Zawada Family Notes



Zawada Family Notes

I am related to the Zawadas via my grandfather, Joseph Wades.

Joe's birth name was Joseph Daniel Zawada, but Joe changed his last name to Wades in the 1920's or 1930's so that he could find work downstate after the copper mining industry dried up in Calumet, MI.

I know little of Joe's extended family, but there are family photos of Joe in Calumet, MI with his unnamed cousins. Did his cousins come to the U.S. before Joe's parents, or afterwards? And were these cousins the siblings of Frank or Victoria?

To answer these questions, I started off scouring the Internet.

Until June of 2004, my brother and I were always told that the Zawada side of the family was German, and that great-grandma Victoria was Finnish. This was all I had been told to work with.

So, first things first - I wanted to know how to pronounce Zawada correctly, so I looked for it online and found the following:

Zawada is a moderately common name. As of 1990, according to the best data available (the Slownik nazwisk wspolczesnie w Polsce uzywanych, "Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland," which covers about 94% of the population of Poland), there were 11,686 Polish citizens named Zawada. They lived all over Poland, especially the southern part of the country.
... Zawaski is almost certainly a variant of the name more often spelled Zawadzki or Zawacki. Both those names are pronounced roughly "zah-VOTT-skee." They come from the noun zawada that means "obstacle, impediment," and in archaic usage "fortress," because soldiers often set up fortified positions in places where some natural feature of the land would block the way for enemy armies and make them vulnerable to attack. The surname Zawadzki or Zawacki means "of the zawada," and thus could refer to a person somehow connected with such an obstacle or fortress. -
So if Frank's family was Polish by descent, how did the family come to relate that we are of German descent?   Was Poland part of Germany at one time?

Next, because I didn't have any information on Frank Zawada, I worked from the assumption that he had emigrated to the U.S. from somewhere, likely Germany. Based on that assumption, I had a second question - What was going on in the world to drive Poles to emigrate to the U.S. and other places in the late 1800's?

Let's go with the former question - Was Poland part of Germany at one time?
This may seem like a silly question to people, but I haven't studied geography and history in about 10 years...

So, I began looking up maps of Poland. I knew that my grandpa Joe was born in 1897, so I figured I'd go back in time about 20 years further to accomodate for great-grandpa Frank's timeline.

Boy was I in for a surprise!   I knew Poland got the short end of the stick after WWII, but I totally forgot my history lessons for Poland before that time. There have been invasions and border changes in Poland since at least 1241!

I was able to discover that Poland was also known as Posen, and then I found the following map:

Image courtesy of

The map above shows Poland (Posen) as part of the German empire in the late 1800's.

And now the 2nd question - What was going on in the world to drive Poles to emigrate to the U.S. and other places in the late 1800's?

The following comes from
The first wave of [Polish] immigrants, arriving mainly from the late 1800s up to the WW I, were considered "za chlebem" (means "for bread") immigrants. They came to America mainly from economical but also political and religious reasons. Many immigrants were illiterate and unskilled laborers in their own country. The majority came from South and Southeastern part of Poland (Carpathian and Tatra Mountains, Krakow and Rzeszow area). These areas were very poor and overpopulated until the beginnings of XX century when tourism industry started developing. This first and large group of immigrants is difficult to account for since they came from Poland when Poland did not exist as a separate country but was partitioned between Prussia, Russia and Austria. So they were registered as citizens of these countries rather than Poland.
Aha!   So there we have it officially. This would explain why my family says we are of German descent, instead of Polish descent.

So it looks like Frank emigrated from Poland in the late 1800's, but this is where the trail went cold...until a fellow genealogist by the name of Colleen replied to a query I'd made on a genealogy forum on Fri, 28 May 2004.
Colleen wrote that per document SD12, ED170, Sheet 5, Stamped page 38B showing the 1900 U.S. Census, she found under Frank Sr's household the following: Zawada Frank born Jan 1870, age 30, married 6 years, born Poland/Ger, immigrated 1892, U.S. 8 years, laborer, rents house.
Victoria born August 1872, age 27, 3 children born and 3 children living, born Poland/Ger, immigrated 1881, U.S. 19 years.
Frank born July 1895, age 4, born MI
Joseph born March 1897, age 3, born MI
Mary born June 1899, age year, born MI
Zawada Jacob, brother, born March 1876, age 24, born Poland/Ger, immigrated 1895, US 5 years, miner (copper).

I now knew the year that Frank had immigrated to the U.S. (1892), the year Frank and Victoria married (1894), the fact that he rented his home, and most interesting, that Frank had a brother also living with him! And Frank's brother was also a copper miner!

I continued searching the Internet and discovered that Michigan Technological University (MTU), located in Houghton, Michigan, has a vast collection of historical information about copper mining and miners in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

So in June of 2004, I traveled to Calumet, Michigan to find out more about this side of the family. I was able to locate Frank's immigration papers, birth certificates for some of Frank's children, applications from Frank, and his sons Frank Jr. and Joe to work in the copper mines at Calumet & Hecla, Frank's wife's maiden name, and I also located the neighborhood in which the Zawada family had lived.

Whew! All this time, the information was right under our noses - all someone had to do was take a trip up to Calumet.   My father told me recently that he had no idea how to go about searching for this information, and the fact that I figured out how to go to Michigan Technological University was beyond him - he said he'd never have thought to look there.

Based on the information I found while in Calumet and Houghton, Michigan, I now present to you a Zawada Family History.

Index to this site

Chapter 1 - Frank Zawada's Emigration from Poland
Chapter 2 - A Portrait of Victoria Zawada
Chapter 3 - The Zawada Family's Rented Home on C&H property
Chapter 4 - Life in the Copper Mines
Chapter 5 - Frank Zawada's Accident in the Copper Mine
Chapter 6 - Labor unions, strikes and violence in the Keweenaw: The Strike of 1913
Chapter 7 - Frank and his sons Frank Jr. and Joe during the strike of 1913
Chapter 8 - The Great War: 1914 - 1918
Chapter 9 - The Roaring 20's
Chapter 10 - The Great Depression
Chapter 11 - A portrait of Frank Zawada Jr. (under construction)
Chapter 12 - World War II - 1939 - 1945 - The Family We Left Behind (under construction)
Chapter 13 - A portrait of Joe Zawada (under construction)
Chapter 14 - New Generations Come of Age (under construction)



Last updated December 1, 2004
© Copyright Steph Wades, 1999 - 2006