A synopsis by Marilyn Novak, Arlington Heights, IL - December 2001
History of the Area
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna awarded control of a
section of northeastern Poland to Russia. This area was then called the
"Congress Kingdom of Poland," or "Russian Poland." Plock was one of ten
provinces which made up the Congress Kingdom of Poland.
The letters in this book were addressed to residents
living in three of the administrative subdivisions of Plock, called "districts."
Rypin and Lipno bordered on Prussia and served as gateways out of Poland.
The third district was Golub-Dobrzyn.
In those days, the population had increased. There were
many landless and unemployed people in the districts. It also happened
that men, when they came of age, were subject to being drafted into the
Russian army for periods of 20 to 25 years.
How the Letters Came to be Stored
In the early 1890s, the Russian tsar's censors were instructed
to seize and open letters coming into the area. They removed money, steamship
tickets, and leaflets promoting emigration in an effort to halt the clandestine,
illegal emigration rush out of the Congress Kingdom, across the border
to Bremen or Hamburg, and from those ports, on to the United States or
The letters were opened, emptied, stamped "hold", ("zadierzhat,"
or "zad," in Russian,) sent on to appropriate police stations for action,
and eventually stored in a warehouse in Warsaw, awaiting destruction.
The First Compilation of these Letters
In the course of his research work in 1941, a Polish
economic historian named Witold Kula found many thousands of these letters
in a Warsaw warehouse. He studied about 1000 of them, taking them home
and bringing them back to the warehouse. However, Kula managed to save
only 367 of them - the majority were destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising.
These 367 letters were later published in a work in Polish.
Writing Home, the Second Compilation
Josephine Wtulich, trained in sociology and anthropology,
translated into English and annotated the same 367 letters which appear
in this book,. She added the results of her own research in the form of
an introduction full of much history, and splendid notes regarding matters
which would be of interest to genealogists and historians.
1890 and 1891 were the first years of "Brazil fever,"
as well as the years of the first major wave of emigration out of Poland
to the US. Steamship and railroad companies, US manufacturers, and the
government of Brazil actively recruited the peasants to "go to a better
The letters are enlightening, and heart rending. How
did people get across the border between Prussia and Russian Poland so
that they could get to the ports from which the ships left? How much did
passage cost? How did people pass the time while they waited for the ship
to leave? How long did a sea voyage take? Were conditions onboard the
ship as terrible as some we have heard about? What was the free land offered
in Brazil really like? Was work as plentiful in the US as the recruiters
had said? How did the new arrivals describe life in the US or Brazil to
their relatives back home?
The answers to these questions can be found in the letters.
So can a great sense of sadness, when one reads of men believing that
their wives or parents back in Poland do not love them anymore because
they do not answer their letters! The book Writing Home: Immigrants in
Brazil and the United States 1890-1891 can be obtained through Interlibrary
Loan through your local library. A few genealogical libraries (such as
that of the Polish Museum of America in Chicago) may have it on shelf.
It is available for purchase through popular on-line bookstores, but is
over $100 in cost.
Two Good Reasons to Check the Index and/or Read the Book:
1) If you have ancestors who came from this area, their
names might be listed, and
2) If you want an enjoyable read, learning a good deal
about what our courageous ancestors experienced as they set out to establish
new lives in a new land, this book is an excellent choice.
Notes on the Index
a) Polish diacritical marks are not used.
b) In the "Address" column, the words "now" or "today"
in front of the name of a province in Poland refers to the political divisions
(the province names) as they were in 1986 when this book was written.
In 1998, the provinces were re-structured and re-named, so the province
names existing today will most likely NOT be the same name
c) The word "parents" can also mean in-law parents,
as used in Polish family life.
d) In Poland, "Plock" is the name of a province, a district,
and a village. As it is used in the book, however, Plock always refers
to the name of the province.