczyn (Scucin) area between Grodno and Lida. Map 11 shows the area to the east, including the city of Lida.

Map 4 pictures the Radun area to the north, its lower edge straddling both Maps 10 and 11, and its upper half occupied by Lithuania and the border town of Eisiskes (Ejszyszki).

The maps are printed in Cyrillic Belarusian. They may frustrate viewers who don’t know the language. The reality, though, is that anyone researching this area needs to familiarize themselves with at least enough Cyrillic to know their village name—and even more important, their surname—when they see it.

(If you think finding an obscure village on a map is exciting, imagine how cool it is to see that village name written in Belarusian or Russian and recognize it! It is well worth the effort to get acquainted with the Cyrillic alphabet.)

What I love most about these maps, not surprisingly, is their detail. I’ve enlarged one section of the Scucin map (about 6 miles north-south and 6 miles east-west), and drawn in a black rectangle to highlight the village of Staro Gierniki. The road leading north out of the small city of Scucin is the single road that passes through Staro Gierniki. Straddling the road are about six old houses on the left and eight on the right. Each is marked by a tiny black square. (My apologies if they blur together a bit in this JPG.)

Babcia's house

My babcia Stefania Ruscik grew up on the second farm on the left. When I visited the village in 2001, her older brother’s son was living in the fourth house on the left (where the black latitude and longitude lines cross on the map).

It amazes me that I can point to a tiny black square on a current map of Belarus and say, “That’s my babcia’s house! That’s where she was born in 1882, and where her family lived for generations before that.”

It’s still there.

As you look at these maps, look at how very many little black squares they display. If your babcia or dziadek came from the Lida area, your ancestral home may be here too.

Polish maps from the interwar period

If maps printed in Cyrillic are a challenge to you, a vintage map in Polish can help orient you to the locations you seek. The Map Archive of Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny 1919 – 1939  offers a wealth of maps from the interwar period when Poland’s eastern borders encompassed lands that are now in Belarus and Lithuania.

Some of these maps are also available in hard copy, and may be purchased from Poland by Mail for about $10. The Nowogrodek map (#47) covers the Szczuczyn to Lida area; the Wilno map (#37) extends from Radun northward.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Serendipity and Staro Gierniki

This is a story about serendipity and a pink Post-it. Serendipity basically means making a fortunate discovery by accident—kind of like good luck sprinkled with magic dust. Every genealogist I know has a favorite anecdote or two about the role serendipity has played in their research. We love to share these stories because they represent some inexplicable source of help in our quests to learn about our ancestors. To me, serendipity is like some guardian angel dropping a gift in my path, or pointing me in some surprising new direction and whispering in my ear, “Here, look right here!”

Serendipity brought me the pink Post-it affixed to the Scucin/Szczuczyn area of the Belarusian “Grodno and Environs” map shown here. About 12 years ago, when I was looking for contemporary maps of Belarus, I found this one (along with the Welcome to Belarus map detailed on October 21) online at a now-defunct Canadian Web site that I think was called I wanted to make a credit card purchase, and since there was no way to do a secure transaction online back then, I had to phone Ontario to provide my card number.

The young woman who answered the phone was quite personable, and I got the sense that this map store, whatever its size, was a warm and friendly operation. I took the opportunity to explain why I was buying these maps, and that I did not read Russian or Belarusian, so I didn’t know how well I would be able to understand this Grodno area map when it arrived.

“Do you know what villages you are looking for?” she asked.

“My grandmother’s village of Gierniki,” I said. “It’s near a small city called Szczuczyn.”

“Ah!” she replied. “No, no, not Gierniki. Your grandmother would have lived in Staro Gierniki. I will put a small label on the map for you, showing the name in the Cyrillic letters and in Polish. Now, are there other locations you would like identified?”

Stunned, I named a couple others, then asked, “But how do you know the village I’m looking for is called Staro Gierniki?” To distinguish when two neighboring and similarly named settlements were founded, Polish village names may be modified by staro (old) or nowo (new).

“That is where I am from, that area.  I know the village,” she said simply, as if it were an everyday occurrence for a young Belarusian expatriate in Canada to be handling a credit card transaction on the phone with a Polish American trying to locate a one-street village of 15 houses where her grandmother had been born in 1882.

Really, what are the odds of this happening?

I never learned that young woman’s name, but I think of her every time I see her carefully printed pink Post-its on my map.  Over the years, I have become familiar enough with the Cyrillic alphabet not to need these notes anymore, but I keep and treasure them as a testament to serendipity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Map of Western Belarus: Hrodna (Grodno) Province, 1993

Shown here is most of Hrodna (Grodno) province in Belarus, bordered on the west by Poland and on the north by Lithuania. (For an enlarged view, click inside the map.)  Hrodna is a beautiful, historic old city with a population of about 325,000. About 65 miles (112 km) east of Hrodna (and about 60 miles south of Vilnius, Lithuania) is Lida, with a population of about 100,000. Midway between them is Scucyn (Szczuczyn), population 24,000. Both Lida and Scucyn have functioned as county or district seats at various points in time.

My maternal grandparents came from villages near Scucyn. The family of Aleksandr Prokopowicz lived in Kozarezy, about 7 miles east, and the family of Stefania Ruscik in Staro Gierniki, about 3 miles north of the city. I have traced their roots there back to the 1700s.

My paternal grandparents came from villages near Radun, a town of about 4,500 people, located about 18 miles northwest of Lida. Radun is only about 8 miles from the Lithuanian border and the small city of Eisiskes (Ejszyszki). The family of Julian Prokopowicz most recently resided in a series of small villages to the north and west of Radun; where they lived before the 1890s I do not yet know. The family of Anna Blaszko, however, has roots in Skladance back to at least 1810. That village is very close to Bastuny, east of Radun.

This map, Welcome to / Bienvenu en / Willkommen in Belarus (scale 1:800,000), was published by the Committee of Geodesy of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus in 1993. It is the first contemporary map of Belarus that I acquired, and I have stared at it so much, it’s amazing that I haven’t burned holes in the paper. Although it is not detailed enough to show my ancestral villages, this is my favorite map of today’s Belarus because, first and foremost, the city and town names are transliterated from Cyrillic Belarusian to Latin script, and the map legend is in English, French, and German, so I can read it. Dzieki boze! (Thank God!)

It shows important features like major and minor roads, railway lines, rivers, streams, lakes, forests (in green shading), and the “zone of radioactive contamination” from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine (horizontal orange stripes, very sobering to consider). The customs inspection points near Hrodna, Druskininkai, Salcininkai (Soleczniki), and Pahranieny are indicated by red circles crossed by red bars.

This map came folded in sections, and its creases are now so tattered I expect it to fall apart every time I pick it up. In retrospect, I wish I had made a full-size color copy while it was still in pristine condition. I acquired it 12 years ago through an online map store in Ontario, Canada. The store seems to have gone out of business, and I have never found another source for this map. Detailed English language maps of Belarus are rare. I also have a Ravenstein Verlag road map, Weiss-Russland / Belorussia / Bielorussie (1:750,000), which has locations labeled in both Latin and Cyrillic script and provides an extensive index.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I love maps. Love them, love them, love them. For me, genealogy is the perfect blend of many things I love: playing detective to solve mysteries and find the truth of a situation, organizing information so that the big picture is as understandable as the small detail, making cold calls to third cousins who have never heard of me, translating text from foreign languages into English, and spending hours poring over maps. I enjoy genealogy the most when it’s a good balance of show-and-tell, rich with old photos, vintage postcards, maps, and other illustrations that make names and dates come alive.

A photograph captures a moment in time. A postcard preserves a landscape, a building, a passenger ship that may no longer exist. A map identifies exactly where on Planet Earth a family lived hundreds of years ago, thousands of miles away across an ocean. All these images carry enormous power. To me, they’re just plain magical. When I find a family village on a map and touch that place-name on that piece of paper (or stare at it on my computer screen), I feel like I am touching all the generations of my family who lived there. (In the interest of full personal disclosure here, I should note that if I could have one wish—excluding, of course, world peace—it would be time travel.)

Over the past 13 years, I’ve collected a variety of maps that illustrate the geographic area my Prokopowicz families have called home for hundreds of years. It is the Lida region in today’s western Belarus, populated predominantly by ethnic Poles. This territory at various times in history has been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, part of the Russian Empire, part of the Second Polish Republic, part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Depending on the era, maps may label this region Bialorus, Wilno gubernia, wojewodztwo wilenskie, wojewodztwo nowogrodskie, Byelorussia, Belarus. Many Poles still refer to it as part of the kresy, Poland’s eastern borderlands. The most detailed maps of the Lida area—the ones that identify even the smallest villages and hamlets—were created in Polish, German, and Russian. Since this area today shares borders with Poland and Lithuania, villages along the “frontier” are sometimes included in Lithuanian maps as well.

Coming next: Some maps of the Lida area. (A current map of Belarus and a map of Partitioned Poland are among my August 17 posts.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where They Came From

Wilno, Poland. For most of my life, that was as closely as I could pinpoint my grandparents’ birthplaces. I didn’t know that Poland did not exist on the map of Europe when they were born in the 1880s-90s, or that the Partitions of 1793-95 had carved up Polish territory to be claimed and governed by the Prussian (German), Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires. I didn’t know that Wilno was the name of a large province (gubernia) in the Russian Partition, as well as the province’s largest city. I didn’t know that my grandparents actually lived about 65 miles south/southwest of the city in rural villages within Wilno gubernia.

Looking back, I can’t decide whether I’m surprised or not that I knew so little about my grandparents’ birthplaces specifically and about their homeland generally. Growing up in a Polish American household that included my babcia (grandmother) Stefania, I had endless opportunities to ask for details about her early life. But for whatever reason, my babcia’s later years offered no obvious prompts to such conversations—no photos or mementos, no letters from family who had not emigrated, no documents, no stories related without prodding. She died when I was 15 and just on the cusp of a more meaningful curiosity about her past.

My Polish American education

As to Poland in general, it seems that I should have learned a lot academically about this complicated country since I attended a Polish American parochial school for 12 years (St. Mary’s in Worcester). For decades after its founding in 1915, St. Mary’s offered a bilingual curriculum with a strong concentration on all aspects of Polish heritage: language skills, history, the arts, and of course, religion. That emphasis had weakened by the 1950s, when I began elementary school. St. Mary’s offered us baby boomers three years of Polish in reading (I still own a copy of Moja Pierwsza Ksiazeczka) and religion (a bilingual Baltimore Catechism). From fourth grade to high school graduation, Polish was more typically limited to classroom prayers, choir practice, and cultural and religious events. We learned the Polish national anthem, Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginela ("Poland Is Not Yet Lost," first sung in 1795 when the country was partitioned), but we didn’t learn much about Poland’s very recent loss of lands, people, and freedom in World War II and its aftermath.

Where were Polish history and geography? I’m certain they were on the high school curriculum through the 1940s, when St. Mary’s was overseen by Monsignor Boleslaw Bojanowski, a pastor passionate about preserving Polish heritage through education. Certainly Poland’s critical wartime experiences kept the country in high profile in the classroom in that era. Why did Polish history and geography drop from the course of study so soon after? A couple possible reasons, not mutually exclusive, come to mind.

Monsignor Bojanowski, who was born in 1877, retired in 1956 and died eight years later. His waning influence and replacement by Reverend Charles Chwalek mirrored the larger experience of Worcester’s Polonia—the decline of the immigrant generation and the rise of the first generation of Polish Americans, whose lives teetered between ethnic continuity and mainstream assimilation. That generation may have felt more oriented to an American future than a Polish past.

It may be that our first-generation Polish American parents, nuns, and clergy envisioned us learning all about Poland through simple osmosis. After all, many of us grew up in Worcester’s three-deckers with our grandparents and extended family all living under the same roof. It seems that we could have learned a great deal informally from our immigrant elders in the course of daily life. Yet I never asked my babcia the name of her village in Wilno. At St. Mary’s, I learned the Polish national anthem when I was five years old (before the American anthem, if I remember correctly). I never learned the boundaries of the Polish Partitions, or where the Vistula and Niemen rivers flowed, or who was king in 1674. I knew precious little before I got involved in genealogy in 1996, so I was happily surprised to discover that my Polish American home and school life—growing up bilingual and bicultural—had given me a solid base for exploration.

More than map coordinates

Initially, I was thrilled to identify where my grandparents were born, to be able to point to the names of their villages on maps. Before long, though, I wanted to know more than latitude and longitude and administrative divisions. What was life like for them? What did the land look like? the houses? the clothing? What were the area’s resources? its lacks? How did the larger world impact these villages? Why did my grandparents leave?

Learning more about where my grandparents came from is an ongoing challenge. In general, small villages don’t tend to be the subject of detailed historical chronicles. Lengthy works on obscure villages in the Polish kresy (eastern borderlands) are rare, and those translated into English, rarer still. But resources exist in both languages (and in Russian, Belarusian, and Lithuanian as well, though regrettably I don’t read those languages). They range from 19th-century books to 21st-century Web sites, and often include maps, photos, and other illustrations that help bring the past to life. In my next entries here, I will share some information and images to paint a picture of where my grandparents came from: villages affiliated with the Roman Catholic parishes of Szczuczyn, Iszczolna, and Radun in Lida powiat (district) in Wilno gubernia (province) in the Russian Empire. This area fell within the borders of Poland when the nation regained its independence in 1918, but has been within western Belarus since 1945. Such are the vicissitudes of Polish history and geography, subjects that add depth to genealogy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ports of Arrival: New York's Ellis Island & Boston

My maternal grandfather, Aleksandr Prokopowicz, was the first of my direct ancestors to emigrate from Russian Poland to America, arriving at New York’s Ellis Island in March 1910. Nearly three years passed before he was joined by my grandmother, Stefania Ruscik Prokopowicz, and their children Paulina and Josef in February 1913. They entered the United States through the Port of Boston’s Hoosac Tunnel Docks in Charlestown. Aleksandr and Stefania’s oldest son, Adolf, completed the family’s immigration when he arrived in September 1913, accompanied by his aunt, Stanislawa Ruscik. They disembarked at the B.&A.R.R. Wharves in East Boston, shown here in a postcard from that era.

My paternal grandparents had not yet married when they emigrated, though it is likely that they were well acquainted, coming from the same parish (Radun, Lida powiat) and having mutual friends there. Anna Blaszko arrived in New York in October 1913, and Julian Prokopowicz in Boston at the B.&A.R.R. Wharves in East Boston in April 1914.

Emigrants arriving in Boston could continue on to their destinations via either the Boston & Albany or Boston & Maine Railroad. In 1913, the fares for train travel within two days of disembarking were 99 cents to Worcester and $2.25 to Springfield. The trip to Worcester ended at Union Station, a mile or so north of the city’s Polish neighborhood. The interior and exterior are shown here in vintage postcards.

In 2005, I had an opportunity to visit Ellis Island with my daughter—a profoundly moving experience. One highlight was seeing our Prokopowicz surname listed on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. At that point, the wall held more than 600,000 names. About 175 immigrants named Prokopowicz entered this country through Ellis Island. Another 50 or so arrived at the ports of Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, while still others came to the United States through Canada.

Friday, September 4, 2009

By Train to Port of Departure

Pictured below is the train station in Bastuny, Belarus. It was built in 1905 for one stop along the railroad line that ran from Romny (in today's Ukraine) to the Baltic seaport of Libau (now Liepaja, Latvia). My grandmother Anna Blaszko, whose village of Skladance was just a few miles from Bastuny, probably began her emigration to the United States at this train station. Discovering this train station when I visited Belarus in 2001 was bittersweet. It was very emotional to imagine how Anna must have felt saying goodbye to her family here. She never saw any of them again.

Shipping lines provided their passengers with woven wallets to hold their tickets, passports, and other important documents. On the outside, the wallets were imprinted with shipping line contact information, as pictured below. Most important were the addresses of their ticket agents in major cities. In Polish, the Red Star Line here advertises its offices in Antwerp, New York, Warsaw, Wilno, Brest-Litowski, Grodno, Rowno, Libau, Kowno, Lwow, and Gdansk.

Two vintage postcards offer glimpses at Libau's railroad station and harbor in the era when my grandfather Aleksandr Prokopowicz sailed on the Russian American Line's SS Lituania to New York.

Ports of Departure: Hamburg, Liverpool, Libau

My four Polish grandparents left Europe for North America from three different ports—Libau, Bremen, and Liverpool—and sailed on four different shipping lines—Russian American, North German Lloyd, and White Star and Cunard, respectively. My maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother arrived in New York, at Ellis Island; my paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother arrived in Boston.

In previous posts, I attempted to put my grandparents’ experiences in context by linking them to their extended families and their close friends in “migration chains” from 1901 through 1914. Who left for America when? Who welcomed them when they arrived in Worcester, or Maynard, or Lowell? In examining the ships’ manifests for these 46 people, I have developed the following data.

Favored lines and ports

Emigrants by gender: 36 male, 10 female
Shipping line used: Hamburg-American, 20; Russian American, 6; White Star, 6; Holland America, 5; Cunard, 4; North German Lloyd, 2; Red Star, 2; Montreal Ocean, 1
Port of departure: Hamburg, 20; Liverpool, 11; Libau, 6; Rotterdam, 5; Bremen, 2; Antwerp, 1; Glasgow, 1
Port of arrival: New York, 30; Boston, 16

Some correlations are inherent. Shipping lines based their operation in specific ports, with other specific ports constituting their itineraries. They changed their transatlantic routes somewhat over the years, adding or dropping ports as intermediate or final destinations to accommodate business volume and other circumstances. For example, the Russian American Line sailed out of Libau (now Liepaja, Latvia) for Rotterdam and New York, and occasionally Copenhagen and/or Halifax. The Hamburg-American Line was (not surprisingly) based in Hamburg; its North Atlantic routes variously included stops in England and France before reaching New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Quebec, or Montreal.

Women and children to Boston

One particular fact in my family/friends statistics intrigues me: eight of the ten women arrived in Boston, and only two in New York. Of the latter, one (Petronella Bowszys) was married and in the company of her husband and child. The other was my grandmother, Anna Blaszko, single, 20, and traveling independently. Seven of the eight Boston arrivals (single/married women and young girls) traveled on the White Star and Cunard lines, with embarkations at Liverpool, and one on the Montreal Ocean line, boarding at Glasgow.

What does this signify, if anything? I’m still mulling this. Boston, of course, was much closer to their final destinations in eastern and central Massachusetts than was New York. Perhaps it was simply more convenient (closer, faster, cheaper) for their husbands, brothers, uncles, and/or cousins to meet them at the dock in Charlestown or East Boston than at Ellis Island. Perhaps, having experienced steerage conditions themselves, the men wanted to provide their wives, children, and other female relatives as much comfort and security as they could afford. (Cunard’s third-class passengers shared small, simple 4-6-person cabins, rather than cramped, barracks-style quarters; White Star had fairly new ships.)

In any event, arrival in Boston seems preferable to the women and children negotiating their final 200 miles by train from New York to Massachusetts alone. I imagine that being met in Boston and escorted directly to their new home in America would have been a joyous relief, especially for my grandmother Stefania and her sister-in-law Maria, who at that point would have traveled with very young children for thousands of miles for more than two weeks.

From village to voyage

Wherever any of these 46 emigrants began the transatlantic voyage, they needed first to travel from their inland villages to their port of choice. How did they get from Russian Poland’s Lida area—roughly east of Grodno and south of Wilno (today, Vilnius, Lithuania)—to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, or the British Isles?

I’ve heard and read many people’s accounts of their Polish ancestors traveling on foot or by wagon from village to port. To me, that seems most feasible if they lived in the Prussian (German) partition of Poland, or possibly even the Austrian partition (i.e., Galicia). However, it was 625 miles from Lida to Hamburg, and 1,150 miles—part of it across the North Sea—to Liverpool. Even Libau, the closest port, was 265 miles distant.

While I certainly believe my ancestors were as intrepid and adventurous as anyone’s, I’m inclined to think they probably relied on trains for a good part of the overland journey. By 1900, a network of railroad lines extended throughout the western Russian provinces and Europe. Trains linked Wilno and Grodno, and the smaller Lida area towns between them, to the Baltic coast to the north, as well as to Bialystok, Warsaw, and other points westward.

It was possible to arrange rail transport in tandem with ship. As emigration became increasingly big business in the early 20th century, shipping lines became increasingly competitive and sophisticated in marketing themselves to potential customers, even customers with the very limited means of peasant farmers. The companies set up ticket agencies in major eastern European cities. They packaged itineraries to provide tickets for train and ship, plus portside accommodations. An all-inclusive package could be very appealing: all segments were paid and all critical decisions were made in advance. (Similar in concept, really, to driving or flying to a port to board a cruise ship today.)

Shipping line services

The Cunard and White Star lines were notable among companies that offered such packages. Emigrants would take a small “feeder” ship, operated by the Wilson Line, from a Baltic or other northern port to Hull (or some smaller city) on the northeast coast of England. From Hull, a train would carry the emigrants west to Liverpool, where they would finally board a large passenger ship to cross the Atlantic.

The Hamburg-American Line offered similar services, with the transatlantic passage originating right in Hamburg. More than half of my grandparents’ relatives and friends used the Hamburg-American Line. In fact, in that era, Hamburg was Europe’s busiest port of emigration, surpassing formerly dominant Bremen.

Rather different from its competition was the Russian American Line, based in Libau. For people leaving the western provinces of imperial Russia, Libau—210 miles northwest of the city of Wilno, or 265 miles from Lida—was the nearest port, and it was directly accessible via the Libau-Romny rail line. Accommodations, however, were rough, and perhaps considered more suitable to males than to unaccompanied female travelers.

No documents survive in my family to establish with certainty how my grandparents traveled from their Lida area villages to their ports of departure. As with so many aspects of their lives, my conjectures far outnumber my facts.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Immigration Time Line: Julian Prokopowicz & the Linga Family

When Julian Prokopowicz, my paternal grandfather, immigrated to the United States in 1914, his closest ties appear to have been with the Linga family. Julian (later, Julius) left Russian Poland in the spring of 1914, a few months before the onset of World War I. Just 19 years old, he traveled alone from the Radun area, about 60 miles south of the city of Wilno, to Worcester, Massachusetts. Julian’s parents, Kazimierz and Anna Bogdan Prokopowicz, remained behind, as did his brother Josef and another brother about whom little is known. Would they have followed him to America if the war had not impeded emigration? No letters or other documents survive to help answer that question.

Several other Prokopowiczes did immigrate to Massachusetts. They came from villages within a few miles of Radun, and they settled in Boston. Immigration and naturalization documents have not revealed any connections to Julian. Nor have conversations in recent years with my aunts and uncles, who have no memories of their father’s having had ties to Boston.

Being without family thousands of miles from home could have been a very lonely experience for Julian. Fortunately, members of the Linga family, longtime neighbors and close friends in the Radun area, seem to have filled that void in his life. Julian’s first home in the United States was with Iwan Linga on Kansas Street in Worcester. After their marriage in 1916, Julian and Anna Blaszko Prokopowicz boarded with Maciej Linga and his family on Esther Street. In 1919, Emilia Linga was godmother to Julian and Anna’s daughter Stanislawa. In 1929, Maciej Linga was godfather to their son Joseph. According to a Linga family member who was in Poland from the 1920s through the 1940s, Julian’s mother died in the Linga home in Kiwance, circa 1942.

It seems to make sense, then, to consider Julian’s move to the United States and settlement in Worcester within the context of the Linga family’s chain migration. Details extracted from their passenger lists follow.

May 1901 — Jan Linga
Name on manifest: Jan Linge
Relationship: friend
Ship & shipping line: SS Amsterdam, Holland America
Departure port & date: Rotterdam, May 9, 1901
Arrival port & date: New York, May 21, 1901
Status: age 22, born ca. 1883 in Kiwance, single, laborer, able to read/write
Physical description: n/a
Contact in last permanent residence: n/a
Finances: paid for own passage, has ticket to N.Y., has $11
Destination: friend, Wincenty Markiewicz, Worcester, Massachusetts
Traveling companions: Kazimir Marcinkiewicz, born in Olkiniki, destination brother Peter Marcinkiewicz, 715 Millbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts

July 1906 — Iwan Linga
Name on manifest: Iwan Linga
Relationship: friend
Ship & shipping line: SS Amerika, Hamburg-American
Departure port & date: Hamburg, June 20, 1906
Arrival port & date: New York, July 1, 1906
Status: age 19, born ca. 1887, single, farm laborer, not able to read/write
Physical description: n/a
Contact in last permanent residence: n/a, last permanent residence Jarmastajski?
Finances: brother-in-law paid for passage, has ticket to final destination, has $7
Destination: brother-in-law, Jan Galikowski, 324 Water Street, Mahonoy City, Pennsylvania
Traveling companions: none

February 1909 — Kasimir Linga
Name on manifest: Hamburg, Kasimir Linga; Ancestry, Karinne Linga
Relationship: friend
Ship & shipping line: SS Pennsylvania, Hamburg-American
Departure port & date: Hamburg, February 20, 1909
Arrival port & date: New York, March 7, 1909
Status: age 20, born ca. 1889 in Iwance [Kiwance], single, not able to read/write
Physical description: 5’4”, fair hair, blue eyes
Contact in last permanent residence: mother, Maria Linga, Kiwance
Finances: paid for own passage, has no ticket to final destination, has $0/7?
Destination: brother, Jan Linga, Box 50, Wheelwright, Massachusetts
Traveling companions: Stanislaw Adamolis [Adamonis], 18, single, farm laborer, contact father Wicenty Adamolis in Kiwance, destination uncle Jan Adamolis, 19 Burton Street, Worcester, Massachusetts; Barnas Romaszko, from Zoharan?, destination Michael Filipowicz, 75 Millbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts
Record of Detained Aliens: Group 25, Number 4 on manifest, detained “to tel $,” disposition Ry E to Adamonis, 18 Burton Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, discharged March 11, had 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners

April 1909 — Josef Linga
Name on manifest: Hamburg, Josef Linga; Ancestry, Josef Linza
Relationship: friend
Ship & shipping line: SS President Grant, Hamburg-American
Departure port & date: Hamburg, April 3, 1909
Arrival port & date: New York, April 16, 1909
Status: age 30, born ca. 1879 in Wadwernika [Adwiernik, Wilno], married, farm laborer, not able to read/write
Physical description: 5’4”, brown hair, blue eyes
Contact in last permanent residence: wife, Marianna Linga, Wadwernika
Finances: paid for own passage, has ticket to final destination, has $7
Destination: friend, Adam Sadowski, Box 293, Maynard, Massachusetts
Traveling companions: undetermined, but two others on page destined for Maynard

May 1913 — Kasimir Linga
Name on manifest: Ancestry, Kazimer Linga
Relationship: friend
Ship & shipping line: SS Potsdam, Holland America
Departure port & date: Rotterdam, May 17, 1913
Arrival port & date: New York, May 29, 1913
Status: age 25, born ca. 1888 in Kivanze [Kiwance], married, farm laborer, not able to read/write
Physical description: 5’9”, brown hair, gray eyes
Contact in last permanent residence: mother, Marianna Linga, Kivanze [Kiwance], Wilno
Finances: paid for own passage, has ticket to final destination, has $25
Destination: brother, M. Linga, Esther Street, Worcester, Massachusetts
Previously in U.S.: 1909-12, Worcester
Traveling companions: none

September 1913 — Emilia Linga
Name on manifest: Emilia Lingowa
Relationship: wife of Kasimir Linga
Ship & shipping line: SS Arabic, White Star
Departure port & date: Liverpool, September 9, 1913
Arrival port & date: Boston, September 17, 1913
Status: age 22, born ca. 1891 in Kiwance, married, able to read/write
Physical description: 5’6”, black hair, blue eyes
Contact in last permanent residence: brother, Kaspar Jodis, Kiwancow [Kiwance, Wilno]
Finances: paid for own passage, has ticket to final destination, has $12
Destination: husband, Kasimir Linga, 26 Esther Street, Worcester, Massachusetts
Traveling with child: Josef, age 1 (born in Worcester)
Previously in U.S.: 1909-12, Worcester, Massachusetts
Traveling companions: Teresa Adamonis, 18, single, farmhand, father Stanislaw Adamonis in Kiwancy, destination, brother-in-law William Kwederowicz, 66 Lamartine Street, Worcester, Massachusetts

January 1914 — Maciej Linga
Name on manifest: Hamburg, Maciej Linga; Ancestry, Macie Lingo
Relationship: friend
Ship & shipping line: SS Furst Bismarck, Hamburg-American
Departure port & date: Hamburg, January 3/4, 1914
Arrival port & date: Boston, January 17, 1914
Status: age 29, born ca. 1885 in Radun, married, farm laborer, able to read/write
Physical description: 5’8”, brown hair, blue eyes, “passed med[ical exam]”
Contact in last permanent residence: brother, Stanislaw Linga, Kiwance, Wilno
Finances: paid for own passage, has ticket to final destination, has $7
Destination: brother, Jan Linga, 657 Millbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts
Traveling companions: Anton Adamonis, 17, single, 5’6”, brown hair, blue eyes, farm laborer, father Wicenty Adamonis in Kiwance, destination brother Wicenty Adamonis, 654 Millbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts
Note: in U.S. 1913-22, returned to Poland, returned to U.S. July 6, 1923 on SS Mauretania

April 1914 — Julian Prokopowicz
Name on manifest: Julian Prokopowicz
Relationship: founded family when he married Anna Blaszko in August 1916
Ship & shipping line: SS Koln, North German Lloyd (Norddeutscher)
Departure port & date: Bremen, March 25, 1914
Arrival port & date: Boston, April 9, 1914
Status: age 19, born ca. 1895 in Posada, single, farm laborer, able to read/write
Physical description: 5’3”, blond hair, blond [note: classic manifest error!] eyes
Contact in last permanent residence: father, Kazimierz Prokopowicz, Posada, Wilno
Finances: paid for own passage, has ticket to final destination, has $21
Destination: friend, Iwan Linga, 9 Kansas Street, Worcester, Massachusetts [note: this is also Adamonis address]
Traveling companions: none; ship has only about 140 passengers, and Julian is very last one on list
Notation: C/A 1-344915 11/26/41 R.B.