Family stories provide clues to our family history. But we need to verify the traditional stories.
For example, my grandfather, Jan Chudzikowski, emigrated from Ukraine to Canada and settled in Vancouver, British Columbia. According to our family tradition, he returned to Ukraine and came back with my grandmother, Rose Rowyenyj, and three uncles (Max, Louis, and Joe). He returned again to Ukraine and came back with my other uncle (Walter). I wondered if it was really true that my grandfather made three voyages from Ukraine to Canada and traveled over 16,000 miles roundtrip. Also, Uncle Walter was always rather aloof from the rest of the family, and I wondered why.
Through research, I found the answers.
I knew that my grandfather had naturalized in about 1930 and changed his surname to Kirk. I searched the citizenship records index on the Library and Canada Archives website and found an entry for John and Rose Kirk.
I sent for a copy of John’s naturalization papers. I learned his date of arrival, August 8, 1909, and the ship he traveled on, the SS Mount Temple. I searched the passenger lists on microfilm in the Family History Library and found an entry for Jan Chudzikowski.
Then, last year, when the Canadian passenger lists came online through Ancestry.com, I searched my grandfather’s supposed other voyages. What I found was different from our family traditions.
- I learned that my grandmother, Rosalia Chudzikowski, and her three children left on their own on September 17, 1911, on the SS Montfort to join their husband and father in Vancouver.
- A brother, Izydor Chudzikowski, sailed on the SS Mount Royal on July 16, 1913, to join his brother in Vancouver. On the same voyage was his married sister, Jawdocha Kujbida, coming to join her husband, also in Vancouver.
- Walter came with his aunt and uncle in 1913. His parents had emigrated earlier when he was a small boy, and he felt abandoned.
So, there were three voyages, but my grandfather only was on the first one in 1909. He probably sent money to Gramma and his siblings to help them with their voyages.
I feel that he was the “pioneer” in our family, because all the rest of my Ukrainian side of the family came after he did, between 1909 and 1922, to my home country of Canada. I also have an appreciation for my Gramma, who traveled over 8000 miles (over two continents and an ocean) with 3 little boys. She died when I was 6 years old.
Family traditions are good leads to help get the facts about your ancestors, but remember that they are sometimes just “nice stories” to tell. It is important to verify, to learn the real story.