I started this post on Fat Tuesday in honor of the holiday (Pączkis anyone?) and the City of Chicago’s 177th Anniversary. I thought it would be nice to do a Polish Catholic Chicagoan for that week’s ancestor profile (I’m only a few weeks behind…). My great grandfather Stanisław Wróbel was born April 14, 1882 in the village of Lutków in what is now the province of Przemysl, on the Polish side of the Polish/Ukrainian border (then Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire…it’s always been a bit tempestuous there). Wróbel is a common Polish surname that means “sparrow” or “little bird”. His parents were Franciszek Wróbel and Marie Fąfrowicz and he had had an older sister, Rosalia, a younger sister, Mary, and possibly an older brother named John. The Podhale (“Under the Mountain Meadows”), or Polish Highland region where Stanisław was born is in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and is home to the Gorals, a Slavic ethnic group to which the family may have belonged.
At the end of the 19th century, Galicia was the poorest of the Austrian provinces. It was overpopulated, and land was hard to come by. The turn of the century saw almost 25% of the population emigrate from Galicia, including my great grandfather. According to the 1910 census, Stanisław immigrated to the United States in 1906 and in 1910 was living together with both his sisters and their husbands. On the 3rd of May, 1913, Stanisław married Katarzyna Szpik at Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Chicago. I’m guessing they got married in a hurry before Katarzyna started to show…six months later Stanislaw and Katarzyna baptized their first child, John Stanley, at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in the Chicago suburb of Summit. Two years later they gave birth to a daughter, Stefania, who died after only a few months. Another daughter, Harriet Simone, my grandmother, was supposed to have been born October 16, 1916, but I can’t find any record of her birth in either the official Cook County birth certificates, or a baptism record in any of the churches the Wróbel family attended.
In 1918, along with the other eligible men of the country, Stanisław registered for the draft. According to his draft card he worked in the stockyards, was of medium height, and had blue eyes and brown hair. Dealing with more missing records…I can’t find the family in the 1920 census. I, however, blame the census enumerator. According to the birth certificate of their last daughter, Helena, born in July of 1920, the family was living at 2946 Farell Street, in Chicago’s 4th Ward. I manually searched for the address, and it seems as if the census enumerator skipped the end of the block. A whole section of the street was just not enumerated. By the 1930 census he was going by Stanley Rubel (the Polish “ó” sounds like the “oo” in “pool”) and had moved to Lyons, in Summit. By a strange twist of fate he is listed next door to a John Rubel, 2 years older than him, also from Poland. I had always assumed this was a brother, but I have been contacted by a descendant of John. She explained that apparently it was just a coincidence. Her John had different parents, and apparently told the story of living next to a family of unrelated Rubels. Stanley was working as a janitor in a bank at the time. In 1940 Stanley’s last name shows up again as “Wrobel”, even though Harriet used the “Rubel” spelling when she got married to my grandfather in 1943. He is still listed as a bank janitor. Unfortunately, the 1940 census is the last record I can find for Stanisław. Although I have found death notices for both his brother-in-laws in the Chicago Polish newspaper, Dziennik Związkowy, I still don’t know where or when he died. A lot still remains to be figured out about his life and death.