Monday, June 01, 2009

The Good Earth, Poland

My ancestors all came from Poland. Yep, that's right, all of them.

Even though Poland is largely an agrarian society, it was still a bit of a surprise to me to learn that all of my ancestors were farmers. Yep, that's right, all of them.

It took me a while and a good many dictionaries and translation guides to realize that fact because there are so many terms used in Polish vital records to describe "farmers". Here's a list of Polish terms for "farmers" that I've run across: [ ]= Latin equivalent
  1. chałupnik: a farmer with at least a house but little or no land
  2. gospodarz: farmer (one fairly well off owning his own land)
  3. kątnik: a farmer or worker on a large estate
  4. kmieć [cmetho]: a generally self-supporting peasant with at least one łan of land
  5. kolonist: settler, colonist, farmer
  6. komornik [inquilinus]: tenant farmer, a farmer who lived with another and owned no cottage or land of their own; may also refer to elderly parents after they retire and live in their children's house
  7. mleczarz: dairyman
  8. młeczarz: thresher
  9. ogrodnik: peasant farmer, one who worked a garden-size plot rather than a full-sized farm
  10. ogrodowy: gardener
  11. okupnik [rusticus]: tenant farmer
  12. oracz: farmer
  13. parobek: farm hand, generally landless farm worker on an estate
  14. pasterz [ovilio]: shepherd
  15. półkmieć [semi-cmetho]: a peasant farmer on 1/2 łan of land
  16. rataj: a zagrodnik who also worked at a large estate farm
  17. rolnik [agricola]: farmer
  18. świniopas [suarius]: swineherd
  19. wyrobnik rolny: farm hand
  20. włościanin: peasant farmer
  21. zagrodnik [hortulanus]: a peasant farmer who owned a house with a small piece of land and garden and usually a small stock of farm animals
  22. zagrodnik z roli: a farmer who owned a house, farm buildings, animals, and farmed a medium-sized plot of land
Whew! Ya see what I'm saying here? The Poles have more terms for farming than the Eskimos have for snow! (The Eskimo thing is a myth by the way.) And this list doesn't include the words used in the German and Russian partitions of Poland.

Most of my ancestors came from the Austrian partition of Poland but one branch was from the Russian section. The terms I've seen most often are actually the Latin ones, recorded in Catholic parish baptismal, marriage, and death records.

I've often wondered what types of crops my ancestors planted, how many and what types of animals they owned, and how much land they possessed. I'm sure there were records of these things at one time but I have no idea if they still exist, where they might be held, or if public access is allowed. I would be an Ancestry subscriber for life if those folks could find and publish these sorts of records from my family's ancestral villages in Poland!

Even without more specific records, it's obvious that my family's ties to the good earth are strong and go back as far as records were kept. Here is just one example of occupational notations on the baptismal record of my great grandfather, Szymon Lipa, born on October 2, 1843 in Bobrowa, Poland.
You will notice under the column "PARENTES", "PARENS ET CONDITIO EJUS" the last word is "rusticus" as is the last word in the column "PARENTES", "MATER". This tells me that my 3rd great grandparents, Joannis (Jan) Lipa and his wife Sophia Łanucha Lipa were tenant farmers. To the right of that under the "PATRINI" (Godparents), "CONDITIO" column we see the terms "inquilinus" (a farmer who lived with another) for Mathis Skowron (Godfather) and "hortulanus" (a peasant farmer who owned a house with a small piece of land and some farm animals) for Anna (Godmother), wife of Joannis (Jan) Grzyb.

I only have one photo of a relative in Poland tilling the good earth. This is Adolf and Krystyna Mizera at their farm near Wojnicz, Poland. Photo taken between 1976-1998.

Even though all my ancestors were farmers of the good earth back in Poland, my grandparents and great grandparents who immigrated here to the U.S.A. gave up farming for the city life in Detroit, Michigan. However, the farming techniques they learned from their parents and grandparents came in handy when they planted Victory Gardens in their back yards during WWI and WWII.
Sources Used:

Polish Roots, by Rosemary A. Chorzempa. Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD. 1993.
In Their Words, Volume I: Polish, by Jonathan D. Shea & William F. Hoffman. Language and Lineage Press, New Britain, CT. 2000.
Translation Tips, by William F. Hoffman. Notes to a talk given at the 2001 Fall Conference of the Polish Genealogical Society of America.
Genealogical Word List, Polish from the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1990.
Genealogical Word List, Latin from the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1990.


  1. I think this is a great post. You really have done some research. Do you speak Polish or do you struggle by with a translation web site?

  2. Thank you for your very nice comment, Lori. I do not speak Polish. I've taken several Polish language courses but at this point I haven't retained much of what I've learned. I struggle with online translation when I visit a Polish web site. Google is my prefered translator.

  3. Jasia:

    Any society that has that many words for a person who works the land obviously knows what they're talking about.

    I struggle with the census in English, I can not imagine the work that must be done in a foreign language.

    Enjoyed this peek into your research and your family. A very interesting article.


  4. So interesting, I loved going through your list of Polish terms!!! Thank you for sharing...

  5. I had to reread the photo caption - it's surprising that they were still plowing with a team so recently! We only have one local farm where they still work the horses and they plow with tractors.

    This is a great reminder to me just how lucky I am that all of the records I've had to deal with so far are in English.

    Happy 3rd Birthday of the CoG! Time flies when you're having fun :-)

  6. Thanks for the great photograph of your relatives tilling the land, Jasia, and congratulations on your third birthday. I was used to this happening in Africa, the land of my birth, but one forgets there are still farmers working much the same way they did centuries ago in many other parts of the world.

    Regards, Brett

  7. When I was pretty little, in the town where my older brother lived, there was a man who tilled the gardens in the town with a team of two huge (probably) Belgian horses. Being a horse lover, I was fascinated!

  8. Jasia,
    This is a great list. Do you have records post 1868 in Cyrillic? I'd love to see all these terms as they would show up in Russian :)

  9. I don't think I do Brownwyn. I think my Cyrillic records are pre-1868 but I'll check when I get a chance.