Letters from the "Old Country"
Even after getting settled, most migrants had strong ties "back home" -- whether across the ocean or across the Mason-Dixon line. Letters passed back and forth between those that left and those that stayed behind. The letters that survived give insight into why people choose to migrate, why some stayed, and why some returned.
Go to the source
- What hints do these letters give about immigrants' personal "push" factors? (Underline in red) ...their "pull" factors? (Underline in green)
- In which letters do the families agree with the immigrants' reasons for leaving? Which families do not support the immigrants' decision to leave? Why?
- Which letters show the strongest ties home? How are they staying connected?
- In which letters are the ties loosening? What are the "symptoms" of loosening ties? What are the causes from their families' points of view?
- What about their immigrant relatives: do families back home worry about? What advice do they give their immigrant relatives?
Take it further
- Does your family stay in touch with your family back in the "Old Country"? What usually happens over time to an immigrant's ties to home? Why?
From Poland to the USA
Authors Witold Kula, Nina Assorodobra-Kula, Marcin Kula, and editor Josephine Wtulich published the following excerpts of letters to immigrants in America from their families in Poland in the book Writing Home: Immigrants in Brazil and the United States 1890-1891.
See also: Letters from America written by immigrants to their familes back home.
Josef Cugoswski to his brother and sister-in-law in America
September 7, 1907
You know how it was when you were leaving, and now things don’t seem to get better but rather worse. The trade and industry are stopping, particularly now when winter approaches. Our factory goes on very badly . . . and you know, my dear ones, that there is a numerous family to nourish, so there is enough to think of when one cannot earn. And what is the worst, there is no place to go, for in the whole country it is the same, in some localities still worse. Food has become much dearer . . . Everything costs about 1/3 more than before. It is because in many localities hail has beaten the crops, in other localities they have rotted, in Russia and Lithuania there were strikes in many manors, and the crops were left in the field.
Tomasz Barszczewski to his brother Stanislaw Barszczewski in America
Nov. 17, 1906
Now everything is dear, from salt and matches up to the coat on your shoulders and the wagon of firewood at the market; cheap is only the life of the poor man, because it is taken away without question, without witnesses, without court.
Probably you are longing there, dear brother, and sometimes sorrowful. I anticipate that although such a great distance of land and sea separates you, still in your thought you visit your country, your relatives, and friends; you remember their radiant moments and the painful hours, you imagine the circumstances met long ago; your native country house with its straw-roof and its dear inhabitants seems lovely to you; perhaps even the curved ridge between the fields or a naked stone upon the stripped soil reminds you sweetly of some mystery of the past. . . .
Antone and Paulina Barszczewski to brother in America
May 19, 1914
In our village they are making colonies a new type of peasant farm, and it is very difficult to live. I was much better off before, because I had no trouble about pasture, but profited from the common pasture . . . . But now everybody has his own piece of land in a single lot, and everybody pastures upon his own lot; and as to me, you know that my whole property is a garden, where I must live and plant, and I have no place to pasture.
Antone and Paulina
Halicki family letters from mother to her son Polikarp in America
I thank you for your letter, for which I waited with longing. We knew that one ship sunk with the men. Glory be to God that you are healthy and happy. I beg you, my dear son, write to us as often as you can, you know how glad I am when I can speak with you at least by letters . . .
New Year 1913
I was very glad to receive the money, but I felt how parsimoniously you must have lived, dear son, wishing to help me for the holidays. Even if I had not the lord’s help [probably a widow’s pension], I should not ask anything from you. Try only to put some money aside and to come back as soon as possible to our country, at least for a short time.
Dear and Beloved Son,
I received the money for which I send you a hearty ‘God reward.’ I rejoice very much, dear child, that being in such a far world, you nevertheless remember about me. I doubt whether any of your brothers will do it. But certainly God will reward you.
...We received your photographs. They are so natural that Stasia and Mania kissed them. They put them upon a table and adorn you every day with fresh flowers.... People don’t cease to wonder that you remember me so and send money so often.
... I received the money for which I thank you heartily. I think, and I explain to your brothers and sisters, how sparing and industrious you must be. The postmen wonder, and some people even envy me. You intended 10 marks for Michal [for his name-day]. You have a truly brotherly heart. ... This very day I told all my children that if I turn the money which you send me to the benefit of all of them they all should be grateful to you... God reward you for having remembered your mother’s name-day in this far world.
Why don't you write?
Not everyone stayed in close touch. What reasons might keep people from writing? As time passed, what happened to ties to the "Old Country"? Why?
Mother Terlecki to her son in America
Dec. 10, 1911
... And now, dear son, I don’t know why you do not answer my letter and prayers. Perhaps something displeased you in it, or perhaps somebody told you false tales again. But I beg you once more, whether she [Stasia, her daughter, who also went to America] is alive or not, inform me and appease my maternal heart... The third month has begun already [since her departure], and I don’t know what is going on, because you all abandoned me and perhaps you don’t even think how you mother lives in ceaseless labor and moreover in torments.. You refuse me even this, that I may receive a few words from you. I wait for your letter as for the best thing, because nobody comes to me any more.
Aurelia Terlecka to her sister Stasia in America
March 25, 1912
I beg you very much to write me a few words yourself, because I know nothing about you except through the hands of other people. In spite of your promise that you would write you don’t keep your word to anybody ... I don’t feel angry and don’t claim anything, although you promised me to write, and different other things. I know that probably you long there for us as we long for you. When you gather much money and there is peace in our country, then come back...
Aurelia Terlecka to her brother in America
Pity our poor mother and don’t afflict her poor heart, lessen her tears, because poor mother weeps continually and expects every day a letter from you. I beg you once more, answer us as soon as possible.
Don't Forget your Way Home
Jozefa Krupa to her brother in America
Nov 30, 1912
We are both far away from the native home but I am at least among my own people while you are far away beyond the ocean, surrounded by people who speak to you a strange language, and often pray to a different God.. So don’t wonder, brother, if I feel often anxious lest you forget that you are a Pole and a Catholic. But this will never happen. You will always remember our native village and the small church, our old house and our parents. Stasia wrote to me just now that you have joined the Polish “sokols.” This is precisely a proof that you remember that you are a Pole. I hear also that you learn English. Evidently this will make your stay in America easier, but don’t forget to read Polish books also.
May 19, 1913
I not only do not blame your [intention of] visiting America and becoming better acquainted with it, that is with the United States, but on the contrary, I encourage you ... Probably you will regret leaving your druzyny sokole [friendly sokol associations], but it seems to me likely that there are also branches of the sokols in other localities.
As to the English language, certainly, since you are there and have the opportunity to learn, it is worthwhile to profit by it, for everything you learn may be useful at an opportune moment. How glad I am that my brother is a druh sokol, for our whole hope today is in these “friendly associations.” I would beg you also very earnestly to send me your photograph in a sokol’s uniform – for probably you are having yourselves photographed ...
And meanwhile in our fatherland there are simply not hands enough to work. In recent times emigration has even increased because of these different troubles. Here in our country [Galicia] as in the whole empire, the disorder is terrible – the struggle of parties, our local parliament dissolved, new elections, a new governor...
August 1, 1913
You will think probably, what do I want from you? Nothing more, dear brother, than that you may not forget there, in this exile, about our holy faith and our mother-country, that you may be always a true Catholic and Pole. For, O my dear, whoever is not a good Catholic will not be a good Pole. Without God there is no fatherland, and even if we bring I don’t know what offerings to this fatherland, we shall not get our liberty back without God’s blessing.
Dear Wojtus, I was very much pained to learn that you do not fulfill there in the foreign country our religious practices and duties, which every Christian Catholic ought to fulfill. But it is really impossible! I cannot believe that my brother has forgotten his prayers, which his mother taught him. It is true that you are young and inexperienced and bad society can do much evil but I don’t believe that you went so far as to lose your faith. Oh, this would be worse than anything!
And another question, no less disagreeable. I learn that you intend to become an American subject, and then again to join the American army. It would mean the same as to renounce your fatherland. . . . earn as much as you can, learn as much as possible; in a word, profit well from your stay there, and then [come] back to us, and don’t look again at America. For it is not worth regretting.
See also: Letters from America