Peasants’ Life

(This is copy of our latest newsletter).

I am always thrilled when my guests discover entries about their ancestors that were made 100, 200 or more years ago, especially in original paper books. The fact that the entry was made and read for the ancestors, with them, sometimes even with the signature of at least one of them, even if only in the form of a cross (because they were illiterate), strongly affects the imagination. And now we are touching the same book, the same entry.

You try to imagine the stories, their everyday life, that is hidden behind all the dry facts you find in the archival records. You wonder how different it was from our lives, not only in terms of external reality, but often in terms of their experiences, their worldview, even philosophy ingrained by their environment, passed down by older generations.

You may have had the opportunity to talk to your parents or grandparents about life in the “old country”. But still our knowledge of their daily life is fragmentary and limited to family stories, old pictures, sometimes historical books, movies or visits to ethnographic museums.

For me, the two most important, credible, and interesting ways to better understand the lives of our peasant ancestors were these two books:

“The Peasants” (“Chłopi” in Polish original) by Władysław Reymont, and

“From Serfdom to Self-government: Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor, 1842-1927” (“Pamiętniki włościanina od pańszczyzny do dni dzisiejszych” in Polish) by Jan Słomka.

You may have heard of the novel “The Peasants”, for which Władysław Reymont was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1924. Władysław Reymont grew up in the countryside and later in his adult life spent several years in the village of Lipce, where the novel “The Peasants” takes place.

Władysław Reymont was a writer, a novelist, and he created a colorful and realistic picture of village life at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. But he wasn’t a peasant.

Jan Słomka, the author of the lesser known “Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor”, was a farmer who had lived in the countryside for generations. The value of his book is incredible, because he writes from the perspective of a inhabitant of a border village (then between the Austrian and Russian empires), whose ancestors and his whole life were concentrated in the countryside (although he also traveled and lived in big cities like Vienna). He had the gift of describing things and life in the most detailed, factual and at the same time, interesting way. And believe me, he had an interesting life and applying his mindset could help many of us in our lives today.

Both books have their English translations. Both books are old enough to be in the public domain, which means that their proprietary copyrights have expired and they are legally available for free (e.g. in digital format).

I did a quick search and found “The Peasants” here: and “Memoirs” here: (there are probably more places on the internet where you can find them). If you prefer paper, they are also available from online bookstores like Amazon.

These are translations from the first half of the 20th century, so sometimes they can be a bit difficult to understand. But recently I noticed that on the website of the Polish Genealogical Society of America there is the paper format (as well as digital) of Słomka’s book translated by William F. Hoffman himself. I only read the original Polish version, but I don’t expect anything but excellence from the work done by such an authority in the field of Polish genealogy and history as Fred Hoffman.

As for the Reymont novel, there is also a Polish movie made in the 1970s in the original village of Lipce, where the action takes place. I liked the movie a lot, even when I first saw it as a teenager :-). Here is the first part I found on youtube (without English subtitles): (I don’t know if it’s available outside Europe).

As I recently learned, another adaptation of the book “The Peasant” is currently being filmed using a very interesting technology in the form of images (paintings?). I am very much looking forward to it. There is a trailer of this production:–5_NM


There is a new story on our blog from one of our tours described by Julie Wieczkowski. I will quote the last paragraph from the last part of Julie’s blog:
“After seven days of travel, research, walking, villages, churches, cemeteries, and lots and lots of emotion, Zbigniew dropped Dad and me at our hotel in Warsaw this evening. This truly was a trip of a lifetime, something that almost cannot be put into words (although I did try here). If you are at all thinking about taking a trip like this, do it. My father and I are forever grateful to PolishOrigins and especially Zbigniew Stettner for making our trip back to our Polish roots unforgettable.”

The first part “The Wieczkowski Genealogical Tour of Poland” you will find here: (there are all seven parts published, just click

Julie will give an on-line presentation about her in the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State in September. If you want to participate you can find details about the event here:


Some of our guests write blogs after their tours and most of them leave us testimonials: .

Here is part of one of the testimonials I am especially proud of:

“Preparation for the tour/communication: This is one of the greatest strengths of PolishOrigins and Aleksander. Words cannot describe how thorough, detailed and PROMPT all of our communications were throughout the entire experience! I cannot imagine any other tour company could exceed the superior customer experience delivered by Polish Origins. Furthermore, I would like to say that my wife and I traveled extensively in our lives, including all 50 states in the US, and many countries across the globe. We have traveled on our own and utilized multiple well-known tour companies. Without doubt, this has been our best all-around travel experience.


At the end of this message, I would like to remind you one of the most popular articles published on our blog closely related to the main topic of today’s newsletter, entitled “Why My Ancestors Left”: .

P.S. In the coming months there may be less communication from us as these are traditionally the busiest months for us and we will be fully focused on our guests.


All the best from still hot Poland!

Zenon and the Team


  1. I read the “Peasants” and also watched the DVD, as you suggested, before my sister and I toured our ancestral homes with PolishOrigins. I was able to borrow them both through our local library system but did later find the full text online. The story was indeed an eye-opener for us and helped us better understand the daily lives of our Polish ancestors. It was just one year ago that we were touring with Lucjan, meeting you, and discovering more about our ancestors! Thank you again for the wonderful experience!

  2. I read Jan Slomka’s book about peasant life in the Polish lands 175 years ago and found it fascinating. I loved the descriptions of his gardening expoits with beets where he decided to try planting them in a different location and a neighboring farmer was shocked that he would try something so outrageous. Also his experience buying one of the first clocks in the village and how he had to hide what he had done because he didn’t want to be perceived as being above his neighbors. But soon the word got out. The kids told their parents and soon they were all stopping by the see what time it was. Just a facinating read and so interesting to know that it was written 175 years ago at a time so different from today.

  3. So weird that today I would get an email from you linking back to this blog post when last night, I took my husband to watch the 2023/24 release of The Peasants in a local movie theatre. Never mind that I haven’t been inside a movie theater since before COVID. I wanted to see this fantastic film. As a historian, I was well aware of some of the practices and customs of central and eastern European people during this period, but the story still has so much to teach us. I think back to my ancestors who left the old country to try their hand at something new in the new world and how foreign this land would have seemed to them.
    If you have yet to have the opportunity to view the new movie that took over five years to make, as it is a stop-motion animation using oil paintings, please look into it. It is visually striking, and the story is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *