This Polish family photograph that our family saved is thought to be our Szczerba family gathered at their ancestral home. This is a wonderful example of the old Polish wooden houses with thatched roofs that were once common in the mountains of southern Poland. The family was dressed very formally, so it is possible it was a holiday. Most likely it was taken after World War II, but it isn’t dated. It has been suggested that it could have been taken on the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th, because that is a Polish holiday called The Feast of Our Lady of the Herbs, or Matki Boskiej Zielnej. On that day bunches of herbs and flowers were taken to the local church to be blessed, and then kept for the year in the homes of the parishioners.
On the back someone wrote, Fotografia Rodzinna, meaning a photograph of the family. If only they had written a list of names! From other pictures our family saved, we think this is our Bapcia’s family (Zofia Szczerba Mirota), and are the children of her brother, Pawel Szczerba (1871-1922), and his wife Agatha Sliwa. We could also be completely wrong. That is the joy and challenges in searching old photographs for kinfolk. Bapcia’s Szczerba family was from small villages called Berdechow au Bobowa, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tarnow, Poland. Growing up we had heard the family had lived near the Carpathian mountains in the foothills, and that they were farmers and sheep herders. When the Iron Curtain came down after World War II, and Eastern and Western Europe were separated and divided, any chance of travel back and forth vanished. As a child I thought this was an actual thick, velvet, purple curtain made of iron that swallowed up anyone that tried to get through. We would occasionally receive airmail letters and cards, sometimes with photographs, and at Christmas time beautiful thin decorated wafers called opłatek that we used during our Christmas Eve supper, called Wigilia.
My sister spent many hours looking through microfilm at her local Family History Center, and it was so exciting when she found the correct baptismal record of our grandmother (LDS#2090065) in 2001. Now these records can easily be searched online right at the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter – Day Saints. Pawel Szczerba’s record is there online showing he was baptized on 24 Oct 1871.
Our family has saved photographs of some of Pawel and Agatha’s children, and their families, including Jan, Jacub, and Ludwig. Below is another one of our Polish family pictures with Bapcia’s nephew, Jan Szczerba. He identifies his wife (zona) and daughter (corka), but no one else. The are visiting the family cemetery plot on All Saint’s Day. On this day families travel all over Poland to visit the graves of their dearly departed family, and they light candles and place flowers there in remembrance. On the back Jan wrote 1.XI.1953r, meaning November 1, in the year 1953. I do think I can identify Jan and his wife on the left side of the picture on top. I’ve always loved this photo for the emotions showing on the faces. How wonderful that it was shared with our family in New Jersey. Hopefully, one day we’ll find where our Polish second cousins now live and we’ll solve one of our major brick walls. For an introduction to Polish holiday traditions visit the website of The Polish Women’s Alliance of America.