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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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

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:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8211336816720900865

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

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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.