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Thursday, July 11, 2013

A trip to Poland - Part 1

 After 30+ years of talking about it, my aunt and I went to Poland.  After a 12 day organized tour with StayPoland (which I highly recommend) we visited Suchy Grunt, where my grandfather and the entire Furgal line dating back to at least the 1750s were born.  Our relatives honored us by allowing us to stay at their house for 3 days,  took us around to visit the cemetery where our ancestors are buried and to visit other relatives and neighbors who were willing to let me grill them with genealogy questions.  What an amazing trip.  My relatives were great and I learned things that I don't think I can learn anywhere else.  
  We stayed with Janek, my first cousin once removed.  He lives in the house his father (my grandfather's brother) built. I asked Janek  if the German came to Suchy Grunt in WWII.  It turns out they did and setup camp just to the right of the house, the camp kitchen was in front of the property.  When the Germans took over the area, they didn't kill the villagers only forced them to move to nearby Dabrowa.  They did however burn the house where my grandfather was born, which was just down the road.  When the Germans left (because they were scared of the Russians) the villagers were allowed to return to their homes (or what was left of them).
  I explained to Janek that when I queried some of our relatives in Ontario about how and when my great grandfather died, I was told that one day he went out to fight (in WWII) and he never came home, no one knows what happened to him.  I told him that my grandfather had mentioned he died around 1921 (and fought in WWI) which seemed more likely given that he was born in 1869.  Janek explained that my grandfather did die around 1921.  He went to a local fair, came home with a bad stomach ache, and then died.  Another relative, Czeszek later confirmed this story but he heard that my great grandfather wasn't at a fair but was working in the fields.  Grazyna (Janek's wife) took us to the cemetery where my ancestors are buried but she explained that no one knows where my great grandfather rests.  My great grandmother put a statue at the gravesite but someone took it and over time the spot was forgotten. 
  Visiting with Czeszek and his family was great too, he spent 8 months in Canada back in the early 1970s and impressed me with his ability still remember some of the English he learned.   He was able to give me some insight into how my grandfather ended up in Canada.  There was an office in Poland that was recruiting men.  I've learned a bit about Canadian Immigration through courses I have taken and I asked if the office paid his  passage.  I was surprised to hear that they didn't, the men had to come up with the $200 to pay their way. A pretty big amount, particularly for a man whose father died when he was 13 and his mother was left to raise 5 children.  When I asked how he got the money, Czeszek explained that my great grandmother sold everything she owned (except for one cow) for $150 and then she borrowed the remaining $50.  My grandfather paid her back in full but Czeszek also mentioned that when my grandfather first got here, the company sent him to a mountain near Hamilton to cut down trees for $1 a day.  The problem was, the company also charge the men $1 a day for food.  At some point my grandfather ended up out West for awhile before he made his way back east and settled permanently in Toronto. 
 Everyone I talked to was very quick to tell me how kind, generous and good my great grandmother was.    Grazyna took me to my family's ancestral property which my grandfather's sister Stephanie inherited and where her descendants now live.   I met Zofia who also lives there and she is the mother-in-law of one of Stephanie's sons.  Zofia remembers my great grandmother and explained that my great grandmother gave her sister and new husband a calf as a wedding present because they were very poor and needed something to give them a head start in life.  Czeszek and his sister Zofia both remember my great grandmother giving them an egg to take into town and sell so that they could buy candy.  Janek told me that after my great grandfather died, another man wanted to marry my great grandmother (who was 18 years younger than my great grandfather) but she declined because she did not want to put a bachelor in the position of supporting and raising her 5 kids.   Hats off to my great grandmother whose selflessness benefited so many people!

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