Our Smolinski family

Polish immigrants arrived in droves between 1890 and the start of World War I in 1914. It is estimated that more than four million Poles — out of a population of 22 million — emigrated to the United States during that period.

My grandparents, Helena Kalinowski married Boleslaw Smolinski in 1902 in Kolno, a city in a part of Poland under Russian control from the late 1700s until the end of World War 1. They were teenagers. He left for America soon after the wedding, she followed a year later.

My grandfather's name, in Polish, appears as Smolnik or Smolnek. My grandmother's maiden name was Kalinowska, though others from the same family who settled in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, had a variety of spellings, including Kalinowski, Kalinoski andKalinowsky. I once saw my grandmother's name written as Kalinowskich.

Helena and Boleslaw were reunited in New Jersey where their first child, Wanda, was born in 1904. For reasons unknown, they returned to Kolno in 1905 and remained there until their second child, Boleslaw, was born in 1906. Then they sailed again to the United States and settled in Solvay, New York, just outside of Syracuse. Two of Boleslaw's brothers, Ignacy (or Ignatz) and Joseph soon followed. So did Stanley and Rosa Smolinski, listed in the 1910 census as the parents of Boleslaw, Ignacy and Joseph.

That census shows ten Smolinskis living at 319 Second Street, Solvay: Boleslaw, 26; Helen, 24: and their children, Wanda, 5; Boleslaw Jr., 4; Helen, 2, and Edward, three months; Stanley, 56; Rosa, 45; Ignacy, 22, and Joseph, 20. (According to the census, the household also included a boarder, Peter Naja, 23, a native of Russia-Poland.)

AFTER A SHORT STAY in the United States, Stanley and Rose separated. He returned to Poland, she remained in Solvay and in 1913 married Stanley Karulevski (Karolewski). On the marriage license, Rose listed her parents as Martin Koziol and Marian Bugnacki. Karolewski died in 1915, and Rose would marry again, to Peter Lubak, though the date of their wedding is unknown.

Soon after Stanley returned to Poland, my grandfather, Boleslaw Smolinski, left his wife and children and moved elsewhere. My mother never talked about her father, but in the 1980s (see story below), we inadvertently discovered Boleslaw may have started another family in the Binghamton, New York, area.

My mother then admitted her father hadn't actually left home intending to desert his family. He went in search of a job, and found one in Elmira. He wrote to my grandmother, and asked her and the children to join them. My grandmother, employed as a cook at the Solvay Process Company, refused to move. And that was that. Whether they ever saw each other again is unknown. My immediate family — my parents, my sister and myself — kept in contact with Boleslaw's brother, Joseph, in Highland Falls, New York, but for some reason did not maintain a relationship with another brother, Ignacy (James), who lived only a mile from our home in Solvay.

BOTH BOLESLAWS in our family — my grandfather and my uncle — changed their first names to William. My grandmother dropped the "a" from her first name, and was known to co-workers as Helen, though everyone in our family called her Nana.

Occasionally we were visited by a woman we called "Babka." This was my Great-Grandmother Kalinowska, and I'm fairly certain she lived in Pennsylvania, but I do not know her real first name. Babka usually refers to a cake, but viewers of "Seinfeld" may remember an episode that included a woman called "Babka," which comes from the Polish word, "babcia" (bahp-chah), or "grandma."

Ignacy (or Ignatz) Smolinski remained in Solvay and became known as James. However, when he applied for citizenship in 1917, he apparently had to use the name that appeared on his birth certificate — Ignacy Smolnik.

The 1920 United States census has him married to Iadwiga Basceska (Baczewski), but this was an incorrect transcription of a first name that was difficult to read. Her first name most likely was Jadwiga, translated as Hedwig or Hattie. (Jadwiga is pronounced as though it is spelled Iadwiga.)

In the 1930 census Mrs. Smolinski's first name is listed as Agness, the same first name the couple gave their third daughter, who was born in 1918. (I assume this spelling was incorrect and that Agnes, with one S, is preferred.)

Ignacy and Iadwiga Smolinski — aka James and Agnes Smolinski — and their five daughters, Helen, Jennie, Agnes, Ann and Dorothy, lived at 301 Center Street, a few blocks west of where the Smolinski brothers had lived after they arrived in Solvay. My grandmother moved a few blocks in the other direction, to Summit Avenue, atop a hill a short distance from the main entrance to the Solvay Process factory.

JOSEF SMOLINSKI, better known as Joseph, soon left Solvay and joined the United States Army. He had the good fortune to spend almost all of his time stationed at the U. S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. He married, settled in nearby Highland Falls, and raised three children. The Solvay Smolinskis frequently visited Master Sergeant Joseph Smolinski, and his family even more frequently visited Solvay. One of his grandchildren, Ray Mesaris, who died in 2012 in Florida, spent several weeks with the Smolinskis on Russet Lane during at least two summer vacations.

Interestingly, Nana's first child, Wanda, married Peter Kaldowski, thus strengthening our family's connection with the Koziols. Three of her husband's sisters married Koziol brothers and lived in West Solvay. The name is pronounced KAY-zel, which is why, after experimenting with Kozo, this particular family finally settled on Kazel as their Americanized last name.

The search for more information will continue. Any corrections or additional information would be appreciated. Likewise, if you want your name removed from any of these family trees, let me know.

Contact: jackmajor38@gmail.com


NOTE: Since writing the above, I came upon a marriage record for William Smolinski and Catherine Zalewska in Hallstead, Pennsylvania. The wedding took place November 19, 1915.

This interests me because the first clue I had of the possible whereabouts of my grandfather after he left my grandmother was provided by my cousin, Tom Smolinski of Falls Church, Virginia, after his son, Scott, was married. At a family gathering in Syracuse, at the home of Tom's sister, Sandra Grecco, we watched wedding films and heard a story that Scott (or his brother, Tim) met someone in the Washington, DC, area, who asked him if his family had any connection with Syracuse.

This person claimed to know Smolinskis from Binghamton, NY, who were children or grandchildren of a Smolinski who had left the Syracuse area and started another family.

Known as Boleslaw Smolinski for the 1910 United States Census, my grandfather listed his parents as Stanley and Rosa Smolinski. His birth year was listed as 1884.

The William Smolinski who married Catherine Zalewska in a Pennsylvania town just a few miles from Binghamton, listed his parents as Stanley Smolinski and Rose Keglovska Smolinski. His birth year was listed at 1887. The difference between 1884 and 1887 could easily be explained by the way people print the two numbers — 4 and 7. It's possible in both cases he said he was born in 1884, or 1887, and it was transcribed incorrectly.

Or perhaps the fact Stanley and Rose (or Rosa) Smolinski were listed as parents for Boleslaw (or William) Smolinski may simply be a coincidence.

1. Boleslaw (William) Smolinski
2. Ignacy (James) Smolinski
3. Joseph Smolinski