With surnames like Marczynski, Zielinski, Gostomski and Kuznicki in my family tree, I’m undeniably Polish. My great-great-grandparents, Mikołaj Kuznicki and Wiktorya Drag, left Galicia for Dunkirk, New York in their early twenties, and the Zielinski’s, Gostomski’s and Marczynski’s all arrived at Ellis Island in 1900. Some of my ancestors started working in the coal mines in Maryland, while others initially settled in Polish pockets in New Jersey; ultimately, though, they all made their way to the Fourth Ward of Dunkirk. They worked on the railroad, built engines at Brooks Locomotive Works, attended St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church every Sunday morning and sent their children to the same Catholic School in town.
When I took an AncestryDNA test a few years ago, I wasn’t surprised to learn that an estimated 46 percent of my DNA can be traced back to Eastern Europe (most, if not all, of which is probably Polish). I also wasn’t shocked to see that 21 percent and 15 percent of my DNA links to Great Britain and Ireland, respectively–my roots on my dad’s side, after all, can be mapped back to Edward and Samuel Fuller on the Mayflower as well as the Applegate, Cook, Damon and Wright families from England. My DNA results and a cousin connection helped me confirm my hypothesis about my paternal great-grandfather’s mysterious past, but other than that, the ethnicity estimate and cousin matches didn’t lead to any breakthroughs in my research.
That is, not until a few weeks ago–when I was absolutely “Schooled by DNA.” I had heard a rumor that Ancestry was updating its ethnicity estimates, and I logged in to find an additional region listed in my “DNA Story:” Pomerania, a new subsection of the “Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania” area. My Marczynski ancestors, in particular, were farmers in and around Julianowo, a village in north-central Poland that is in the center of the area of Pomerania highlighted in my DNA results. The Marczynski’s, as well as the Zielinski’s and Gostomski’s, moved around a lot, and these results give me a boundary-of-sorts for locating them before 1900. And since Pomerania stretches through Northern Germany, it now makes sense why my ancestors sometimes listed their country of origin as “German Poland.”
A brief history of the area: Pomerania is a region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, extending from Northern Germany through Northern Poland. The name derives from the Slavic po more, meaning “by the sea” or “on the sea,” and the region is commonly referred to as the “Land at the Sea” in Poland. The most well-known city in Pomerania is probably Gdańsk, but it seems as though my ancestors lived in every small town and village except Gdańsk, of course. Pomerania’s written history began around 1000 AD, and the area constantly changed hands between Scandinavia, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia and Germany over the centuries. The Nazis maintained concentration camps and death camps in the region during World War II, and the area was incorporated into the Eastern bloc of Germany during the Cold War. I’m not sure where this information will lead me, or how my family’s history ties in with Pomerania’s history at large, but I can’t wait to start researching my new leads–I’ll keep you posted.