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Hypothetical cousin from America - genealogy and Poles


Paulwiz 1 | 32
10 Feb 2020 #1
One day you meet an overweight, old American with a poor grasp of the Polish language who is visiting your area. He seems simple-minded enough that even if he turns out to be an ax murderer, he is probably not very good at it. Through his okropny po Polsku you eventually conclude that he is trying to discover if you may be a family relative. He somehow relates to you that his grandfather came to America around 1915. This means that the nearest common relative will probably be your great grandparents. He does know the names going back even a generation or two before them so it is possible to compare notes.

1) Do you know the names of your great grandparents so you can compare notes? How about pra pra dziadek i babcia? Is your family genealogy something you even care about?

2) Do you even know that you might have relatives in America? In other words, is there any "family lore" or even some records like old letters that relate how great uncle Stanley went to America?

3) Or do you simply sic the dog on him and take a video of the dog chasing him to put on YouTube?
OP Paulwiz 1 | 32
11 Feb 2020 #3
Ok. Pretty weird. Maybe very weird. Aiming for humor but missed. The fat old American is me. But if you ignore the story and look at the questions you'll see what I'd like to know. My last name is very common in Poland. So if I visit the area where I expect to find family, in general, can I expect people to know about their family tree back 3 or 4 generations? (I suspect most people in US would know very little about great grandparents.) And in general should I expect a Polish family to know that they may even have a distant relative in the US if the relative that emigrated left Poland in the early 1900's? Or is this whole topic not even interesting to them and will quickly bore them?

If it is too weird then just ignore it and it will go away. Sorry.
Ironside 49 | 10,205
11 Feb 2020 #4
If it is too weird then

Depends on the people, some will know a lot, some will know some, some will know very little.
Atch 17 | 3,086
11 Feb 2020 #5
Maybe very weird. Aiming for humor but missed.

Not weird at all, a humorous treatment of a question which is oft asked in various forms. The best person to answer your genealogy related questions on this forum is Kaprys. She is Polish and is interested in the subject, seems well informed about it. To answer your queries, based on my own observations of Polish people:

1) Many people won't know the names of great grandparents, certainly they won't know all four sets of them. Think about it. In England where records have been kept for hundreds of years and the information is available if you seek it, surprisingly few people know the names of their great grandparents. Now consider Poland and its history, inadequate written records, partitions, wars etc. However as Ironside says, it varies, you may be lucky.

As to whether people care about their family history in Poland, it's probably much less important to them than it is to a Polish-American. I think it's a growing area of interest among younger people though.

2) People might know that they had a relative who emigrated but they won't actively think about the fact that they have distant cousins in the States.

Some people won't like what I have to say now, but it's something I've observed. I've known a few people who've traced their Polish relations and found that the relations were friendly enough at first but that very soon they began asking for money. I knew an Irish man around your age, whose grandfather was Polish. He traced his Polish family and they were friendly and welcoming but his daughter said that after a while, he was receiving regular requests for money from various distant cousins. Mind you this was about fifteen years ago and perhaps with the new prosperity that will have changed.

On the whole, Polish people are not big on sentiment. They are practical, down to earth people and survival is their number one consideration. Their touchy feely, lovey dovey side is reserved for young children and dogs.
kaprys 2 | 2,124
11 Feb 2020 #6
Before I got interested in geneaology I knew names of only my great granparents (except for one great grandmother as my father didn't remember it. He was born when she was in her seventies and lived miles away from where his parents originally came from. Later it turned out both of his grandmas were Zofia).

I doubt my brother or cousins even know that.
Distance and the age gap make a lot of difference. In the past people would have children for 20-25 years after the marriage. One of my great great grandfathers was born over 200 years ago. My great grandfather was born when his mother was 47 and his father was in his 60s.

My great grandparents came from three different regions of Poland. And actually from different towns and villages in each of these regions.
People moved more than we imagine. Some moved abroad and overseas after all.
Some stayed.
There might be some distant relatives in the places your ancestors were born in but it's hard to say whether they're interested in geneaology and know all their ancestors' children and cousins.

I personally just looked up my my direct ancestors. I don't even remember all of my granparents' siblings.
OP Paulwiz 1 | 32
11 Feb 2020 #7
Thanks Milo and Ironside. And special thanks to Atch and kaprys. Yet again you answered my questions oerfectl
OP Paulwiz 1 | 32
11 Feb 2020 #8
(Somehow posted before I meant to.)
A wall can spring up when people move to a new country. My grandparents spoke Polish in their home. So my Dad's generation learned to speak Polish as well. When it came time to go to school they were taught to speak, read and write English. But they could not read and write Polish. So even if one of my Dad's siblings wanted to write to the family in Poland it was not easy. And the wall is even more effective for the next generation (me) and does a good job of keeping the family separated.

Except ...
My aunt (Dad's sister) was a nun. She worked in a hospital and developed an amazing skill with languages. Polish was one of several languages she taught herself. She made contact with the family in Poland. I have a couple of the letters and I think there may be more records in a box that my cousin found. We believe she may have visited Poland as well but we're not sure.

In short, I have found a way around the wall. I am trying to figure out what to do now that I can see to the other side. Do I look for family or do I just visit and take pictures of churches and graveyards? Or both? If the typical Polish person, who has lived in the same area for many generations, has a good grasp of their family genealogy then it would be nice to (try to) communicate with them. But I don't want to impose on them either. Much to consider.

Thanks again Atch and kaprys. Remarkable that you could discern what I needed in light of the lousy way I asked the question.
pawian 163 | 10,429
11 Feb 2020 #9
Their touchy feely, lovey dovey side is reserved for young children and dogs.

And cats.
JackRussel
13 Feb 2020 #10
I'm not Polish but to be honest most Europeans barely think about America at all in their daily life. Outside of movies, POTUS latest updates, we barely give any thought on the US and half of the most popular English speaking artists here are actually British or Canadian (1D, Bieber for ex. a few years ago). So I think most Poles don't speak a lot about distant relatives in the US. Somehow Americans are more eager to keep the connection alive.
OP Paulwiz 1 | 32
13 Feb 2020 #11
Thanks for the input Jack. I can't explain why Americans seem to be interested in genealogy (even though I'm one of them). But I have observed that the hobby seems to be most popular among older Americans. The young people who show an interest mainly want to use the DNA tests but usually don't want to pore through ancient census records. I looked at the web pages for some Polish genealogy clubs. Sometimes they show pictures of the members and they look to be a bit younger. But these are obviously generalizations and might be inccurate.

It is unfortunate that TV and movies are seen as significant. I don't watch TV. I shudder to think that an extraterrestrial alien civilization may be forming an opinion about earth based on TV signals that have escaped into space.
pawian 163 | 10,429
13 Feb 2020 #12
I can't explain why Americans seem to be interested in genealogy

I would be too if I were American. Trying to find out my real roots which could originate anywhere in the world sounds like fun. With homogenous societies like the Polish it is different. A Pole knows he or she is Polish and that`s enough.
OP Paulwiz 1 | 32
13 Feb 2020 #13
So many amateur genealogists here have hidden agendas. They won't admit it, but they are looking for "royal ancestors". And there is the eternal search for "family crests". There are scoundrels here who will sell you your family crest. And, big surprise, the crest usually has something on it to commemorate the "service to the king". Kind of weird IMO. I don't even know what a family crest is. I bet my great grandfather didn't either. And the highest status he probably reached was when the mud built up on his shoes. And I still feel blessed to learn about him.
Miloslaw 6 | 3,239
13 Feb 2020 #14
@Paulwiz

I don't think that is true.
Search the Polish elite sites.
I think people may be looking for successful,influential, artistic or whatever ancestors.
But coats of arms?
Nah, not many.....
OP Paulwiz 1 | 32
14 Feb 2020 #15
Yeah, I was probably too judgemental. Anyone even remotely serious about genealogy probably has more objective motives.

What is a Polish elite site? I need to see if there is any nobility in my ancestry and the name implies maybe I could do it there.

But seriously, what is a Polish elite site? Never heard that term.
kaprys 2 | 2,124
14 Feb 2020 #16
A name doesn't tell much. If you're of the nobility it should be in the records.
Ziemowit 13 | 3,798
14 Feb 2020 #17
amateur genealogists have hidden agendas. They won't admit it, but they are looking for "royal ancestors". And there is the eternal search for "family crests".

There used to be so some time ago. Now it has become totally different.

Back in the 1970s, I think people were still genuinely proud if their ancestors were coming of gentry people, but these days such a feeling has vanished almost completely. This is because people have realised the nation today is a true mixture of different social classes. There have been a lot of articles in the press on it recently and one cover headline in the "Polityka" weekly of August 2018 summed it up very nicely by asking: "Ile chłopa, ile Pana w Polaku?" (How much of a peasant and how much of a gentleman in a Pole?].

All hereditary titles in Poland had been swept away by the Constitution of 1921. Then the nobilty had been deprived of their land and possesions by the communist regime which came to Poland in 1945. The final result is that Polish nobility has pratically vanished from the earth. In the 1990s there had been a little revival of this subject when it became popular on TV for a short span of time, so we could see impoverished aristocrats coming out of the closet and showing themselves as creatures living like ordinary people in blocks of flats in Warsaw or elewhere and telling us about their harsh life in the times of the People's Republic: "my father asked my mother regularly why I couldn't speak French yet". Absolutely hilarious, so to speak!

The "search for crests" has evolved these days into the "search for roots" as people in Poland are genuinely interested in their family's past irrespectively of who they were and what they did for a living. Times have changed.


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