Friday, May 21, 2010

City of Poznan

The city of Poznan was the first capital of the emerging Polish state in the 10th century and it is second only to Warsaw as a financial center of the modern Polish state.

Many of my Polish ancestors reported that they came from Posen. That could have meant the city of Poznan, or it could have referred to the area around Poznan. Once again, I was in search of the oldest areas of the city; parts of the city my ancestors might have visited or might have even lived.

The heart of the old city is Old Market Square. The city's Town Hall is on the square and it is surrounded by colorfully painted townhouses. Once the residences of the city’s elite, most of the ground floors are now banks, cafés and shops with upper floors divided into apartments. The Town Hall is considered to be one of Europe’s finest municipal buildings (according to my guidebook), designed by an Italian architect and built between 1550-60. The square is very large and mostly open with the perimeters filled with café tables under colorful umbrellas.

It is said that 1,000 years ago, St Adalbert gave a sermon at the top of a hill in Poznan before he started on his campaign to evangelize the Prussians. Now called St. Adalbert’s hill, it is crowned by two Catholic churches. The small Gothic-styled Church of St. Adalbert faces the Church of St. Joseph across a small plaza. Both churches date to the 1600’s.

Adjoining the Church of St. Joseph was a walled cemetery. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but I walked through the cemetery hoping to find some family names. I didn’t find any, but I did find the graves of two people with the surname of Roche, my uncle’s name. The inscriptions were in German, not Polish. My aunt tells me that the name Roche is Irish. We have no idea how it was that two Irishmen speaking German were buried in an old cemetery in Poland.

I didn’t find any evidence of any of my family members in Poznan, but I was able to experience parts of the city. Some of them might have lived in Poznan, maybe they lived in nearby towns and might have visited the bigger city. But I enjoyed visiting Poznan. It’s an attractive and prosperous city and a very pleasant place to sit at a café table and watch the bustle of city life. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


If you can pronounce the name of this city, I'll give you a dollar.

Day 2 of my foray into the Polish countryside. But first I had to make the five hour train trip from Gdansk back to the area I wanted to be in, near Poznan. The front desk made a train reservation for the earliest train I could get to Inowroclaw, another small town not far from Jankowo.

Inowroclaw was an actual town with paved streets and buildings. What a relief. It’s large enough to get a brief mention in my guidebook; they call it a health resort.

I saw no evidence of it’s renown as a health resort, but I was looking for very different things. I wanted to find what looked like the oldest parts of town. My great-grandmother, Victoria Lugowski, and both her parents (my g-great grandparents) were from Inowroclaw. I hoped to wander the oldest streets, hoping that one of them could have been their neighborhood; seeing the things that they might have seen even in the late-1800’s before they set sail for the New World.

The oldest Catholic church in Inowroclaw, and it’s most historic building, is the Church of Our Lady, dating from the turn of the 13th century. You are allowed to enter through the massively heavy doors, but only as far as the small entry area. Access to the church is closed by a heavy metal gate. The lights are left on, however, so visitors can still appreciate it’s rough, plain beauty. I’ll never know if the Lugowski family ever knelt in this church, but it was here when they lived here and I’m certain they would have known about it.

Directly across a large plaza is a newer, much larger and far more ornamented church. No doubt built by the devoted parishioners when the historic church became too small for the congregation. This newer church was lavished with the gilt, ornamentation, devotional paintings and statuary missing in the early church.

As I walked around admiring the interior I couldn’t help but notice that it was in constant use by what seemed to be local people. They would stop in, say a prayer, then leave. Some stayed just a minute or two, others stayed longer. I would have to call most of them middle-aged women, but there were a few men, too, as well as a couple of young people. I saw the same thing at other churches I visited in Poland during my trip. I was impressed that their churches were so much a part of their everyday lives.

Time to move on to Poznan. As I left Inowroclaw, there were two old buildings along the railroad tracks next to the large train station. I wondered if one of these could have been the old train station and if the Lugowski family might have started their journey to America from this spot. Pure speculation. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Into the Countryside

I set off the first day from Warsaw to Jankowo, Poland. My great-great-great-grandmother had reported her birthplace as Jankowo on the ship registry documents. I planned to walk around, take a lot of pictures and hoped I might find the cemetery and possibly the graves of some of my ancestors or other extended family members.

When the train stopped in Jankowo, I stepped off the train into a field. There was one house about 50 yards down the track. After the train left, I could see that there was a small station on the other side of the tracks and 3 houses just behind it. The station was actually just an empty waiting room of sorts. The lighted sign that should have read “Jankowo” had been broken out. There wasn’t a soul around anywhere. There was a single, unpaved road that ran perpendicular to the railroad track and I didn’t see anything that looked like a town as far as I could see along either end of the road.

I started walking along the road behind the train station. After a couple hundred yards or so I still could see only the road curving to the left and some birch trees. I went back and tried the other direction. After a few hundred yards, I saw a small lake and some marshy areas. There were a couple of houses – or at least buildings of some sort – near the marsh. It looked like there could have been a small town on the far side of the lake. As the crow flies, it might have been 1 ½ miles away, but the road curved around the lake and I was not sure how far it really was to walk. The train trip from Warsaw had taken nearly 5 hours, so it was already near 4 pm. If I missed the last train out of Jankowo I might have to spend the night in the deserted train station! Not a pleasant prospect.

When I looked back toward the train station I saw a woman standing near what served as the platform. Realizing that she must know the train schedule, I decided I would have to abandon visiting Jankowo. The train arrived no more than 10 minutes later; I boarded to return to the small city that was one stop away, Gdniesno.

There was still plenty of daylight so I took advantage of it and walked around Gdiesno. Maybe my ggg-grandmother came to this “big city” with her family for shopping excursions or for special religious services in one of the old and richly decorated churches

As the light started to fade, I decided I better get in a taxi and find my hotel. I had used to book a room in a hotel that seemed to be in a nearby town. The name of the hotel and the town were printed out on my itinerary. I showed it to the taxi driver and he seemed very confused. He pointed to the ground and said what I took to be “Gdniesno”. Yes, I nodded, this is Gdniesno, but I pointed to the paper again and indicated that this was the address I wanted to go to. We went through this round of pantomime at least three times, before the driver finally shrugged and nodded, indicating that he would take me there if that was what I wanted. I handed him some paper and a pen and asked “How much?” He wrote 2,100 Zl (Polish Zloty), or about $700! What?

What to do now? The hotel room in Gdansk was guaranteed; it was far too late to cancel and get a refund. And what little I’d seen of Gdniesno made me doubt that there would be much on offer in the way of a good hotel. As a woman traveling alone, I didn’t want to be in a sketchy hotel in a sketchy neighborhood.

So it was back to the train station, but first I had to engage in another pantomime for “train station”. I’m embarrassed at the thought, but I even resorted at one point to making “choo-choo” sounds, but this apparently doesn’t translate in Polish. I finally went back to the pad of paper and pen and drew some railroad tracks. Yes, understanding at last.

I bought a ticket to Gdansk but when I sat down in the lobby and looked at it, it seemed to be dated for the next day. I went back to the ticket booth, and, again, in a combination of pantomime and a few words of English she understood, I asked if the train left today? Yes, she assured me and pointed to the date at the left side of the ticket. I later figured out that the date on the right side meant I was arriving after midnight – Gdansk was 5 hours away by train. No wonder the taxi driver thought I was crazy.
I was one bedraggled traveler when I finally got to the hotel. Amazingly, there was someone there to check me in, and even more amazingly, a young man all got up in full bellhop livery appeared to carry my bags to my room.

This had been my first full day in Poland, full of frustration, mix-ups and misadventure. I hoped that this would not set the pattern for what followed.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Going to Poland

Once I knew that Landy and I were headed for Sarajevo for nearly six months, I started to do some family research in earnest. I’d been meaning to search out some family origins for some time, but never actually got to it. Now, since I was going to be in central/eastern Europe, it was time to get started on locating the origins of my Polish ancestors.

My mother was the 3rd generation of Polish immigrants living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I knew one great-grandmother, the mother of my mother’s mother. She died when I was in my early teens. But I didn’t know anything about my mom’s family on her father’s side of the family – other than they were all Polish, too. Once I started doing some online searching, I quickly found the names of all my great grandparents and great-great-grandparents. My Polish ancestors all arrived in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and they nearly all came from the area of Posen.

The situation of the Polish people became much more difficult after the Napoleonic wars. Taking the side of the French, Poland was claimed by Prussia. The Polish language was suppressed in schools and in government, the Polish nobility was pressured to sell their ancestral lands to Germans, the assets of Catholic monasteries were seized, and non-Polish colonization was encouraged. In 1848, the Parliament of Poznan (capital of the Province of Posen) voted 26 – 17 against joining the newly formed German Empire, but the vote was ignored and the Province of Posen became part of Germany. The heavily Protestant German government increased efforts to “Germanize”  Posen and in 1871 enacted a series of laws curtailing the power and influence of the Polish Catholic church. At the height of these efforts, up to half of Catholic bishops were arrested or had fled in exile; 25% of Polish parishes had no priest and one third of monasteries and convents had been closed. Facing both secular and religious discrimination, it’s no wonder that there was a huge wave of emigration from Poland in the mid- to late-1800’s.

On ship records and US census reports, my ancestors usually just listed Posen as their home. That could mean the Province of Posen, or it’s capital, the city now known as Poznan. But a ggg-grandmother reported coming  from Jankowo and another ancestor came from Inowroclaw, small towns in the Posen area. A third I learned had likely come from Warsaw.

The link to any living ancestors is long broken. I didn’t hope to find any long-lost cousins; I just hoped I might walk some of the same streets or see some of the same sights. So I booked a series of train trips from Warsaw and back again and set off for Poland to see what I could see and find.  

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Birthday and Getting Stranded

In mid April I flew back to Wisconsin for what should have been a 5 day visit with my Dad and sister and other family members. The occasion was my father’s 90th birthday. My father is in very good health overall; he has lost some significant portion of his eyesight to macular degeneration  and has been troubled by increasing pain due to arthritis in his knees and spine, but he and his wife live without aid in their own apartment and still are active in their neighborhood senior center, playing cards, darts and shuffleboard.
The party was supposed to be a surprise, but I know he was suspicious that something was up. He had guessed that we had planned to have a small party with my sister and I and maybe one or two couples they were friendly with at the Senior Center. Instead, he walked in to see a roomful of 40 people.  Two grandchildren and their families (including his two great-grandchildren) had flown in from Virginia and Mississippi and another old friend and his wife had flown in from their winter home in Arizona. There were a lot of family members and a large group of their friends. It was a wonderful group of people and a wonderful party.

The birthday party was April 16, the day after the Icelandic volcano blew up and shut down European airports. Originally set to return to Sarajevo on April 18, Lufthansa wouldn’t reschedule me until my flight was officially cancelled. By the time I could reschedule, the earliest flight I could get was April 23.
My sister works for a hotel, so I was getting a very attractive room rate, but I didn’t want to keep running up my bill, so I moved into the spare room in my dad’s apartment. I had my laptop with me so I could finish work on the May issue of my publication, the Oak Hills Oracle, but I didn’t have the right cable to hook up to the internet connection they had. To check my email and do any online research, I had to use my dad’s 10 year old Gateway computer. It was only possible to endure if I had plenty of reading material on hand while I waited - and waited - for the little ball to stop spinning. 

I was far more fortunate than many other stranded travelers, some of whom were stuck in airports, or in strange cities where they just had to watch their hotel bills increasing. It was a blessing to have the extra time with my father and I could help them out with some chores. I did the vacuuming, I moved some large potted plants, and I cleaned up their small patio and the chairs so they can enjoy the spring sunshine.

My return to Sarajevo was just in time. I unpacked, then repacked. I was off for a trip to Poland on April 25.