The record of my grandparents immigrating to the USA was lost in obscurity for me my entire adult life. Now that I am 67 years old I have finally settled down to a reasonable level of sanity from my very busy and wandering ways. I began searching my roots a short while back.
For many years I wondered who I was. This is meant in the context of family and human history of course. What tribe am I from? The question was a natural outflow of the long arduous path I traversed seeking to define who I was as a person. There was no doubt that I was ethnically a Pole. My early years were filled with Polish Roman Catholic traditions and Polish foods. St. Laurentius Church and parochial school is where I learned to read and write, something for which I am greatly indebted to my parents. I could have attended public school but they decided to bare the burden of the extra expense of parochial school tuition. Prayers were said in Polish, Latin and English every day in class under the guidance of Franciscan nuns.
It is a sad note in this missive to say that the Arch Diocese of Philadelphia is seeking to sell the church at the present.
All of the deeply entrenched traditions of a Polish family were very evident in our family calendar. The major holidays were all celebrated with great pomp and unbelievable amounts of Polish cuisine and vodka. There was always two Christmas trees at Babush’s house. From the ceremony of breaking wafers at Christmas after midnight Mass, the elaborate feasts at funerals, to the Lenten rituals associated to Polish Roman Catholic tradition the one continuum was that this was the Polish way to do things.
About nine months ago everything changed in my quest to search my ethnic origins. The ignorance of my roots had been a persistent gnawing void in my life and understanding. Several attempts were made over the years to do some genealogical research to no avail. Babush, Dzjadek, my aunts and uncles and my dear parents had long passed away. My chances of tapping their knowledgeable insights were nil.
One evening while unwinding, I received a facebook message from a young man who lived in Poland. His name was totally unfamiliar to me. He was looking for any relatives with the surname Petrowski that would be a associated with one Katarszynia Kyć, whose children were the names of my aunts, uncles and father!
The flood gates opened. More has been revealed to me and my living siblings in this past year than all of our long lives combined. The influx of information was staggering. I was able to piece together the personal information and immigration data on both my Polish maternal and paternal sides of the family. Here are some of the interesting factoids related to all of this.
I never met my mother’s parents. They died before I was born. They had immigrated from Poland in 1906 from Luchów Górny, Bilgoraj, Lublin Voivodeship. Tragically their names, Wojciech and Anna never reached my ears. Only now does it dawn on me why. They both, along with my uncle Adrzej, died of Tuberculoses during the Great Depression era. This caused of the demise of my mother and her sister, my aunt Mary also. This was the ‘poor man’s disease’ and the details of their lives and passing were never discussed for that reason. Strangely, though I never met them or knew their names or understood their origins, they are of blessed memory to me now. Presently I have in my possession the records of their origins in the land of Poland, their immigration, naturalization, birth and death. It is nothing short of phenomenal to have made these discoveries. My ownership of this information has made them a greater part of me. How is it that I love them having never known them or they having never know me?
More than this, a huge repository of letters from Poland, which I have digitized, are now stored in mutliple places and types of storage media. Uncle Stanley, my mothers bother, was corresponding with relatives in Luchów Górny and sending them gifts and money so that they might survive post WWII conditions in their rural Polish village. Some of the letters sent from Poland during the 1940’s contained pieces of opłatek from the old country. The letters are in need of translation. I painstakingly copied the envelopes and their content into images.
Who would have guessed that I would have an uncle that had been a professor at the University of Poznan? That there are relatives of mine in Florida here in the US!? That there is a world of relatives in Poland from that line of the family still very much alive and well and waiting to be met?
Then also, the curious link, and there must have been one, that existed between my paternal grandmother, Katarzyna Kyć, and my maternal grandfather, Wojciech Wlaż (Wlas) has come to light. Babush and Dzjadek lived only three miles away from each other in Poland. How could they not know each other even if they were from what are now different Voivodeships? I live in rural Oregon and three miles is easy walking distance.
Babush (Kyć) Petrowski came to the United States in 1907, on her own, at the age of 16. Why? How could her parents send her away at that young age to a foreign country, across the Atlantic ocean, whose language and customs she did not know? She was a very beautiful young lady. Surely her father knew what was brewing politically and socially in Europe. ‘Hindsight is always 20-20’ they say. Was it the pending Bolshevik Revolution? Was it the stirrings of the Austrian empire and WWI? It may never be known. Her parents saw something that inspired them to share a significant portion of their meager wealth to send her on her way. What I do know is that had she not come to the USA I would not be here. My Polish nephew informed me of much concerning her and her family from Adamówka, Poland (Galicia). Pictures of her siblings and much in the way of the complex family genealogy are now in my records along with images of the very spot on Polish soil where she was born and raised. Apparently the rural property is still in the Kyć family. Incredibly, my nephew is very interested in genealogy. He has a GED file with some 1200 names in it. Names of relatives who are alive today and spread far and wide throughout the Polish nation. I and my extended family here in the US are now part of that file.
This of course led me on a wild chase, a paper trail as it were, documenting naturalization and the like. Most interesting of all, is the history of my grandmother and ciocia Mania taking trips to Podkarpackie Voivodeship of Przeworsk County Poland during the 1950’s and 60’s. They carried huge boxes of clothing and food to Adamówka, Babush’s natal villiage. They never forgot the family I never knew. She spoke English fluently. Her yard was a veritable cornucopia of medicinal plants and vegetables. She made her own tinctures and always, always she had an abundance of Polish varieties of flowers. She always had a plate set at the table for a stranger or the poor. She made her own kielbasa and irresistible pastries . I ate Czernina, Gołąbki, Kasza, Kiszka ziemniaczana, Pierogi, Kapusta, Kutia, Beet Barszcz and much more made by her hands.
I will confess that I was somewhat of a rascal in my youth. In spite of that she would always say to me, ‘Stashu, you are a Polish Prince!? Her hands were never idle. All of her windows and tables and chairs were covered in hand crocheted full length elaborate works of art. They were everywhere ornate curtains and coverings where everywhere in the house. She never just sat and talked. Speaking of which, I dare not forget to mention the incredibly ornate Easter eggs that she and my aunts would make every year the week before Easter using bees wax and tooth picks. I watched for hours as a little child.
The final and somewhat shocking revelation concerning my family and ancestors centered on Dzjadek Ludwik Petrowski. His surname was not Petrowski! Nor, as it is written on my birth certificate, Stanislaus Pietrowski. No, neither was it Petroski as it was written in the 1920 census. His real full name was Ludwik Stanislaw Petraszczuk! The ships manifest declared him of ‘Polish race’ and Russian nationality! He was born and raised in the small village of Khrabuzna in what was then Czarist Russia. His birth record was stamped with a hammer and sickle logo. Now I know that he was born in the Khmel’nyts’ka oblast, Polons’kyi district of Ukraine and his birth records (I have images of them) are kept at a Roman Catholic church not too far from where he was born. His father and mother were Stanislaw and Anastasia Petraszscuk. Ludwik’s brother Marianca took the surname Piotrowski when he arrived in the U.S. some years before Dzjadek. Not once did I ever hear my grandfather say a word in English. If he were alive I would ask why he changed his name. He worked until the day of his death in a factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He raised 7 children, three of whom died in the Pacific during WWII as Navy men.
There is much more that I have discovered. I am inexorably drawn to the land of my ancestors. Only the Lord knows if I will actually ever go there some day. I have a great desire to be there and to touch the ground of my grandparents places…