Since my grandparents had been married in the United States, I had thought that they had met here and that their families had not known one another back in Poland. Instead, as I discovered more about my specific ancestors, I learned that often descendants of families who had been known to each other in the old country would later marry and continue on family traditions in the new country. Their story of immigration and allied families is a tradition that continues today.
Family history researchers refer to this tendency of people from a place to travel together and to bring their families with them as chain migration.
My father’s grandparents had immigrated to Buffalo in the 1880s, when my grandfather Antoni Maciejewski was just a baby. My grandmother Marya Szczepańska was born in Buffalo. I was surprised to learn that their parents had been born half a world away in Nieżywięć and Szembruczek, small villages in West Prussia that were just twenty miles apart. Although I thought I had solved a puzzle when I learned that my great-grandfather Marcin Szczepański‘s mother was born to the Kaniecki family, I subsequently learned that Jan Kaniecki‘s mother had been born Kalinowska, and he was probably first cousin to my great-grandmother, Anna Kalinowska Szczepanska. My father and his siblings called him “Uncle.” There are undoubtedly other family ties that have been lost in the intervening years.
My mother’s parents, Agnieszka Kapuscińska and Jan Skrok, moved to the United States in the 1910s with their siblings, cousins, and other relations. They married in Buffalo, returned to Poland about 1920, and then came back to America later that decade. Although her grandmother had lived in Buffalo for almost ten years, my mother never met her or other family members who later remained in Poland. Because my aunt and uncle had been born in the United States, they were “anchor babies” who allowed my Polish-born grandmother to travel back to America with an United States passport that included an infant who had been born in Poland. My grandparents subsequently had several more children in America, including my mother.
Many genealogists have used chain migration to identify their family members, but The Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, expresses our family situation best in her blog post “For the record…What “chain migration” looks like”.
Yet though these immigrants personally may not ever have fully assimilated in the United States, they most assuredly contributed directly and personally to this country.
In many cases, they married here in America.
They worked long and hard here in America.
They paid taxes here in America.
They sent their children to school here in America.
They — and their children — and grandchildren — and great grandchildren — are my family.
And their children — and grandchildren — and great grandchildren — most assuredly are fully assimilated and contribute directly and personally to this country.
We have served this nation in the United States Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.
In the civilian service of the United States and of several states.
In the ranks of the medical profession. The legal profession. As educators. As scientists.
And even as grandparents.
This is what my family looks like.
We are precisely what “chain migration” really looks like.
And we’re damned proud of it.