“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:13

Death is all around us. From the moment we are born to the day we ourselves die death is accompanying us. As genealogists, we see death records, photos from funerals and obituaries on daily basis. For some it never gets easier. For others, like me, it is but an event to note in a family tree. I’m not sure why but I rarely stop to reflect upon the event itself. Maybe because I’m not so afraid of death? For me death is not the end.

But as you may have noticed “I rarely stop to reflect.” My very recent discovery made me stop and reflect for a moment. I have plenty of death events and sad stories to share but I decided to share my recent discovery first. As it is not only a tale of death but also a tale of perseverance and has a happy ending.

Apolonia Dąbrowska was my 4x great-grandmother. Going back in the records I found out that her father Mateusz Dąbrowski (or Dobrowski as earlier documents indicate) was a shoemaker in a village of Sędziejowice near Łódz. On 23rd of January, 1790 he married Apolonia’s mother Jadwiga Niciąka (Niciak in later documents). I strongly believe Mateusz’ father, Sebastian, was one of their witnesses. I have not found other Sebastian Dobrowski in the village so far, but search in earlier records is not yet done.

Record indicates that it was their first marriage, and as I later discovered their only marriage.

Mateusz and Jadwiga had a first child – Gertruda – born in Sędziejowice on or couple days before November 4th 1890. This particular record does not indicate when a child was born, only when it was baptized.

To my surprise their second child is not born until 1794. Jan z Mathy (John of Matha) Dobrowski was born on February 8th and baptized a day later. Priest at Sędziejowice parish was spotty with his information. Sometimes he would put names of child’s grandparents which I’ve seen rarely in records pre-1800, and sometimes he would limit information to what was absolutely necessary. In this particular record priest did indicate that Jan’s godfather Adam Dobrowski was a brother of Mateusz. What I also find interesting in this record is that Mateusz and Jadwiga lived at the rectory – “habitantium in domuncula Plebanali.”

Apparently having children every 3-4 years was Mateusz and Jadwiga’s thing. Their third child – Marcianna Dobrowska – is born on January 6th 1797.

In 1801, on July 7th, 4th child – Małgorzata Dobrowska – is born.

Last child of Mateusz and Jadwiga was Apolonia, my direct ancestor. She was born on or couple of days before February 9th, 1805. It is another record that does not indicate the day of birth but only day of baptism. Although not indicated in this particular record Apolonia’s godfather Antoni Dobrowski was Mateusz’s brother. What is also interesting is that Apolonia’s godmother Marianna Naglinska was not a Catholic (“Acatholica”). I’ve searched for Marianna but I was unable to find records for her. Nagliński last name does appear in later records in Lutheran church in Zduńska Wola, so I do suspect Marianna was Lutheran as well.

I can only assume that time went on peacefully for Mateusz and Jadwiga until 1807. They got married in Prussian partition, and that is where all 5 children of theirs were born. But in 1807 Sędziejowice becomes part of Duchy of Warsaw. Area of Sedziejowice sees armies march through, but victorious in creating new country that is suppose to be a step to creating independent Poland once again.

Sebastian Dobrowski, Mateusz’s father lived to see that happen. Unfortunately he died on January 24th 1809. His death record follows the newly established in the Duchy of Warsaw standard of Code of Napoleon and is nicely written in Polish. Mateusz Dobrowski, age 36, living with his mother Elżbieta, age 70, was an informant of his father’s death. Sebastian was apparently 90 years old. Another nice note is that he was buried in presence of his 2 other sons – Jan and Antoni. It looks like, mentioned in other record, brother of Mateusz Dobrowski – Adam Dobrowski – is already deceased.

We have this saying in Polish – “jak nie urok, to przemarsz wojsk” – which roughly means “if not the evil charm/whammy then it’s armies marching through.” It is a perfect saying to describe what happened to Sędziejowice area next. As I read about the history of the area I found out that in 1811 scarcity of crops and famine came which caused epidemic of dysentery. In following year French army moving through the area brought an epidemic of typhus. I don’t know if any of those epidemics were a factor for Mateusz, as his death record does not say, but coincidentally he died on April 11th 1812, just when 2 critical events happened in the area. His wife Jadwiga was the informant, and a nice mention is included in the record that Mateusz left behind 5 children.

Year 1813 was critical to Apolonia Dobrowska. Before, at age 4, she lost her grandpa Sebastian. At age 7 she lost her father. But the worst was still ahead of her. On October 29th, 1813 her mother Jadwiga Dobrowska nee Niciak/Niciąka died with cause being written out as “common illness” (“powszechna choroba”). I have found both civil record in Polish and church record in Latin for this event. Both those records confirm grim events of next few days. As it is written in a death record of Jadwiga “in following 5 days three of her children departed this world, who are together with their mother buried” (“w pięci dniach troje dzieci zeszło z tego świata które wraz z matką pochowane”). For whatever reason no separate records are created, neither in Polish nor Latin, for the death of those 3 children. I do know, following further research, that those 3 children were Gertruda, Jan z Mathy and Marcianna. Apolonia, age 8, and Małgorzata, age 12, became orphans and lost 3 of their oldest siblings.

Just a month later, on December 11th, Apolonia and Małgorzata’ paternal grandmother – Elżbieta Dobrowska dies. Apolonia and her sister are most likely left under the care of their uncles Jan and Antoni. I was unable to find any relatives of Jadwiga being alive. That search is to be continued.

And if that is not enough in 1814 uncle Antoni Dobrowski dies as well.

But there is a happy end to it all. Both, Apolonia and Małgorzata, get married. Both are listed as servants in Pruszków, just north of Sędziejowice. Apolonia Marries Grzegorz Piotrowski. Unfortunately, I’m unable to find her death record as of yet, but she was alive in 1857 when her son Karol Piotrowski, my direct ancestor, gets married. But the thought that, even though Apolonia became an orphan at the age of 8, she did survive to adulthood, got married, had children and lived long enough to see them get married brings me joy. Whatever the events were she was strong enough to live through it and become one of my ancestors.

Those are the stories that make genealogy a worthwhile hobby.

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