The Gift of Family

Part 1. Where Did I Come From?

I was raised Polish-American in western Massachusetts. My grandparents, all of whom died before I was born, came to America in the late 1890s during one of the large waves of immigration from Poland. My parents, aunts, and uncles spoke Polish, but none of my generation learned "the secret language, " except for a few basic words (we always knew when we were being scolded!).

When I asked my parents where their parents were from, they could not tell me. We are from Galicia, my mother said, We are from Poland. She could tell me nothing about either family, except that both sets of grandparents had made the trip to America twice.

I was intensely bothered by the lack of information about my grandparents and their ancestors. On their death certificates, where the names of their parents should have been, it said "cannot be learned." For a long time, I thought this meant that the Russians refused to let us know anything about our family in Poland.

In 1976, my parents invited me to go with them on their first trip to Poland. We joined an organized tour of the southeastern part of the country, and were able to take a side trip to Błazowa, a town south of Rzeszˇw. There we saw the official entry for the 1904 birth of my Ciocia Frances, who was one of the few of her generation to be born in Poland.

Below is a photograph of a skansen cottage that we visited during the trip:

Click to see more of the pictures from my trip to Poland, 1976.

In the late 1990s, after the deaths of my parents and elder brother, I was given a photograph of one of my father’s sisters, a nun who died at age 20 during the influenza epidemic. The family had kept two letters written in Polish—one from Paulina, Sister Mary Placyda, written from her convent in Pennsylvania in October 1918, and a second one, dated one week later, informing her parents of her death from influenza. I could not read the letters, and until the day I saw her photograph, she had never seemed real to me; now that I saw her face, I was compelled to learn more about her and my Polish ancestors.

pauline

Sister Mary Placyda, my Aunt Paulina


It took me two years to learn the names of the villages in Poland where my grandparents were born and roughly four years until I visited their villages in Poland. Many people have had to search much, much longer than I did to find their Polish origins, so I now realize that I had great good luck in finding my people.

Here is the way my search unfolded... read the second part entitled Research in the USA (2)


written by Nancy Maciolek Blake
2005, revised January 2006
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Recommended books:

Polish Roots by Rosemary A. Chorzempa (read Jaga's review)