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The Family Name:
The surname Deskur has gone through a number of documented transformations since its earliest known 12th century form de Curtibus. Although this name appears more frequently in France the earliest known record of this Latinized name is from county of Catalonia in the Kingdom of Aragon, in northeastern Spain. In the year 1142 Berenguer de Curtibus, made his last will and testament leaving his castle “Puig Alder” near Sant Feliu de Pallerolsto his wife and son. In the 14thcentury the name was frenchified to Descours, whereby some smaller branches of the French clan modified the name further. Variations such as Descourtz, Descourts, Descour, Des Cours, des Courts, De Cours, de Las Courtz, and Lascours are also known to branch off from the main body of the Descours family. It was not uncommon for the same person to use two similar spellings. In the 18th century a French officer Joachim-Jean-Pierre Descours (JJP) immigrated to Poland. In the “Indygenat” of 1766, the royal document recognizing the original French titles of nobility as perpetual Polish noble titles, the name was polonized first to Deskour. Within a few years the name was further polonized to the present version Deskur. The 18th and 19th centuries frequently saw the polonization of foreign names, which is why we see Schultz turning to Szulc and Chopin to Szopen. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries some Polish branches chose to refrenchify the name to either Descours orDescour.
The Deskur family has been in Poland since 1731, when the officer Joachim Jean-Pierre Descours emigrated from France to Poland. He married and had many children who were accepted into the Polish nobility by the royal Indygenat of 1766 recognizing their father's French titles of nobility as perpetual Polish titles of nobility.
The Polish branch of the family has produced a number of eminent patriots, including 19th century insurrectionist Andrzej and Bronisław Deskur as well as cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur.
During and after WWII some members emigrated to the USA and Canada.
The part of the de Curtibus clan to which we can definitively trace our lineage into the 14th century lived for centuries in the mountains of the French region of Auvergne in what today is the département of Haute-Loire. Many proudly continue to do so to this very day. The core of the clan appears to have been firmly rooted around a property known as Chantemerle near the village of Chaudeyrolles at the base of the mountain Mont Mézenc. To this day a farm house with inscriptions that date back to the 16th century still stands at Chantemerle. The original French coat of arms is a so-called “blason parlant”, (a speaking coat of arms). Through its imagery the coat of arms expresses the name of the family property. It shows two singing blackbirds on a golden mountain. In French Chantmerle means a “singing blackbird” and the small mountain Mont Mézenc just behind Chantemerle, is adorned in the Spring by golden-yellow “French Broom” plants. Although we have no credible documents indicating which Descours was the first to receive French nobility, the letters of clemency of Louis XV from 1729 (see below) clearly confirm that Joachim-Jean-Pierre Descours and his brother Jean-Pierre were both indeed noblemen.
The religious turbulences of the 16th & 17th centuries coupled with economic hardships prompted many Descours to leave this scenic yet rugged mountainous region. Most resettled in the warmer valleys of Ardêche as well as in the cities of Le Puy-en-Velay, Saint-Etienne and Lyon. With time some Descours found their way to Paris and other cities throughout France. Some Huguenot Descours emigrated in the 17th century to Switzerland. In 1730 the young officer Joachim-Jean-Pierre Descours emigrated to Poland thereby founding the Polish branch. In the 19th century some Descours are documented to have settled in England and Prussia. WWII and communism lead some Deskurs to leave Poland and settle in the USA and Canada. The most prominent member of the family, Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur has resided in the Vatican City since 1952. Despite these various waves of migration the vast majority of the French branches (Descours) nonetheless remain in France and most of the Polish branches (Deskur) remain in Poland.
The Immigrant to Poland Joachim-Jean-Pierre Descours (JJP)
The motivation behind Joachim-Jean-Pierre Descours’ emigration from France to Poland is unclear but the verifiable yet circumstantial evidence surrounding his departure can spark the imagination and inspire many theories. He was born at the family’s “Maison Forte” in Marcols-les-Eaux in 1703 as the 3rd son of Pierre Descours, a convert to Catholicism just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1698. On July 3, 1727, while at the beginning of a long voyage JJP stopped in the nearby Saint-Pierreville, where he saw a friend of the family, de Vocance, who was rumored to have insulted the Descours family’s honor. JJP asked him about this and was not “satisfied with his response”. The letters of clemency of King Louis XV of 1729 explain in great detail how JJP’s challenge to a duel was refused by the offending officer, who nonetheless later threw a large rock at JJP after which both started to fight. A servant of de Vocance by the name of Jacques Célerier joined in the fight to help his master. In self-defense JJP stabbed Célerier, who died a few days later of his wounds. JJP continued his journey to the Dauphiné and was not present for the official inquiry into the death of Célerier. According to the custom of the time JJP was considered guilty by default due to his absence at the inquiry. To celebrate the birth of his first son and heir apparent, Louis, Louis XV issued a number of letters of clemency “lettres de rémission“. These were traditionally offered to victims of miscarriages of justice. So with a clean slate one wonders why he would leave his homeland. One possibility is that as the 3rd son, he had no hope to inherit his father’s property, so he sought his destiny elsewhere. It is also possible that JJP was sent to Poland by King Louis XV of France, who was the father-in-law of Stanisław Leszczyński, who 3 years later was elected king of Poland. JJP served in the Polish army advancing to the rank of colonel. He married Karolina Turno, the Saxon, who gave birth to Jan Jerzy and Michał as well as Marianna Deskur. After Karolina’s death in 1752 he remarried and had 7 more children. Although he actively pursued Polish citizenship and the official recognition of his French titles of nobility, it was only in 1766, two years after his death that they were recognized and issued in favor of his four sons. The original “Indygenat” (document of naturalization) with the signature of Stanisław August, his wax seal and the official painted version of the Deskur coat of arms is to this day in the possession of the family. The Polish coat of arms is largely identical to the French original, whereby a 6-point star was added above the blackbirds.
Beginnings in Poland (Striking Deep Roots)
Jan Jerzy, a first generation Pole born in 1741, married into very patriotic circles in 1775. His wife Salomea Opacka was the daughter of a courtier of King Stanisław August and was the godmother of a child, whose godfather was the famous Polish patriot Tadeusz Kościuszko. Jan Jerzy was also a member of the last parliament, the Sejm, shortly before Poland was partitioned into oblivion by Russia, Prussia and Austria. His patriotic credentials were established by the fact that he was one of the few who refused to sign the 2nd partition of Poland in 1793, which was a political catastrophe for the Polish kingdom leading to its ultimate dissolution in 1795. Like his father Jan Jerzy rose to the rank of colonel, various sources have him fighting with Kościuszko in his 1795 uprising and being advanced to the rank of general. Although this would be very plausible considering his the fact that Kościuszko needed leaders, we have no reliable confirmation of this legend. Jan Jerzy was the only one of JJP’s children to have descendants, his wife giving birth to 5 sons, four of which were highly decorated officers. They married women from patriotic Polish families and many of their children went on to continue the military tradition of the Deskurs.
After the Napoleonic Wars from 1815 to 1831 a small part of Poland was given a limited autonomy within the Russian Empire with the Russian Tsar as its king. One of Jan Jerzy’s sons Andrzej was a member of the Parliament of this so-called “Congress Poland” and he signed the bill which dethroned the Russian Tsar Nicholas I on January 25, 1831, which was much like a Polish “Declaration of Independence”. Many Deskurs played significant roles in the insurrections of 1833, 1848 and 1863. Thanks to good management of their estates, most Deskurs prospered financially despite periodic persecution by the partitioning powers, Russia, Austria and Prussia. In 1835 colonel Józef Deskur, son of Jan Jerzy bought the palace of Sancygniów north of Kraków. This was the most splendid of the estates of the Deskurs, which remained in the hands of the family until it was nationalized by the communist government after WWII.
One of the most inspiring patriotic documents passed on to us is the memoirs of Bronisław Deskur (1835-1895) entitled “Dla moich wnuków” (For my grand-children). This book published in Lwów in 1892 is the patriotic, philosophical and political testament of a man who was one of the commanders of the last great uprising against tsarist Russia in 1863 and who was also one of the first Polish noblemen to offer his serfs their freedom. He writes: “My dear grand-children… Nobility is primarily an exclusive attribute of an individual person and is born out of a man’s moral merits and his work. It is not transferred through blood to one’s descendents... Therefore, do not allow yourselves to get whipped up into haughtiness by the honors and merits of your ancestors. These belong to the past and not to you. It is up to you to earn your own (merits) through the way you conduct your lives within the society in which you live.” He continues to elaborate about the generations of Deskurs who fought for an independent Poland and how he tried and lost when his time came. Ultimately he passes the torch on to his descendants to continue the struggle for Poland’s independence. Both of his grandsons, Jan and Jerzy, for whom the book was originally intended, were highly decorated for their military valor in battles to secure Eastern Polish territory of the newly reborn Poland against the invading Bolshevik armies shortly after WWI.
One of the leaders of the 1863 January Insurrection and author.
Memoirs, political and spiritual testament 1892.
Every branch of the family suffered either deaths, the horrors of prison camps or material losses due to WWII and communist rule which followed. Serving either in the Polish army or in the underground “Home Army” (AK), many Deskurs earned decorations and honors. Colonel Jerzy Deskur fought with the allied armies through Normandy, later becoming the commandant of the German city of Quackenbrück after the WWII. He was awarded many decorations including the Virtuti Militari. His son Kazimierz, who at the end of the war was a prisoner of war in the Austrian prison camp Mauthausen, emigrated to the USA where he established the first American branch of the family. Jacek Deskur emigrated to Canada, where his many children form the Canadian branch.
Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, who was born in the palace of Sancygniów, left Poland during the Stalinist period to study in Switzerland. He received his priestly ordination in France in 1950. As a part of the internationalization of the Roman Curia in the 1950s, he was posted to the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1952 as one of the first non-italians to enter the Curia. He rose to the presidency of the Papal Communications Commission in 1973 and in 1985 was created cardinal. His pivotal role in making cardinal Wojtyła better known to the voting cardinals just before his election to the papacy in 1978 is recorded in many biographies of Pope John Paul II.
1991 saw the first international reunion of 178 Polish Deskurs and the French Descours at the Archdiocesan Seminary in Poznań, Poland. In addition to valuable personal contacts that were forged at that summer encounter, the inspiration to publish the three language annual periodical the Herald of the Deskurs, Zwiastun Deskurów, Héraut des Descours was born in Poznań . Further fruits of this event can be found in the fact that both the French and the Polish branches formed officially registered associations for the purpose of further promoting the family ties and cultivating the family history. Polfamille and the Stowarzyszenie Rodziny Deskurów (SRD). In 1993 Polfamille organized its own “Grande Réunion”, which was held in Les Estables, France, near the cradle of the clan attracting an estimated 400 “cousins” 30 of which came from Poland, USA and Switzerland. Since its inception the SRD has primarily concerned itself with historical projects such as the restoration of damaged patrimony, erecting commemorative plaques for ancestors whose graves are lost as well as preparing historical and informational publications. At the unveiling of each major project a small reunion is organized. The construction and maintenance of this website is the latest initiative of the SRD.
Author Edward Deskur
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Stowarzyszenie Rodziny Deskurów - The Association of the Deskur Family - All Rights Reserved.