At 7 pm Tuesday, March 10, nineteen members of the La Porte County (IN) Genealogy Society met at the Headquarters building of the La Porte City Parks and Recreation Department. President Dorothy Palmer led a business portion of the meeting, with minutes and financial reports, committee reports, and unfinished and new business. Genealogist-Historian Fern Eddy Schultz shared news of activity in our County, neighboring areas, and even other states.
Program Committee chair Patricia Gruse Harris introduced our program for the evening. “Polish Emigration from Prussia- How and Why” was presented by Laura Shields, an active society member, former Curator of the Lighthouse Museum in Michigan City, and a descendant of both Polish and German immigrants to the United States.
As introduction, Laura related that she had little idea of the origin of her Grandfather. She noted that many children of immigrants had de-emphasized the foreign background of their families, in their concentration upon American culture. She then presented an outline of some of the currents and trends which had moulded the area south and around the Baltic Sea, from prehistory up to the First and Second World Wars. Poland was a nation which was pushed and pulled throughout the centuries. It changed, in physical area and dimension, in cultural allegiances, and in its very existence.
Among the most significant periods of change was the nineteenth century rise of its neighbor, Prussia. Eventually, the Polish people were subjugated so intensely that many Poles saw no hope in staying in their homeland. A chance for freedom across the Atlantic, in the United States, seemed to beckon. Poles entered the United States, many drawn by promotional literature prepared by American industrialists. Emigrants found ever-larger vessels at the wharves in Europe. When they arrived in the American ports, growing miles of railroads waited to carry them onward.
Laura recommended that anyone with ancestors from this region search the internet book sites for histories. Sometimes you need an understanding of the changing geography and politics to know what your ancestors believed and claimed their nationality to be. Read and compare various viewpoints, looking for that elusive “truth”.