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German Ancestors in Poland

I was happy to read Iwona Dakiniewicz's recent article on German emigrants in Poland. This is a subject not that many researchers are not familiar with. I'm hoping that the story of my German / Polish / Russian research will encourage others to pursue what they think is a genealogical brick wall.

My maternal Busia [colloquial termfor "grandmother"], Stephanie Stejmer Grzanka, spoke very little English, and we didn't understand Polish. But over the years we learned that her father was German and had become a Catholic when he married her mother in Poland. As children we gave no thought to the time-frame of those events and, based on the conversation of the adults around regarding Germany and Poland and World War II, our imagination lead us to create our own story about Busia's parents. We decided that a handsome German soldier far from home met a beautiful Polish girl. They fell in love and lived happily ever after. Years later research proved our imaginative tale was far from the truth. Even Busia's maiden name, Stejmer, wasn't quite right. So what were the facts?

Busia and my grandfather, Lawrence Grzanka, were married at st. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago. Luckily, st. Stanislaus was one of those churches whose marriage records were more detailed than most. In addition to birth dates and parent's names, the church asked where the intended bride and groom were born and baptized. I already knew Busia's family lived in the Russian partition, so having two village locations narrowed the search.

Map of Poland, with the shaded box indicating the general area in which Rosalie's research was concentrated.

Not surprisingly the birth village, Slup, was evidently too small to find on my maps. But a contact at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City did find a village by that name within a reasonable distance of Zuzela, where the parish church was located. That parish would be the candidate for my search. The church records had only been filmed through 1880, however, and we had estimated that Busia's birth was at least 10 years later.

However, it might be possible to locate earlier family records that would confirm the location. Beginning with the latest records filmed (1880), I found them to be neatly written but strangely undecipherable. Then reality hit-this was Russian Poland, and after the insurrection in the 1860s the Tsarist government had decreed that the records must be kept in Russian!

I skipped back to the 1860s and found records in Polish that I could deal with. A careful study of the records all the way back to the oldest films found no one with the family names I was searching for. The fallback position was to check surrounding parishes. Using Zuzela as a center point, I drew several increasingly large circles and listed the parishes that fell within those boundaries. This was going to be a slow process!

Map of former eastern Ostroleka and western Lomza provinces (1975-1998), now northeastern Mazowieckie province. Places mentioned in the article are printed in bold italic type. Dots topped with crosses indicate villages with parish churches; triangles topped with crosses indicate the seats of deaneries. The scale is approximately 1 inch = 5 km. The map is based on information in EuroReiseatlas 1 :300.000 Polen and Miilleroioa's Roman Catholic Parishes in the Polish People's Republic in 1984.

Not until I got to the third parish, Andrzejewo, did I find a name I recognized. I saw a Kalupa, my great-grandmother's maiden name, and then another and another. But could I link these Kalupas to Busia? The only Kalupa I knew was her mother, Rozalia. If I found someone by that name, how would I know if she was the right one?

Praying I wasn't wasting my time on researching strangers, I started assembling the data on the Kalupas as I found them. Births for children with the same parents were put on family group sheets. As I came across marriages for the parents, as well as related family deaths, they were included, and gradually several families began to emerge. I only found one Rozalia born in 1864. Was she my great-grandmother? A spot check of other parishes turned up no other Kalupas. Having already invested time and effort on this family and finding no other likely candidates, I decided to pursue this lead. But how?

Writing directly to the church was an option, but there was no guarantee they would receive my letter, or reply. Instead I decided to contact Iwona Dakiniewicz in Poland. Her services had produced positive results for several PGSA members. After exchanging e-mails we agreed on what needed to be done, a fee for services, and when Iwona could work the research into her schedule. I made copies of the records I had found, summarized other material, and forwarded everything to her.

Iwona's church visits turned up more Kalupas, including some in postinsurrection records written in Russian, and another Rozalia born in 1866 during a five-year gap in the filmed births. Was she my great-grandmother?

The marriage record of Karol Stejmer and Rozalia Kalupa could hold the answer since, if it followed the standard format, the names of the parents would be shown.

Iwona persisted, and several days later an e-mail arrived summarizing the details of the marriage, along with the news that the original had been copied and mailed to me. The names of the parents verified that the second Rozalia she had found in the later Russian records was the one who had married Karol Stejmer. Without Iwona's help this marriage and second birth record, both written in Russian and not yet filmed, would have been nearly impossible to find.

The biggest and most exciting surprise was what the document told us about Karol Sztermer (note the different spelling!). He was born in Pechratka, a Polish village, on May 25, 1860, and his parents were Alexander Sztermer and Barbara Wagner. Karol's surname appeared to be a Polish version of a German name. His parents, Alexander Sztermer and Barbara Wagner, lived in a village not far from Andrzejewo.

To anyone not interested in genealogy, that would have concluded the research. I had found my "German" great-grandfather and he was born in Russian Poland. I even had his birth date and his parents' names.

But the answer only raised more questions. Why was Karol's family living in Russian Poland in 1860 when Karol was born? Then I recalled a comment made in a letter my mother had received during a brief correspondence with a cousin in Poland. The cousin knew very little about Karol Sztermer, her grandfather, or his family, but the story she told was that when he married Rozalia Kalupa and became a convert his family disowned him. If his family lived in the area this would make sense.

Pechratka was listed in the Slownik GeograJiczny, which said it was part of the Evangelical parish of Paproc Duza. Checking the LDS records online, I found there were film records for the parish dating back to 1837. If the Sztermer family was in them, an upcoming trip to Salt Lake City would be the ideal time to look for them.

The films of the Evangelical records in Salt Lake City appeared to be very similar to the Catholic parish records I was familiar with-the format was the same and, thankfully, the language was Polish. I went directly to the records for 1860, and, just as the marriage document had stated, there on May 25 was Karol's birth. The only change was the spelling of the name, the more German-appearing Stoermer. After listening to all Fred Hoffman's lectures on names, I wasn't surprised! [Editor-It can also be spelled Stormer]. In addition to my great-grandfather I found most, if not all, of his siblings. Karol was the youngest. The first, Albina Ludwika Maryanna, was born in 1838.

Paproc Duza had only one other Stoermer family that was close in age to Karol's parents, Alexander and Barbara. Ernest Stoermer and Zofia Kisel were married in 1838 and had at least 6 children. Ernest's parents were Otto Solomon Stoermer and Ernestyna Lukenbach. Otto was a witness at Ernest's marriage, and Alexander was a witness when Ernest's first child was born. Were Ernest and Alexander brothers?

The Evangelical parish was quite large and covered many surrounding villages. According to the Slownik GeograJiczny, 2,000 Germans lived in the area. I was puzzled by the fact that the Evangelical parish had no records prior to 1838 for such a sizeable German population. In discussing this with other researchers they recommended checking nearby Catholic parishes, as the churches were the designated recorders of vital statistics prior to the establishment of civil records. I was somewhat skeptical, but if I could find Alexander's marriage it could confirm if Otto and Ernestyna were his parents.

Since I hadn't seen Stoermer /Sztermer in early records of Andrzejewo, I ordered films for the adjacent parish of Jasienica. In marriages for the early 1830s German names began appearing-and then on November 12, 1837, there were the names of Alexander Stoermer and Barbara Wagner! Best of all, Alexander's parents were Otto and Ernestyna, and the record stated Alexander had been born in Kowalówka (also called Mecklenburg), Russian Poland in 1820. In Jasienica parish I found more children for Otto and Ernestyna and the birth of Alexander's wife, Barbara Wagner, as well. Although the films for the parish start in 1808, I found an absence of German names prior to 1815.

Subsequently I've learned that the settlement of Paproc Duza and other parts of Russia and Russian Poland was the result oflate 16th-century colonization efforts by Catherine the Great of Russia (who was German), and the colonizing activity was continued after 1801 by her grandson Alexander.

I now know the following: my greatgrandfather was German in his ethnicity, culture, language and religion, but by birth he was a second-generation Russian Pole whose grandparents had emigrated from Germany about 55 years before he was born.

After many years of searching, it is satisfying to finally have answers. However if you, too, enjoy the challenge of genealogy, you know the question I'm now haunted by: "Where in Germany did they come from?" Someday I hope to have that answer too!

by Rosalie Lindberg, 524 Parkwood Ave., Park Ridge IL 60068-2228, e-mail: Rosalindy@aol.com

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Last Updated on October 7, 2012