My sleep timing is out of sorts and I woke up at 4am. I watched the sun rise from my hotel room while I did battle with a bee. There is no AC in the hotel and it is dreadfully hot in Poland now. It was near 90 degrees today and there is no relief in sight. Eventually I met Zen for breakfast. The meal consisted of cold cuts, coffee, fruit, scrambled eggs and a lemon coffee cake. This is more than I usually eat before 8pm at home.
We set off before nine to meet out local genealogist, Marek, at the parish administration office in Debowiec. The parishioners of Zarzecze, where Wojciech Michnal is from, belonged to this parish and any records regarding births, deaths, marriages, etc. would have been recorded here.
The good news is that the Catholic Church in Poland was very good at recording such things. The bad news is that the Germans, Russians, Swedes, Cassocks, Tartars, Turks, Ukrainians, Romanians, etc. have had an annoying habit of invading Poland and destroying everything in their paths. Thankfully, the parish priests in Debowiec are friendly toward those in my situation and are more than willing to share what has survived with us.
>On the way to the offices, we pass through the village of Zarzecze which is little more than an extension of Debowiec across the Wisloka River. We stopped for the obligatory picture with the Zarzecze sign:
Before the trip I had managed to learn much about Wojciech Michnal that would help me with my research here in Poland. For instance, from his WWII draft registration card, I knew he was from one of many towns in Poland called Zarzecze.
From his first wedding register, I knew his parents’ names were Jakub and Apolonia Michnal and that he was from that part of Poland that was part of Austria at the time.
And I even knew his father’s address in Poland at the time he emigrated from Poland (house 25 in Zarzecze) thanks to the Ship Manifest of his ship, the S.S. Pennsylvania in 1909:
Upon arrival at the parish offices, we are met by our researcher, Marek, and brought to what looks like a formal dining room with a table covered by some very old books – so we jump right in.
>It took no time at all until we found Wojciech, along with his parents, Jakub and Apolonia Michnal at the address indicated on the ship manifest, #25 Zarzecze. And at the same time, we learned quite a bit of new info including some very surprising names:
This one document alone contains the names of four generations of Michnals. First Wojciech is listed along with eight other siblings as the son of Jakub Michnal and Apolonia Michnal. Yes, her maiden name is also Michnal (a rare name in Poland but a common one in this village). From this we can see that Wojciech’s father is the son of Jozef Michnal and…get this….Wiktoria Michnal. Apolonia is the daughter of a different Jakub Michnal and Kryztina Marek.
Above this we can see that Jozef and Wiktoria Michnal also live at #25 and their parents are listed as well. Jozef is the son of a Jedrzej Michnal and Maria Chochol while Wiktoria is the daughter of Franciszek Michnal and Katarzyna Niziolek.
Thankfully, we have a very friendly priest who confers with us often about current parishioners that are descendants of some of Wojciech’s siblings. We discover that Wojciech’s youngest sibling, Wladislaw, has a daughter and daughter in law alive and well living on the property where Wojciech grew up.
From even older records we also learn of a couple of generations further back on the male line from Wojciech. Jedrzej Michnal was the son of Tomasz Michnal, who was born about 1757 in Zarzecze to a Bernard Michnal. His wife is listed as Agnieszka Wodynski. It is amazing that I’m looking at a book with writing about my ancestors recorded before the Declaration of Independence. The book has fared better than the latter document which is quite faded and barely legible in its case at the National Archives.
So just from today’s research, the male line from me back is:
Dave Michnal, son of
Today’s discoveries are very cool and it is interesting that each given name is unique.
After a full morning of research, we took off to see the old homestead and look up those parishioners to whom I’m related. I was apprehensive about barging into their lives so many years after my great grandfather left for a better life in America but Zen was anything but hesitant. I guess I was worried that they will have no interest in meeting me or at worst be hostile. I needn’t have worried.
The first people we run into are a youngish blonde woman and what appears to be her daughter, walking along the side street. We ask them for directions and learn shortly that they are my second and third cousins. They are somewhat shocked by the news that an unknown cousin has come all the way from America and dropped in on them unexpectedly. They are the daughter and granddaughter of Wojciech Michnal’s youngest brother Wladislaw, through a now deceased son of the latter. They brought me in to meet their mother, Janina, who was Wladislaw Michnal’s daughter-in-law. She seems genuinely delighted to meet me and we talk for some time through my interpreter.
After a while, she urges me to come back after 5pm to meet her neighbor who is the daughter of Wladislaw, my first cousin, twice removed. However because they don’t really use the concept of (cousin, x times removed) like we do, Elizabeta, the blonde woman who is the granddaughter of Wladislaw Michnal, and who is much younger than I am, is declared my “aunt” even if she is really my second cousin once removed.
After taking our leave, we grab some lunch and return at five p.m. to meet their neighbor, Danuta, who is my first cousin twice removed. I had assumed that Janina would have given Danuta a warning call but this apparently did not occur. Danuta is outside watering her beautiful garden when we walk up and seems quite confused as Zen begins his explanation of who I am and why we are there. As a flourish of words in Polish flow from Zen’s mouth Danuta’s face slowly began to change as her eyes grew larger and flash back and forth from Zen to me while an expression of astonishment grew greater and greater on her face.
After Zen concluded and explained to me that she was indeed my first cousin I approached her to shake her hand in greeting and she brushed it aside in a single motion as she gave me the three cheek European kiss greeting. She seemed near tears and Zen explained to me that she said she was very moved that I would come this far to learn about the Michnal family. We were quickly ushered into the house and seated at their dining room table where a long conversation in Polish ensued of which I was only an occasional participant. I was struck by the fact that there were so many religious icons, symbols everywhere, just like at Grandma Jean and Grandpa Ted’s house on Hammond St in Detroit.
I remembered then that I found a record before I left that indicated Wojciech Michnal has visited Poland (presumably Zarzecze in particular) in 1949, and asked Danuta if she knew about it. She answered that she was too young to have met him but that her neighbor was a young woman at the time and remembers the trip. She sent her daughter, Paulina over to see if she was home. In the meantime, Danuta shot out of cannon as if she just remembered she left something in the oven to burn and hurried out of the room. Since I could not understand anything that was happening I looked to Zen who shrugged his shoulders and we waited. She quickly returned with a framed picture that she had hanging in some other part of the house… she showed it to me and said “Wojciech Michnal.”
Now it was my turn for my jaw to drop as I had traveled all the way to Poland and on my first full day there was in the house of my first cousin and she brought me a framed photograph of my great grandfather with his second wife (also named) Anna. See below:
My head was spinning at this point and I wondered if I could take two weeks of this excitement. Danuta mentions that she’d love if we could join her for lunch at her house on Sunday, after which we were invited to join her at the Gmina Dębowiec Harvest Festival… what luck I was having! Danuta then took us to the Parish Cemetery where we visit the graves of some of our kin including my great great grandparents Jakub and Apolonia (Michnal) Michnal. Marek explained to me that in this town Michnal is like Smith even though the Michnal name is not found anywhere else in Poland except by those that can trace their family back to Zarzecze (very lucky fact from a genealogy perspective).
After returning from the cemetery, we go meet another cousin, this time an elderly daughter of Wojciech Michnal’s younger sister Franciszka named Maria (first cousin twice removed). She talks to us for a while and relays some stories about the family but she is clearly tired so we don’t wear out our welcome and prepare to leave. Before I go, she does show me a laminated obituary of Wojciech that was sent to her from America after his death.
We took our leave and returned to the hotel exhausted. Not only was I still fighting the jet lag from my trip but also the dizziness from so much information, emotion, and activity all packed into one day. Luckily, tomorrow promises to be a more relaxed day.