October is Polish Heritage Month

Polish workers were among the craftsmen who English agents recruited to produce materials needed to build the Jamestown and to manufacture tar and resins needed to repair the ships. The Polish workman also setup the first glass works in America. Your Polish ancestors may not be in history books but their labor helped build America.

When did your Polish ancestors immigrate? Why did they leave their homes? If you do not know, explore some possible reasons. Do not assume that the cause was economic or to avoid the military draft. Did other siblings immigrate? Did their parents immigrate? What was the status or occupation of your ancestors in Poland?  Multiple factors forced the migrations from Poland, and your immigrant may have been affected by more than one element. Remember that each immigrant has a unique story, and it is part of our Polish heritage. We need to search the records and write down our oral history to save it for our future generations.

My Polish grandparents came from neighboring parishes, but different circumstances caused their immigration. My grandfather, Stefan, had ancestors who were nobility, but his family worked their farmland because their farm was very small. It could barely support their family. My grandfather, a brother, and a sister had to leave home to find a better life. My grandmother, Anna, came from the same area as Stefan and also had ancestors who were nobles. Her family farm was also very small and could only support one family. However, her life in Poland and the immigration story is different from Stefan. She and two older brothers were the only members to survive World War I. However, Anna had to find a husband, but her brother could find one for her in Poland. She was sent to her brother in America to find her husband.

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 behind. Some may have been excited about emigrating, but there was also fear of the unknown — most left home with tears in their eyes.

They were mostly farmers who were forced to leave Poland. If they were married, they left to find food for their children. If they were single, they left to find work because there was an excess of farm labor and no room for them on the family farm.

After the immigrants arrived in America, they felt joy and relief as they walked past the gate into the United States. However, their journey was not over. They were tired and probably hungry from their trip. They were thrilled and bewildered by what they saw of their new land.

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. Identify where they worked because this would have been a significant part of their lives. 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?

You will not find answers to most of these questions. However, asking the questions and doing the research will give you a perspective of what your ancestors experienced and give you a better understanding of their character and your Polish Heritage.

Our immigrant ancestors were heroes, and they are the foundation of our roots in the United States. Our lives would be much different if they did not endure the challenges of emigration from Poland. 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.

Save the stories for your future generations

Have fun, and enjoy your Polish Heritage.

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