Helpful Books in Polish Research

The Christmas season will quickly be upon us, and here are some gift ideas for your family genealogist or your Christmas wish list to pass along. I am sure they will find these books very useful in Polish genealogy and make great Christmas gifts. All are available online from various sources. First, check availability at the book stores for the Polish American Journal (http://www.polamjournal.com/bookstore.html) and the Polish Genealogy Society (https://pgsa.org/product-category/books/). Another source is the Polish Art Center (https://www.polartcenter.com/).

Research and Translation

  • Polish Genealogy: Four steps to success by Stephen Szabados (2013) – The book outlines a simple process that will help identify where your ancestors were born and where to find their Polish records.
  • In Their Words: a genealogist’s translation guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian documents (4 books (2003, 2007, 2013, 2017) – each covers a different language) by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman – Four separate books covering the languages found in Polish records. The books discuss documents and extracts from American and European sources, analyzed and translated
  • Going Home – A Guide to Polish American Family Research by Jonathan D. Shea (2008) – Another great guide discussing where to find U’S’ and Polish records for your ancestors.
  • Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy by Cecile Wendt Jensen (2010) – This is a workbook that offers a plan for researching based on the techniques developed by the author over thirty years of research and teaching.
  • A Guide to Chicago and Midwestern Polish-American Genealogy by Jason Kruski (2018) – Learn to access the Chicago and Midwestern records relayed to your Polish ancestors using both paper records or the wealth of information available on websites.
  • The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Family Tree in Eastern Europe by Lisa Alzo (2016) – This is an in-depth guide that will walk you through a step-by-step process of finding your Polish, Czech, or Slovak roots.
  • Polish Roots. Second Edition 2nd Edition by Rosemary a. Chorzempa (2014)
  • The Study of Obituaries as A Source for Polish Genealogical Research by Thomas E Golembiewski (2009) – This book provides information on deciphering and using Polish language obituaries.
  • Haller’s Polish Army in France by Paul S Valasek (2006) – An excellent reference for information if your ancestor was part of the Polish Army in France, aka Haller’s Army, aka the Blue Army.
  • Slownik Geograficzny by Filip Sulimierski, Bronisław Chlebowski, Władysław Walewski and others, Warsaw, multiple volumes published between 1880 and 1902 – available on DVD from Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA.org)
  • A translation guide to 19th-century Polish-language civil registration documents: including birth, marriage, and death records by Judith R. Frazin. Great translation guide for Polish records found in the Russian Partition.
  • First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings by William F. Hoffman and George Wiesław Helon (1998) – This is an excellent reference to decipher the correct first name for your ancestors.
  • Polish surnames: origins and meanings by William F. Hoffman (2012) – must have reference to determine the proper Polish surname for ancestors.

Books on History, Culture, and Customs

  • Polish Immigration to America by Stephen Szabados (2016) – This book gives excellent insights into the emigration and arrival in America. A must-read for the family historian.
  • Daily Life in Immigrant America 1820-1870 by James M. Bergquist(2019)  – This book will give us great insights into the lives of our ancestors who arrived in the 1800s.
  • Daily Life in Immigrant America 1870-1920 by June Granatir Alexander (2009) – This book will give us great insights into the lives of our ancestors who arrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • Jadwiga’s Crossing: A Story of the Great Migration by Aloysius A. Lutz, Richard J. Lutz (2006) – Must read to gain insights to challenges to crossing the Atlantic on sailing ship in the 1800s. It will change your perspective of your ancestors.
  • God’s Playground: A History of Poland: In Two Volumes by Norman Davies (2005) – Best and most accurate Polish history book.
  •  by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab (1996) – Must have to learn more about your Polish heritage.
  • Creating Kashubia, History, Memory, and Identity in Canada’s First Polish Community by Joshua C. Blank (2016) –
  • Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on The South Side, 1880-1922 (1991) by Dominic A Pacyga – Great reference with many stories of Polish life in Chicago.
  • Chicago’s Southeast Side by Ron Sellers and Dominic  A. Pacyga (2001) – Great details of life in the southside Polish neighborhoods.
  • Chicago’s Polish Downtown (Images of America) by Victoria Granacki (2004) – Book contains many pictures detailing Polish life in Chicago.
  • Forgotten Doors, The Other Ports of Entry to the United States edited by M. Mark Stolarik (1988) – Not all immigrants arrived through New York. This book covers the history and describes coming through the other major U.S. ports.

Wesołych Świąt

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.

Immigration Paths in America

Tracing the path your family took from the port where your immigrant ancestors arrived and migrated to your birthplace is an essential part of your family history.

In Colonial America, ports developed where colonists had developed goods for exports such as tobacco, dried fish, timber, and flax. Shipping routes between Europe and America developed primarily to take American exports to Europe. The ships made the Atlantic passage to pick up raw materials in the American colonies. For the return voyage to America, the ships carried finished goods ordered by colonial merchants and also people — typically new immigrants. Some immigrants freely determined their destination and paid their passage to one of these ports. However, colonial governors or land speculators recruited many others to settle in specific colonies. The colonies needed immigrants to settle and clear land and make money for those who the British government granted land charters. The indentured immigrants arrived at the ports determined by what group paid the captain. After our ancestors landed, they moved away from the seaport seeking available land. Late arrivals moved further west, pushing against the frontier and Indian territory. They also turned south down the Great Valley Road into the Shenandoah Valley and further into the Piedmont of North and South Carolina.

Colonial roads usually developed over already established Indian trails. As settlements developed, roads expanded to handle carts and wagons, and more immigrants came. The Forbes and Braddock’s Roads were two exceptions because British soldiers built them over previous Indian trails to handle cannons and wagons during the French and Indian Wars of the 1750s. After the Revolutionary War, settlers pushed westward through the Appalachian Mountains to find new land in western New York, Ohio, and Kentucky. They used and expanded Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee. They followed the Indian trail along the New and Kanawha Rivers to the Ohio River and Kentucky. Forbes and Braddock’s Roads transformed from a military road to a westward migration road as settlers pushed to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River, which became a major natural highway to new lands in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Settlers in the Northeast used the Mohawk and Catskill Turnpikes to push into western New York and then Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. After completion, the Erie Canal supplanted these two turnpikes and acted similar to the shipping routes on the Atlantic.

Use land transactions, tax records, and probate records to determine where your ancestors settled in colonial history and the early 1800s. Census records after 1850 can also make tracing the migration path much easier. If they arrived in the late 1800s or early 1900s, find the train route they took from the port to where they found work. Identify why their friends or relatives came there — they were your ancestors’ destination.

Map the route, find accounts of life in these areas when your ancestors lived there. Did any historical events happen around and affect them?

Find their story, write about it, and save it for your future generations.

Celebrating Easter with our Ancestors

Easter was an important celebration for my Polish ancestors, and I find it exciting when I feel I have found a way to celebrate it with my deceased ancestors.

The season begins long-before Easter Sunday with zapusty or pre-Lenten traditions. Do you remember when the nuns at your school sat us down to list what we were giving up for Lent? Candy was a popular item on my friends and my list. I also remember Sister Valentine marching me and my fellow first-graders to a pew in the Church on Ash Wednesday to be marked with ashes on my forehead. Over the next few years, I understood the symbolism of this ritual. Adults in various countries made their lists, but they came together at Mardi Gras or Carnival for a tremendous round of merrymaking on the days. I never experienced a Mardi Gras-type celebration, but I remember the careful steps the nuns had their students do in preparations for the Lenten season.

How can we come closer to our ancestors during the Easter season?

  • Enjoy a special snack with our family eating the traditional Paczki on Fat Tuesday.
  • Make egg decorating a family activity with both the simple one and two-color eggs and some family members trying to make the intricate Pisanki eggs.
  • Have our Polish priest bless willows and hang over our doorways.

Most importantly, celebrate our Easter family feast with traditional Polish foods such as the traditional egg slices, sausages, pierogi, soups, vegetables, and a chocolate egg hunt for the children. (In 2021, the size of this gathering should be smaller, but the use of virtual devices could have our normal attendance using multiple locations.)

Always, celebrate our Polish heritage of traditional holidays and let our children and grandchildren learn about their ancestors.

Polish Genealogy Websites

PGSA (Polish Genealogical Society of America) has compiled a list of over 45 websites that give us access to Polish records or information about local history and customs.

https://pgsa.org/polish-sites/

My new book: German Immigration to America

Why did your German ancestors immigrate, when did they leave, where did they leave, how did they get here?

These are questions we all hope to find the answers.

This book discusses the history of the Germanic people and gives some insights into possible answers to the questions about your ancestors’ immigration.

The book also presents brief histories of most of the ports that were used by German immigrants for departure from Europe and the ports where they arrived. Also covered are details of life in steerage during the voyage and the process of examination of the immigrants to gain admittance to the United States.

Just published my latest Book: “Czech and Slovak Immigration to America.”

When did your Czech or Slovak ancestors immigrate, where did they leave, why did they leave, how did they get here? This book is a wonderful resource. The author hopes you find the answer to some of these questions in this book. This book discusses the history of their homeland and gives some insights into possible answers to the questions about your ancestors’ immigration.

The book also presents brief histories of most of the ports that were used by your immigrants for departure from Europe and the ports where they arrived. Also covered are details of life in steerage during the voyage and the process of examination of the immigrants to gain admittance to the United States.

Available on Amazon.com

NEW BOOK – My Polish Grandmother: from Tragedy in Poland to her Rose Garden in America

This book is about my grandmother. When researching her life, I found she endured many challenges that made her the strong person that I admired as I grew up around her. In writing my grandmother’s story, I wanted to go beyond the names, dates, and pictures in the photo albums. She was more than that. It is very important to ask why she did what she did.

This book asks questions about her fears when growing up, immigrating to America, and making her new life. How did she face these fears? How did she overcome them? Although I found no answers, I still found new insights about my grandmother.

Our ancestors were part of the wave of emigration that left Europe with the hope of finding work and a better life. It was not easy to immigrate to America. Our ancestors saw immigration to America as their last chance. They had to overcome obstacles getting from their village to the ships and hardships crossing the Atlantic. Then they had to prove they were worthy to be admitted to the United States. Once here, they faced challenges and discrimination to find work and make the better life they were seeking. My grandmother’s story is different because I tried to show how immigration was different for women.

Remember our ancestors made many sacrifices for us and helped build the United States. They could not appreciate what they were doing because they were working hard and surviving each day. However, what they did each day was important. I believe that our role should be to leave something that will help our children remember them. We need to capture the memories by writing our family history. This story is my attempt to preserve my grandmother’s memory.

Understanding our Ancestors May Help Us Understand Ourselves

Understanding our ancestors may help us understand who we are.  To gain this understanding, our genealogy research should go beyond the names, dates, family trees, and documents that are standard talking points in genealogy discussions. Review the facts and events that you find about your ancestors and ask Why? How? Where? When? You may not find the answers, but exploring their options may give you a better insight into the character of your ancestors. Review carefully the challenges that your ancestors faced and how it may have affected them.  Remember that some points of their character may have filtered down to you through the generations.

 For my grandmother, I tried to envision her early days in Poland. I sought accounts of what happened around her village during World War I. What fears and challenges did she face during her immigration to America. What did she find after she arrived to live with her brother? How did she react and overcome the challenge of an arranged marriage and making a new life in America in a town where she knew no one.

 My grandmother had a significant influence on me. When I was able to relate the challenges in her life to the points of character that I saw in her, I was able to understand how her accomplishments had silently influenced my character.

 Try this process for one of your ancestors and you may be amazed by what happens.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Merry Christmas to all.

Enjoy your Christmas Feast. What memories do you want to save? Ask your siblings what are their Christmas memories.

Write them down so future generations can enjoy them.