“Grandma said she was from Poznań”: Decoding Stories About Ancestors from Poland

From Shepherds and Shoemakers

Most of us use family stories as the starting point for our genealogy research. However, the truth can sometimes get distorted, and it’s our job as family historians to sort out the historical fact from the fiction.  With that in mind, I’d like to offer some suggestions based on common misinterpretations, to help you decode those family stories and understand what Grandma really meant.

Story:  “Grandma said she was from Poznań.”

Analysis:  Most of our ancestors were from small villages, not big cities, so in all likelihood, Grandma didn’t mean she was from the city of Poznań proper.  Often an immigrant would generalize her place of birth to the closest big city under the assumption that her listener wouldn’t recognize the name of whatever small village she was actually born in.  We still do this today:  if I’m talking with someone who’s not familiar with Western New York, I might say, “I’m…

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