The Voyage

(Please note: The details of the Zuk family journey described below are drawn from a variety of sources, from word of mouth, and sometimes sketchy recollections. It is hardly complete or authoritative and the complete accuracy of all details is uncertain. Every effort has been made to paint as colorful and complete a “story” as possible; occasional “holes” have been filled with conjecture in the interest of bringing to life the Zuk journey. Your stories, information, corrections and clarifications are welcome; please contact Dennis Buden.)
Zuk property, Zarudie

Coming to America


The journey began in the late 1800s. Paul “Pawel” Zuk and Marja “Mary” Kowalchuk were born in Zarudie, Poland – though they were of Russian heritage as confirmed by a variety of immigration records. Paul was born on June 28, 1890, Mary on an uncertain date in 1891.


It is assumed that the two were married in 1907 – as their 50th anniversary party took place in Unionville, Conn. in 1957. They lived in a farm cottage in rural Zarudie; there is little or no recollection or documentation of their early lives, though conjecture would make them farmers.


In fact, there is little to document the existence of the town of “Zarudie” at all, and whether or not it exists today. It is quite possible that the village name has changed. The era of the late 19th century and early 20th century in Eastern Europe was very volatile; the borders of Poland and Russia have changed often over the centuries.

S.S. Estonia, 1928

A Foundation for a New Life


It is unknown (or at least not documented) when Paul Zuk first came to America, but it can be assumed that it was sometime well before the final immigration years of 1928 and 1929. It is guessed that Jedko must have come to America sometime between 1912-1921, perhaps to establish the ground work for a permanent move with his family in later years. All four daughters (Natalia, Antonina, Anastasia and Nina) were born in Poland – but the large age difference between Natalie/Toni and Nancy/Nina (at least 10 years) suggests that Paul spent a good deal of time away from the family sometime after Toni’s birth in 1912 and Nancy’s birth in 1922. Perhaps he wanted to establish a life in America, and then return to the old country to make final plans for the permanent move.


One interesting note is the fact that Peter Zuk, Natalie’s husband, apparently came to America in 1908, at least according to the 1930 census record. Peter was only one year younger than Paul, whose daughter he married. It is believed that Paul and Peter were good friends in Europe long prior to the family’s emigration.


Here is the text of an email from Dennis Buden to Kathy Belanger in early 2012, which offers some conjecture:


“…which leaves one to conclude that Jedko and Peter (basically same age) must have been fast friends here in America during that time before Jedko went back to get the rest of the family. I suppose it is entirely possible that, if Peter and Jedko knew each other in the old country (not sure if they did but seems likely), and if Peter came here in 1908 (which was long before Jedko came here for the first time), it might be that Peter was living in, say, New York City or somewhere, and only when Jedko came to this country did they hook up and settle in New Britain. And that may very well have been around 1917 or so, which matches up with the 55 years reference (Peter Zuk 1972 obituary, length of New Britain residency), and seems to provide for a reasonable period of time during which Jedko was here alone (4-5 years or so?) before going back to have more babies. The other possibility is that the 55 years reference is just wrong, Peter was, indeed, here in NB, and that’s why Jedko came to NB. If that’s the case, it is likely that this entire family has Peter Zuk to thank for our New Britain roots.”

Nina (4), Anastasia (7), 1929

The Final Voyage


The permanent moves came in 1928 and 1929. Paul, Natalie and Antonina sailed from Danzig, Poland on September 18, 1928, aboard the S.S. Estonia, and arrived in New York Harbor on September 30. According to the Estonia passenger record, “Jedko” was, indeed, a “farmer.” Natalie, age 17 according to this record (there is conflicting information about Natalie’s and Toni’s birth years), was listed as “household” while Toni, age 14 according to this record (again, a conflict), was listed as “pupil.” Paul is listed as age 39 when he made his permanent move with his two eldest daughters to realize the American dream.


It is not known how or why Paul (and Peter) chose to settle in New Britain, though due to New Britain’s large Polish/Russian population and manufacturing-center prominence, it can be assumed that New Britain’s notoriety as a welcoming place for eastern Europeans looking for work was well known. Paul became a laborer at Fafnir Bearing Company, while Peter Zuk is listed in the 1930 census as a laborer in a lock shop.


Almost exactly one year later, the rest of the family arrived. Marja (Mary), Anastasia (Nancy) and Nina left the Danzig port aboard the S.S. Polonia on September 25, 1929 and arrived in New York Harbor on October 9. According to research on the two ships, the Polonia and the Estonia, the travel route our ancestors likely may have taken was something like this: Danzig, Poland (today known as Gdansk, a major port on the Baltic Sea), to Germany, to Copenhagen and, ultimately, to New York City. Each voyage lasted just under two weeks.


If you have ever seen the television show “Baltic Coasts” on the Discovery Channel or AXS TV, these are the very seas and ports that our ancestors are likely to have sailed on and through. Click here to visit a website that describes the ships our ancestors sailed on - though the first-class accommodations depicted in the 1920 Baltic America Line brochure are assuredly a far cry from the more pedestrian quarters our ancestors no doubt occupied.


In many ways the timing of our ancestors’ voyage could not have been worse; less than two weeks after Mary, Nancy and Nina’s arrival, the epic stock market crash of 1929 sent the nation into a spiraling economic depression.


Little is known of what life was like for the Zuk family at 180 Broad Street in New Britain during these trying times, but it can be assumed that life was not easy and was a far cry from the luxuries and privileges their ancestors enjoy today........


(Please come back soon….more to come)