As of the writing of this article, I’m 18 years 9 months 8 days old, exactly two months older than Franciszka was when she died. Franciszka Smolarek and I likely are distant cousins, as her family came from a neighboring village from mine. I’m almost certain that my 3rd great-grandparents knew of her, as they had a mutual friend. But let’s start with the beginning of her story.
Franciszka Eva Pierzchalska born on the 2nd of January 1873 in Studzienki, Posen, Prussia (modern day Poland). Her mother was Marianna Winiaszewska and the father is unknown (See red box below).
Franciszka was born during the Golden Age of the Prussia Empire, being born just after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) when the Prussians easily beat France and unified Germany. Otto von Bismarck, one of the most well-known Prussians in history, was Prussia’s leader during her childhood. But Franciszka wouldn’t have felt the prosperity of the Prussian Empire as a Pole. Bismarck enacted the Kulturkampf or Culture Struggle in 1871 which limited the rights of Poles and Catholics across the empire. One aspect of the Kulturkampf that affected the Polish population the most in Poznan was the confiscation of Polish land and the lack of funding in the Polish region, which still impacts the growth of Poland to this day.
Two months after Franciszka’s birth on the 22nd of February 1873 her parents would marry, Wojciech Pierzchalski and Marianna Winiaszewska. Franciszka took the surname Pierzchalska, who possibly was her biological father. Two years after their marriage they had a daughter named Walentyna (Valentine). Sometime after Walentyna’s birth, their father died, leaving his wife Marianna and two daughters in one of the poorest parts of the Empire.
Somehow Marianna and her two children got lucky, in 1876 Marianna and three children, Michael age 9, Francisca age 2, and Valeria 8 months old all boarded the S.S. Pommerania, a passenger ship built in 1873.
in 1878 when Francisca was 4 years old her mother married Valentine/William (Guilhelmum) Kasper at Holy Trinity Church a German church in Philadelphia. Francisca disappears in the 1880 Census, but I found William and Mary Kasper with their children together at 328 German St (now Fitzwater St), the center of Prussian Polish Philadelphia.
On the 1st of July 1894 Francisca married Wojciech Smolarek. Wojciech worked at a sugar house, a common job for a Polish man during the turn of the century. Something of note is that Francisca worked, something that wasn’t common for Immigrant women. Three days after the couples civil marriage, they had a Catholic marriage on the 4th of July. Sadly fate didn’t smile upon the couple as Francisca was already with child when they got married.
Part two of this Blog Post will look at the life of Francisca and the fate of her child.