Sophie’s Story

Week 22 of #52Ancestors:   At the Cemetery

This week I am going to switch gears and delve into a story of one little girl, Sophie Katherine Pawlak, from my husband’s family.  Sophie was the sister to Charles Pawlak, my husband’s father.  In order to tell her story,  I need to start  with her parents who bravely traveled to America from Poland, Stephan (Szczepan) Pawlak and Blanche (Bronislawa) Nowicka.

Stephan (Szczepan) Pawlak was born 10 Nov 1877 in Radlowek, Kries Inowroclaw-Zacod, Poland in the sixth hour of the evening  and his birth was recorded 17 Nov of 1877.  His parents were Stellmacher Michael Pawlak and Catherina Sprzacakowska.  “Stellmacher” was a title meaning coachmaker or carpenter.  Stephan had three brothers, Andrew (Andrzej) Pawlak, John (Jan) Pawlak and Frank (Franciszek) Pawlak and he had one sister, Joanna Pawlak.

Bronislawa (Blanche) Nowicka was born 29 Aug 1883 in Koscielec, Kries Inowroclaw-Zachod, Poland in the tenth hour in the morning and her birth was recorded 29 August 1883.  Her father, Michael Nowicki, was titled “Kutscher” meaning “Coachdriver” and her mother was Thecla Zielinska.

Pawlak, Thecla Nowicka, pic 001
Nowicki, Michal, father of Bronislawa Pawlak 001
Michael Nowicki

Blanche, as she was known in the U. S., was the youngest of 8 or 9 children.  Her brothers were Stanislaw (Stanley), Wladyslaw (Walter), Wictor (Victor) and sisters were Maryanna, Stanislawa, Leonora, Anastazya, and possibly Eleanora Apollina (may be same person as Leonora).  A brother, Franiscus (Francis) died of debility at 13 days old in 1878.  Sadly, Blanche’s mother and father both died when Blanche was not quite 4 years old.  Her mother, Thecla, died 18 May 1887 at age 35 of typhus in Koscielec, Poland.  About 3 weeks later, her father, Michael Nowicki,  died 10 June 1887 at age 50 of intestinal inflammation.  Blanche was raised by one of her older sisters.

On 8 July 1904, Stephan Pawlak and Bronislawa (Blanche) Nowicka married in Koscielec, Poland at the Catholic Church.  According to family stories, Stephan could speak four languages – Polish, German, French and English- and was inducted into the German Army because of his value as a translator.  However, Stephan and Blanche decided to travel to America under the pretense of taking a honeymoon (they did not plan to return to Poland).  They departed from Bremen, Germany on 1905 on the ship “Gera” with the destination of Milwaukee, WI.  Stephan was 27, listed as a joiner (carpenter) and from the province of Poznan.  He was carrying more than $50 and traveling with his wife, Bronislawa Pawlak, age 21, according to immigration records.  Blanche later talked about the ship cracking and creaking and she was pregnant with their first child.

Pawlak, Stephan, pass list, 1905, Gera 001
Passenger list from “Gera” 1905

They arrived on 26 January 1905 at the port of Baltimore, Maryland and traveled for 2 days to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to settle at 484 Bartlett Street.  Stanley, their first child was born on April 1, 1905.  Later came Edward in 1906,  Joseph in 1908, Clara in 1909, all born at 557 Bartlett Street.  All of them were baptized at St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church.

Pawlak, Stephan, picture, Becher ST home, Milw 001
2332 Becher St., Milwaukee WI

The family moved to 864 Becher Street (address changes later to 2332 Becher St. by City of Milwaukee) sometime between 1910 and 1913 where Sigmund was born in 1913 and Zofia Kataryzyna (Sophie Katherine) was born in 1914.  Their last child, Charles Daniel Michael (Karol Michal) was born in 1916 and was my husband’s father.  They were baptized at St. Adelbert’s Catholic Church.

This story is about Sophie.  Sophie Katherine Pawlak was born just before the end of the year on 29 December 1914, the sixth child of the seven children of Stephen and Blanche Pawlak.

Pawlak, Sofia, Baptism, 1915, St Adelbert, Milw
Baptism of Sophia Catherina at St. Adelbert’s Catholic Church, Milwaukee WI (in Latin)

In the early spring of 1917, Blanche became very ill and was unable to care for the children.  She had to leave the family for an extended period of time to seek treatment for possibly tuberculosis or a nervous breakdown.  It was, unfortunately, common for a person with TB to enter a sanitarium for an extended period of time for treatment in the early 1900s.  Stephan had to continue working as well as the oldest son, Stanley, to support the family.  The rest of the children – Edward, Joseph, Clara, Sigmund, Sophie and Charles- was placed in the Milwaukee County Home for Dependent Children in the Town of Wauwatosa (near Milwaukee).  This home provided temporary care for dependent children and orphans in Milwaukee County.  The children were placed in the home 10 April 1917 and when they arrived at the home, the boys and girls were separated.  Sophie was two years old and Charles just one year old.  Their father visited them as much as he could. Milw Co. Home for Dependent Children, Pawlak 001

Tragedy struck when Sophie contracted pneumonia in September 1917 and just 5 months and 12 days after arriving at the Home for Dependent Children, Sophie dies.  She was just 2 years, 8 months and 25 days old, a short life.  How heartbroken her mother must have been to not be with Sophie at this time!  The cause of death was listed as double migrative lobar pneumonia and convulsions due to toxemia.  Her parents and the other children went to her funeral at St. Adelbert Catholic Church and Sophie was buried in St. Adelbert’s Cemetery in Milwaukee, near Howard and 13th Street in the children’s section.   Over the years, her brothers and nephews made wooden crosses to mark her grave and added plaques to the crosses with her name and dates of her birth and death.  A new wooden cross was added from time to time.   She was not forgotten by the family.

However, a permanent marker was never purchased for her for some reason- until now.  My husband decided that Sophie must never be forgotten and since the last white cross was slowly becoming worn and delapitated, it was way past time for a new stone.  We purchased a marble grave marker with help from 2 cousins and it is now a permanent memorial for Sophie.  After 102 years, Sophie finally has her stone marker that will last long after those who remember her are gone.  Rest in peace little Sophie although you had a short life, you have been and are loved by many for a very long time!


(If you wish information on the numerous sources I used for this post, please contact me.)