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.

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Genealogy and Your Polish Heritage

Now is a time for us to celebrate our Polish Heritage and I feel one of the best ways to do this is through researching our Family History(Genealogy).

Try to find information on your Polish immigrant ancestors.  Read accounts that describe Polish life in areas close to where your ancestors left. Was it a rural or urban area? Try to find vintage pictures of the town, church, and homes. Find accounts that describe the daily lives of the villagers.

What challenges did they face on their journey to America?

  • What port did they go to for their voyage to America?
  • How did they get to the port? Was there a train station near their village?
  • How was life onboard the ship? How large was the ship? How many decks?
  • Review the passenger manifest to see if there were many Polish men. What were the occupations of the other Polish immigrants? Who did your ancestor talk to during their voyage?

What was their voyage to America like? What were their experiences when they arrived at te port? What were their fears?

Their destination was usually listed on the passenger list. Who was at their destination in America? What was the relationship to the person listed on the passenger list?  This information is part of the chain migration story. How did they get from the port to their destination? Train, trolley, or walking?

Why did they come? If you do not know, explore some possible reasons. Do not assume that the reason 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 cause.

Look through early pictures in family albums and also history books of the local area and neighborhoods. Pictures of their homes, neighborhood, and their church are very important. Try to describe their lives in America.

Identify where they worked because this would have been a significant part of their lives. The growth of America needed the immigrants who worked in the factories or on a farm in the late 1800s, or early 1900s. Without their labor, America would not have grown as quickly. Do not sell them short.

Look at their overall life 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 researching for the answers will give you a perspective of what your ancestors experienced and give you a better understanding of their character and your Polish Heritage.

Now sit back, read, and enjoy what you find.

Helpful Books on Polish Genealogy

Books on Polish genealogy are another important element in developing your genealogy research skills. Polish Roots. Second Edition 2nd Edition by Rosemary Chorzempa and Going Home: A Guide to Polish American Family History Research by Jonathan Shea have proven to be reference volumes explaining many of the Polish documents that are available.  Sto Lat: A Modern Guide To Polish Genealogy by Cecile Wendt Jensen and my book Polish Genealogy: Four Steps to Success present plans to logically do Polish genealogically research.

The challenges of translating your Polish records can be reduced by using the glossaries found in Jonathan Shea’s book Going Home: A Guide to Polish American Family History Research and the series he wrote with William Hoffman In Their Words – Polish, Latin, and Russian. If you find Polish records in the narrative format, you will find A Translation Guide to 19th Century Polish-Language Civil-Registration Documents by Judith R. Frazin is an excellent user-friendly and practical resource.

Go to my page Helpful Book on Polish Genealogy for more details and a list of more books.

POLISH CHRISTMAS

Celebrating holidays and special events gave the Polish people an overall rhythm to their lives during the year. My Polish ancestors enjoyed this rhythm as the seasons and weather changed. One of my Polish cousins told me his extended family and neighboring villagers would come together for the celebration of the customs for the different holidays occurring during each season. The celebrations gave them relief from their daily work, and they would look forward to the next festive time.

Thoughts of the Christmas festivities began with the four weeks of Advent which begins the preparation for Christmas with fasting and prayer. At the start of the holiday season, mothers and grandmothers in the Dmochy and Przezdziecko areas began cleaning their homes, and they began preparing those special dishes and treats such as Christmas cakes.

My grandparents told me Christmas seemed to create a magical atmosphere. It was a special time when people forgot all their problems and tried to be together. Christmas helped 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 became kind, friendly and generous.

On Christmas Eve, the Christmas trees were set up in most homes. My grandmother and grandfather both told me they always had a Christmas tree in their home because it was always special to the children. However, their trees were set up differently. The trees were hung from the ceiling in Poland. Their families decorated the trees 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 in the church in Czyzew and also in my grandfather’s home. My grandmother said they did not have a manger to set up. My grandparents said that they and their brothers and sisters made many of the decorations, but the manger and some of the foil decorations were ones used by my great-grandmother’s family.

The children watched for the first star to appear in the night sky because this was the signal for beginning the supper. After sighting the star, those attending the celebration knelt in prayer. Next, father broke the Christmas wafer (opłatek), took a piece, and passed it around the table for each person to do the same. Then, the family exchanged holiday wishes in the form of prayers such as God bless you (Niech cię Bóg błogosławi); God give you happiness (Daj Ci Boze szczescie).

The opłatek were unleavened wafers that were baked from pure wheat flour and water and were usually rectangular in shape and very thin. They were identical in composition to the communion wafers used in the Catholic mass. The Opłatki wafers were embossed with Christmas related religious images, varying from the nativity scene, especially Virgin Mary with baby Jesus, to the Star of Bethlehem.

After the wafer had been passed around the table, everyone then got to taste the traditional dishes that were prepared by mother and her kitchen helpers. The meal included cheese, sauerkraut pierogi, fish in various forms, fish or mushroom soup with noodles, herring, boiled potatoes, dumplings with plums and poppy seeds, stewed prunes with lemon peel, a compote of dried fruit and poppy seed cake. The traditional Christmas dishes followed the rule to use food from each of the family’s food sources: grains from the field, vegetables from the garden, fruit from the orchard, mushrooms and herbs from the woods, and fish from the sea, rivers, or ponds.

After supper, the candles on the tree were lit by the entire family or sometimes by only the children. Then the entire family joined in singing Christmas carols. After the singing, father, mother, or a grandparent would tell old Polish Christmas legends and different stories of how Christmas was celebrated in ancient times. One favorite story was about the belief that the farm animals spoke in human voices at midnight.

Beginning on Christmas Eve and continuing through the holidays, groups of boys from the village and the two nearby villages went around singing Christmas carols for their neighbors. They usually carried a szopka which was a miniature stable, with figures of the Holy Family, the shepherds, and the animals mounted on a pole or a platform and carried shoulder-high. One person in the group carried the star and was the gwiazdor or the star boy. My grandfather told me he was the star boy for the Christmas before he left for America. Over time, the person who carried the star became known as jolly St. Nick.

The festivities ended with the family blowing out the candles and then traveling to church to attend midnight mass.

On Christmas Day, the Zuchowski and Chmielewski families spent the day at home eating, singing and enjoying the family. On the second day of Christmas, they ventured out to visit friends and family in the neighboring villages.

 

1851 Polish-English Dictionary on Google Books

When trying to interpret the older Polish documents, an older Polish-English dictionary should be used. A modern dictionary will not be useful because word usage has changed over time.  I have found an 1851 dictionary on Google Books that can be very useful. Below is the web address where you can view and download a copy. I recommend downloading the dictionary in the PDF format.

Dokladny Slownik Polsko-Angielski 1851

https://archive.org/details/dokladnyslownik00chodgoog

polish-engish-dictionary

New Book Published

My new book on Polish Immigration to America is now available on Amazon.com.  This is more of a history book than a genealogy research book but it will give you insights about your immigrant ancestors for your family history stories.

Title: Polish Immigration to America: When, Where, Why and How

Description: When did your Polish ancestors immigrate, where did they leave, why did they leave, how did they get here? These are questions we all hope to find the answers. This book discusses the history of Poland and gives some insights to possible answers to the questions about your ancestors’ immigration. All three Polish partitions are covered, and the material will hopefully clear up your confusion why your Polish ancestors listed that they were born in other countries on early U.S. documents.

The book also presents brief histories of most of the ports that were used by Polish 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.

 

Book Launch

I revised my book “Finding Grandma’s European Ancestors”. The revised edition includes more countries and more details.

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