Telling my family's stories
Andreas Kolupka was born October 11, 1863 in Wisniewo, a small town in the Czeszewo district of Wagrowiec, a division of Posen – one of the largest and westernmost provinces of Poland. At the time of his birth, this area was under the control of Prussia, although there had been a bloody uprising in 1848. When Andreas was living in Posen, it was illegal to speak Polish in any public setting, and, although all of the parish records for his town are written in polish, all the official documents are German and written in German.
His parents were Michael Kolupka and Cecelia Borzolowicz. Michael was from the Wagrowiec district, while his wife Cecilia was from Goryszewo. They had married in 1846 in Wagrowiec and had at least 7 children there: Catharina, Marianna, Joannes Thomas, Francisca, Valentine, Andreas, and Agnes.
In November of 1876, at the age of 14, Andrew emigrated to the United States, along with his mother Cecelia, his siblings Valentine and Agnes, as well as his sister Catharina, who had married Michael Pawlak in 1871. They first lived in Hamilton in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. Likely, their father Michael had died in Poland, although I have no record of it. Cecelia is listed as ‘widowed’ on the 1880 census in Pennsylvania.
Around 1885, Andrew, Valentine, and Celia moved out west to the Dakota Territories and bought several tracts of land in Richland County. Andrew bought a total of 320 acres, while his mother Celia and brother Valentine each bought 160. However, they soon left for Spring Valley, Illinois, where Andrew married Marianna Engel in 1892, where they had their first child, Katharina, in November of 1893.
The 1890s was a hellish time in Spring Valley, with terrible wages, bad living conditions, and frequent strikes. The area was owned and operated by a web of monopolistic corporations who owned the coal mine and the land the town was built on, and who sat in most major government positions. There was a particularly bad labor conflict in 1894 that turned into a riot, and resulted in the military coming in. Because the coal barons who owned Spring Valley and the coal mine used different ethnicities as strike-breakers, calling in Italians to break an Irish/Scottish strike, Italians to break a Polish strike, and Blacks to break the Italian strike, racial tensions were very high. Several people were killed and settlements were burned. It was almost exactly at this time that Andrew Kolupka and his wife left Spring Valley (temporarily) for a try at farming.
Before 1897, the couple arrived in the tiny town of Wilkin in Atherton County, Minnesota. There Andrew farmed for awhile, and they had seven children; John, Mary, Agnes, Rosy, Charley, Anton, Gertrude, and Victoria.
Farming, apparently, did not work out so well, and they gave up the land and moved back to Spring Valley around 1912, where Valentine Kolupka had stayed to work in the coal mine. Andrew started work in the coal mine and they had three more children: Louis, Josephine, and Joseph.
Spring Valley was the site of some of the legendary coal mining disasters of the early era of mining, including the famous Cherry mine disaster of 1909, when about 250 men died (mostly Polish). Andrew was hurt several times on the job, and his health deteriorated severely due to chronic asthma. Marianna died in childbirth in 1917, with his eight-year-old daughter Victoria finding her in the kitchen after coming home from school. The younger children were sent out to various places – some entered the convent and monastery. Andrew lived with one or two of his sons, and his health declined further until he finally died from a heart attack on February 17, 1939. The doctor listed his breathing problems (caused by the mine) as the primary cause of the heart failure.