Through Patrick’s lenses – a Genealogy Tour to Poland

blog by Patrick McCabe


In September 2019 the country of Poland became our family’s latest destination for
sharing a vacation together. The majority of our trip was indeed sightseeing,
however, the genealogy aspect of our family was the driving force for our visit to
Poland. Specifically, it focused on our mother’s side of the family…the Pilarski and
the Borkenhagen families. In 2015 we traveled to Ireland exploring our father’ss side
of the family. In essence, we have now completed an initial “full circle” of our
ancestors’ homelands.



As we learned, Poland has a very complex and turbulent history. Various invasions
and wars constantly stretched or reduced the country’s geographic boundaries. For
well over a century (1795 -1918) present-day Poland and its boundaries did not
even exist. It was interesting to observe that on our maternal side our grandfather,
our great grandparents and our great-great grandparents were all born during a
time when Poland was partitioned amongst the countries of Russia, Prussia, and
Austria. It follows then that this was also the same period of time that our ancestors
who immigrated came to the United States.



In addition to Krakow, we also visited four other large Polish cities; Wroclaw,
Poznan, Gdansk, and Warsaw. Unlike Krakow, these cities had been destroyed during
WW2. What we saw then were the results of painstaking reconstruction of these
cities in an effort to duplicate their appearance before the war. While they each
incorporated the European concept of an Old Town Square each city was visually
unique in its layout and each had it’s own charming and distinctive atmosphere. We
were impressed with the beautifully muted kaleidoscope of colors that were painted
upon the facades of many buildings as well as numerous kinds of art scenery etched
upon the buildings. Likewise, we enjoyed and marveled at the variety of gorgeous
architecture whether it was gothic, baroque or renaissance. All of these elements
created a relaxing and lovely street ambiance. Historical and cultural centers were
all nearby and most often in easy walking distance. The general effect created was
that of a vibrant and bustling city center for visitors and locals alike. It’s my feeling
that we had uncertain expectations as to what we would experience in Poland. The
reality of our experiences seemed to easily exceed our expectations.



In between touring Poznan and Gdansk, we completed two full days of visiting the
rural communities and churches that both the Pilarskis and Borkenhagens
originated from. One of the great surprises of the trip is that we meet three of our
Pilarski relatives. This meeting took place at the Catholic cemetery in Mielzyn. This
was the town in which our grandfather Steven was born. Our main tour guide,
Michal Chmielewski, served as the interpreter as the questions and answers flowed
back and forth between families. We were able to share a family history tree with
them as it related to other mutual relatives as well as a number of the photographic
records showing some of the Pilarski family history. This was absolutely, one of the
great highlights of our trip.






To see more of Patrick’s beautiful photographs from Poland, we invite you to his blog, where he uploaded more images from this and other tours he and his loved ones took:






One comment

  1. Delighted to see Mr McCabe – we both were public servants and met many times between 1996 and 2010

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