Olesnica and Pacanow, Swietokrzyskie Poland

(follow along with a map of our trip: http://bit.ly/1U552Gcg)

Meeting my family in Olesnica.

To say I was nervous and excited was an understatement. I’ve heard stories about my family in Poland since I was a child, and I had a vast collection of old photographs that I believed were of my grandfather’s family. When we arrived, Kazmierz was waiting outside for us. I couldn’t believe my eyes as Kazmierz looked identical to my mom’s late brother Pete. After a brief greeting, Kazmierz looked somewhat confused as we headed inside.

Denise, Mike, Cecelia, Kazmierz

Denise, Mike, Cecelia, Kazmierz

We sat down at the kitchen table and Zbigniew proceeded to explain who we were. Kazmierz didn’t realize there was anyone else coming other than Zbigniew to talk about Stanislaw Glowniak. Somehow that got lost in the communication. As they spoke, I politely opened a folder and pulled out a photo of what I believed was Kazmierz’s mother and father. I’d been waiting all my life for confirmation of what I’d been told. As Kazmierz took the photo, his face lit up and he smiled as he and said in Polish, “to jest moja matka i ojciec! i siostry krok!” Suddenly he realized that I was a direct blood relative. He couldn’t believe I had come all that way to find and meet him! He knew there was family in America, but when my grandfather passed in 1961, communication was lost and the family had no idea how to locate us. Now, fifty-four years later, here I was. We spent a better part of the afternoon getting to know one another, exchanging family stories and history and dining on some amazing Polish food.

Later in the afternoon, we took a visit to Edward Glowniak and his family. Edward’s father was Tomasz Glowniak, my grandfather’s other brother that remained in Poland. I was overwhelmed and still have difficulty explaining the feelings that I had while meeting my family. Many of the stories that I heard about my family in Poland were coming to life. Kazmierz and Edward were recanting stories of old days in Poland, giving me some information on my grandfather that I never knew.

Mike, Edward, Kazmierz

Mike, Edward, Kazmierz

As it got towards nightfall, we were going to be heading back to our hotel but were requested to come stay at Kazmierz’s home for the remaining days of our visit in Olesnica. I headed back to the hotel and packed up. It was a day that I will absolutely never forget.

The following morning, we drove to Olesnica to Kazmierz home. We took a trip during the day to the cemetery to pay respects to my ancestors. A unmarked grave that I had found in 2013, was indeed that of my great-grandfather Michael Glownaik.  As I stood there I realized I was the first descendant of the American family to have visited the grave.

Grave of my great grandfather, Michal Glowniak

Grave of my great grandfather, Michal Glowniak

We then went to the town hall to look into some genealogy records I’ve been wanting to find. I was finally able to confirm a story that my mom’s older sister Julia, was indeed named after my grandfather’s mother Julianna Glowniak (nee Strzelecka). Apparently he had gotten word that his mother was sick, and when his daughter was born on July 7, 1920 he named her after his mother. I was able to validate the story with the death record. Julianna had passed on July 9, 1920, two days after the birth of her granddaughter.

In the afternoon, after dining with Kazmierz, we took a trip to Pacanow, home of the fabled character Koziołek Matołek. Every where you look there is a goat!
Pacanow
Our next stop was the church in Olesnica. A family story that had been passed down from my grandfather was that his father Michael was doing masonry work atop the church, slipped, and fell to his death back in 1901. My grandfather was working with him and was only seven years old. Unfortunately, we were never able to verify that story. That very story is what prompted me to find my polish family at the request of my mother and aunt. It started my genealogy passion.

As we were walking away from the church, the church bells started ringing. I made everyone stop as I quickly realized that I was the first American descendent to hear those church bells since my grandfather. I recorded them so my mom and my family could hear them.

Parish Olesnica

Parish Olesnica

Kazmierz then took me for a ride through Olesnica and showed me where his family had lived, and the birth home of my own grandfather.

Birth home of my grandfather.

Birth home of my grandfather.

After that we headed to Edward’s house for an evening of festivities. The food and the vodka flowed freely. Later in the evening I made a Skype call to my mom and her sister in the United States, so they could meet their Polish cousins. My mom and aunt both immediately started crying. They couldn’t believe that I had found my grandfather’s family.

Glowniak family relations reunite!

Glowniak family relations reunite!

After the Skype call we went back to celebrating. It was a late, amazing and wonderful night. In the morning after numerous photos and goodbyes, we headed out on the road to our next destination, Pysznica.

Mike, Kazmierz and our amazing guide, Zbigniew!

Mike, Kazmierz and our amazing guide, Zbigniew!

Kotuszow, Poland

(follow along with a map of our trip: http://bit.ly/1U552Gcg)

On Thursday morning August 27th, we had breakfast and headed towards Olesnica, the hometown of my maternal grandfather. Prior to coming to Poland in 2013, I had done extensive genealogical research on my family from that area and found that my great grandfather Michal Glowniak was born in the town of Kotuszow, Poland.  His father, Szymon Glownak was listed as the organist of the church of Kotuszow, where Michal and his siblings were born.

Kotuszow

Zbignew suggested that we stop in Kotuszow prior to going to Olesnica. Kotuszow was only two miles south of our hotel, so it was a perfect location to explore the area. When we arrived in the middle of Kotuszow, we spotted the church and pulled off to see if we could look inside. As we were walking towards the front of the church there were two couples standing out front. Three of them had started to walk away, but one elderly gentleman stopped and spoke with Zbignew. After a brief conversation he literally almost ran across the street. I asked Zbignew where he was going and he commented that this gentleman was the caretaker of the church. When he learned my family had lived in the area he offered to show us inside.

It’s a surreal feeling being in a church that was built in 1661. As we walked inside, the caretaker pointed out certain areas of the church to us and gave us a full tour. You could tell he was proud of the church and of the area. Zbignew asked him about my family, and while he did not recognize the name from the area, he did know that there were some Glowniaks in Pacanow and Olesnica. We spent almost an hour getting a tour of the church and its surroundings. One thing he pointed out to us as we were standing outside, was a machine gun that had been attached to the church tower during World War II. It was left there as a reminder of what had happened. We thanked the caretaker and I was so touched that what he had done I asked if I could take a picture with him. He was shocked and graciously accepted. We thanked him again and headed out towards Olesnica.

Poland Trip 2015 – the countdown begins.

cześć , that’s hello in Polish!

As of late my main focus has been getting ready for our trip to Poland. It seems surreal that I’m going back again. Much has changed since my last visit in 2013, when I was single. This time, I won’t be traveling alone as my wife will be traveling with me. She will get to witness firsthand the beauty of the land and people I love dearly.

You can only understand that saying if you have stepped upon the motherland yourself. While there in 2013, I felt like I had been transported back in time, to when I was a child. Customs long forgotten here are still alive in present day Poland. While being there itself is surreal and walking on the very ground my forefathers walked upon can be moving, it’s the people, my family and friends that make the trip so amazing. I can’t wait to see as many of them as I can again. To dine on amazing Polish food, drink vodka, “mineral water” and simply enjoy their company. Nazhtrovia!

Initially things were going well with our trip, we had an itinerary and hired a guiding service called PolishOrigins.  I’d done business with them in the past and they have amazing reviews. From having worked with them and knowing how professional they were, I didn’t hesitate when we started our planning months ago to contact them. 

Then three days ago we discovered an error with our airline tickets that pushed us into panic mode. The mistake itself would cause us to stay a “little longer” than what we had initially planned. Altering our tickets would cost a small fortune and canceling was not an option. That’s caused me a few sleepless nights (including tonight) while I became an “expert” on where to go and what to do with our “extra” time. The guiding service has been great in trying to help accommodate us with alterations to our itinerary. That speaks volumes to me. And then out of the blue, my family in Pysznica came to our rescue! Thank you, you are truly wonderful! I should have expected it, knowing how people in Poland are. While you’re there, you are treated like they have known you your whole life. They make you feel so welcome and at home, you really don’t want to leave.

 

We both believe this all happened for a reason, one we don’t fully understand yet. We adjusted our schedules, recreated our itinerary with the help of my cousin Gienek, and the team from PolishOrigins, and plan to enjoy it to the fullest! Take a negative and turn it into a positive!   

Right out of the gate, I will be off to Torun to embrace its beauty and history from the 13th with the Teutonic Knights and Torun castle. Its also the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus and home to Pierogi Stary Torun a restaurant I dined in during last trip. I also look forward to seeing some of my cousins and dining with them.

The next portion of the trip will focus on trying to locate records on my maternal grandmother’s family in Skulsk. This also includes hopefully meeting some living relatives. Recently a genealogist/friend in Poland traveled to my maternal grandmother’s village and found a great detail of information on my grandmothers sisters who stayed there. This helped heighten my chances of finding living relatives. While I don’t have a vast amount of time in each location we visit, fate has stepped in once again.

I feel truly blessed as our guide who has been assigned to us for first leg of this amazing journey is also a professional genealogist. That in itself will be great as I can talk shop with someone who knows Polish history, genealogy and culture way better than I ever will. A true learning experience that I totally look forward to! Oh it gets better, he has done genealogy research work for the tv show, Finding Your Roots and ancestry.com’s contest winners. What are the chances of that? What luck to be paired with Zbigniew Stettner of PolishGen.com! I know my chances of finding my family are the best they ever will be.

The second part of our trip we’ll be traveling to the European fairy-tale capital of Pacanow, Poland. A short drive north and I will be visiting Olesnica, Poland once again! Both of these locations are where my maternal grandfather’s family lived since the early 1800s. My grandfather had two brothers and one sister who remained behind in Poland when he left in 1913. Most of them died in the 1980s, but had extensive families. My last trip to Olesnica wasn’t a positive one. I left there very sad that we couldn’t get anyone to help us locate our living relatives. I refuse to let that happen this time around. I recently made contact on facebook with one member of the family over there and hope to finally get to meet him, shake his hand and explain how we are related. Hopefully when he views the photos I have of his late grandfather it will all make sense.  

The third part of our trip takes me back to my paternal family hometown of Pysznica, Poland. My own genealogical research done over the last five years has my paternal family traced back to my fourth great grandfather, Sebastian Mierzwa born about 1740.

I cant say enough good things about my family from Pysznica. They have come to our rescue in regards to our flight problem and ill be spending a “few” extra days with them. I’m so looking forward to spending time with them and visiting cousins I’d met last time I was there.

I also plan to so some genealogy work while im there. Recently I made contact with a large number of DNA matches that have Mierzwa ancestors that came from south of my paternal hometown of Pysznica. I hope to visit these towns and villages and see if I can find living relatives for them. Remember, you get back what you give out. And I thoroughly enjoy helping people connect with their past!

The fourth and last part of our tour will take us deep into the southern part of Poland, visiting a few cities before spending a well-deserved “break” in Krakow. I fell in love Krakow in 2013 and plan to see everything there is this time around. I won’t go into detail as you’ll have to watch my daily posts from Poland as we travel and post pictures.

Finally, before leaving Poland I’ll be spending a few days in Warsaw, touring the city and hopefully meeting up with friends and family that reside there before coming back home.

This is going to be a trip of a lifetime and I’m excited to share it with all of you. 

Z poważaniem,

Mike