Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Polish Partitions

Some of you may remember the song, "(What a) Wonderful World," written Sam Cooke:

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took

I've found it's hard to put my ancestors' lives into context without knowing and understanding history. I'm still working on my French. <smile> I won't mention biology and science; they weren't positive school experiences.

Here's an example of why I find knowing the history so important. I thank my European history instructors everyday. And I read...a lot. My husband is continually amazed at the odd titles of old, used books that arrive by mail.

Marcin, or Martin, Schalin was my four times great grandfather. He was born about 1770 and married Anna Dorothea Rosno on 11 May 1791. They settled in a village known as Maliniec. If you wanted to find it on the map today, you would need to search for Maliniec, Kolo, Wojewodztwo Wielkopolskie, Polska. Four generations of the Schalin family lived in this village until Gottlieb and his family moved farther east between 1861 and 1863. The Schalin family considered themselves German. They spoke German for much of their history. In fact, Gottlieb's granddaughter and her husband spoke only German until the early 1920s when their oldest daughter went to school in Maryland and could speak no English.

When I began my family history research, I asked myself why did a German family live in Poland. It turns out for much of the time they lived in Maliniec Poland didn't exist at all.

Map of the three partitions of Poland, 1772-1795, courtesy of Wikipedia
and edited using Microsoft Powerpoint

In 1569 the Union of Lubin created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which included modern day Ukraine, led by elected kings. The period between 1648 through 1764 saw the decline of the commonwealth as a result of several foreign invasions and internal disorder. One such invasion resulted in the first partition of Poland in 1772 when Austria, Prussia and Russia took about 30 percent of the country and added it to their dominions. What was left of Poland became known as the First Polish Republic. Russia did not want to see a rebirth of a strong country on its border and invaded in May 1792.  Poland capitulated in 1793 and the country was partitioned again -- this time by only Prussia and Russia. Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a popular general and veteran of the American Revolution was chosen as Poland's leader. He issued a national proclamation in 1794 calling for a national uprising under his command. Austria, Prussia, and Russia gobbled up what remained of Poland the next year, erasing the country from the map until 1807 when Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw from lands ceded by Prussia. After Napoleon was defeated the Kingdom of Poland, or Congress Poland, was established in 1815 in a personal under the Russian tsar. Technically, however, there was no sovereign Polish state until 1918.

We do not know where Marcin Schalin was born but we know he lived in Poland by 1791 and the family remained in the same village until sometime between 1861 and 1863. So during the that time, without moving, the Schalin family lived in:
  • Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (included modern day Belarus and Ukraine) (1569-1795)
  • Prussia Partition (1793-1807) (Prussia called this area South Prussia)
  • Grand Duchy of Warsaw (in personal union with king of Saxony) (1807-1815)
  • Kingdom of Poland, informally known as Congress Poland (in personal union with tsar of Russia) (1815-1867)
According to Albert W. Wardin, Jr.'s book, Gottfired F. Alf: Pioneer of the Baptist Movement in Poland, "The Kingdom of Poland was a strange construction. Its king was the tsar of Russia, who held strong executive powers. At first the kingdom possessed a rather liberal constitution that provided for an assembly, civil service, judicial system, and Army. The constitution also granted personal liberties, including religious tolerance. The Polish population was, by and large, hostile toward its Russian overlords. As a result of the Polish uprising of 1830-31, the kingdom came under full Russian control. Its constitution was destroyed and its assembly and army disbanded. The Russian regime curtailed civil rights and Polish institutions. After another uprising in 1863-64, the Russian government abolished the Kingdom of Poland, calling it Vistula Land, and completely subordinated it under Russian administration."

The Russian tsar freed the serfs in 1861, as a result much land became available in what is today Volyn', Ukraine, then known as the Russian Partition. Is it any wonder the Schalin family moved to the greener pastures of that vast eastern European plain, which has been known as the bread basket of Europe.


  1. Great history you dug up on the area. Thanks for putting that tune humming in my head now.....

    1. It will be stuck there for days! At least it was for me when I thought to use it in the intro of this post.