Archive for the ‘Polish genealogy, history and traditions’ Category

Holy Week and Easter – part 2.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday was (and still is) the day of blessing water, fire and food. On this day a big bonfire was prepared in front of the church. After the ceremony of blessing the fire, everyone wanted to take home at least a small part of a burning twig to protect their home and land against storms and hail. During the first spring plowing farmers spilled ashes from this bonfire onto the ground.

After the ceremony of blessing fire there was the ceremony of blessing water. Everybody took some blessed water home. The men sprinkled everything in the house and farmyard including the animals with it. The leftover water was kept until the next Holy Saturday. It was used in case of illness and at time when God’s blessing was needed.




Holy Week and Easter – part 1.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

“What has become a habit let it remain a habit, and this, what was, what we heard from our fathers, or we have seen already by ourselves, pass to those who will come after us; remembering that where the past was, there, also, the future will be…”  Leon Potocki 1854.

Each year we celebrate Easter sometime between March 21 and April 25 on the Sunday that comes just after the first full moon of Spring. This date was fixed during the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Many other holy days in the church’s calendar are determined by this date, for example, the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday) or Palm Sunday.

Easter is the most important holiday for Christians. It comes in spring when, thanks to the sun, day by day the earth become warmer and warmer and each farmer is ready to start work on his land, as our ancestors did. That is one of the reasons why Easter time was so important in peasants’ beliefs. The weather during each day of Holy Week was thought to herald the weather during the whole year: Wednesday indicated what the weather would be like in spring; Maundy Thursday, the weather in summer; Good Friday, the weather during harvest and lift time (potato harvest); while Holy Saturday was the herald of the winter weather.



Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

“What has become a habit let it remain a habit, and this, what was, what we heard from our fathers, or we have seen already by ourselves, pass to those who will come after us; remembering that where the past was, there, also, the future will be…”  – Leon Potocki 1854.

 After the cheerful days of carnival (in old Poland it was called “zapusty”) comes Lent, a time of penance and preparation for the most important days for Christians’ Easter. It lasts for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to the beginning of the Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday (Sundays are not counted). It is not a coincidence that it lasts 40 days. This number refers to the 40 years of long travel through the desert by the Israelis and to the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for His death and Resurrection.


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.


Road shrines in Poland

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

fot. Aga P.

When travelling throughout Poland with foreign guests, they often look at the small structures built along the roads with great curiosity and ask about them.

They are made of concrete or wood. They are separate constructions or attached to trees. They are small like bird feeders or as big as a chapel. They have figures of saints or they are just crucifixes. They are road shrines.

Road shrines are something very common in Poland and we often do not pay much attention to them. They were always just part of the landscape. Only after visiting the Polish countryside with our guests do we realize that this is something that is not so usual.