Considerations about buying a DNA test kit for Christmas?

Are you contemplating buying a DNA test kit for yourself or a family member as a Christmas gift? I believe many people may be weighing this option after seeing the holiday ads thinking it would be a unique gift. In addition, I think people may be asking if they should take advantage of the Christmas sales and buy a kit for themselves. However, before purchasing a test, it would help if they answered a few questions about how the results can be helpful and whether you are ready for the type and limitations of information it shows.

The test results give two types of information. The first set is a list and diagrams showing the possible areas their ancestors left, implying these are your Roots! The second data set is a list that matches your DNA to other submitted samples. This set gives a range of relationships, such as 2nd to 4th cousins, 3rd to 5th, and more.

Another thing to consider before purchasing is how you will use the results. Your answer may influence which company you should consider purchasing your kit. Some ads suggest that the test results magically produce a complete family tree and point to a location on a map. Unfortunately, this magic does not happen. The DNA test results will only give clues, not the solution to your questions. Detailed research and analysis are required to finish the job. 

So, should you buy a test kit, and if you do, what company? My recommendation depends on how you plan to use the results. If all you want is to see your ethnic origins take the test from any of the four major companies (Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and FamilyTree DNA) and review your results. However, this set of data may cause you confusion because your results may show origins in places, not in your family stories. Also, your results may not match samples submitted by a sibling or cousin. These two confusing situations happen because companies use different base data and label geographic areas differently. I have not found data that points to one company’s results being more accurate than the others.

On the positive side, companies regularly update their base data to improve their accuracy. Recent updates to my test results gave me clues that helped resolve some brick walls in my family research. With that said, the results I received did not point to any specific village where my ancestors were born, but they did help provide a general idea of where to look.

The last point to consider is how long you have researched your family history. If you are beginning your research on your family history, DNA testing should not be your first step. You must first collect family stories and documents and compile a family tree showing at least four generations before submitting a sample for DNA testing. This early research will help you better understand your test results. In addition, the DNA results will give clues to your roots and suggest how you relate to other people. It is a potent tool, but it is best to use it with other genealogical tools.

DNA testing is not magic. It is a science and a tool that may give you clues to your family history. Genealogy research also is not magic. It is detective work where you need to apply sound and detailed research to be successful. You will have to commit to many days and nights of work uncovering your family history.

Please don’t jump into DNA testing without knowing why you are doing it. It can lead to fantastic information, or it may be a waste of your money.

If you are ready to begin your journey, find the details, do the research, and have fun.

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BOOK REVIEW OF GERMAN GENEALOGY: FINDING THE GERMAN RECORDS

Book Review for German Genealogy: Finding the German Records from the Quarterly Journal of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Vol 54, No 3, Fall 2022

Writing Family Histories for the Nonwriter

Genealogy research should go beyond finding documents and filling in names and dates on charts. After finding my first family documents, saving the information in a family history for my children and future generations became a priority. However, I was reluctant to write a family history because I was uncomfortable with the grammar rules and organizing my thoughts into clear statements. I also felt I could not give my research to another person to write the narrative because they could not feel my connection with my ancestors as a researcher and a family member. Fortunately, I developed a method that overcame my reluctance, and this process should also work for most nonwriters.

My strategy for writing my family history is to initially focus on transcribing the information into summaries for each ancestor. These entries can be bullet points; I use sentences, but they do not have to be. This method helps me start the process and should work for most people to overcome their fear and reluctance to start writing their family history.

I visualize my initial entries for an ancestor as just recording information. As a result, my first entries have an encyclopedic format and could be considered boring. Here is a sample:

“The baptismal record for my grandmother, Anna Chmielewska, indicates she was born on June 26, 1899, in Pierzshaly, Poland, to Aleksander Chmielewski and Julianna Zaluska.”

This format is mechanical. After using it frequently, remembering specific words, phases, and the sentence structure for each type of record is easy. Each entry begins with the name of the record type, followed by a verb such as lists, indicates, or shows. Next, enter the person’s name and then list the information in the document. Using this method, I can record the information quickly and accurately in my summaries for each ancestor because the words flow freely. In addition, frequent use has trained my eyes where to look for the information.

I use summaries as my primary research document and refer to them when needing facts to do more research. I also update them conscientiously when I find new information. Having all the information for an individual in one place is another benefit because it helps find new info faster. Additionally, I list the information in chronological order, which will slowly tell the stories. Finally, the latest info, details, and stories help me expand the initial encyclopedic entry into an appealing narrative. For example, here is the current narrative describing my grandmother’s birth and the walk to the church for her baptism.

“Anna was born at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 26, 1899, to Aleksander Chmielewski and Julia Zaluska in a small cottage in the farming village Przezdziecko-Pierzchaly, Polish Russia.

“In Poland, fathers choose the names of their sons, and mothers select their daughters’ names. Additionally, Polish parents often give their children saint’s names, and usually, the name is associated with the saint for the day of the birth. However, the saint’s name for June 26 was not Anna, so I do not know why my grandmother received her name.

On the day after Anna’s birth, Aleksander put Julia and the baby onto his horse cart and led them down the dirt road three miles to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Andrzejewo for Anna’s baptism. Walking behind their father were Anna’s four siblings – Marianna (age 17), Boleslaw (age 14), Stefania (age 12), and Hipolit (age 6).

“Also joining the procession were Grandfather Adam Chmielewski and the godparents Franciszek and Emilia Uscinski. Emilia was Julia’s first cousin, and, as godmother, she was responsible for dressing the infant for the christening.

“Another group accompanying the family to the church were Jozef Sutkowski, age forty-two, and Aleksander Sutkowski, age forty, who were needed as witnesses to the birth. They were farmers in Pierzchaly and brothers to Anna’s grandmother Teodora who had died four years prior.

“Grandmother Franciszka Zaluska and other family members met them in Andrzejewo because they lived near the church. Babka, who helped with Anna’s birth,  stayed behind in the village to organize the christening party.”

I may seem creative in my words in the second example, but I did not make up the details. They came from the documents and photos:

  • Birth and Baptismal Dates – from Anna’s baptismal record
  • Birthplace and location of church – from Anna’s baptismal record
  • Descendant from Nobility – from Anna’s baptismal record and the baptismal and marriage records of her parents
  • Size of the cottage – from vintage pictures of the village
  • Condition of roads – from vintage photos of the area
  • Origins of her name – from books on Polish customs
  • The list of people attending the baptism- from birth, marriage, and death records for the friends and family of the Chmielewski family and the village of Pierzchaly
  • Distance to the church – calculation from a map

Remember that sources of details and stories that go beyond the traditional documents are county histories, books on ethnic customs and traditions, maps, newspaper articles, and stories about daily life in the same area. Most of these sources do not mention your ancestors, but they give you insights into their lives.

Another essential resource is the older photos in family albums. Ask relatives to identify the event and the people. Also, review the images that show the inside of the homes. Also, there were clues and details related to my ancestors in the photos I saw in books and online collections – especially those depicting the neighborhood where they lived and worked. Additionally, the details sometimes may give clues to areas needing even more research.

Another source of clues is asking questions about the information you have found. The lack of an answer points to areas that need more research.

  • Where did they live? Find pictures of the home
  • Why did they move? Read the history of the area, focusing on what drew your ancestors to the area or drove them away
  • What was their occupation? Read accounts that describe the skills and effort they needed to do their jobs
  • What social history affected their lives? Only include events that directly affected them

The last essential part of my method is to write entries with an audience in mind. Picturing the audience helps to write for them in clear narratives. In my case, I try to envision my grandchildren or great-grandchildren reading my stories.

Whatever format the summary has, it serves two purposes: first, as research notes, so you can quickly research further, and second, as a readable document, you can easily share it with your family. In addition, the information is in a format your family does not have to know the genealogical jargon to understand what you share with them.

Points to Remember:

  • Be accurate in recording the data from documents
  • Add descriptive information to your statements found in other sources
  • Add first-person accounts when available
  • Use your voice, style, and vocabulary
  • Do not exaggerate
  • Omit needless words (keep it simple)
  • Focus on recording the information and saving stories, and your family history will appear

However, I must caution you that once you start, you may get addicted to this exciting journey along your family’s past. My research has brought many ancestors back to life. Sometimes, I can feel them looking over my shoulder as I enter their stories onto their pages. That feeling may seem crazy, but that’s the connection that may occur.

Saving Our Polish Heritage for Our Grandchildren

Now is a time for us to celebrate our Polish heritage, and the story of our immigrant ancestors is the foundation of that Heritage.

I spent much of my early life with my Polish grandparents, and my genealogy research began because I wanted to learn more about their lives in Poland. The success of my early research shifted my goal to saving my discoveries for my children and grandchildren. I decided that I could best do this by compiling a written Family History that is a narrative and contains stories, photos, maps, and documents. I envision my family histories as greatly enhanced scrapbooks focusing on the narratives that explain the images, maps, and documents. I also describe my family histories as collections of summaries of individual ancestors that I have organized into one large document.

I started my research by collecting family photos, family papers, and oral history and quickly moved on to census, naturalization, passenger, and marriage records. These records led me to identify their birthplace and more documents for my Polish ancestors.

I found accounts that described Polish life in the places where they lived. I also found vintage pictures of the town, church, and homes. Polish relatives also gave me copies of the family members who stayed. I included all of this information in my family histories as it was related to my ancestors.

As I compiled my family history, these steps started to bring my grandparents and their ancestors back to life. Note that this process did not happen quickly or with one significant revelation. Instead, the vision of my ancestors came together one piece at a time and over many years.

Capturing the immigration story is an essential step in honoring our Polish Heritage. Envisioning the challenges that our Polish immigrants faced on their journey to America is another critical aspect. Identify the port they left and the size of the ship. Review the passenger manifest. How was life on board the ship? What was their destination? Link the information in the documents and find the stories.

It was not easy to immigrate to America. Leaving home was a very emotional decision. Those who left saw immigration as their only chance to escape the poverty of their life in Poland. Not only were they leaving their family and friends, but the emigrants were leaving their beloved homeland. Some may have been excited about emigrating, but there was also fear of the unknown — most left home with tears in their eyes.

Try to describe their lives in America. Look through old pictures in family albums and also history books of the local area and neighborhoods. Pictures of their homes, neighborhood, and their church are vital. Next, identify where they worked because this would have been a significant part of their lives. Finally, look at their overall experience in America. How did they enjoy their new life? Did they do anything outside of work? Did they have a hobby? Were they active in a fraternal group? Did you find pictures of family gatherings? How was their life here better than what they would have had in Poland?

We will not find answers to most of these questions. However, asking the questions and doing the research will give us a perspective of what our ancestors may have experienced and better understand their character and our Polish Heritage.

Our immigrant ancestors were heroes, and they are the foundation of our roots in the United States. Do not underestimate their contributions. They may have left us some material wealth, but their most significant contribution is their role in the factories and farms of the United States. Their names will not appear in history books, but their efforts impacted American history, and without their sacrifices, our country would not have developed as it did. Their lives were the building blocks in the growth of their new country, and their immigration influenced the quality of our lives today in the United States. Remember that they made many sacrifices for you and helped build the United States.

Be patient. Keep asking questions and looking for records and stories. Then, write down the stories and organize them in family histories.

Save the stories for your future generations

Have fun, and enjoy your Polish Heritage.

The International Tracing Service (ITS): Find the stories for Post-WW II Displaced Persons

Did your parents or grandparents immigrate to the United States shortly after WW II? If so, they probably told you stories of staying in one or more of the refugee camps at the end of the war. The Allied forces established these camps to handle the masses of displaced persons coming from the German work camps or death camps, or post-war who fled their homes to escape communist rule.

Were your ancestors willing to tell you about their lives during and after the war, or did they avoid telling you these stories? The International Tracing Service may be able to help you find some of these details. They had the task of saving the refugees’ documents and giving us hope of completing their stories.

The work of tracing refugees began in 1943 when the Headquarters of the Allied Forces asked the British Red Cross to set up a registration and tracing service for missing persons. In 1944, The Red Cross gave the work to the newly created Central Tracing Bureau. The Bureau initially worked out of London but then moved to Versailles. Later it moved to Frankfort am Main and then to its current location in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Finally, in July 1947, the International Refugee Organization (ICRC) took over the Bureau’s administration and changed the Bureau’s name to International Tracing Service (ITS) in January 1948.

ITS collects and controls the documents, information, and research on Nazi persecution, forced labor, and displaced persons. The archive in Bad Arolsen contains about 30 million records from concentration camps, details of forced labor, and files on displaced persons. The archives have been accessible to researchers since 2007. Requests for information from individuals or descendants can be made by mail or on the ITS website (Home Page – https://arolsen-archives.org/en/). In 2015, ITS began adding records to an online database and today has over two million records in an online searchable collection of documents. Family historians should search the online archive at https://arolsen-archives.org/en/search-explore/ to confirm their ancestors are in the archive. The results will show one or two documents but not the complete file. Use the inquiry page (Arolsen-archives.org/en/search-explore/inquiries/) to request the entire file. Be patient because the average delivery time for the files is about four months and can take as long as eleven months.

The original goal of the authorities at the refugee camps was to repatriate the refugees to their countries of origin as quickly as possible. Authorities soon changed their strategy after reports of mistreatment of refugees who returned to communist countries, which caused a growing resistance of the refugees to return. Immigration to western countries became the new destination 

In late 1947, Belgium became the first country to adopt refugee immigration and accepted nearly 22,000 people. The United Kingdom accepted 86,000 refugees, in addition to 115,000 Polish army veterans who resettled in England and 12,000 former Ukrainian members of the German SS. By 1951, Canada had accepted 157,687 refugees, Australia took 182,159 refugees, and France accepted 38,157 displaced persons. In addition, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina accepted almost 80,000 refugees.

From the end of the war to 1948, nearly 50,000 refugees had entered Palestine (many illegally due to immigration restrictions).

The United States was late accepting displaced persons, and then only after considerable lobbying for a policy change. There was significant opposition in the U. S. Congress to taking Central and Eastern Europeans and Jews. Nevertheless, President Harry S. Truman signed the first act in June 1948, allowing entry for 200,000 refugees, followed by the second act in June 1950, allowing entry for another 200,000. The American program was the largest and most idealistic of the Allied programs but also the most bureaucratic, which required a sponsor and the promise of a job. Charitable organizations, such as the Lutheran World Federation and ethnic groups, undertook much of the humanitarian effort.

ITS has a wealth of information in the documents that could add to your family history. The information will identify the camps where your ancestors lived. It may list their occupations, residence before entering the camps, birthplaces, and jobs while in the camps. Research the history of the camps to add background information about where they lived.

Pay attention to the details which you may have to translate. The details will reveal the picture of your ancestors’ struggles to survive after the war and how they rebuilt their lives. The details will also give you insights into the character you see in them.

Save their stories and honor their memory.

The Importance of  Polish Immigration Story to Polish Research

Taking your first step in finding Polish records can be very challenging. At the beginning of my research, I found it essential to review the history of Polish immigration to America: when, why, where, and how. Understanding this aspect of Polish history was critical to my success because knowing the immigration story helped me find the seemingly hidden records for my Polish ancestors.

Poles in America

The first Poles arrived in America at Jamestown in October 1608. They were among the craftsmen the Virginia Company hired to produce materials such as export glassware and make tar and resin needed to repair arriving ships. In addition, our history books mention Polish military leaders Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko and banker Haym Saloman having crucial roles in the American Revolution. Finally, although I have not found any reference of other Poles in Colonial America, there were probably small numbers of Polish workers, intellectuals, and sons of noblemen who immigrated.

The first significant events that affected Polish emigration were the three partitions of Poland between 1772 and 1795 when Prussia, Russia, and Austria carved up Poland, and it disappeared from world maps. However, few Poles fled  Poland after the partitions, and generally, the refugees who could afford to leave went to European countries. The farmers, who made up the large waves of later Polish emigration, could not leave because the nobles would not allow it. However, pressure to leave grew as the new rulers of Polish partitions did not treat their Polish subjects as full citizens and gradually enacted policies that had significant adverse effects. Accordingly, their policies helped build the Polish national unity that we see today.

The first wave of Polish emigration began in the 1850s when Poles left Silesia to settle in Texas, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Their documented histories listed that they left due to the harsh poverty, high taxes, military conscription, and social discrimination at the hands of their Prussian rulers. Poles also began emigrating from other Prussian areas in the late 1860s after the German Empire enacted the Kulturkampf Laws meant to eliminate the Polish culture in Prussian-controlled lands. The laws banned the Polish language from schools and newspapers. In addition, traditional Polish songs and dances were forbidden. In 1886, the Prussian Colonization Policy forced Poles to sell their lands to Germans recruited to re-settle in these new “German” lands. Polish farmers were now day laborers and could not find steady work. Emigration was the only solution to their growing poverty. Records show that over 400,000 Poles left between 1869 to 1899 from German-controlled Poland. Passenger lists indicate most left in family groups.

Polish emigration in the Russian and Austrian partitions began in earnest in the 1880s and generally affected the younger generation because of a lack of jobs. Investors did not build factories in the Polish partitions because they had seen the past uprisings by the Polish people and had fears of future turmoil. Farms could not be sub-divided when the father died. Only the oldest son inherited the land. Owning land became the key to economic stability. Without jobs or land, the younger sons had to leave. Also, fathers had to find the “right husband” for their daughters, someone with the prospect of inheriting the family farm. The other alternative was sending them to relatives in America to find work or a husband. Passenger manifests indicate that most Polish emigrants from the Russian and Austrian partitions were single men and women. This mixture differed from the family groups leaving the German partition.

With the lack of opportunities in rural Poland, and growing unemployment in the cities, emigrating to the United States became an attractive alternative. Letters from earlier immigrants and advertisements circulated by the shipping companies further fueled thoughts about leaving.

Once in America, Polish men worked in the mills and factories that were driving America’s economic growth in cities and areas such as Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, and New England. They worked at the hardest jobs that nobody else wanted. Single Polish women also worked in the factories or as servants until they found a husband. Also, some Poles were able to buy farms in America.

Many emigrants left Poland to earn money in America and then returned home to buy Polish farmland. As a result, almost a third of the Polish immigrants returned home after a few years in America. Nevertheless, the majority of the Poles found it hard to abandon their new home once they saw how much better their life was staying in America. These are the immigrants who are our ancestors.

Learn your ancestor’s immigration story. Identify their challenges. Write and preserve their family stories to honor your Polish heritage for future generations.

CAGGNI – GeneaQuest-2022

CAGGNI is offering an exciting conference schedule at their GeneaQuest-2022. You can attend in-person in Schaumburg or virtual. Click on the link for more information and registration. https://caggni.org/GeneaQuest-2022

German Genealogy: Finding the German Records

My new book, “German Genealogy: Finding the German Records,” is now available on Amazon.com. If you have German ancestors, it will help you. Six steps needed to find your ancestors: 1. Identify their original German name 2. Find their approximate birth year 3. Find town names for clues 4. Find possible German locations 5. Find the German records 6. Translate the German records

https://www.amazon.com/German-Genealogy-Finding-Records/dp/B0B45L3VVY/ref

Hiring a German Researcher

You may consider hiring a professional researcher when you reach a brick wall. I have used this option when I could not find a birth record for my grandmother and a marriage record for my great-grandparents. I also asked a researcher to track down living descendants of my grandparents’ siblings to find pictures and stories of the family left in the old country.  

Since this is an expensive option, you need to be careful to hire a researcher with suitable qualifications. You also need to be specific in the information you request. However, I found that paying the right researcher was a bargain compared to the travel costs to perform the research myself in Germany. Also, I was excited when adding the new information to my family history

There are two associations of professional genealogists with German members that should be capable of doing the needed German research – one based in America and another in Germany. The American-based group is the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), with a few German members.

Website for APG – https://www.apgen.org

The German-based group of German-speaking professional researchers is called the Verband deutschsprachiger Berufsgenealogen. The English translation of the group’s name is Association of German-speaking Professional Genealogists. The German group’s website can be read in German, English, or French.

Website – http://www.berufsgenealogie.net

Things to do when hiring a researcher:

  • Request references from prior clients and check them before hiring a professional genealogist in Germany.
  • Also, ask for a research plan.
  • Discuss fees and payment options
  • Remember, the researcher expects to be paid for their efforts, not their results. Therefore, there is no guarantee the researcher will find the information you requested.
  • Your request must have enough information to give the researcher a chance at success. Better researchers have learned to ask questions to focus their research on providing the best results to their clients. 
  • Also, use researchers who are knowledgeable in the area of Germany, where the records originated. The documents you need may be in church and local government archives that may not generally be open to the public. Hiring someone familiar with the local archives is critical because outsiders may not be able to obtain the same access a locally known researcher can get.

Payment

Your discussion of payment should be part of the upfront negotiation with your researcher. The discussion should include agreeing on the amount and how to transfer the money overseas. The only payment method available when I started in the early 2000s was with a foreign bank transfer that cost between $50 to $100 for each transaction. Today, most foreign researchers are accepting payments using the following methods:

  • PayPal – you can use a credit card or bank transfer to PayPal, and they will charge the payee a transaction
  • XOOM – you can pay Xoom with your credit card, and they deposit the money into the researcher’s bank account. You pay $9.99 for each transaction, so try to combine as many payments as possible into one transaction.
  • TransferWise uses a system similar to Xoom but with a lower transaction fee (starting at $3.00). However, this service warns that they use an average currency rate, so you may pay more dollars to get the correct euros to your researcher. But, TransferWise predicts that you should save about 5% on the overall transaction.
  • Western Union – requires cash to be paid to their agent and a small transaction fee (for example, $8.00 for $150 to Germany)
  • Credit cards – some researchers have begun accepting credit cards as payment, and they absorb the higher transaction fee for foreign money transfers.

My decisions on hiring a researcher were based on:

  • How vital was the document or information?
  • My evaluation of the researcher to do the job
  • The convenience of the payment option
  • Finally, the cost versus the importance of the information

Example #1:

Early in my research, I contacted the church where my grandmother was baptized, requesting a copy of her baptismal record. I received a response from a local church member requesting $150 to find the document, translate it, and send me a copy. I declined the offer and decided to try later because I already had the birth date and names of her parents. Furthermore, I only wanted a copy of her baptism to have a physical record.

Since my original request, the records have been made available online to researchers in Poland. Ten years later, I received a copy of the document from another researcher and copies of the birth records of her siblings for $100.

Example #2:

I contacted a researcher in Romania in 2011 to find the marriage record for my father’s grandparents. He quoted a cost of $30 for the document and $120 for travel expenses, including an overnight stay. The marriage document and translation I received were a bargain for the $150. The information unlocked the mystery of my father’s family history and led to many more documents and family stories.

Eight years later, I found the marriage document in a new database on Ancestry.com, but I had already completed most of my father’s family history by that time. I shared my 2011 results with most of my relatives in 2012, and they were excited to hear the new details of their Szabados ancestors. I am glad I could unlock the mystery because some family members died before I found the records on Ancestry.com. Additionally, a few others have started to write a family history for their family branch. Unlocking that mystery in 2011 probably created excitement for them to begin researching their family history sooner.

Memories of Celebrating Easter

What are your memories of Easter when you were young? How are you capturing your family stories?

My first memories are an image of Sister Valentine marching us first-graders to a pew in the church on Ash Wednesday to receive the ashes on our foreheads from the priest. Over the next few years, the Dominican Sisters at St Patrick’s Grade School taught us the symbolism for Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday in our religion classes. However, living with my Polish grandparents when I was in grade school, I realized that celebrating Easter had significant meaning for them, especially my grandmother. The importance of Easter for her seemed to go beyond attending the masses, Easter egg hunts, and the food on Easter Sunday.

After writing my grandmother’s story, I now see our focus during the Easter season should go beyond the merrymaking of Mardi Gras or celebrating Fat Tuesday with the Polish jelly-filled donuts, Paczki. Of course, reflecting on the tenets of our faith during Lent and celebrating the Easter week liturgy is essential, but it is also a time to be with family. Therefore, it is crucial to record and save our family memories before losing them. Easter was an important celebration for our Polish ancestors, and I find it exciting when I connect to them through writing the family history.

I try to bring back memories by reflecting on how our family followed Lenten traditions. For example, how did our meals change – more fish, less meat. What did I give up for Lent? Of course, my fellow grade-schoolers and I always promised to give up candy, but later I began attending daily mass, the Stations of the Cross and doing specific good deeds as I matured.

My memories of Easter identify Lent as a private time. The general emphasis of Easter relating to my family memories starts with the end of Lent and the arrival of Palm Sunday. I helped Grandma collect palms on Sunday and later saw she had woven them into crosses and hung them around the house. This Polish tradition encouraged good health and the protection of the house. What traditions did your immigrant ancestors follow after Palm Sunday?

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is a flurry of activities and memories. I attended Mass on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and watched the rituals associated with these ceremonies, culminating with the extended reading of the gospel on EasterSunday. Sometimes I was in a pew with my family, and other times in the choir loft singing with my classmates. Often, I was one of the altar boys attending to the priests.

Did you have an Easter egg hunt for the children? Were the eggs decorated a solid color or have traditional Polish designs? For Poles, the egg symbolized fertility and played a critical role in many Polish celebrations. In the 1800s, the Poles gave elaborately decorated and ornamental Pisanki eggs as gifts. Unfortunately, the small Polish community where I grew up did not continue this practice. I learned of this tradition only after beginning my family history research.

The crucial time for our family history was gathering at the family feast on Easter Sunday. Do you remember what was on the menu? Of course, you do. Are you saving grandma’s recipes? For our feast, traditional Polish foods were not available. So my grandmother cooked a Polish ham instead. Today my favorites are Kielbasa (Polish sausage) and pierogis (meat or cheese-filled dumplings), but when I was young, our Polish community was small, and it was rare to see these foods on our table.

Who attended the feast? How large was your family? Who were the storytellers? This gathering is the best time to make new memories and the best source to collect the family stories that need to be saved. Unfortunately, I did not take the time to preserve these stories until after my parents and grandparents had died.

Today, I write down notes of family stories as soon as possible. Sometimes, I jot them down in quiet corners on Easter or when I get home. I find that taking notes at the table or using a recording device destroys the moment’s atmosphere. I write the narrative within a few days and then send a copy to the storyteller for corrections. Everyone knows I am writing the family history and seem to expect they will appear on its pages. Stories about the Easter celebrations of my Polish ancestors give me a different perspective of them, and my visions of them seem to come alive. Capture the stories and let your children and grandchildren see their ancestors.