The Wieczkowski Genealogical Tour of Poland – Day 4


Friday, June 9, 2023

We are in the (former) Prussian partition of Poland, where the Szymenderas, Grandpa’s mom’s family, came from. Józef and Marianna (yes, it seems all of my ancestors were named Mary and Joseph) Szymendera emigrated to Buffalo, NY in 1893 with their eldest daughter Katarzyna. Of all the relatives born in Poland, Katarzyna Szymendera is the only one I knew. She took her permanent vows as a Felician Sister in 1919, taking the name Sister Mary Celesta (Sister Celeste). We would often visit her in the infirmary at the convent until her death in 1980.

I knew nothing about this branch of the family except that their point of emigration was Luboniec. I even had some incorrect information that our tour manager Kasia Tonia was able to correct early on in our email correspondence. I always thought that my 2x great-grandmother’s maiden name was Świderska because that is what is given in her obituary. But Kasia found the birth certificate of Józef and Marianna’s first daughter Katarzyna that gives Marianna’s maiden name as Woźniak. Marianna was illegitimate, and what we think happened is that her mother eventually married a Świderski (but we still need to confirm that) and Marianna took that name as well (even after being married with a child herself). 

My father remembers his grandfather Józef Szymendera. Dad remembers rolling a ball back-and-forth with Grandpa Józef and Grandpa Józef calling out “kululu”. Dad was heartwarmingly surprised when Zbigniew told him that “kula” means ball in Polish!

We started the day in the State Archives in Poznań, Gniezno Branch. Zbigniew had found some records online, but he wanted to see if there was anything else available. We did find some information about my 3x great-grandparents in the Niedźwiady civil census. The civil census added people to the register when they moved into the village and crossed them out when they left.

Finding the Szymenderas in the Niedźwiady civil census!

Here are my 3x great-grandparents Franciszek and Franciszka Szymendera – and some of their children and grandchildren – living in Niedźwiady and leaving in 1908

We spent the first part of the day visiting the villages and churches of my ancestors.

My 3x great-grandfather Franciszek Szymendera was born in 1840 in Wojciechowo.

His wife Franciszka Jakubowska was born in 1845 in Niedźwiady and baptized in St. Marten’s Church in Mchy. She and Franciszek Szymendera were married there in 1865. Their children, including my 2x great-grandfather Józef Szymendera, were baptized there. At that time, the family was living in Niedźwiady. Niedźwiady is one of the three oldest villages in the parish, dating to 1530. 

St. Marten’s Church in Mchy. The church was built in 1575-1616; it was plastered in 1900.
St. Marten’s Church in Mchy.

Józef Szymendera and my 2x great-grandmother Marianna Woźniak were married in 1888 in St. Lawrence’s Church in Zaniemyśl. This is also where my great-great-aunt Katarzyna, the only one of Józef and Marianna’s children to be born in Poland, was baptized in 1889. The church was built in 1840-1842 and was 2.9 miles from Luboniec, where the family lived. (Marianna was born in Luboniec in 1867).

St. Lawrence’s Church in Zaniemyśl.
St. Lawrence’s Church in Zaniemyśl. I love the light coming through the windows.
There was not much more to the village than what is seen in this photo.

All of the villages that we visited today were literally just a dozen houses and some farms. We drove through each and it took us a minute. In one, it looked like there were more cows than people. 

We knew that the last record of the Szymenderas had them moving to Cielnice in the 1920s. So in the afternoon, we went to Cielnice! We stopped to ask the first person we saw if she knew of any Szymenderas. She didn’t know anything – she had moved there recently. She walked us over to a couple (maybe in their 70s) who were working in their garden. This second woman immediately knew the name! Two sisters of her grandmother were “involved” with a Szymendera. He (first name unknown – we even asked a third woman – the oldest in the village – but she didn’t know) was betrothed to one sister but had a child with another. The father forced him to marry the first and they moved to France. We have no idea if this Szymendera is any relation to ours (Zbigniew hypothesizes it might be a son of my 2x great-grandfather’s sister), but we spent an amazing 30 minutes with this woman. She was a genealogist and showed us her photo album, with each photo labeled. She even had some documents and ID photos. She mentioned that two of her aunts (I think?) were sent to a German labor camp. Both returned, but one had lost an arm. That really hit me, and I couldn’t stop thinking it about for the rest of the day. That is history personified; the trauma is unthinkable; the resiliency of Polish citizens is admirable.



About DAY 5 you can read HERE.




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