RETURN TO POLAND: Follow me as I continue my quest to visit the ancestral villages of my Polish grandparents. I say "continue" because in 2012 I already visited the villages where three of my grandparents grew up. (You can read all about that HERE.) The goal of my return to Poland in 2015 is to visit the final village. Finding out where my babcia, Ewa Stopińska, grew up required a fair amount of research and luck. To make a long story short, I discovered that generations of Stopińskis resided not in one, but several villages within close proximity of one another. The villages are located east of the town of Łasin in the north central part of the country -- and I plan to visit them all on bike, documenting the experience with photos and videos along the way. You are invited to check my progress by following me online right here.
But first, here are some of the decisions I must make:
January 1, 2015 - It's a little early yet, but I have to say I am seriously thinking about joining John Gora on his next trip to Poland, July 26-August 7 (new dates). I have always said I would never do a group trip -- not that there is any thing wrong with it -- but because I think I can see and do more things I deem personally relevant on my own. However in this case, I will consider going with John, whom I know is a wonderful guide and host (I took a polka cruise with him last year), mainly because the trip passes through or near the town (Nowe Jankowice) where my babcia Stopińska grew up. I have already visited the ancestral villages of my other three grandparents and would like to visit the fourth and last before I start getting old. ;-)
January 8, 2015 - TRIP UPDATE:
I have decided not to take the group trip. I recently discovered that although my grandmother was indeed baptized in the village of Nowe Jankowice, other ancestors resided in several nearby villages.
Ewa Stopińska, my grandmother, was born in Nowe Jankowice in1864. She came to America with her father, Wawrzyniec, and her older brother, Marcin. (They lived on Townsend Street in Buffalo, New York.) Several of Ewa's siblings died before she and her father emigrated, but two, sisters, who were both more than twenty years older than my grandmother, stayed in Poland.
Wawrzyniec Stopiński, my great grandfather, was born in Synwałd. He married Anna Mróz in the village of Synwałd; they later moved to nearby Nowe Jankowice. For me this is nothing new, but now I learned the names of Wawrzyniec's parents:
Szymon Stopiński (1782-1841) married Agnieszka Szymańska (1783-1851). The lived in Święte, but later moved to Nogat in 1835. Is Święte the Stopiński ancestral home? I am still researching that matter, but so far it looks like it is.
ABOVE: Each of the Stopiński-family ancestral villages is near the beautiful town of Łasin. The map on the right is less than ideal, but if you look carefully, you can see the village of Święte directly east of Łasin, then go north to Nw. Jankowice, then further north to Szynwałd at the top of the map; Nogat is west of Szynwałd. Ideally, I would like to visit east of these villages by bike. Either Łasin, or the important and historic city of Grudziądz could be my homebase.
BELOW: Check out this beautiful video of Łasin, but I warn you, it's long. Better pour yourself a cup of coffee before viewing.
So, if I were to take this trip, I would fly to Gdańsk, then rent a car and drive directly to Łasin where I would rent a bike, then tour the countryside at my leisure. By the way, in case you are wondering, I have already scouted out each of these villages using Yahoo Maps Street View and believe biking on these very rural roads would be safe - safer in fact than some of the roads I travel on in the States. Of course I would visit the historical sites at Grudziądz, Malbork, and Gdańsk on the way back. Regretfully, this plan does not allow for a visit to southern Poland to see friends and family. That bugs me.
I have decided to go with John Gora for the group tour after all, however, I plan to take two side trips on my own so I can visit family and friends in Zator/Podolsze (west of Kraków) and later explore the ancestral villages of my paternal grandmother in north-central Poland. [Leg 1]: Rochester - Toronto - Kraków - Zator/Podolsze[Leg 2]: Kraków to Gdańsk (Tour with John) [Leg 3 ]:Gdańsk to Stopiński Ancestral Villages in North Central Poland. The group will depart from Gdańsk, and so will I, but not with them. I will stay behind, rent a car, then drive to Grudziądz or Łasin to begin my tour of the Stopiński family villages. After a few days, I will return home to Rochester via Toronto. Then I'll begin to but together several videos documenting my experience.
Is this exciting or what!
UPDATE: May 16, 2016
I recently came across this map of Prussia printed in 1865, seven years after my great grandfather Jasiek came to America with his family and a few years before my other great grandfather (Stopiński) made the journey - also with his family. Let me remind you that much of what you see on this map was originally Polish, but was seized by the Prussians toward the end of the 18th century; the remainder of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned by both Russia and Austria.
Based on this map I can clearly see that both the Jasiek and Stopiński families came from the administrative region of Marienwerder located in the southern part of West Prussia. Poles in the Prussian partition were subject to extensive Germanization policies (Kulturkampf, Hakata). Frederick the Great brought 300,000 colonists to territories he
If this interests you, try saving the map to your hard drive, then zooming in for a closer look.
conquered to facilitate Germanization. That policy, however, had an opposite effect to that which the German leadership had expected: instead of becoming assimilated, the Polish minority in the German Empire became more organized, and its national consciousness grew.
It is likely that, in addition to the promise of a better life in America and the well-documented hardships of the time (famine, disease, poverty), Germanization was yet another important reason Poles left their homeland. It's ironic that leaving Poland may have been viewed as the best way to maintain their Polish identity. Makes sense to me.