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.

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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.

Is Roots Magic winning the marketing battle with Family Tree Maker?

Roots Magic just released their version 7.5 which interfaces with Ancestry.com for the first time. Now RM users can see hints for Ancestry.com records along with the hints they are enjoying from Familysearch.org, MyHeritage, and Findmypast. The new interface also includes our family trees we have on Ancestry which RM is calling Treeshare.  RM’s Treeshare is not the same as FTM’s Tree-syncing but does allow users to connect to Ancestry family trees, compare differences and changes between Ancestry and RM trees, and then select what information to migrate between the two versions. FTM Treesync allows Ancestry and FTM trees to be the same. RM Teeshare allows you to have additional people in your RM tree and be different from your Ancestry tree. I like the additional control RM gives me, but it does take more time to make the comparison.

My experience with FTM14.1 which is currently available is satisfactory, but interfaces with only Ancestry.com.  Mackiev has promised their new version FTM2017 will improve the syncing function and add an interface with Familyserch.org. However, the release of FTM2017 has been delayed and is about six months overdue.

With the release of RM7.5, Roots Magic seems to have moved ahead of FTM, but what will happen when FTM2017 is finally released? How much market share will FTM lose as now that RM7.5 has been released and the release of FTM2017 continues to be delayed? How much better will FTM2017 need to be to win back the market share they lost since the announcement by Ancestry to discontinue FTM?

I have been a long-time FTM user but my loyalty is being tested, and I am on the edge of the fence with my decision. FTM14.1 does not interface with Ancestry as well as older versions, but I think this is due to Ancestry not owning FTM and not due to the software. Will the interface between Ancestry and FTM2017 remain the same, go back to the old level, or get better. Only the release of FTM2017 will give us the answer.

Write-down Your Family Memories for Future Generations

 

It is important for us to save our memories for future generations, especially for parents and grandparents, because writing down the stories is a great way to personalize our family history narratives. Below are a few of the memories of my grandmother that I included at the end of my narrative for her. Using the first-person voice seems to bring the memory more to life.

  • “After I had started at St Pat’s School, I began walking with my grandmother the two blocks to St Patrick’s Church for Sunday Mass. This walk was always a pleasant walk in good weather, and I would ramble on with stories of various topics that she would patiently listen to and sometimes comment. She was always very patient with me.””
  • “Dinners at the Zuchowski table were very basic. Grandma did not bring any Polish recipes with her from the old country. Our meals consisted of meat, potato, and a vegetable. However, I was picky about what foods I liked to eat, and grandma would usually make something special for me. Later as an adult, I was frustrated when my children were picky, but I have a special love for my grandmother for spoiling me.”
  • “In the late 1950s, Grandma worked in the kitchen at Auth’s which was a local restaurant. One night she brought home a catfish dinner that was left over from their weekly fish fry. This was the first time I had catfish, and I liked it. After that, I would occasionally stop at the kitchen door of Auth’s when she was working to get another taste of catfish.”

We need to think about our ancestors and the memories we want to pass along to our children and grandchildren. We need to write them down and save them, so they will not be lost. If not us, who will do it?

March 12 at Palatine Library: Local Author Fair

Join me on March 12 at the Palatine Library for their Local Author Fair. Eighteen other authors. It should be fun.

 

Saving Your Ancestors for Future Generations

Saving the family history for the next generation is the main reason I print my family histories. I see more interest from my children when they are reading the narratives and viewing the pictures. They show no interest in doing the research but have begun to ask many more questions. The grandchildren have also read some of the passages. Leaving my work in a bound printed book gives me more hope that someone in a future generation will continue the story. Self-publishing is an economical method to publish a bound book and still limit distribution to family members. Self-publishing also allows me to speak in my voice and tell the story of my ancestors.

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.