The History of the Toledo Polish Genealogical Society
The TPGS was founded in 2002 by Marcia Brown Castro. Marcia had placed a posting on a genealogy Internet site inviting anyone of Polish descent who was interested in genealogy to join others at a monthly meeting to discuss researching their family history.
The beginning meetings took place at the Locke Branch Library in east Toledo. The group was small at first consisting of only 5-6 people which included some current members - David Chelminski, Marge Stefanski, Rose Sniegowski and Kathy Dokurno-Brown. However, interest in the Polish genealogy club grew quickly and soon the attendance had more than doubled, prompting the need for a larger meeting location. It was decided that an appropriate meeting place would be the Local History and Genealogy Department of the main library in downtown Toledo. At this time, a true club formation took place and officers were elected.
As the club grew, each new member brought something special to share, from information on trips to Poland to how to use technology in genealogy research. The members searched for ways to improve the club. Our current membership includes not only members from the Lagrinka and Kuschwantz neighborhoods of Toledo, but also from Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin all whose Polish ancestry has ties to this area.
In 2004, the first TPGS website was born. The website, which was created by members Rose Sniegowski and Margaret Hanczrik, contained a great deal of information about who we are and what we are doing. The website gave us the ability to make our presence known, attract new members and to connect with others doing Polish research.
Word was spreading about the TPGS and in 2005, our monthly meetings gave way to “standing room only.” Once again, TPGS was on the move to a bigger location to accommodate the ever-growing membership. It was decided that the new home for our meetings would be at the new public library, which had been built on the corner of Manhattan and Lagrange, in the Polish neighborhood of Lagrinka. At our first meeting in the new library, three Polish immigrants, who had come to America after WW II, were the guest speakers. They shared interesting stories of Poland before they came here and the experiences they had after arriving in America.
To assist in the gathering of information on our Polish ancestors, Russell Pawlowski, the club president in 2006, created a Polish genealogy database and an illuminating map. A list of basic information was obtained from each member and was entered into the database. Using this information, a light on the map would represent the location of a town or village where a member’s ancestor came from. The map covers over 9,000 miles of the portion of Poland where it is believed that the majority of Toledo’s Polish immigrants had immigrated from. The illuminated map and database were on display at the OGS Conference in Toledo, on April 27, 2006.
In January, 2007, another milestone was achieved. The first TPGS Newsletter was published by editors Caryn Shaner and Rose Sniegowski. The Newsletter is published quarterly and contains articles on genealogy research, family histories of the members, helpful websites, and stories of the club’s social events.
Over the years since the TPGS originated, the club not only moved forward with their research, but along the way had collected a considerable amount of Polish artifacts, books, photographs and records. Thought was given on what to do with these items. It was decided that what the club needed was a place that could serve not only as a meeting place but also house these pieces of Polish history. Fr. Marek Ciesla, pastor of St. Adalbert and St. Hedwig churches, offered a classroom in the closed St. Hedwig School. Under the project coordinator, member Kathy Dokurno-Brown, the members cleaned the classroom, donated office supplies, tables, chairs, books, paper, file cabinets, computers and printers. In April, 2008 the TPGS moved into their new meeting location and research library.
The Research Library contains a wide variety of books to be used for Polish genealogy research. Records from the churches in the Lagrinka neighborhood have been transcribed and put on the computers in the library as a research tool. Photographs of school classes, churches, and religious events relevant to the Polish community are also available. The club also inherited old newspapers including copies of the Shoppers Herald from the years 1937 thru 1987, which told about the everyday lives of the Polish community.
The library has two computers, which contain records, meeting minutes, the club newsletters and a variety of information to aid the members in their genealogy research. Among the many library materials is a Surname List book containing all the surnames being researched by the members, and a scrapbook which holds Four Generation Pedigree Charts for many of the members.
While doing genealogy research, members became aware that not only was it important to learn about the lives of their ancestors, but it was equally necessary to insure that this information be passed on to future generations. So it was decided that the best way for those who come after us to know their ancestors would be to put these stories in writing. And so it was done. In 2008, with members Krys Murphy and Kathy Dokurno-Brown coordinating the project, the TPGS published a cookbook titled “Polish Pride.” This book contained Polish lore, bits of humor and hundreds of Polish recipes from members, their mothers and grandmothers.
It has been said that a “picture is worth a thousand words.” With that in mind, member Fr. Richard Philiposki worked with the TPGS members, gathering hundreds of photographs to tell the story of the Polish people in the communities of Lagrinka and Kuschwantz. In 2009, Fr. Philiposki and the TPGS published the book “Toledo’s Polonia.” This book tells a story the best way possible – in photographs. It tells how the people lived, worked, played and worshiped. It tells how they served their country, how they were educated and how they celebrate their heritage today. It is with great pride that we pass on these books to future generations.
The TPGS is blessed with many talented people including two authors, Rosemary Chorzempa, author of “Polish Roots” and David Chelminski, author of “Polish Americans in Toledo.” Some of our members give lectures to the community on genealogy research, help members with their research by assisting them in using the LDS library, and transcribing items written in Polish.
Thru the years the TPGS members have reached beyond the monthly meetings to other avenues to further their research. Research meetings at the LDS library, a tour of the Local History Department at the main library and a trip to the Polish Museum of America in Chicago have helped the members increase their knowledge of Polish history, and point them in new directions to aid them in their search for the answers they seek.
Although our main focus is on genealogy research, the members find “fun” ways to research and learn. The club takes part in the local Polish festival each July, our annual picnic combines good food (Polish and others) along with learning Polish with games like “Polish Bingo” and “The Polish Price is Right”, and our Christmas party where we celebrate the holidays and enjoy each other’s company. No matter what the age, the Polish people enjoy good food, especially Polish food. And our club is lucky to have some excellent cooks. At a Fall meeting, one of these cooks, Krys Murphy, treated the members to a traditional Polish feast of Hunter’s Stew.
The TPGS is still growing and our search for those elusive ancestors continues. But, no matter what path we take, our goal is always the same – to find all we can about our ancestors, be proud of our Polish heritage, and leave all we find as our legacy to future generations.