22 February 2013

My Elusive Babcia, Maryanna Kolodzinski

In Polish, babcia means grandma, Maryanna was my paternal grandmother.  She died in 1936, eleven years before my parents were  married.  Growing up I believed the stories all to be true.  First the stories told to me by my father, Edward Kolodzinski and aunts, Anna Drozek and Mary Porebski:
I was told Maryanna was born in Austria about 1883.  My grandmother spoke Polish exclusively.  She did not know how to read or write Polish or English.  Both of my aunts, her daughters Anna and Mary, remembered writing letters back to the "old country" for their mother.  They were addressed simply as SMULSKA (everyone also believed this to have been my grandmother's maiden name also) in Vienna, Austria.  The letters were sent to Marianna's mother and after a time replies would be received.  Our family understood Maryanna's maiden name was SMULSKA.  When asked if this was the right spelling of her surname Maryanna would say it looks like it. 
My cousins and I heard tales of my grandmother coming to the United States as a young girl, working as a servant to a rich family aboard a ship to obtain passage.  My father and my aunts never told us what brought her to Chicago where she began her new life.  It is quite probable even they did not know.  In the late 1800's and early 1900's it was common for immigrants not to talk about life in their homeland.  They were afraid word would get back to the authorities there and bad things would happen to the immigrant's family which was left behind.  
Picture taken soon after she arrived in Chicago.
Maryanna married Michael KOŁODZINSKI in Chicago.  Anna, born in 1909 was the oldest child, Edward was born in 1914 and Mary in 1916.  Two other children, Genevieve and Michael, died in infancy.  The family lived in an area of Chicago called "bucktown".  Bucktown was an area on the northwest side of Chicago.  At the time it was predominantly Polish. 
Maryanna owned a candy store in the area.  My father told me stories of her sitting on the front stoop of the store after closing on the 4th of July and enjoying herself shooting off all of the fireworks she had not sold.  She closed or lost the store at one time but would once again reopen it in the same neighborhood.  I would ask how she handled the store and the paperwork involved and all my dad would say is she had no problem.  She loved to cook and the family would always have good food and delicious desserts even during the lean times. 
 Maryanna and Michael Kolodzinski - 1929
She was the buffer between her husband who was an alcoholic and her children.  When Maryanna died in January of 1936 the family was devastated.  Today lumbar pneumonia would be treated, in the 1930's it meant death for Maryanna.  She is buried in St Adalbert's Catholic Cemetery in Niles, Illinois, the same cemetery where her children Genevieve and Michael were buried.
It would have been wonderful to have known my babcia or at least to know more about her.  It was her untold story which started my interest in researching my family tree.  As I had written in a previous, I was in my mid 30's when I found out my babcia had been married previously and my Aunt Anna was born from that union.  My cousins had also been in the dark about this part of our history.  Little did I know this was just the beginning.......
The records found so far place Maryanna's birth as occurring between 1882 and 1884 but the location is not always stated as being Austria let alone Vienna.  Yes, Austria is named but at the time she was born much of the area was part of the Austrian Empire.  Her death certificate states she was born in Czechoslavakia and the passenger list from her arrival (27 Jan 1901) states she had been living in Zapolocz, Hungary (I have not been able to find this location).  She may have moved there to work.  Other than her location prior to arrival the passenger list bears out the story of her working as a servant to gain passage to the USA.  The passenger list was difficult to locate due to the name she traveled under, Maria Czmar.   Not quite the surname Smulska she told her daughters her name looked similar to when they wrote letters. 

When we were told about the two marriages we found out her first husband had been a man by the name of Andrew Opalenik.  Maryanna and Andrew had four children, Helen born about 1903 (she died sometime in the 1920's), Paul born 1905 (he died the same year), Dmitron born 1906 (he died in 1912) and Anna born 1909, before Maryanna filed for divorce in 1913.  The 1910 US Census confirms Mary having given birth to 4 children 3 of which survived.

It is thanks to the dedication of my aunt Mary that the divorce documents had been located.  According to the document, the couple had married on or about 1 Aug 1906.  When did they really marry?  After sending for a copy of a marriage certificate for Andrew Opalenik and Maryanna Smulska and being unsuccessful I asked the Cook County clerk to look for various spellings (they must have had an interesting time with the variety).  Almost giving up Itried just using Andrew Opalenik's name.  Success!  This is were Maryanna's name was found to be Mary Czmur!  Paul's birth register states his mother's maiden name was Murzat, Dimitron states Zuner. The error in the spelling Czmur to Murzat or Smulska is no doubt due the inability to read or write or hearing a name pronounced by someone who does not speak English.  Since the letters were sent to Austria with the name Smulska could Maryanna's mother have remarried and Smulska was his surname?
Maryanna and Michael's first born was Edward in 1914.  Since their marriage certificate has not yet been located the question which comes up is did they formalize their marriage?  Why would Mary have gone through a divorce, hiring a lawyer and appearing in court, if they did not intend to marry.  Once again spelling may hold a clue in finding the record.
Yes, she did own at least one candy store.  The proof is in the 1920 US Census which states the fact and a Chicago City Directory showing a Mary Kolodzinski having a candy store in the 1920.  From the record found of Paul's birth in 1905 until she died in 1936, Maryanna lived at thirteen different addresses, all in Bucktown. 
Her love of family lived on after she was gone and is still shown by the closeness we all feel to our elusive babcia.


  1. Welcome to Geneabloggers! Glad they sent me in this direction & I had the opportunity to see your blog. Looks like you are off to a great start.

  2. Let me try it again. :-). Welcome to Geneabloggers! Great title for your blog!

    Regards, Grant

  3. Welcome to Geneabloggers! I enjoyed your post on Maryanna and look forward to reading more on your blog.

  4. What a tangled trail you have to research! I can totally relate to your story, though, because I have yet to untangle my own Polish heritage. It almost makes me want to learn the language to understand how something that looks so pronounced one way could sound quite different!

    Kathleen, I found your blog today, thanks to an announcement on GeneaBloggers. Best wishes as you continue your blogging--I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you for your comments!

      There is a wonderful book on researching Polish ancestry called "Going Home" written by Jonathan D Shea. It helps explain the language, research problems, translating Polish records, contacting Polish resources, etc. He has written several books on translating other European records also which are also very helpful.

      Best of luck with your research!

  5. Welcome to GeneaBloggers! I just started my blogs (one for each side of the family) recently. This community is a great place! The bloggers are so friendly and helpful. I loved your story. I could just see her sitting there shooting off her extra fire works.


  6. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist: http://www.indepthgenealogist.com/

  7. Some great detective work! It sounds like Maryanna went through some tough times, especially losing so many children. It would be so wonderful to find a photo of her candy store.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I tried using Google Earth to find the building today but so many buildings in that are were torn down in the 60's and 70's to make room for highways, it is no longer there. I wish.......

  8. I have similar issues with our German & Polish ancecstors. It seems every document I find cites a different location. It most likely has something to do history, borders, and conflicts. It is definately a challenge.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

    1. Hi!
      Thank you for your remarks. Yes, that area has gone through many changes. Between that and people not being as concerned with certain spellings of names and locations it truly is a challenge. It does make it more interesting, we have our own private mysteries to solve!