My new name is Janina Kruk. Day 7. An incredible trip to my grandmother’s land.

During breakfast Zenon and the owners’ of B&B mother discussed Murawski side of the family. We learned about a Szylkowski family living in Wizajny. Szylkowski was marriage name of my grandmother’s sister Stefania. We left the B&B and rode to the Szylkowskis farm. I didn’t have any expectations if I would discover living relatives.

We arrived at the farm we were warmly greeted by Jagoda. After short conversation we learned that this place was owned by grandson of Stefania Szylkowski nee Murawski! We then met Krzysztof, the owner of the original farm of Stefania and Wincenty. Krzysztof was amazed to see visitors in his kitchen. When he learned I was the granddaughter of Wiktoria Murawski he was so happy.

During our conversation we learned Antoni, Piotr and Anna were still alive. In the letters I have, it tells briefly about their live as children. Jagoda telephoned Antoni, Stefania’s son, that Wiktoria’s granddaughter was at their house. Antoni informed Jagoda that Anna, his sister, was still at the farm. Anna had been visiting Jagoda the week before and had extended her stay to visit longer with her brother Antoni. I was surprised that Anna was still at the farm. Jagoda even thought that Anna had returned to Warsaw Friday. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences.

We left for Antoni’s farm with Jagoda as a guide. On our arrival we were greeted with hugs and kisses. We met Antoni’s wife and son. We sat down and our conversations began with everybody speaking at once! Zenon was trying to interpret from 3 people at the same time. Antoni, age 90, was so excited. He called his cousin Walenty, Aleksandra’s son (Wiktoria’s sister) in Lithuania.

After an hour conversation we headed for Bokszyszki with Anna and Antoni. Bokszyszki is the name of village where grandmother was born. After WWII the entire village, including my great-grandparents home was burned by the Soviets because it became new border zone between Poland and Soviet Union. Before WWII the whole area was within Poland and Bokszyszki belonged to the Wizajny parish. And now the border split family. They even weren’t aware of fate of each other for many years after war because letters couldn’t go through the new border! From one of the letters written to my aunt in Cleveland it is stated that Stefania sometimes could see the smoke from the chimney of her parents home possibly indicating that there were still alive. Today Bokszyszki is no longer on the map. Gone…

Part of map of Augustow province from the first half of 19th century with Bokszyszki
Part of map of Augustow province from the first half of 19th century with Bokszyszki

As we traveling to Bokszyszki we were met in Lithuania by Walenty and his wife. We continued to travel towards Bokszyszki on a dirt road. Antoni told us this road was called ?death road? because it was a border and anyone who tried to travel on this road during communism years  would be shot down. We arrived at the forest and hiked about half a mile to the location of where my great-grandparents home used to stay. 

As we approached there was a large maple tree planted by Walenty as a child.

Here is the place where 60 years ago my grandmother's family home was standing...
Here is the place where 60 years ago my grandmother’s family home was standing…

Antoni described for us how he remembered hiding in the woods from the Germans during WWII, after he escaped from transportation to labor camp. He described escaping with just pants, without any shirt, being shot at. He lived the forest for couple of weeks eating grass and drinking water from puddles. One night knocked on a neighbors door, scaring them, and they hid him in a cellar for over a year.

An old Soviet's watchtower at the border zone.
An old Soviet’s watchtower at the border zone.

For me to see my great-grandparents land with newly found two uncles and one aunt brought me unbelievable joy, surprise, shock. This was a moment I will never forget.

As we left the forest we picked mushrooms which is very common in Poland in Lithuania. This mushrooms are edible and very tasty.

Borowik in Polish, Borowikas in Lithuanian.
Borowik in Polish, Borowikas in Lithuanian.

It was a overcast day but no rain while we hike to the spot of the village. But as we were leaving a heavy rain began. When we reached the cars the rain had stopped. Coincidence?

After this incredible trip we headed for Wisztyniec to visit Walenty’s house and cemetery there.

This day was unbelievable, I learned about my great-grandparents, I heard many war stories from Antoni, how they lived their life during the war, under communism and now freedom.



  1. Janina, Thank you so much for posting your blog. My Polish ancestors came to the U.S. back in 1872 and the mid 1890’s. I have no clue if I still have living relatives in Poland. I know where my grandmother’s parents (Tenczar and Januszek) were born and raised but I haven’t been able to find my grandfather’s family (Kania and Noncek). I am living vicariosly thru you and hope to one day be able to visit my family’s homeland. Safe travels and wishing you many more great discoveries on your trip.

    Sincerely, Karen L. Kania-Forehand

  2. Janina,
    Thank you for this wonderful story. I recently connected with a distant cousin in Poland who told me my grandfather’s house was probably burned with all the others during the war. I also see that many of the Polish relatives died during the war. I just could not understand until I read your story. Living in the US and never having lived through a war here, it was hard for me to imagine what it was like for the people of Poland.
    Thank you for helping me get a true picture of what it was like during the war.

  3. Karen,
    Thank you!
    I had searched for 5 + years on websites, talked to my relatives in Ohio, posted on sites and I was unable to recover additional information on exactly were my ancestors came from and what was my real surname. The first day in Poland I received the answer from Zenon via email. Wow was I excited. My personalized ancestry trip was to begin with Zenon in 2 days with my number one question – My true surname was answered. From the moment I received the email knowing now “who I was” I was ecstatic. When my trip began on Monday each day was so exciting. This trip was so much more than I ever expected. The best trip I have ever taken – and I have travel a lot. I wish I would have gone years before however the past can not be changed but I am planning for the future. I will be going to Poland again next year and hiring Zenon . To have someone who is a great genealogist, who can translate Polish to English allowing you to be able communicate with relatives, becomes just as excited as you when a piece of the puzzle is found, & personalized your trip to whatever budget one can afford- 1 star to 5 star – was worth more than I can put in words. I hope you will be able to go someday. I am home now and I am missing Poland and can not wait to go next year to visit with the families I found and the ones I did not have time to visit.


  4. Hello Janina!
    Many Years ago we had a polish Nun in the Catholic Church in Trondheim,Norway with the same name as you have. Is she one of your relatives from Poland?

    Konrad (also a 1/2 pole)
    From Norway

  5. I saw your post on from 2013/09/13 about your grandfather, Jan Sobotka.
    Could there be a connection between us?

    My name is John Sobotka and I live in New York US. My grandfather, Stanislaus Sobotka and his older brother, Jan, came to the US in 1905 from Brzezno, Goworowo, Poland and settled in the Syracuse, New York area. Jan went back to Poland in 1907 and returned in 1909. In 1912, his wife Maryanna Klimszewski and their four children came to the US.
    Stanislaus & Jan Sobotka’s parents were
    Piotr & Maryanna (Skrzecza) Sobotka.

  6. Hi John,

    My grandfather was Jan Kruk, his parents were Joesph Kruk who married Marianne Sobotka (1847 or so). This would be my great grandparents. Maryanna parents were Jan Sobotka and Franciszka Sobotka. I don’t know the year but early 1800’s. The Sobotka name was very common in the area of Brzezno, Goworowo Poland . I would say we are not related because this is such a common surname in the area. My research thus far was only my grandfathers parents and I do not have any other information on the Sobotka name or other family members brothers, sisters etc. If you ever have a chance to visit Poland and want to find your ancestors, PolishOrigins is the company to hire. If you followed my blog the first day of my search my first cousin was found. I have visited Poland twice since my tour and continue to discover more family. Such an awesome experience!!!


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