Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bovina's Polish Community in 1910

I've finally finished the initial transcription of the Bovina 1910 census. I say initial because I need to clarify some of the entries - the handwriting was a bit of a challenge. And the fact that census summaries say Bovina had 912 people while I have a list of 910 needs to be addressed. A couple of people may be missing.

But in the meantime, I can report that the vast majority (848) of the people living in Bovina said that they were born in New York. The second most common response was Scotland, with 15 making that claim. Tied for third place with 7 people each were England and, a bit of a surprise, Poland.

The seven people who were born in Poland actually said Russia as the country. Remember that in 1910 Poland did not exist as a country - modern day Poland came into existence after the First World War. The reason we know it was Poland is because with the country, the census taker also noted the native language spoken.

So who were these seven people? There were Mike and Jennie Zenkowski. Mike was a farmer who came to the US in 1902 and had been married for 4 years in 1910. He married his Polish born wife about 4 years after he came to the US (the census records do not say when she arrived). He and Jennie had two children, both born in the US. There was Frank Zemkowski, who was living with the Dixon Thomson family as a farm laborer. It is possible that Zenkowski and Zemkowski were the same name and the census taker messed up the spelling.

Steve Slimenski came to the US in 1909, while John Slimenski came the following year. They may have been related, but we can't tell from the census. Steve was 21 and working as a farm laborer on the Zenkowski farm. John was 30, married and living as a boarder at the home of Fred White. His wife was not with him and very likely was still in Poland (if he had been widowed, it would have said so in the census). The two Slimenskis were listed as only speaking Polish.

Frank Sylvesca or Sylvisca was a 48 year old farm laborer at the home of Dewitt Sharp. He too was only able to speak Polish, at least according to the census taker. He arrived in the US in 1900, as did his fellow countryman, Arthur Silinsky (or Silunaky). Arthur was a 25 year old farm laborer on the Maynard farm and was able to speak English.

There is much the census can't tell us about Bovina's Polish residents. We have no idea how they may have interacted with each other. If they did interact as a community, they didn't last long - at least not in Bovina. The Zenkowskis had two more children while in Bovina but by 1920 the whole family had left town. In fact, all of the seven Polish natives who showed up in the 1910 census for Bovina were gone by the time the census taker came back a decade later.

I'll have another entry or two about the 1910 census and what the data show, but this small group of Poles in Bovina caught my eye as an interesting and untold story about the town.

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