My decision to write a 12-post series on my 4 grandparents and 8 great-grandparents was an exciting challenge. To date, the 10 posts I have written were enjoyable to write and not very difficult due to the materials and photos, information and identifiable data that I had on these ancestors. I derived pleasure in doing these posts and feel that I did these ancestors justice as I personally remembered them or as others have spoken about them to me.
Today's post, though, is going to be the most challenging of all. While all of the previous 10 ancestors lived lives that were not perfection, had financial and personal challenges, I am confident that they all had happy lives that overshadowed the down times. In all that I have learned about my great-grandmother, Mary Anna Rubisz, though, I don't know if I can safely say that her life was at all happy and pleasant. I hope that I can do her justice in my tribute to her.
Mary Anna Rubisz was born on Christmas Day in Poland in either 1875, 1876 or 1877. Her parents, Lawrence Rubisz and Anna Budas, had two older children - Andrew born in 1861 and Josephine born in 1868. Following Mary's birth, they had a 3rd son, Stanley born in 1878. Between the birth of Stanley in 1878 and the immigration to the US of mother, Anna with children Mary and Stanley in 1888, I am assuming that father, Lawrence passed away though I don't have any definitive proof of that. In the variety of records that I have searched, I have seen their surname spelled various ways from Rubisz to Rubis to even Rubish. For the purposes of this post, I am spelling the name as Rubisz.
I do not know what prompted their immigration to America nor why they selected Bay City, MI as their destination point, but all research has shown that all 4 children of Anna & Lawrence Rubisz did indeed emigrate to Bay City which had a large Polish community. Perhaps there were other friends from their home village already living in Bay City but I do not know that either.
On October 26, 1891 at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Bay City, Mary Anna Rubisz married John Albert Kijak. They would have 4 children in the next 9 years - Joseph born in 1892, Anna born in 1894, Martha born in 1896 and Rozalie (Rose) born in 1898 all in Bay City.
Sometime, during those years, the following photo was taken of Mary which I am happy to have. She most definitely looks young in this photo and I have often wondered whether this was a photo taken prior to her marriage or after. I have even debated whether this could be her wedding photo due to the flower that she is holding in her hand. I don't know but it is a lovely professional photo.
The copy of their marriage record that I received from St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in the 1980's indicates that Mary's surname was spelled Rubisz and that she had been born in Zczierzany, Gniemenski, Poland. A vigorous search for any village in Poland resembling this spelling was never found. Family documents that I found later indicated the village of birth was spelled Wierzbiczany, Gniezno, Poland but, again, nothing could be found coming close to that spelling in maps and atlases.
A personal visit to Bay City in the late 1980's and a visit to the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church office, allowed for a look at the actual marriage register. There I saw the clear indication that Mary was only a 13 year old female at the time of her marriage and her birth year was given as 1877. The secretary at the church remarked that she had felt uncomfortable with documenting that on the earlier copy she had sent me. We carefully studied the book, with magnifying glass, and it was very clear the age was 13. As John Kijak was 30 1/2 years old at the time of their marriage, which I had verified with his Polish birth certificate that I had previously received and verified with numerous other records, this gave me more than pause for thought. Despite the varying birth years on the records I have seen showing Mary's birth as in 1875, 1876 or 1877, it doesn't really become any more acceptable if she was 13, 14 or even 15 marrying a 30 1/2 year old man. To my way of thinking, she was just a young girl herself who could not read, write or speak English, coming to a strange country and being married to a man much older than herself. Whatever possessed her mother to allow this, I can only imagine.
Okay, this did happen in those time periods. Women were married young and husbands were at times older but 13 or 14 seemed exceptionally young for a bride. This age was verified also on the 1900 Bay City census which showed the family of John and Mary Kijak with children Joseph, Anna, Martha and Rose with John Kijak listed as a butcher. This 1900 Bay City census also showed Mary's brother, Andrew, his wife, Marcyanna Wierzbicki, and their family along with mother, Anna and brother, Stanley living in Andrew's household. Also shown was an entry for the family of Mary's sister, Josephine, her husband, Thomas Krzywosinski and their family as well. It was clear that the entire family was represented in Bay City.
Was Mary's family life a happy one? Was it moderately happy? Were the 4 Kijak children growing up in a loving family atmosphere? From all indications that I have found, and after numerous discussions with cousins, it would appear that they were not. John Kijak was obviously not destined to be a family man. Each time Mary was expecting a new baby, John would take a hiatus and leave the family home, go off and stay with other family members and be gone for months at a time. He would return eventually, stay for a while and when Mary was again expecting another child, he would be off and running again. This has been told to me by more than one cousin, some who were old enough to still remember Uncle John staying at their home for months at a time. Evidently after the 4th such incident, Mary put her foot down and said enough was enough.
BUT...divorce was unheard of for a Roman Catholic young woman who was now no more than 23 years old with 4 young children ages 2, 4, 6 and 8. John Kijak went on to another family home to live where it appeared there were no lack of relatives willing to take him in. And, what about Mary and her 4 children?
Records indicate that Mary, her brother, Stanley Rubisz and her 4 Kijak children, Joseph, Anna, Martha and Rose moved to South Bend, IN. I do not know the significance of that destination, how they traveled there in 1900 or what kind of financial means they had to fund the trip.
Once in South Bend, Mary entered into a common law relationship with a man named Frank Banner. Whether they had known each other in Bay City and that is what prompted the move, I don't know. All information appears to indicate that Frank Banner was, and had always been, an Indiana resident so I am not aware of how Frank and Mary met. In short order, Mary and Frank had at least 5 children - Emma, Frank, Anthony, George and James Banner. The 1910 census of South Bend, IN indicated that Mary was the mother of 11 children, of which 9 were living. I can only assume that the two deceased children would have been Banner children but I don't know that for a fact.
This photo shows Mary with her children Emma, Frank and Anthony Banner taken in approximately 1906.
Am I able to assume that life in Indiana was better than in Michigan for Mary? Was her relationship with Frank Banner happier than her relationship with John Kijak? It would appear that the answer to both of these questions would be "no".
My mother's aunt, Anna Kijak, told my mother that Mary had a very sad and unhappy life without any kind of caring or sharing in her two relationships with both men being unkind, cold and mentally abusive. I can only hope neither was physically abusive as well but Aunt Anna never mentioned that.
In late 1917, Mary became ill in South Bend. Rather than caring for his partner himself, Frank Banner called Aunt Anna in Detroit where she and her husband were living, told her that her mother was ill and made the command "come and get her". Again, Aunt Anna personally told my mother this information. Aunt Anna and her husband, Uncle Ted, made the trip to South Bend from Detroit and she brought her mother back to Detroit to care for her.
Mary Kijak passed away at their home at 500 Piper in Detroit on April 25, 1918. On her death certificate her place of birth is now listed as Gniezno, Germany and her age was 42 years, giving her a birth year of 1875. She was buried in Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery on East McNichols and Van Dyke on the east side of Detroit.
Following her death, her children with Frank Banner were divided between Aunt Anna and Aunt Rose with a few of the sons remaining with their father, Frank Banner.
Over the years of my research, I have accumulated the following diversity of information on my great-grandmother, Mary Rubisz:
(1) She was born on December 25th either in 1875, 1876 or 1877.
(2) Her place of birth has been shown to be (a) Zczierzany, Gniemenski, Poland, (b) Gniezno, Germany, (c) Wierzbiczany, Gniezno, Poland.
(3) Her surname has been shown to be spelled as (a) Rubisz, (b) Rubis, (c) Rubish.
(4) She was either 13, 14 or 15 years old at the time of her marriage.
In the late 1980's, I contacted a professional genealogist in Salt Lake City to try to ascertain just what the place of birth for Mary Rubisz would have been. I had been successful in finding most of the villages of birth of my other ancestors but was stumped with this one. I sent all the information I had to this researcher and 1 1/2 YEARS later she contacted me and told me that the village of birth of my great-grandmother would be correctly listed as:
Jeziorzany, district Gniezno, province Poznan, Poland. She further stated that this was a very tiny village and that the Roman Catholic parish that served this village was located in Dziekanowice.
In 1993 I visited Germany when my brother and his family were living there during one of my brother's tours while in the US Army. Together we decided to visit all our ancestral villages that I had knowledge of which totaled 18. Over a 3 week period we traveled, in my brother's US van of great age and mileage, over 3,000 miles between what was the former DDR, into Poland and all the way east to Gdansk. We located all the villages that we were searching for but could not find any location for our Rubisz family. With maps, atlases and my sister-in-law's uncanny ability to pinpoint the most minute villages with the worst possible maps, we were still unable to locate any place coming close to the village of our Rubisz family.
Growing up, none of the above information about my mother's grandmother was ever discussed with family members. Neither my grandfather nor my grandmother ever spoke about Mary. But then I must admit that they never really spoke about any of their parents.
My mother grew up knowing her Banner aunt and uncles but assumed that her grandparents Kijak had divorced and her grandmother had remarried to Frank Banner. When my grandfather passed away in 1960, his half sister and half brothers all came from South Bend to St. Joseph for his funeral. The two families did stay connected and had a familial relationship over the years.
When I began my research, I struggled to find the death certificate of Mary which I assumed would be listed as Mary Banner. Nothing of course could be found as that was not her surname. It was only after my mother visited her Aunt Anna, who at the time was living in Florida (she lived to be 101 years old), that my mother learned more of the facts. Aunt Anna shared the information that her mother, Mary, had died in Detroit and was buried in "that old Catholic cemetery" and that her death certificate would show her name as "Mary Kijak".
With that information, I quickly received her death certificate from Lansing, found the cemetery to be Mt. Olivet and paid a visit there. The staff were more than willing to look up her death record and directed me to the grave site where there was no gravestone nor had there ever been.
This bothered me and I could not get past the fact that my great-grandmother, Mary Kijak, was lying in a single grave, far removed from her family members and that nobody even knew she was there to come and visit her. I visited a local monument shop that very day and selected a gravestone to have placed on her grave which remains there.
I can only hope that she is truly resting in peace now and that she somehow knows that her great-granddaughter thinks often of her.
Above photos personal property of Cheryl Schulte
Paul Koenig on the S.S. Veendam
10 years ago