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.