Polish Families in the USA
My Sypniewski Line

Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska

My particular Sypniewski family emigrated to the United States of America during the early 1900's. These years, from 1899-1919, were a time period when records of Polish immigrants were not kept. At this time, Poles were listed as immigrants from Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Estimates are that approximately two million Poles came to America during this period.

How many Sypniewskis are in the United States? Check here: Sypniewski Surname Distribution

The Sypniewskies came here on the "Brandenburg" of the North German Lloyd Line of Bremen, Germany. Kazimierz/Casimir Sypniewski was born in the Commonwealth of Poland on March 4, 1887. He was the son of Leo Sypniewski and Josephine Olejniczka Casimir (Kazmierz) had one sister named Mary Sypniewski who I think was born in 1891. I have no record of her, but I did locate a Mary Sypniewski age 19 listed in the 1910 Allegheny County, Pennsylvania census.

Mary was then "a servant" (at age 19) to Charles L. McKinnon. I have not found her since, so they may have moved? Or she may have married?

Many Polish exiles were poor farmer who wanted to improve their lives. Families who owned their own farms were labelled "gospodarz". Landless peasants were called "komorniki," The komorniki rented their farms.

Half of the farmland in Poland was owned by nobility (who were only one percent of the population). Polish peasants often resented wealthy Poles. From 1795-1917 (122 years) Russia, Prussia, and Austria had divided Poland into three sections. The intentigentsia (wealthy landowners, nobility, and well-educated Poles) lost many rights. In Prussian Poland, it was illegal to speak Polish and, by law, they were taught German. Many Polish noblewomen started secret home schooling in Polish. If the Prussian found out, the women were arrested, jailed, and their Polish textbooks were burned.

In Russia and Austria, things were not much different. In 1795, thousands of Polish revolutionaries fled Poland. Those who came to the United States, ended up working Pennsylvania's coal mines, meat packing plants in Chicago, and auto plants in Detroit. They worked 10-12 hours a day and were paid $1-2 a day. Polish women worked in clothing factories, and during the wars, in military plants. They worked ten (10) hours per day for $.60 - $1.10 per dozen items they made. Unmarried girls worked as maids for wealthy families. Maids worked twelve hours a day for 6-7 days a week.

All Poles saved money to help other relatives move to the USA and later to buy their own bakeries, stores, houses, and land. They had it rough because there was prejudice against them for not speaking English. Also they were feared since they worked cheap and took jobs from other people. However, they did not set this wage, the manufacturers did. As with most immigrants, they had a difficult time at first. Many Polish children were teased because of their accents, different clothes, mores, etc. Polish people were often charged more for the same goods, as ruthless factory owners tried to keep them working for cheap wages, by making them beholding to their supposed favors and "loans.". Often they were charged five times as much for the same goods.

Coal miners had one of the worst situations and they were forced to live in shaunty towns that resembled those found in today's Third World Nations. However, through all this misery, the pride of the Polish people kept them going. They kept clean homes, even if they were poor, and they did whatever it took to make sure that their children had a much better life than they did. The Polish workers went on strike in 1888, because of their poor working conditions and pay scale. Picketeers were fired upon and twelve (12) men were shot down. The newspapers (most likely paid by the factories) painted them as "ungrateful."

In 1897, fifty-eight (58) strikers were killed and wounded (26 were Poles). The Polish people banded together and were treated with dignity and respect among their own kind. By working together as a community, Poles began to overcome many prejudices and their children eventually had a better life, because of the hardships of their parents. Second generation Poles were well-educated and by the 1950's, Polish people finally overcame their past hardships.

In the USA, Polish-Americans still live in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. Polish customs and traditions have been kept alive. Polish Heritage is a proud heritage and there are many cultural, religious, and historical societies today. Some of these are: The Polish American Historical Society, the Paderewski Foundation, the Kozcuiuszko Foundation, Orchard Lakes Schools (in Michigan), and St Mary's college (in Michigan).

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