For over 150 years, Milwaukee has been home to a large community of people of Polish descent. The Milwaukee Polonia Project hopes to show the interweaving, intertwining family trees that resulted in this community. It is hoped that, eventually, all the families can be connected to one another. The Milwaukee Polonia Project is also a means to explore our common history and celebrate our shared heritage.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Polonia Christmas Traditions

The following article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on December 22, 1935 (page 9 on Google News)

 And now for Milwaukee Polonia's favorite rendition of the "Night before Christmas" as interpreted by Mad Man Michaels (a.k.a. "Gwiazdor"):

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Featured Profile #21 - Roman B. J. Kwasniewski

Roman B. J. Kwasniewski (1886 -1980)
 (Click here to see a copyrighted photo of Roman Kwasniewski)

Roman Kwasniewski was one of those individuals whose true worth was not generally recognized until he had passed away.

Roman was the only child of Joseph Kwasniewski and Wanda (Dyniewicz) Kwasniewski, and if there was anyone famous in the family it was his mother.  Wanda was born in Chicago in 1870 to Wladyslaw and Albertyna Dyniewicz. They were the publishers of the Gazeta Polska w Chicago, the first weekly Polish-language newspaper in America.  As a child, Wanda helped her parents set the type for the paper.  She became so proficient at this that at one point she hand set all the type for a textbook in Polish on Bible history.  The quality of her work is indicated by the fact that this textbook was used for many years in the Polish parochial schools of Chicago.

It is not known how or when Wanda met Joseph Kwasniewski, a Polish immigrant from Jaroslaw, Galicia, who was eleven years her senior. What is known is that by the time she was 17, Wanda had married Joseph and given birth to Roman.  The family moved to Milwaukee in 1893, when Roman was just seven.  Joseph ran a lithography and printing business on Becher Street which he supplemented by selling his own oil paintings and portraits along with miscellaneous books, religious items, statuary, etc.  Wanda ran an art shop and taught classes in paper flower making.  Joseph would eventually become the agricultural editor for the Kuryer Polski.  (Roman would eventually take over both the editorship held by his father, and the paper flower business ran by his mother.)

Young Roman attended public schools until he was about ten, and then moved to St. Hyacinth's School.  He went on to South Division High School from which he graduated in 1904.

Upon graduation, Roman worked in his father's business.  However, he eventually took up a relatively new career that advances in technology had only just recently made available: photography.  By 1913, he had opened his own photographic studio, Park Studio, at 554 Lincoln Ave. (now 1010 W. Lincoln Ave.)  Three years later, he built a new studio at 568 Lincoln Ave. (now 1024 W. Lincoln Ave.)  There he spent the remaining majority of his working career, quietly taking photographs. These pictures were mainly of individuals:  family pictures, portraits for citizenship papers, and holy communion pictures like the one he took of my cousin Harry Ruskiewicz (1918 - 1960), probably around 1928.

Harry Ruskiewicz, taken at Park Studio
Roman also ventured outside of his studio to take photos of businesses, social groups, fraternal organizations, and the occasional auto accident to document an insurance claim.  Every so often, he would take random photos:  St. Josaphat's through a quiet snowfall, two girls stolling in Kosciuszko Park, a street car making its way down Lincoln Ave.  All these photographs were almost exclusively of the South Side and her Polish-Americans. Even though they may not have been many on any particular day, they added up, day by day, week by week, year by year, for decades until he closed his studio in 1947.

In the meantime, Roman had married Mary J. L. Drozniakiewicz and started a family.  He had three children: Edward, who became a chemist, and moved to Buffalo, NY; Roman, Jr., an industrial engineer who died early at the age of 37; and Adele, who married John Joseph Kaczmarowski. (A picture of the young family can be found here.)

In 1974, Donald Pienkos, Political Science Professor at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, was searching for photographs of the Milwaukee Polish community to illustrate one of his scholarly articles.  He discovered that such photos were rare.  Those that did exist were in private collections.  Most of the photo studios that had served the South Side community had destroyed their "unwanted" inventories of old pictures.  Professor Pienkos may not even have thought of Roman Kwasniewski and his Park Studio but for the suggestion of Janet Dziadulewicz Branden. Even then, Professor Pienkos's phone calls to Roman's house went unanswered.  As a last attempt, Professor Pienkos wrote Roman a short note, but that, too, went seemingly ignored ...

 ... until December, 1978 when Professor Pienkos received a short missive:  "The building is being sold next week.  If you want to look at the photographs, let me know."  It was signed by John Kaczmarowski.  Professor Pienkos acted quickly and within a matter of days, he was at the old studio with several staff members from the UWM library.  What they found there that day was probably the closest Milwaukee has ever come to a horde of buried treasure: thousands of plate glass negatives and prints  (The final total collection now consists of over 25,000 plate glass negatives and 5,000 prints) depicting almost every aspect of Milwaukee Polonia during its peak years.

Through a generous grant from Polanki (the Polish Women's Cultural Club of Milwaukee) and Professor Pienkos, UWM was able to buy the collection.  But that was only the first step.  Next, the archivist librarians had to catalog each individual picture.  Luckily, Roman had made many notes on the glass negatives which in many cases recorded the particulars about each picture.  All that information was meticulously placed in a database.   As a result of all that hard work, researchers can now search for photographs by name, address, topic or date.  It is truly an amazing resource about the history of life in Polish Milwaukee!

If you can't make it to UWM to view the collection, some of the pictures are available on-line at
"A Community Portrait" by Christel T. Maass and John Gurda, Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring, 2004, "Polish Community Photographer:  Roman B.J. Kwasniewski", Chapter Three in Milwaukee: Wisconsin by Richard Klatte Prestor, and Historical photographs of the Near South Side at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Digital Collections.
It is now also possible to buy a book of the some of the Kwasniewski photographs.  (See "Gift Ideas" below.)

However, the photographs of the Kwasniewski collection are in danger.  The inherent properties of the plate photographs made them susceptible to deterioration.  UWM is trying to save the collection by scanning them all.  To learn how you can help in this important project, click here.

Relation to Nearest Featured Profile (Michael Domachowski and Joseph Domachowski, Featured Profile #3 and Featured Profile #4):  No close relationship.

Path From Nearest Featured Profile:  Domachowski brothers  > sister, Frances (Domachowski) [Grosz] Jagodzinski > daughter, Rose (Jagodzinski) [Ruszkiewicz] Ruswick > husband, Frank [Ruszkiewicz] Ruswick > brother, Albert Ruszkiewicz > wife, Mary (Jankowski) Ruszkiewicz > sister, Angeline (Jankowski) Drozniakiewicz > husband, Casper Drozniakiewicz > sister, Mary (Drozniakiewicz) Kwasniewski > husband, Roman Kwasniewski 


Maass, Christel T., Illuminating the Particular:  Photographs of Milwaukee's Polish South Side, Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2003.

"Polish Woman Leader Dead,"  Milwaukee Journal,  August 23, 1937, page 5 on Google News.

Summary Information on the Roman B.J. Kwasniewski Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society

Gift Ideas:

If you have someone on your Holiday List that might enjoy reading about the Milwaukee Polish community (or just looking at photographs of the neighborhood in which they grew up) there are two books from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press you should consider as gifts.

The first is Illuminating the Particular:  Photographs of Milwaukee's Polish South Side, which contains a good sampling of the photographs of Roman Kwasniewski which is discussed above.

The other is Poles in Wisconsin by Susan Gibson Mikos.  This book gives the general history of Polish settlement thoughout the state, but the highlight of the book for me was the extensive memoir of Majcie Wojda, an earlier settler of Milwaukee.  Both his personality and life in those early times really shine through his words and the author's translation.

Both these books are available from multiple vendors.

Notethere is a little genealogical mystery linking these two books.   The wife of Roman Kwasniewski was Mary Drozniakiewicz.  The son-in-law of Majcie Wojda was Frank Drozniakiewicz (who will be the subject of a forth-coming Featured Profile.)  Were these two individuals related?  The answer is: it appears so, but exactly how is uncertain.  

The father of Frank Drozniakiewicz was also named Frank Drozniakiewicz (born about 1848) and his mother was Cecelia Grymczynski.  The father of Mary Drozniakiewicz was Mathew, born about 1860So, it is clear that Frank, Jr. and Mary were not siblings.  However, the 1900 census discloses that Frank, Sr. was living at 841 8th Ave., while Mathew was living just a few doors down at 833 8th Ave.  Coincidence, or it could be relations tending to live close to one another?

Now, this is where it starts to get real interesting.  A search of the records of the Poznan Project reveals a marriage between Franciscus Drozniakiewicz and Caecilia Gremczynska (which appear to be Frank Jr.'s parents) in 1873.  F'rank, Sr.'s parents are listed in that record as Franciscus Drozniakiewicz and Marianna Florkowska.

 Mathew, however, was married in WisconsinThe transcription of his marriage record which is available on lists his parents as Thomas Drozniakiewicz and Marie Florkowska.  In other words, in both cases, the mother appears to be Marie or Marianna Florkowska, but in one case, the father appears to be Franciscus (Frank) Drozniakiewicz, and in the other the father appears to be Thomas Drozniakeiwicz.

So, what are we to make of this?  Are these, in fact, two different mothers but with similar names?  Are Thomas and Franciscus the same individual and there was just an error in transcription?  Or, is it the same mother in both cases, but with different fathers? For what its worth, the Poznan Project records disclose a marriage of Thomas Drozniakiewicz to Marianna Florkowska in 1845, but they do not show any other marriage to a Frank Drozniakiewicz.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Status Update - December, 2012

Family Names Added Since Last Update:


Number of Profiles Added Since Last Update:  216

New Intra-Connections (Lucht to Fons):

 98)  .... Valentine Martynski > daughter, Phyllis (Martynski) Michalski > husband, Alois Michalski > father, Stephen Michalski ....

99)  .... Valentine Martynski > daughter, Joanna (or Jean) (Martynski) Maternowski > husband, Frank Maternowski > mother, Frances (Markowski) Maternowski ....

100)  ...Andrew Stanny > son, PRIVATE Stanny > wife, PRIVATE (Geske) Stanny > father, Roman Geske > mother, Stella (Martynski) Gesicki > brother, Valentine Martynski ...

101)  .... Stella (Martynski) Gesicki > daughter, Irene (Gesicki) Kornacki > husband, John Kornacki > sister, Helen (Kornacki) Polewczynski > husband, Henry Polewczynski .... 

102)  ...Clarice Eve (Baranowski) Komassa > brother, Joseph [Baranowski] Baren > wife, Eleanor (Kolterman) Baren > brother, John Kolterman > wife, Stella (Jankowski) Kolterman > sister, Mary (Jankowski) Zablocki > son, Harry Zablocki > wife, Anne (Adamski) Zablocki > mother, Josephine (Ciezki) Adamski, brother, Alexander Ciezki, daughter, PRIVATE (Ciezki) Kulwicki > husband, Arthur Kulwicki > father, Theodore Kulwicki > mother, Anna (Brozda) [Kulwicki] Kitzke ....

103)  .... John Domachowski (I) > son, Frank Domachowski > daughter, Mary (Domachowski) Peksa > husband, Andrew Peksa > sister, Antoinette (Peksa) Litzow > John Litzow > wife, Florence (Wabiszewski) Litzow > brother, Frank Wabiszewski > daughter, Colette (Wabiszewski) Kornacki > husband, Frank Kornacki > sister, Helen (Kornacki) Polewczynski .... 

104)  .... Antoinette (Peksa) Litzow > husband, Albert P. Litzow > brother, August Litzau > son, Joseph A. Litzau > wife, Lottie (Kuligowski) Litzau > sister, Pearl (Kuligowski) Bessa ....

PCN:  3.29

December, 2012: 3.29
November, 2012: 6.0
October, 2012:  12.25
September, 2012:  6.4
August, 2012: 3.89
July, 2012:  4.57
June, 2012:  7.75
May, 2012:  9.33
April, 2012:  16.67
March, 2012:  16
February, 2012:  12.8
January, 2012:  19

Newly-Discovered Changed Names:

Budzisz to Budish
Gesicki to Geske
Wenderski to Wenders

Newly-Discovered Alternate Spellings:

Krauska Kramska
Litzow Litzau
Sytkowski Syltkowski Pytkowski