Anybody else remember the 1970s? That’s when I first got hooked on family history. We did have genealogy societies for Poles, and people of all ethnicities were beginning to trace their roots. And many of us knew next to nothing about where our families came from.
We knew that all the grandparents came over on big boats because life was just too hard in the old country. I grew up near Ellis Island (in the days before it was restored) and so I knew just where they landed. Every time I saw the Statue of Liberty I tried to imagine seeing it for the first time from a huge, crowded steamship. What did they think of America? How did they ever manage keeping children safe and in line on such boats? How busy New York Harbor must have been! Would I have dared to take such a journey?
Why did genealogy become so popular just AFTER the first generation of immigrants had died? We lost the real experts and were left with tantalizing clues and crossed signals. And in the days before computers and the Internet, we had to rely on the mail to bring and pick up the painstakingly filled out forms of various official offices. If we tried to write to the Old Country often the mail came back with censor stamps. People were just beginning to create volumes of surnames and researchers with contact information.
And yet, we had the bug, we were bitten and just kept on going. The potential rewards were too great. Identity was just around the corner!