Ignatz Jablonski and Josephine Szaflarski

On this page…
Ignatz Jablonski § Crossing the Atlantic § On to Wisconsin § Josephine Szaflarski § Surname Mystery

Ignatz and Josephine were Bonnie Billick’s paternal grandparents although it seems she barely knew them.

I never heard my mother mention these grandparents or any of her father’s siblings.

Ignatz Jablonski

The patriarch of the Wisconsin Jablonski line was Ignatz Jablonski (1855-??), born (probably in Toruń, Poland) in October of 1855.[1] Ignatz married Josephine Szaflarski, ten years younger than him, in 1887. He might have been a carpenter. Their first son, Bronislaw, was born September 10, 1888, followed by Anton in January of 1890.


Crossing the Atlantic

Traversing the Atlantic in the first half of the 19th century must have been a frightful experience. Ocean vessels were typically sailing ships that hauled as many passengers as possible. Diaries recount storms, poor food, terribly crowded berths, stench and disease. By the time the Jablonski family sailed near the end of the century, steel-hulled passenger steamships cut the crossing to a week or less and conditions were somewhat more humane.

We are not one-hundred percent certain of the Jablonski’s itinerary from Europe to America. [2]  U.S. Census record report the family’s arrival years as 1892 (1900 Census), 1887 (1910), and 1886 (1920). Comparing and correlating birth years and other records, it’s safe to establish 1892 as the correct year. Sons Bronislaw and Anton are said to have been born in Poland in 1887 and 1890 respectively and third son, Stanislaw, in New York in November of 1892. It’s not clear why the 1886 and 1887 years would have been reported in the later Census rolls.

Baltimore passenger lists record the arrival of Ignatz Jablonski, age 36, along with Josephina, age 24, and two children, Bransilaw and Anton, with New York as their destination; on the steamship Karlsruhe, on April 28, 1892.[3] Ignatz is said to be a carpenter of the Catholic faith, with a last residence of Thoren (a variant of Toruń)  and possessing $10.00 in cash. These details more closely correspond to other facts like the place and date of birth of Bronislaw and the ages of Ignatz and Josephine.[4] Thus it seems that early in 1892, the couple boarded the steamship Karlsruhe[5] in Bremen and landed in Baltimore on Thursday, April 28. Baltimore had been a major port of entry for European immigrants since the early 1800’s. The construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad made it easy for immigrants to travel north to New York City or more directly westward to Pittsburgh, Chicago, and St. Louis.

Jablonski family names in Baltimore arrivals list, April 28, 1892

I have been unable to rationalize the arrival facts recorded in son Bruno Jablonski’s Naturalization papers wherein he states that that he disembarked at the port of New York on April 20, 1890, from the vessel “SS Degangaluza or Cantaluzia”.  I have found no record of ships bearing either of these names. However, these details were being provided in the late 1930’s, more than forty years after the actual events. And, of course, Bruno was a toddler at the time.

The $10.00 in cash is interesting. It seems like a tiny amount but it was more than many of the fellow travelers on  the Karlsruhe roster. One wonders how the family sustained themselves until they were established on their Wisconsin farm some three years later. As one historian has noted: “Fewer than one-tenth of Polish immigrants in the peak years of immigration were able to become farmers once they reached the United States. …  Most Polish immigrants … were never able to leave their backbreaking jobs in northern U.S. cities.”[6]

On to Wisconsin

It seems that the Jablonskis first stop in America was Buffalo, New York. Buffalo had a growing Polish community in this period, with an estimated Polish population of some 9,000 to 16,000 by around 1881.[7] It is quite likely the family waited out the winter of 1892 there before resuming their trek westward.  Their son, Stanislaw, later reported his birth place as Buffalo on his WWII Draft Registration form.  The 1900 and 1910 U.S. Censuses show a number of Jablonskis living in Buffalo who immigrated just a few years before Ignatz. Could they have been relatives? Travelers could get to Buffalo from New York City via the Erie Canal or out of Baltimore using Baltimore & Ohio Railroad routes.

We do not know how the Jablonski clan traveled to north-eastern Wisconsin where, according to the 1895 Wisconsin State Census, they were living in the hamlet of Little Suamico.[8] The family then numbered six, the fourth son, Frank, having been born in June of 1895. Was there just a single, purposeful, 1,100-mile trip from the east coast, across Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, through Chicago? By this time, it was possible to make this journey via the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which had completed its tracks to the Windy City by the late 1870s. Or did they go through New York City and onward via the Erie Canal to Milwaukee?  Was there a combination of Great Lakes ferries and horse-drawn wagons through Canada and Michigan. Or, was there a hiatus in one of the various growing industrial centers like Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Detroit. In any case, it must have been quite an odyssey with three young boys ages one to four or five.

The main factor pushing Polish peasants out of Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century was extreme poverty caused by a severe shortage of land. Fear of being drafted into the armies of the partitioning powers impelled many young men to flee; political repression, cultural suppression, and religious discrimination also contributed to the exodus from partitioned Poland. Nevertheless, the vast majority of peasants who came to America after the Civil War did so for economic reasons (Mikoś, 2012, p. 11).

Oconto County, Wisconsin

In the early years of the 1800’s, Oconto County, Wisconsin, located about 40 miles north of the city of Green Bay, was a major center of lumbering. By the final decades of the century, most of northern Wisconsin had been logged out and timber companies were anxious to divest themselves of property on which they paid taxes but that no longer yielded any income. In many cases, they sold the holdings to land agents who then recruited German and Polish immigrants to purchase the tracts for farming. Oconto County was one of these areas and where hamlets like Sobieski, Pulaski and Little Suamico were formed. However, the immigrant purchasers were in for a surprise. These territories were hardly ready for farming and were often referred to as “stump land” even into the 20th century.

“Though advertised as prime farmland, most of it was full of stumps, hardwoods, and cedars. Instead of fertile fields…, would-be farmers encountered dense forests and brush, deep swamps, and poor soil. Instead of abandoning the enterprise, however, the Poles dug in to clear the land and begin farming” (Mikoś, 2012, p. 27).

We can’t be sure that Ignatz was among these farmer-settlers, but he might well have been. We do know from Census records that from 1895 through 1907, he was farming land around the tiny town of Little Suamico, about ten miles north of Green Bay.


This was a period of immense growth in the state. Wisconsin population doubled between 1870 and 1900 and the number of farms doubled.[9] The final decade of the 1800s was a high point in Polish immigration to Wisconsin. Between 1870 and 1890, the number of Poles in the state grew from 1,200 to over 17,000. The count was over 50,000 by 1910. Over half of these travelers settled in Milwaukee but one-third took up residence in rural communities  like Pulaski and Sobieski… and in tiny hamlets like Little Suamico and Taft.[10]

Sometime around 1906-07, the family relocated 115 miles west to the small town of Taft, Wisconsin. Daughter, Martha Jablonski (1907-1927) (Marta in the 1910 Census), was born on October 19, 1907 in the nearby town of Thorp, another area of Wisconsin that was transitioning from lumbering to agriculture. Thorp had been settled in 1872 and established in May of 1893 and the family may have moved to adjacent Taft for better or larger farmlands. The 1910 U.S. Census records the presence of two-year-old Marta in the family but indicates that Ignatz is a “widower.”  Could it be that Josephine died in childbirth? Maternal mortality from infections, hemorrhage and eclampsia was not uncommon: the 19th century maternal death rate was about one to two per 100 live births,[11] probably higher in more remote, rural communities.

Ignatz is listed in the 1920 Census as a 64-year-old widower-farmer, living with his adult son, Bruno, and three teen-age children Ignaz Benedyk (17), Zygmunt (15) and Martha (13), the other seven offspring having settled elsewhere. This is Ignatz’s last appearance in any available official documents.

Josephine Szaflarski

We know virtually nothing about Ignatz’s wife, Josephine Szaflarski (1865-1907?). She appears in the 1900 U.S. Census wherein she is said to have been born in December of 1865 in Poland. She gave birth to daughter, Martha, in 1907 but, Josephine is not listed in the 1910 Census; so, we are left to conjecture if she had already passed away by this time.

Surname Mystery

Josephine’s fist name, along with sons Bronislaw and Anton, is scribbled on the 1892 passenger list for the steamship Karlsruhe. Her full name is again barely legible in John Jackson’s 1918 marriage certificate where the surname looks more like “Schrzfranc.” However, this is not a viable spelling of any known surname. Then in what appears to be the birth record for son Benedick, her name is recorded as “Susie Szfranski.” This is a reasonable last name, as is the still more common “Szaflarski.” The “Susie” first name is completely anomalous. Further digging reveals no other documents where either surname variation appears to be connected to Josephine Jablonski or her children. Another surname variant appears on Martha’s death document of 1927 where her mother’s name appears as “Josephine Sozaflerska,” still another not viable surname. Variations like “Szaflerska” also exist.

Did other relatives of Josephine also immigrate to America?

  • Among the passengers arriving in New York in January of 1901 (also traveling aboard the Karlsruhe) was a nineteen-year-old “Jozef Szaflarski,” also from Galicia, Poland. “Joseph Szaflarski” appears in the 1910 Census, living in Chicago with wife Agnes and a daughter, Victoria, age 4.
  • “Joseph Saflarski” [sic] then appears in the 1920 U.S. Census for Little Suamico (with wife, Agnes, and daughter, Victoria, age 13). This family resides in the same hamlet where the Jablonskis had settled and only a few properties away from the same neighbor, “Michael Groblewski.” This Joseph is a 45-year-old Polish farmer who immigrated sometime around 1890-93. This form of the name has been corrected by other genealogists to “Szaflarski” and, indeed, “Jozef Szaflarski” and wife, Agnes show up again in the 1930 and 1940 Censuses living in the same Chicago neighborhood as several of the Jablonski brothers.
  • There’s another(!) Joe Szaflarski in the 1920 Census for Taft Township, Wisconsin, who emigrated in 1905; and residing just three properties away from the Jablonskis.

It is certainly possible —even likely, I think— that one of these was a relative of Josephine,[12] and this surname might be the most reliable Anglicized form. Based on these Census records, I will use Szaflarski in my family trees.[13]

Josephine’s name appears on the above-mentioned 1892 Baltimore passengers arrivals list and on the 1900 U.S. Census.  That’s the full extent of the information available about Mrs. Jablonski. She bore ten children perhaps dying soon after the birth of her daughter, Martha, in October of 1907, most likely in Thorp or Taft Wisconsin. There are several cemeteries in the area where Josephine may be buried.

[BACK to CONTENTS] [← PREVIOUS Section] [↑ TOP of page] [→ NEXT Section]

[1] In the second half of the 19th-century, Poland was awash in social and political turmoil. As a result of the chaos and several partitions, Polish immigrants might describe themselves (or be described) as coming from Poland, Prussia, Austria or Germany. Toruń, specifically, was at times part of Prussia and then the German Empire.
[2] “… despite the mountains of contemporary information on North Atlantic steamship travel …, historians have faced a chronic shortage of surviving, consistent, linked, collated, organized, and analyzed data on passenger movements….” In Dupont, Brandon; Drew Keeling, and Thomas Weiss. “Passenger Fares for Overseas Travel in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Conference Paper. (Vancouver, BC, Canada: Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association, 2012), p. 5.
[3] Ancestry.com. Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
[4] Ellis Island records do not show any Jablonski arrivals for 1892. As well, these details distinguish this Ignatz Jablonski from a handful of other immigrants with the same name arriving around the end of the century.
[5] Built in Glasgow and launched in August of 1889; operated by the German shipping company Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) (North German Lloyd). This was a middle-sized ship of the period, carrying a little over 2,100 passengers; only 80 of these were 1st or 2nd class.
[6] W. Scott Ingram. Polish Immigrants. NY: Facts on File Inc., 2005, p. 39.
[7] Daniels, John. “Poles in Buffalo – Turn of the Century.” In Forgotten Buffalo: Historic and Hip.” At http://www.forgottenbuffalo.com/buffalospoloniahistory/buffalopolonia1910.html; accessed December 27, 2017. Buffalo even had a daily Polish language newspaper, The Dziennik dla Wszystkich, from 1911 through 1957.
[8] Ancestry.com. Wisconsin, State Censuses, 1895 and 1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. There is an entry for Ignatz Jablonski, mechanic, in the 1903 Buffalo City Directory but alas that listing appears for many subsequent years and thus isn’t the pater familias of the Wisconsin Jablonskis.
[9] Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 342.
[10] “Ethnic Groups in Wisconsin: Historical Background.” In Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies. University of Wisconsin, Madison. At: https://mki.wisc.edu/content/ethnic-groups-wisconsin-historical-background. Accessed December 28, 2017.
[11] Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census. 1908. Mortality Statistics: 1908 (Bulletin 104). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
[12] There are some inconsistencies regarding year of immigration in the records for Joseph Szaflarski but this is a rather common issue. Even “Szaflarski” is still another painfully common surname. It appears for several hundred families in the Ancestry.com database; most of the early Szaflarskis settled in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.
[13] On the other hand, there are several Szafranski families resident in central Wisconsin as early as the 1890s. The “Szaflarski” surname appears occasionally in Wisconsin and Illinois newspapers throughout the 20th century and into the 2000s.
{last update: 3-Mar-2020}