Karen Joan Topping
‘To Anchor’: to ‘tie down’; ‘to make fast and hold stable’. It is also used as a derogatory term for a child born in the U.S. who automatically becomes an American citizen under the 14th Amendment. Adopted as an Amendment in 1868, it gave freed slaves the right to vote. Birthright citizenship was added to the Constitution well before my maternal family arrived in the rush of industrial revolution immigration to the USA, but it played a role in my citizenship.
Documentation issues comes up more than once for my Polish ancestors in the past 100 years. Antonina (Antonia, Antoinette) Gurgacz, my maternal Great Grandmother came to the USA for the first time in 1904. I have no clue why Antonina came, but four years later she married John Miksiewicz in Elizabeth, NJ. Chester was their first child, probably born in 1909. Stanislawa (Stella) born 1911. Joe born 1913. Eddie born in 1914. Matylda (my Grandmother) born in 1915. Wladyslawa (Joan or Lottie) born 1917. All six children born in the USA, with no more than two years between them.
In 1918, after 14 years in the USA, Antonia and 5 surviving children return to the home of my Great Grandparents in Europe. There’s a lot of homey speculation on the part of my family as to why they go back, but most likely it’s because the USA issues the Travel Control Act of May 22, 1918 requiring passports in the wake of World War I and my Great Grandparents needed to procure passports from the newly created country of Poland to continue to live and work in the USA.
Antonina and the children stay in Poland for 8 years. My own grandmother’s birth certificate for her birth on November 30, 1915 is not issued by the City of Elizabeth, NJ until July 6, 1925, when she is almost 10 years old and less than 6 months before they all return to NY, NY again on a ship called the S.S. United States in early 1926. Antonina Miksiewicz gets on with life, a Polish person living in America until Poland is annexed by Nazi Germany in 1939.
On the eve of World War II the USA creates the Nationality Act of 1940. It codifies for the first time who is eligible for citizenship and why, who is not, and what will make you lose your citizenship. In 1941 birthright citizenship made a lot of Europeans into Americans. The act is passed a year after World War II starts in Europe, but before the USA enters the war. Antonina Miksiewicz receives her Certificate of Naturalization on November 25, 1941, less than two weeks before December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor is bombed and the USA enters formally into World War II. We like to think that life can be codified, but even with documentation life is more like a little paper boat. You must make your own anchors to hold onto, to keep from floating away in a sea of laws.