The family left behind

I am still searching to find every bit of fact that can be discovered about the family that was left behind, when my Grandfather Walter and brothers Stanley and Joseph came to the United States shortly before WW1. There are so many questions I have for them , that need answers, and since none of them are here to ask, I only have the limited amount of recorded information that the internet offers, to help me find out about what may have happened to the rest of their family.

The name Kania was actually quite common in Germany  and also in Slovakia so it’s a bit confusing when trying to understand their ethnicity. Prior to the war they were Russian subjects and when the war began anyone of fighting age was conscripted into the Russian Army. The German advance in WW1 actually left the Kania’s town of Opalanka behind German lines for the larger part of the war. After the war the town was a part of the Second Polish Republic established by the League of Nations. Democratic Poland existed until the Nazi’s invaded Poland September 1st,1939, with their plan to exterminate everyone in their path to make room for the expected colonization and repopulation by Germanics.

When this blog was created in 2010, I placed every piece of information that I could find in it and then began to experience a shortage of new material. As I have kept repeating my search criteria over the years looking for any new information that may have been uploaded, or anything I may have missed, I have finally found some brand new clues. When first trying to get an aerial view of Opalanka from Google Earth six years ago, the best I could get was a mile high view. Today I am able to get down on a street level view and read the name Opalanka on a street sign.

What I am able to see is that, other than the sign, there are only a few houses and much farm land. From navigating the road and panning the 360 degree view, it is obvious that the area is predominantly rural. There is only one town named Opalanka in Poland and it is adjacent to Koneck which is the administrative district and church parish for the district.

Whether Opalanka may have been demolished through two wars I can’t answer at this time, however all of the brothers claimed farming as their occupations, So I believe the name Opalanka refers to a rural commune outside the urban area of Koneck. 

Before mechanization, which was just beginning about the time the three brothers left, there was great demand for farm labor. Living under the authority of The Russian Empire, rural Poles were fortunate to have a roof over their heads and food to eat. There was not much opportunity to amass any personal wealth. This helps me understand why Walter, Stanley and Joseph came to America.

So now I am able to imagine sharing a vista that my ancestors once viewed, standing upon the road and virtually joining them. And just as the earth view kept gaining more resolution over time, search engines gained more access to more data that’s being constantly uploaded so that a search for Kania-Opalanka, which yielded only three results in 2010 with nothing pertinent, today leads to several actual references.

Some of that new information led me to discover a possible and (I would go so far as to say) probable fourth brother, Bronislaw Kania. He was the fourth in a family of eight siblings and was born in Opalanka Poland in 1906. His record in Le Maitron Dictionnaire Biographique of people executed in France between 1940-1944 states that he was Polish immigrant miner in the Pas-de-Calais region, who was a former member of the Dabrowski Battalion of the International Brigades, having fought in the Spanish Civil War opposing the Fascists.

Bronislaw [Nicknames: Bronck, Smialek]  was a member of the FTP/MOI,  the communist branch of the French Resistance in the early part of WW2. He was tried for numerous attacks of sabotage and a grenade attack which killed German soldiers. He was sentenced to death and was Guillotined on August 21st 1943.

Another site, is actually an article written in 1975 from Revue Du Nord magazine. It’s contents are a history written in French about the resistance in the Pas-De-Calais region. Roughly translated, it names him as a leader of combat group who was decapitated August 21st 1943 in Douai.

Yet another site listing every execution from 1870 to 1981 confirms the date while verifying the method of Guillotine. It also says he was tried by a special tribunal and found guilty of the charge Condamnation Politique July 29th 1943.

Finally, I discovered a site which lists a roster of names and Town/Country of origin, and dates of birth for the members of the resistance. The first Kania is a German-born named Bernard, born in 1920 and the second is Bronislaw born in Opalanka 1906. Then there is listed Edward born 1919 in Dabrowa Gornicza Poland. Lastly is Maria Gorski Kania born 1895 in Koneck Poland, which is close to Opalanka.

The first name Bernard I have no theories for other than he just shares the name Kania and since the list is alphabetically arranged, he is first. The other three, I think may have been somehow connected together. Since the record states that Bronislaw was the fourth of eight children, his three older siblings could been Walter and his brothers. Maria, could have been a wife of one of the brothers and may have become stranded before she could follow them. Born in 1895, she would have been 20. Bronislaw would have been 9 at that time. So I believe at least Bronislaw survived the war with his aunt. I can’t explain why, after the war Maria didn’t come to America herself.

By the early 20’s he would have been old enough to enter the workforce, but Europe was experiencing an economic slowdown, so perhaps they moved to Dabrowa, which was traditionally a coal mining area, so Bronislaw could learn coal mining. This could be how the connection to Edward was begun.

Due to France’s human losses in WW1, Polish immigrant miners were recruited to work in the Nord Pas-De-Calais coal mines in the 20’s.


Anatomy of a Recipe Kathie Smith | Article published September 30, 2003 in the Toledo Blade

Anatomy of a recipe

If you want to preserve a family recipe, take a hint from LouAnn Forche,
68, of Toledo.

When the Ratajczak-Kania family reunion was held at a park in Erie, Mich.,
in August, a special tribute was held to honor the late Stella Ratajczak
Kania, Mrs. Forches mother who died in 1983.

“We had a contest to see who could make my mothers chocolate cookies,” she
says. “My mother had nine children and we have various stories about this

The chocolate cookie had fudge frosting. Among the controversies was
whether the cookies were frosted on the top or on the bottom. “I had the
original recipe, which was made with McNess cocoa,” says Mrs. Forche. “The
cookie was so admired in the family.”

In fact, the recipe was on the McNess cocoa can. (McNess products were
founded in 1908 in Freeport, Ill., and included extracts that became
standard ingredients. They continue to be available by mail order.)

The family decided to hold a cookie contest at the reunion for family
members to re-create the matriarchs chocolate cookie. “This recipe has
haunted everyone,” says Mrs. Forche. “Nobody could make the cookies as good
as she could. When she was alive, my mother insisted we use Imperial
Margarine, which was hard [to the touch] when she used it. Now it has a
portion of [canola and soy] oil, which means the cookies dont come out the

Mrs. Forche uses Hersheys cocoa now. And she notes, “My mother never used a
mixer; she beat the dough by hand.”

The cookie contest included 14 entries. The cookies were three inches in
diameter and had chocolate frosting. Judging was based on appearance,
texture, and flavor, according to Randy Kania, a nephew of Mrs. Forche and
Stella Kanias grandson.

From there, judges looked for moist texture that was not chewy, with a
hint of firmness, Mr. Kania says. Three finalists were selected.

Each finalist was then rated on flavor on a scale of one to five. Two
entries tied for first: “Stella’s son, John Kania of Bowling Green, was
summoned and given a sample of each,” Randy Kania says.

First-place honors went to Mary Ann Kania (LouAnns niece), whose cookies
John thought tasted most like his mothers. Mrs. Forche earned second place;
Stella Kanias granddaughter Carol Nagel merited third place.

“I expect my mother modified the recipe,” says Mrs. Forche. “She always
made a test cookie. She also sifted the flour three times. [This was before
presifted flour.] The important thing was to be able to say, My cookies
taste like grandmas.”

The cookie contest will be an annual event at the Ratajczak-Kania reunion.

Stella Kania’s Cocoa Cookies

~For the cookies:~
1 ~cup sugar~
3 ~tablespoons cocoa~
1 ~egg~
1/2 ~cup melted butter~
1 ~teaspoon vanilla~
1/2 ~cup milk~
1 1/2 ~cups flour~
1/2 ~teaspoon soda~
1/2 ~cup raisins~
1/2 ~cup chopped nuts~

~For the fudge frosting:~
2 ~cups sugar~
3 ~tablespoons cocoa~
3/4 ~cup milk~
1 ~tablespoon butter~
1/8 ~teaspoon salt~

Cook’s note: A chocolate butter cream icing made with 2 to 3 cups powdered
sugar, 4 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons milk (or add to desired
consistency) yields a very similar frosting to the cooked frosting in this

To make the cookies: Mix sugar and cocoa. Add egg and then butter and
vanilla. Add to milk and beat. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture. Mix
in raisins and nuts and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Frost with
fudge frosting.

To make the fudge frosting: Mix ingredients except butter and cook to about
220 to 230 degrees, until it forms a soft ball in cold water. Add butter
and beat until cold.

Yield: 18 to 24 cookies

Source: LouAnn Forche and the Kania family


Witamy means welcome in Polish.

The family of Waclaw(Walter)Kania lived in the area of Poland that has been traditionally known as Greater Poland. Throughout the Partitions and occupations of Poland their home was always within the original borders. The region was known as Kujawy, west of the Vistula River  in the center of the country. Not much is known about our family’s ethnicity but for the most part inhabitants of this region were considered Western Slavs.

Polish Pride!

This is a picture of the Red Kite or Kania Ruda. The name Kania  translates to Kite in Polish. It is a common Northern European raptor known for it’s fearlessness and aggressiveness.

The Land Our Grandparents Left Behind

Waclaw(Walter) Kania) was born in or about 1889, in the province of WarsawPoland. His home town was listed as Opalanka, a very small town in Russian occupied Poland near the Vistula river.

The Poland that he had spent the first twenty years of his life in, under Russian occupation,could not have been very pleasant for him. The Russians had little respect for the ethnic Poles, offering them only menial jobs for low pay and filling the better positions with Russians.  Russian was the official language of the government and the native Polish language was banned from the schools. It’s no wonder he chose to seek a better life in America.

Welcome To America!

The Kania Immigration

Ellis Island records show that on September 20, 1909 Waclaw Kania boarded a ship in Cherbourg France. The Grosser Kurfurst was bound for America and would arrive there eight days later.

He was processed through Ellis Island on September 28 and the passenger manifest notes that he was a farm laborer, single, 5’6″ tall with blond hair and brown eyes. His home town was listed as Opalonka , a very small town in Warshau Province, in Russian occupied Poland. He had $25 in his pocket and had a final destination of 2629 Landgrinkia (Lagrange) Street Toledo, Ohio which was listed as the residence of Jan Wisniewski his cousin. His father Jozef was listed as his nearest living relative in his native country.

Stanislaw Kania, his brother, was the next to immigrate aboard the S.S. Pennsylvania out of Hamburg Germany. He was processed through Ellis Island May 5, 1910, 23 years old, single, 5’10” with brown hair and brown eyes. Farm laborer was listed as his occupation. Opalonka Russia was his native land and his father Jozef Kania, was the nearest relative there. His destination was 2629 Lagrange and Cousin Jan Wisniewki. He also had $25 in his pocket and may have been traveling with Wisniewski family members from Boguszyec Russia which appears to be quite near Opalonka. Jan, 32, Wladyslawa, 27, and Josef, 33 were traveling to Chicago, Illinois and were listed directly after Stanislaw in the manifest.

Josef Kania sailed aboard The Prinz Freidrich Wilhelm out of Bremen Germany,arriving at Ellis Island January 21, 1913. He was a farm laborer single, 20 years old, 5’7″, with blond hair and brown eyes.He also carried $25. His destination was 37 Streicher Toledo Ohio the residence of his brother Waclaw. He listed Opalenki Russia and Jozef Kania as his nearest relative in his native country. His travelling companion may have been Stanislaw Wisniewski, 30 from Alexandrov Warchau Russia who listed 241 Hudson Street, Toledo and his brother Jan as his final destination.

There is a strong possibility that Jozef senior’s wife may have been a Wisniewski since the Kanias’ and Wisniewskis’ were so often traveling companions and immigration sponsors in America

Stella Ratajczak was born in America the oldest of seven children born to John Ratajczak and Catherine Mihalik Ratajczak. Her siblings were Rose Ratajczak Florkowski, Stanley Ratajczak, Frank Ratajczak (twin of Stanley) Walter who took the surname Reed ,Pauline Ratajczak Gasior, and Clara Ratajczak Koltonski.

Census records for 1900 show the family living at 43 Streicher Street 2nd ward Precinct G Toledo Ohio. The record is a good example of the errors that could occur if the interviewer had trouble interpreting the residents’ information. John is listed as Ratajski and his family as Ratajcak. Stella is listed as Staley and Walter is listed as William. John and Catherine claimed 1891 immigration. John said he was 40 years old and Catherine said 32. Both said their native land was Poland Germany and that they had been married for 8years. Walter Kanias’ future bride Stella was just 6 years old. Catherines’ brother Martin Michalak 19 is listed as a boarder.

The 1910 census shows Waclaus Kania living at 3018 Chestnut Street in Toledo as a boarder with the Smegielski family. Thomas and Victoria had one son Walter and counted four boarders Joseph Sadowski, Ignace Pawlak, Frank Florkowski,( who would later marry Stellas’ sister Rose)and Waclaus Kania. His year of immigration was listed as1909. Waclaus was of Russian Polish heritage, 27 years old and was a laborer at a sand dock. Both Frank Florkowski and Joseph Sadowski were street workers. Many jobs during this time were connected to the growing transportation industry whether in the auto factories or in street improvements where the street workers laid the paving blocks in a bed of sand.

The Smegielskis’ neighbors were the widow Mary Wisniewski household on one side and the Andrew Kodlinski family on the other. A boarder in their house was named John Wisniewski who was a laborer at a bridge works.

The 1910 census shows the Ratajczak family living at 33 Weber Street. John is 64 years old and works as a grinder in an auto factory. His wife Katherine is now 41 and both list their year of immigration as 1892. Stella is 16 and works as a laundress in a laundry. Siblings are Rose 14, Stanley and Frank both 13, Walter 9, Pauline 8 and Clara 4.

Walter  Kania and Stella Ratajczak were married in 1913 and brought forth 9 children Casimer (2-8-1913) – (9-18-!977), Wesley(6-24-1914) – (6-24- 1986),Catherine(Carrie)Kania Manwell, Stanley Kania, Walter Kania (9-12-1920 – (1-5-1985) John Kania, Jeanette Kania Finger, Dorothy Kania Morris and Lou Ann Kania Forche

The Children of Walter and Stella

These are the children

Ida MIchigan

The Ida Farm

The Ratajczaks’

Grandmas FamThe Ratajczaks'ily

The Farm in Rocky Ridge

This is the farm in Rocky Ridge Ohio on Lickert-Harder road that the family was living in at the time of the 1930 Census. The Toussaint river has flooded it’s banks in this photo.