I got started in this whole genealogy thing by accident; I simply wanted to find out if my grandfather Smock was dead or alive. I hadn’t seen him since I was 2 or 3 years old and my dad didn’t care to talk too much about his father who had deserted his family when he was a child. To make a long story short, in a period of a few short months, I visited several county courthouses and found my grandfathers grave and got to meet my dad’s half sister who didn’t even know I existed. While I was on a roll, I decided to trace the Smock name back as far as I could. In the next few months, I researched at Clayton library and on several of the old genealogy bulletin boards (this was before the internet) and traced the Smock family back to a Dutch immigrant who came to New Amsterdam in 1640.
That was sure easy, less then 6 months of part time research and I’ve traced my Dutch ancestor’s back to the 1600’s. By then I had kind of caught the genealogy bug and I figured if I could do Dutch, I could do Polish, so now I’ll tackle my dad’s mothers side. I remembered that my sister had interviewed my grandmother, Agnes Polka, before her death and had written down some information on her parents and grandparents. According to her notes, Agnes’ grandparents on her mother’s side were Albert and Catherine Kuciemba Maduzia. I found some information on Albert and Catherine in the Robertson County courthouse and on the microfilmed census records, but I couldn’t find any information that would indicate which village in Poland they were from. After a lot of searching, I talked one of the clerks into unlocking a dark, dusty room at the Robertson County courthouse and finally found Albert’s naturalization record. This record turned out to be a disappointment; it was one of the old, short forms that didn’t have much information on it. About all it said was that Albert was from Prussia. By this time I had done some research on the partitions of Poland and something didn’t make sense. My dad had told me that his mother was born in Austria, not Prussia. As hard as I looked, I couldn’t find any information on Albert and Catherine’s home villages. I never even thought to doubt Catherine’s maiden name of Kuciemba. Surely, I thought, my grandmother knew her own grandmother’s name.
While searching for clues on Albert Maduzia’s home village, I found lots of information on the Kuciemba’s who lived in Bremond and New Waverly. I searched the Walker county courthouse and found some naturalization papers that contained a gold mine of information on Louis Kuciemba. One of the forms said he was born in Zotoria and another said Zwotoria, but they all said Austria-Hungary as his place of birth. The forms also listed his last foreign place of residence as Jaworze. At last, I had some clues to work with. I got out my Poland atlas and found 2 towns named Jaworze and 6 towns with Jaworze as the first word. One of the towns of Jaworze was near Torum and there was a town named Zlotoria not too far away, but these were not in the Austrian partition of Poland. There were two towns side-by-side named Jaworze Dolne and Jaworze Gorne in Southeast Poland, but there was no town named Zotoria or Zwotoria near them. However, I decided that this was worth a look, so I checked with my local LDS Library and to my surprise, the Catholic Church records had been filmed and were available on loan from Salt Lake. I ordered the films and went about searching for Catherine Kuciemba Maduzia. In a short period of time, I had a complete family tree on Louis Kuciemba’s family, although I didn’t find Louis’ birth record.
While researching the Kuciemba’s, I couldn’t help but notice that there were tons or Maduzia’s in the Jaworze area and I also found that Louis Kuciemba’s wife’s name was Catherine Maduzia and there was no one named Catherine Kuciemba married to an Albert Maduzia. It didn’t take me long to begin to suspect that my grandmother had confused the name of her Aunt Catherine with the name of her mother. Well, back to the drawing board, how hard could it be to find Albert and Catherine Maduzia? The only problem was that there were lots of Albert Maduzia’s in the Jaworze area married to women named Catherine and to further confuse matters, they all seemed to name their children the same names. By then, I had found some of Albert and Catherine’s children’s birth records in Texas that listed her maiden name as Siwkowna, but I didn’t find that name in the Jaworze records.
Well, it was back to the old Robertson County courthouse to see if I missed a clue. Up to this time, I figured that all you needed to look at for genealogy research was birth, death and marriage records, which would tell you all you needed to know. This time I decided to look at any record that had Catherine’s name on it. Her name was on several deed records, but no maiden name was listed. Then I finally hit the jackpot, I found Catherine’s will dated 24 July 1916 and it was signed with her X, which told me that she could not write and probably couldn’t read. The fourth and fifth stipulation in the will got my attention. The will read:
Fourth. To Rev. Father I. J. Szymanski, for Masses for the deceased Gregory Constanczh Mandelskich, I give and bequeath the sum of two hundred dollars.
Fifth. To Rev. Father I. J. Szymanski, for Masses for the deceased Valenty Mary Siwek, I give and bequeath the sum of two hundred dollars.
Now the fourth stipulation didn’t make sense at all. Who was this Gregory guy with the German sounding last name and why would Catherine leave two hundred dollars for Masses for him? After all, two hundred dollars was a lot of money in those days to be leaving for prayers for someone, unless that someone was closely related to you. The fifth stipulation made a little more sense, this Valenty guy, even if he did have a woman’s middle name, had to be Catherine’s father. The last name of Siwek was pretty close to the Siwkowna name I had found earlier on the Texas birth records.
Back to the LDS library and this time it was easy. I was right, Catherine’s maiden name was Siwek and I found the birth records of all of her children that were born in Jaworze. The records also told me her parents and grandparents names. Her parents were Valentine and Maryanna Siwek (Valenty Mary Siwek in the will). Marryanna’s parents were Gregory and Constance Madelski (Gregory Constanczh Mandelskich in the will). The will had contained the clues I needed, even if the names were misspelled (Catherine couldn’t proof read the copy because she couldn’t read) and they didn’t bother to put “and” between the husband and wife’s names.
I then ordered films from the largest nearby town which was Pilzno and on this film there were records from a small village that is not on the map named Zlotoria, which contained the birth record of Louis Kuciemba.
I was now a veteran at this old genealogy game, so I started searching for records on grandma’s dad, Albert Polka. I had been at a disadvantage from the beginning since it seemed that none of my ancestors could read or write and they signed their X to whatever someone else happened to write on a piece of paper. They also seemed to be kind of secretive and didn’t put any valuable information on their naturalization papers. Why-o-why couldn’t they fill out an informative naturalization petition like Louis Kuciemba or maybe even keep a nice diary like Joseph Bartula?
I found Albert Polka’s naturalization petition in the Walker County courthouse and it came as no surprise to me that Albert listed his birthplace and last foreign residence as simply Poland. He did list the vessel he emigrated in as the Victoria out of Hamburg, but I’ve searched for years and have yet to find any ship records with his name on them. Albert didn’t leave any clues on his will like his mother-in-law had, so I had to come up with a new plan.
There were several other Polka’s in the Bremond and New Waverly area around the same time as Albert and my dad had told me they were all kin to Albert. But I hated to go chasing wild geese, so I decided to look at everything with Albert’s name on it before checking out any other Polka’s. The Robertson and Walker county deed records turned out to be worthwhile in this case because it seems that Albert only did real estate deals with kinfolk’s or people from his home village in Poland. After putting all of the pieces of the deed puzzles together, I had a good idea of who Albert’s brothers and sister were so I started looking for naturalization papers on them. This led me to the Declaration of Intention for John Polka that was filed in Austin County in 1882. John listed his place of birth as Dembetza, Galicia, Austria. By now I was used to misspelled words so turning Dembetza into the town of Debica in Southeastern Poland was a snap. LDS had filmed the church records for this town and I easily found the records for all of Albert’s family.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit of a detective if you want to trace your ancestor’s back to their home village in Poland. Don’t assume that the birth, death and marriage records of your ancestors will tell the whole story and don’t take family stories as gospel. Without the information contained in deed records, naturalization papers and wills of my ancestors and their relatives, I would still be trying to cross the ocean with my Polish family tree.