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Ute
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Post Posted: Mon Sep 07, 2015 12:18 am      Post subject: Why didn't they talk about it? Some old and new thoughts ...
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Why didn't they talk about it? Some old and new thoughts ...

It was in fall of 1989 when I asked my father where his father came from originally. At that time I knew nothing about the life of Polish immigrants to the United States and thought it was an easy to answer question for him. Thinking back, I sometimes wonder how things would have developed had he shown me some old family pictures, given me some names, and told me a little bit about his father's side of the family. Would that have satisfied me? Would I have stopped asking questions? Would I ever have started family research on the paternal side of my family as obsessionally as I did for many many years, had his answer to my question not have been a simple "I don't know"?

Back then I just couldn't believe that my father knew nothing about his father's heritage. Had they never talked about it in the family? Was there perhaps a reason why he wouldn't tell me? Some family secret that I wasn't supposed to know? "The adults talked about these things amongst themselves when we were kids", my father said, "but not with us". He didn't recall his father ever mentioning his family or where he came from originally when he was around, and, like many of us, he never thought to ask about it while he still had the chance.

Today, after reading quite a few family stories and comments written by fellow researchers, I know that it wasn't unusual for the children of first generation immigrants not to know where their parents came from and for the parents not to discuss their life in the 'old country' with their children.

What were the reasons for that? Were the parents embarrassed to talk about the poverty they came from? The majority of Polish immigrants to America at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century were peasants or descendants of peasants from the overpopulated, poverty-ridden south for whom emigration was the only opportunity to escape a future of poverty (see, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_Austrian_Galicia )

Or was it too painful for them to talk about it? I imagine, while their hearts were filled with hope for a better life in America in approaching emigration, it wasn't easy for some of our ancestors to leave their family and home village behind, parents and grandparents that had raised them, the familiar village they had called home as long as they could think back in their lives, knowing they would most likely never see their kin and home village again. I can imagine the decision of whether to stay and adapt to the given conditions or to leave, facing the unknown, wasn't simple. Most of our ancestors had no choice. They were used to working hard to survive, and life continued to be hard for most of them. Due to often low education levels, illiteracy, and unfamiliarity of the English language, the jobs available to them in America were usually the low-paid, dirty, hard-labor, and often dangerous ones, e.g. in coal mining, construction, steel factories, slaughter houses, and so on. Later, during the Great Depression, many of them lost their jobs and were forced to use up all their savings, if they had any at all, to be able to survive and to meet the basic needs of their families.

The conditions my father and his siblings, born first generation American, were brought up in during the years of the Great Depression are unimaginable to us who, for the most part, never had to worry about where the next meal would come from, if we could afford to get the health care we needed when we were sick, if we had decent clothes to go to school in, and if there was enough money to be able to pay the rent on time.

Now I understand both generations, the immigrant generation as well as the first generation born in the United States. They were simply too busy coping with the present and striving for a better life, getting ahead economically and socially. Burdened with all these worries, it was useless to dwell on the past. It was better to look ahead, work hard, and try to forget.


Last edited by Ute on Wed Sep 14, 2016 8:05 am; edited 5 times in total
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MDuplaga
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Post Posted: Mon Sep 07, 2015 2:35 am      Post subject: Why they didn't talk about it? Some old and new thoughts...
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Hello Ute,

It's nice to hear your thoughtful insight on this subject. I'd like to add that one day the thought struck me, that my Mother and her other 7 siblings, being of the first generation never had an opportunity to actually meet both sets of their grandparents, much less to have them play an important role in their lives. So these first generation children suffered a loss they probably didn't realize growing up, as many of their friends and possibly their cousins experienced the same situation-so they didn't know what they had missed out on. I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience 3 of my grandparents growing up and the gifts I received from those relationships that my Mother and her 7 siblings never had the opportunity to enjoy.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and posting the link.
MaryAnne
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Ute
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Post Posted: Mon Sep 07, 2015 6:20 am      Post subject:
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MaryAnne,

Thanks for your response and thoughts. My father knew that his mother was from Poland, but he had no idea where his father was from, and he never got to know his grandparents.

Out of my own experience I know how important grandparents are in a child's life. My maternal grandmother has always played a very important role in my life. She was a simple woman, but one with great strength of character, and her wisdom, support, and unconditional love were a blessing and still have an impact on my life today.

But, as you said, many of the first generation children's friends and possibly their cousins experienced the same situation, so they didn't know what they had missed out on ...

Ute


Last edited by Ute on Wed Sep 14, 2016 7:54 am; edited 1 time in total
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Helli
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Post Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 3:12 am      Post subject:
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Ute,
thank you for posting your thoughts. I never got to know my grandparents and still have the feeling of "something" missing in my life!
Maybe that explains - for me - the urge to learn more about my ancestors.
Helli
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Ute
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Post Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 5:43 am      Post subject:
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I know the feeling of "something missing in my life", Helli. Thanks for your response.
Ute
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LIT-2236



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Post Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 7:28 am      Post subject:
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Have just spent half an hour composing a reply which I think would have helped answer this question - where did it go?...... No wonder people give up - especially if not internet savvy & I admit to being a dinosaur!
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Elzbieta Porteneuve
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Post Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2015 10:29 am      Post subject:
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LIT-2236 wrote:
Have just spent half an hour composing a reply which I think would have helped answer this question - where did it go?...... No wonder people give up - especially if not internet savvy & I admit to being a dinosaur!


Hi,

I lost a couple of posts to PO, then I understood my lesson, and since then prepare my replies in Word or Block Notes first, then copy/paste to the forum.

BTW, I noted your interest in Andrzejewska actress.
Besides Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jadwiga_Andrzejewska
there is a nice blog about her, in Polish, from 2013
http://miedzywojnie.blogspot.fr/2013/09/jadwiga-andrzejewska-1915-1977.html
...
W latach 1940-1942 występowała w polskich teatrzykach rewiowych, które działały wówczas na terenie Lwowa. Następnie przyłączyła się do zespołu Czołówki Teatralnej przy Armii Polskiej w ZSRR, której dyrektorem był Kazimierz Krukowski - będący przed wojną również dyrektorem warszawskiej Ali Baby.
Kolejno (w 1942) Andrzejewska związała się z Armią generała Andersa... I tak wraz z teatrem wojskowym przemierzyła cały szlak bojowy. Występowała m.in. w Jerozolimie, Tel Awiwiem, Hajfie... Do Polski wróciła w roku 1947.
//
...
In the years 1940-1942, she performed in Polish revue theaters, that worked then in Lwow. Then joined the team Tie Theatre at the Polish Army in the Soviet Union, whose director was Kazimierz Krukowski - who, before the war, was also the director of the Warsaw Ali Baba.
Then (in 1942) Andrzejewska connected with Army of General Anders ... And so, along with the military theater, she crossed the combat trail. She performed, among others, in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa ... She returned back to Poland in 1947.

That blog states she and her family was from Łodz.

Best,
Elzbieta
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rsowa
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Post Posted: Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:06 pm      Post subject:
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Ute...I have often thought about exactly what you expressed so elegantly.

We also shouldn't forget that even if the descendants of our immigrant ancestors never learned about the "old country", there is still a piece of it in us all. The lines below are something I wrote as part of a preface to my family history that I am putting together. It sums up pretty much how I feel.

After selling everything they owned, and scraping together enough money to emigrate, they arrived in America to find a thriving new world that promised a better life. They brought with them the skills, motivation and determination to succeed and keep their families alive through hard work and heavy reliance on their extended family.

However, by the time their surviving children had reached adulthood, America had fallen into the Great Depression. Once again, the lessons they learned about survival and reliance on one another allowed them (and their children) to make it through the Depression, and later, World War II. They taught those lessons to their children, my parent's generation…that the famous newscaster Tom Brokaw once called “the greatest generation”.

We behave the way we do, and think the way we think because of the lessons we learned from our immigrant ancestors…even if we never met them.

Richard
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Charlotte Rodziewicz



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Post Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2015 6:05 am      Post subject:
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Thank you, Ute, for this forum. You hit a topic that's been a burden for me for many years. I am first generation on my father's side and the last member of his line. My father died when I was 12 yrs. old, so I never had the benefit of talking with him adult to adult. The questions I could ask!

Charlotte
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Ute
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Post Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:40 am      Post subject:
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rsowa wrote:
Ute...I have often thought about exactly what you expressed so elegantly.

We also shouldn't forget that even if the descendants of our immigrant ancestors never learned about the "old country", there is still a piece of it in us all. The lines below are something I wrote as part of a preface to my family history that I am putting together. It sums up pretty much how I feel.

After selling everything they owned, and scraping together enough money to emigrate, they arrived in America to find a thriving new world that promised a better life. They brought with them the skills, motivation and determination to succeed and keep their families alive through hard work and heavy reliance on their extended family.

However, by the time their surviving children had reached adulthood, America had fallen into the Great Depression. Once again, the lessons they learned about survival and reliance on one another allowed them (and their children) to make it through the Depression, and later, World War II. They taught those lessons to their children, my parent's generation…that the famous newscaster Tom Brokaw once called “the greatest generation”.

We behave the way we do, and think the way we think because of the lessons we learned from our immigrant ancestors…even if we never met them.

Richard

Richard,
Thank you very much for your response and for sharing the sentences you wrote as part of the preface to your family history with us. It helps us to better understand how our our ancestors' lives were like and the reasons why they acted the way they did. And I love your last sentence: "We behave the way we do, and think the way we think because of the lessons we learned from our immigrant ancestors…even if we never met them." Your words are expressing so well what I have been feeling for so long.. Thank you.
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Ute
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Post Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:28 am      Post subject:
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Charlotte Rodziewicz wrote:
Thank you, Ute, for this forum. You hit a topic that's been a burden for me for many years. I am first generation on my father's side and the last member of his line. My father died when I was 12 yrs. old, so I never had the benefit of talking with him adult to adult. The questions I could ask!

Charlotte

Charlotte,

Thank you for your response. I understand how you feel about never having the benefit of talking with your father as an adult and asking him the questions you would have liked to ask. It leaves an empty space in our life that is always there and cannot be filled by anything else, no matter of how much genealogical data we are collecting up.

Today I regret that didn't talk about all these things with my German grandmother when I was young and still had the opportunity. I'm sure she would have loved to tell me, but I didn't ask. It was just not important to me at the time. I guess one must reach a certain age and maturity to understand what really counts in life. Maybe our immigrant ancestors would have talked as well if we had shown interest in their life stories when they were still around.
Ute


Last edited by Ute on Tue Feb 04, 2020 9:42 am; edited 2 times in total
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dgawell



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Post Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 1:57 pm      Post subject:
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What a very well stated explanation! Some of us are burdened by not only the lack of information, but a distortion of the truth. My father communicated a bitter tone when explaining that my grandmother was forced to leave Poland/Galicia because the family couldn't afford to keep her. Now, looking at the family tree's basic facts, I see that my grandmother's father died when she was seven and she had thirteen siblings! So, her mother probably gave her the gift of insuring that she find her way to America. We can now look at the situation with different eyes and see the reality of possible starvation and huge deprivation!
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BobK
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Post Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 7:28 pm      Post subject:
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This story of the parents not telling all the facts - is repeated in so many forums that I've followed.

I had the same lack of information from my father's side. I thought my father's parents were born in Germany, but as a young teen I found my grandfather's death certificate which said "Country of Origin: Russia". My father wouldn't answer my question, "Russia!!?? how?"

Much later, as the internet expanded with information and clues - I learned that my German grandparents were Germans - from Poland.
Why did they say they were from Germany? who were they mailing clothing to after WWII? All had to wait until the internet and sleuthing tied up some of the newly found threads.

The residents of the Polish Partition that Russia held were told they were in Russia and their language had to change to Russian. Though the partition dated to 1794, Russia only quietly managed it until about the mid 1800's when those demands were made. Those born in the late 1800's believed they were living in Russia, and gave that county as their origin. Proof of that was the marriage of my great grandparents and all grandpa's siblings birth notices were in handwritten Cyrillic.

Not only was there a depression here in the U.S. but there was the Communist worries that rose and fell and reared into fear during the late 40's & for decades after. Would people willingly admit to being from Russia?!

Why they didn't tell, has many reasons.. and we'll never really know why - I doubt they knew exactly why they didn't want to say. I do know that in their day and age, people weren't as open as today.
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singingfalls
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Post Posted: Sat Oct 03, 2015 11:12 am      Post subject:
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I just posted my grandparents immigration story and it ties right in with this thread. My paternal grandfather claimed Polish ethnicity and Russian nationality. He was born in a small village in what is now Ukraine. As I began poking around regarding this I discovered that during the time of his arrival to the USA and shortly after also, Canada was placing Ukrainians in internment camps or work camps much like the USA did the Japanese during WWII. This led to a long search regarding the attitude of US citizens toward those of "Russian" nationality. I learned that the Nationalist Ukrainians were purging the Poles that lived near what is now Lviv. (Western Ukraine-Southern Poland) All of my ancestors where from a region that today would be considered a negotiable short distance by car. Eastern Europe was a royal mess. I noticed that the ships manifest would ask for race, nationality and if you were an anarchist or not. I have sorrow for the people of that region. Stalin began the starvation purges in the midst of the chaos. 1907 to 1947 where years of poverty and terror for my people. What astounds me is that my paternal grandmother at age 16 arrived with 20.00 dollars in her possession. They never ever talked about the old country although Babush and ciocia Mania took many boxes of cloths, food and other things to Adamówka, Poland on several trips.
_________________
Kyć - Adamówka
Wlaź - Lucków Górny
Petraszczuk - Khrabuzna, Ukraine
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Ute
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Post Posted: Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:41 am      Post subject:
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singingfalls wrote:
They never ever talked about the old country although Babush and ciocia Mania took many boxes of cloths, food and other things to Adamówka, Poland on several trips.


I thought this article fits well with our discussion on the importance of knowing our family history and intergenerational family stories:

http://shared.web.emory.edu/emory/news/releases/2010/03/children-benefit-if-they-know-about-their-relatives-study-finds.html#.VhNd2WuVXIV
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