Friday, August 30, 2013


Marya Klak, my paternal grandmother, wasa born in Zarvanytsia, Ukraine in 1889, the daughter of Joseph Klak and Anna Domerecka.  She had two brothers, Ivan and Andrij, and one sister, name unknown.  According to my father, Peter Noznick,  both her parents died when she was young, leaving the children orphans.   She was twenty-two when she came to the United States, her passage paid for by her brother.  My father said that since her family was so poor, her chances of marriage were unlikely.  She left Zarvanytsia in March of 1911, and sailed from Hamburg, Germany to New York, arriving on April 9, 1911.  As the ship neared New York Harbor, the steerage passengers came on the deck and watched for the Statue of Liberty. When the Statue came into view, the passengers fell on their knees and thanked God that they were in America.

Marya Klak, between 1911-1914
Marya went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, on Houston Street, in New York City.  She worked as a live-in maid for a family who lived on Riverside Drive.  They story my father told me was that her employer was a famous actress, but I can't remember her name.

Marya Klak and John Nyznyk, November 11, 1914

She married John Nyznyk on November 11, 1914, in St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, in New York City.  Although Marya was Polish, her husband was Ukrainian.  He was a harness maker, and according to family stories, served in the Austrian Army.  He also was a widower, and father of two children, Paul and Michelina, who were living in his home town of Pomorzany.  My father, Peter Paul, was born August 18, 1915 in Bellvue Hospital.   At the time, Marya and John were living on East 92nd Street in New York City. 

Shortly after Peter's birth, John and Marya separated. I haven't found any records of where Marya and Peter lived during this time, but I have to assume that they lived with members of her family in New York City.  My father  told me that his mother found a day nursery where working mother could leave their children, and enrolled him there. Later, she enrolled him in a school operated by the Children's Aid Society of New York, where he attended until the fourth grade. Marya worked several jobs, including a summer as a cook for a children's camp in upstate New York.  My father stayed with a family in the area and he remembers their collie dog fondly.

Peter Noznick in Central Park NYC 1920's

Peter Noznick 1917

Sometime between 1915 and 1920, Marya met and married Peter Zackowski, another Polish immigrant.  The family lived on Ave C across from the Eagle Pencil Factory. There was a fire station nearby and the horse drawn steam fire engines terrified my father.  They moved to 624 East Eleventh St, between Avenue B and C, and lived there until they moved to Connecticut. They worked several jobs and saved every penny until they had enough money to buy a farm in Windham Connecticut in 1930.  Moving to an old colonial house was a big change for Marya, she had never lived in a house that large in her life.  She wall-papered every room and furnished it with pieces from area farm sales.
Sometime during these years, she became known as Mary.

The Farm in Windham Connecticut, 1940's

Marya lived in Connecticut for the rest of her life.  She missed living in New York and having her friends and family nearby.  She did see them regularly, since they came to the farm for visits almost every summer.  They called her "Choch" which was a shorted form of auntie in Polish.  Marya and Peter ran a dairy farm until the late 1950's, when electric milking machine became the norm.  They continued to sell milk, eggs and hay into the 1960's.  Her son, Peter had three children, Pauline, Peter and Andrew, who spent many summers at the farm.  There was plenty to do there, even through there was no TV. There wan an old radio and an old Victrola record player, which required cranking to operate, as well as 100 acres of farmland and woods to explore.

Mary and her cows, Windham Center Connecticut 1960's

Mary Zackowski, Peter, Julia, Pauline and Peter Noznick 1949

Peter  Zackowski died in 1963. Shortly after his death, some friends brought Mary a puppy, who she named Skipper,  he was her companion for the last years of her life.  Mary died in 1969, a few weeks before the Astronauts landed on the moon. Peter and Mary Zackowski are buried in the Windham Center Cemetery, next to son and daughter-in-law Peter and Julia Noznick.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Say Shtutchin, You Say Szczuczyn......

Map of Poland, 1907, Szczuczyn is near Lomza

Szczuczyn is the red dot on this map of Poland


Szczuczyn, Poland was the home of the Monkovskis, the family of my husbands maternal grandparents.  It is an old market town, first mentioned in the fifteenth century.  In 1900, the population was about 3000, and 58% were Jews, most of them were traders and craftsmen.  An independent Jewish community was established in 1820 with a synagogue and Bet Midrash (House  of Study). The Jewish community of Szczcuzyn was destroyed in the Holocaust.  Many of the former residents have written memoirs of their town and its vibrant culture. 

Most of the Monkovski family left Szczcuzyn at the beginning of the twentieth century, emigrating to the United States and Israel, those who remained perished in the Holocaust.
I am including information about life in Szczuczyn from the memoirs of the former residents,  written after World War II, since the Monkovski's who lived there are no longer with us.

"Not far from the then German border lies the shtetl, Shtutsin [Szczuczyn]....  Jews there were engaged mainly in commerce and trade.  All businesses were Jewish. Only a few were of Christian proprietorship.  Two days in a week were market days: Tuesdays and Fridays.  The peasants came to these fairs with their products...and sold them to the Jews.  With the money they received, the peasants would buy from the Jews: clothes, drink and the like.  Life went on in this manner until Hitler came to power.  Anti-Semitism grew stronger and commerce was taken out of Jewish hands....Before anti-Semitism infested the shtetl, Jews had felt like their own masters....Everything had been open to the Jews: City hall, government institutions and all other offices." (Yeshiah Skubelski, from The Destruction of the Community of Szczuczyn, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1954)

Market Days in a Polish Shtetl

Itzhak Wertman writes in his memoir, From the Inferno, Back to Life, about his home in Szczuczyn in the 1920's.  "Economically, we weren't very rich, but also not poor.  We lived in a rented house next to the shop.  It had two rooms and a kitchen, and the bathroom was in the yard.  The living conditions in those days demanded a lot of work: we used to draw the bath water...from a well in the yard.  A Gentile woman brought our drinking water from the river....  We heated the house with a porcelain stove, which stood between the two rooms, and a lit a fire in it using wood and peat (and later by coal). The was a stove for cooking in the kitchen that we also lit with wood and peat.
As children, we used to play different games: we made balls from various rags and played with them or with a hoop that we rolled on the ground with a wire.  In the winter, when we studied at night, we used to make lanterns for ourselves.  (From the Inferno Back to Life pp. 3-19)

Wertman describes how his family celebrated the Sabbath:  "We always received the Sabbath with special preparations:  my mother cleaned the house for the Sabbath, made challot [Sabbath bread] and cakes every Thursday night, and on Friday took them to the bakery to bake them.  She also used to bring the cholent [a meat stew] that she made to the bakery.  On Sabbath morning, like all the other Jews in the city, we took the cholent home for our Sabbath meal.
Shortly before the entrance of the Sabbath, the Synagogue's dayan walked between the shops in the city and announced that it was time to close the shops for the approaching Sabbath.  All the city's Jews--men, women and children-gathered in the synagogue for the Sabbath prayer. [After the services, the family returned home for a festive meal] After the meal, every Friday night and also on the Sabbath, we wore our best clothes and went for a stroll in the city's main street." (pp. 3-19)

Scczuzyn, Poland

Chiam Monkovski's family, dressed in their best clothes, ready to celebrate the Sabbath in Szczuczyn. Chiam Monkovski was my husband's great Uncle.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On a little break....

Rooted in Eastern Europe is taking a break this week.  I will be back next Friday, August 23.  See you on line next week.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Your Ancestors Grew Hemp--Isn't that Marijuana?

Hemp Fields in Russia 1910.  From the Produkin-Gorskii Collection, Library of Congress

My Ukrainian ancestors grew hemp for a living.   The fact my great grandparents grew hemp was a source of snickering and jokes whenever it was mentioned.  My grandmother tried to make it very clear that no one used this plant as a recreational drug--it was far to valuable to them, and was one of the few ways that the family could earn some cash. In fact, my grandmother told me that she was punished as a girl when she and her friends knocked down hemp plants while they were playing.

Russian Woman Preparing Flax 1910. From the Produkin-Gorskii Collection.
So, was this the marijuana that people use today?  The answer is yes and no.  All hemp belongs to the cannabis family, and can't be grown legally in the United States.  The cannabis plant that is known as hemp has a very low concentration of THC, which is what gives marijuana its effect.
Hemp is a versatile agricultural plant that is grown all over the world and it is a major product of Ukraine, Poland and Russia today.  Hemp has been grown since ancient times, hemp fiber was used to make paper during the Western Han Dynasty in China, 140-897 BC.  The  plant doesn't require a lot of rain or fertilizer, it benefits the soil and can be grown for several seasons without using crop rotation.  This was important to the small farmers in Western Ukraine, where the family farms were small, often two acres in size. 
Growing hemp before World War I Ukraine was a family affair, and most of the plant was used by the family or sold. The plant was cut, bundled and left to dry and break down in the field, a process called dew retting. Sometimes it was floated in water in order to break down the fiber, this was called water retting.  Then the hemp was broken down further by using a simple machine that crushed the fiber and made it easier to separate.  My Great-Grandmother, Maria Bryniak Rychlyj spent much of her life preparing hemp, and suffered asthma from prolonged exposure to hemp fiber. My grandmother, Pauline Rychlyj Koshuba and her sisters, spun the hemp fibers into thread, which was used to weave the cloth used to clothe the family. Hemp seed oil was used for cooking, however, most of their hemp crop was sold for cash.

Women Preparing Hemp in Ukraine.  Photo from L'Arte Rustique En Russie, Numero Special Du "Studio", Automne, 1912.

Today hemp is used to make hemp seed foods, hemp oil, wax, rope, cloth, pulp for paper,  and fuel. The hemp oil can be used to make a product similar to linseed oil, or as a moisturizing agent in cosmetic creams.  It is also used in cooking oil and biodegradable plastics.   Hemp seeds are also an ingredient in birdseed. 
The inspiration for this blog post came to me after reading the following article about growing hemp in Colorado in the New York Times.
Click on the underlined link above to read the article.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Marya Klak and the Pitfalls of Family History

Marya Klak in New York City, about 1911-12

The story of my paternal grandmother Marya Klak illustrates some of the pitfalls beginning genealogists can tumble into. Family stories are interesting to hear, but is everything you are told accurate?  In the case of my grandmother, yes and no.
Some of the stories I was told about her said that she was an orphan, that she had a brother Andrij, and that she stayed at Ellis Island for a few days because he brother did not come to get her in a timely way. Single women were not allowed to leave Ellis Island alone.  A male family member was required to meet them before they could leave for a local address.

First of all, there are a lot of gaps in the story I  was told.  After finding her immigration records, I found that she did indeed come to New York City in 1911, leaving Hamburg, Germany on March 28 and arriving in New York City on April 9, after the ship made stops in Cuxhaven and Southhampton in Great Britain and Cherbourg, France.  There is no record of her being detained at Ellis Island.  Second, she was met by her brother-in-law, Michael Rudnicki, not her brother.  This tells me that she had a sister, something that I did not know.  I found a person by that name of Michael Rudnicki in the 1920 census listed as a widower.  Was his wife alive in 1911?  What was her name? So far, this is a mystery.  Another story I was told was that Marya was accompanying a young girl from her village on the ship.  Again, according to the ship's manifest, she was traveling alone. What about the story of her being an orphan?  According to the ship's manifest, the person listed in her home town was her brother, not her father or mother, so it is very possible that her parents were no longer alive.

The next question--where was her brother Andrij Klak?  I have found no information about him in my searches of available records.   I do have a wedding picture of a man I assumed was Andrij, but there is no way to verify it.  This man also appears in the group picture of Marya's wedding in November, 1914. 

Marya had another brother, Ivan, listed on the ship's manifest  as the family member from her village, Zavanitsia.  The handwriting on the manifest was hard to read, so I made a guess on the name after enlarging the document several times. So the assumption that Marya had only one brother was incorrect after a few hours of research. Research told me that Marya had one brother, Ivan, and one sister, name unknown.  I can't find sources that prove that she had another brother, Andrij, but my parents told me that my younger brother, Andrew is named after him, so I have to use that as proof for now.

Michael Rudnicki appeared again in Marya's life, first as a witness on her marriage license, when she married John (Ivan) Nyznyk in 1914.  Rudnicki reappears on my father, Peter's baptismal certificate as his godfather in September, 1916. 

After my father's birth certificate, the genealogical trail goes cold, Marya disappears. I have not found her or my father on the 1920 Census or the New York Census of 1925.  The next document that I found her on was the 1930 Census, listed as Mary Noznick and most of the information was incorrect as well.  Family stories say that Marya left John Nyznyk when my father was 2 years old, which would be about 1917.  I was told that the marriage ended because he drank too much, abused her and wasn't interested in working.  According to John Nyznyk's citizenship application papers, the marriage ended in 1915.  Which was the real story?  So all I can say for sure is that sometime between 1915 and 1930, my grandmother and John Nyznyk split up and she married Peter Zackowski.  This is documented because Peter and Marya Zackowski bought a farm in Connecticut in 1930 and left New York City.  After 1930, documenting Marya's life is easy.  Mary and Peter Zackowski are listed on the 1940 census living in Windham Center, Connecticut, and according to the census, were living there in 1935.  Willimantic, Connecticut, city directories list them as living in Windham Center as well.

As a person researching family history, what conclusions can I draw from Marya Klak's story?  From the documents I have found, most of the stories of Marya Klak's family have major flaws and inconsistencies.  Sometime in the future, I may find the information that fills in the gaps and proves the stories to be true.  Until then I continue to search, which can be tedious, nothing goes into the tree until the proper documentation and sources are there.  Never accept information as correct, even if it is published in a family history book, or told by an older relative, until you can find the sources to prove the story to be correct.