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In their footsteps (1): The villages

Poland Day 25. Given the south-to-north trajectory of my trip, and given my Polish ancestors came from the north, it worked out that my last full day in Poland would be spent visiting some of the villages they’d lived in.

To help achieve this I’d booked a guide a few months before – Margaret, who I’d spent a day with the previous week. I wouldn’t be returning to Gdańsk so on what started out as yet another blue sky day I checked out and waited for the car to arrive.

We began with a repeat visit to Pelplin. This wasn’t part of the original plan, but I’d ordered a few official records after the research day and we needed to pick them up. This took longer than I thought but it provided an opportunity to visit the parish church.

Pelplin's Corpus Christi Church

Pelplin’s Corpus Christi Church

While it’s possible that family sacraments did occur here, since it is believed that one branch of the family settled in the area, we don’t yet have records to confirm this. I did however find the grave of someone in the extended family.

I saw memorials to Pope John Paul II in most places I went to. On the outskirts of Pelplin is a hill and field where he led holy mass in June 1999

I saw memorials to Pope John Paul II in most places I went to. On the outskirts of Pelplin is a hill and field where he led holy mass in June 1999

Not far away is Bielawki where family belonging to my great-great-great uncle Anton Fabich lived. Of the eight surviving children of our main ancestors, we think Anton was the only son to remain in Poland. About 3-400 people live in Bielawki today and presumably it was less back then. Smaller villages didn’t usually have their own church and therefore cemetery so we had a quick look for any other building that appeared historical. There wasn’t much of that but I did see other points of interest.

I saw plenty of roadside shrines in my travels but don't think I've yet posted a photo. This one was outside a home for the disabled run by nuns

I saw plenty of roadside shrines in my travels but don’t think I’ve yet posted a photo. This one was outside a home for the disabled run by nuns

I wouldn't have noticed this had it not been pointed out: a huge nest belong to the white stork. They resort to telegraph poles if they can't find a suitable nesting place elsewhere. To mitigate the electrocution risk, platforms have been installed at the top of poles (by Poles :) ). Every autumn the storks flap off to warmer climes hence this nest is empty

I wouldn’t have noticed this had it not been pointed out: a huge nest belong to the white stork. They resort to telegraph poles if they can’t find a suitable nesting place elsewhere. To mitigate the electrocution risk, platforms have been installed at the top of poles (by Poles 🙂 ). Every autumn the storks flap off to warmer climes hence this nest is empty

Margaret directed us to the large nearby town of Starogard Gdański as it has a good regional museum and gift shop. There are no records of family having lived here and apart from when they began their journey to leave Poland, I’ve wondered whether their lives saw any need to travel to the local ‘big smoke’. At the time family emigrated, SG had a population of about 6,000; it’s 8x that these days.

The Museum of Kociewie in Starogard Gdański is located in what was the north-west corner of the 14th century city walls. Starogard means 'old city' in the old regional language and Gdański was tacked on as a differentiator

The Museum of Kociewie in Starogard Gdański is located in what was the north-west corner of the 14th century city walls. Starogard means ‘old city’ in the old regional language and Gdański was tacked on as a differentiator

The Gdańsk Gate Tower (the gate part was cut off some time ago but you can almost envisage it being there), part of the museum

The Gdańsk Gate Tower (the gate part was cut off some time ago but you can almost envisage it being there), part of the museum

We had a lovely impromptu meeting with Zbigniew Potocki who manages the historical exhibitions and who was happy to help out with our genealogical quest. Margaret was on the phone teeing up a potential appointment for later in the day

We had a lovely impromptu meeting with Zbigniew Potocki who manages the historical exhibitions and who was happy to help out with our genealogical quest. Margaret was on the phone teeing up a potential appointment for later in the day

One valuable bit of information gleaned was that Pan Potocki referred to the emigration route being from Starogard Gdański to Berlin to Hamburg. This was the first confirmation I’d heard of the route and was the journey I was booked to take the next day.

The gift shop lured me in and while there we also met the Museum Director. He too was interested in the family chart I was trucking around with and extended an offer to help further via email

The gift shop lured me in and while there we also met the Museum Director. He too was interested in the family chart I was trucking around with and extended an offer to help further via email

Next we went to Linowiec where a couple of branches of the family lived, including that of the elusive Anton. Unsure how many people live here now but it seems quite small.

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We had eyes peeled for historical buildings and this may have been the oldest

We had eyes peeled for historical buildings and this may have been the oldest

One thing was becoming clear: the villages don’t seem to have retained the dwellings of a century or more ago. In some areas I imagine it would be to do with attrition through conflict, in other cases I guess the structures may fail to stand the test of time or disappear for pragmatic reasons.

We do not know any locations where family dwellings were. Being able to sight actual places (regardless of what’s there today) would have been fantastic. Failing that, an historical look and feel would have provided an additional connection with my forebears – a time bridge of sorts – and the absence of this was a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, these were their lands and it was an accomplishment to take a fleeting if vague walk in their footsteps.

A short drive away was the village of Bączek where four of the children were born between 1824-1831 (Josephina, Johann, Anton and Stepfan who sadly didn’t make it to his second birthday). My great-great grandfather was still several years away from making his appearance. Today Bączek has a population of about 500.

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Cobblestoned backroad to the neighbouring village

Cobblestoned backroad to the neighbouring village

Road from Bączek to Krąg - only 5km but it seemed longer with the long rough cobblestone section

Road from Bączek to Krąg – only 5km but it seemed longer with the long rough cobblestone section

The family lived in Krąg for a short time before they moved to Bączek and was where the second child, Francis, was born in 1821. He slightly simplified what has become a big family tree by dying in his 20s with no wife or children. Mum hasn’t yet been able to track down where they were living before that for the birth of the first child, Barbara.

Down another cobblestone road we found the old railway station and station house, now private residences. The line was decommissioned about 25 years ago. The railway came to town long after family had left but it was still fascinating to find these historical traces

Down another cobblestone road we found the old railway station and station house, now private residences. The line was decommissioned about 25 years ago. The railway came to town long after family had left but it was still fascinating to find these historical traces

We flitted through the cemetery though no records point to any family being here

We flitted through the cemetery though no records point to any family being here

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Next up was the main stop of the day at nearby Kokoszkowy – which is quite a nice sounding name but translates to “hen’s place”!

The region is peppered with forestry. Not here but on the other side of Kokoszkowy is the Szpęgawskiego Forest where the Nazis executed 5-7,000 people

The region is peppered with forestry. Not here but on the other side of Kokoszkowy is the Szpęgawskiego Forest where Nazis executed 5-7,000 people

Today about 1,400 people live here so probably it’s always been a relatively large village. It’s the base of the local parish, the focal point being the ~700 year old church St Barbara’s. This was of special interest to my visit being where the last four children were baptised: my g-g grandfather Joseph Fabich in 1837 and his siblings Anna, Simon and Matthias. In time it witnessed multiple marriages and baptisms of the next generation.

St Barbara's

St Barbara’s

The church with its strong Gothic vibe has looked like this since the 14th century

The church with its strong Gothic vibe has looked like this since the 14th century

There were sad events too, such as the traumatic time in 1873 when Catherina, first wife of Joseph, and their two youngest children, died in the cholera epidemic. Joseph moved on out of necessity (presumably!) and remarried the same year.

Kokoszkowy has two cemeteries, the old one surrounds the church. It's not very big and a walkabout revealed very little that was actually very old. It seems that if families don't stay in the area to visit or (financially?) maintain graves, the plots will be reissued

Kokoszkowy has two cemeteries, the old one surrounds the church. It’s not very big and a walkabout revealed very little that was actually very old. It seems that if families don’t stay in the area to visit or (financially?) maintain graves, the plots will be reissued

These seemed to be the oldest identifiable graves in the old cemetery

These seemed to be the oldest identifiable graves in the old cemetery

One nice find was the grave of Father Karol Latzke who was church pastor 1839-1846 and would've baptised one or both of my great-great grandfather's two younger siblings

One nice find was the grave of Father Karol Latzke who was church pastor 1839-1846 and would’ve baptised one or both of my great-great grandfather’s two younger siblings

The age of the church was particularly apparent when we went inside.

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The only thing mum asked me to bring back (though she ended up with a lot more!) was rosary beads dipped in holy water at St Barbara's

The only thing mum asked me to bring back (though she ended up with a lot more!) was rosary beads dipped in holy water at St Barbara’s

Margaret had organised something else that added another dimension to my time here.

We met with the parish rector, Father Marek Błażejczyk. A busy man, he was nonetheless very helpful and provided resources that will be useful on the research front, as well as a lovely picture of the church that I gave to mum

We met with the parish rector, Father Marek Błażejczyk. A busy man, he was nonetheless very helpful and provided resources that will be useful on the research front, as well as a lovely picture of the church that I gave to mum

Father Błażejczyk will also be giving mention to my great-great grandfather and family at mass today (18 Oct) at 6pm in Poland, which will be 5am NZ time tomorrow. Mum has said she’ll be getting up!

Kiwis over here on genealogical missions aren’t uncommon by any means and the Father had met with two NZ women just the month before. He has also been to NZ himself.

We stopped near a paddock of deer on the way out of Kokoszkowy

We stopped near a paddock of deer on the way out of Kokoszkowy

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We returned to Starogard Gdański where I was staying the night. Given the amount that had to be fitted into the day we’d not had lunch, so Margaret and Marek stayed long enough to devour an early dinner at the hotel restaurant before returning to Gdańsk. It had been a long day and their services had been excellent.

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Tempting as it was to call it quits for the day, I decided to use the last hour of daylight to see the market square since there wouldn’t be any opportunity before my 6.19am(!) train.

Another dose of Gothic architecture at St Matthew's Church

Another dose of Gothic architecture at St Matthew’s Church

Part of the rynek

Part of the rynek

The current city hall building in the middle of the square was around when my ancestors were though has had a rebuild since then

The current city hall building in the middle of the square was around when my ancestors were though has had a rebuild since then

I chose the hotel for its proximity to the station and it was about a 20 minute walk to/from the rynek. Nearby is Sobieski, a vodka distillery part-owned by Bruce Willis and when I returned the sun was setting in the cloudy skies behind it.

Back at the hotel I bought a premixed drink from reception to toast the end of my time in Poland. After close to four weeks on the ground here it was almost all over. It had been a busy couple of days so I hadn’t really had time to reflect.

Back in my room I couldn’t see a bottle opener: no problem, I’d only that day bought a fridge magnet with inbuilt opener. I looked down to absent-mindedly check the label and chuckled: Sobieski.

Yonder the distillery

Yonder the distillery

Cheers Bruce, cheers Poland.

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If anyone reads this who has information about the Fabich family in Poland, please either leave a comment below or get in touch via the About > Contact page. Thank you!

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Janice Strong #

    Hayley this is amazing and the research you, your Mum, Margaret and Marek have put in is incredible. So interesting and again the eeriness of what has gone before is there in your photos and your writing particularly about the Nazis. Everything is so clean looking and in place. Of course I loved the stork’s nest and the deer. Thanks Hayley I really liked this blog too.

    18 October 2015
    • Thank you so much Janice. The deer were gorgeous – curious but skittery! x

      19 October 2015
  2. Haley, I commend you for an outstanding travel log. This has been wonderful and the photos of are so quite good. I think Poland is a beautiful country with the beautiful and unique buildings and churches. I loved St Barbara’s. The inside is truly marvelous. Your trip was quite successful even if you did not get the ancestral records that you sought. I had not idea that lots of Polish people had emigrated to New Zealand.

    19 October 2015
    • Thank you again Yvonne. It was a big important day and with the benefit of hindsight I would probably have structured it a bit differently, if not allocated a further day, but on the whole it went really well and I’m glad I saw what I did. I do think another research trip is in order in a few years’ time. What I have wondered is the background to why some of the families went to NZ and others to the USA. Choice? Luck of the draw? The numbers to NZ weren’t too big – one estimate is “over 1,000” during the 19th century.

      19 October 2015
  3. Maryanne Butler #

    Beautiful photos wonderful details of your trip – your Mum Christine must be very pleased with you efforts

    22 October 2015
    • Hi Maryanne, thanks very much – and yes Mum has been rather rapt. Thank you for the details you’ve passed on to her which are helping fill a few blanks – my trip has helped prompt a spurt of focus on the Polish line! I’ve not paid too much attention before now and find it really interesting.

      22 October 2015
  4. Fantastic! Some year ago we made the trip to Karelia where my wife searches her father’s house.

    Return to the roots.

    30 April 2016
    • Thanks for the link – really interesting!

      30 April 2016
  5. CHERYL K PORTESAN #

    Hi Hayley, I am doing research on the Przybylski family and I show a marriage between Stanislaus Przybylski and Elizabetha Fabichowna. In poland the daughters would attach the suffix ‘owna’ to the end of the fathers name so I’m assuming her family name is Fabich. Do you have any information related to this?

    Parish of Pogrzybow — woj. Wielkoposki, formerly in the old woj. Kalisz
    http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~polwgw/archives/pogrzmar1.html

    PolandGenWeb
    Parish of Pogrzybow
    Selected Marriages 1792-1895
    Page# Rec# Village Groom Bride
    1804
    154 97 Jaskolki PRZYBYLSKI Stanislaus FABICHOWNA Elizabetha

    24 November 2016
    • Hi Cheryl – this is very interesting, I’ve referred this on to my mother and will reply again once I hear from her. Thank you!

      24 November 2016

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