The Grinkevich Family

The Grinkevich Family
For years this family with the many varied name spellings has been a source of fascination. I never knew my great grandparents-- we visited when I was very young, but I have no memory of this momentous occasion. Pictures show them as two tiny, wizened people aglow with love for each other. Perhaps therein lies the source of my interest. Though they went through many trials in their lives, from living in poverty in a Russian ruled country with no hope of a happy future, to burying several children in the spring of their young lives. Their tenacity carried them through. That, and their devotion, and faith in God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Part 1, The Families-revised 11-27-11

The Families

The surnames we know as Grinkevich or Grinker would have likely been Grinkeviĉius in Lithuania.  The ĉ pronounced ‘ch’. The York family was Jurkŝas in Lithuania.  The ŝ having a ‘sh’ sound, and final s is silent. 

According to Lithuanian custom, females had a suffix on their surname denoting marital status.  For instance, married females would have an –iene suffix, as in Grinkeviĉiene. Those unmarried females of the family would be Grinkeviĉiute.  Other unmarried woman suffixes are –aite, and –yte. 

Who we know as William Grinkevich would have been Vilimas, or Wilhelmas Grinkeviĉius.  He was also known as Vincent, which translates to Vincas, Wincas, or Vincentas in Lithuanian. He filled out a form in 1940 stating he entered this country as “Wincos Grinkewicas” 
Wilhelmas Grinkeviĉius and his wife Magdalena (Barkuck) Grinkeviĉiene (previous two names unproven) were born in Lithuania.
Their children in order of birth were:
Juozas Karalius Grinkeviĉius (Joseph Charles Grincavage)
Wilhelmas “Wincas” Grinkeviĉius (William “Vincent” Grinkevich)
Eva Grinkeviĉiute (Eva Grinkevich)
Ona Grinkeviĉiute (Anna Grinkevich)
It is very likely more children were born to this family.

Wilhelmas Jurkŝas and his wife Helena (Kubilas) Jurkŝiene
(previous two names unproven) were born in Lithuania.
They had at least six children, three sons and three daughters. 
The four on record here are:
Jurgis Jurkŝas (George York)
Magdalena Jurkŝiute (Magdeline York)
Antanas Jurkŝas (Anthony York)
Juozas Jurkŝas (Joseph York)
at least one of the daughters unnamed here immigrated to the U.S.A., was married and lived in Pennsylvania.

Life in Lithuania/ Getting out

The many decades of oppression began back in 1795 with Russian occupation of Lithuania.  Then in 1864 a decree to the Lithuanian people forbade the printing of books and any literature whatsoever including prayer books in their national language.  This continued for four decades and is known as “Forty Years of Darkness”. Books were smuggled in by enterprising people, and Lithuanians wishing to exit the country were often smuggled out using the same routes.  Three years later a famine in Lithuania hastened migration primarily by peasants who had little to lose. The country had become overcrowded and couldn’t support the population.  Young Lithuanian men were conscripted at the age of 21 or younger into the Russian army against their will to serve in the army for a decade or more.  There were numerous reasons to leave.  Hunger was a constant plague. Religious freedom was nonexistent as priests were viewed as suspect by the police, and during Russian occupation many churches were turned into government buildings or used for storage.  Gradually over the years control tightened until life became unbearable forcing migrants to leave at an increased rate.

As a child, William “Wincos” Grinkeviĉius worked in a Russian labor camp with other children according to his grandson William Grinker.  He and another child escaped across a field and were shot at by guards as they ran for their lives.   Very hungry, and willing to take the chance at getting killed, the children were certainly underfed and malnourished.  Whether it was William’s or Magdeline’s family that aided their escape from Russian rule is a mystery.

The Grinkeviĉius and Jurkŝas families migrated from their homeland of Lithuania when it was illegal to do so.  That is, it was illegal to leave the country.  We may never know William and Magdeline’s story, but those attempting to exit their homeland were arrested and sent to do hard labor in one of the numerous camps in Russia-- or shot on sight.  Accounts of Lithuanians bribing guards at the border to allow them to leave are numerous.  However if the guards weren’t swayed by the bribes it could end badly.  Throughout their lives, both William and Magdeline longed to contact their family members left behind in Lithuania.

This circa 1900 map shows the Lithuanian Provinces in green to the east of Prussia.  The Grinkeviĉius family lived in Kaunas province (Kovno guberneria on the map) according to most records, but alien file and naturalization records (which are most likely correct) state William and his sister Anna lived in the Suwalki province to the south where the arrow points. Most common escapes were through Prussia to the ports of Bremen or Hamburg.  Prussians were only too glad to have the Lithuanians pass through their country since if they stayed in Lithuania the men were potential Russian soldiers.

Those luckiest were farmers living near the border with Prussia who sometimes obtained work visas to cross the border on a daily or weekly basis to work.  In those cases migrants were only able to leave with the clothes on their backs so as not to arouse the border guards’ suspicions. But some escaped with their meager belongings hidden in secret compartments of wagons that carried the peasant farmers west to work if they were fortunate enough to have transportation.  The desperate peasants could be ingenious and creative at leaving the misery that was their homeland under the oppression of Russian rule behind. Jews, who made up 12% of the 1897 population, led the way escaping through the border, usually to a port nearby like Hamburg or Bremen.

At the time, the United States had no quota or restriction of Lithuanian immigrants so they came here by the thousands.  Most were peasants. Estimates of 400,000 emigrants left Lithuania between the 1860s and 1914.  Upon reaching the U.S. shores and entering this country they were frequently mistakenly recorded as Poles, or even Slavs so perhaps there were more.  Some like William and Magdalena, quite possibly because of necessity, chose a less expensive option and booked passage to Scotland which cost one fifth of what a trip to North America would.  At least that way they were free of the threat of Russian persecution, could openly practice their Catholicism, and the young men of the family did not have careers as Russian soldiers.


Before leaving Lithuania and the family, friends and the entire world they had known up until then, Wincas Grinkeviĉius married Magdalena Jurkŝiute on June 19, 1899.  His brother Juozas (Joseph) Karalius Grinkeviĉius married at about the same time as well, but it’s not clear as to the exact date or place.  His bride was Constance Koseraiente.

Then, somehow, they left, heading almost due west to Scotland…

Many Lithuanian peasant farmers wound up in the mines of Scotland or Pennsylvania.  In most cases they’d never mined coal before, but soon learned. They were desperate for work to support their families and many in Scotland wanted to earn passage for the last leg of the trip to the United States. As peasant farmers, digging seemed to be what they were destined to do.  Language wasn’t too big of a problem as there were other Lithuanian’s to show them the ropes. The Scots weren’t particularly welcoming to eastern Europeans and segregated them in an area where they were among their own peoples.  Surely it would be viewed as living in squalor compared to these modern times, but for an oppressed people, though homesick, they went about life at least feeling safer from the threat of Russian tyranny and glorying in the “riches” the hard and dangerous work mining brought them.

A Child is Born

Wincas (William) and Magdalena’s first child was born in Wilsontown, Scotland on June 13, 1900.  They named him Juozas Aloyzus Grinkeviĉius (Joseph Aloysius Grinkevich).

The 1901 Scotland Census

As newspaper stories in later years stated that the Grinkevich family arrived in the United States in 1900 it was a nice surprise to find them enumerated in the 1901 Scotland Census.  See the following entries in bold print for members of the family later known as William "Vincent" Grinkevich, his wife Magdeline, son Joseph, William's brother Joseph Grincavage and Joseph's wife Constance. At the time of this discovery the actual document wasn’t available, only its’ transcription. The date of the census is the night of March 31/April 1, 1901.--Thanks to for this information.

Living at 10 Quality Row in the Registration District and Civil Parish of Forth, Lanarkshire County, Scotland were:

Vincent Grinkeisquire, head of household, age 23, coal miner
Margaret Grinkeisquire, his wife, age 23,
Joseph Grinkeisquire, his son, 9 months old,

Matthew Joszumas, boarder, age 20, coal miner,
Joseph MacKenczine, boarder, age 39, coal miner,
Mikola Mackenczine, boarder, age 42, coal miner
All the above were listed as being Russian Subjects and born in Russia.
Living close by at 5 Quality Row in the Registration District and Civil Parish of Forth, Lanarkshire County, Scotland were:

Joseph Grinkeurcyins, head of household, age 24, coal miner,
Constance Grinkeurcyins, his wife, age 20,

Patronella Kosynilite, his sister-in-law, age 17,
Francis Arbatanskas, boarder, age 27, coal miner,
Mary Arbatanskas, boarder, age 24,
John Dingfild, boarder, age 44, coal miner,
Yonan Kirlinowscker, age 25, coal miner,
All the above were listed as being Russian Subjects born in Russia.

It was very common during these times for people attempting to save money or cut expenses, to take in boarders. Households were made up of a core family, frequently with extended family, and some unrelated individuals all under the roof of one small house. The women would often earn a bit of money taking on the chores of laundry, mending, and cooking meals for those men who didn’t have wives or daughters to do so. This held true not only in Scotland, but Shamokin and Steger as well.

Some people seem to accompany our family from place to place. The Melnikastis family, later known as Melnikaitis, also went on to Shamokin, even appearing as baptism sponsors for some of the Grinkevich/Grincavage infants.  Were they merely friends of the family? Or were they related somehow?  Only further research can prove a relationship.

So, also living nearby at 22 Quality Row in the Registration District and Civil Parish of Forth, Lanarkshire County were:

Jacob Melnikastis, head of household, age 30, coal miner,
Mary Melnikastis, his wife, age 25,
Annie Melnikastis, his daughter, age 2 (born in West Calder, Midlothian),
John Melnikastis, his brother, age 25, coal miner,
George Melnikastis , his brother, age 18, coal miner,
Lucas Peragow, boarder, age 24, coal miner,
John Stankewiczas, boarder, age 27, coal miner,
Stanislowas Wirzncuckes, boarder, age 26, coal miner,
Pawel Dorraroskis, boarder, age 20, coal miner, (Poland)
John Boquaza, boarder, age 28, coal miner

With the two exceptions as noted the rest were counted as Lithuanians who were Russian Subjects.
Mining, a Dangerous Business
The following was presented to Parliament regarding working conditions in the mines listing ways in which a miner could be killed in this most dangerous occupation. Ironically the obvious, but agonizingly prolonged death of black lung and other lung and bronchial diseases caused from inhaling coal dust were not in the list.
Falling down a mine shaft on the way down to the coal face
Falling out of the ‘bucket’ bringing you up after a shift
      Being hit by a fall of dug coal falling down a mine shaft as it was lifted
Drowning in the mine
    Crushed to death
            Killed by explosions
          Suffocation by poisonous gas
                     Being run over by a tram carrying dug coal in the mine itself

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