On 8 June 2019, the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe launched a new and improved version of Szukajwarchiwach, the popular search portal for the holdings of the Polish state archives. The new site is accessed at https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/, while the old site, https://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/, will remain active for the time being to allow users time to transition to the new site. Although the new site still seems to have a few bugs, it offers some wonderful improvements, and it’s well worth taking the time to become familiar with it.
What Does Szukajwarchiwach Do For Me?
SzwA is an incredibly powerful tool that allows one to search the holdings of 111 (at present) different archives whose collections are relevant to Polish research. While the vast majority of these are in Poland, this new version of SzwA includes materials from four archives in the U.S. (the Polish-American Liturgical Center in Orchard Lake, Michigan; the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America in New York; the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Polish Music Center in Los Angeles), in addition to material from other archives outside of Poland. The complete list of contributing archives can be explored by browsing the map that’s found at the bottom of the new home page. Alternatively, the list of contributing archives from Poland can be viewed here. In addition to offering a searchable database for archival materials, SzwA presently offers over 37 million scans, free of charge. There’s absolutely no fee for accessing any of this information, or for downloading scans, although a new feature of the site is the ability to order high quality prints for a fee. Although most English-speakers tend to use SzwA for locating vital records, it can also be used to locate maps, business records, municipal records, census records, notarial records, and more. The new search interface allows one to simultaneously search not only the former SzwA site, but also the former Zbiory NAC On-line site, which houses historic photos and audiovisual files within the holdings of the state archives. What’s not to love?
What Szukajwarchiwach May Not Do For You
Szukajwarchiwach is not a database of vital records indexed by name. That is, you should not expect to type the name of your ancestor in the search box and obtain results, unless your ancestor happened to a person of prominence, such as a noble, historical figure, or notary. Instead, you need to determine where your ancestors lived, and based on that you can identify the parish or registry office which would have created the records that documented their births, deaths and marriages. Archival fonds are organized based on the institution, individual, or governmental entity which created them, so searches can be made using any key word which might be found in the title of a collection, or in a tag added to the item by the archives. One can therefore search for items pertaining to a place (Rzeszów), a document type (księgi ludności), a topic (sztuka ludowa), etc.
SzwA does not include the vital records holdings (akta metrykalne) of the various diocesan archives, nor does this site catalog the holdings of any local parish archives. That said, in some cases, search results will include results from diocesan archives, but this is the exception, not the rule. In such cases I suspect the state archive has microfilmed copies of the records for which the originals are at the diocesan archive, or perhaps they’re partnering with the diocesan archive in some way, and that’s why these results are included. However, I have yet to discover an example in which scans are available on SzwA for collections reported to be held by a diocesan archive. In such cases, researchers should always check the FamilySearch catalog because I often find that scans are available there for the same ranges of years reported at SzwA.
In any case, hope is not lost if there are no vital records available at SzwA for a particular parish or registry office, as those records may still exist, only in another location. Moreover, the catalog is apparently incomplete, as anecdotal evidence abounds of sought-after records that were not mentioned in SzwA, but were nonetheless obtainable through personal visit or letter to the archive. Ultimately it’s best to inquire directly with the regional archive for one’s village or parish of interest, if something particular is needed. Despite these caveats, SzwA is still a great starting point when determining what records are available that might be relevant to one’s research.
Using the New Site
Although the instructions at the site are very good, the English interface has a few quirks, so let’s begin at the beginning. Figure 1 shows the new SzwA homepage.
Figure 1: Home page of the new Szukajwarchiwach site.
English-speakers may want to begin by switching the language to English using the drop-down language menu located to the right of the “Zaloguj się” (login) button. The login button itself is another new feature. SzwA now offers the ability to create an account (free of charge), to personalize one’s SzwA experience. When logged in, it’s possible to save searches, create collections of favorite materials and add to those collections, order materials in better quality, and make appointments if one wishes to visit one of the archives in person. Once the language is changed to English and I’m logged in, the screen appears as in Figure 2.
Figure 2: English version of the new Szukajwarchiwach site.
A quick search tutorial is available in the lower right corner, boxed in red. That explains the site very nicely, so an additional lengthy tutorial here really isn’t necessary. Ultimately, we can hope that the site will perform pretty much as advertised in that tutorial. However, as I mentioned, there are presently a few bugs, which I discovered when I took the site for a test-drive. I wanted to see how the search results were different with the new site vs. the old site, for several of my ancestral parishes, so I started with Młodzieszyn.
As soon as the cursor is placed in the search box, a drop-down menu appears which offers options for refining the search (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Options for refining a search. Document types include “Acts,” “Posters, Leaflets, Placards,” “Technical projects,” “Maps,” “Photographs,” “Sound records,” “Civil,” “Volatile,” and “Museums.”
While most of these options are self-explanatory, a couple don’t translate well; namely, “volatile” and “civil.” “Volatile” is the funky English translation of “pergaminowe,” which really refers to old documents written on parchment. Selecting this option returns results from the 17th and 18th centuries (and possibly earlier). “Civil” is how the site translates Akta metrykalne (metrical acts, i.e. vital records), as opposed to unmodified Akta which refers to other files of local government records, court records, etc. I should also point out that, while the old SzwA search engine would return the same results with or without diacritics, this search engine is sensitive to diacritics. For example, a search for “Mlodzieszyn” returns only one result, a topographical map from 1942 which was originally written in German, since it was created during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Since the German language lacks Polish diacritics, the only search result returned is this one in which the village name was written without diacritics when the document was created. However, a search for “Młodzieszyn” with diacritics returns 45 files, 2 technical projects, 5 maps, and 9 “record files,” for a total of 61 collections. On this page of search results, the site translates Akta metrykalne as “Record files” rather than “civil” (go figure), so these are the vital records that should be the first stop in researching one’s family tree. Figure 4 shows the search results with the “Civil”/”Record files”/Aka metrykalne search filter applied.
Figure 4: Search results for metrical acts from Młodzieszyn.
When the same search is performed in the old version of SzwA, with the box checked for “Vital records and civil registers,” the result is the same—nine collections of vital records from three parishes (Młodzieszyn, Mistrzewice and Kamion) located within gmina Młodzieszyn, which is what we would expect. From past experience, I know that the first collection shown in Figure 3 should be birth records from Młodzieszyn from 1859–1898. Clicking on the title of the collection ought to direct one to a page with further information about these records, and it does do that, in a way. Unfortunately, it leads to the page shown in Figure 5, which seems to be a list of all the 36,213 parishes and registry offices in the Pradziad vital records database.
Figure 5: Screen which results from clicking on “Młodzieszyn” (1859–1898) in Figure 4.
The trouble seems to be that this is such a long list that it’s very slow to load and the site tends to hang up for long periods. After many minutes, I was finally able to search the page (Ctrl-F) for Młodzieszyn (Figure 6).
Figure 6: Result of using page-search function to identify search results for Młodzieszyn parish from list of available parishes and registry offices in Pradziad database.
Clicking on “rozwiń” (“expand”) gives more information about each collection. However, at this point, there’s no indication of what type of vital records are contained in each collection. For example, I know from experience (and can verify by repeating the search in the old version of SzwA) that the records from 1889-1925 are death records. But this is not indicated in the display format at the new version of the site (Figure 7).
Figure 7: Expanded data on vital records collections from Młodzieszyn.
Although the entry identifies these as Roman Catholic records, which is important, the lack of information about the type of vital event is a significant omission. Hopefully this issue will be addressed in the near future. After additional tinkering with this new version of SzwA and testing multiple parishes, I discovered that the screen with the long list of contents of the Pradziad database only results if there are no scans online for that particular parish. If scans are available, they will be accessible as shown in the example below. As always, if scans are not available at this site, then it’s advisable to check other digital archives like Metryki, FamilySearch, GenBaza, the Archiwum Głowne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD), Genealogiawarchiwach, etc. to see if scans are available there, before concluding that the scans must be ordered from the archive.
In a second test of the site, I tried searching for records for another ancestral parish, Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County, Wielkopolska. A search for “Kowalewo” returned results for Kowalewo Pomorskie and other unrelated places, suggesting that the search engine is very specific, as was noted earlier with its sensitivity to diacritics. Although the very first result (boxed in red) was a collection of vital records from this parish, the search result paradoxically indicates no record files/akta metrykalne (boxed in green, Figure 8). This is probably a bug that will be fixed eventually.
Figure 8: Search results for Kowalewo Opactwo.
Clicking on the collection of vital records boxed in red in Figure 8 results in the screen shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9: Detail regarding available civil records for the Roman Catholic parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca county.
Clicking on “Scans,” boxed in red, allows direct access to the scans in chronological order, in contrast to the old version of SzwA, which required progressive navigation to the scans by first clicking through the series and units. Figure 9 also highlights the limitations of the English interface. While the notes on the history of the creator are often very interesting and helpful in understanding the historical context in which the records were created, they do not translate automatically even when using the English version of the site. However, a simple cut-and-paste into Google Translate will usually provide the gist of the text, if not the nuances.
Although direct access to the scans is now possible with this new interface, navigating through the scans in chronological order may not be desirable if, for example, scans start in 1808 and you’re looking for an event that took place in 1866. In that case, click “List of Units,” boxed in red in Figure 10, and then navigate through the pages to find the scans from 1866, underlined in green.
Figure 10: List of scanned units for Kowalewo Opactwo showing number of scans available in each.
Since Kowalewo Opactwo was a parish in Russian Poland, our first step in locating a vital record from 1866 would be to find the internal index, typically created by the priest at the end of each year. This index will allow us to identify records pertaining to our ancestors. Index pages can be spotted from the thumbnails on the basis of their appearance, as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11: Index page, boxed in red, for birth records from 1866.
It’s evident that this page contains a list of names, rather than the paragraph-style entries observed in the other images. Clicking that image brings us to the next screen, where we have the familiar array of options for zooming in and out, rotating the image, and changing brightness (Figure 12). Note also in Figure 11 that there is now an option to select all 40 scans from 1866 and download them, or add them to one’s personal collection. (This option only exists when one is logged into one’s account.) My colleague Roman Kałużniacki tested this feature and reported that the entire book will arrive in a zip file, containing all the selected pages. He added, “In the past, I had to download each page separately—I could do about 80-100 per hour but it was somewhat tedious. Here, I selected all, ‘Wszystkie,’ and got 240 pages, about 500 MB of data, in just a minute or so. Of course, many people don’t do full books but if you are in the indexing business or have a favorite home village then that feature is a great time saver.”
Figure 12: Screen with photo-enhancing tools and other options for saving and using scans.
There are several nice new features offered here. One of these is the blue “Add Orders” button located at the bottom of the screen. Clicking this will put the scan into your “shopping cart.” When research is complete, the shopping cart appears next to your name in the login area of the screen. Clicking on the cart will initiate the checkout process, as shown in Figure 13.
Figure 13: Checkout screen for ordering prints from the archive.
Several options are available for paper size, ranging from “13×18″ (units not indicated, perhaps centimeters?) up to A1 (23.4″ x 33.1”). There is also a choice of 300 dpi resolution, or 600 dpi. In this example, the lower-resolution print was 8 PLN (about $2.12) and the higher resolution print was 30 PLN (about $7.97) regardless of paper size, and results are presumably suitable for framing. The menu on the right in Figure 12 also offers options for cropping, downloading, bookmarking, and sharing the image on social media, in addition to providing the direct link to the image.
Going back to that index page, we can zoom in by clicking the plus magnification icon until the image becomes readable (Figure 13).
Figure 13: Detail of birth index from 1866 for Kowalewo Opactwo parish.
In this particular index, the Akt number (record number) is written to the left of the name, while the page number is written to the right. So the birth record for Józef Dogoda will be found on the scan containing the first page of the book, and it will be the second birth recorded on that page.
Whenever a new website like this debuts, there’s always a considerable amount of discussion in the genealogical community on Facebook. In a discussion about this new site in the Galicia Family History Group, Jeanne Kogut Wardrop asked if there is “an easier way to make the record pages larger and easier to read without having to press the plus magnification icon 20 times each time you want to see a record.” Images do tend to enlarge by very small increments with this version of the site, but you may be able to get around that by clicking on “link” in the menu to the right of the image and copying and pasting the resulting link into a new browser window. This brings up an image of the scan that is readable with only one additional click of the magnifying glass. In another discussion, Jody Tzucker pointed out the lack of a specific filter for locating vital records for a particular denomination.
While it’s true that the layout of the old site was a bit more intuitive when it came to locating records for a specific religious denomination, it’s still possible to do this at the new site, using the Advanced Search feature. Figure 14 shows the Advanced Search screen, which can be accessed immediately below the search box on the main search screen.
Figure 14: Advanced Search screen.
Jewish records for the town of Zagórów in Wielkopolska can be located by searching for the term “Zagórów” in combination with the term “mójżeszowe” which is the term employed by the archives for records from the Jewish (Mosaic) faith. The result is four collections—births, marriages, deaths, and alegata (birth records and other documents typically provided to the registrar at the time of marriage)—identical to the collections of Jewish records produced by a search at the original SzwA site (Figure 15).
Figure 15: Results of Advanced search for Mosaic (Jewish, mójżeszowe) records for Zagórów.
Figure 15 also shows the option for saving search results. If this option is selected, the user is prompted to name the search, and results can be accessed through the user’s profile when logged into the system.
From the perspective of English-speakers using the site, there’s an obvious disadvantage to the layout of the new site, which requires the user to type in the name of a religious denomination in order to filter results that way. The old SzwA site offered a drop-down menu from which one could select the appropriate denomination, which was easier if, for example, one did not know that Protestant church records are generally referred to as “ewangelickie” and not “luterański” or “protestancki.” The original version of SzwA offered a total of 31 options for religious denomination and it was helpful to be able to choose from that list, rather than having to guess at the standard term used by the archive to describe one’s ancestors’ religion. Researchers whose ancestors belonged to a church other than the Roman Catholic Church might therefore want to visit the original SzwA site before it is discontinued, to make a note of the specific term used by the archives to describe that faith. Of course, we can hope that the new interface may continue to be tweaked so that it eventually includes a standardized religious denomination search filter, but it’s best to be prepared for the possibility that this change is not forthcoming.
Since this new SzwA site combines the databases from the old SzwA with the old Zbiory NAC On-line, I wondered if perhaps this was the dawn of a new era in Polish genealogy, when all of the digital archives of each state archive would be accessible through one search interface, instead of requiring users to search the sites for the individual archives like Przemyśl and AGAD separately. In the past, I’ve noticed that a portion of the scans from these archives could be accessed from either SzwA or their own site, but each archive also maintained a unique collection of scans which could only be accessed from their own site. So I checked a couple random parishes for which scans are available at these sites (Rybotycze, Greek Catholic records, from the archive in Przemyśl; Baworów, Roman Catholic records, from AGAD) and unfortunately, scans continue to be unavailable from SzwA. I also checked records for the Roman Catholic parish in Rogowo (Rypin county) for which scans from the Archiwum Państwowe w Toruniu Oddział we Włocławku are available at Genealogiawarchiwach, and these continue to be unavailable from SzwA also. Well, one can’t have everything.
One final point that was made in the discussions on Facebook and in the comments below was that not all of the scans that were previously accessible at the original SzwA site are currently accessible at the new SzwA site. Researcher C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon commented on this fact in a discussion in the Galicia Family History Group, as he compared search results between the old and new sites for his ancestral parish of Pacanów: “If I limited myself to just searching on “Pacanów” [at the new SzwA site] I found 544 records across all Categories…. I searched long enough that the site started returning 594 records across all categories. Good thing I snapped a picture of 1st result or I might have thought my memory deficient. So they must still be loading card catalog meta data (probably hash tag indexes).” Michael’s experience suggests that patience is in order when missing scans are discovered. Fortunately the old site is still active and it’s likely it won’t be discontinued until the new site is fully functional.
Despite the existence of a few bugs, I think the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe has done a great job with this updated version of Szukajwarchiwach. Whether you’re a new user of the site or a veteran, I think you’ll agree that the site opens up some wonderful pathways into the past as we discover our Polish heritage through the documents, maps, and photographs which recorded our ancestors’ stories. Jump in, click around, and let me know what you think. If you discover any new tricks for improving the search experience, please add them to the comments. Happy researching!
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019