Walter Wed Where? Wow! A Genealogical Breakthrough

The sweetest victories are the ones that took the longest time in coming.  A couple days ago, I happened upon some documents that fundamentally changed my understanding of my Grzesiak family history, documents I’ve been seeking for many years.  So there is some major happy dancing going on in the Szczepankiewicz house today, albeit limited to just one of its residents.

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo and Buffalo, New York

In a previous post, I wrote a little about the family of my great-grandmother, Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki.  Veronica immigrated from the little village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County to Buffalo, New York, where she was eventually joined by three of her siblings:  Władysław (“Walter”), Tadeusz/Thaddeus, and Józefa/Josephine.  Regarding Veronica’s oldest brother, Grandma told me that Walter had married an actress in Poland, whose name Grandma remembered as “Wanda,” but she didn’t want to leave her career, so he left her and came to the U.S. without her. There were no children from this marriage.

When I began to look for documentation for these family stories, I realized the situation wasn’t exactly as Grandma had portrayed it.  The 1900 census (Figure 1) shows the Grzesiak family all living on Mills Street in Buffalo, consisting of patriarch Joseph, sons Władysław and Thaddeus, daughter Jozefa, and daughter-in-law Casimira — Walter’s wife of two years.  Clearly, Walter’s wife DID come to Buffalo, rather than staying in Poland while he left without her – but her name was Casimira, not Wanda. The census goes on to state that at that time, she was the mother of 0 children, 0 now living, consistent with family reports.

Figure 1:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, showing the Grzesiak family.1900 United States Federal Census - Kazimira Grzesiak

In the 1905 New York State Census (Figure 2), Walter and Casimira were still living in Buffalo, so the marriage lasted at least 7 years.  Subsequent records (e.g. the 1940 Census) do indeed show Walter as divorced or a widower.

Figure 2:  Extract from 1905 New York State Census showing Walter and Casimira Grzesiak.1905 NY State Census for Walter Grzesiak

Walter’s death certificatereports his ex-wife’s name as “Katarzyna Dutkiewicz (Figure 3), and the informant was his brother, Thaddeus.

Figure 3:  Extract from Walter Grzesiak’s death certifcate.Katarzyna Dutkiewicz

Clearly, Thaddeus made a mistake with the first name, reporting it as Katarzyna (Katherine) instead of Kazimiera/Casimira.   So how much faith should we put in his version of her maiden name, Dutkiewicz?  Death records are often viewed with some circumspection, since someone other than the deceased is providing the information, and that person might be grieving or in shock.  However, it was all there was to go on, and it seemed like it should have been a good start:  Name, Kazimiera Dutkiewicz (or similar), born about 1880 (based on those census records), married to Władysław Grzesiak in Poland circa 1898.

The Hunt Is On!

Since Walter Grzesiak was born in Kowalewo-Opactwo, it seemed logical that he would have married somewhere in that vicinity, although not necessarily in that parish.  Things get a little tricky with the records for Kowalewo-Opactwo in that time period.  Records are not online, or on microfilm from the LDS, so one must write to the Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań to request a search.  Moreover, although Walter was baptized in Kowalewo, that parish was temporarily closed from 1891-1910.  Parish operations were transferred to the church in nearby Ląd, but after 1911, the parishes and their records were separated again.   Unfortunately, the archive reported that there was no marriage record in Ląd for Władysław Grzesiak, or for any of his siblings, during this period.

Initially, this finding didn’t concern me too much.  It’s traditional for a couple to marry in the bride’s parish, so this suggested merely that Kazimiera was from some other parish in the area.  So how does one find a marriage in the Poznań region, when one has no idea what parish the couple married in?  The Poznań Marriage Project, of course.   For those who might be unfamiliar with this resource, the Poznań Project is an indexing effort conceived by Łukasz Bielecki, which is intended to include all existing marriage records for the historic Poznań region from 1800-1899.  Currently, the project is estimated to be at least 75% complete, so there was a good chance I’d be able to find Walter and Casimira’s marriage in there. Frustratingly, there were no good matches, so I assumed that their marriage record must be among the 25% of existing records that remain unindexed.  At this point, finding it would be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I put this on the back burner and went back to more productive research on other family lines.

Until two days ago.

My Breakthrough

It seemed like a perfectly ordinary Wednesday afternoon.  I paid bills, ran some errands, took the cat to the vet, and sat down to check e-mail.   But if you’re like me, some small part of your brain is always thinking about genealogy, and suddenly it dawned on me:  the family story was that Casimira was an actress.  How could she have been an actress in a small village with a couple dozen farms?  She must have been from a big city — Warsaw!

Immediately, I went to Geneteka, my favorite database for indexed vital records from all over Poland.  Normally, I advise people to use documentation from U.S. sources to determine where their ancestors came from before they start randomly searching records in Geneteka, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and I had a pretty specific idea of what I was looking for.  But would the record be there?  Geneteka is not complete — it’s a brilliant, ambitious idea, and new indexes for different parishes and different time periods are constantly being added, but it still represents only a fraction of the vital records available in the tens of thousands of parishes and civil registries across Poland.  In this case, my hunch paid off, and Geneteka came through for me. I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I saw what had to be their marriage record (Figure 4):

Figure 4:  Geneteka search results for Grzesiak marriages in Warszawa between 1897 and 1899.

Geneteka

I hit “skan” to get a copy of the record itself (isn’t Geneteka great?!) and here it is, in all its glory:Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Olczyk 1898 crop

The record is in Russian, because Warsaw was in the Russian Empire in 1898 when the event took place, so here’s my translation:

“223. Koło. It happened in Wola parish on the eighteenth/thirtieth day of August in the year one thousand eight hundred ninety-eight at five o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Adam Franczak and Wincenty Płocikiewicz, both ecclesiastical servants of Wola, on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Władysław Grzesiak, age thirty-seven, miller of Koło residing, born in Ląd, Słupca district, son of Józef Grzesiak, owner, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing, and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, age eighteen, single, with her mother residing, born in Warsaw, daughter of an unknown father and mother Paulina Olczak, seamstress, in Koło residing.  The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns on the 2nd/14th, 9th/21st, and 16th/28th days of August of the present year.  The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them.  Permission was given orally by those present at the ceremony.  The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by the Reverend Jan Kowalski.  This document, after being read aloud, was signed by us and by the groom because the witnesses state that they do not know how to write.”2

Let’s break this down a bit.  First, the double dates are often confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the format of Polish civil records, but they’re a result of the fact that Poland and Western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar  while Russia and the Eastern Europe continued to use the old Julian calendar.  In order to have these records be clear to everyone, both dates were included on legal documents like this.  The second, later date is the date according to the Gregorian calendar, which we would go by.

Second, Kazimiera’s name isn’t Dutkiewicz, as expected — but we’ll worry about that in a minute.  The date of the marriage (1898) is correct, as is the groom’s name, and parents’ names.  His age is a bit off (he should only be 30, not 37), but it’s not unusual for ages reported in these records to be very much “ballpark estimates.”  Walter was actually born in Kowalewo, not Ląd, but if you recall, the parish functions had been transferred from Kowalewo to Ląd at this time, so perhaps this can be interpretted as a reference to that.

Getting back to Kazimiera, her age (18) matches with what we expected based on U.S. records.  The priest doesn’t mention her budding theatrical career, but perhaps her star had not yet risen very far (if it ever really rose at all).  So this is clearly the right marriage record.  But how did we get from Olczak to Dutkiewicz?

The answer lies again in the indexed records of Geneteka (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Geneteka search results for marriage records with surnames Olczak and Dutkiewicz between 1880 and 1900:

Olczak

It appears that shortly after Kazimiera’s birth in 1880, her mother Paulina married Tomasz Dutkiewicz.  Whether Tomasz Dutkiewicz ever legally adopted Kazimiera is doubtful, but this certainly explains why she might have at least informally used the name of her step-father as her own.

But Wait, There’s More!

So all this is nice, right?  But why is a marriage record for a great-granduncle really THAT exciting?  As I mentioned, my great-grandmother Veronica emigrated along with three siblings, Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine.  What we didn’t know until I began researching records from Poland, was that there were two additional siblings — Konstancja3 and Pelagia4 — who did not emigrate.  No descendant of the Grzesiak family in the U.S. that I interviewed was aware that these sisters existed.  The Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań had no record of marriage for either of them, and I was planning to write again to request a search for their death records, assuming they might have died before reaching a marriageable age.  However, I noticed that there was a marriage record for a Konstancja Grzesiak on the same page of Geneteka search results (Figure 4, result 2) that gave me Walter’s marriage record!  Sure enough, the marriage record5 reveals that Konstancja is the daughter of Józef Grzesiak and his wife, Marianna née Krawczyńska, residing in the village of Ląd.

Unfortunately, I still can’t find a birth record for Pelagia, and it’s still possible that she died before reaching a marriageable age.  But the implications of these new data are tremendous for me.  My great-grandmother arrived in the U.S. in March of 1898,6 and in June and August of that same year, her sister and brother each married in Warsaw, prior to most of her family joining her in Buffalo in 1900, while the one married sister stayed behind in Poland with her family in Warsaw.  Wow!   A little further digging confirmed that Konstancja also had children (Figure 6):

Figure 6:  Geneteka search results for birth records in Warszawa mentioning surnames Cieniewski and Grzesiak:

Cieniewski

So I might have cousins in Poland from this Cieniewski line!  However, it’s interesting that there are only two births.  Birth records for this parish, St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Adalbert, in the Wola district of Warsaw, are indexed from 1886 to 1908 without any gaps.  Therefore one might expect to see more than two children born between their marriage in 1898 and 1908 when the records end.  There is no evidence that they immigrated to Buffalo, no good matches in U.S. census records for this family in Buffalo or anywhere else.  So where did they go?

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo, Warsaw, Buffalo, and Borowo

One clue, in Walter’s marriage record, might point the way.  It stated that he was the son of “Józef Grzesiak, farmer, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing”  Borowo is new to me.  This is the first time this place has been mentioned in connection with my family.  And unfortunately, there are at least 20 places in Poland today by that name.  But if Borowo was where her parents were living at the time of Konstancja’s marriage, maybe that’s where she and her young family eventually went to live.  So which Borowo is correct?

Well, Konstancja’s marriage record, from just two months earlier, states that her parents were residing in Ląd.  That, and the fact that there were no good matches for a place called Borowo that’s very close to Warszawa, suggests that this may be the correct place, Borowo in Konin County, about 22 miles east of the Grzesiak’s previous home in Kowalewo-Opactwo:

map

According to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, a nice period gazetteer of Russian Poland published in 1877, the village of Borowo belongs to the Roman Catholic parish in Krzymów, so that’s where we can look for records.  Records are online and on microfilm, but only from 1808-1884, which doesn’t help us any with finding additional births to Konstancja and Julian Cieniewski after 1900.  However, the Branch Archive in Konin has birth records up to 1911,  so this is an obvious next step to take.

The Old Mill, Revisited

There’s one other really cool connection I’d like to make before I sum things up.  In my previous post about my Grzesiak family, I mentioned my grandmother’s recollection that her mother Veronica’s family owned a grain mill near the parish church.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reference to Veronica’s father being a miller.  However, when I visited Veronica’s birthplace of Kowalewo-Opactwo on a trip to Poland last year, I was amazed to see this old windmill, missing its vanes, in close proximity to the church, exactly as Grandma described.  So I found it fascinating that Walter’s marriage record described him clearly as a miller, even though a more general term (“хозяин,” meaning “owner,” but seemingly used as a non-specific synonym for “farmer” or “peasant”) was again used to describe his father, Józef.  This makes me more convinced that the mill in the photo actually was a place associated with Veronica’s family.  Maybe her father didn’t own the mill, maybe he just worked for the miller — but between the existence of this mill where it should be, based on Grandma’s story, and the fact that her uncle Walter was described as a miller, I think there’s good reason to believe that this was the mill that Grandma’s story referred to.  IMG_4542

That’s a Wrap

So what general research insights can be gained from this?

  1.  Once again, my ancestors were more mobile than I expected them to be — and yours might be, too.

When I began my research, I really thought I’d find “the” ancestral village for each surname line and be able to go back for many generations in that same village.  Time and time again, that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.  I was so blinded by my expectation that Walter would have met his bride some place near to where he was born, that I overlooked obvious resources, like indexed records for Warsaw on Geneteka, because it seemed too improbable.  Logic requires us to search in the obvious places first — those associated with the family.  But when searching in the obvious places doesn’t pan out, it’s time to think outside the box.

2.  Family stories can sometimes hold the key.

If you are among the oldest generation in your family, it’s not too late to write down everything you remember from older relatives, for the next generation.  But if you still have any older relatives remaining, talk to them!  My third cousin and research collaborator, Valerie Baginski, told me that her grandmother always said that the family came from Warsaw, rather than Poznań, which was my family’s version of the story.  Once we figured out that our Grzesiaks’ ancestral village was Kowalewo-Opactwo, closer to Poznań than Warsaw, we dismissed that mention of Warsaw.  Since Warsaw was a bigger city than Poznań, we chalked up this discrepancy to our ancestors’ tendency to paint their place of origin with a broad brush, referencing the closest big city.  Now we realize that it’s quite possible her great-grandmother mentioned Warsaw because she was one of the younger siblings who may have lived there for a time, while my great-grandmother mentioned Poznań because she was the first one to leave Poland, and may never have gone to Warsaw with the others.

3.  Pay your dues.

This last “insight” is a shameless plug for Geneteka, the database for indexed Polish vital records that enabled me to find my Grzesiaks in Warsaw.  For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, Geneteka is a project sponsored entirely by volunteers from the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (PTG, or Polish Genealogical Society), in Poland.  Although all the indexing and photographing of vital records (for Geneteka’s sister site, Metryki, which I wrote about previously) is done by volunteers, funds are still required to pay for servers to host the websites.  If you’ve used Geneteka and found it helpful to you, please consider making a donation to the PTG.  Let’s help them to help us find our ancestors!

Walter’s marriage record was a puzzle piece that’s been missing for a long, long time.  It just goes to show you that you never know when that great idea will hit, or when serendipity will strike, so keep chipping away at those brick walls.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

Sources:

1New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, #2600, Death certificate for Walter Grzesiak, 25 April 1946.

2“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie,” Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #223, record for Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, accessed on 17 August 2016.

3Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.

4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016.

5“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie “, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #142, record for Julian Aleksander Cieniewski and Konstancja Grzesiak, accessed on 18 August 2016.

6Ancestry.com, Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 and 1954-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), http://www.ancestry.com, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85, record for Veronika Gresiak, accessed on 21 July 2016.

Featured Image:

Wodzinowski, Wincenty. Wesele. Digital image.Http://muzeuminstrumentow.pl/. Muzeum Ludowych Instrumentów Muzycznych W Szydłowcu, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.  This painting from 1896 seemed very fitting for my cover photo, since it depicts a wedding celebration very close to the time when Walter and Casimira married.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

Writing to Archives in Poland

A few days ago, I wrote to the Konin branch of the Polish State Archive of Poznań to request a search for death records for Pelagia and Konstancja Grzesiak, who were two sisters of my great-grandmother.  This is pretty routine for me now, but when I first began researching Polish vital records, I was intimidated by the thought of writing to an archive in Poland. I worried that it would be prohibitively expensive, and I worried about translating their correspondence in an era before Facebook groups and Google Translate.  However, writing to the archives is pretty straightforward, and should be a standard research strategy for anyone researching Polish ancestors.  In this post, I’ll walk you through the process of writing to an archive to request records for your family in Poland.

Why Write to an Archive?

Although it’s true that more and more vital records from Poland are coming online every day, thanks to the efforts of both the state archives and the various Polish genealogical societies, there are still plenty of records that are not available online or on microfilm from the LDS.  Some of these records can be found in the diocesan archives, some are in the state archives, and some may still be at the parishes themselves.  You might need to rely on multiple sources to find records in the range of years you need to thoroughly document your family history.

As an example, for my Grzesiak’s ancestral parish in Kowalewo-Opactwo, the LDS has both church and civil records available on microfilm.  However, upon closer examination, we see that the civil records only go from 1808-1865, then there’s a two-year gap, after which coverage extends from 1868-1879.  The church records might be helpful in tracing some of my collateral lines forward in time, since they begin in 1916, but they aren’t useful for finding ancestors.  Those records go all the way up to 1979 (with gaps), which is interesting, given that Polish privacy laws typically restrict access to such recent records.

Microfilm is great, but online access is even better, and in the years since I began researching this family, records for Kowalewo have come online for those same years from 1808-1879, including that same gap from 1866-1867.  One might conclude that the records from 1866-1867 were destroyed, since they don’t appear in either the online collection from the Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu Oddział w Koninie (State Archive of Poznań Branch in Konin) or on the LDS microfilm.  However, that’s not the case, those records DO exist. How do we know this?

Baza PRADZIAD:  The Vital Records Database for the Polish State Archives

Baza PRADZIAD can be searched quickly, easily, and in English to see what vital records are held by the various state archives for any given parish or civil registry office.  Note that you must know the parish or civil registry office for your village of interest.  If I search for records for Wola Koszutska, which is a village belonging to the parish in Kowalewo, I won’t get any hits.  But I can find records for ancestors born in Wola Koszutska by knowing that their vital events would have been recorded at the parish in Kowalewo.  Although Polish diacritics aren’t supposed to be important when searching this site, I’ve had it happen on occasion that a search without diacritics comes up empty, but redoing the search with diacritics gives good results.  Maybe that was due to cybergremlins, or maybe there are bugs that only affect certain parishes, but it’s something to consider if nothing turns up the first time you search.  There are ways to set up your keyboard to allow for Polish diacritics, but if you haven’t done that or don’t know how, there’s always this site which works in a pinch so you can copy and paste your proper Polish text into the search box.

Now, let’s take a look at what comes up in Baza PRADZIAD for Kowalewo (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Baza PRADZIAD Search ScreenPradziad

Figure 1 shows the search screen, and as you’ll see, I got results only by entering the town name.  There are options for restricting the search by entering the “commune” (i.e. gmina), province, religion, or type of event you’re looking for, but you really don’t need all that, and sometimes simple is best.

Figure 2:  Baza PRADZIAD Results from Search for “Kowalewo”:Kowalewo

Figure 2 shows the top part of the search results; if you were to scroll down, there are a few more entries for “Nowe Kowalewo” below this.  Note that there may be multiple parishes or registry offices with the same name that come up in the search results.  However, when you click “more” at the far right, you can see which place is referenced by looking at the province, as shown in Figure 3:

Figure 3:  “More” information on the first entry (“małżeństwa, 1808-1819, 1821-1890, 1911”) of the search results for Kowalewo:Konin

Let’s consider these search results a bit more carefully.  In Figure 2, we see that there are two collections of marriage records (małżeństwa) for Kowalewo.  The first collection, boxed in red, covers marriages from 1808-1819, 1821-1890, and 1911.  This collection belongs to the Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu Oddział w Koninie, as we can see from Figure 3 which comes up when we click, “more.”  The second collection, boxed in green (Figure 2), covers marriages from 1828-1866.  If we obtain more information about that collection (Figure 4), we realize that both collections are for the same Kowalewo, and they’re stored in different archives!

Figure 4:  More” information on the second entry (“małżeństwa, 1828-1866”) of the search results for Kowalewo:Konin 2

These records belong to the Diocesan Archive of Włocławek.  Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Hey, isn’t this site supposed to be for the search engine for the STATE Archives?  What’s a diocesan archive doing in the search results?  And does this mean that I can expect to find all the holdings of the diocesan archives catalogued here?”

Welcome to the murky world of archival holdings in Poland.  It would be great if there were one, central repository for all vital records in Poland, and if those holdings were completely catalogued, and if that catalogue were searchable online at only one website. But as my mother always says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”  Although you may find that some diocesan archives have their holdings catalogued in Baza PRADZIAD, not all do.  So I generally think of this as a catalogue for the holdings of State Archives, and if any diocesan results come up as well, that’s icing on the cake.

Now let’s go back to Figure 2.  If you compare the boxes in red, blue and yellow, you see that these represent marriages, births (urodzenia) and deaths (zgony) for the same range of years.  This makes sense, because frequently parishes would keep one parish register for each year, divided into three sections.  Looking further at Figure 3, we notice the “dates” and “microfilms” underlined in purple and yellow, respectively, and herein lies the answer to the problem of our two-year gap in microfilmed and online records that exists from 1866-1867.  As you can see from the text underlined in yellow, the archive also has those same microfilms, with the same gap.  But their total collection, underlined in purple, includes years which are not available on microfilm.   Whereas online and microfilmed records end in 1879, the archive also has births, marriages and deaths from 1880-1890, in addition to having births, marriages and deaths to fill that gap from 1866-1867.

How Do I Write to the Archives?

First, you want to make sure that the records aren’t available any other way (e.g microfilm or online), before you write, as archival research is generally slower and more expensive than obtaining records by these other methods.  Popular websites for Polish vital records include Szukajwarchiwach (“Search in the Archives” or SwA), Metryki.GenBaza (or just, “GenBaza”),  Metryki.Genealodzy.pl (or just “Metryki”), Poczekalnia (“Waiting Room,”), Genealogiawarchiwach (“Genealogy in the Archives”, or GwA), the digital collections for Poland available from the LDS, and others (mentioned on this list, starting at the bottom of page 3).  If you’re not familiar with these sites and don’t know how to use them, visit us in Polish Genealogy and we’ll help you out.  To determine whether your parish of interest has been microfilmed by the LDS, check the Family History Library catalog.

If it looks like your records of interest can only be found at one of the archives, you can send an e-mail to the address found in your Baza PRADZIAD search results (see above).  You should write in Polish.  Since this is professional correspondence, this is not a good time to break out Google Translate.  Instead, use one of the letter-writing templates that are available online, either from the LDS or the PGSA.  Alternatively, you can post a translation request in one of the Facebook groups (Polish Genealogy or Genealogy Translations) and a volunteer will probably assist you with a short translation, if you ask nicely.

How Much Will It Cost?

The cost of archival research depends on how many years they have to search, whether or not they find anything, and which archive you’re writing to.  You might think it would be standardized across the country, but that hasn’t been my experience.  I have paid as little as 4 zlotys ($1) to the Archive in Grodzisk for two records found after a search of marriages over a 12-year period, and as much as $30 to the Archive in Konin after a search of marriages over a 9-year period that turned up empty.  (In that case, it’s possible that the girls died before reaching a marriageable age.)  It’s important to have very clear, specific research goals in mind, however.  Sending the archive a request that’s too vague, such as, “please search all your records for Kołaczyce for the surname Kowalski” or too broad, such as, “please search all your death records for Kołaczyce from 1863-1906 for Łącki deaths” is probably not advisable. For that kind of research, it would be better to hire a professional in Poland who can visit the archive for you in person.

What Happens When They Find My Records?

When the archive has completed their research, they will reply to notify you of the results. The letter or e-mail will be in Polish; if you need assistance with translating it, I would again recommend those Facebook groups (Polish Genealogy or Genealogy Translations).  If they found records, they will summarize their findings, but you will not receive copies until you make payment.  If they didn’t find anything, they will still charge you a search fee for the time they had to spend looking.

How Do I Make Payment?

The archives will only accept payment by direct wire transfer to bank account number specified in their correspondence.  They do not accept personal checks, credit cards, cash, or PayPal.   Here’s where it gets tricky:  most U.S. banks charge high fees for international wire transfers.  However, there are alternatives to paying your bank.  You can set up a wire transfer with a company like Western Union or Xoom, where the fees are typically much lower.  If you live in a community with a Polish travel agency, you can often ask them to wire money for you for a small fee.  Or, you can ask a professional researcher in Poland to handle the transaction for you, and you can reimburse him or her via PayPal.  (Be sure to add in a tip if the researcher does not specify a charge for his or her time).

When Will I Get My Records?

Again, your mileage may vary, based on the archive in question, but in general, I’ve gotten results within a week or two after payment has been made.  Be sure to attach your payment receipt to your return e-mail to the archive.  I’ve always received my records in the form of digital images sent via e-mail, but I’ve heard from others who say they’ve always received hard copies.

That’s pretty much all there is to it!  Writing to archives in Poland doesn’t have to be an intimidating process, nor will it necessarily break the bank.  As long as you have clearly defined research goals and a relatively small range of years for them to check, archival research can be quite affordable.  If you’ve been on the fence about writing to an archive, I hope this encourages you to go ahead and give it a try.  And if you do, please let me know how it turns out.  Happy researching!

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

 

 

The Old Mill

My son Daniel left for Poland yesterday.  I’ve been helping him prepare for his trip, and thinking a lot about my own amazing journey through Poland last summer, which included visits to all my ancestral villages that were known at that time.  And after my recent post about the 1791 purchase of a home in Zagórów by my ancestors, Andrzej and Marianna Krawczyński, I’ve been thinking more about that line in particular.

My most recent ancestor with the Krawczyński surname is my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak.  It was Marianna’s daughter, Veronica, who immigrated to the U.S. as a young girl, married John Zazycki, and eventually gave birth to my grandmother, Helen (née Zazycki) Zielinski.  My grandmother died a year ago, but I vividly remember sitting in Grandma’s immaculate kitchen as a young teenager, asking her about her mother’s life in Poland before she came to this country.  I wrote down Grandma’s comments and kept them in mind as I began to document my family’s history.

Among the tidbits of family history that Grandma shared with me was the fact that her mother’s parents owned a grain mill.  They lived near the church and rectory, and Veronica’s mother sewed all the vestments for the parish priests.  Grandma never knew the names of her mother’s parents — it was up to me to find those, by following the paper trail.  And unfortunately, the paper trail didn’t exactly corroborate the story about owning a grain mill.  Polish vital records typically mention the occupation of the father in child’s baptismal record.  In Veronica’s baptismal record, shown below, her father, Józef Grzesiak, is described as, “‘master of the house,’ of Kowalewo, age thirty-seven.”1  The Russian word used to describe Józef’s occupation, “хозяин,” is unfortunately rather non-specific.  Shea and Hoffman  define it as “master of the house, owner; husband, man”2 although they add that, “сельскій хозяинъ” can be used to mean, “farmer.”  Weronika Grzesiak birth marked

 

Baptismal records for Veronica’s siblings describe Józef Grzesiak as a “parobek,”3 (farmhand), again with the Russian word “хозяин,”4,7,8 and with the Russian word, “наёмщик,”which Shea and Hoffman define as,”hirer, lessee, tenant, lodger.”6  But nowhere do we see the word for “miller,” in Polish or in Russian.  I had pretty much decided that this was one of those inaccuracies in family stories, something that had gotten slightly distorted in the oral history as it was handed down over four generations.  Until I got to Poland.

On August 3rd, 2015, my husband and I and our tour guide, Łukasz Bielecki, visited the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo, where my great-grandmother Veronica was born.  After stopping by the church of Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles and the parish cemetery, we stopped at the rectory to see if the pastor was home, and inquire if he knew of any parishioners with the Grzesiak surname.  That was when I saw it, right across the street from the rectory, and just down the street from the church and cemetery (on the left side of the street in this photo):IMG_4542

An old windmill, missing its vanes, long abandoned, from the look of it.  Could it possibly date back to Veronica’s youth in Poland in the 1880s and 1890s?  The location was striking — so close to the church and rectory, exactly as Grandma had described it to me.  And yet Veronica’s father was clearly not a miller, based on the available records, nor were her grandparents described that way.  Veronica’s paternal grandfather, Stanisław Grzesiak, was a shepherd from Cienin Zaborny9 and her maternal grandfather, Antoni Krawczyński, was a shoemaker from Zagórów.10  

So how do we reconcile this?  Perhaps Veronica’s family didn’t own the mill — perhaps she only mentioned that they lived near the mill, and my grandmother misremembered the story?  Or perhaps the records which describe Veronica’s father as a “tenant” or “farmhand” could be construed to mean that he was a hired hand, working for the miller?   The village miller held a position of some stature , so perhaps the priest recording the baptismal records would have been reluctant to describe Józef Grzesiak that way if he was only employed by the miller but did not own the mill.  I have no doubt about the truth of the story that Veronica’s mother, Marianna, sewed vestments for the parish priest.   Veronica supported her family as a seamstress after her husband died, and was known for her strong Catholic faith.  So it’s tempting to believe that somehow, that old mill near the church in Kowalewo might really be the one from Grandma’s stories, and might be connected with my family in some way.  What do you think?

Sources:

1“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1876, # 72, birth record for Weronika Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/65/skan/full/9J-ASKf3S2mu9O7J_5zYew.

2Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents:  Volume II:  Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002, p. 430.

3″Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),” Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1867, births, #39, record for Władysław Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczynski.; Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78, Konin, Poland.

4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016 http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/58/skan/full/ntP5qVh00anymNp2qgDJRw

5Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.

6Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents:  Volume II:  Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002, p. 392.

7“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1874, births, #17, record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/63/skan/full/yD_N2CH4hl_7FF3PNvsoAg.

8“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), “Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów”, 1881, births, #15, record for Józefa Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczynski.; Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78 Konin, Poland.

9“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Cienin Koscielny (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), Ksiega urodzonych, malzenstw i zgonów, 1839, births, #4, record for Józef Grzesiak, accessed on 22 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/740/0/6.1/30/skan/full/hSeZeC8-TYbTYBA3GioEiA.

10Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, 1843, Births, #31, record for Marianna Krawczyńska.; 2162128 Item 1.

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz