A Perfect Storm

Many of us who engage in genealogical research are motivated in part by the intellectual thrill of the research process itself. While it can be satisfying to help people with any research question, I find it especially enjoyable to help people make the leap from the U.S. to Poland by finding documentary evidence in Polish records for their immigrant ancestors for whom they only have evidence from U.S. records. Many Polish vital records are now available online, so if an immigrant’s place of origin is known, it may just be a matter of identifying the parish or registry office that served that village, and then checking the appropriate databases to locate a vital record. If all the steps are followed logically, the hunt is successful. Yet every now and then, something goes awry, and things don’t fall into place the way they should. Such setbacks can be great learning experiences, however, so I want to share one of those stories here today, since it illustrates so nicely some of the pitfalls that can be encountered with Polish genealogy, even when those logical steps are followed.

This particular story unfolded in the Poland & Genealogy group on Facebook, where I currently volunteer as administrator, and group member Josh Wilberger gave me his permission to share the details. Josh came to the group, eager to begin research in Polish records on his great-grandfather, Jan Pudło, but unsure of where to start. Josh had already done significant research in U.S. records, so he was well-prepared for the jump across the ocean. Most importantly, he knew his great-grandfather’s date and place of birth and parents’ names, which are the critical pieces of information required for definitive identification of one’s ancestor in foreign documents. From Jan’s petition for naturalization, Josh knew that Jan/John Pudło was born 17 April 1891 in “Stara Wies, Lublin, Russia.” Similarly, the record of Jan’s marriage to Anna Gil in Perry, New York, in 1912, stated that Jan was the son of Paul (Paweł in Polish) Pudło and Agnes (Agnieszka) Ciesliak.

From this point on, one might expect the process of finding Jan Pudło’s birth record to be pretty straightforward. Knowing the birthplace, it’s necessary to determine the parish that served that village. Knowing the parish, it’s just a matter of checking various repositories to see if records from that parish are readily available from a state or diocesan archive, or if onsite research is required to find the baptismal record. Since the research target, Jan Pudło, was born in the Lublin region, it should be even easier to track down the birth record since this area is so thoroughly indexed in the Lubgens database, and many scans are online (e.g. at FamilySearch, Szukajwarchiwach, etc.). Piece of cake, right?

Which Old Village is Which?

The situation was complicated somewhat by the fact that “Stara Wieś, ” which means “Old Village,” is a very popular place name found throughout Poland today, as well as in territories that were historically Polish. Just how popular is it? Mapa.szukacz (“Map Searcher”) identifies 639 places called Stara Wieś that are within the borders of Poland today. It’s one of those place names like “Wola” (848 places by that name) and “Dąbrowa” (420 places) that makes even experienced researchers cringe, knowing how many parishes might have to be checked before the right location is finally determined. The fact that the particular Stara Wieś in question was known to be in the Lublin region helped to narrow the field somewhat. However, there were still seven unique places called Stara Wieś located in the Lublin gubernia (province) of the Russian Empire, according to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego (Index of the Kingdom of Poland, fondly abbreviated by me as the SKP), published in 1877.[1]

As the name suggests, this two-volume gazetteer provides an index to places that were located within the former Kingdom of Poland, also known informally as Congress Poland or Russian Poland. My decision to consult this gazetteer was part of my modus operandi for tackling research questions like this. Whenever I’m faced with the task of identifying a village in Poland with a very common name, I usually begin by selecting a gazetteer that focuses on the particular partition of Poland (Prussian, Russian, or Austrian) in which the village was located circa 1900. (This assumes, of course, that the documents which provided the place name are from that era.) For Russian Poland, the SKP is my top choice, although the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, which identifies places in the second Polish Republic (interwar Poland) is also useful for eastern borderlands locations that were in the Russian Empire in the 19th century, but were not located within the Kingdom of Poland. For the Prussian partition, I like Kartenmeister, which is currently down due to server problems, but will be back up soon, according to site owner Uwe-Karsten Krickhahn. For the Austrian partition, Brian J. Lenius’s Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia is a great resource, although it’s not online, while several editions of Jan Bigo’s Galicia gazetteer (e.g. this one from 1904) can be found in the holdings of one or more Polish digital libraries. All of these gazetteers require the correct spelling of the location. Additional gazetteers, as well as phonetic gazetteers that can be used for place names that were misspelled in U.S. documents, can be found here.

Getting back to Stara Wieś and the search for Jan Pudło, Figure 1 shows the seven options (boxed in red) for places called Stara Wieś that were located in the Lublin gubernia.

Figure 1: Entries for Stara Wieś in the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego. Places within the Lublin province are boxed in red. Each entry provides the administrative assignments for that place; column headings (left to right) are place name, followed by the gubernia (province), powiat (county), gmina (community or township), and Roman Catholic parish to which each village belonged. Where two parishes are indicated, the place designated as “r.l.” was the location of the Roman Catholic parish, while “r.g.” was the location of the Greek Catholic parish.Stara Wies in the SKP

Although two of the villages in that list were noted to have Greek Catholic residents as well as Roman Catholic, Josh knew that his family was Roman Catholic, so the focus was on the Roman Catholic parishes. That meant seven unique parishes to check for the birth of Josh’s great-grandfather, circa 17 April 1891.

I say, “circa,” because it’s not at all uncommon to discover that a Polish immigrant was actually born on a different day than the one reported as his date of birth on U.S. records. People often believe that their ancestors lied about their dates of birth, but I think it’s dangerous to ascribe motives to people who lived in another time, place and culture. Moreover, it’s not necessary to assume an intent to deceive if we merely wish to reconcile a discrepancy in the dates of birth reported on two different documents. It seems more generous—and equally plausible—to attribute the discrepancy to something more innocuous, such as the fact that many immigrants did not know their birth dates precisely. They might know that they were born during the potato harvest, for example, or near the feast of Corpus Christi, but that’s it. Errors in reporting may also result from the Polish preference for celebrating imieniny, the feast day of one’s baptismal patron saint, rather than celebrating birthdays. In some cases, a child might be named after the saint on whose feast day he or she was born, but adherence to this practice was not always strict.

The net effect of these cultural differences is that I tend to take 19th-century birth dates reported by Polish immigrants on U.S. records with a grain of salt. In my research experience, both the date and the year of birth may be off by as much as 5–6 years, but if all the other evidence is consistent (place of birth, parents’ names, known siblings’ names and approximate dates of birth) then the birth record can safely be considered a match. It was from this perspective that I approached the search for Jan Pudło’s birth record. Sure, the petition for naturalization might state that Jan was born 17 April 1891, but I was very open to the possibility—or likelihood, even—that a birth record might be found which indicated that he was born on some other date in that ballpark.

The search for a birth record was greatly facilitated by the fact that Lublin-area vital records are so thoroughly indexed in the Lubgens database. A broad search for Jan Pudło’s birth between 1885 and 1897 in all indexed parishes produced 15 hits (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Results of search in Lubgens database for birth records for Jan Pudło, born between 1885 and 1897.Jan Pudlo birth results in Lubge3ns

The parish in which each of these births was recorded is stated in the “Parafia” column. Since we know that Josh’s great-grandfather was born in the village of Stara Wieś, and we know from the gazetteer that the seven Lublin-area villages called Stara Wieś belonged to the parishes of Łęczna, Końskowola, Frampol, Surhów, Targowisko, Puchaczew, and Nabróż, we can quickly scan this list for those parish names and eliminate any search hits that were not from one of these parishes. The result? There was exactly one birth for a Jan Pudło who was baptized in Targowisko, one of those seven parishes, and it just so happens that he was born precisely in 1891! Time for a Genealogical Happy Dance? Not so fast. The matching birth record is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Birth record for Jan Pudło from the parish of Targowisko.[2]Wrong Jan Pudlo birth

The record is in Russian, as expected, but the underlined text was not expected. The text underlined in blue in the margin is the village in which the birth occurred, and it reads “Тарнавка” (Tarnawka), rather than mentioning the expected village of Stara Wieś. I took a look at the map, which shows two villages called Tarnawka—Tarnawka Pierwsza and Tarnawka Druga—that are adjacent to each other and just north of the parish of Targowisko. The villages of Stara Wieś Pierwsza and Stara Wieś Druga (“Old Village One” and “Old Village Two”) can be seen just north of the pair of Tarnawkas (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Position of the village(s) of Tarnawka relative to the parish of Targowisko and the target village(s) of Stara Wieś.Targowisko map

The text underlined in blue in the record itself (Figure 3) goes on to state (in translation) that the child “was born in Tarnawka on the 9th/21st day of May.” The second date, 21 May, is the date of birth according to the Gregorian calendar that we use, and it’s certainly not problematic, given how close it is to the expected date of 17 April 1891. It’s entirely reasonable to think that a Polish immigrant of this era might report his date of birth as 17 April 1891 if in fact he was born 21 May 1891. But more problematic is the fact that the father’s name was recorded as Piotr Pudło, while the mother’s name was recorded as Marianna Milanoska. Based on our evidence from Jan’s marriage record, the parents’ names ought to be Paweł Pudło and Agnieszka Cieślak or Cieslak (the two most probable surnames suggested by “Ciesliak”—a surname which exists in Polish records in that form, but is very rare).

So, what’s going on here? Could this still be the right birth record for Josh’s great-grandfather? In cases like this, it can be difficult to be certain, since there’s such a limited amount of data. As improbable as it may seem, I’ve seen cases where a Polish immigrant reported his own mother’s name incorrectly on documents in the U.S. (see here). Could it be that Jan Pudło did not know his own mother’s name, and the priest happened to record his father’s name incorrectly as well? Maybe, but the odds of both names being in error, as well as the village name being different from expected, made this scenario seem highly implausible, despite the fact that the date of birth was approximately correct. But if this record was not the birth record for Josh’s great-grandfather, Jan Pudło, then where was that birth record?

Back to the Drawing Board

Searching for scraps of information that might help explain this situation, I noticed that on the map shown in Figure 4, the villages of Stara Wieś Pierwsza and Stara Wieś Druga are approximately equidistant between Targowisko to the south and another village, Bychawa, to the north. Bychawa was also mentioned in the search results in Figure 2. Moreover, I noticed that the Lubgens database includes indexed vital records from a parish called Stara Wieś in gmina Bychawa that was not mentioned in the SKP (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Information on the parish of St. Stanisław, Bishop and Martyr, found in the Lubgens database.Stara Wies parish page on Lubgens

The fact that the earliest records indexed in the database are from 1930 explains why this parish was not mentioned in the SKP—it didn’t exist in 1877. A quick internet search revealed that the parish of Stara Wieś was erected in 1932 and included villages that formerly belonged to the parishes of Bychawa and Boże Wola.[3]

Right Church, Wrong Pew

At this point, it dawned on me: the information in the SKP must be incorrect. Much as I love gazetteers and rely on them to be guideposts in my genealogical journey, pointing the way to the correct parish for each village, it’s important to remember that no gazetteer is 100% accurate—or at least, I have yet to find one that is. When things don’t add up, it’s advisable to check a second gazetteer, so in this case, I checked the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, published circa 1933.[4] Lo, and behold, the parish for the Stara Wieś that was located in Krasnystaw county and gmina Zakrzew—the same Stara Wieś that was noted in the SKP as belonging to Targowisko parish—was noted in this gazetteer to be in Bychawa (Figure 6)!

Figure 6: Entry for Stara Wieś in gmina Zakrzew, Krasnystaw county from the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej.Stara Wies in Second Polish Republic Gazetteer

If further confirmation is desired from a gazetteer more contemporaneous with the birth of Jan Pudło, the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries) can be checked. This gazetteer, published between 1880 and 1902, contains five pages of entries for villages named Stara Wieś that were located in all three of the Polish partitions (Russian, Prussian and Austrian). Although entries are organized in a logical fashion (explained on pages 5-6 of Volume 1), it can still be a lot to wade through, which is why I didn’t check this gazetteer immediately. Nonetheless, our Stara Wieś is cataloged in entry 27 on page 226 of Volume 11, which clearly states that this village belonged to the parish in Bychawa (Figure 7).[5]

Figure 7: Beginning of entry for Stara Wieś in gmina Zakrzew, Krasnystaw county, in the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, underlined in red.Stara Wies from SGKP

Once the correct parish was firmly established, it was a simple matter of using the links in the Lubgens database (Figure 2) to check the scans from the parish in Bychawa and find the correct birth record. As luck would have it, my concerns about potential inaccuracy in Jan’s reporting of his date of birth were completely unfounded, as the record indicates that he was born on 29 April 1891, pretty darn close to when he thought he was born. The correct birth record is shown in Figure 8.[6]

Figure 8: Birth record for Jan Pudło, born 29 April 1891 in Stara Wieś.Jan Pudlo 1891

In translation, the record states,

“No. 121, Stara Wieś. This happened in the suburb of Bychawa on the 17th/29th day of April in the year 1891 at 5:00 in the afternoon. Paweł Pudło appeared, a peasant residing in the village of Stara Wieś, age 52, in the presence of Tomasz Makowski of Stara Wieś, age 37, and Józef Janczarek of Bychawa, age 27, peasants; and showed us a child of the male sex, stating that it was born in Stara Wieś on the 17th/29th day of April of the current year at 3:00 in the morning of his wife, Agnieszka née Cieśla, age 35. At Holy Baptism, performed today, the name Jan was given, and his godparents were Tomasz Makowski and Antonina Josikowa. This document was read to the declarant and witnesses, and because of their illiteracy it was signed only by Us. [signed] Fr. Wojciech Makara, Acting Civil Registrar”

That’s a Wrap

The matching parents’ names, place of birth, and date of birth confirm that this, at last, is the correct birth record for Josh’s great-grandfather. The irony in this situation is that the process of “doing it right” created obstacles to the research because the information in the SKP was incorrect. If no attempt had been made to identify the parish for the village of Stara Wieś, this birth record might have been discovered more quickly by using the “brute force” method of reading through all the search hits in the Lubgens database one by one. Even despite the broad search range (1885-1897), which was employed based on previous research experience, there were only 15 birth records to check, and if only the births from 1891 were considered, there were only three records to check. The correct birth record would have been found in any case, but as it played out, this was a perfect storm, a Murphy’s Law scenario in which everything converged to create research havoc. Really, what were the chances that the SKP would misidentify the parish, but that there just happened to be another Jan Pudło born in that incorrect parish in the same year as the target Jan Pudło?

I’m also amused by the multiplication of villages called Stara Wieś in the area where Jan Pudło was born. All the gazetteers mentioned only one Stara Wieś that belonged to the parish in Bychawa, yet the modern map indicates four such villages: Stara Wieś, Stara Wieś Pierwsza, Stara Wieś Druga, and Stara Wieś Trzecia—Old Village, Old Village One, Old Village Two and Old Village Three (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Four Old Villages, courtesy of Google Maps.Four Old Villages

In fact, an advanced search of Mapa.szukacz reveals 103 places called Stara Wieś that are within the borders of the Lublin province today. This is a considerable increase from the seven villages called Stara Wieś that existed in the Lublin gubernia in 1877 according to the SKP, an increase which is surprising even despite the fact that the current Lublin province covers a larger area than the former Lublin gubernia (9712 square miles vs. 6499 square miles).[7] Couldn’t they make the lives of genealogists a little easier by coming up with more creative names for the villages, at least?

So what take-home lessons can be gained from all of this?

  1. Despite occasional inaccuracies, gazetteers are still an invaluable asset for your research. In absence of any gazetteers or indexed records to fall back on, one would have to approach this project by locating an old map of the Lublin gubernia with sufficient scale to show tiny villages, looking for every village called Stara Wieś, and then investigating all the surrounding villages to see which ones had Catholic parishes that were in existence in the time period in question. After that, one would have to check the records from each of those parishes for the target baptismal record. Who has time for that?
  2. You may need to check more than one gazetteer before proceeding with the research. In this case, indexed records with linked scans made the research simple. But if records were not available online and it was necessary to hire an onsite researcher to visit the parish in person to obtain records, I would definitely check two or three gazetteers before proceeding with the research.
  3. Evaluate each new piece of evidence in light of the total. Historical research is messy at times, and names and dates might be recorded somewhat differently in different records. But if you have to work really hard to argue that the individual described in a given record is a match for someone in your family tree, consider the possibility that you may be wrong, and keep looking for the right record.

All’s well that ends well. Jan Pudło has been successfully identified in Polish records, and Josh’s research can proceed apace. But it certainly was an interesting journey back to Stara Wieś through a perfect storm.

Sources:

[1] Zinberg, I. Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego. T. 2, p. 174, “Stara wieś,” Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra : 24 October 2019).

[2] “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Targowisku, 1876-1917,” 1891, Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów, births, no. 70, record for Jan Pudło, Szukajwarchiwach (https://szukajwarchiwach.pl : 28 October 2019), image 17 out of 67.

[3]Parafia św. Stanisława w Starej Wsi,” Wikipedia PL (https://pl.wikipedia.org : 28 October 2019).

[4] Tadeusz Bystrzycki, Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z oznaczeniem terytorjalnie im właściwych władz i urzędów oraz urządzeń komunikacyjnych [Index of place names of the Republic of Poland with corresponding govermental agencies and offices, including communication facilities] (Przemyśl, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Książnicy Naukowej, circa 1933), 1607, “Stara Wieś,” Wielkopolska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (http://www.wbc.poznan.pl : 28 October 2019).

[5] Filip Sulimierski, et al., Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] (Warszawa: Nakładem Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1902), Tom XI, 226, “Stara Wieś,” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 28 October 2019).

[6] “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Bychawie, 1826-1916,” 1891, Księga urodzeń, małżeństw i zgonów, births, no. 121, record for Jan Pudło, Szukajwarchiwach (https://szukajwarchiwach.pl : 28 October 2019), image 20 out of 75.

[7]Lublin Voivodeship,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : 28 October 2019); and    “Gubernia lubelska,” (https://pl.wikipedia.org/ : 28 October 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

Szukajwarchiwach Version 2.0: Better Than the Original!

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.SzwA home page

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.SzwA in English

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.”SzwA search options

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.Figure 3

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.Pradziad

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. Mlodzieszyn search result

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.More data on 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. 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.Kowalewo Opactwo detailed entry

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.Scanned units

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 1866.1866 index page

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.Index image

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.Cart for ordering scans

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.Index image closeup

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.Advanced Search

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. Zagorow Jewish records search results

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