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History of George (Grzegorz) Gidzinski
Written by: Rolfe Jaremus, his grandson
Original Date Written: November 1993, with many subsequent revisions
Information supplied by: George Gidzinski and many others
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE
George Gidzinski was born in the village of Kosiv, which is located in the present day country of Ukraine. Kosiv is a small agricultural village located in the western Ukraine, 150 kilometers southeast of the city of Lviv. Kosiv is located between the city of Cortkiv and the town of Bucac. It is only on the most detailed maps.
George was born on March 12, 1893, the fourth child of seven to Jan Nepomus Gedzinskil and Apolonia Sawryj. Jan and Apolonia were from old Kosiv families going back at least several generations. These people were ethnically Polish and of the Roman Catholic faith. They were all agricultural workers. The home where George grew up was on the southern edge of Kosiv on a piece of property that bordered upon a small river way. According to the Austrian town diagrams, there were several buildings on the family plot.
One of George's clear memories of his childhood was that his grandfather was a beekeeper. George explained how his grandfather would lay down straw on puddles of water to ensure that his bees had scaffolding to stand on while drinking water.
COMING TO AMERICA
By the time George was a teenager, there were too many mouths to feed and no work in the area. At that time, Galicia was not only considered to be the poorest part of the old Polish lands, it was known to be one of the poorest parts of Europe. So in the year 1910, at the age of 16, George decided to leave home in search of opportunities in North America. The reason George gave for leaving was simply "there was nothing to do." George headed to Canada and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 27, 1910.
George worked his way across eastern Canada -- working as a manual laborer on farms and for railroads. When passing through Quebec, he got a taste of the obstinate French people. With a chuckle, George often told the story about his trying to buy a pair of shoes. He showed and gestured to a French shoe-shop owner that his shoes had holes in the soles. The Frenchman, not wanting to serve an immigrant, acted as if he couldn't understand and refused to serve him. George slowly worked his way westward to the city of Winnipeg where his younger sister Carolya and other relatives lived.
After spending five years in Canada, George headed south to the the United States and crossed the U.S. border in North Dakota. We are not sure exactly where he went, but he worked in a steel mill in southern Michigan for awhile. One of the jobs he held in the mill was to tend the molten steel and poke holes in the slag crust for men waiting with long handled ladles. This job occasionally required him to walk on a catwalk above the coke ovens. When one of these walkways fell into the molten steel, just as he stepped off the platform, this brush with death was enough to convince him to look for less dangerous work.
Another job that George had in Chicago was a house mover. George told the story of one job he was involved in to move a large brick school house one foot because it was accidentally built on private property! George also worked in a boiler factory in Chicago.
In 1917, the United States entered World War I, and while George was draft-eligible at 25 years old, he was not drafted. The reason for this, George explained, was that shortly before he had his appendix removed, In those days, an operation of this sort was considered to make a man unfit for the rigors of war.
Sometime around 1917, George met Anna Figus at a drinking establishment. In those days, taverns provided their patrons with sandwiches for free for those that paid for drinks. Taverns were more acceptable places for social gatherings. Anna Figus was also a recent immigrant who came from the eastern Galician town of Czarny Dunajec. She was working as a seamstress for the famous clothing company Hart, Schafner, and Marx. She came to Chicago to make enough money so that she could retrieve an ailing brother back to Poland. As with so many immigrants, she took care of her brother but never returned home.
On July 22, 1918, about one year after meeting Ann, they were married. For the next several decades George and Anna settled down to family life. Between March of 1919 and July of 1931, Anna dna George had five children -- four girls and one boy.
During the 20's, the family lived on 17th Street on the near South Side. That home did not have indoor plumbing. The outhouse was located underneath the "raised" sidewalk. In the the Spring of 1929, six months prior to the Great Stock Market Crash, George and Anna bought a home at 1340 N. Oakley Blvd. in Chicago. It was here that the Gidzinski children spent their formative years going to Schley Grade School The home was located across the street from Tuley High School, which most of the kids attended, although son John attendee Crain Technical High School.
During the early family years, George began his career in the restaurant industry at the Del Prado Hotel on the south side. At Del Prado, he worked as a manual laborer doing various jobs. Eventually George took a job at the famous Edgewater Beach Hotel located on Lake Shore Drive on the far north side of the city. He eventually became a cook and spend 36 years at the Edgewater Beach. He worked there from 1923 to 1959, retiring at the age of 66.
During the depths of the Depression, George was fortunate enough to have a job. He had good work habits and was willing to do whatever was needed. Then, sometime in 1934, while on his way to work at 4:00 am in the dark morning, George stepped off a streetcar and was run over by a truck. He lay in the street for several hours before someone found him. George's leg and his collarbone were broken. Because of the medical system at the time, he was initially taken to Cook County Hospital. Later he was taken to a maternity hospital, which was not equipped to deal with his injury. They tried to heal his leg using a new technique, but his leg did not set right. As a result, his leg was somewhat deformed with one leg about 1" shorter than the other. This didn't stop him from using his legs as his primary mode of transportation for the rest of his life. Because of the seriousness of his injury, George was out of work for one year.
Because George was hospitalized for such a long period of time, he was unable to keep up on his house payments at 1340 N. Oakley. There was no such thing as unemployment insurance or social security. When George was out of work, the family had to scrape by doing whatever they could to make ends meet. Because so many people were out of work during the Great Depression, George related that his banker offered to give George the title to their house for $300.00. Grandpa told the banker that he didn't even have $3.00! The family subsequently lost their home and moved into an apartment in the neighborhood at 2254 W. Division Street.
Despite some of these difficult events, the Gidzinski household was a happy one. George's sister (Caroly's daughter) Olga fondly recalls her trip to Chicago (from Winnipeg) to visit Uncle George's family:
"The year was 1938 and I had a week's vacation. I was always interested in meeting my cousins and had a great desire to travel. The bus trip from Winnipeg was long; many stops were made en route to Chicago. Uncle George greeted me warmly, as did the rest of the family. During the days, when Mary and Genie were not around, I would converse with Aunt Anna, who spoke to me in Polish. I responded in English and know that my answers were not always correct. Anna's Polish was different than my mothers. I do remember a "happy" household. Uncle George was always upbeat. He had much love for his family and for his relatives too. At the time I was there, Annie Lozo (a member of the Sawryj family) was there with her children. I don't know if she had just arrived or was departing. The Sawryj family had five or six girls: Ann Dara, Wanda, Elsie, Nellie, and Kay. All of them used to visit our family at one time or another. I remember uncle would whip up something special for dinner. We took walks to the Polish community and all in all, my trip was very pleasant. When George stopped at my place en route to Winnipeg, he said he was there because his sister Pauline needed him. At the time, Aunty Pauline was critically ill. She managed to recove and lived many long years. Another time, I was still at home and single. I came into the house where Uncle George was sitting in the living room -- he said, "I knew Carolya was at home -- I could hear her singing in the basement."
During the late 20's, George bought an inexpensive lot in west suburban Westchester. On Sundays the family would occasionally take the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy train out to their lot to have a picnic. At that time, this was farm country -- far beyond the city limits. The hope of eventually having a home built, or passing the property on to one of the kids never materialized. The lot was sold in 1956.
In 1950 George and Anna bought a wood-frame Victorian home and brick 2-flat located at 2424/26 N. Kildare in Chicago. This property was on a double lot due to the Victorian home in the back, which had been moved years before for the construction of the Kelvyn Park High School. During the early 50's, his son John, a carpenter, converted the upstairs of the Victorian house into a separate apartment. This apartment was originally used by John and his wife Virginia as an apartment. As each of George and Anna's children got married and began their families, George and Anna provided a flat for each of their children at a discounted rent in succession until they were all able to move to their own homes.
As one of the children that lived at the first-floor front apartment for nine years, it was interesting to live in a small-family community with all of the close neighbors being relatives.
One of the most enduring memories for several of the Jaremus grandchildren was grandpa's flower garden. We fondly remember the fragrant 4 O'clocks in the nook by the house, the U-shaped day-lily and iris garden, the gladiolus surrounding the catch-basin, the hollyhocks near the alley, and the scattered dahlia's, petunias, and tomato plants along the south fence. The garden surrounded the perimeter of the yard, with the wood and wire fence on the outside and a narrow sidewalk on the inside. The garden was a colorful and pleasant sight in an otherwise drab neighborhood. It was also one of only three lots on the block that actually had a year of any size. Grandpa George spent many hours watering his flowers with his watering can and hose. He often filled a sprinkling can with water to let it sit overnight so that the chlorine could evaporate. Grandpa George's garden lives on in the hearts and minds of several of his grandchildren.
During his many years in Chicago, Grandpa George never drove a car, but relied quite independently upon walking, public transportation, and his children's chauffeuring. Despite grandpa's damaged legs, he loved to walk and would often walk many miles, thoroughly enjoying the exercise. On his trips to visit his son John in Deerfield, or daughter Genia in Morton Grove, he usually took the Milwaukee Road Train walking to Healy station on Fullerton. Then from the Morton Grove or Deerfield train stations, he routinely walked to John or Genie's home. The distance from the Deerfield train station to his son John's house was six miles! He often walked the distance, taking pride in his independence, protesting when his kids offered to drive him.
During the late sixties and early seventies, when brother Ben and I were in our late teen years, we often took the Milwaukee Road train to Healy station in Chicago to visit grandpa. We knew the door was always open. Even if it wasn't the key to his house was under the outside stairway steps and we let ourselves in. Whenever we visited, grandpa would always make us something to eat, and then we'd sit and talk about one thing or another. I distinctly remember as a teenager feeling for the first time like an adult when talking with Grandpa George. He talked with us about what the family was doing and treated us as if our opinions mattered.
Grandpa George was an active churchgoer. He was a member of the Polish National Catholic (PNC) fatih, a breakaway religion from Roman Catholicism. When asked about this religion, grandpa related that as a young man first in Chicago, he was visited by Roman Catholic priests. At that time, he had little or no money. Regardless, the Catholic priests demanded donations. The predisposition towards monetary matters soured George on the Roman Catholic faith and drew him to the PNC religion.
Grandpa George also loved to go to the horse races and place his bets. He was a regular at the track in his later years. He would take a bus to the Hawthorn and Sportsman's Racetrack to watch the hourses run.
During the early sixties, his wife Anna contracted later-life diabetes. This illness and complications reduced her strength such that she required a wheelchair for mobility. The injections of insulin and her caring were difficult for George and Anna for several years prior to her death. Anna passed away on June 30, 1968.
Over the next decade, he often visited and helped his kids. While in his sixties, he would often help his son John in carpentry work. He also worked as a substitute cook for his son-in-law Ted, who was a chef. He continued this part-time work late into his 70's.
Grandpa George also traveled with his children and their families. In the late 60's, he went to California with his daughter Mary and her family. They camped along the way, with George being the frugal camper who would sleep anywhere without any protest. When they got to California, they visited his daughter Honie and her family. Honie and her family also took George, and later Anna, camping and sightseeing in California.
In 1970, he went to Poland with his daughter Genia. They had many memorable experiences staying with Anna's family (within the borders of current day Poland).
Grandpa George was a very warm and engaging person who was loved by his family and friends. He was fondly recalled by many relatives. He loved to tell stories about his travels and jobs as a young man before he settled down.
Grandpa lived at 2424 N. Kildare until 1977. At the age of 84, he moved in to live with his daughter Eugenia in Morton Grove. For a short time he also lived with his son John in Deerfield. He died of successive strokes at the age of 87 on July 9, 1980. He is buried next to his wife Anna in the All Saints Polish National Catholic Cemetery on Higgins Road in Chicago. He is fondly remembered by everyone that knew him.
The spelling of Gidzinski changed at some point.
It is believed that George GidzInski left Europe from the port of Hamburg, Germany, but this has not been verified.
It was in Winnipeg, Canada, where one of George's grandfathers lived to the ripe old age of 110! George explained that the ol' fellow died in a house fire. A picture of the old geezer (George's grandfather) taken during the early part of this century exists in my family records given to me by my mother.
Grandpa George's Grandfather
Per son John Gidzinski, George's citizen's card shows his point-of-entry being Warroad, Minnesota on May 15, 1915.
George Gidzinski's birth certificate is on file.
In 1795 the final partition of the Empire of Poland occurred. Poland was divided up by the empires of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The village of Kossow, where George was born, is located in the province of Galicia. At the time of George's birth, Calicia was the furthest northeastern province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was controlled by the Hapsburg family and was also known as the "Hapsburg Empire". Because the Austro-Hungarian Empire consisted of peoples from many different nationalities, the Hapsburg's allowed a fair degree of autonomy to the various provinces. For this reason, Galician citizens were able to speak Polish and practice their cultural traditions to a greater extent than Poles living in the German or Russian territories.
George was considered Polish despite the fact that a Polish nation had not existed for 98 years prior to George's birth. While George Gidzinski was of Polish ancestry, he had some Ukrainian roots. George's father Jan was Polish, while his mother Apolonia was but half Polish. Apolonia's father came from the province of Moldova (previously Moldavia) and was of Ukrainian or Moldovan ancestry.
Thanks to George's daughter, Mary Majewski, son John Gidzinski,and niece Olga Dimunation.
The Latest in Gidzinski-Figus Family Research
By Rolfe Jaremus
Recently, I received a notice of some information from a Polish Origins Forum that I subscribe to that deals with genealogical inquiries for the Podhale Region of Poland. The Podhale is the southern mountainous region where the matriarch of the Gidzinski-Figus family was born. Anna Figus was born January 21, 1893 in Czarny Dunajec one of the larger and more renown villages in the area. Anna is the mother of John Gidzinski Sr. and his sisters Mary Majewski, Alexandra (Ollie) Key, Anna (Honnie) Waldow, and Eugenia Jaremus (deceased).
Jan Figus and Rolfe Jaremus on Polish/Slovakia border, Tatra Mountains – July, 1991
Czarny Dunajec is a picturesque village nestled in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. The Catholic churches in this village and neighboring Odrowaz are unusual in that they have onion like domes that I believe are of Hungarian influence. This area was under Austria-Hungarian rule for the 123 years prior to 1918. For all of its picturesque beauty, the Podhale was historically a very poor part of Poland. Anna Figus was born in a wooden log house that had a dirt floor. My mother was able to see the abandoned house when she went there on a visit with her father George Gidzinski in 1972.
When I took a trip to Poland with my father in 1991, we visited with Anna’s youngest sister Stefka, and her husband Joseph Bobek Sandocek in Czarny Dunajec. With my father translating, she told me a few things about her parents. Stefka and Anna’s father was Szezepan Figus, and her mother was Aniela Łaś (pronounced “wash”). Her father Szezepan died in 1920, when Stefka was only 13 years old, of the flu. This was during a world-wide flu pandemic that occurred immediately after World War I nicknamed the Spanish Flu. It was reported that the Spanish Flu was so virulent that people in the US were literally dropping over on the sidewalks. 50-100 million people worldwide were estimated to have died from this flu.
From left to right: Joseph Bobek Sandocek, Stefka Sandocek (nee Figus), their grandson, and Teodor Jaremus July, 1991
Szezepan died on his way to hospital in Nowy Targ (the largest town in the area). I don’t know where he is buried. He is not buried next to his wife Aniela who is buried next to her eldest son Jan in the Czarny Dunajec Catholic cemetery. She did pass away 30 years after her husband, so he might be somewhere else in the cemetery. Aniela and son Jan are buried in rather elaborate above ground crypts. Perhaps Szezepan was buried along the route to Nowy Targ, or maybe his body was incinerated as there was a real fear of spreading diseases during the pandemic including encephalitis.
Rolfe Jaremus next to grave stones of Aniela Figus (nee Łaś) and her son Jan Figus, Czarny Dunajec church cemetery – July, 1991
So from the Polish Origins Forum, I saw a list of family surnames from the town of Odrowaz, which is where Stefka told me her mother Aniela was from. I checked with Shelly Gray, a researcher working at the Forum who has a copy of the Odrowaz Roman Catholic Church birth records. She found an Aniela Łaś in the records who was born on March 26, 1868 in Odrowaz, house #5. The puzzling thing is that Aniela’s burial stone in Czarny Dunajec has her birth date in the year 1867, not 1868. I can’t read the exact date on the burial stone from my pictures, but I have written to my mother’s cousin Jan Figus, to see if he, or one of his children can take a look at the grave stone.
Odrowaz Catholic Church birth entry (bottom of page) for Aniela Łaś
So the obvious question is, was there a mistake on Aniela’s grave stone? Or, could there be another Aniela Łaś born a year earlier in this small village of Odrowaz? There could be other Łaś families in the village, so it is possible that there were multiple Aniela’s, and from the records, this was a popular name at the time, but it seems strange that two Łaś families in the same church would name their children Aniela within a year. The one problem is that Shellie Gray has a gap in her church records for 1867 between August and November of that year, so she is unable to rule out another Aniela.
I am planning to go to the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Research center early in 2014 to see if they have copies of the Odrowaz church records. While this village is rather small, the LDS research centers are the best genealogical research group in the world. So short of going to Poland or having someone do the research for me there, this is next shot. If they don’t have any records, I will try to contract a researcher in the Podhale.
If there is no other Aniela Łaś born in 1867, should we believe the gravestone or the church records? I would tend to put more faith in the church records because these records are in Latin and are quite detailed. They are recorded in a concise and consistent manner for each birth and they were recorded at the time the child was baptized, which is usually a few days after birth. To the credit of the Roman Catholic Church, this information format is consistent for churches throughout Poland. Recording this information was a serious endeavor although the handwriting is often a bit sloppy.
Here is what the birth/baptismal record shows for Aniela Łaś: Her full name was Aniela Franciszka Łaś, born 26 March 1868 in Odrowaz, house #5. Her father was Wincenty Łaś, son of Jan Łaś and Marianna Stanek. Her mother was Zofia Mis, daughter of Wincenty Mis and Rozalia (maybe Regina?) Glowicki. This record also shows whether the birth was for a Catholic family, if the birth was legitimate and other such information. There is also the names of the “Patroni” or sponsors of the child. These people usually seem to be non-family members. I would think the sponsors were good friends of the family who were entrusted with taking care of the child if something should happen to the parents.
The marble gravestone, while beautiful, and quite elaborate was likely cut after Aniela died. Her husband had preceded her in death by many years. She passed away at the age of +-83 years of age, and was buried in the Czarny Dunajec church cemetery, not the parish where she was born. Maybe they took the word of someone like the son, who guessed at the age? It’s still hard to believe they made a mistake, but perhaps the family was off by a year or so? I’m going to try to find out. If anyone has any information about this, I would love to hear it.
Stay tuned for an update.
This page was last updated 07/07/17