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The meeting of the Petryla sisters: Janina, Józefa and Helena, 1960

In the mountain range of the Carpathians, surrounded by a ring of hills (from the south – Chełm and Jaworz, from the west – Rosochatka), in the picturesque valley of the Biała River there is located an old town of Grybów. It was founded by King Casimir the Great in 1366.

A kilometer away is located Siołkowa village, where my grandparents come from. The village is beautifully situated. It extends on two hills: on the right on Matulanka, on the left – on Wójciakowska Mountain, the name of which was given to them by the village mayors living there. Through the center of the village flows a stream called Siołkówka, which in the summer is almost dry, and during a storm or flood becomes a rushing river. It can take up to four meters.

Grybów, the valley of the Biała River. Matulanka and Wójciakowska Mountain are connected by high road and rail bridges shown in the picture

The Petryla surname (the only such a surname in the area), according to the family account, probably comes from a Moldovan hospodar called by Poles Petryła, who invaded Poland at the time of the reigns of King Sigismund the Old. As the account has it, Petryło after getting to Polish captivity was looking for a suitable place where he could live. He found it right here. It is worth noting that the holders of the surname hold the ownership of land in Siołkowa. It was an unusual situation, because since time immemorial the entire village land were held by: the Hosz family (in Zofinowo) and the Kiełbasa family (in the north). Unlike the Petryla family, local farmers cultivated feudal fields.

Siołkowa - view of the countryside from the Petryl family’s property

The land, which the Petryla family had owned since the mid-nineteenth century was divided between two brothers – Bernardyn and Maciej. The latter had a the son named Józef, who owned half of the land stretching from the village to the borders with Krużlowa. It was in total about 10 hectares of land. Petryla was very intelligent, and his descendants inherited after him the nobility and distinguished themselves by the lifestyle among residents of Siołkowa.

Our great-grandfather – Józef Petryla

As stated in the population records kept in the office of the parish in Grybów, our great-grandfather Józef Petryla was born in 1854. He was a man of extraordinary intelligence, who inherited the culture of his ancestors. He served in the army of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna, holding the rank of unterführer. He belonged to the ruler’s guards. He even happened to talk several times to the Emperor Franz Joseph. He also got to know the customs of the imperial court in Vienna (his brother Ludwik being in the army also stayed at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph). After returning from the army he married Anna from, nee Radzik, who came from a nearby village – Biała Wyżna. He was the father of ten children, five of whom died at the juvenile age.

Jan Petryla, the eldest son of Józef Petryla, from the private archives

Great-grandfather Józef was respected and was an authority figure in Siołkowa. For several terms (until old age) he was the village mayor, even more – the father of the commune. He became famous in the surrounding area for providing professional and official services to the population. In addition to the exercise of power in the commune, he also dealt with the craft passed in this family from father to son – blacksmithing. Our great-grandfather also had a remarkable gift for diagnosing and treatment of various diseases. Numerous people came to him from distant neighborhoods to seek advice, to have a broken bone set, to ask for some surgery.

Józef often repeated to his children that blue blood flew in their veins, so when the children grew up, the father asked them all about their passions and penchants and counseled to each of them so that everybody, according to their interests and talents, once could serve effectively to others. He signed up the eldest son Jan (our grandfather) and Andrzej (our uncle) for the so-called wheelwright vocational school. There, for four years they were taught different professions. When they finished the school, their father in 1903 built two workshops: a carpenter workshop for Jan and a forge for Andrzej.

The rest of the siblings, that is, Ludwik and Marcin, as well as the youngest – Karol learnt from them. In the building Józef also organized a shop with basic needs products, where Ludwik was a salesman.

In the forge people from all over the village met and used the services of good professionals, there they also sought different news about the world and settled other matters. Sometimes the workshop was open until late at night. It was a place where people made friends and established associations (for example, Catholic Youth), and where social life was thriving.

Foremen also had students form the Petryla family. Jan, a son of cousin Hilary and Staszek, a son of cousin Sebastian learnt to be wheelwrights. Józek learnt to be a blacksmith

Brothers departure

In 1908, after the Petryla brothers completed the military service, emerged a possibility to go to America. The family needed additional funds to equip the adolescent sons and to rebuild the decaying house. Great-grandfather Józef decided to send abroad two sons, Jan and Andrzej. Departure took place within a short time of that decision. Along with Jan and Andrzej also a few other boys who had in America some family left Siołkowa. They settled in Chicago in Pennsylvania, got jobs in a coal mine. It was hard to get used to the new conditions of work and to live in a big city, but hard life in the family home made Jan and Andrzej prepared for a variety of adversities. They went ahead together.

The earnings from month to month were rising, the capital grew. They were glad that they would support family, and even thought of settling permanently in America. But God directed their fate otherwise.


Once in the mine there was an explosion and fire, part of the corridor collapsed. By some strange coincidence, the brothers survived the life-threatening accident. Elsewhere in the mine they encountered an underground lake.

Jan’s brother, Andrzej Petryla, from the private archives

Andrzej, seeing the dangers of life (and perhaps lead also by other reasons) notified of them the father. A telegram came immediately from Poland: „Andrzej – immediately go back.” It was a real bolt from the blue. After deliberation and consideration of the matter the brothers took that command as the will of God, they fulfilled the request of their father and returned to Poland.

The return way on the ship was very long. They talked about interesting experiences on the sea, about unusual fish that accompanied the ship. They were happy about the meeting with the family, and probably the most about a fairly large sum of the dollars earned with great difficulty in the other hemisphere, which they brought with them. They purchased a variety of things useful in the house.


The father was pleased with the return of the sons, certainly he had been missing them. Andrzej wanted to leave again, but the father did not agree to that, because he planned to leave him the family land. For the earned dollars he bought a beautiful piece of land in Zofinowo, which belonged to Grybów. Jan and Andrzej got the place to build houses for themselves and two hectares of land. In addition, they bought sheeting to cover the house, which they planned to build.