Americans who descend from Polish immigrants often have limited or no knowledge of their families who were left behind. Those of us who have found the parish, ancestors’ names, and dates are often missing the life stories of not only their ancestors but those of the families who did not immigrate. An understanding of their struggles helps us to comprehend the worries of our now deceased grandparents, especially when we learn what their families went through during the Second World War.
Most Polish Americans descend from the peasant class, and it is likely their families remained in the villages and small towns. Their wartime experience was vastly different than the Poles who lived in larger cities such as Warsaw and Krakow. Unfortunately, much of our information comes from romanticized movies and novels that place a compelling story over reality and facts.
During my research for my newly released historical novel, War and Resistance in the Wilderness, I visited Poland three times and interviewed numerous Polish priests and historians, and my relatives who still live in the villages. Their collective memory of WWII gave me insight into the Poles’ struggles, daily lives, and their efforts to provide food, shelter, and assistance to the persecuted Jewish population and compelling reasons why they couldn’t.
Nazi Germans forcing Polish peasants from their homes for the expansion of Camp Heidelager in 1941.
The Polish people throughout the country suffered deliberate targeting by the Germans with almost every city, town, or village affected by random raids and massacres. My relatives in the wilderness villages of Niwiska and Trzesn in southeastern Poland were at mass on Sunday, Sept 3rd, when German gunfire exploded around the peaceful church while planes dropped their bombs.
As genealogists and family historians, we often ponder why our ancestors didn’t tell us much about their past or the old country. Our lament as grandchildren is we neglected to ask our grandparents and parents questions about which we now care so deeply.
In my senior years, I now have a laundry list of questions that should have been asked. What were the reasons you came to America, what was life like in your village, how much schooling did you have, what did your house look like? etc. Oh, if we could only have them in our lives for just a week so that we could uncover all the mysteries and stories that died with them.
I “get it” now. If there is blame to be placed, it likely is on my shoulders. It wasn’t until I became an empty nester that I began to genuinely care about my heritage. My interests centered on me during my younger years, a common theme of those interested in family history. We probably sat on the couch in our grandparents’ living rooms just waiting to go home. Continue reading
Travel Back to Your Roots has just been released on Amazon.com. My goal in writing this book was to inspire others who wish to research their European immigrant ancestors and hopefully discover cousins back in the old country.
Travel Back to Your Roots is for beginning genealogists and those who may not know how to make the jump over the pond to research parish and village or town records in Europe. The reader will learn how to first find the necessary US census, church, and immigration records before tackling those in European churches and archives.
One chapter on immigration will give the reader insight into the reasons for immigration and details the Ellis Island experience to better understand our ancestors’ bravery and the struggles they encountered.
I’m optimistic you will have success in your research and therefore have chapters to explain how to find living descendants in Europe and then how to contact them. The reader will also learn how to plan a budget-friendly ancestral heritage trip.
Finally, another chapter explains how to self-publish beautiful and professional family history books and genealogies at no cost using Create Space. Check out my Amazon site to see examples of these types of books.
Starting genealogy just six years ago, I been able to go back to the 1700’s in the European records with seven out of eight of our immigrant ancestors (Polish, Swedish, and German.) I also found eight groups of cousins in Poland and Sweden and was enthusiastically welcomed to visit them in 2014 , 2016 and 2018. They all exemplified the saying “A Guest in the House is God in the House.”
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I began my career as a genealogist and family historian several years ago and joined ancestry.com for their two-week free trial period. Surely, if I was diligent, I could uncover everything there was to know about my ancestors in those fourteen days! I can hear all the genealogists chuckling…