Sakalupis Estate (Sakalupėnai palivarkas)

The earliest official record we have for our Lithuanian relatives is the parish entry for my great-great-grandparents’ marriage in January 1864. Simonas Melnikaitis and Ona Vidrinskaitė were married in the Catholic Church at  Vladislovov — a town which, since 1934, has been called Kudirkos Naumiestis. This town is in the far west of Lithuania, now in the District of Vilkaviškis, County of Marijampolė; but when our family lived there, it was the Governorate of Suvalki, and part of the Tsar’s Russian Empire. When they married, Simonas was living and working on a farming estate known as Sakalupis, which lies a bit over 8 km (5 miles) south-west of Vladislovov, and hard by the modern border with the Russian ‘exclave’ of Kaliningrad Oblast. Kaliningrad is a tiny province that today houses the Russian Baltic Fleet, and Europe’s largest military base. The Širvinta River forms the border at this point.

This panorama shows the fields of the Sakalupis Estate, 4 km south of Lauckaimis, where my great-grandmother was born in 1864. If you carry straight on from where the dirt track turns, you’ll see a small line of dark green trees/shrubs—this was where the home farm once stood, and the river Šervinta, which marks the Lithuanian border, is not far beyond that. The low line of hills on the horizon are in Russian Kaliningrad; we were not allowed any closer than this.

“Banks of the Šervinta”: A fiddle tune I wrote in 1981 to symbolise my connection to Lithuania. It blends the modal scales of the Baltic with rhythms from my Celtic ancestry.

What is now Kaliningrad was, in 1864, Königsberg, an East Prussian province (which included a northern area known as ‘Lithuania Minor’), which was unceremoniously annexed by the Russians after World War II. The native German population were forcibly expelled or murdered, and the Soviets shipped in unwanted Poles from Belarus and Ukraine to fill the gap. The borders in this part of the world have long been fluid. However, Simonas and Ona married just one year before the Lithuanian language was banned by the Tsar, and this record gives us their parents’ names (names in purple are my direct ancestors):

1864 LITHUANIA MARRIAGES: Parish of Vladislavov, Vilkaviškis

[Translation] This marriage occurred in Vladislavov on 24th of January, 1864 at 2pm. In the presence of witnesses Silvestras Keblinskas, 27 years old farmer from Gustainiškiai village, and Simonas Gudžentis, 24 years old hired-labourer from Lauckaimis village, a religious marriage was concluded between Simonas Melnikas, 34 years old, born in Katromyslė village of the Kalvarija district, and who resides in Sakalupėnai palivarkas, the son of already deceased Stanislovas Melnikas and Ieva née Stepšytė, and Ona Vidrinskaitė, 22 years old, born and residing at her brother’s house in Lauckaimis village, the daughter of deceased Juozapas Vidrinskas and Magdalena Vidrinskas née Venciūtė living at the son’s house in Lauckaimis village. Three banns were called before the marriage in Vladislavov church, on 10th, 17th and 24th of January of this year. The newly-weds announced that no marriage agreement between them was concluded. The religious marriage ceremony was conducted by the priest Juozapas Marma. This decree was announced to the audience and signed for the illiterates by the priest Kolbauskas.

As this record tells us, my great-great-grandmother, Ona Vidrinskaitė (i.e. daughter of Vidrinskas), was living a little to the north at the nearby village of Lauckaimis with her brother when she married. This village is roughly halfway between Sakalupis and the town of Vladislavov. We also see that Simonas was born in a village called Katromyslė, in the Kalvarija district. This place is not on modern maps, but it is on one from the 1850s, and lay on a bend in the Šešupė River 6 km (4 miles) directly south of Marijampolė, and about 43 km (27 miles) south-east of Lauckaimis as the crow flies.  Once married, Ona moved to Sakalupis with her husband, and at least three of her children were born there: Petronėlė (1864); Juozapas (1867); and Jonas (1874). There are likely to have been many more children, but quite a few records have disappeared, and we can just count ourselves lucky to have these (a list of missing years can be found here). My great-grandmother’s parents were married in January, and she arrived later that year in November:

1864 LITHUANIA BIRTHS: Sakalupis, Parish of Vladislavov, Vilkaviškis

[Translation] This baptism occurred in Vladislavov on 1st of November, 1864 at 2pm. Personally arrived Simonas Melnikaitis, 36 years old from Sakalupėnai palivarkas [Sakalupis Estate] where he resides and serves, together with witnesses Jurgis Savickas, 22 years old, and Stanislovas Petraitis, 32 years old, both who reside and serve in Sakalupėnai, and showed a female baby stating that she was born in Sakalupėnai palivarkas on 1st of November, at 2am, by his legal wife Ona née Vidrinskaitė, 32 years old. In the baptismal ceremony, the priest Mykolas Snabauskas granted the name Petronėlė to the baby. The Godparents were Jurgis Savickas and Rožė Šatner. This decree was announced to the audience and signed for illiterates by the priest Kolbauskas.

Nothing is known of the family for the next 20-odd years, but Petronėlė Melnikaitytė reappears in the parish records when she married her first husband, Pranciškus Simanavičius, in September 1886. Pranciškus worked as a farm labourer at Slibinai, a neighbouring estate to Sakalupis. Slibinai was also the birthplace of a noted Lithuanian national figure, Dr Juozas Bagdonas (1866–1956), who we will briefly hear about later on. Petronėlė and Pranciškus were married at the church in Vladislavov (see picture below) in September 1886, and the marriage record tells us that he was born in Kataučizna — a village on the south-eastern outskirts of Vladislavov — and that he was the illegitimate son of Ona Simanavičiūtė. By now, Petronėlė’s father was also a plot-holder at Lauckaimis, and probably no longer working at Sakalupis:

1886 LITHUANIA MARRIAGES: Parish of Vladislavov, Vilkaviškis

[Translation] This marriage occurred in Vladislavov on 16th/28th of September 1886, at 11am, in the presence of witnesses, residents of Lauckaimis village, Juozapas Grigaitis, 46 years old plot-holder, and Juozapas Dekeras, 25 years old son of a farmer. The religious marriage was concluded between Pranciškus Simanavičius, 23 years old, born in Kataučizna village and residing in Slibinai village, illegitimate son of already deceased Ona Simanavičiūtė, and Petronėlė Melnikaitytė, 21 year old, born in Sakalupėnai palivarkas and residing in Lauckaimis village, daughter of plot-holders from Lauckaimis village, Simonas Melnikaitis and Ona Melnikaitis née Vidrinskaitė. Three banns were called before the marriage in Vladislavov church – on 17th/29th of August, 24th of August/4th of September, 31st of August/12th of September. The newly-weds announced that no [previous] marriage agreement between them was concluded. The religious marriage ceremony was conducted by the priest Saliamonas Goliakas.

An interesting feature of the records for Lithuania at that time is that they were all written in Polish, or Russian, as the Lithuanian language was banned from 1864 by the Russian overlords. They also show two dates: one from Russia’s Julian calendar, and one from the Gregorian calendar that we use. The empire was in the process of switching calendars during this period, and all records had to show both forms. In all examples, the second is the correct one for us.

Lauckaimis Kaime

Petronėlė and Pranciškus seem to have briefly lived in his home town of Kataučizna after their marriage. We know this because when their one-year-old first born, Juozapas, died just after Christmas in December 1888, his death record tells us that, though he died in Lauckaimis, his family resided in Kataučizna. Perhaps Petronėlė had taken her sick child to her parent’s home for help; indeed, that seems entirely possible, as by now they had a second child, Silvestras, who had been born that October. His birth record shows he was born in Lauckaimis, and that his father, Pranciškus, was now a plot-holder in that village.

The parish church in Vladislavov (now Kudirkos Naumiestis). Many of our Lithuanian relatives were baptised and married in this church before 1902. The building is lucky to have survived both German and Soviet occupations of the 20th century. View the interior.

No death record has been found for Silvestras, but it seems likely he died before the family left Lithuania in about 1903. However, by May 1890, Petronėlė was pregnant again with her third child, Ona (later known as “Annie”), who was born on 10 February 1891 — and now things get somewhat opaque. Ona is my grandmother’s older half sister, and the matriarch for another side of my mother’s family in Scotland — but she never knew her father.

Sometime between 1890 and 1894, Pranciškus Simanavičius departed this world, and Petronėlė married Jonas Šugžda, my great-grandfather. What happened to Pranciškus is open to conjecture; perhaps he was conscripted into the Tzar’s army (a major issue for Lithuanians at the time), or maybe he just died of an illness or injury — no one knows. However, to confuse matters further, the marriage date for Jonas and Petronėlė is given twice in Scottish records as 6 September 1890 — but, if that date were correct, it raises several questions. To begin with, it would mean Petronėlė was four-months pregnant with Ona when she married Jonas, and her first husband, Pranciškus, could not have died before May 1890 (to have fathered Ona).  This seems an unlikely scenario. Additionally, there is no entry in the 1890 parish records (which are still extant) of a marriage for Jonas Šugžda and Petronėlė. I think we must accept that the September 1890 date is a mistake. We do have, though, a certified extract of Ona’s birth certificate, issued in Lithuania in 1927, which gives her birthdate and parents’ names — but the original parish document is now missing.

The next event we can be reasonably certain of is the birth of Petronėlė’s fourth child: Juozas (“Joe”) Šugžda. Unfortunately, the parish record for his birth is also missing, but from his marriage in 1917, we learn he was born in 1894, and his U.S. draft registration in 1942 gives us the actual date: 12 December 1894. Also, we know his birthplace from his 1922 U.S. immigration record, which he gave as “Lauskuimiai, Lithuania” — surely a misspelling of ‘Lauckaimis’. The Vladislavov parish records for 1891 to 1894 are missing, but a marriage for Jonas and Petronėlė in 1893/94 seems probable.

The couple’s next five children, all born in Lauckaimis, came in short order: Pranciškus (1896, but died aged one week); Bronislovis (1898, later known as “Barney”); Vladislovas (1899, who died in infancy); my grandmother, Petronėlė Juzė Šugždaitė (later known as “Sarah”, 16 November 1901); and a daughter named “Maggie[who I only discovered in Scottish death records in 2019], likely to have been born in November 1902 (more on her later).

We only know Barney’s details from his 1924 U.S. border crossing record, which gives his birthdate as 13 February 1898, and place of birth as “Lauckainis, Kaunas, Lith.” — again, ‘Lauckaimis’ is misspelt, but Kaunas was the regional capital. From the birth and death entries for wee Pranciškus, we know Jonas was a plot-holder in Lauckaimis, and this is confirmed on Vladislovas’ birth record (view their records here). As with Ona, we only have a 1927 extract of my grandmother’s parish birth record, but it confirms her parents as Jonas Šugžda and Petronėlė Melnikaitytė, and gives her place of birth as “Lauckaimio Kaime” (‘kaime’ means ‘village’).

So, by November 1902, Jonas Šugžda, a plot-holder, and his wife Petronėlė Melnikaitytė were living at Lauckaimis with five children: Ona, Juozas, BronislovisPetronėlė Juzė, and Maggie. Jonas’ fourth child (Petronėlė’s seventh), Vladislovas, may still have been alive then, but it’s likely he died earlier. Interestingly, the name “Šugžda” seems quite rare, with few examples found on the Internet; apart from entries for the children above, the name does not appear anywhere else in the extant parish records for Vladislovov — perhaps Jonas had come to the district from another part of Lithuania. We only know, from Jonas’s death certificate in Scotland, that his parents were Jurgis Šugžda, farmer, and Agota Klimaitė (i.e. daughter of Klimaitas). But, sometime after November, this family packed what goods and chattels they had and, without a backward glance, clandestinely departed Lithuania forever. We will next find them in Bellshill, Scotland.

This chart shows the families of Jonas Šugžda and Petronėlė Melnikaitytė — it also shows the connections for Petronėlė’s oldest daughter (from her first marriage), Ona Zinkevičius née Simanavičiūtė.


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