"A lot of young people don't understand what it meant for the immigrants, whether you're Polish, German, Italian or whatever — the struggles that people had to endure coming to a foreign land and what it was like. Some of them didn't even speak the language," says Barrett, who worked as an assistant in a financial management firm.
Bringing family trees to life
Stella Slimko, 72, a retired contracts administrator from Lake Orion, Mich., has been searching since 2003 for information about all four grandparents, who emigrated from Poland. Three months of research at The Polish Mission helped her discover more than she was able to find on her own.
In July, she wanted to share that experience with her grandchildren and her daughter, Patty Bianchi, 44, during their visit from Hopkinton, Mass. The youngsters — Francesca, 10; Julian, 7; and Camille, 5 — enjoyed The Polish Mission's theatrical display of sculptural figures clad in costumes from various Polish regions and different eras.
While they were reluctant to participate at first, that changed when genealogists explained the concept of a family tree. "They gave us a beautiful archival case to keep our documentation," Bianchi says. "They had the kids select their favorite photo from their grandmother's collection, worked with them to scan it in, and let them decorate [the case] as they saw fit."
For Sharon Deceuninck, the research is just beginning. "I asked my granddaughter to tag along with me for two days" to the workshop, says Deceuninck, 67, of Shelby Township, Mich., a retired school district secretary. Her parents were born in Poland and arrived in the United States when they were about 2 years old.
The project turned out to be very enlightening for Deceuninck's granddaughter, Nicole Wren, 18. "I'm now able to share these stories and findings about my great-grandparents with my cousins, my aunts and uncles and — even one day — when I have my own family."
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Susan Kreimer is a writer in New York.