Rolbiecki – Genealogy of the Surname

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Patrilineal Descent and the Name Rolbiecki in Kashubia

Albert, his wife Mary & their son John

Albert, his wife Mary & their son John

I am doing casual genealogical research (although I’m not trained) for my family, named Rolbiecki. I have consulted the PTG data base (i.e. Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, otherwise known as the Pomeranian Genealogical Society) and have concluded thus far the following compilation of information; moreover I have drawn some inferences. I say this given the premise that my great grandfather, Albert, who emigrated from West Prussia and arrived in New York on 8 May 1882 according to a USA Declaration of Intention document, and was born in 1841 near Lesno, which also claims that the town of Kaszuba –near Rolbik, Lesno and Brusy– was his original home of record. A second working premise is that for the period of history leading up to the moment of my great-grandfather’s departure, I presume that social ties were strong amongst the Kashubian families, that is they remained in close proximity of one another; and thus region is a significant factor in determining (guessing?) the likelihood of indexical correspondence to genealogy. Indeed, we shall see in this short essay that place matters when it comes to genealogical research, but also it is important, I feel, that when working within the Pomeranian data base to be cautious of seizing upon a literal spelling of a familial name.

In order to approach the Rolbiecki genealogy with some objectivity therefore, I have attempted to connect the dots of the various indexes (baptism, marriage, death) and then cross reference one index against another. Sometimes there are contradictions in the data base, but other times inductive evidence — clues — that emerge which  are helpful in reforming my judgment. I think that it is helpful to supplement research using as many tools as are practically available; therefore I consulted Google Earth in order to find place names of parish/registries and plotted them for the purpose of determining the landscape’s objective correlative.  It is interesting as well as informative to see the towns, villages and hamlets clustered from the perspective of aerial plan view.

Caveat:  One is tempted to say that it is all very straight forward. However, just because one does see the name “Rolbiecki” in the registry, and even though that name appears at first blush to fit the time and place, I suggest that the a-ha! moment can be as much a self-fulfilling decoy as an indication of true patrilineal descent.  Interpretation of data is often a situation of mis-reading (I accuse myself).  Yet what can be said in favor of objectivity is that someone can bring to the attention of the community a reading that is at least verifiable — to the extent that research is on-going. (Someone else in due time will correct me. I look forward to knowing more and therefore invite that skepticism).

According to the PTG and their collated records presently made available, the name “Rolbiecki” appears to show up in cognate or root form as early as 1645 in a baptismal record for the parish of Brusy; wherein the father’s forename is Albertus Rulbik. The mother’s name is recorded as Sophia. The child’s name is listed as J__. From thereon, the patrilineal (i.e. the fathers’) names appear as Albertus Rulbiecki(1732), and then Albertus Rolbiecki who was married to Catharina (no surname) – both of these records in the parish of Konarzyny. It is interesting to know that the parish/registries of Konarzyny, Lesno and Brusy are all located within approximately 21 miles straight-line distance from Rolbik: Kaszuba is 3.21 miles, Lesno 5.23 miles, Brusy 6.47 miles, and Konarzyny 20.97 miles. Rolbik and Kaszuba, by the way, were by default not parish/registry places but rather hamlets.

Further entries show that up until the birth in 1841 of the immigrant Albert/Albrecht Rolbiecki/Lorbetzki, the name “Rolbiecki” is listed in the Pomeranian genealogical index –in every case with just one exception– within this 21-mile radius from Rolbik. In 1763 there is an entry for the parish registry at Raciaz, which is 131.2 miles from Rolbik, and is east of the Vistula River; therefore we must consider it outside the Pomerelian boundary. Other parishes mentioned are Czersk (18.79 miles), Borzyszkowy (21.23 miles), Koscierzyna (21.17 miles), and Brzezno-Schlacheckie (14.92 miles). The number of entries where “Rolbiecki” appears is overwhelmingly within the parish/registry of Lesno. One could draw the inference that because of frequency of occurrence, Lesno is our locus operandi; place is a kind of organizing magnet for genealogical research. The name of the town “Rolbik” is also interesting in light of its close resemblance to the cognate of Rolbiecki that is “Rulbik,” which appears in the Brusy registry in 1645.

It is not easy to ascertain whether there is a clean connection regarding the Rolbiecki patrilineal descent, beginning with the 1645 baptismal record of J__ whose father was Albertus Rolbik, thence continuing all the way to Albert Rolbiecki (b. 1841) – of whom in order to eliminate confusion, we shall call “Albert the American.” One reason is because there may be not infrequent changing of names for reasons that are elliptical to the researcher, if not indiscernible. Many of the surnames of brides for example given on marriage records indicate the name “Rolbiecka” rather than Rolbiecki. (Were these intentional feminine endings to the name? Interestingly, in one case the groom’s name was registered as “Rolbiecka”! What are we to conclude then?). To look for only the name “Rolbiecki” rather than casting a wider net –while at the same time tempering judgment by cross reference— would be like throwing the baby out along with the bath water.

Interestingly, there is on record in 1902 in the parish of Raciaz a woman named Catharina Lorbiecka alias Rolbiecka. This metathesis of the letters “r” and “l” are briefly discussed by the Polish Genealogical Society.  “The name “Lorbiecki” for instance [is a] very common name among Kashubs in Poland (Lipusz) and in North America. After World War I the name seems to have been changed to Rolbiecki in Poland. Thus all early comers to America call themselves Lorbieckis. Comers later in the 20th century call themselves Rolbieckis. Lots of Lorbetski in the Barry’s Bay, Renfrew regions of Ontario. There are 18 Lorbiecki, Lorbecki, Lorbeck, Lorbeski in Stevens Point, Polonia phone directory; 6 Rolbiecki in Winona phone directory. Both names appear in Lipusz registers (”

The point here is that surnames appear to metamorphose into either close or not-so-close resemblances. Thus the challenge of verification is daunting. For example, this phenomenon appears on a military document, dated 30 September 1869 entitled “Fuhrungs = Utteft,” for the “Batallion Conitz” where Albert the American is mentioned by name of “Albrecht Rolbietzki.” Yet another document dated 29 April (?) 1881, apparently provenance Lesno, stipulates “Albrecht Lorbetzki” – again the metathesis of the letters “r” and “l”.  (Were these particular instances of miscommunication that is an expedient homonym of the same name? A phonetic gaffe? Or, as is perhaps more evident in the second case, was the name intended by the user to be an adopted pseudonym?) If the latter case were indeed so, what purpose would it serve? Or perhaps, in light of the fact that written communication came very late to Kashubian civilization, did Kashubs occasionally forget how to spell their own names? It is tempting to speculate, but unless more historical and geographical context is supplied, we simply don’t know how to proceed with robust answers. In any case, one must cast around when looking for Rolbieckis – especially given the possibility that a particular individual’s name may take on the appearance of either literal permutation – for this individual at least two aliases are possible— or else a nonspecific phonetic rendering.

Here then is a cursory break down of patrilineal descent (I am sure there are errors):

Albrecht/Albert Rolbiecki/Lorbetzki/Rolbietzki (aka Albert the American) was born 5 May 1841, near Lesno, the youngest child of Albrecht Rolbiecki (b. 1795) and Marianna Maikowska (b. 1795?). The parents had five other children: Joannem (b. 1827 – the father’s name is recorded as “Adalberti”) Catharina (b. 1828 – the mother’s maiden name is recorded as “Myszkowska” and father as “Adalberti”) Anna (b. 1832), Elisabetha (b. 1834), and Joseph (b. 1837). Again, all of them are recorded in the Lesno parish registry.

Albert the American married Marianna Chrapkowska in 1874, as recorded in Brusy. He records on the Declaration of Intention document that his “last foreign residence” was “Kaszuba, Germany,” which would of course correspond to West Prussia at the time of Emperor William II. Marianna lived –according to the Declaration of Intention Document— in Radun, which is 4.82 miles from Kaszuba. According to Lesno parish registry, Marianna was the daughter of Paul Chrabkowski (note the difference in spelling) and Marianna Prinz. Albert the American and his wife Marianna had one child while they lived in the province of West Prussia within the region of Eastern Pomerania which its sub-region is known as Pomerelia: there a daughter named Thecla was born in 1879 according to Lesno parish registry. Interestingly (yet again), Albrecht/Albert’s forename transmogrifies to “Adalbert.”

Albert the American’s brother, Joseph, and his wife Veronica had six children: Johann (b. 1868), Marianna (b. 1872), Michael (b. 1873), Francisca (b. 1875), Anna (b. 1878) and Joseph (b. 1880) – all names recorded at Lesno. (It would be interesting of course to follow up on these persons principally because they are potentially active European links to our closer family.)

Jumping backward in time, Albert the American’s grandfather was possibly Bernardi Rolbiecki, though I am unsure when he was born. Yet there does appear in the Lesno baptismal record an “Adalbertus Rolbicki” (surname spelling is different) born 1745, who married (separate record) Catharina Waldchowna. (Was Adalbertus “Bernardi”? Was Rolbicki’s  direct bloodline the very same one as Rolbiecki’s? Was the spelling accidental or intentional? Or was it just a case of mere verisimilitude?) Here the Lesno record ends, but then I should note there are baptismal records from Konarzyny and Brusy which might be helpful if in time another correlative emerges.

–j. novalis wolfe