Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From Whence I Came...John Albert Kijak

John Albert Kijak was my mother's paternal grandfather. He was the only grandparent that she ever knew as both her grandmothers and her maternal grandfather had passed away before she was born. I was very fortunate to know all 4 of my grandparents but my mother only knew her grandfather Kijak.

John Albert Kijak
ca 1910


John Albert Kijak was born May 20, 1861 in Taniborz, Poznan, Poland to Thomas Kijak and Balbina Korcz. He was baptized in the Catholic faith on May 21, 1861 at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Tulce, Poland.



Birth and Baptismal Record of
John Albert Kijak


When preparing my materials for this post, I had my first experience with NOT finding anything on these small villages in the Internet to aid me. It was necessary to go to my old maps of Poland to find a reference to Taniborz and Tulce.

Taniborz & Tulce
Poznan, Poland



When I say small villages, I do mean small. I was actually in Poland in 1993 on my 17-village genealogical tour with my brother and his family. Dear readers, let me assure you that Taniborz does exist but it is nothing more than a small road with some farms on each side. We did drive down a somewhat "main" road and found a sign indicating a right turn to Taniborz. Driving down this road (which was the extent of Taniborz) gave the impression of driving through someone's farm land. People were out working in their fields and stopped to stare at the American van driving by. The wonderful photos that I took in other areas of this trip did not extend to Taniborz and Tulce as I was trying my hand in Poland with a video camera and the results were less than perfect.

On to the village of Tulce we went and I was able to find quickly the Catholic church still in existence. A small cemetery behind the church was very accessible and my 10 year old niece and 9 year old nephew delighted in searching all the gravestones but they were newer burials and no Kijak names could be found.

I had previously written to this Catholic church and was pleased to have received numerous records of the Thomas and Balbina Kijak family including records of other children that were born to them during their marriage, all of which occurred in Taniborz. In addition, I had received the death certificate for father, Thomas Kijak, who died on January 13, 1865 in Taniborz at the age of 53 and who was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Tulce on January 16, 1865.

On February 2, 1867, after the death of Thomas Kijak, his widow Balbina remarried in Taniborz to Casper Kowalak and they later had a son, Martin. Records for these two events were also sent to me. Later, Casper, Balbina and Martin would immigrate to America as well.

Tulce, Poland



Family tradition stated that John Kijak came to the US from Poland in 1882 and arrived via Canada. He entered into the US on June 19, 1882, became lost in Upper Michigan and eventually made his way to friends in Bay City, Michigan where he settled. He carried with him from Poland his featherbed (on his back) and a flute that he had used in Poland for calling sheep. I have this flute to this day.
















I have never been able though to find any passenger list information on John's arrival nor on the later arrivals of his mother, stepfather and stepbrother or any information on the later arrival of his sister, Hedwig. This has been disappointing for sure.




John Kijak's flute from Poland


Once in Michigan, John Kijak created a career as a butcher and the 1890-1891 Bay City directory shows a listing for "John Keyak as butcher for J.F. Dork and living in the area of Bowery Street". The name Kijak has been spelled (and pronounced) multiple ways. In Polish, the name is pronounced as KEYOC which means "stick". However, the pronunciation that has been used in the US is KIYAK which sounds like the Kayak boat.

On October 26, 1891, at the age of 30, John Albert Kijak married Mary Anna Rubisz at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Bay City. They were married by Rev. F. Votypka with Martin Kowalak and Ignacy Szulc as witnesses.

Marriage Certificate of
John Kijak and Mary Anna Rubisz
1891

The 1894 Bay City special census lists the family living on Johnson Street and shows John Kijak, Maryanna (wife), Joseph (son-2 years old) and Anna (daughter-2 months old). On this census, John Kijak is listed as a laborer.

By 1900, John and Mary Kijak had 4 children - Joseph (born in 1892), Anna (born in 1894), Martha (born in 1896) and Rose (born in 1898). The 1900 Bay City, Michigan US census shows the family living at 1006 South Sherman and John is listed as a "coal miner" though where this occupation came from I don't know as family stories always stated that he was a butcher. I am at a loss as to where in Bay City there would have been coal mines!


1900 Bay County, Michigan
US Census

This is where the story of John Kijak becomes confused. For whatever reason that has never been discovered, John and Mary Kijak separated in 1900-1901 though never divorced. At that time, Mary took her four children and relocated to South Bend, IN with John remaining in Bay City. The 1910 South Bend, IN census does show Mary with her four children, Joseph, Anna, Martha and Rose. John Kijak is shown in Bay City living with his stepbrother Martin Kowalak and family.

1910 Bay County, Michigan
US Census


It was around this time that John and his stepbrother, Martin Kowalak, had this wonderful photo taken of themselves.

Martin Kowalak (sitting)
John Kijak (standing)
ca 1910

By 1913, son Joseph was living and working in St. Joseph, MI which was just some 30 miles from South Bend, IN. At that time he received the following postcard from his sister, Anna, who was now living in Detroit. The photo on this postcard shows their father, John Kijak, with a group of fellow butchers. The license plate on the car shows a Michigan plate with the year 1913 which places John living in Detroit at that time.

John Kijak with fellow butchers
Detroit, Michigan
ca 1913

It is amazing what can be uncovered that is forgotten for many years. I have had a box of photos on the Kijak family for years and had seen this postcard many times. This time I turned it over and noticed that it had been obviously glued in a photo album and then torn out with the black paper from the old album still affixed to the back of the card. I had always just assumed that this was just a photo of my great-grandfather, not realizing that there was an actual message on the back of the card. After some extensive work at trying to remove the black paper, I was able to reveal some of the message in which Anna Kijak had written to her brother, Joseph, and said in part:

"Dear brother, Joe,

Here is a picture of Pa with his working friends. Pa is on the top row in the middle. It has been some time since you have written us. You said that you would try to come visit us in Detroit for the 4th of July but you did not come. We hope you are not ill. You can write to Daddy anytime. I know he would be glad to hear from you.

Sister, Anna"


The 1920 Detroit US census does show John Kijak, now living in Detroit, and working as a butcher while boarding with the Stanley Bobrowski family.


1920 Detroit, Michigan
US Census


John Kijak was evidently a wanderer. By the time my mother was born in 1925, John had moved in with his son, Joseph and his family, in St. Joseph, MI. My mother says that her grandfather lived with them in all of their various homes while she was growing up. The 1930 Berrien County, MI census does show the family of Joseph & Ella Kijak with my mother and her 3 brothers listed but grandfather, John Kijak, does not appear. My mother is insistent that he was living with them and even remembers the bedroom that he had. He may have missed enumeration when the census was taken but in his last 20 years of life he did live with son, Joseph, and family.


John Kijak
St. Joseph, MI
ca 1925




John Kijak
St. Joseph, MI
ca 1930




John Kijak & Otto Kolberg
Kolberg Family Reunion
St. Joseph, MI
1944


On August 19, 1945, John Albert Kijak passed away at his son's home in St. Joseph, MI. He was 84 years of age. His obituary in the local paper was quite lengthy, though it did contain a few errors. He is buried in Resurrection Cemetery in St. Joseph.


Death Certificate
John Albert Kijak
1945

Obituary of John Albert Kijak
St. Joseph, MI
1945


In researching and writing this post, I did find that I had more information and photos than I had originally thought. I refreshed my memory with the Polish certificates that I had received in the late 1970's and early 1980's which added to my data and reminisced about my 1993 trip to these villages of the Kijak family. It was a rewarding post to put together.

I struggled, though, with how to adequately present this story because it is obvious that not all families had idyllic lives. There must have been "secrets" in the closet in the marriage of John and Mary Kijak but my mother said she was unaware of any of the facts. It was only after my mother visited her aunt, Anna Kijak, in Florida in Anna's later years (she lived to 101) that my mother learned some of the facts of the marriage of her grandparents.

No matter the situation, my mother has fond memories of her grandfather who she grew up with and remembers him as a quiet and kind person, not particularly a grandfatherly loving person, but a kind person nonetheless.

Today I did pay a visit to his grave which is walking distance from my home. I wanted to get a photo of his grave but its location made the picture less than adequate. I did have to stop and wonder just what situations and decisions created the life that he had and I could only say "rest in peace".

Above photos - personal collection of Cheryl Schulte

4 comments:

Jasia said...

Great piece, Cheryl! Hey, how about we go on a driving tour around St. Joe one of these days and you can show me the houses your family members lived in, the schools they attended, where they had their family reunions, and their grave sites. I'd love that!

I'm busy packing the sun screen and lawn chairs this week instead of paint brushes and cordless drills. Summer is almost here! Looking forward to the weekend and our first chance to enjoy St. Joseph!

Cheryl said...

Sounds like a great idea; let me know when it will work for you!

Greta Koehl said...

A very interesting and well-researched post on your great-grandfather; thank you for sharing this.

Cheryl said...

Greta, thanks for your comments.