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.