Our Polish Ancestors

Print More

According to the Passenger List for the S.S. Kensington, Jan was 22 years old and single when he debarked at Ellis Island on June 25, 1902. It had taken 11 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Antwerp, Belgium. He claimed Russian as his nationality and his last residence started with a “D” and ended in an “a.” The rest was indecipherable. Jan’s destination was Suffield, Conn., and a cousin, Felix, who lived there had purchased Jan’s ticket. Only the end of his surname was recognizable as “jewski.” According to the passenger list, Jan was a laborer and he had $1 in his pocket.

Jan Zak was my grandfather, but his story may be very similar to that of many Polish immigrants. As is often the case, I started researching my family history after all my ancestors had taken the first-hand information “to the grave.” Fortunately, my Irish mother had gotten the Zak-Kreczko family tree started ten years earlier, so I had a head start. During those years, the genealogy industry really took off, and today there are many tools available to facilitate research.

The passenger lists, census information and military documents that are available online can be a wealth of information, but there are limitations, especially given that the documenters had great difficulty spelling Polish names. With patience, a little detective work and, sometimes, help from a professional genealogist, one can put together pieces of the puzzle that ultimately form the picture of our ancestry.

Unlike my grandmother Kreczko’s, finding my grandfather Zak’s arrival information was relatively easy. Putting together many pieces of information, I ultimately identified the villages that my grandparents came from and have visited them . . . twice. The two villages are very close by today’s standards but the seven-miles between them would have taken at least two hours by horse cart. Since they also attended different churches, one of my biggest curiosities is whether my grandparents knew each other before coming to the United States.

If you would like to discover your family history, I will be conducting a Polish Genealogy Workshop. A one-time session is geared toward 2nd and 3rd generation Polish Americans. The workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, February 28 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. or Sunday, March 4 from 2–4 p.m. at KML Please contact me at zaksa@aol.com no later than February 16.

Comments are closed.