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The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association presents: Immigrant Stories: From Eastern Europe to Western Massachusetts

Onion Pickers by Elizabeth Brooks Fuller PVMA Collection

Weeding Onions by Forest L. Stetson PVMA Collection

Kolakoski Farm Stand Deerfield, MA

The following activities are designed to increase understanding of US immigration at the turn of the 20th century, in order to help students to see what immigrants faced then and now. This lesson focuses on Eastern European immigrants to Western Massachusetts, but students may choose to compare and contrast other ethnic groups to the experiences they will learn about here. Tasks may be completed both in-person and/or using a hybrid approach. They are designed to fulfil various Massachusetts Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks, which align with Common Core Standards.


These should be displayed physically or online. Allow students to consider them before discussing. They may also be answered in writing for credit if desired.

ACTIVITY INSTRUCTIONS: Use any or all of the following activities/resources to inform students about immigrant experiences in Deerfield, MA at the turn of the 20th century. Students will then create a project about immigrant experiences in their own region. Activities are designated by grade level.

Grades 1-2: The lesson linked below called “Antonina’s World,” was created for Grade 2 students. Elementary teachers may wish to only use this lesson.

Grades 3-12
Introduction: Go over the following instructions and provide a rubric if the activity is to be graded (a sample rubric is included in this unit plan).

Tell students: You will be introduced to some people who emigrated from Eastern European countries to Western Massachusetts in the US at the turn of the 20th century. You can choose a person who appears in the materials provided to portray in your own finished project, but should not use William Kostecki, who is a model for student projects. You will have an opportunity to interview someone you know, a relative, friend or neighbor, who emigrated to the US from another country. If you prefer, you can choose to present or portray the life of a famous person who emigrated to the United States, if you are able to find the information you need to satisfy the requirements of the project. Once you have learned some immigrant stories and considered the opinions of people in the communities in which they settled, you will create a project, which will be either a written report, journal entries or letters, detailed artwork or a video that describes the experiences of someone either real or imagined who emigrated to the United States during the Great Atlantic Migration of the late 19th/early 20th century.

Each project should include the following:

If any students choose to portray the immigrant experience of someone from a famous person’s family, here are two websites that may be helpful:

Geneastar: Genealogy of famous people - Geneastar

John F. Kennedy Family Group | John Fitzgerald Kennedy | Ahnentafel No: 1 (8108) (

1. From where did people emigrate and why?

All grades: Use this map Poland_1815-1918.png (1088×980) (, to point out the countries located in Eastern Europe between 1815 and 1918. See *Note below to give students ideas about why people may have emigrated. Then brainstorm with students to list reasons why people may have left their homes to move to a foreign country. Consider having students list all countries that are or have been considered Eastern European and how political events over various decades changed their borders/social structures &/or economies. Also consider expanding to discussing reasons why people emigrate today.

*Note: According to Polish Heritage-A History of a Proud Community in Western Massachusetts, “The Polish came here in three waves that coincided with wars and upheaval in Europe. The immigrants from the first wave, from the 1880s to 1914, came for economic, political and religious reasons. At that time Poland as a country had disappeared into Prussia, Russia and Austria” (Phaneuf & Carvalho). The book also states, “Economic considerations were the prime factors in the beginning of mass migration from Galicia [a section of Southern Poland that belonged to Austria in the 1800s]. The average pay for agricultural workers was forty to fifty percent lower than that of unskilled industrial workers at the end of the 19th century” (26). A few pages later is this: “Many accepted factory labor as a short-term means to earn money. Considerable evidence suggests that their long-term goals were to return to Poland and to buy their own land” (29). Immigrants from Galicia were actively recruited by religious and economic leaders in Massachusetts hoping to increase their parishioners and work force, especially in the abundant mills in the state. “[Immigrants] had heard stories about America from church and had read letters about it from friends and relatives who had made the journey”(52).

Parts of this book may also prove helpful: Coming to America: The Story of Immigration, by Betsy Maestro. As a whole, the book is best for grades 3 and up, but teachers of younger grades might find sections in the first half of the book to be helpful for a chronological look at who came from where and why, and where they settled.

2. Where did immigrants choose to settle, why, and how were they received?

Middle and High School: Discuss with students the concept of chain migration, whereby multiple members of a group move sequentially to the same new place. In other words, a group of migrants move in succession over time from their birth region to settle in a new region. Many factors can result in chain migration, such as earlier immigrants sponsoring/encouraging later immigrants.

Students review some news articles (linked below) and essays describing why people emigrated to the US from Eastern Europe, why they settled in Western Massachusetts, and how they were perceived when they arrived.

“Deerfield- It’s Early Beauty Has Never Left” article from Tercentenary Recorder newspaper – American Centuries

“Will Visit Native Land” – American Centuries

High school students can be assigned the following to read for homework:
Through the City, to These Fields: Eastern European Immigration – American Centuries

3. How did immigrants affect the regions where they settled and how were they perceived?

All grades: Show students edited version of the video Farming in Deerfield that students in Deerfield, MA helped to create in 1991 about farmers in their community. Students may choose to create something similar about their own region as a group project. They can also choose someone interviewed in the video on which to base their own project if they find enough information to complete requirements.

After watching the video, share the interviews linked below:

2023 Interview with Mary Gene Devlin

Mrs. Devlin explains how the video was created and also shares an interesting experience concerning a student who told of a cross being burned in his grandparents’ yard because they were immigrants.

2023 Interview with Charlene Galenski

Mrs. Galenski shares her family’s immigrant experiences from Poland to Deerfield, MA.

Middle and High School extension:
Read the following articles and view the interview segment linked below to discover how some people in Deerfield perceived the influx of Eastern European immigrants and how they were sometimes harassed.

“Aliens in New England” article in Greenfield’s Gazette and Courier newspaper – American Centuries

“The Incoming of the Poles” newspaper article – American Centuries

George Melnick Video (Coming Soon)

Share more immigrant stories from Made into America: Immigrant Stories Archives with students as time allows. They should take notes, especially to address the aspects of immigration on which their projects will focus. (see #2 under ACTIVITY INSTRUCTIONS above). If time allows, consider having three groups of students take notes on each of the Made into America: Immigrant Stories Archive links posted below and then report out to the rest of the class.

Made into America: Immigrant Stories Archive is a website with immigrant stories from around the world. Portions of the following stories might prove useful, especially in regard to religious persecution.

4. A model for student projects

Middle & high school: Tell students that they will now be shown a model for their own possible projects. This is an interview with a man named William Kostecki whose family emigrated to Massachusetts from Ukraine in 1914. They will first read the interview transcript (this can be assigned as homework or groupwork-by having students pull various characters out of the interview who could be portrayed in a project, as is done with the model project)

1994 Interview with Mr. William Kostecki transcript (PDF Format)

After they have read the interview and taken notes, show them the model video below.

Ivan Usach as William Kostecki

*If you like, have students grade this project using the rubric that will be used to grade their own completed projects.

5. Preparing your interview

All grades: Have students create lists of questions for their own interviews. Discuss the language/tone that interviewers should strive for. Interview questions can be used as a formative grade if desired. Interview questions should at least include those posed in step 2 above. Tell students that they may find that the person they interview gives them more (or less) information than they expect. Brainstorm ways to handle that. Students who choose to research a famous immigrant can create interview questions they would ask the immigrant if they were able to interview him/her.

6. Verifying oral information

Grades 7-12: Once students have collected immigrant information orally, they should note points where written documentation may be available to verify oral accounts. Students can attempt to verify birth, marriage &/or death dates for the immigrant they plan to portray or the immigrant’s family members, the area/date from where/when someone emigrated to the area/date where/when they settled, specific homesites, occupations, and possible origins for objects they may have brought to their new homes from the old. They can explore how to locate and search maps, deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates, grave markers, local historical association documents, antique references, Ellis Island ships manifests and other official records. Suggest these websites:

Educational Resources duplicate | Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

American Centuries: History and Art from New England (

Immigration History Firsthand  |  Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress  |  Library of Congress (

About this Collection  |  Sanborn Maps  |  Digital Collections  |  Library of Congress (

One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse (

Massachusetts: Massachusetts Land Records (

Grades 4-6: This lesson focuses on items immigrants brought with them to their new homes. It has been adapted from a lesson on the first American Centuries website and was created by Nolan Kitfield for grades 4-6.
Students will discover that many items which seem simple to us may have had the most value to immigrants and will consider why this might be true. Students will create and share a plausible story about why one item was protected or cared for to be available to us over 100 years later.

Teaching Plan

Step 1. PRE-ACTIVITY: Students may read books highlighting the items that immigrants have chosen to travel with, such as Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel by Leslie Connor and Mary Azarian and The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. These can be read aloud together in class. Discussion will focus on the idea of limited space when travelling and of the need to choose carefully when preparing for that sort of journey.
Preparation for teaching: In-Focus digital presentation setup or make transparencies of digital items for overhead projector. Make individual copies of the details for each item for individual student reading/review.

Step 2. Introduce items from the digital collection in chronological order, noting that the items that are over 100 years old are still available to be examined (so, they were obviously well cared for). Discuss which items were brought from another place and why they might have been chosen. As a class, brainstorm the types of items that people might have cherished and made room for on their journey. (see basket and consider the bringing of skills such as basket-making, and point out that immigrants could have brought a basket from home like the one pictured).

Cotton Silk Dress 1902

Willow basket 1920

Tobacco hatchet 1900

Onion Shovel 1900-1923

Images courtesy of PVMA digital collection

Step 3. Next, guide students to identify some of these items that would have been available to immigrant workers here in the United States and that became valued by them (such as necessary tools). Additionally, the class should brainstorm the types of things that immigrants may have procured and then valued for new reasons once they settled.

Step 4. Review the pictures of “Sophie Dahowski and Infant" and "Onion Harvest," asking students to put themselves in the shoes of a person pictured. What might have been valued by such immigrants at that time period? Possibly read Dia's Story Cloth by Dia Cha and discuss why a family created a treasure later. What types of things would an individual or family create and why?

Sophie Dahowski and Infant

Onion Harvest

Photos by Frances and Mary Allen in PVMA collection

Step 5. As a class, note that these items lean toward the simpler side. Create a list of simple items and the various reasons that someone, leaving the life that they know, might value them. Utilize the Ellis Island website to examine photos of immigrants in their clothing worn for the journey. Question: What do you notice about their clothing? What might be in a bag they carry? etc.

Step 6. Students choose a listed item (or determine another) and write a short diary entry or story similar to Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel to describe the thoughts that they went through in choosing to carry it, in place of other things that must be left behind.

Step 7. Students come together to share their stories and discuss if they are feasible and why.

Step 8. A possible follow-up activity could be for students to create a personal list of items or to fill a bag with items they would pack to take if they were to move to another country. Possibly, there could be a specified number of items or space limit utilized for their 'packing' for immigration. Students could then share and explain their choices to the class.

Grading Rubric for Eastern European Immigrant Student Oral Interview Projects:
The categories and score points below can be adapted for each teacher’s grade level/expectations.


Score point: Advanced

Score point: Satisfactory

Score point: Needs improvement

Score point: Unsatisfactory

Describe the country from which someone emigrated and why he or she left.

Provide a detailed description, either in writing or using pictures/images with labels including correctly cited references, of life in the immigrant's home country, including the city or town where they lived, his/her extended family and social station.Clearly explain with specific detail one or more reasons he/she decided to leave their homeland.

Provide a description of life in the immigrant's home country including the region where he/she lived, his/her family and at least one reason why he/she may have decided to emigrate to the US.Include references.

Provide the country from which the immigrant chose to emigrate and a possible reason for relocating to the US.

The home country and reasons for emigrating are not clearly established.

Describe the area to which someone relocated, why he/she chose this location and his/her method of travel 

In writing or using visual images with sources correctly cited, describe in detail why an immigrant decided to move to a specific region of the US, the route she/he traveled, why she/he chose that route, how long the journey lasted and the means of transportation.

Provide a description and include sources of information, if possible, of why an immigrant decided to move to a specific region of the US, the route she/he traveled, why she/he chose that route and the means of transportation.  

Explain or illustrate where an immigrant resettled in the US and why he/she chose that area.

Where and why and/ or how someone settled in a new area is unclear.

Explain/illustrate who or what the immigrant brought with her/him to the US and why.

Describe who or what accompanied the immigrant from his/her home country and why. Include images/objects and sources of information. If possible, explain what happened to the people or things that came to the US with the immigrant.

Describe who or what accompanied the immigrant from his/her home country and why. Include images/objects and any information about these people &/or item(s) that seem relevant.

Describe who or what accompanied the immigrant from his/her home country and why. 

Who or what accompanied the immigrant to the US is unclear. 

Explain/illustrate who or what the immigrant left behind in his/her home country and why.

Describe who or what was left in the home country and why.Explain whether or not the immigrant planned to return to his/her home country, if so, when and why. If possible, describe what happened to people and objects left behind.Include images and correctly cited source information where possible.

Describe who or what was left in the home country and why.Explain whether or not the immigrant planned to return to his/her home country. If possible, describe what happened to family and objects left behind.Include source information where possible.

Describe who or what was left in the home country and why.  

Who or what was left in the home country and why is unclear.

Explain/illustrate how the immigrant was perceived and treated in the US and why.

Describe the attitude of locals to the incoming of the immigrant. Did he/she experience any discrimination? If so, where and how? Did he/she speak English? If so, when/how was the language learned? Was schooling important to the immigrant family? Why or why not? Did the immigrant portrayed in the project attend school in the US? If so, where and for how long? Did he/she form friendships with local people?Why or why not?What aspects of western culture were adopted? What kind of life did the immigrant live in the US? Include relevant source material correctly cited.

Describe the attitude of locals to the incoming of the immigrant.Did he/she experience any discrimination? If so, where and how? Did he/she speak English? If so, when/how was the language learned? Did he/she attend school in the US? If so, where and for how long? Did he/she form friendships with local people? Why or why not? What kind of life did the immigrant live in the US? Include sources if possible.

Describe the attitude of locals to the incoming of the immigrant.Did he/she experience any discrimination? Did he/she speak English? Did he/she attend school in the US? Did he/she form friendships with local people?What kind of life did the immigrant live in the US?  

How the immigrant was perceived and/or treated in the US is unclear.

Creative effort

The project shows obvious effort and extensive detail.Multiple sources are referenced, errors are minimal.

The project shows effort and detail.Some sources are referenced and errors do not interfere with communication.

The project shows little effort or detail.Few or no sources are referenced and errors sometimes interfere with communication.

The project shows very little effort or detail.No sources are referenced and errors frequently interfere with communication.

Massachusetts Social Studies Standards that may be addressed (PDF Format)

Funded in part by the members, donors, and volunteers of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA, in conjunction with the
National Endowment for the Humanities.


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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