"Polish Immigration to America: When, Why, How and Where" by Stephen Szabados
When did your Polish ancestors immigrate, where did they leave, why did they leave, how did they get here? These are questions we all hope to find the answers. This book discusses the history of Poland and gives some insights to possible answers to the questions about your ancestors' immigration. All three Polish partitions are covered and the material will hopefully clear-up your confusion why your Polish ancestors listed that they were born in other countries on early U.S. documents. The book also presents brief histories of most of the ports that were used by Polish immigrants for departure from Europe and the ports where they arrived. Also covered are details of life in steerage during the voyage and the process of examination of the immigrants to gain admittance to the United States.
I found this book to be very useful in understanding why my Polish immigrant ancestors came to America and the hardships they faced along the way. There were quite a few bits of info in it that I didn't know and I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about my family's journey to the Americas.
- Bob Johnson (PoloniaMusic.com)
Here is a sample pertaining to my great grandfather's trip to America in 1857. He travelled with his second wife (his first wife died a few years before) and his three children. Sadly their infant son, Teophil died shortly after their arrival at Castle Gardens in New York City. Castle Gardens, which opened in 1855, was New York City's immigration station before Ellis Island Immigration Station opened on January 1, 1892. Back then the journey across the Atlantic generally took 6-8 weeks:
Steerage passage on sailing ships in the 1850's meant out Polish ancestors found themselves in converted cargo holds with hammocks strung up to provide places to sleep. These quarters were crowded and many times the passengers slept on hammocks that they shared with one or two other immigrants with each taking their turn sleeping. They endured unsanitary conditions, cramped quarters, nauseating odors and little privacy. Toilet facilities in steerage consisted of a few buckets with private screens. Th steerage passengers used cooking stations that were set up on deck to prepare their food which they had brought. Shipping companies did not provide food to early steerage passengers on the voyage. Illnesses developed quickly among the young and elderly and diseases spread quickly. Many passengers arrived in their new land sick, and many died at sea.
- "Polish Immigration to America", pp. 47-48
And here is another..
Myth of Changing the Family Name
Many family oral histories believe that immigration officials changed their family names when immigrant ancestors entered America. However, this is usually a myth. Ship's officers listed names on passenger manifests from official documents presented by the immigrant to the shipping line at the time of boarding. Changing their names would be illegal. Also, immigration stations were staffed with large numbers of translators to help ensure the information that was given by the immigrants was recorded accurately. Problems with spellings of names and places were usually due to the illiteracy of the immigrant. If families changed the spelling of their surnames, they did it after arrival, and this was usually done to make it easier
for the people around them to pronounce and spell their name correctly.
- "Polish Immigration to America", p. 92
This is why our name Jasiek became Johnson. My grandfather, "Jacub Jasiek*" became "Jacob Johnson" when his classmates in Fredonia, New York started using an anglicized version of his name. (He had no Polish classmates; everything was in English. Can you imagine non-Poles spelling his name phonetically: "Yashek"? That would never do!) Later when other Polish immigrants began arriving in the Dunkirk/Fredonia area of Western New York, the Jasiek family continued using Jasiek as their family name within the Polish community. The name "Johnson" stuck when Fr. Pitass of St. Stanislaus Parish in Buffalo took to teasing him about having an American name. (Oh là là! Hotsy totsy!)
Name variations and spelling
Passenger manifests were generated by the ship's purser usually on information on ducuments that the immigrant supplied. If the immigrant did not have any documents, the purser wrote down the verbal answer given by the passenger. Sometimes the name was misspelled because the purser wrote it phonetically.
Also, many immigrants were illiterate and did not know the correct spelling of the name.
- "Polish Immigration to America", p. 92
I believe this is explains why my immigrant ancestors are listed as "Jasiek" in Polish church records, but as "Jaszek" in the ship's manifest. Our family still living in Poland today use the surname "Jasiek", so I feel confident that is the correct version. It is interesting to note that some records at St. Hyacinth's Church in Dunkirk, New York list the name as "Jasick" (Other recorded variations of our family name are: Jasiak,Jasek, Jacek, and Jasik, and there may be some others.) By the way, I have read that not that long ago Europeans did not use last names. Everybody in the village or estate where you lived simply knew you by the name you were given at baptism. In western Poland, surnames became mandatory when Prussian bureaucrats decided so in the interest of record keeping.
Our family name has evolved. My name is Robert Johnson. Call me Bob if you like.