The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of my researches into my Polish family history. My original intention was to set out the whole story on this page but I quickly came to realise that this would make for a very extended piece of writing. I have therefore decided to tell the story in shorter chapters which will be published as ‘posts’ linked to this page. Each will have a slight overlap to enable each story to stand alone and I will provide a link to each chapter on this page as they are published. Readers can also use the search box to find particular topics.
Acknowledgements and further details of my sources can be found below. (Please note that some of the comments posted at the end of this page relate to the earlier version).
To begin, the family surname is Puchalski which is pronounced Poo-kowl-sh-kee. The ch is sounded as in loch. There are a number of spelling variants that crop up in the records. These include Pukhalski, Pohalski, Poelski, Pouhalski and Pouhalsky, the latter two being frenchifications.
Puchalski is a very common name throughout Poland but also in neighbouring countries such as Belarus and Ukraine.
My Great Grandmother, Christina Puchalski (aka Pouhalski), was one of three sisters and a brother, who were thought to have been born in Poland in the middle of the 19th century. Their father was Theodore Puchalski, a cabinet maker by trade. Nothing was known about their mother except that she may have been Italian.
According to family legends, the Puchalskis took flight from Poland during a period of national revolution, moving first to Kiev and then on to Constantinople (Istanbul). On arrival in Constantinople, the children were placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage in the Pera district of the city, (now Beyoglu, the European quarter), by their parents, who then returned to Poland. It was thought that the children remained in the care of the orphanage until they grew up.
There were however, some significant variations on this story. For instance, one version was that the parents worked as interpreters for the French Embassy in Istanbul. Another was that the children were taken under the wing of a Baroness Sciberras (sic), a Maltese noble who was purported to be the grandmother of my great grandfather, Henry Callus. Both these stories can be discounted as the French Embassy has no record of any employees called Puchalski or Pouhalski and while it was true that a Rosalia Xiberras was the grandmother of Henry, she never left Malta, was not a baroness and was long dead by the time of this story!
Until recently, my own theory was that the family must have been caught up in the Polish Revolt of January 1863, as this was the only conflict that corresponded with when my great grandmother was a child. I have now obtained a number of new sources of information including the baptism records for the children, which have caused me to revise my theory. Firstly it is now clear that the father arrived in Istanbul following the 1848 uprisings, but also that he was one of the insurgents forced into exile following the 1830-31 Polish Revolt. It would appear he was a die hard nationalist! While the facts about the family are few and sketchy, I have been able to draw parallels from another family of Polish exiles living in Istanbul, the Ratynskis, who they were clearly close to.
Time for the Retelling
It is time therefore for a complete revision of my Puchalski family history. In the retelling of my family story, I need to outline some of the geo-political events that redrew the boundaries of Poland at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, which are essential for an understanding of the Polish migrations and my own family’s movements.
The Polish Partitions, Revolts and Great Migration – My ancestral odyssey – Published December 2016
The Forty-eighters: Polish Exiles and the Spring of Nations – Published February 2017
There remain many unanswered questions and a whole host of new ones to research, for instance, it is still unclear which part of Poland the family originated from. In addition, the reason for placing the children in an orphanage remains a matter for speculation. I will offer some theories in due course, but look forward to a day when this will be corroborated with facts. In the meantime I hope the publication of my family’s story will encourage other researchers to get in touch and share any related information they may have.
I am indebted to the following people for their help in this research; Marie-Anne Marandet for searches of the parish records in Istanbul, Guido Buldrini for sharing his family history of the Ratynskis, Father Lorenzo, parish priest at S.S. Peter and Paul, Galata for directing me to the St Joseph Orphelinet in Istanbul, Paulina Dominik for sharing her detailed research and publications on the Polish community of Istanbul, Craig Encer, Secretary of the Levantine Heritage Foundation for putting us all in touch!