Pioneering Dreams: The Journey of Charles Frank Szwaja

Pioneering Dreams: The Journey of Charles Frank Szwaja

In February 1916, young Karol, an eleven-year-old boy embarked on a life-altering journey with his mother, Marianna, from the rolling fields of Majdan Kolbuszowskii to the bustling streets of America. The air was filled with a sense of both trepidation and hope as they bid farewell to their homeland, boarding the SS Nieuw Amsterdam.ii 

By unknown author –, Public Domain,

Karol was born to Kacper Szwaja and Marianna Chmielowiec on November 12, 1904iii; he had an older half-brother, Władysławiv. For the last year and a half before his journey, Karol’s world had plunged into chaos: the haunting echoes of distant artillery, the somber farewells of neighbors marching off to war, and the pervasive atmosphere of anxiety that came from what was known as The Great War.  

With the absence of his father, uncles and potentially his older half-brother, Karol became the man of the home. His mother did what she could to offer fleeting moments of joy and the warmth of female familial bonds. An opportunity presented itself to immigrate to the United States and Marianna knew it was the best option for her and her son. With her husband dead, she went to offer Karol the hope of a better life.v 

Marianna and Karol’s passenger manifest – they can be found in the last two lines at the bottom of the image.

Marianna and Karol, now anglicized to Mary and Charles, went to Passaic, New Jersey. However by 1920, Charles was living at the New Jersey State Home for Boys in Monroevi. This institution was created to provide “delinquent boys between the ages of 8 and 16” a facility to be sent to “for offenses such as truancy, stealing or incorrigibility”. While the true nature of why Charles was sent here is not yet known, the institution knew that “many boys had lost one or more parents, or the parents were separated, and many had lived in poor economic conditions.”vii 

It is not known yet what happened to Charles’ mother, but speculation is that he was placed in the NY State Home for Boys because she was no longer able and/or willing to care for him. Charles lived in one of the cottages at the State Home with up to 50 other boys; he worked in farming, brick making, printing or tailoring in the morning and then attended school in the afternoon.viii  

While boys at the State Home would be on parole until age 21ix, Charles joined the US Army at 19. While the horrors of The Great War were over, it can be speculated that Charles joined to become independent from the State Home.   

A US Army propaganda flyer from the 1920s.
Photo from 

Upon Charles’ discharge in 1926, he returned to his first home in America, Passaic, New Jersey. His immigrant journey and resilience join with other Galician immigrants who helped to make a mark in their new homeland.  

End Notes

i Majdan Królewski,  
ii SS Nieuw Amsterdam,
iii Majdan Królewski Parish Births, 1899-1905, 1918-1927. USC Majdan Królewski, Majdan Królewski, Poland. 
iv Majdan Królewski Parish Records 1895-1899. State Archives in Sandomierz, Sandomierz, Poland. Władysław Szwaja birth in Majdan on 14 Jul 1899.  
Online scans:,list,384465,1  
v New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957., Provo, UT. 2010.  
vi 1920 United States Federal Census,, Provo, UT. Census Place: Monroe, Middlesex, New Jersey; Roll T625_1055, Page 2B, Enumeration District 174.  
vii Shackleford, James, “Life Inside the New Jersey State Home for Boys.” South Brunswick, NJ Patch; published 7 Aug 2011, access 5 Jan 2024. 
viii NJSL Staff, ”The Advance and the New Jersey State Reform School”. Published 5 Oct 2023, accessed 5 Jan 2024.  
ix Shackleford, James, “Life Inside the New Jersey State Home for Boys.” South Brunswick, NJ Patch; published 7 Aug 2011, access 5 Jan 2024. 


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