Part Three: The Jablonskis

Research Challenges

Any investigation involving 19th and early 20th Century records, especially covering non-English-speaking peoples, comes up against a proliferation of mis-transcriptions, bizarre Anglicized surnames, and plain old errors. In some cases, it’s clear that transcribers, like U.S. Census enumerators, struggled to render strange-sounding names in the English alphabet. Jablonski might appear as Jablonsky, Joblonski, Jablinski, Jabłońska, Jablouski, etc.[1]

Other times, immigrants themselves changed their names to English equivalents or less foreign-sounding versions (Bronislaw to Bruno; Jablonski becomes Jackson).

In addition, “Jablonski” is a common surname. Variations of it occur over 200,000 times in the data. Limiting the search to just Wisconsin still yields over 7,000 matches. Wisconsin newspapers of the period likewise contain references to numerous Jablonski families, none of which, alas, appear to be related to the Ignatz Jablonski clan. In this document, I have selected one surname for each family member and tried to use it consistently throughout.

Family history research relies heavily on U.S. Census documents, marriage and birth and death filings, and military service records. The inconsistency of personal names in these sources, especially in the first half of the 20th century, is extraordinary. This makes distinguishing one “Jablonski” from another very challenging. Even variants of first names can be befuddling (Benedict, Benny, Bennie, Ben, Benjamin…). It is also worth noting that women are poorly represented in documents of this period. City directories mostly do not include them (except parenthetically after the husband’s name) and they rarely appear, of course, in military records.

Finally, U.S. Census records are not as helpful as they might be. Most of the 1890 records were destroyed in a fire in 1921. And the 1950 Census records will not be made public until April of 2022, so researchers are always some fifty years behind the times, so to speak.

The Poles in Wisconsin

Before diving into the Jablonski family history, it’s worth understanding a bit of historical context about Wisconsin Polish immigrants. What brought this Polish farming family to the shores of Lake Michigan, some 5,000 miles from their homeland? There has been a great deal of historical research done on Polish immigration to America and specifically to Wisconsin.[1] After 1795, Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation, its territory having been partitioned between Austria, Prussia and Russia. Decades of socio-economic turmoil drove European Poles to seek a better life in North America.

“Historians divide the forces that motivate people to move their homelands into push factors, or conditions driving them out of the home country, and pull factors, which draw them to a new land. The main factor pushing Polish peasants out of Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century was extreme poverty caused by a shortage of land. Fear of being drafted into the armies of partitioning powers impelled many young men to flee; political repression, cultural suppression, and religious discrimination also contributed to the exodus from portioned Poland. Nevertheless, the vast majority of peasants who came to America after the Civil War did so for economic reasons. Hence, this mass migration, which took place principally between 1870 and the beginning of World War I, is often said to have been za chlebem — for bread.”[2]

Poles first arrived in Wisconsin in the Portage County area around 1857. Such a trip involved a train ride to a port in Germany or Italy, a ten- to fourteen-day voyage on a crowded passenger ship, arrival and processing in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia or Canada, and another long land trip by train. By the time Bonnie Billick’s Jablonski ancestors headed for America, large-scale immigration from Europe had been underway for almost a century and, once on the other side of the Atlantic, they joined countless immigrant families beginning a new life in the rugged, logged out region of central Wisconsin.

The Jablonskis settled in Oconto, Clark, and Rusk Counties

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[1] I rely largely on Cienmeiwski (1999) and Mikoś (2012) for background. See the list of Sources for full citations.

[2] Mikoś, 2012, p. 12. A basic and easily-read introduction to Polish immigration is Szabados 2016 (see full citation in Sources).
{last update: 3-Mar-2020}