Great-Grandmother Anna M. (Valek) Urnezis Biliunas

Anna M. Valek was born on May 30, 1887 in Lithuania. To my knowledge, she was the eldest daughter and third of Adam and Elisabeth Valek’s children.

Different censuses place the year of Anna’s immigration anywhere between 1897 and 1900. I strongly suspect that the year was 1899, when other members of her family immigrated (her father was the first to come over in May 1893). Family legend says that Anna came through Ellis Island, but I have yet to find the ship manifest with her name on it. What I really need to do is research her brothers’ naturalization records to get more possible information on her arrival.

Another family legend is that Anna married her first husband, Anton “Tony” Urnezis, at the age of thirteen. I have not been able to confirm this one way or another. They were likely married in advance of their first child, John (known as Jack), born in 1908. Anna Marie (who later went by Ann) was born on August 31, 1910. There may have been a third child; the only Urnezis who I’d found on Find-a-Grave in the Riverhead area is Joseph Urnezis (born May 24, 1912, died October 15, 1912), who is buried at the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Cutchogue – the same cemetery that Anna’s second husband John Biliunas was later interred in. Personally, I think this is too much of a coincidence to discount him as a possible child, but right now I have no definitive evidence that he was born to Anna and Tony.

Although Anna’s parents were already established in Riverhead by the 1910 Census, it seems that the Urnezis family didn’t purchase land their until early 1912. Tony bought the Herrick Lane/Sound Avenue from a Mary Hallock. This farm is supposedly where Tony had a fatal accident; I don’t know what or when exactly, but of course it was before Anna re-married.

Anna as a young woman (wasn’t she beautiful?). Author’s collection

In my previous post, I’d covered Anna and John Biliunas’s children, as well as John’s naturalization. I’d always wondered if Anna’s citizenship hinged on John’s status. After all, in the 1925 New York Census, John stated that he had “filed papers” and Anna noted “same as husband”. However, in 1922 the United States passed the “Cable Act”, which stated that women could gain citizenship on their own. She would not have to file a declaration of intention (which explains why there is no paperwork filed with Suffolk County), yet she is counted as a citizen by 1930 and did eventually obtain a Social Security Number. I’m not sure exactly how it would have worked with her citizenship – she did not seem to be naturalized with her husband. This definitely would require some offline research.

Anna was widowed once again in 1948. I don’t know how long she stayed at the farm, but I do know that she purchased land on Bay Avenue in Mattituck, Suffolk County, NY near the beach in 1950. I believe that her son Jack eventually moved there (he definitely lived on Bay Avenue by the 1970s) and I believe she lived with him toward the end of her life. And when was that, you ask? Anna died in April 1983 in Mattituck; yes, she was pushing 100! Although I was a full-grown eighteen years old when she died, I never got the opportunity to meet her. I can only hope she knew that a great-granddaughter would have loved to meet her!

Anna in June 1964. Author’s collection.

Great-Grandfather John Peter Biliunas

As I struggled to put together this blog post, I wondered why? I had the basic high points of my maternal great-grandfather’s life; usually that’s been enough to get me going. I guess I sensed that John Peter Biliunas had a bigger story to tell. Now I think that who he was ties into the things that were bigger than himself: his family and his country.

John was born on September 16, 1886 in Lithuania. His US World War I Draft Registration does show his place of birth, which looks something like “Viaule” or “Virule”. (I’ve ruled out it beginning with “N”, based on the other writing on the form.) What do you think?

Portion of John Biliunas’ Draft Registration. Courtesy Ancestry.com.

I have no idea who John’s parents were, but I know he had at least one brother (Anthony William) and perhaps two more (Ziborios and Kazimeras, according to some photos that my aunt has). I believe that John was the first to immigrate to the United States in 1907 (according to the 1920 census); Anthony followed in 1910. I strongly suspect that John came through Ellis Island, though I still need to order his naturalization paperwork.

John and Anthony Biliunas. John had brown hair and blue eyes. Author’s collection.

Somehow, John met an married the young widow Anna (Valek) Urnezis, probably no later than mid-1915. With Anna, he got more than a wife, but a farm on the corner of Sound Avenue and Herricks Lane in Riverhead, Suffolk County, NY, and two young children: John and Ann Urnezis (who were born 1908 and 1910, respectively). Soon young John and Ann had a little sister born on June 7, 1916: Viola Alice (my grandmother)!

John Urnezis, Viola Biliunas, Ann Urnezis. Author’s collection.

On his June 5, 1917 Draft Registration Card, John noted that he had a wife and three children depending on him for support. He also noted that he had filed his intent to become a citizen of the United States. Certainly Riverhead was established in his heart as home.

Two more children were born to John and Anna: Bruno Antone (or “Bert”) on September 6, 1917 and Evelyn Mary on April 20, 1920. The family was now complete.

December 21, 1926 was a big day for John: he was part of a group of 88 immigrants – the largest in Suffolk County history at that point – who became U.S. citizens. New York Supreme Court Justice James A. Dunne presided over the ceremony, at which each new citizen was presented with an American flag. (How I wish I knew what happened to John’s flag!) Mrs. Joseph Townsend, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, spoke at the ceremony. She encouraged the new citizens to join a church if they hadn’t already, and to obey all the laws of the land, especially the Eighteenth Amendment (the Prohibition one!). I have to wonder if the whole family was there to witness the event. Perhaps Anna and the children were all dressed up, along with other families.

John Biliunas in the 1930s in Riverhead. Author’s collection.

Other than his children’s marriages and the births of most of his grandchildren, John’s naturalization was the last major documented event in his life. He passed away on January 27, 1948 at home. His funeral was held four days later at Sacred Heart Church in nearby Cutchogue and he was buried in its graveyard.

That’s all I know about John Biliunas so far. Next time we will look at his wife, whose long life and surrounding family tell us even more.

Great-Grandmother Johanna J. (Gazda) Markoski

You would think there would not be too much to say about Johanna after all my posts about Stanislaus. On the contrary, what I’ve found about his life just adds to her story, rather than the other way around.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when Johanna was born; it seems to range anywhere from 1875 to November 1878. Her birthplace, however, was gen on the 1908 ship’s manifest (more on that later) as “Rehberg, Galicy”. As we saw in researching Stanislaus‘ home country, this area was Galicia, the northeastern section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which stretched from modern-day Poland to modern day Ukraine. So where was Rehberg? According to the Galicia Town Locator on geshergalcia.org, it was in the Jaworow Administrative District and the Krakowiec Judicial District. With a little more poking and prodding on the internet, it seems that the town is now known ans Yavoriv, which is now in the Ukraine, very close to the Polish border.

Johanna’s parents, according to her 1896 marriage record, were Andrew Gazda (misspelled Garda, I assume due to a mis-reading of some original paperwork) and Marie Tenera (the 1908 manifest says her mother’s married name was “Marya Gasda”). Johanna arrived in the United States sometime between 1890 and 1892; the 1900 census (closest to that time) states 1891, and I tend to lean toward that. If she did arrive prior to 1892 in the Port of New York, she would have been processed at Castle Garden. I have not been able to find her or her parents in any immigration database yet. For all I know, she may have come over with brothers or other family members. From what my aunt says, there were other Gazda’s in Holyoke, Hampden County, MA, so it seems that she didn’t immigrate alone.

Castle Garden, today known as Castle Clinton. Author’s collection.

If Andrew and Maryah did in fact immigrate to the United States, Maryah did not stay here. The 1908 ship manifest I mentioned before shows “Joanna”, “Mieczyslaw” (Max), “Stefan” (Stephen), Edward and “Domicela” (Doris) “Markocka” sailing on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm from Bremen, Germany on June 16, 1908 and arriving in New York City on June 23. It is clearly our Johanna, as page 2 states that she is returning to her husband “Stanislaw” at 116 Lyman Street in Holyoke. Since Doris was just six months old upon this return journey, and other records show that she was born in “Poland”, a pregnant Johanna and the three boys must have departed America in late 1907. I strongly suspect that Stanislaus did not go along, since the manifest notes that Johanna paid the passage for herself and the children. While there, the family visited Maryah, who was then living in Wisniowa, which today is in southwestern Poland (about 175 miles due west of what was Rehberg). I don’t know why Johanna and the children made the visit; perhaps Andrew had died?

Poster about the SS Kaiser Wilhelm at the Ellis Island Museum. Author’s collection.

Another interesting tidbit on the ship manifest was it said that Johanna could read and write, whereas the 1900 census stated that shoe could not. Was the census wrong? Or might she have learned over the course of eight years? Perhaps Mater Dolorosa Church helped immigrants with this skill (I’m just guessing!), or maybe she learned through her own children’s schooling. In any case, Johanna stated on the 1940 census that she had a sixth grade education. That seemed to be enough to get by in her community.

Another thing the ship manifest provided was a physical description of the passengers. Johanna was four feet, eleven inches tall, but her growing children’s heights were not given. All were blond and had either green or blue eyes. (Johanna’s were green – now I know where my eye color comes from!)

Johanna’s life followed the same track as Stanislaus’ until about 1940, where the city directory stated that she “removed to Flushing, LI, NY”. That is where youngest child Charles (who changed his last name to Markham) lived with his wife and baby daughter. I’m not sure why Johanna went there – whether there was marital difficulty, or if Charles and Janet needed help with the baby, or she could have just missed her youngest son. The Holyoke City Directories don’t show Johanna by name again until 1944, but I can’t say for certain if she was actually away all that time.

In any case, Johanna remained with Stanislaus for the rest of his life. For the rest of her life, she lived with various children. My mother remembers her living with Bruno’s family for a time (although she never re-appeared in the Holyoke directories). From 1958 to 1959, she lived with son Stephen in Springfield, Hampden County, MA. Stephen’s wife Josephine died suddenly in 1958, so perhaps Johanna was helping him get through that aftermath. Of course the majority of Johanna’s later life was spent with daughter Doris Mieczianka in Riverhead, NY. Doris had no children, but her door was always open to extended family who needed a place to stay.

Johanna Markoski in the 1950s. Author’s collection.

On Friday, September 13, 1968, Johanna passed away in Westhampton Beach, Suffolk County, NY. I’m not sure why she was in Westhampton Beach; her residence was still Riverhead. Perhaps she was in the hospital there. Her wake was in Holyoke the following day, and her funeral mass was at Mater Dolorosa Church that Monday, followed by her burial next to Stanislaus at Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley.

I never knew until recently that Johanna’s lifetime extended right into mine. I know I never met her, but probably wouldn’t have remembered her if I had. I’m just glad to have learned all that I have about her now.

Stanislaus Markoski: 9 Olive and Beyond

The Markoskis, their unmarried children and Doris and husband John returned to Holyoke, Hampden country, MA in 1936. This time they are listed with Americanized names: Stanley and Joan. They rented a house in a more residential part of Holyoke: 9 Olive Street, yet it wasn’t too far from the old neighborhood and their church.

In addition to Max and Doris, the other Markoski children began marrying and starting their own families. Stephen, who remained behind in Springfield when the family moved to Brooklyn, married Josephine L. Paneled by 1933. Robert, having graduated Williams College, married Ingrid Benson and started his teaching career under the new surname Marr at Vermont Academy by 1935. I suspect that Anita, like her younger brothers, met her future husband while in Riverhead, Suffolk County, NY; she married Stephen Hornyak in Manhattan, NY on November 14, 1936. Just a month later, Charles married his high school sweetheart Janet M. Benjamin on December 22 in Manhattan as well. (I assume that Charles must have been on winter break from Williams College.). Last (and definitely not least!), my grandfather Bruno married my grandmother Viola Alice Biliunas in Riverhead on November 27, 1937.

Viola Biliunas + Bruno Markoski, flanked by their wedding party (no other Markoski’s here). Author’s collection.

Despite the new households being set up, Stanislaus and Johanna kept their doors open to their family. Bruno and Viola spent 1939 and 1940 at 9 Olive. From 1936 to 1941, Doris and John were in and out of that home, together and Doris separately (for some reason, but not permanently). (I have to note here that in 9137, Doris and John had moved to Norwalk, Fairfield County, CT – where I’m living now! What a surprise that was to me!)

Being in the midst of the Great Depression, Stanislaus’ employment at this time was uneven. In 1936, he worked for the WPA. (I wish I knew in what capacity!). Once 1939 rolled around, employment was more steady. The city directories until 1942 listed him as an “inspector” in Chicopee Falls. Since the 1940 Census listed him as a sweeper in a rubber factory, I suspect that he was back at Fisk Tire.

From 1943 until 1945, Stanislaus was an inspector then a janitor at “WP&M Corp”, which was back in Holyoke. I haven’t found out what WP&M stood for or what the company was; I’ll have to ask about that on Facebook.

The 1946 city directory shows “Stanley” and “Joan” as “removed to New Jersey”. To me, this is an even bigger mystery than Brooklyn. If they did in fact move to New Jersey, it would have to be in connection with Doris or Anita, but I cannot confirm it one way or another. One thing I can confirm is that they eventually lived with Doris in Riverhead. Stanislaus somehow became bedridden, and it was at this bedside that my mother visited with him.

In 1949, Stanislaus passed away and was laid to rest in Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley, Hampshire County, MA. Johanna was not to join him for another two decades, and we’ll look at her story next time.

Stanislaus Markoski: Where Did He Go?

We last saw the Markoski family leaving the farm in South Hadley, Hampshire County, MA around 1931. The Holyoke-South Hadley-Chicopee directory said they “removed to Brooklyn”. This was news to me and didn’t seem to fit what I knew about the family. Yet, Stanislaus and Joanna didn’t return to the Holyoke area until 1936, so they had to be somewhere! I had to cast my research net a little wider and view them in the context of their whole family.

The children were growing up and beginning to live their own lives. Oldest son Max moved back to Holyoke about 1928, which is when I assume he married Catherine Harazmus. Stephen began work as a rubber worker (I assume at Fisk in Chicopee) about 1927 then moved to Springfield in 1931. Robert, an outstanding athlete in high school, began attending Williams College in Williamstown, Berkshire County, MA in 1930. Doris worked as a “tuber” in an auto tire factory (probably Fisk) and Anita was a waitress. Youngest sons Bruno and Charles started high school in South Hadley and got involved in sports like their older brother.

It was in October 1931 when my grandfather Bruno’s life changed dramatically. While playing football for Central High School in Springfield (why he was there, I don’t know), he had a terrible injury that gave him a serious concussion and hospitalized him at Wesson Memorial Hospital. As a result, he took some time of from school, presumably to fully recover.

I imagine that the combination of Bruno’s hospital bills and other effects of the Great Depression had an impact on Stanislaus’ and Johanna’s finances, and perhaps they could no longer sustain the farm. This is only a guess. But what would make them move to Brooklyn or anywhere other than the Holyoke area?

Brooklyn Bridge! Courtesy Wikipedia.

First of all, despite me not being able to find them in any records there (yet, anyway), the Markoskis did spend some time in Brooklyn. Apparently my grandfather told my mother that this period of his life is when he became a New York Yankees fan. He’d said he was able to see them play–and this was when both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were on the team!

As far as why they moved, I may never know for sure, but I believe it may have something to do with daughter Doris. Sometime in the early 1930s, she married John Miezianka. I was told that my grandfather lived with her in Riverhead, Suffolk County, NY (in eastern Long Island) to finish high school. I recently found out that Charles went to high school there as well! (And both met their future wives there.). It only follows that Stanislaus and Johanna lived there too.

Both Bruno and Charles had a successful time at Riverhead High. Because of his injury and subsequent time off, Bruno graduated later (1934) and was president of his class. I imagine that being older than his fellow classmates gave him a certain maturity that they looked up to. Charles graduated the year before and was secretary of his class, involved in sports and drama and was the class poet. Charles, like Robert, was able to go to the college prep school, Deerfield Academy and later to Williams College (I assume on athletic scholarships). My grandfather, whose sports career was long over, went into the working world.

After about five years in New York, the Markoskis returned to Holyoke, but their lives were to be much different from their first arrival there.

Stanislaus Markoski: Out of the Tenements

For whatever reason, Stanislaus Markoski stopped working for Lyman Mills about 1914; however, mill work was not over for him. The 1915 Holyoke Directory lists him as working at Norman Paper Company, but that was short-lived. He then worked for Parsons Paper Company from 1916 to at least 1922.

Parsons Paper was founded in 1853 and established its second (which later became its main) plant on Sergeant Street, right between the two canals. It was th first of many different paper mills in Holyoke, which became known as “Paper City”. Parsons’ specialty was high-quality paper – the kind of paper with cotton in its fibers. The company that Parsons ended up merging with went bankrupt in 2005 and the mill closed its doors. In 2008, the building burned down due to arson.

Parsons Paper Company 1909. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Stanislaus’ 1918 World War I Draft Registration said that his occupation was “paper maker”, so I am sure that he was in the thick of mill operations. Unlike Lyman Mills, Parsons Paper did not seem to run its own tenements for the workers, so the Markoskis began living in different apartments and houses in the neighborhood: on Prospect Street, Walnut Street, 29 and then 30 Fountain Street for five years.

I believe that Stanislaus’ job must have left him some spare time, for the 1921 – 1926 city directories show that he was the secretary of the Tadeusz Koscuisko Club (misspelled Kosciuski Club)! The Koscuisko Club was founded in 1909, so perhaps Stanislaus was one of its earliest members. If I could find the records of this club, perhaps I could even find records that Stanislaus himself created! The internet does not lend much information, other than the club was located at 119 Lyman Street while Stanislaus was there. Sadly, the club dissolved in 2012. It does not appear to have been part of a national organization, so I’m not sure where the records might have gone. It doesn’t seem that the Wistariahurst Museum or the library has them, although I could see if the library might know where the records went. (Another action item.)

1927 marked a big change for the Markoski family: they moved from their home at 101 Walnut Street in Holyoke to a small farm in South Hadley (across from the river), at the corner of Lathrop and Brainerd. (Side note: I remember going for a ride through South Hadley with my grandparents, and my grandfather pointing out where they had lived. It was kind of rural even then.) From 1927 to 1930, the city directories listed Stanislaus as a “rubber worker”, and the 1930 Census listed him as a farmer. (Perhaps his side-line was farming?) I don’t think South Hadley had any rubber factories at the time, but its neighbor to the south, Chicopee, was the headquarters of Fisk Rubber Company, which made tires. My guess is that where Stanislaus was employed.

I love this 1917 ad for Fisk Tires! Courtesy Wikipedia.

The 1931 City Directory stated that Stanislaus and Johanna had “removed to Brooklyn” – but did they? And why would they move from this peaceful little farm? Tune in next time!

Stanislaus Markoski: The Lyman Mills Years

When I first glanced over Stanislaus’ life, I thought I could make a quick post about his life in Holyoke. Was I wrong! I started seeing his life in sections, and it’s only fair to him that I go one step at a time.

Lyman Mills Corporation was founded in 1854, just four years after Holyoke was incorporated as a city. It was built between two of the canals that were carved into the city off the Connecticut river, along Lyman Street. It specialized in textile making for both fine and coarse goods. Lyman Mills also built tenement housing next to the factory for its workers. It grew quick enough for an expansion in 1891 and was employing 1,200 workers by 1900. Many of its workers were immigrants from Poland, French Canada and Ireland. It seems that Stanislaus was one of those workers hired during this growth spurt.

Lyman Mills, circa 1921. Courtesy “Textile World” in Google Books.

Stanislaus first shows up in the Holyoke City Directories in 1895, working at Lyman Mills and living in one of the tenements at 18 Oliver Street. I suspect that it was at the mill where Stanislaus met his future wife, Johanna Gazda. The register where their 1896 marriage is recorded indicates that both lived in Holyoke and both were “mill operators”. As previously mentioned, they were married either on June 30 or July 1 (I suspect it was June 30–that register even includes a time married: 6:55pm) in Holyoke by Father Francis Chalupka of Chicopee, who presided over the Polish Catholics prior to September 1896 formation of Mater Dolorosa Church. It would not surprise me if they were among the first members of the church, which first met in the basement of the Holy Rosary Church. I’m not sure where Holy Rosary Church was, but eventually in 1901, Mater Dolorosa was built on the corner of Maple and Lyman Streets, just a few short blocks from the tenements.

Mater Dolorosa Church. Courtesy Wikipedia.

In the earliest years of their marriage, Stanislaus and Johanna lived in various tenements on Oliver Street (numbers 4, 8 and 11), which (if you look carefully), you can find on the insurance map here. In 1902, they finally settled at 116 Lyman Street, where they remained until 1915 with their large and growing family. Stanislaus and Johanna ended up having ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. I will list the English names that they were eventually known by, noting the Polish names if I could find them. All were born in Holyoke, except as noted:

  • John, born August 6, 1897 and died August 9, 1897 (reason unknown). (I assume he was named after Stanislaus’ father.)
  • Max (Mieczyslaw), born April 2, 1899.
  • Stephen G., born June 16, 1901.
  • Joseph, born February 15, 1903 and died November 19, 1903 from meningitis. He supposedly is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Chicopee.
  • Edward I., born October 16, 1904 and died May 30, 1913 from some sort of complication from scarlet fever. His death certificate says he is buried at Notre Dame Cemetery in South Hadley, but they don’t seem to have a record of his burial.
  • Doris M. (Domilla or Domilly), born December 6, 1907 in Polish Austria.
  • Robert P. (Roman?), born March 19, 1910.
  • Anita F. (Antonia), born July 11, 1912.
  • Bruno August (Bronislaw), born December 19, 1913.
  • Charles D. (Casmir), born January 30, 1915.

I just wanted to note that in the 1910 Census, while Stanislaus and Johanna already had five living children, they took in six additional boarders! Needless to say, the tenements were quite crowded.

As written in many history books, work at the mills was hard. Workdays often spanned over twelve hours, and I’m sure the pay, however fair, was not high. With those long exhausting days, I’m surprised that Stanislaus had enough energy to build such a large family! Eventually, he found other nearby opportunities, which we will start to look at in the next post.

Lyman Mills building today. Courtesy Google Earth.

Research Notes: Lyman Mills eventually closed in 1927, although the mill buildings are still standing. ¬†There is an extensive collection of Lyman Mills corporate, financial and other records in Harvard Business School’s Baker Library Historical Collections, including employment and tenement records. Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke also has some records about Lyman Mills’ housing. If I’m in either of these areas, it is probably worth a look.