Today we celebrate Wincenty Zadzielka’s arrival to the United States

It was on this day in 1902 that my great-grandfather arrived in New York.

April 7, 2021

It’s a special day!

On this day 119 years ago, my great-grandfather arrived in New York City on a steamer ship from Bremen, Germany. At the time he arrived, he was 21 years old and a single man. He went directly to Cleveland as many Poles did at the time. He only spoke Polish.

Imagine being so young and arriving on the shores of a country where you didn’t know the language! He was just a baby!

Living Stateless For More Than 40 Years

He was neither a Polish or American citizen. Based on the history and partitions of Poland, my theory is he was leaving what is now the Grodno region of Belarus (then Poland) to flee the Russian Empire. Around that time, there was a crack down on Poles — they were being forbidden to speak Polish in the streets. The Russians weren’t just trying to take the land, they were erasing the culture as well.

I’ve yet to find any record of him declaring Polish citizenship from the U.S. after 1920. So he was likely stateless for 43 years!

So today, I am celebrating our family’s arrival to the U.S., and a brave young man who brought us here — Wincenty Zadzielka. It was the best choice he could have made at the time, given how the world was in 1902.

Wanting a better life is genetic for us Zadzielkas. Wincenty wanted that for us, so he immigrated to the U.S. His son, my grandfather Bernard, wanted a better life so he left Cleveland for Phoenix. Now I want a better life and am eyeing returning to our Polish roots as an opportunity for my family. The urge to move for a better life has come full circle.

Congrats 119 years later to Wincenty Zadzielka, and a job well done to the great-grandfather us kids never met.

On this anniversary, amazing news!

This felt like total kismet today.

Part of why I want to get to Poland (and Belarus) is to continue my genealogical research into our family for medical reasons. We carry a genetic mutation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or CJD. Our fCJD mutation is E200K, which is carried by Poles and other ethnicities (five total, if I remember correctly off the top of my head).

It’s too early to tell if Ionis will test the drug in 2022’s clinical trial on us genetic folks or not. I will gladly volunteer if so. If not, my work is still not in vain. The more we know about this diseases, the better. Doctors won’t take time to research genealogy — but I will. (Time will tell; maybe I’m wrong and maybe my genealogical research will make a difference).

When I was at UCSF participating in research in 2012, the topic of our family’s genetics came up when I was talking with Dr. Michael Geschwind. He raised the possibility that our family could have been Russian Jews — which I knew we were not. But it made me wonder…what if we were? I hadn’t seen proof one way or another. I only knew we spoke Polish, ate Polish food, listened to Polka music, and followed Polish-Catholic ways.

My goal is to find more Zadzielka family members who can help connect the dots. I don’t know how Wincenty Zadzielka died or if he carried the mutation. Of his 14 children, I have only discovered one who died of CJD. Of my grandfather’s three children, two died of CJD. If Wincenty carried it, I want to see how far back I can trace CJD deaths in our family.

Is it possible? I’ll find out!

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