Piotr Szymanowicz arrived at Ellis Island in New York on 29 March 1910. The 28-year-old immigrant had $33 in his pocket, according to the ship's passenger list. He had left the port of Antwerp, Belgium eleven days earlier, in steerage aboard the steam ship Kroonland. His first name is recorded as Franz on the manifest. His occupation is entered as fisherman, his "race" as Polish, and his prior place of residence as Siedlce, Russia. He was recorded as being 5 feet, 7 inches tall with brown hair and brown eyes.
Piotr was no wide-eyed boy when he sailed into New York harbor 100 years ago. He had been conscripted by the Russian Army and traveled as far as Harbin, in Manchuria. He had a young family and set off from the small village on the Bug River to make a better life for them.
Piotr is believed to have been born on 29 June 1881 in Drohiczyn Russia/Poland. He was the son of Jozef Szyanowicz and Zofia Kapuca. They were fisherman, and his sons remembered his ability to tie string into nets in later life. When he was 24, Piotr married Walerya Zawacka in the local Catholic Church in Drohiczyn on 19 January 1906. Their first child, Kazimierz, was born in Drohiczyn on 4 August 1907, followed by another son, Bonifacy, born 21 December 1908. Their first son died before his second birthday, on 16 June 1909.
Jadwiga Zawacka, Piotr's 19 year-old sister-in-law, had accompanied him on his journey to this country. When they arrived in the United States, their destination was Easthampton, Massachusetts. They were to join Witold Zawacki, Jadwiga and Walerya's brother, who lived at 2 Harrison Avenue in that city. Witold was employed at the West Boyleston Manufacturing Company. Peter also secured employment at the cotton mill, and sent for his wife and young son.
Walerya and her year-old son departed Antwerp five months after Piotr, on 13 August 1910 aboard the SS Finland. The Kroonland and the Finland were sister ships of the Red Star Line. When they arrived in New York ten days later, Walerya was recorded on the ship's manifest as 5 feet, 3 inches tall with fair hair and blue eyes at 22 years of age. Her previous residence was listed as "Rygican" (Drohiczyn?) Grodiev. She could not read or write.
The strong manufacturing climate in Easthampton at the turn of the last century attracted many Polish workers. City directories list Piotr, later "Peter" as employed by West Boyleston Manufacturing Company or Easthampton Rubber Thread Company. Their residences near the factories were likely owned by the mills. Walerya's other brothers, Karol and Waclaw (Karl and Walter), followed her to Easthampton and had families nearby.
The family grew in Easthampton for the next 15 years. The children born to Piotr and Walerya are recorded in Easthampton, and in the records of Sacred Heart parish, a church built in 1909 to serve the Polish population. Their children were:
- Casimir, born 17 April 1912, baptized 21 April with godparents Stanislaus Kozakiewicz and Ludowica Kosakowaka.
- Janina Helen, born 20 October 1916, baptized 29 October with godparents Wenceslaus Zawacki and Francisca Florczyk.
- Bronislava, born 7 June 1920, baptized 13 June with godparents George Mancruk and Jadwiga Szysko.
- Henry, born 9 August 1923, baptized 19 August with godparents John Szysko and Sophia Bednarz.
- Joseph (twin) born 1 August 1925, baptized 1 August 1925 with godparents Anthony Guodj and Mary Storogoj.
- John (twin) born 1 August 1925, baptized 9 August 1825 with godparents John Franchi and Antonio Lagonska.
In 1919 Walerya "Valerie" became a founding co-president of the local Polish Women's Alliance of America, Group 289 of Easthampton. She served with Dr. Julia Bauman. The national headquarters in Illinois has not retained records from this period. She was also a member of the Saint Anne's Society of Sacred Heart church, which was founded in 1917. A parish school was constructed and opened in 1919, and enrollment for eight grades in 1921 totaled 500 students. A convent was later constructed in 1922 for the Franciscan teaching sisters. Benny, Charlie and Jenny probably attended this school.
Peter filed a Declaration of Intent to become a United States citizen in Hampshire County Superior Court on 3 November 1923. He described himself as 5 feet 7 inches tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes. This important step toward "ownership" in their new country was followed by the purchase of a home and business in Northampton, Massachusetts on 1 September 1925. The home on the corner of Holyoke and Hawley Streets included 1/10 acres and was subject to a mortgage to the sellers for $3,500 as well as $2,500 to the Northampton Institute for Savings.
Fifteen years after arriving in this country with only $33 and a dream of a better life, the Szymanowicz family and their six American children were ready for the next chapter.