My genealogy trip to Poland and Lithuania

After arriving in Warsaw on Tuesday October 25, I rested at the Chopin Boutique B&B for the next two nights, and a walking city tour during the day.  Wonderful, highly recommend.    

Thursday, October 27.  Check out day.  My tour guide, Daniel, met me at the hotel with a rental car, and he loaded my luggage in the back, along with his own.  First would be a two-hour drive northeast of the city, towards Bialystok.  He brought a hard copy of the research report he did on the Dembrowski/Gornio families (maternal great-grandparents), which I should have brought, but didn’t.  Goals are to visit these villages and towns, not just to take pictures, but meet some locals to find out if anyone still lives there by those surnames.  Then go visit archives next day.   

Wysokie: village where my great-grandmother Teofila Gornio was born and lived.  It was very small, only a few houses along the main road.

Daniel spoke to one owner who said that the person who owned the house down the road is a Gornio, but it was not her main residenceDaniel asked her if she had any phone numbers to contact themShe gave us 3No one answered the first two numbers, a woman answered the 3rd phone number, and Daniel said she was very suspicious and reluctant to meet with us because she doesn’t know usIn Daniel’s experience, he said this was very unusual.  

Korycin:  This is where the Catholic parish was located for the village of WysokieTeofila Gornio was baptized and married to Julian Dembrowski at this parishHowever, the original church she would have attended was eventually demolished, and a new church was erected at the same location (adjacent to the old one), built in the early 1900s.  Daniel has a picture of the old church he will send me. We also visited the nearby cemetery to find any Gornio relatives that might be buried thereWe found one that was potentially helpfulThis was my first trip to a Polish cemetery, and preparations were underway for All Souls/All Saints Day, November 1Many burial plots were ornately decorated with lanterns and flowersI was highly impressed with the amount of granite, stone, and decorations for each plotThis upcoming holiday was, and still is, very important to descendants of ancestors, many of whom were killed during WWII, on their own land.  

Mikicin: This was the village where Teofila’s oldest children were bornWe walked around, took pictures, planning to come back again.     

Dolistowo: This is the parish for the village of MikicinBaptismal records for Dembrowski were found previously up to the year 1895We visited the church and went inside, took picturesThis was the same church in place during the time when Julian and Teofila’s older children were born and baptized.   

Sztabin: This was the village/town of origin listed on the USA passenger arrival list of 1903, which included Teofila and her childrenChurch records for Sztabin were lost between 1895-1900So it is likely that Teofila’s younger children were born here, since records cannot be found elsewhereThis may have been due to records destruction due to fire, or some other catastropheNo way to confirm Feliksa’s actual birth date or location. My grandmother Feliksa was likely born somewhere between 1897-1898The current church was not the original. It was rebuilt sometime in the early 1900s, after the Dembrowski family left for the USAThe 1903 passenger arrival list shows that Teofila already knew where to go with family, to Braddock, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, suggesting that husband Julian was already there

Suchowola: Check-in at Pensjonat Poniatowski hotel.  Nice hotel rooms, very comfortable, and quiet.  Restaurant on the main floor.  I had two shots of Polish vodka, mushroom soup, beef roulade with vegetables and mashed potatoes.  Unless you have a big appetite, I recommend going for the “small” plates, as opposed to the “large” plates, because they are big enough for at least 2-3 people.   

Friday, October 28:  Majority of day was spent at the archives.  First, the Archdiocesan archive in Bialystok, which contains birth/baptism, marriage and death records from 1865-present.  Daniel found siblings of Julian and Teofila, their spouses and some of their children.  It looks like Grzegorz Gornio was the only sibling whose children remained in Wysokie, for a while.  No cameras were allowed in the room.  They did not confiscate cell phones, but we were not supposed to use them.  Despite this, I saw one person in front of us who took pictures with his phone when the priest wasn’t looking.  Daniel said there are cameras and videos can be reviewed by priests for later.  The priests can revoke privileges if they desire.  For anyone with a birthdate of less than 100 years ago, vital records check is not available, unless maybe you are a close relative.  The archive room closed at 12:30. We left from there to go to the other non-Catholic archive in Bialystok, which allowed use of cameras in the room.  We checked books to find death records of those Gornio people whose headstone was found at the Korycin cemetery.  They were all children of Grzegorz Gornio.  Daniel recommended that I try to find naturalization records for each of Teofila’s children that were born in Poland and came to the USA.     

Saturday, October 29: We returned to Wysokie, to get pictures of what we believed to be the correct house belonging to Gornio.  Then, we left for Bialystok, where we had a meeting at 10:00 AM with a relative who was a descendant of my great-grandmother Teofila.  Grzegorz Gornio was one of Teofila’s siblings.  Jadwiga Gornio lives in an apartment complex in the middle of Bialystok.  Grzegorz had a son Edward, and the lady we met was wife of his son Jerzy, now widow, Jadwiga.  Also present was her granddaughter, Paulina. Paulina could speak English. We discovered that the houses we took pictures of in Wysokie were still the wrong houses. They showed us the picture of the correct house and explained that it was further away from the main road.  Daniel took a group picture of us.  Jadwiga showed us several photos that she had of Grzegorz and son Edward.  Paulina gave me her email.   

We spent the rest of the day on the road traveling to:  Dolistowo to the parish cemetery, searching for gravesites of Dembrowski, Stankiewicz, Marcinkiewicz.  We found several, too contemporary, not necessarily able to make connection to my ancestor.  Lots of cemetery activity going on in preparation for All Souls Day. Many gravesites were decked out with flowers and lanterns. Beautiful!    

Starawola: visited village where one Dembrowski sibling was born.   

Uroczysko Lipnik: visited the area of origin for Julian Dembrowski, according to birth records. Street signs show this area belongs to Jasionówka parish although it would have belonged to Kalinowka Kościelna parish back when Julian was living there.  It was mostly farmland, with lots of farm equipment, and when we drove into the driveway past the sign, we saw a modern-looking farmhouse.  Spoke to current homeowner, with no knowledge of a Dembrowski having lived in the area.   

Kalinowka Koscielna:  old wooden church dating back to 18th century, would have been the same church where Julian Dembrowski was baptizedThe church was locked, and no one at the rectory answered to open it upDaniel said he had been to this church 9 years ago and took pictures of the insideHe has them at home, and he can send them laterA friendly black cat followed us all the way to our car at the sidewalk and remained sitting there when we drove away

Krasnybor: parish church for the Sztabin and Kunicha villages during ancestor’s time. The church dates back to the 1500s.  No ancestors would have died there, so we did not check the cemetery.  

Kunicha:  village where one of Dembrowski siblings was born.  Took pictures of homes.  

Brzozowa:  parish church where a Dembrowski sibling was born.  Church built in early 20th century.   

Sunday, October 30:  leaving Poland for Lithuania.  We arrived in Kaunas and checked into the Kaunas Hotel in time for an afternoon walking tour of the new and old city.    

Monday, October 31:  After another wonderful breakfast buffet at the hotel, we checked out heading for Rumsiskes and the Lithuania Folk Museum.  It’s a two our outdoor walk through the park to see the original rural architecture from the area around the 18th and 19th century.  The weather was sunny and warm.  At our final stop, the guide gave us a demonstration of various musical instruments used by Lithuanians during that period.   

Then we left to visit the nearby wooden catholic church in Rumsiskes, dating back to the 18th century.  It was the same church where my grand uncle Zenon Zebrowski was baptized.  We asked for permission to open the church to look inside and take pictures.  The priest at the rectory spoke Russian, and Daniel was able to use his basic working knowledge of Russian to converse.  After checking the Rumsiskes cemetery, there is no evidence that any Zebrowski’s remained in that area.  It is known that the family left after a few years and returned to Kazlaucizna. 

Then we drove to the village of Piktavyzis, where Zenon Zebrowski and one of his siblings were born. Rumsiskes was the parish where they were baptized.  We met with one resident at Piktavyzis, in a home near some railroad tracks.  We noticed some abandoned properties nearby and took pictures.  He was the only village resident.   

Then we drove to Vepriai.  The church was closed at the time.  This was the same church where Melania Zebrowska (paternal grandmother) was baptized and where she and Stanislaw Wasilewski were married.  We sought to meet with parish priests to get information about possibly viewing any church records they may have.  We met a local resident who told Daniel (in Russian) that no priests resided in Vepriai, recommending that we go to a nearby town, Deltuva to meet priests there.  We found a rectory there and the priest who answered had no records or knowledge of any Zebrowskis.  He said he visited Kazlaucizna, where Zebrowski’s lived at one time.   

We drove to Ukmerge, next night’s stop.  The church we visited did not have any resident priests there at the time.  Next door was the Big Stone Hotel, where we had reservations to stay for the next two days.  We were told there were two other churches in town. We couldn’t find them, so we returned to the hotel to check in, and have dinner.  Daniel anticipated that with November 1 being a religious holiday, the priests will be too busy to deal with us during the day.  The archives will be closed over the holiday.   

Tuesday, November 1:  It is All Saint’s Day, a religious holiday.  Schools and many businesses are closed.  After breakfast, we went to the Vepriai cemetery to find Zebrauskas headstones.  We found two.  One stone said on the bottom that it was paid for by M. Wasilewska, my grandmother Melania.  Daniel spoke to some people there who knew something about Kazlaucizna and Zebrauskas.  They gave us directions to a home in nearby Slabada where a Zebrauskas currently lives.  We drove down the road to see Kazlaucizna or what was left of it.  There was a sign with the village name.  The area is mostly forest, with a clearing for a couple of homes that were abandoned.  Driving back to Slabada, Daniel began a conversation with a nice old lady named Veronica, who knew the Zebrowski’s next door.  Veronika invited us into her home to wait, until the neighbors returned home.  She made us some instant tea and coffee, offered some chocolate and Lithuanian liquor.  She and Daniel conversed in Russian well enough to get some information.  Veronika showed us a very thick book on the history of Vepriai and inside there was a picture of the Zebrauskas family which included Zenon Jr (a policeman in Kaunas) his wife and children, including son Richard, Veronika, and Elizabeth.  We took a picture of the picture.  Because Zenon Jr. was in law enforcement, he assumed that the Russians, during WWII, would target him for deportation, so he wanted to hide from them.  Kazlaucizna seemed like a good place to hide.   

After waiting for about an hour, Veronika invited us to walk over to the Zebrauskas home, and she led the way.  We met a nice tall man named Valerijos Tarasovas.  His wife was a Zebrauskas. His mother, also named Veronika, later came by to tell us what she remembered about Zebrauskas family history.  What I already knew was that Zenon Sr. first came to the USA sometime around 1892, and married a Polish immigrant, Malgorzata (Margaret) Knapicka.  They had at least 3 children, the first was Anna, who was born in Brooklyn, NY, then Zenon Jr, and Waclaw, who were born in Poland during a temporary visit with Margaret’s family.  No one knows what happened to Margaret after 1903, although she did return to the USA that year with her children.  That was the same year that Zenon Sr. married Kazimiera, a Lithuanian immigrant, in Bloomfield, NJ, USA.    

While living in Brooklyn, Zenon Jr, as a young boy, allegedly discovered and kept a bunch of money, amount unknown, at a construction site.  The family was afraid it may have belonged to the mafia and feared retaliation.  In 1911, Zenon Zebrowski Sr and family left the USA, returning to Lithuania.  It was assumed that they brought the cash with them.  Zenon remained in Lithuania for 20 years before returning to the USA in 1931.  Although Zenon Jr. remained in Lithuania, son Waclaw (Adam) and daughter Emilia (Kazimiera’s daughter) returned to the USA on their own after reaching adulthood.     

Valijos agreed to ride with us to the site in Kazlaucizna where Zenon Jr and son Richard Zebrauskas had lived.  It was hidden way in the woods, abandoned since Richard died in 1999.  The front part of the building were the living quarters, some cows lived in the middle part, and hay storage was at the far end.  We saw an unmarked gravesite on the property, turns out it was Kazimiera and her sister.  Kazimiera was Zenon Sr.’s second wife, and no one really knows why she stayed in Lithuania after Zenon returned to the USA in 1931.  During WWII, Kazlaucizna was bombed and set on fire by the Russian soldiers.  Kazimiera and her sister were killed there during one of those bombing raids.    

While at the Zebrauskas home, we settled in the family living room, where we were offered some tea.  Then the family invited us to stay and eat.  Regina (Valijos’ wife) brought out some grilled boneless chicken and a salad, wine, and some bakery products.  Everything was delicious.  Afterwards, group pictures were taken.  They told us that Richard Z. was buried in Kaunas, and if we wanted to go see the grave, Richard’s son Zenon would meet with us there and show us the gravesite.  Before leaving for Kaunas, Daniel and I were each given a tub of local honey and locally grown apples.   

In Kaunas, we met up with Zenon Z and his son, who speaks English.  They joined us in the rental car to the cemetery.  Zenon was very friendly and pleasantly surprised that I came out there to find family roots.  We went to the cemetery that night, where the lanterns on the graves were already lit up along the very dark paths.  It was quite beautiful and somber.  Before entering the cemetery, Zenon bought two lanterns.  We visited two gravesites.  Afterwards, they invited us to join them at a nearby restaurant.  We went to a place called “Charlie Pizza”, which had a thick menu that served much more than pizza.  Zenon offered to pay for whatever we wanted.  I ordered one glass of wine, but Zenon had a beer and others had tea/juice.  An appetizer of Lithuanian bread strips with melted cheese on it was passed around.  They also gave me a gift of local honey in a small jar inside a gift bag.   

Wednesday, November 2:  All Soul’s Day. After breakfast, we left Ukmerge, headed for Pabaiskas.  This is the parish for the Wasilewski (paternal grandfather) family, and Stanislaw, who was born in 1864.  Before the church opened, we went to the cemetery to check for headstones, but found nothing of interest there.  There was a 2nd cemetery, nothing of interest there either.  We stopped at one home, and Daniel spoke to a woman who knew about a Wasilewski (Vasilauskas) who lived in a nearby village. She told us about her grandfather who was apparently shot by someone just after the war, but she didn’t know much about the family, and it was not possible to determine a connection.   

We went to the village of Zuvinciai, and there are only 8 people living in the village.  Many of the homes were abandoned.  It was picturesque, with a view of a nearby lake.  Nobody we talked to was able to make a connection to a Wasilewski.  It was apparent that the family moved away sometime, which is not surprising, if you consider the desire for people to move to areas of greater opportunity, whether it be the cities of Poland, or the USA.   Some residents informed us of a “forest” cemetery we could not find, and a village cemetery in a nearby village.  We visited, but nothing of interest was found.  More research in the archives would be needed to find information about the Wasilewski family.   

After that, we headed for Vilnius, checking into the Artis Centra Hotel, where a city tour awaited the next day before returning to Warsaw and then to the USA. 


Here is a group portrait of me with Regina, Valerius Tarasovas, and other Zebrauskas relatives at their home in Slabada


This picuture was taken when in Bialystok, where I met with Jadwiga and her granddaughter Paulina Gornio. She was a descendant of Grzegorz Gornio, who was a sibling of my great grandmother Teofila Gornio.


At the Zebrausakas home in Slabada, Lithuania, which included Veronika, in front, who is Regina’s mother.


This is the wooden church at Rumsiskes, Lithuania, the church where my grand uncle Zenon Zebrauskas (Zebrowski) was baptized in 1870.


This is Veronika, the neighbor of the Zebrauskas, in Slabada, who showed us the book about the history of Vepriai, that included a page about Zenon Jr and Richard Zebrauskas and family.


This is a page from the Vepriai book about Zenon Zebrauskas Jr. and family. I am looking forward to a translation of the account.


Me at the village of Zuvinciai, the Wasilewski village origin (paternal grandparent). The village overlooks a nearby lake. There are only 8 residents, many of the houses here are abandoned.


Kalinowka Koscielna church in Poland, where my maternal great-grandfather Julian Dembrowski was baptized.


This headstone shows that my paternal grandmother, Melania Wasilewska, paid for the headstone of a relative, a Zebrowska who married a Kaminska.


After returning to Kaunas on All Saint’s day, we met with Zenon Zebrauskas, descendant of Richard Zebrauskas, and his family at a local restaurant, after visiting the nearby cemetery that evening.


Daniel, my tour guide, and I on our last night in Vilnius before I returned to the US.


Daniel and I in front of the Catholic Archdiocean Archive in Bialystok, Poland, after doing several hours of research on the Gornio family


The wooden church at Rumsiskes, Lithuania where my grand-uncle was baptized.


This is me next to the village sign for Kazlaucizna, currently uninhabited. It was the home of several Zebrauskas family members, including Zenon Zebrauskas Jr, and his son Richard, and Kazimiera and her sister.


Photos of descendants provided by the Gornio family (maternal great grandparents)


This is me and Valerius (Valarien) Tarasovas, who accompanied us to the abandoned living quarters of Zenon Jr. and Richard Zebrauskas, at Kazlaucizna.


Me and Zenon Zebrauskas family at the Kaunas cemetery on All Saint’s day, November 1.


Photo of the gravesites in preparation for the holiday. All were decorated with lanterns and flowers. Beautiful.


This may have been Zenon Zebrauskas, Jr.





One comment

  1. Daniel P. was our guide in Lithuania and NE Poland. We went to Rumiskes with him too. He’s supremely patient and relentless at the same time! What a great guy! My husband and I just spent some time in Warsaw (PO got our guide to the Jewish Ghetto and POLIN Museum there) and Krakow on our own.

    Headed to Podkarpackie on Sunday with Zbigniew from PO to meet a distant cousin and explore my maternal sides villages and churches.Can’t wait! PO so far has been great and crucial to the purposes of this trip.

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