In this series of articles, I’ll share what I have uncovered so far about my Scottish, Irish, and Polish lineages and how they all connect. Check out Immigration to America—Lowell, Massachusetts, Scottish Highlanders, Scottish Lowlanders, and Ireland for previously posted Ancestral Stories.
I took this photograph while I was sitting on the bus when my sister and I took a tour through Poland in 2014. We were traveling south from Cracow to the mountain ski resort town of Zakopane.
This region in the south-eastern corner of Poland is called Małopolska (lesser Poland), and is the country’s main tourist region, bordering Slovakia to the south and Ukraine to the east. I would come to find out later that my paternal grandparents were born in different villages in this region.
My Polish Ancestors
The picture above is a view of my Polish lineage from my ancestry wall. The woman in the eight by ten photograph is my grandmother; she was born in Odrzykoń. This village borders the ruins of the Castle Kamieniec. An ancient and historic castle. She was 22 years old when she came to the United States.
The family picture to the right of my grandmother was taken sometime around 1940. My father is the boy standing between his mother and oldest brother. My grandmother was 45 years old when she gave birth to my father. My grandmother passed shortly after I was born.
To the left of my grandmother’s picture is a young man with a corsage on his lapel; he was my grandfather. He was born in one of two villages called Stobierna. He was 17 years old when he came to the United States. My grandfather passed when I was a young child, however, I never saw or met him.
When my grandparents were born, Poland had been partitioned, and this area now called Małopolska (lesser Poland) was part of the Austrian Empire. It was called Galicia or Austrian Poland. It is indicated on my grandparent’s marriage registry they were born in Austria Poland.
Beginning in the late 1880s, masses of Galician peasantry left due to backward economic conditions. Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, and Germans Poles migrated to New England and many of the midwestern states. My grandparents left Austria Poland and immigrated to Lowell, MA, to find work in the Cloth Mills, although neither one spoke English.
My Polish Surnames
- In Polish, it means a small bird of prey of the Accipitridae family.
- Polish nickname or Jewish ornamental name, from Polish Kania’ kite’.
- Polish/Ukrainian, dweller at the sign of the hawk.
- Polish/German, dweller at the sign of the jug, sometimes carved on the door of the Levites since it is their duty to water over the hands of the priests before they bless the congregation.
- An Indian surname.
Guzek Polish nickname guz ‘knob,’ ‘lump.’
Witkowski (Masculine) Witkowska (Feminine)
- Witkowski, in which the Polish “-ski” means “of/from”, is linked to Witkowo, a town in the Polish province of Poznan.
- The Jewish family name is also associated with the Latin Vita (“life”).
- Wójcik–Wójt, a status name for a village headman or chief officer of a group of villages.
- Wojak (“warrior”)
Poland is an ancient nation that came into existence near the middle of the 10th century. It has been invaded, partitioned, and occupied on and off for centuries.
When the American Revolutionary War started in America, Poland had just been partitioned by Russia, Prussia (German state), and Austria. Poland regained its independence in 1918 after WWI only to be invaded by Germany in 1939. and was then was invaded by Russia. It became a Soviet satellite state following WWII.
Labor turmoil in 1980 led to the formation of a trade union “Solidarity”, that over time became a political force. By 1990 a new government was elected and installed. Poland was again an independent country. My tour guide in Warsaw told us that Poland was like a table where wars took place between eastern (Russia) and western Europe (Germany).
As I toured Poland, what stood out was how similar this county is to Michigan, where I live. Poland’s geography, natural resources, agriculture, and even the shoreline of the Baltic Sea looked identical to the coastline of Lake Michigan, where I walk.
Our tour included a stop in Oświęcim, a town in southern Poland known for the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, a former WWII concentration camp. I almost walked off that tour. It’s difficult to explain, but I feel there’s more to this Holocaust story than what the tour guides tell the tourists. I’ve read that the victors re-write history to suit their narrative. In my opinion, there’s much that has been omitted from this tour.
- Endings, New Beginnings & Experiences
- Surfs, Feudal System
- Viking & Mongolian, German & Russian DNA
- Wars & Warriors
I took the picture above when our tour visited Sopot, Poland. I was surprised how this beach looked similar to the beaches along Lake Michigan.
Sopot is a town on the Baltic Sea, known for its sandy beach, long wooden pier and health spas. I don’t remember seeing any buildings called health spas. I saw buildings called surgery centers as we drove in and walked around the town. There is much more going on here than meets the eye, so to say.
As always, I would be interested in your thoughts and comments.