I Am Kashubian (Stephanz Family)

No, this is not a reality TV show and we are not the Kardashians.  I have been studying hard the last few days, learning about another culture altogether, our ancestry, our heritage.

On Monday I was searching around trying to find more information on Johann Reikowski’s parents, Franz and Josephine (Tesmer) Reikowski.  It led me to the My Heritage site where I have their free, basic tree set up.   It listed a Franciszek and  Józefina Reikowski (nee Tesmer).  An email was listed so I emailed.  Not 20 minutes later, I received a reply.  I was in touch with my 4th cousin 1x removed, Arkadiusz Cyman or Arek as he is called, from Warsaw, Poland.

Arek’s 2nd great-grandmother, Marianna, is my Johann’s (my 3rd great grandfather’s) sister (that’s where the “1x removed” comes in).  Marianna’s granddaughter married a Ziemann that changed to Cyman.

Through him I found that Johann had other siblings unknown to me.  More on that at another time.  Arek was aware that “many Kashubian’s went to the USA but had no idea if any members of my [his] family were among them.”.   It didn’t dawn on me until a few emails later that he was speaking of a people and not a surname.  Both the Reikowski’s and the Tesmer’s are Kashubian.

So, does that mean that Reikowski is actually Polish and not German?  Not exactly.  I have spent the last three days and many emails with Arek trying to understand.  I will try my best to explain without being insensitive to the region, as Arek told me, “Kashubians and Silesians German heritage it’s still a sensitive topic in Poland.”

Here is how Arek explained it to me.  “Most of Kashubians claim to be Polish. Quote: “There wouldn’t be Kashubia without Poland – and there wouldn’t be Poland without Kashubia”.

However during the “Germanization” period many people preferred to be perceived as Germans – and some really dropped their Polish/Kashubian heritage for good. Kashubia was rather poor rural region and in those times people being Kashubian were treated worse than Germans.”

Kashubian (Kaszubian) is a West Slavic language belonging to the Lechitic (a language subgroup consisting of Polish and several other languages and dialects that originally were spoken in the area) group of languages of northern Poland, and is thought to be a variation of the original Pomeranian language. Kashubian enjoys legal protection in Poland as a minority language, is taught in Polish schools, and can be found on many street signs in the region.  Source: https://www.inyourpocket.com/kashubia/The-Kashubians_70079f 

And, get this.  One of the biggest emigration settlements in America was Wisconsin!  Yes, the area where our Reikowski’s lived! kaszubespark_fullsize_story1

Due to the “reorganization” of Poland by Prussia and Russia in the 1800s, attempts to displace Poles with German citizens and weaken ethnic and cultural ties, many people, including the Kashubes, left Poland.   Source: https://onmilwaukee.com/visitors/articles/kaszubespark.html?28473

The Wilno website sites that “the Prussians were systematically pushing the Kashubs to leave the area by discouraging the use of their language, the practise of their religion, and by expropriating their land. Approximately one-third of the Kashub population emigrated during this period, mainly to America and Canada.”

The Kashubes are a Slavic tribe who originally settled on or near the Hel peninsula, which juts into the Baltic Sea, between 1,100 and 1,400 years ago.   Here is a beautiful video of the area today.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7nh5sJok2w 

According to the Herder-Institut, “West Prussia is an extremely interesting yet problematic region of East Central Europe: National and political affiliations have changed many times between the Middle Ages and the present day, and its ethnic, national and cultural complexity make this region “between Germans and Poles” a paradigm of complex German-Polish relations.”  Well said!

I have found a lot of our ancestors in the Pomerania area.  Pommern and Pomerania are Slavic in origin coming from the Slavic word “pomorze” which means “by the sea”.  Of course.  What else would it mean?

According to FamilySearch.org, “The Kashubians are those Pomeranians (in eastern Pomerania and in northern and western West Prussia) who resisted Germanization and largely retained their native Slavic language and their Catholic religion. The Pomeranians are those who adopted the German language and the Protestant religion. Yet the ethnic origins of both the Kashubians and the Pomeranians are the same.  Kashubian is classified either as a language or a Polish dialect.”

From the Kashubian History and Culture; Kaszubi / Historia i Kultura Kaszubów, “for over 1,500 years, the Kashubs have lived along the shore of the Baltic Sea. Their traditional occupations were fishing and farming.” That sounds about right.

Kashubians are known for the Catholic family values, embroidery, ceramics, weaving, and folk dancing.  In Cassubia, a proverb held that, “what is Catholic is Cassubian, what is Protestant is German”.

Canada has a huge Kashubian settlement.  From the Madawaska Valley Current:

“There is a Polish proverb observing that

“Wherever you go, you can’t get rid of yourself.”

While some things can be lost in translation through decades, it is interesting to see how the values of a simple, hard-working farming life can thrive through generations and prompt others to flourish in a world that needs to be reconciled with God’s simplicity.”

Wilno, Canada is the first and oldest settlement in Canada.  One of the neatest stories I read was about the “Cross Roads”.  You can read the whole article at http://www.wilno.org/culture/crosses.html, but basically when they settled in the Wilno area of Canada there were no Catholic churches nearby.  “To satisfy their strong need to pray to Our Lord the settlers erected large wooden crosses at the intersections of main roads. This was a tradition they borrowed from the motherland. On Sundays and Holy Days the pioneers close to each intersection would gather at the crossroads and celebrate their Faith.”  These were private prayers, not services.


Our enjoyment of this great land we live upon today is possible only because of the hard work and the strong faith of our pioneer ancestors. It was their faith in God that kept them going through difficult terrain and even-more difficult economic times. We must do what we can to keep that faith alive.” ~The Wilno Heritage Society  AMEN!

My ancestors never cease to amaze me, the more I learn, the more amazed I am.  Their faith and perserverence through everything just continues to astound me.  We would not have what we have today without them.

You can read more about Kashub culture and heritage here   http://www.wilno.org/culture.html

Arek tells me that my “Scandinavian genes could have been transferred to you by your Kashubian ancestors – we had vikings there and a war against Sweden in XVII century. “

In addition to personality traits, Kashubians are known for having blonde hair and blue eyes, which Father Paul Breza, founder of Winona’s Polish Museum, said can be traced back to the Swedes who lived on the other side of the Baltic Sea. “The Swedes came over and stole our women,” he said.   He also said, “Kashubians are known for being polite and reserved, they are also known for their persistent natures and determination.”

Related image

Above and Below is the traditional Kashubian dress.

There is also an annual Kashubian fishermen sea pilgrimage in Puck, Poland

Image result for kashubian pilgrimagePuck, Poland. 24th June, 2017. Fishing boats are seen during the annual Kashubian fishermen sea pilgrimage in Puck, Stock Photo

You can read about Kashubian cuisine at http://www.kashub.com/canada/food.html

Image result for herring in cream with tubers
śledź w śmietanie z bulwami                                                                                      herring served in sour cream with onions and apples, served with unpeeled potatoes
Image result for belly soup
zupa brzadowa                                                                                        a soup made of dried fruits (mostly eaten for Christmas)

I have learned a lot since Monday and I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I look forward to hearing more from Arek and learning more about my Kashubian Reikowski’s and the allusive Tesmer’s.



Any and All Graphics Kashubian 6″ Euro Oval Shaped Rustic Antique Vintage Metal Look Vinyl Decal Sticker

2 thoughts on “I Am Kashubian (Stephanz Family)”

  1. I just recently found out I am Kashubian! My family settled on Jones Island between the late 1880s and 1910. My cousins and I started out Ancestry journey just a few months ago and have found so much fascinating information! We all knew bits and pieces and family stories, but now we know so much more. This is a fantastic article, thank you for your time with it!


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