Discovering our Polish ancestors

Many in the Polish-American community of northeastern Ohio have started to learn more about Poland by first learning more about their own families. They have joined the Polish Genealogical Society of Greater Cleveland (PGSGC). Polish-Americans in the Cleveland area first came together to discuss genealogical research and Polish culture in the fall of 1991 at the initiative of Ed Mendyka. Mendyka started the group from a heritage room set up at the St. John Cantius Roman Catholic Church Polish Festival. The group now has over a hundred members throughout the area and the United States and is part of the Federation of East European Family History Societies (, an organization formed in 1992 to promote research and organize the work of the many genealogical societies that had been established throughout the country. Interest in genealogy in the United States has grown over recent decades, as people increasingly look to discover more about their families in order to understand their background.

Thirty-five to forty attend the PGSGC’s monthly meetings. The meetings include a brief business session, followed by guest speakers and an opportunity for members to share their latest finds. Guest speakers have included librarians and archivists from institutions throughout the area, local community activists from Tremont and the Slavic Village area, and members who have recently visited Poland. Perhaps the most important exchanges are between the members themselves who share tips on how to find information, how to read Polish documents or what to expect when researching in American and Polish archives. As John F. Szuch, the PGSGC President says, when members come with questions about specific issues, “somebody else has usually already solved the problem”.

Our Polish Ancestors, the group’s quarterly twelve-page newsletter, features articles by members and professional archivists. PGSGC members have conducted research in the Cuyahoga County Archives, the archives of the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Cleveland Public Library, and the Akron Public Library (for Ohio death certificates through 1941). The newsletter provides another opportunity to share information, but it also provides a record of the group’s activities over the years. Included in the newsletter is a list of surnames that members are currently researching. As it happens that members may be searching for names that others are researching as well, this can be a great help to the researcher just beginning to learn more about his or her family.

But the PGSGC is “not just a genealogical society,” according to Szuch. “In my mind, it’s a Polish cultural society, trying to make people more aware of their cultural background,” he adds. The monthly speakers and articles in Our Polish Ancestors, on topics such as Ellis Island or the history of the quarries in Berea, where many Polish laborers worked, suggest the group’s broader interests. PGSGC has also organized a small library that includes many works on general Polish history and specialized reference works for genealogical research.

Szuch especially encourages younger members to join the group, since the earlier one starts learning about the history of one’s family, the easier it will be as many of older family members will still be around to answer questions firsthand. To find out more about the group, attend one of their monthly meetings, held the first Tuesday of every month at 7:30 pm in the parish hall of St. Mary’s Polish National Catholic Church, 5375 Broadview (corner of Broadview and Wexford). Contact information is also online at, or contact President Szuch at

Sean Martin

Forum, 11/2004