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Resources for Polish-American and Polish-Canadian Genealogical Research

reviewed by William F. Hoffman, PGSA Winter 1998 Bulletin

Resources for Polish-American and Polish-Canadian Genealogical Research, Edward R. Brandt, Ph.D., 53 pp., 8 1/2x 11 inches, self-published, ©1998. The price is $10 for a stapled copy (or $12 for a bound one) plus $2.50 postage and handling order from Edward R. Brandt, 13 - 27th Ave. S.E., Minneapolis MN 55414-3101, USA.

Dr. Brandt specifically states "My book does not compare to Rosemary Chorzempa's [Polish Roots]. It is intended as a supplement, not a competitor." In fact, it is a greatly expanded version of an article he wrote for Heritage Quest, and consists mainly of information on societies and publications that can assist the serious researcher. The format is practical rather than fancy-copies of laser-printed pages stapled into a book-but that is an asset, because it keeps the price low without sacrificing anything essential.

With any work containing this much information, good organization of the contents, including a table of contents and index, is essential. Dr. Brandt realizes this, in fact he provides different indexes for personal names, place names, distinct groups, and periodicals.

It is difficult to "review" such a book, the only real way to discover its good and bad points is to use it, frequently, in actual research. I have not had this copy long enough to use it much, but it has already come in handy several times. With time perhaps I will notice mistakes or omissions; but my first impression is that the book is very useful to the serious researcher, one willing to do some digging and glad to have a good list of places to dig in. It will not replace Rosemary Chorzempa's Polish Roots, but it makes a handy supplement to her book.

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PGSA Book Review: Round–Trip to America:  The Immigrants Return To Europe, 1880–1930 Mark Wyman, (Cornell University Press, 1993)

Many people recall stories about relatives who emigrated from Poland to America and later returned to Poland.  Why did they return?  What time period?  How long were they in America?

This book covers the fascinating topic of “return migration”, which generally receives very little discussion among genealogists.  While the book covers Europe in general, specific points are made about return immigration to Poland from the U.S.  The term “remigrant” is used throughout this book to denote returning immigrants.

A common misconception which author Wyman, addresses is our satisfying sense of a stable peasant village life in Europe.  Wyman states in a chapter on seasonal migration in Europe: “The modern world has struggled to maintain the comforting nostalgic thought of a static peasant culture rooted to the soil, unchanging.” Prior to the period of the great migration to the America, Wyman paints a picture of Europe in a state of internal movement.  European seasonal migrant workers seeking to supplement income labored in other European nations, wherever they could find work.

With a backdrop of this long pattern of intra–European seasonal migration by European peasants, it is no surprise that the seasonal migrant would also travel to the U.S. for seasonal work.  Wyman distinguishes between immigrants to America who were only interested in making money and returning to Europe and those who came to America to make it a permanent residence.

For seasonal immigrants to the America, Wyman acknowledges faster steamships were able to ferry larger numbers of these “remigrants” at a lower cost than older sailing ships.  Agents for steamship companies were also important to the emigrating peasant.  Wyman states: “The agent did more than sell tickets in villages, he provided credit, loaned money and would even help to auction property”.

Regarding returning immigrants, Wyman states “determining the size of the return flow to Europe with any precision is impossible because of the lack of consistent counting by governments and shipping lines.....Rough estimates may be made, however.  A major source is the U.S. government's attempt from 1908 to 1923 to count immigration and emigration”.

Wyman's “1908–1923 migration table” (page 11) shows Poland with a total immigration flow to the U.S. at 788,917 while emigration from the U.S. was at 318,201.  The table shows a net gain to the U.S. of 470,747 immigrants for that time period.  The percentage of emigration from (leaving) the U.S. was concluded to be 40% during that period of time.

This book broadens one's perspective of what it was like for immigrants at the turn of the century.  Wyman paints a complicated picture of issues faced by the immigrants.   Issues included job availability, living conditions, homesickness, labor unions, language, religion, etc.

There was a distinction and a resulting American tension between the “old immigrants” and the “new immigrants”.  Old immigrants were the earlier immigrants coming from northern and western Europe and the new immigrants were from the south and east Europe.  The “Old Immigrants” were semi-skilled laborers or better compared to the “New Immigrants” who were mostly unskilled laborers.   New Immigrants tended to be seasonal workers with no plans to stay in America and tensions grew with American labor unions.

There were political reactions to “New Immigrants”.  In 1907 Congress formed the United States Immigration Commission called the Dillingham Commission.  This Commission ended its work in 1911, and concluded that immigration from southern and eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and culture and should be greatly reduced in the future. The Commission proposed the enactment of a “reading and writing test as the most feasible single method of restricting undesirable immigration”.  In 1918 Congress increased the income tax on those people considered “not-residents”.  The Commission's overall findings provided rationale for sweeping 1920s immigration reduction acts, including the Emergency Quota Act of 1921.  The Dillingham Commission motivated a National Origins Formula, part of the Immigration Act of 1924.

During the period of statistics reported above 1908–1923, there were remigration “push and pull” factors such as; World War I, when Poland among other nations became independent in 1918.  Prohibition 1918–1933 was not overly important but surprisingly was on the list of factors listed for returning to Europe. The Great Depression had an impact on returns.

The most interesting chapter for me was the impact of the remigrant on churches and traditions in Europe.  Wyman states “The churches of Europe watched nervously as the trickle homeward from America became a torrent.  Virtually every region had a dominant church, government supported in most cases....”  Wyman continues: “Fear of the remigrants, then, appeared not only because they had been exposed to strange doctrines but also because they often insisted on spreading them, establishing branches of new churches in their home communities”.

A good case in point is the well-noted “Polish Schism”, that is, the American initiated Polish National Catholic Church.  Wyman writes: “At the focus of the new group's (PNCC) anger was America's Roman Catholic hierarchy.... Polish immigrant groups who sacrificed to construct their new churches in American cities sought to control these buildings the way they saw Protestant congregations doing.  They also tried to choose their own local committees and their own priests rather than submit to the control of the Irish–German hierarchy”.

The first PNCC high mass was celebrated in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1897.  In 1911 the PNCC church started to move into Poland as remigrant PNCC church members returned to Poland.  By 1939 there were 100 PNCC churches in Poland claiming 400,000 members.  For me personally, this book finally makes it understandable as to how this American founded institution spread to Poland.

Regarding European churches, Wyman concludes that “As the era of mass emigration and remigration drew to a close in the 1920–s, it was evident that converts returning home had been a significant force in shaking the dominant state churches of Europe...  New denominations in Europe depended on people rather than governments for support.”

Wyman has written an interesting book about the approximately 4 million European immigrants who returned to their native countries.  A common thesis throughout the book is the difference between 1) immigrants who came to America only to make money and then return to Europe and 2) immigrants who came to America to make it a permanent residence.

If you have turn–of–the–century relatives who returned to Poland and you are puzzled by their return, this book may give you some helpful insights as to why and how time period factors may have affected their return.

Book Review by PGSA member John L. Ryś, Woodbury, MN.

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