Tuesday, June 25, 2019
It seems a bit far afield to look for relatives of my paternal grandfather in Wisconsin, when he landed—and stayed—in New York City. But if Theodore J. Puhalski was truly the orphan he claimed he was, who's to say his distant relatives didn't head to another part of the continent?
Still, it made sense for immigrants to cluster in communities, and a place like New York was just the kind of location that would seem beneficial to a Polish immigrant. Not far from the port of arrival, with lots of job opportunities and, best of all, other people who spoke the same language, shared the same customs and ate the same favorite foods, New York would be that choice. And, checking the numbers, even today, with over two hundred thousand residents claiming Polish descent—2.7% of the city's population—New York City ranks number one in the nation.
That isn't to say, though, that no other place has a large Polish-American community. In fact, ranked fourth in that same listing, after Chicago and Philadelphia, is the Wisconsin city of Milwaukee. Even more so, if the list is enlarged to include "communities" having at least thirty percent of their population claiming Polish descent, Wisconsin figures prominently in that collection.
So why would a researcher like me be surprised to see a number of DNA matches—ones which don't connect to my maternal line at all, and not even to my paternal grandmother's line—lead me away from New York and towards a place I've never even visited? After all, Wisconsin ends up having the largest number of communities boasting a significant Polish-American population of all the states in the country. And Milwaukee sits right in the middle of all that Polishness.
Then, too, Polish immigration in Wisconsin happened primarily before 1890 and from areas of Poland ruled by Germans. Milwaukee, especially, received Polish immigrants from the German-controlled regions of Posen, Silesia, and the Baltic coast area called Pomerania by the Germans. With my Laskowski roots originating in Posen and my ethnicity reports giving a substantial nod to the Baltic states, this news certainly catches my eye.
Having never previously done any research in Wisconsin—and certainly not in Poland—I have a lot of reading to catch up on. For the first stop, a brief overview of Wisconsin immigration and Polish emigration are in order from the FamilySearch wiki, as well as an overview of the history of Polish people in the United States.
There is, however, another task which needs to be done quickly, something which I discovered with alarm as I double-checked the trees of my DNA matches on this paternal side: sometimes, people decide to change the status of their tree from public to private. And wouldn't you know it: the key example I had leading back to a possible connection with my paternal grandfather has evidently converted to a private tree. It's time to send a pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top letter to a match I have yet to contact.