Christmas Memories – Be sure to include in your family history

How did your Grandparents celebrate Christmas? Here in America and in the old country?

This could be an important part of your family history. Celebrating holidays and special events gave the  people an overall rhythm to their lives during the year and most immigrants tried to continue this in their new homes.

 We all love Christmas because of its magical atmosphere. It is a special time when people forget all their problems and try to be together. Christmas helps people transform themselves from the cold dark realities of winter into a better mind by enjoying the festive celebrations surrounding Christmas. Family, relatives, friends, neighbors and complete strangers become kind, friendly and generous.

What are your memories?

Do you remember the Christmas tree at your grandparent’s house? What were the decorations like? Were they homemade of paper and foil or did they splurge and buy the colorful glass ornaments?

My early memories are of a fir tree in a corner of the living room filled with an array of wooden and paper figures that were mixed in with glistening glass globes. Shiny foil garlands were wrapped around the tree and silver tinsel hung on the tree and this gave it a festive look. I believe that this was the Americanized version of the Christmas tree that my mother who was born here had developed. My grandmother told me that in her village in Poland her father had hung the tree from the ceiling and the family decorated it with walnuts wrapped in silver and gold foil, bright red apples, gingerbread in fancy shapes, and chains made of glossy colored paper. A manger was set up near the tree. She and her brothers and sisters had made many of the decorations, but the manger and some of the foil decorations had been made by other generations and saved over the years.


My memories of Christmas eve and Christmas day start with Midnight mass and afterward being shuttled off to bed with a promise that Santa would come only after I was asleep. Morning brought cheer with the opening of presents with my parents and grandparents and then a large breakfast.

Are your memories? Did your family gather on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? What were the dishes that were served? My family had a ham as the main dish. Was ham on your grandmother’s table or did she serve turkey?  What were the desserts?

These are the memories that will make your family history come alive. Capture them now while your memories are still sharp. Add the memories of your brothers, sisters and cousins to capture as many details as possible. Also, remember to enjoy the spirit of Christmas today.

Merry Christmas

What did our immigrant ancestors experience?

I have started to expand my family history by questioning what did my immigrant ancestors experienced when they immigrated. How did they suffer? what were their fears? They immigrated not knowing what awaited them. How did they handle this?

We do not know the answers but pondering what the answers could be will give us some insights into what they felt. Ask general questions but try to give specifics as answers. Try it. It blew my mind when I tried to get inside my grandmother’s mind during some of the critical points of her immigration and life.


The 2015 Illinois State Genealogical Society Webinar series is sponsored by FamilySearch

Join me on Tuesday, October 13 for the next ISGS webinar, Polish Genealogy: Four Steps to Success.

Polish Genealogy – Four Steps to successful research

  • Presenter:  Steve Szabados
  • Date: October 13, 2015, 8:00 pm Central
  • Description: When did your Polish ancestors immigrate, from where did they leave, why did they leave, how did they get here? These are questions we all hope to find the answers. This presentation is designed to give the researcher the tools needed to research their Polish ancestors and find possible answers to the origins of your Polish heritage. The program outlines a simple process that will identify where your ancestors were born and where to find their Polish records. Steve uses his own genealogical research experience to outline a simple process that has been successful for the author.
  • Registration:

New Book – My Polish Grandmother: from Tragedy in Poland to her Rose Garden in America

cover 2

I am very thrilled to announce my new eBook – My Polish Grandmother: from Tragedy in Poland to her Rose Garden in America.

This is a brief biography of my grandmother. I think this will be interesting for all readers with Polish ancestors because it tells the story of a Polish immigrant from the perspective of a woman. Her reasons for immigrating were similar to my grandfather’s but the challenges and fears of women immigrants were far different than their male counterparts. How our women immigrant ancestors overcame these challenges should make them heroines in our eyes.

Since it is an eBook, I priced it at $2.99 and you can try reading it a a small risk. However I am sure you will find it interesting and worth the effort.

Click to order


Ports of Arrival in America

. . . Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The above is an excerpt from the sonnet, The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. This poem was written as a donation for an auction whose proceeds would raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty”. In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty which had been dedicated on October 28, 1886. Both these words of the sonnet and the Statue of Liberty have become symbols of immigration to the United States.

New York was the major port for immigrant arrivals into the United States but there were over 300 ports along the U.S. coastline receiving immigrants. These included both seaports and land border crossing stations. New York was also where most of the Polish immigrants arrived but Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston also received significant numbers of Polish immigrants. Galveston, Texas is also important in the discussion of Polish immigration because it received the first mass migration of Polish immigrants as they went on to establish the Polish farming community in Panna Maria, Texas. The Poles also arrived in North America in significant numbers through the Canadian ports of Quebec and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Canadian government allowed U.S. immigration officials to be at Canadian ports to inspect and record immigrants who were headed for the United States.

I believe that knowing the port of arrival of your immigrant ancestors and its history should be an important part of your family history. Why they arrived at a specific port should also be an interesting part of their story and the selection of the destination port was based on one or more of a number of factors.

For many immigrants the price of the passage was the major factor as some of our ancestors chose the cheapest route. Some invested almost all their money into the price of the passage. While others wanted to save as much as possible to have more to purchase farmland once they had arrived. As the shipping companies began to compete for immigrant passengers, the price they charged for the steerage passage became important as the companies sought to fill their cargo areas with human cargo to offset the cost of the return voyage to America for more goods, grains and raw material that were needed in Europe. The companies based their decisions on their shipping contracts and business relationships, port regulations, port fees, port accessibility and the demand for the products shipped to Europe.

In the early 1900s, shipping companies upgraded their accommodations for more comfort to the steerage passengers and this became an important considerations for some immigrants as they chose which ship to depart Europe and this pre-determined their port of arrival. Many had heard of horror stories of sickness, deaths and poor living conditions on voyages taken by friends and relatives who had preceded them to America.

Other important factors that determined the port of arrival were recommendations from the relatives and friends who had proceeded them. Which ports were recommended to gave the best route to join their friends or relatives? For those in a hurry to join their loved ones, finding ships that were leaving as soon as possible was important and the port of arrival was not considered. As the United States began to restrict immigration, arriving at ports which had inspectors with lax procedures helped immigrants who may have conditions that they feared may cause them to be rejected in other ports. Another important consideration for some immigrants was the availability of job opportunities in the port city or near-by. Each port earned a unique history and knowing this history may give you valuable insights into the personal history of your ancestors and may yield some reasons for their immigration and suggest some of the challenges they faced.

Once the emigrants had made the decision to leave, their goal was to board a ship for America, survive the voyage, gain admittance to the U.S. and then join their friends and relatives. Do the research and find the passenger manifest. This is the seed that plants the roots of your family in America.

Save Your Family Stories

We all have family stories that give insights into the lives our ancestors. Some are entertaining, others are celebrations of our cultural heritage and others are more historical in nature. They all should be saved for future generations.

Don’t be afraid to begin. Concentrate on finding one story and then another by doing the research. Finding the small pieces will make the task easier and will be fun. Eventually the small pieces will begin to fit together and the overall story that is your family history will appear.

Jump start your Polish genealogy research

The Polish Genealogy Society of America (PGSA) has scheduled their 2015 Conference for Saturday September 26 and it will feature four great speakers. If your family lived on Chicago’s south side, mark your calendar for Friday September 25 and join the PGSA bus tour of the Polish churches and neighborhoods where your ancestors lived.

The conference will be held at the Chicago Marriott Midway at 6520 S. Cicero Avenue in Chicago. On Saturday morning, Ginger Frere will discuss the golden nuggets that you can find in community and local government resources including NARA at Great Lakes. The second session in the morning will be led by Ellie Carlson who will give you insights on dating your pictures by identifying the period clothes you see.

The conference luncheon will feature entertainment by the Keith Stras and Rick Rzeszutko Polka Radio Show and will be followed by the keynote speaker Dominic Pacyga. His talk is titled “Polish Chicago: From Fourth Partition to Suburbia” and will describe the emigration of four million Poles from the Russian, Austrian and German partitions to the United States between 1870 and 1920 in search of a better life. Their relocation is referred to as “the Fourth Partition.”

Both afternoon sessions will be given by Ola Heska. In the first afternoon session learn how to obtain vital records from the Polish State Archives website with step-by-step instruction. Free Wi-Fi is available to allow you to follow along on your laptop or tablet. The second session will cover two exciting new Polish websites Geneteka and Metryki. Learn how to search for ancestors in these databases that have been indexed by the Polish Genealogical Society (PTG). Learn how to obtain the digitized vital records that are now available online.

The bus tour on Friday will include stops and tours of the “original” Sears-Roebuck water tower, St. Adalbert Parish in the Pilsen neighborhood, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish in Bridgeport, the Pullman Railroad Car Company site and St. Michael the Archangel Parish in the South Shore neighborhood. More views along the bus route will include the Spiegel Warehouse, the 1893 Columbian Exposition Fair Grounds, Immaculate Conception Parish, over Blues Brothers movie ‘bridge,’ the site of US Steel mills and more.

Plan to stay at the Chicago Marriott Midway. The hotel is conveniently located close to Midway Airport and a discounted room rate of $99 per night has been arranged for a limited number of conference attendees..

Life is short. Your efforts in attending the PGSA conference will be rewarded with a wealth of new sources to find information for your family history.

Visit www. for registration information and more detail.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.