Polish pride instilled at very young age
SOUTH BROWARD RESIDENT CONSIDERED AN AUTHORITY ON THE RICH SUBJECT OF POLISH-AMERICAN HISTORY
By Eileen Soler
Special to The Miami Herald
Documents are piled, stacked and heaped in tidy masses that flow like ripples in a river through the Cooper City home of Edward Pinkowski.
Down a hallway and through a door, boxes and shelves swell to overflowing in Pinkowski's office, the epicenter of a working tribute to Polish-American history and the Pinkowski Institute - part two.
Pinkowski, 90, founder and president of the institute dedicated to researching Polish-American history and genealogy, is considered a national authority on the subject.
"No one can beat me," he said of his collection, which includes 30,000 pieces of documentation housed at 127 N. 20th St. in historic downtown Philadelphia.
There, four floors are packed with data that trace Polish history in the United States to 1608 when Polish glassblowers worked for British-owned London Company in Jamestown, Va.
In 1999, when he moved to Cooper City, Pinkowski began running the Philadelphia operation out of his new home, where he is personally examining and archiving 12,000 documents.
Born to Polish immigrant parents, Pinkowski's Polish pride was instilled at a very, very young age.
"I was born with pictures of Pulaski over my crib," Pinkowski said, referring to Gen. Casimir Pulaski, a Pole who led immigrant troops during the American Revolution and died from wounds sustained in the 1779 siege of Savannah.
He is also dedicated to honoring the life of another great Revolutionary War hero from Poland, Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko.
"I grew up with Pulaski and Kosciuszko. My parents were raised with pride, and they passed that heritage to me," said Pinkowski, who started collecting data when he was 18. Pinkowski then was a student in Mount Carmel, Pa., researching the Lattimer Massacre of l897 in Hazelton during which 18 miners, 11 of them Poles, were killed during a protest march of mine laborers against mine owners.
From there, Pinkowski was hooked on history.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Pinkowski, who has written 15 history books, worked as a writer and began investing in property. Real estate success eventually allowed him to stop working and dedicate his time to historical research.
Poring over historical materials day after day led Pinkowski to several key discoveries.
In mid-1967, he learned about a boardinghouse in Philadelphia where Kosciuszko lived from November 1797 to May 1798. Pinkowski bought the building and with help from government grants, turned it into the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial and Museum.
In 1971, Pinkowski uncovered a letter written by Capt. Samuel Bullfinch of the American warship Wasp in 1779 that contradicted a long-held belief that Pulaski was buried at sea. The discovery led the historian to bankroll DNA tests of a body believed to be Pulaski's buried in an unmarked grave on a plantation near Savannah.
Test were inconclusive; but later Pinkowski set the record straight on the general's birth date that was noted in history texts as March 4, 1747. Birth and baptismal certificates obtained by Pinkowski confirmed Pulaski's birth on March 6, 1745, in Warsaw.
But Pinkowski is not just interested in great war heroes.
The Pinkowski Files at www.poles.org provides access to information about thousands of ordinary, and noteworthy American Poles. Listed by last name first, the database allows families-to research their heritage - or at least use it as a starting point - at no cost.
Pinkowski's Institute in Philadelphia is staffed by three employees who help visitors review archives. Archives in Cooper City are closed to the public.
Although Pinkowski does not speak Polish and visited Poland only twice, his dedication to keeping Polish pride alive has been heralded.
The historian, who also served as a director of the American Polish Center for Polish Culture in Washington, D.C., is the recipient of many awards, including the 2004 Ellis Island Medal of Honor and a Medal of Recognition from the Kosciuszko Foundation this year. A bust of Pinkowski is on display at the foundation in New York.
In 2003, he was honored with a distinguished service award by the American Institute of Polish Culture in St. Petersburg, Fla. During the ceremony, he was hailed as "another star in a galaxy of eminent Americans who have significantly contributed to enhancing the image of Poles m America."
Pinkowski's latest project is a compilation called Polish Families of America that gets to the roots of 40,000 Polish names in the United States. Volume l, containing 250 names, is already finished.
"I know there is a need for a grass-roots history of the Polish people in the United States, but I'm just beginning," Pinkowski said.
For instance, Pinkowski charted the Moczygemba name and determined that the first Moczygemba family probably settled in San Antonio in 1854.
At age 90, Pinkowski knows he will likely not complete the task.
"But I have set the model and I'm still working and discovering and documenting new things all the time," Pinkowski said.
For more about Edward Pinkowski and the Pinkowski Institute, visit www.poles.org.
From: The Miami Herald, Neighbors; Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006