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Wicker trunk, probably made in Poland about 1900
ID 2003.142.1

March 2004

An Immigrant's Trunk Holds Dreams of A New Life
In March 1904, 100 years ago this month, 27-year-old Anthony Lyk left Poland for a new life in the United States . He placed his belongings in this wicker trunk, kissed his wife, Rose, and 6-week old son, Joseph, goodbye and boarded a ship for the 2-week passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Anthony landed in Baltimore, Maryland, a busy port of entry during this time, second only to New York City. Anthony Lyk was one of nearly nine million immigrants who arrived in America during its peak decade of immigration, 1900-1910.


MORE: An Immigrant's Trunk Holds Dreams of A New Life

Joseph Lyk's baptismal record from Wojcin, Poland.

Anthony Lyk's Certificate of Naturalization, 1913.

Lyk Family in front of their Elmira, Michigan home, about 1920.

St. Thomas Catholic Church in Elmira, Michigan, about 1915.

Public School in Elmira, Michigan, about 1915.

Rose Gronek Lyk and Anthony Lyk at home, about 1955.

Anthony Lyk's Poland
In 1904, when Anthony Lyk left his native Poland, it was no longer an independent nation but had been divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria for over a century. Anthony's village of Wojcin lay in the area of Poland then part of Germany. In an attempt to root out Polish and Catholic influence, Germany had encouraged its own citizens to settle in the region, prohibited Poles from speaking their native language, and barred them from attending Catholic schools. Those who did not comply were persecuted.

The region was a lush agricultural area. Many Poles in this area, owning no land of their own, worked as tenant farmers or agricultural laborers. As large landowners increasingly employed modern farming methods and the use of agricultural machinery that required less labor, these rural workers found their opportunities diminished. Some migrated to industrial cities in Germany , while other Poles were drawn to the promise of America. These Polish immigrants joined millions of other people from southern and eastern European countries who poured into the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In turn-of-the-20th century America, booming industrial areas offered the greatest opportunity for employment and many of these immigrants settled in cities like New York, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.

In Poland, Anthony worked sawing lumber, operating a pit saw by hand. He and his wife, Rose, married in January 1900, and had already mourned the deaths of two small daughters by the time their son Joseph was born four years later. While the reason Anthony left for America is unknown, he must have decided that his young family's future did not lie in Poland. In fact, other family members had immigrated to America before him. His wife's sister resided in Baltimore, the port where Anthony's ship landed, and an uncle lived in Elmira, the rural community in Antrim County, Michigan, where Anthony chose to settle.


The Lyk Family in Michigan
Soon after he arrived in the town of Elmira in northern Michigan, Anthony Lyk was hard at work at a nearby lumbering camp, earning money to bring his wife and infant son to the United States. Eight months later, in October 1904, Rose and baby Joseph arrived.

Anthony supported his family by farming in the summer and working in the lumber camps during the winter. He and Rose had six more children: Leo, Frances, Gladys, Stanley, Martha and Peter. The family spoke Polish at home—the eldest Lyk children first learned English when they grew old enough to attend school. But, by 1920, all members of the family spoke both Polish and English. The Lyks were not the only Polish immigrants in their northern Michigan community—other families were of Polish heritage as well. Anthony and Rose Lyk became naturalized citizens in August 1913.

While the Lyks were working to make a new life in America, World War I broke out in Europe, bringing great sorrow to the family. Anthony's brother was conscripted into the German army and his mother was killed during fighting that destroyed the village of Wojcin where Anthony had grown up.

During the late 1910s and early 1920s, Anthony Lyk became a landowner, purchasing a house and several parcels of land for his own farm at the edge of town in Elmira. Beginning in the mid-1920s, he was appointed to a number of offices in his local community. Anthony Lyk served as Warner Township treasurer, justice of the peace, highway commissioner, and school board member.

Like countless others before and after him, Anthony Lyk took a chance on a new life in America. He accomplished much. Anthony and his wife Rose raised a large family, ran a farm, and were active in their community. Anthony died in 1956 at the age of 80 and was laid to rest in St. Thomas's Catholic cemetery in Elmira, Michigan. Rose was buried beside him in 1974.

All images from the family of Joseph & Helen (Szczepaniak) Lyk
ID 2003.142.2

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Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life,
Leisure & Entertainment

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