Where there’s a Valentine, you know I will be close at hand…
Valentine Kontorczyk/Contorchick, my Great-Grandfather. His name and birth date have been noted so differently on various documents. I will highlight that data throughout this blog to give you an idea of the inconsistency a person researching genealogy can sometimes face, even when the name is unique (ESPECIALLY when the name is unique).
Walenty Kantorczyk is noted on the departure manifest for the vessel named Graf Waldersee, dated 6 Mar 1909.
Valentine’s data tells us he is a single male, traveling from Hamburg, Germany through the ports of Cuxhaven, Germany and, after making a stop in Boulogne, then sailing on to the destination of Ellis Island, New York City, NY. His occupation is noted as Landmann, Tagelöhner. A quick search for a definition of Tagelöhner yielded this:
“The Tagelöhner (Tageloehner) was of the lowest standing in a predominantly agricultural society, but, and this was of great importance, this man was free! While the estate labourer on the vast estates, on the whole belonging to titled gentry, had to get the landlord’s permission for every move he wanted to make (“May I marry this girl?”), the Tagelöhner, although very poor, was master of his own destiny. We all know this is not worth much if one has not the means to fulfil plans and dreams, but if a Tagelöhner could scrape together the money for the fare over to America, he was free to go. The farmhand, employed by a landlord, and more often than not living in a ‘tied cottage’ (the house goes with the job) on the other hand, had to ask permission to leave. As this was not easily given many emigrants had to abscond and could only breath a sigh of relief once they were on the ship and sails were set.” (http://wiki-en.genealogy.net/Tagelohner).
He was 18 with an approximate birth year of 1891. It is noted that his accommodations were “Zwischendeck”. A Google translate of the word notes it stands for “Steerage” – the lower deck of a ship where cargo is stored above the closed hold. This would have provided the lowest cost and lowest class of travelers to America. I am totally picturing Leo DiCaprio in Titanic right now. You will find Valentine’s name on page two, line 7.
A chance curiosity led me to this departure manifest. On Ancestry, once I found his arrival manifest, there was a clickable link named “Search for the departure in Hamburg Passenger Lists”. I clicked it and this little gem popped right up! ALWAYS click the linked suggestions. They may turn out to be nothing but sometimes they are a treasure trove of additional unexpected information! The second additional link on the arrival manifest page was titled “Search for the Graf Waldersee in the Passenger Ships and Images database”. That is where I found the image of the actual vessel at the top of this blog. It was a real treat to find it colorized.
Walenty Kemtorczyk arrived in New York City on 19 Mar 1909, It took thirteen days at sea to complete his voyage. His birth year is noted as abt 1891 (same as the departure manifest). His birth location states Lipnica, Austria. His nationality is Polish.
I tried to do a quick search to understand why this area of Poland would be noted as “Austria” on this document. Lipnica Murowana is in the lower portion of Poland and is a town that dates back to the middle ages. The area prospered because of its location on a route from Krakow to Hungary. It was once the 19th largest town of Lesser Poland. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, it was annexed by the Habsburg Empire and remained in Austrian Galicia (ah ha! my answer) until 1918. During that time Lipnica fell into further decline and its residents lived in widespread poverty. During the first months of WWI, heavy fighting between the Russians and the Austro-Hungarian troops (i.e. Battle of Galacia) occurred in this area. The town was destroyed, the troops left and in the aftermath the residents starved. In 1918, Lipnica became part of the Second Polish Republic.
I would like to note that I had no history classes in high school and during moments like this, I regret that considerably. However, I plan to reconcile my lack of knowledge regarding the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Battle of Galacia and the effect of WWI on this region as it is apparent numerous ancestors of mine fled to America to avoid the same conflict.
There is one piece of information from this document that did made me smile – under the column titled “The name and address of nearest relative in country whence alien came” – his mother is noted as Anna Kantorczyk. I had struggled with finding her name on various people’s online Ancestry trees. Until proven otherwise, Anna it is. At least they spelled her name consistently.
It was by sheer luck that I was able to secure his arrival manifest and, by extension, his departure manifest. In researching his line at the Cambria County Library, I found an entry that noted the date of his naturalization. Using that information, I requested his Naturalization Records from the Prothonotary of Cambria County. Within the documentation for his Naturalization was a form called “Certificate of Arrival”. It verified the date of his arrival and, thankfully, the name the clerk wrote down for him. Had it not been for this one document, I would have NEVER found his arrival manifest.
In 1910, I find Valintine Kandortshick living on Sandfield Road in Sayreville, Middlesex, New Jersey, USA. He was 19, his birth about 1891. For the purposes of this document, he is noted as a single man and a boarder at this residence. He speaks Polish, his parent’s hail from Austria. He is a laborer in a Brick Yard. Can he Read Or Write? No.
When looking at this census on Ancestry, you have the opportunity to click on links for the other residents of this home. In doing this, I find that the men living there were all Polish, from Austria and must all work for the same brickyard as laborers. I plan to do a little more research on Sayreville during that period to understand what it was like for immigrants and possibly if there was one or several brickyards. For reference, here are the other residents living in this dwelling:
Sometime between 1910 and 1914, Valentine met Kate. I will do a separate blog for all of the details and documentation of her life. Valentine Kantorczyk married Kate Salomon on 25 May 1914 At St. Mary’s Church in South River, New Jersey. He is noted as a 22 year old white laborer who was born in Poland Austria. His father’s name is Andrew. This is the document I used to establish his father’s first name on my family tree. His mother’s name could be Anny or Amy. I would think maybe “Annie” and it is spelled wrong. This would be two documents that would steer me toward Ann or Anna for his mother’s first name. The witnesses to this marriage include “Lurenz Kantorczyk”, that would be Valentine’s brother.
On my recent trip to NYC, my Daughter and I made our way through the Middlesex County, NJ area to visit various spots of genealogical interest to me. One of those places was St Mary’s in South River. To stand on the steps of the church gave me a feeling of connection. Walenty and Katie walked up those stairs and entered the church on their wedding day one hundred and five years previous!
I found a marriage photo on Ancestry (someone who is managing the DNA of my aunt and cousins?). I printed it out and used that photo in the foreground and their wedding church in the background for this:
During a tour of the Whipple Company Store last year, I learned a few wedding traditions for people from Poland. The ribbon being worn by Valentine means that he “accepts her claim to virginity”. I would like to find out more about her wedding dress as there are certain traditions in choosing the lace and style. As you can see, they are not holding hands in the picture – it would have been improper to have skin-to-skin contact prior to their wedding day. Most times, the brides would wear gloves to avoid this. I wish I could have gotten more photos from this location. The weather was horrible – pouring rain. You can see some spots on the paper from the raindrops. I have a number of other locations I want to visit in that area now that I am “wrapping up” research on my great grandparents. The next time I plan a trip to NYC I will include a trip across the river to New Jersey for some follow up exploration.
Between 1914 and 1920 the couple moved to Pennsylvania.
In 1920, we find Valentine Shertochik living on Nicktown Road in Carrolltown, Cambria, PA. He is married to Catherine and they own the home they are living in. He speaks English and has learned to read and write. His occupation is Coal Miner. His Naturalization Status is Alien. I would love to know why they moved there. Other records would indicate that his brother Lawrence also moved to the area and, like Valentine, became a miner.
The thing that jumps out at me from this census is the “boarder” noted as Andy Salome, aged 48. I would love to confirm that he is Andrew Salomon, Catherine’s father. I believe it is. The census taker butchered Pap’s name (Bruno is now Bromstoff). There are three children noted here. Assuming it is their three eldest children (and the date ranges of their ages) they would be Bruno, Clara and Mary.
Valentine took part in what would become known as “The Old Man’s Draft”. Once the United States entered WWII, it was required that all men between the ages of 18 and 64 (born between April 28, 1877 and on or before February 16. 1897) register for service. This was the fourth registration to occur within the Selective Service Act. The purpose of this registration was not to draft the much older men into military service but to ascertain their labor skills and whether or not those skills could be used in the war effort. This registration gave a complete picture of human capital within the United States. It was held on April 27, 1942 (you will notice the signature date on the second page below). The men were required to complete a lengthy questionnaire. Although the registration cards, like the one shown below (front and back), survived (for all but eight states), the questionnaires did not. By using a similar style registration card as was used in WWI, the second page allowed the US government to have an idea of the person’s physical capabilities. As you will see noted on the card below, Valentine was missing his left leg.
Information gathered from this document: In April 1942, Valentine and Kate were married and living in Elmora, Cambria County, PA, USA. He was 51, noting his birth date as Feb 3, 1891. He was unemployed and missing his left leg. He was 5’8″ with a light complexion, brown hair and blue eyes.
The final record from his naturalization records is the affidavit of witnesses and Oath of Allegiance on August 25, 1943. Walenty Kantorczyk, with the help of his friends John Palka and James Flora, became an official citizen of the United States of America.
He enjoyed 20 years of citizenship until he passed away at 6AM on Sunday morning, June 2, 1963 in Carolltown, Cambria, PA. He died of Arterioscloratic Heart Disease at the age of 74 (he had suffered from heart disease for three years). He was a retired Coal Miner. His wife completed the paperwork necessary for this death certificate:
According to his obituary, Valentine Contorchick had 35 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. I was able to confirm that Lawrence, was still alive and that he was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery, close to Pap. His funeral service was held in the same church where I was baptized. I would like to find the location of the building. The church is no longer there, it was incorporated into another parish. I used this obituary
I visited his grave while I was in Cambria County in the spring.
That is the culmination of all my research into the life of Valentine Contorchick / Walenty Kantorczyk, my Great Grandfather. As I update and if I find any additional details, I will post those here as well.
Thanks for reading!
Seletyn what a wonderful job you have done collecting all the information you have. I am Anita daughter of Mary and Steve. My mother died when I was two and I was raised by Valentine (Grandpap) and Catherine (Mom). I live in East Brunswick if you are in the area feel free to look me up. Anita Vangerud I have a lot of pictures from reunions etc. I also have a wonderful picture of Moms 80th birthday with her children your grandfather is in it. I found some interesting information about Catherine which I would be happy to forward to you.
My grandfather was Lawrence Kontorchik, brother of Valentine. You have done an outstanding job, and I know how much effort you have put into this, and I found information that was helpful to me. I am wondering if you have any additional information, such as whether Valentine and Lawrence had any brothers or sisters, and whether you have any family tree information that goes back further in time. If you would like to compare notes, please contact me.
Hi my name is Cheryl Contorchick Barrett. Valentine’s my Grandfather. Who is your Grandfather? My Dad was John “Gunny”.
Bruno was my Grandfather. Terry is my Father.
You did a wonderful job documenting Valentine and his family. I enjoyed reading his story. Did you ever find out how and when he lost his leg?
I have not. Nor have I found out how he lost three fingers (to the first knuckle) and a thumb!
I appreciate the hours upon hours of research you did to recreate Valentine’s story!! Fascinating. I did take history in HS and college and did not learn (or retain) anything about Eastern European wars and border changes. We are history students NOW. Well done, Michelle!
Thanks! I have ordered a “brief history of Hungary” and now I want to find something on the Battle of Galacia.