Travels with Papillon




The Narrative



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Papillon's path north since Edirne, Turkey has been to this spot on the planet, a small village in the Carpathians with an interesting history and a gorgeous locale.


Papillon has brought us home.


My mother was 100% Slovak.  She was born in 1913 in Pittston, Pennsylvania of Slovak emigrants.  She had 8 siblings, 6 girls and 2 boys.  She was the youngest.


George and Mary Sempa family, circa 1914, Pittston, Pennsylvania


For a variety of reasons I never much paid attention to my heritage on that side of the family until a couple of years ago.  Then a senior cousin remarked that there was a slip of paper in her bible stating the village that grandfather and grandmother came from.


Nizne Lapse zupy Spisska

That is all that it said.  Nizne Lapse zupy Spisska.  Typing in the phrase to Google on the internet opened up a new world - the world of genealogy search.

The phrase is in Slovak and refers to the village of Nizne Lapse in the province of Spisska in Upper Hungary (Slovakia) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Under Hungarian rule since 970, Slovakian villages usually had 2 names - Slovak and Hungarian.  In Hungarian the village was called Also Lapso.


To the left is a portion of an 1810 Hungarian military map of the northwest Spis province.  Also Lapos is in the northwest quadrant.

Settled in the early 1200's like many of the villages in this region, it's church can be dated to 1310.  The inhabitants were primarily serfs working the land and their Hungarian landowners were not noted for their benevolent attitudes.  Other sources of making a living were forestry and mining.  By the 1890's, conditions were so bad that many inhabitants elected to seek a better life and voted with their feet to go to America.  Grandfather George did in 1893 and grandmother Mary and family followed in 1896.



But today we were in the village of Lapsze Nizne, Poland.  For 700 years this was a Slovak village on the edge of an Empire.  Four miles or so to the east lay the border with Poland - the Dunejec River.

In 1412 the Hungarian King was at war with the Venetians and he borrowed funds from the Polish King to support his war effort.  As collateral he put up 17 Slovak villages on the fringes of Spis province.  He never paid back the loan, though the Hungarians continued to make promises.

In the 1770's Poland had fallen on hard times and its 3 neighbors decided to help themselves to more territory.  In 3 Partitions that ended in the 1790's, Prussia, Russia and Austro Hungary had carved up Poland to such an extent that it no longer existed at all.  After WWI the Great Powers at Versailles decided to reconstitute the Polish state.  The border with the new state of Czechoslovakia was set at the Dunejec River.  The Poles however had a piece of paper from 1412 and they wanted their villages.  The Czechoslovak state refused.  The Poles then invaded (probably a dozen guys with guns) to press their claim.  The Czechoslovak state then said "Okay".

During WWII Hitler set up a puppet Slovak state (the first Slovak nation since 970) and the villages reverted to Slovak control.  In 1945 the new Polish state wanted them back and pressed the issue.  Today the village is Polish and has a third name - Lapsze Nizne.


The village is not much changed in the last century.  Of course there are some new houses and the old ones are being updated, but time moves slower in the mountains.

Nearby villages are benefiting from a booming tourism trade but most other villages here are still agricultural.  Local officials are aware that this lifestyle is not necessarily self sufficient and are always seeking new opportunities for growth and development.


Saint Kirwyn

St Kirwyn church is where my grandparents were married on February 7, 1887.


Today it is undergoing an extensive interior renovation including heat strips under the floor and better insulation as well as fresh paint throughout.


Behind the church and below it is the Summer Chapel where services are held in the summer and while the main church undergoes rehabilitation.

Summer Chapel


The Search for Cousins in Europe

Mayor of the Commune Pawel Dziuban, here on his cell phone, was most helpful in assisting us in our search and we consider him a friend.


Until 1895, the official records of births, deaths and marriages within the Austro-Hungarian Empire where kept by  the parish church.

Here, in the parish office, we spent 2 afternoons in the Official Records going back to the 1790's.

The records show the ebb and flow of a community, and in the late 19th century it showed an infant mortality rate nearing 20 per cent.  And in talking with Pawel we learned that probably every family sent some young people to America to make a better life.


The Records

First we sought exact information on the immediate families of Grandfather and Grandmother.  We located the birth and death records of most of their siblings in order to follow the line down and locate "cousins" within the community.


Adelburt Vojtech Czempa and Maria Soltesz (Hungarian spelling)

George Sempa and Mary Soltes Sempa (American spelling)

Line 2 is the entry for my grandparents wedding.  Line one is the same day marriage of a cousin.


To make a long story short.  We came to the end of the line without success.

Grandfather had a number of siblings, all but one died in infancy.  The surviving brother, Paulus, cannot be located in the village Marriage or Death Records.  What we surmise is that he moved away and his records are entered in another village registry.

Grandmother had one sibling, a sister named Roza.  Like Paulus above, no further record of her exists in Lapsze Ninze.  Again we believe she married or moved to another village, probably nearby.  Sadly we did not have the time to visit surrounding villages.

We returned to the records to go one level deeper, to the great great grandfather level (we did not have the time to pursue grandmothers line any deeper as this is a slow process).  Again we came to a dead end.  Great grandfather Josephus Czempa was an only surviving child.

The semi-complete genealogical listing can be seen on a family web blog - here

But in our review we saw the inter marriages of nearly every family in the village to every other family.  In a sense the entire village is filled with my cousins.  We shall return here.


The Colors of Lapsze Nizne, Poland









Next - Poland One

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