This has been something I’ve been curious about for some time, but it seemed like a long shot. I was very interested in citizenship by descent in Poland, the country where my great-grandparents were born. But I found out pretty quickly that since they left Poland around 1900, they were essentially stateless as Poland didn’t become a state until after 1920.
Calling The Consulate…
Someone told me maybe they declared Polish citizenship from a U.S. consulate after 1920, in which case, I would be able to obtain citizenship by descent. I have yet to find that documentation, if it even exists. I emailed the Polish consulate long ago about it. No answer. I imagine like every other governmental agency around the world, they are busy. If they did this, it was never spoken of in our family.
Immigrant Family Issues
This is a problem, too. Like many immigrant families, important information about culture and citizenship wasn’t passed down. This wasn’t something my mother ever talked about with me. Like many Polish-American families, Poland was spoken of briefly and minimally over the years. It was referred to as “The Old Country.” The cities and towns weren’t talked about — and if they were — there was a serious language and spelling barrier.
Breaking Down Barriers, Three Generations In…
I am sorting out those barriers now with help from various citizenship lawyers who have given me small nuggets of knowledge. I am also sorting through more than 100 years of family documents — everything I can find. Then I take the Polish words and do what I can to translate. (I am learning Polish but am just a beginner). Now I am digging through the third partition of Poland and how it pertains to my family — which puts our actual roots in modern-day Belarus.
The Problem With Women…
I also learned that citizenship can only come through my great-grandfather anyway. It’s wrong and sad, but the truth is women didn’t count in countries like Poland and Germany. (This was during a certain time period, I am not sure what the exact years are, do your own research). I can’t use my great-grandmother’s lineage to obtain citizenship. I can’t use a woman’s side of the family as citizenship isn’t passed down from mother to child. I didn’t know this! (A lawyer taught me this but, again, do your own research).
If You’re Irish or Italian, Go That Route!
I’m happy for you if you’re Irish or Italian because you’ll have a much easier time obtaining citizenship by descent! Poland is tough. It’s worth noting there is much bad information out there. I won’t repeat it here. Just know it pays to do your research and check your sources. I think most of us contact multiple citizenship lawyers around the world to begin learning what the options are, and that’s OK. They do have the best and most up-to-date information — it’s their job. I’m not going to pretend to be a citizenship expert. I just want to share my journey here.
What I am left with are a couple tougher options.
One is citizenship by presidential grant, which is exactly what it sounds like. I would do lots of work proving my ties to Poland, that I can speak the language, contribute to the country, be a good citizen, understand the history, support myself, etc. The ideal outcome would be that the President of Poland personally grants me citizenship.
The other option is to obtain citizenship through ancestral research.
I am not entirely sure what the rules are for that one but I am actively working on it to see if it will work for me. I’ve been studying my Polish genealogy for some time. The pandemic has kept me home and helped with this oddly enough.
Read more about that on my Cure CJD blog
It’s been a cool journey so far. Whether I become a Polish citizen or not, the door to Poland keeps opening wider for me, in my eyes, as I continue to research my family tree. It’s been something I’ve needed to do since Dr. Geschwind brought it up during our visit at UCSF in 2012. The tough circumstances of 2020 have at least helped me research my family tree.
I really do believe there are answers to be found about CJD in my family tree and that involves Cleveland, Ohio, as much as it involves Poland.
It’s just that now I know that may or may not involve modern-day Belarus. I don’t know if I have distant relatives in Europe who have had to deal with CJD, too. And what if I do? And what if I have information about the disease that could help them? I’ve long wondered if it’s ethical for me to try and find them to bring them this information. And if this disease is an ethnic Polish disease, can I help in research studies there as I do for UCSF? Can I afford not to look into these things? Of course not. These are important and noble pursuits. I have to at least TRY.
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