Archive for the ‘Emigration’ Category

Why My Ancestors Left?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

For Poland, the 19th century was an age of partitions. In 1795, Poland disappeared from the map of the world for 123 years, but finally  reappeared, as an independent country, in 1918, after the end of WW I. Thus, for Poles, the 1800s is a century of captivity and stagnation, but for the world, that time was a period of  extraordinary growth, industrialization, demographic expansion and great migrations. Poles migrated too, and not necessarily because they hated the yoke imposed by the invaders (although severe military conscription ‘especially into a tsarist army’  was a very important reason). They migrated because they were touched by the same processes as the rest of the Western world: development, industrialization and massive increases in population.

Painting by Teodor Axentowicz - "Pogrzeb huculski" (Huculs Funeral) - Galicia. Source:

Painting by Teodor Axentowicz – “Pogrzeb huculski” (Huculs Funeral) – Galicia. Source:


Beyond the Big Water. Part 4: The authorities towards the emigration.

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Facing such an enormous problem of disappearing recruits, the authorities were going out of their way to stop this process. They were censoring and confiscating private letters, in which emigrants were speaking positively about their life abroad. There was also the recommendation not to give passports to people who had not sufficient assets. It was obligatory to have certain amount of money to obtain passport. But people had their tricks to skip this obligation: sometimes they were giving the false destination, for example Russia and then trying to use the passport for overseas emigration. The other way was even easier: one was obtaining the passport and just after crossing the border he was sending it by post to his village. This way the one document had been used by a several people. The more the illegal emigration was growing, the more obstacles and decrees of the authorities there were. And the new tricks and frauds were invented.


Beyond the Big Water. Part 3: The dark side of the emigration: the “Emigration Hyenas”.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

The massive emigration was easily and quickly discovered to be an excellent source of income for some resourceful individuals. The Galician poverty, overpopulation and illiteracy proved fertile ground for all  companies recruiting emigrants. The hope for  better life is natural.

The agents were mostly recruiting among people in villages, where was the highest rate of poverty. They promised that in America people will obtain free land and inventory. They promised good jobs and high salaries. The most successful recruitment was at the time of the hungry gap (late winter and early spring) and during the military enlistments. The agents were representing large ship companies from Bremen, Antwerp, Hamburg. Sometimes they had their own people working in certain villages.


Beyond the Big Water. Part 2: The journey and its destinations.

Friday, January 10th, 2014

The most intensive emigration was in the period from 1870 to 1914. There are the historic documents from 1884, calculating that the average number of the emigrants arriving to Hamburg from Galicia each week was 200-300 people. About 85% of the emigrants traveled to the United States of America. There was also a large number of Jews leaving for Palestine and the Middle East, and other large emigrants’ destinations were Canada,  Brazil and Argentina (especially from Eastern Galicia).  For the peasants who only knew the world of their village  and the closest town,  this journey into the unknown , would take them several weeks.

Emigration to the USA in the period of 1870-1914 is estimated to have been between 1 and 1,2 million people; to Canada 107 000 in the period 1897-1911; to Brazil 60 000 in the period 1876-1914; to Argentina at least 30 000 in the period of 1892-1914.

The costs of emigration were always fully covered by the emigrants themselves. Sometimes there could be a little help of some Austrian diplomatic units located in destination countries, but there was no legislation regulating such cases. During the ‘Brazilian fever’ and in Canada, the emigrants were promised that they could obtain land, so the emigration there was mainly to settle permanently. The emigrants going to the United States, usually planned to work for a few years, save some money and come back to their home country. Sometimes they came back, sometimes not. But the future was always uncertain for emigrants, and they asked themselves many questions.  What does life there look like? Will the people be kind people? Is there a church? Will there be work? Will I ever come back home ?  The reasons for leaving their homes might have been different, but the questions concerning their new home were the same.


Beyond the Big Water. Part 1: Reasons of the emigration.

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

There are not many direct sources about the emigration reasons. The motivation of the emigrants had never been checked on either of the borders, nor by the destination immigrant offices. The only reliable information  we have is from the memories, diaries, and letters, that have been passed down to family members.

The reasons given by authorities were: high level of birth rate, poverty, natural disasters, land fragmentation, lack of work and burdensome taxes causing liabilities.


A village in Galicia. Picture source: National Digital Archive


Beyond the Big Water. Emigration from Galicia: Introduction.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Many of our ancestors  left the old continent and decided to start a new life beyond the Big Water: in America. There was an explosion of emigration in the whole of Europe, but in Galicia (the part of old Poland which was under Austrian partition) this phenomenon was enormous.

Why did they decide to leave? How did they prepare for the journey? It was a social, economical and political problem, and for a group of people it was an enormous business. Who made profits on emigration?  The whole emigration phenomenon has also its dark side: swindlers, cheating, taking advantage of emigrants, corruption and violence. The emigration phenomenon helps to have a broad view on Galicia’s history.