I Found Records for my Ancestors’ Parish! Now What?

I spend a fair amount of time each week helping budding genealogists in the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook. Frequently, we assist people by locating collections of vital records for their ancestral parishes in digital archives, but after that, it’s up to the individuals to use those records. And I sometimes get the sense that people aren’t really sure how to make the best use of those collections, after they’ve found a record or two for their family. So I’d like to take this opportunity to explain how I milk a collection of vital records for every drop of usable information.

Verify that this is the correct location for your family.

The first step is always to connect the parish to your family by finding one record — say, your great-grandmother’s birth record — that is unmistakeably correct. If all the U.S. data point to the parish of Gradzanowo Kościelne as her baptismal parish, and you know her parents’ names and her approximate date of birth from U.S. records, then you should be able to find her baptismal record. Note that our ancestors’ years of birth as they were reported in U.S. records are not always correct. Most U.S. records for my 2x-great-grandmother, Mary Klaus, suggested that she was born circa 1872, but her birth record proves that she was born in 1866. Despite the discrepancy in years, the record is unmistakeably hers, because the parents’ names match those reported on her marriage records, the day and month of birth match exactly with what was recorded on her death record, and multiple U.S. records indicate that she was born in Kołaczyce, Austrian Poland, which is where her baptismal record was located. So don’t be afraid to check several years before or after the year that you think your ancestor was born — or in the case of Mary Klaus, make that 6 years.

Skip back to the good stuff, if you can’t resist the temptation….

Using a different example, let’s say that I found the birth record for my husband’s great-grandmother, Helena Majczyk, in the parish records of Gradzanowo Kościelne in 1892 (because that’s true). It was unmistakeably her birth record, since her parents’ names, Stanisław Majczyk and Aniela Nowicka, matched those that Helena reported on her marriage record. I knew that Helena had one sister, Waleria, born circa 1889, and Helena’s death notice also mentioned that she was survived by “brothers and sisters in Poland.” Those siblings are all interesting to me, sure. But the first question in my mind was, “who were the parents of Stanisław and Aniela?” This question could be answered easily by finding their marriage record, but I didn’t know which sibling was the oldest. If Waleria and Helena, born circa 1889-1892, were the oldest children in the family, then the parents were probably married circa 1888. But if those “brothers and sisters in Poland” were older, and Helena was the youngest, perhaps born when her mother was 45, then Stanisław and Aniela might have been married as early as about 1863. I decided to take a chance and start searching marriage records in this parish beginning in 1889. Bingo! I found the marriage record for Stanisław Majczyk and Aniela Nowicka in 1888. In this case, I got lucky. Had Waleria and Helena been among the youngest children in the family, I might have had a longer search.

The marriage record revealed that the bride, Aniela Nowicka, was a local girl born in the village of Bojanowo, just a few kilometers away. She was the daughter of Antoni Nowicki and Jadwiga Krogulska. Her birth record should be found in the records for Gradzanowo parish, so that part would be easy, if I want to skip back and locate that quickly. There’s only one hitch, which is that online records for Gradzanowo at Metryki only go back to 1875. Since Aniela was born circa 1869, I won’t be able to find her birth record from the comfort of my home. However, when I get a chance to get to the Family History Center, I can access the additional records that they have for this parish back to 1808 and find her birth record.

The marriage record further revealed that the groom, Stanisław Majczyk, was the son of  Józef Majczyk and Katarzyna Smiadzinska.  However, Stanisław wasn’t born in the parish of Gradzanowo Kościelne. He was born in the village of Bronisze circa 1861, based on his age reported in the marriage record. The Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, or Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries, describes two different places called Bronisze, one in Russian Poland, near Warsaw, and one in East Prussia, neither of which is especially close to Gradzanowo Kościelne. Moreover, mapa.szukacz mentions two contemporary places called Bronisze, as well as three additional places that have “Bronisze” as part of their name, such as “Rutki-Bronisze.” And the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego mentions two places called Bronisze that were both in Russian Poland. It will take some time to sort all this out and determine which Bronisze is most likely to be Stanisław’s. Unfortunately, the priest who created this record didn’t do us any favors, since he neglected to record the name of the parish in which Stanisław was baptized. However, additional clues might be found in the current record collection. Maybe Stanisław had siblings who also moved to Gradzanowo, and records for them would point to the particular village of Bronisze where the family originated. The only way to find those records will be to carefully examine all the records for the parish.

 …. but be sure to go back and do a thorough search of all the records, year by year.

Which brings us back to this step. Even if you can’t resist the temptation to skip ahead and find the most exciting records for your direct line, it’s important to take the time to fill in the rest of the family tree. In this case, online records for the parish go up to 1907, so I decided to start with that year, and work my way backwards in time. Initally my surnames of interest were going to be Majczyk and Nowicki, but the discovery of that marriage record expanded my list to include Smiadzinska and Krogulski. Since the Majczyk and Smiadzinski families did not originate in Gradzanowo, I realized that these surnames would probably not be especially prevalent in the records for Gradzanowo, but I planned to keep an eye out for them nonetheless. I began a spreadsheet in which to record information on each person with those surnames that I discovered, including such details as parents’ names, dates of birth, death and marriage, spouse’s name, etc.

At this point in the research, it’s unrealistic to expect to understand how all the people you’ll find will fit into your family tree. However, as you progress further in your research, family groups will begin to emerge from the raw data, and relationships will clarify. At that point, you can move people into your family tree. Is this painstaking work? Sure it is. Is there a better way? Not unless your parish has already been indexed on a site such as Geneteka.

Assuming your parish has not been indexed in a digital database, does that mean you have to read through every record in the book? Maybe, maybe not. Vital registers from this era in Russian Poland typically contain indexes created by the priest after each section (births, marriages or deaths), for each year, and you can begin by looking for your surnames of interest in those. Of course, errors sometimes do exist in these indexes, so ultimately you may still need to check each and every record if you can’t find what you’re looking for. And in cases where the priest did not create such an index, you have little choice but to skim through each record.

This is the point at which many fair-weather family historians seem to get cold feet. “Where are the census records for Poland,” they ask, “so that I can identify the names and birth years of the children in this family, and only search vital registers from the years when they were born?” For reasons discussed previously, census records from Poland aren’t as generally available as they are in the U.S., although there are definitely places that one can look for them. However, a thorough analysis of vital records in this manner is arguably preferable to only checking for individuals named in census records, anyway. U.S. census records offer us decennial “snapshots” of the family group over time, but it’s entirely possible (probable, even) that there are children in any given family who were born and died in between census years. Those children were more likely to be recorded in the birth and death records, however. By working my way back through the records like this, year by year, I can be certain that I’m not going to miss a birth or death for my family, assuming that the parish priest/civil registrar did, in fact, create records for these events.

Since it’s such time-consuming work — a true labor of love — it’s very important to keep a research log, indicating the date of research, which records you searched, and for what surnames, and what the findings were. That way, if life gets in the way as you make your way through the indexes and you have to stop researching, you’ll know where you left off. It’s a good idea to make a note of additional surnames that appear in the index that are similar to your target surname. Surname spellings were not consistent until the 1930s, approximately, so you might see a number of different variants used for your ancestors in old records.

Sometimes, it makes sense to go as far back as you can on your direct line so that you’re aware of the primary surnames for your family in a particular town or parish. In the present example with my research in Gradzanowo Kościelne, let’s say that I want to trace Aniela Nowicka’s direct line as quickly as possible. The key is to find her birth record, and then see how old her parents were at the time of her birth. In reality, finding Aniela’s birth record is still on my research to-do list for 2018, but for the moment, let’s suppose that we find a birth record for Aniela in 1869 which states that her mother, Jadwiga née Krogulska, was age 32 at the time of the birth, and her father, Antoni, was age 38. (Remember that this is completely hypothetical.) We can use this information to predict when Jadwiga and Antoni would have been married. In the 19th century, based on my personal research experience, Polish women were typically married around age 18-23, although in rare cases I’ve seen brides as young as 15. The woman’s age is usually more useful for estimating a marriage date than the man’s, since (in my experience, at least) there was more variability in a man’s age at the time of his first marriage. Therefore we can guess that Jadwiga was born circa 1837, and was married circa 1855-1860. Her marriage record will tell us her parents’ names, and once we know those, we’re all set to go looking for her birth record. Of course, we could also look for her birth record circa 1837 without knowing her parents’ names, but there may have been more than one Jadwiga Krogulska born circa 1837 in that parish, so it’s safer to determine her parents’ names first, if at all possible. Once we find Jadwiga’s birth record, we can guess what year her mother was born, and then repeat the process of finding marriage and birth records for Jadwiga’s mother. Using this strategy, it’s sometimes possible to skip back through several generations in a family quite quickly.

An exhaustive search of vital records is a useful strategy for pretty much any vital records collection (church or civil) in a place where your ancestors lived. Civil marriage records for my ancestors in Buffalo, New York are not online, but both the indexes and the records themselves (1878-1935) are available in the basement records room of the Erie County Clerk’s Office, and these records can be immensely helpful in establishing family groups for immigrants with a particular surname of interest. For example, when I began my research into my husband’s Szczepankiewicz ancestry, his grandfather Steve told me that his own father, Michael Szczepankiewicz, immigrated from Poland along with four brothers: Joseph, Bernard, Alexander, and Felix. While one might think that Szczepankiewicz is such an uncommon surname that all the immigrants to Buffalo with this name are related, that’s not the case. By searching marriage records, it was immediately apparent which Szczepankiewicz immigrants to Buffalo were siblings of Michael Szczepankiewicz, and which ones were unrelated. (It also turned out that Grandpa’s memory  was only partially correct, as the immigrant brothers of Michał Szczepankiewicz were Władysław, Józef/Joseph, Bronisław/Bernard, Adam, and Aleksander/Alexander. A sister, Marcianna, was also discovered on a passenger manifest, traveling with Bronisław to their brother Władysław in Buffalo, but she was not found in the marriage index. Felix turned out to be a brother of Grandpa’s mother, not his father.)

But wait! There’s more!

So now let’s say you’ve gone through a particular collection of vital records, as far back as they go, and you’ve successfully identified all your direct ancestors, as well as their siblings, and you’ve also found marriage records for all of those siblings who remained in the same locality and whose marriage records were therefore present in this same collection. Congratulations! At this point, you will have identified many new surnames that you weren’t aware of when you began the research — married surnames of sisters of your ancestors. If you really want to be thorough, you need to go back through those vital records again, looking for all those new surnames. Creating an expansive family tree in this manner is highly recommended, especially in this era of genetic genealogy, when we’re all trying to understand how our DNA matches relate to us. If you focus only on surnames in your direct line, you’ll be less able to work out relationships with matches whose trees don’t go back as far as yours.

Good research in vital records isn’t especially difficult, but it is time-consuming and requires some patience and perseverance. When researching in Polish records, other types of documents may be more difficult to come by, so it’s especially important to wring every last drop of information from a collection of vital records. The good news is that your hard work will be rewarded with the satisfaction that comes from creating a soundly researched, well documented family tree. So what are you waiting for? Get in there and start digging!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy of a German Marriage Record

In my last post, I wrote about my excitement over my brand-new copy of Hoffman and Shea’s recently published German genealogical translation guide, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents: Volume IV: German. I decided to test-drive it using a marriage record from the Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv Regensburg that my friend Mente Pongratz obtained for me a while ago. While most of the documents he obtained were in Latin, there were a few that were in German, and I’ve been saving the German-language ones for this moment. These documents pertain to my Meier family from the village of Obertrübenbach, presently located in Cham County, Oberpfalz, Bayern (Bavaria),. I’ll have to introduce you to my Meiers in the next post, but right now, I want to focus on the process I use when I begin to learn to read genealogical records in an unfamiliar language.

The marriage record in question is for Johann Meier/Maier and his bride, Anna Maria Urban, who were my great-great-great-grandparents, and it comes from the Catholic Church in Roding, Bavaria. Let’s start by looking at the entire document (Figure 1a and b).

Figure 1a: Left page of marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857.1 The entry pertaining to them is the second one from the bottom.

Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 1.jpg

Figure 1b: Right page of marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857.1 The entry pertaining to them is the second one from the bottom.

Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 2

Remember that I’m starting from the same place as many of you. I have no prior experience with reading, speaking, or writing German, and I’ve never made any serious attempt to decipher records in that language until now. I do have some prior knowledge about the names of my ancestors, and I’m going to leverage that advantage as far as possible. As I looked at this for the first time, my first thought was that learning the cursive letter forms is going to be almost as bad as learning Cyrillic. The letter forms used are an old German cursive script called Kurrent which is sufficiently different from our cursive script that it’s not just a matter of reading bad handwriting. The printed text at the top is in a typeface called Fraktur, which is sufficiently similar to our “Old English” Gothic typefaces that it shouldn’t pose too many problems. That said, one of the first things I should have done when I obtained this document as a hard copy from the archive was was to scan it immediately and open it up on my computer, in order to zoom in on the text, rather than trying to work from the hard copy. Since I didn’t do that, I struggled for a bit with the fact that the Fraktur 𝕭 (B) is almost identical to the Fraktur 𝖁 (V), especially when viewed at a small size. This made it difficult to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

Take It From the Top

Let’s start with looking at the column headings on the left page:Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 1 top crop

The first thing I did was to check Hoffman and Shea’s section entitled, “Marriage Entries and Certificates: Columnar-Form Original Entries in Registers” to see if this exact form was reproduced. Unfortunately, it was not. However, this section provided a good starting point for me to decipher many of the words found in the column headings without having to resort to the glossary in the back every time. The first column reads Trauung-Tag, or wedding date. The second column is Bräutigame Tauf- und Zuname, Bridegroom, given- and surname. Easy enough so far. In the third column, you’ll notice that the Fraktur 𝕾 looks rather different from our S, and the final 𝖉 in the first word looks almost like a 𝖇, and I found myself referring frequently to Hoffman and Shea’s handy German alphabet chart on page 1, where they show Fraktur, Cursive, and Roman letters all side by side for comparison. However, it’s clear from the examples in the book that the first word in the third column is Stand. and then Religion is easy to read.

The glossary at the back of Hoffman and Shea’s book defines “Stand” as “position, class; (marital) status; occupation; state,” making it clear that the word could have multiple meanings. Moreover, there’s a period after Stand. in this document, so I briefly entertained the idea that perhaps this was intended to be an abbreviation for Standesamt, which is the civil registry office. Now, as it turns out, Hoffman and Shea spell it out on page 232 that, “What we see under Stand will usually be occupation.” However, since I was skipping around in the book, I managed to miss that part initially, so I had to prove this for myself. To rule out the possibility that maybe Stand. meant Standesamt, I checked the Meyers gazetteer for Obertrübenbach, which reported that the Standesamt was in Obertrübenbach itself.  I knew I should be able to locate this word in this document, since I knew that Wenzel Meier’s family came from Obertrübenbach. Sure enough, in the entry for the marriage of Johann Maier and Anna Maria Urban (second from the bottom), “Obertrübenbach” appears in the 4th column on the left page. Since the writing in the 3rd column is completely dissimilar, we know that Stand can’t mean Standesamt in this context. 

Further examination of the entries in this third column reveals that only one word was recorded in most cases (sometimes hyphenated), and the word katholisch does not appear to be written in any of the columns. This makes sense; in a register from a Catholic parish, presumably all or most of the brides and grooms would be Catholic, so perhaps religion was recorded only in cases where one party was of a different faith.  I spent a few minutes wondering whether any of the entries in this column could possibly be ledig (single, unmarried), but then I skipped ahead to the column heading a few columns over, and realized that it reads, Ledig oder Wittwer, dessen gestorbenes (geschieden) Weib, or “single, or widower whose wife is deceased (or separated).Although the glossary defines geschieden as “separated,” in this context I think we can understand it to mean “divorced.” This column heading is interesting in light of the fact that this is a Catholic parish register and the Catholic church does not permit remarriage after divorce. Taken together with the previous column heading that mentioned stating the religion of the bridegroom, I wondered if this might imply that this form was created for use by a variety of religions in Germany, in an era when church records were recognized as legal documents, and I made a mental note to look up the date when civil vital registration (independent from church registration) began in Bavaria.

Since marital status was covered in Column 6, I finally arrived at the conclusion that “Stand” in column 3 must refer to the bridegroom’s occupation. After much back-and-forth between the alphabet chart showing the letter formations in Kurrent, and comparison of all the other entries, I concluded that Johann Maier must be a Häusler, which Hoffman and Shea define as, “cottager, peasant with a small house and garden and a livestock (e.g., a goat), but not enough to support a family.”

The next column heading is Landgericht, Aufenthalts-Ort, meaning, “District Court, place of residence.” This is where the word Obertrübenbach was recorded, which helped me determine the context for Stand in the previous column heading. Next comes Eltern. Bei der Mutter auch der Geschlechts-Name. This is translated to mean, “Parents. With the mother, also the Family Name.” So what we should see in this column are the names of the groom’s parents, with his mother’s maiden name specified. I was able to make out Johann’s father’s name, Christoph, and his mother’s name, Walburga gb. (geboren, i.e. née) Meinzinger. Did it help that I already knew what these names should be? Absolutely. But when you’re just starting out, using every scrap of information available to you is fair game.

The next column heading was also discussed previously, as it’s the one that reads, Ledig oder Wittwer, dessen gestorbenes (geschieden) Weib. In this case, Johann Maier was recorded as ledig, single. After that, the column heading is Geboren wann? wo?, which we understand to mean, “Born when? Where?” Apparently the priest saw no need to record any of the wheres, but he did record Johann’s birthdate for us, 27 July 1827.

Here Comes the Bride

The next columns pertain to the bride, starting with the column that reads, Der Braut Vor – und Geschlechts-Name, which is, “The Bride, given and family-name.” In the relevant entry, the bride’s name is recorded as Anna M. Urban, but her Stand doesn’t make sense to me. The first part of the word looks exactly like Häusler as it’s written in the groom’s column, but it looks like it ends in “𝖘𝖙,” i.e., “Häuslerst.” This isn’t possible. Häuslerin would be a female Häusler, but those final two letters clearly aren’t “𝖎𝖓.” I left this alone for a while and moved on, but after further consideration, I’m wondering if perhaps those final letters really are “𝖘𝖙,” and this was intended to be an abbreviation for Häuslerstochter, “daughter of a Häusler.”

Having completed the first page, I anticipated that the second page would be a little easier since many of the column headings are the same for the bride as they were for the groom. The first column on the right page is Landgericht Aufenthalts-Ort, although this time the word bisheriger, meaning “previous” or “up until now” is inserted after Landgericht. Anna Maria’s residence prior to her marriage was noted to be Kalsing. Her parents, described in the next column (identical column headings to corresponding column on groom’s side), were Johann and A. Maria gb. Ederer.  The next column, which reports whether she was single or a widow, states, led. — possibly abbreviated because by now, the priest’s hand was no doubt cramped from the effort of writing such tiny letters with any degree of precision. Anna Maria Urban was noted to have been born on 11 October 1832 in Kalsing.

We’re in the home stretch, with just four columns to go. The next one up has the heading, Pfarrer Stellvertreter, “Parish Representative,” implying that this column should name the priest who performed the marriage (who might not be the pastor himself). At this point, I had no more lifelines, in that I didn’t know in advance what the name should be here. My best guess was that the first letter is a P, and the last two letters are “-it” or possibly “-is.” Poppit? Poppis? The middle two letters that seem to be repeated contain a downward stroke that suggests either the letter p, g, or z; it doesn’t look like y, f, or h. I tried playing with versions of this surname on a German-language surname distribution site, and even on Google. My new best guess was that the surname might be Kappis, but the fact that this surname does not exist in Cham County today doesn’t bode well for that hypothesis. There’s also the fact that the capital “K” in “Kalsing” and in Klessing (3rd entry from the top in the first column on the second page) is formed quite differently from the first letter in the priest’s name. At this point, I decided to move on again and maybe come back to this name.

The next column is for the witnesses, with given name, surname, occupation, and place of residence. Again, I was without a safety net. The first witness was easy, Georg Maier, but the next line was not so easy: F???? m. (?) and then a word that looked like it might be “Obertrübenbach,” but with half the letters randomly omitted from the middle. Sigh. My guess was that the word beginning with F was an occupation, and maybe what looks like “m.” was actually im (in), so this phrase might describe Georg, rather than indicating the name of a different person. The third line in this column appears to be “Math. Pongratz,” and as this realization dawned on me, I realized that the first letter in that priest’s name really must be P, although I still can’t find a valid German surname that seems to fit that pattern.

The next column, Weltliche Heiraths-Lizenz, refers to a secular marriage license. I had no idea what the initials here are supposed to indicate; they seemed to be “L.R.” in most cases. It would be interesting to know if a secular marriage license could be obtained for further documentation of this marriage. I made a mental note to ask one of my friends who is an expert in German genealogy for more information on the entries in this column and their implications for further research.

The final column, Getraut mit oder ohne Dispens in den Graden, mit oder ohne Denunziationen, seemed to translate as, “Married with or without dispensation in degrees, with or without denunciation,” and some Roman Catholic canonical context is needed to understand this. My sense is that it relates to the need, or lack thereof, for a dispensation for the marriage due to consanguinity, since this need is determined by the degrees of separation in the relationship between the bride and groom. Denunciation in this context seems to refer to the reporting of known impediments to the marriage to the priest beforehand, in response to the announcement of the marriage banns (see “Denunciation of impediments,” here.) So in the case of most of the marriages recorded on these pages, there were no impediments to the marriage that were reported, and therefore there was no need for any dispensations. The one exception to this is the 8th marriage record down from the top (immediately above the record for Johann Maier and Anna Maria Urban), for Wolfgang Niklas and Elisabeth Niklas. Given their shared surname, they were probably relatives by blood or marriage, whose marriage would necessitate a dispensation. I considered trying to decipher the script pertaining to the dispensations, but I felt that I’d banged my head on a wall long enough for one day.

That’s a Wrap

So after all this, my best (first) attempt at translation can be summarized as follows:

  • Wedding date:  27 October 1857
  • Groom’s Name:  Johann Maier
  • Occupation:  Häusler (cottager)
  • Place of Residence:  Obertrübenbach
  • Parents’ Names:  Christoph and Walburga née Meinzinger
  • Marital Status:  single
  • Date of Birth:  27 July 1827
  • Bride’s Name:  Anna M. Urban
  • Occupation:  Häuslerstochter (daughter of a Häusler)
  • Place of Residence:  Kalsing
  • Parents’ Names:  Johann and A. Maria née Ederer
  • Marital Status:  single
  • Date and Place of Birth:  11 October 1832 in Kalsing
  • Parish Representative:  Pa??il or Pa??it (?)
  • Witnesses:  Georg Maier, ?? in Obertr???h, Math. Pongratz.
  • Secular Marriage License:  LR (whatever that means)
  • Marriage dispensation with or without denunciation:  Not applicable

I never did come to any resolution with bits of it, but I can always ask a German friend, or post the record in the Genealogy Translations Facebook group to get help with those little bits, and to have them correct my translation. Even without those options, it’s okay to have small bits remain unresolved. I used to do this all the time when I was translating Russian records, before I discovered Facebook genealogy groups. Now, with a few more years of experience in reading Russian records, I sometimes come across those early translations in my research notes and fill in the little bits that I couldn’t decipher the first time around. Now that I have my first German translation behind me, I know that it can only get easier from here!

If I Can Do This, So Can You!

So what are some general tips to keep in mind when learning to translate documents in a foreign language? Here are seven pointers:

Always look at the entire page, not just a single record.

I think this one ought to be obvious, but it’s really critical to familiarize oneself with all the examples of handwriting on the page.

Use the familiar to decode the unfamiliar.

Find something you recognize on the page — any words that you can recognize or predict based on your prior knowledge, or about what you’ve been told the document says (for example, from an indexed entry) — and use these words as your Rosetta Stone to understand the nuances of the handwriting of this particular writer. Since there are multiple forms of the letter “s” that are possible in Kurrent, for example, does the writer consistently use the same form? Or does he use them all interchangeably?

Use maps and gazetteers to help understand the places mentioned.

A good exercise for me will be to go through the list of places of residence mentioned in this document and see if I can translate them based on the names of villages close to Roding.

Formulate hypotheses and test them.

When you think you’ve deciphered a surname found in a record, test your theory by plugging it into a German language surname distribution database. If the surname exists in Germany today, you may be on the right track, and you score bonus points if the surname is also found in your county of interest. Similarly, if you think you’ve deciphered the priest’s name, try Googling the history of the parish to see if this particular priest was mentioned. Note that Google.de will provide different (and more appropriate) results than English-language Google, and for Polish records, Google.pl is the preferred search engine. You may need to translate your search terms first using Google Translate, which is an approach that is always fraught with peril when working with inflected languages, so keep your searches simple.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The more you work with foreign-language records, the more things will start to make sense to you. Especially with different letter forms like Cyrillic and Kurrent, it seems like a certain amount of time has to be spent in the beginning in staring at alphabet charts, committing the letter forms to memory and learning the sounds that each letter makes.  Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there.

Get help when you need it.

Learning to translation foreign-language records is an investment in yourself, but you don’t have to go it alone. The global genealogical community is a very generous one, and there are people who are willing to help you along the way. If you get stuck, you can always post the record and your translation attempt in the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook. Volunteers in that group, or in one of the groups targeted to your ethnic group of interest (German Genealogy, Polish Genealogy, etc.), can usually provide insight into archaic terms and offer historical context to help you understand the record, in addition to merely offering a translation.

Have fun!

Deciphering genealogical records can be quite an enjoyable puzzle, and you’ll gain a useful skill that will help you in your research. I’m really excited to continue my practice with German records, now that Hoffman and Shea’s German genealogical translation guide is here. While you won’t see me offering assistance to others with German translations any time soon, I’m confident that regular practice, the day will come when I can pick up a German document written in Kurrent and read it without having to look up any words in the book. And if I can do that, you can, too!

Note: The first round of edits is in! Apparently I was systematically misreading 𝖇 and 𝖉 in this document, too. I’ve made those changes in the text above. Thank you, Mente. Every correction is a learning opportunity.

Sources:

1 BZAR, Roman Catholic Church, St. Pancrus parish (Roding, Cham, Oberpfalz, Germany), marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857, vol. 27, pg. 3, MF 573.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

5 Strategies for Finding Living Relatives In Poland

Many of us family historians are eager to connect with distant cousins, for a variety of reasons. It’s interesting to share family photos and see what stories were handed down in a cousin’s family. It’s satisfying to reunite descendants of a family that has dispersed through time and across continents. If one is lucky enough to connect with cousins who are also interested in genealogy, it’s wonderful to have a research collaborators to share the thrills, challenges, frustrations and victories inherent to family history research. If a new cousin can be persuaded to contribute a cheek swab sample for DNA testing, it’s great to gain added insights into one’s genetic heritage by identifying matching DNA segments. And for those of us whose ancestors immigrated within the past few generations, sharing with cousins in the ancestral home country can be a wonderful way to learn how familiar cultural traditions are practiced in that country today.

Unfortunately, many family historians with Polish roots feel that it’s more difficult to connect with cousins in Poland than it is to connect with distant cousins in the U.S. Although there are always exceptions, genealogy as a hobby isn’t generally as popular in Poland as it is here. During the Cold War era, the Communist vision of a classless society did not encourge hobbies that might potentially lead to the discovery of noble ancestry. Moreover, the difficult economic conditions dictated that few people had time or money to spend on genealogy research. However, Poland’s increasing prosperity in modern times has brought with it an increased interest in genealogy research, and researchers may be surprised to discover that our Polish cousins are as interested in meeting us, as we are in meeting them.

With that in mind, here are five strategies that I recommend for identifying cousins in Poland today:

1. Check out those attics!

Your first step is to call up all the elders in the family to see if there’s any chance that correspondence has survived.  Someone just might have saved a box of letters in the basement or attic, cherished remnants of correspondence with family in Poland. If the letters are in Polish and no one in the family speaks the language any longer, it’s definitely worth it to get them translated for clues. If you hit the jackpot and find an old address, compose a letter explaining that you’re seeking family who used to live at this address. Provide some details about your relationship and your desire to reconnect the families. Address the envelope to “The family of Antoni Kowalski” (specify the name of the family member who was at that address most recently) and add a note along the bottom of the envelope to the mail carrier, to please forward if the family has moved. If that doesn’t work, you can also try writing to the parish priest, explaining your dilemma and asking him to please pass your letter along to any of his parishioners who share your surname of interest and might be related to you. Similarly, the village head, or sołtys, is usually acquainted with everyone in the village (in small villages) or can determine how best to direct your letter (in larger ones).

2. Develop your own tree first.

When it comes to identifying living family in Poland as well as understanding DNA matches, it helps to have a well-developed family tree, which means spending time on researching collateral lines. Too often, family historians are so focused on tracing their ancestry as far back as possible, that they neglect thorough research into the families of each ancestor’s siblings. By tracing all those lines forward in time, you’ll know what surnames to look for, both in your ancestral villages, and in the family trees of your DNA matches.

3. Get your surnames out there.

Genealogy blogs are a great way to make your research interests known and make it easy for you to be found by distant cousins who are interested in family history. Utilize the old-fashioned message boards and surname registries like the ones at Rootsweb, or post your surnames and geographic places associated with them in the alphabetized surname registry documents located in the “Files” section in Polish Genealogy on Facebook. You can also create an account at Genealodzy.pl, which is the home page of the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (Polish Genealogical Society, or PTG). Once your account is established, you can add your surnames and parishes of interest so that others can search for them from the site menu on the left of the home page.

4. Reach out in the right places.

Ancestry.com is not well known in Poland. Poles are more likely to use MyHeritage to host their family trees, so searching that site may produce better results when it comes to connecting with cousins. Many Poles have Facebook accounts, or you could try creating an account at NK (formerly known as Nasza Klasa, “Our Class”), a Polish social media site. The idea here is to search for individuals with your surnames of interest, who are living in or near the places associated with those surnames in your family tree. It may sound like a long shot, but it’s been known to work, especially if your surname of interest isn’t exceptionally popular. In addition, the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook has had its share of serendipitous cousin connections, so be sure to search the group’s history for your surnames and places of interest, in addition to adding them to the group’s surname registry files as mentioned previously.

5. When in Poland….

If you have the opportunity to visit Poland and would like to visit your ancestral villages while there, be sure to go with a genealogical tour guide or interpreter, since most of the elderly residents of the village, who might be most likely to remember your family names, will not speak English. The village sołtys should be your first stop, especially if it’s a small village, since he or she will be able to direct you to the homes of those who share your surnames. Be sure to bring some copies of your family tree with you, or at least the branch of the tree that’s relevant for that village, and some old family photos, as well as business cards or something with your contact information on it.

One of my favorite memories from my trip to Poland was meeting the widow of my 3rd cousin once removed, who was previously unknown to our family. After the sołtys gave us directions to her home, we knocked on the door, and when she answered, our translator explained who we were and that we were looking for relatives of my great-grandfather. She told us the names of her late husband, his father, and his grandfather, and recalled that the grandfather had worked for a few years in the U.S. before returning to Poland, although she didn’t recall where he went. Based on the information she shared at that time, I was sure we were related, although I was not able to obtain direct confirmation of the relationship until we were back home in the U.S. However, her Christmas card with opłatek and a warm note welcoming me to the family was something I will always cherish, and I continue to correspond with her daughter via e-mail.

Another great strategy shared by Dan Wolinski of the Polish Genealogy group is to leave notes on the monuments in the local cemetery. I thought this was really brilliant, and it worked out beautifully for Dan, whose note was discovered by a cousin while he was still in Poland, allowing an opportunity for a meeting. As with all these strategies, there are no guarantees, but if you happen to find a headstone with your surname of interest in the village cemetery, there’s a chance that the grave is being maintained by a relative. Write a note about the family you’re seeking, include your contact information, and have it translated into Polish by someone reputable. Seal it in a waterproof zipper-lock bag, tape it securely to the headstone, and cross your fingers.

When it comes to searching for relatives in Poland, you have little to lose, but everything to gain. If you try any of the strategies I suggest here, I’d love to hear how they work for you. And if you have any novel strategies that have been successful in the past, I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Happy hunting!

Note: William F. Hoffman, noted author, linguist, and editor for several publications relating to Polish Genealogy, made a further recommendation for places to list your surnames of interest. He suggested that the surname registry hosted by the popular Polish genealogical tour service, PolishOrigins, is another great place to put your surnames online so that others can find you easily. Thanks for the tip, Fred!

 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Face of Geneteka: A Tutorial

If you haven’t stopped by the popular Polish vital records database Geneteka lately, you’re in for a real treat. Our friends at the Polskie Towarzystwa Genealogiczne (PTG, the Polish Genealogical Society) have made some significant improvements to the search interface, making a good thing even better. This seems like a good time for a tutorial on how to use Geneteka, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it. I’ll highlight some of the improvements along the way, for those of you who already have some experience with this database.

What is Geneteka?

So what is Geneteka? As mentioned, it’s a database of Polish vital records that have been indexed by surname, from parishes and registry offices which are grouped according to the contemporary province in Poland in which they lie. Geneteka is part of a family of websites sponsored by the PTG. Each of these “sister sites” is wonderful in its own way, and several of these will probably be discussed in more detail in future blog posts. (One of these, Metryki, was already discussed in one of my previous blog posts.) But today, let’s focus on Geneteka.

At Geneteka’s home page, not much has changed. Here’s the page with English chosen as the language:

homepage

This main page offers an interactive map where we can click on the name of a province of interest, as well as a search box near the top right, where we can type in the name of a parish to see if records for that parish have been indexed here. Some indexes for locations in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine are also included. Below that search box, there is a list of Polish provinces. Click the name of a province to search for records from that entire province, as an alternative to clicking it on the map. To the right of the list of provinces, there is information on the number of parishes and civil registry offices that have been indexed for each province, as well as the total number of indexed records. From this we can get a feel for how good the coverage is for each particular area. For example, there are fewer than 300 parishes and registry offices that have been indexed for the Lesser Poland province (województwo małopolskie), with about half a million vital records, whereas there are over 1,700 parishes and registry offices indexed for the Mazovia province (województwo mazowieckie), with close to 6 million records.

It’s important to remember that Geneteka is still a work in progress. New indexes are being added weekly, all created by volunteers, who are the unsung heroes of the genealogy community, and to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude. However, many parishes have not yet been indexed at all, or have not yet been indexed for the particular range of years needed for one’s research. Therefore I still recommend that you determine your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin first, using records created in his new homeland, rather than trying to make the leap back to Poland by checking Geneteka first. It’s all too easy to attach spurious ancestors to one’s family tree by haphazard searches in Geneteka, especially if the surname is common, or there is a lack of identifying information such as parents’ names for the immigrant ancestor.

Starting a Search

With that caveat out of the way, we can move on to the nitty-gritty. Let’s take the example of a search for ancestors in Mazowieckie province. We click “Mazowieckie” on the map or in the list of provinces, and arrive at this screen:language

Immediately, a number of changes are apparent to those who have used this resource previously, but let’s start at the top. In the past, if one wished to use the site in English, it was necessary to change the language at the home page.  If a search was begun within records for a province, and one tried to switch to English, one was returned to the home page and all search results were lost. Now it’s possible to switch languages at any time during the search process, which is very convenient for those who might not be completely comfortable with Polish.

Next, we see that it is now possible to search using both a person’s surname (Nazwisko) as well as his given name (Imię). Note that diacritics aren’t important here, so you can type “Jozef Zielinski” and still find results for Józef Zieliński. Assuming we add no other identifying information, here’s what that search would produce:

jozef-zielinski

As you can see, there are over 25 pages of results, because as it happens, Zieliński is a very common Polish surname. As you look through the results, you’ll notice that the search algorithm is also designed to return not only the target name, but also names that are phonetically similar. This can be very helpful because surname spellings weren’t always consistent until perhaps the 1930s. However, if you only wish to see results for “Zieliński,” you can check the box for “Exact Search”/”Wyszukiwanie dokładne” and only results for “Zieliński” will be returned. Note that you still don’t have to enter correct diacritics even with an “exact” search: typing “Zielinski” will still give you results for “Zieliński.”

It should be noted that the “exact search” feature will also produce gender-specific results in cases where a given name is not specified. For example, if I search for “Zieliński” with no given name specified, I get even more results, but they’re for both Zieliński and Zielińska, as well as approximate phonetic matches. Searching for “Zieliński” with the “Exact Search” box checked will not only eliminate phonetic matches, it will also eliminate results for feminine surnames. Obviously, as soon as I specify a given name, I’m also excluding results for the opposite sex.

Results can be narrowed in other ways as well. At the top near the left, there is an option to narrow the range of years for which results are returned.

Jozef Zielinski 1885-1995.png

So by entering both a given name and narrowing the range of years, we’ve already cut our search results down to a mere 5+ pages.  Progress!  Of course, one of the best ways to narrow results is by using a second surname for the search. In this case, I know my great-grandfather Józef Zieliński was the son of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota. So even if I don’t narrow the range of years at all, if I just enter his mother’s maiden name in the second search box, I can immediately zero in on his family.

zielinski-kalota

Note that I didn’t bother to specify both his parents’ given names, even though I knew them. That’s because making a search too specific can lead you to miss documents that actually are for your family, but might have been recorded incorrectly (e.g. mother’s name written as Anna instead of Marianna). Some priests were much more careful about those details than others, so a good researcher must learn to critically evaluate all the data in a source to determine whether such an error is likely, or whether the evidence points to some other explanation, such as a second marriage.

Understanding the Search Results

Let’s take a closer look at how these results are displayed:zielinski-kalota-closeup

The first thing we notice — another recent improvement to Geneteka’s search interface — is that results for births, marriages and deaths appear on separate tabs, so it’s no longer necessary to search each type of vital event separately. The search algorithm is looking for any vital records which mention both surnames, Zieliński and Kalota, in any of the indexation columns. Note that records which might mention one of these names as a witness or godparents will not be returned, because at present, indexers are not instructed to include those data on the spreadsheet. On the births page, the results consist of baptismal records for the children of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota. The columns report the year and the record number for each entry, as well as both the parish, and the place within that parish, where the vital event occurred. In this case, we see that the first six births were recorded in Mistrzewice, while the last four were recorded in the neighboring parish of Młodzieszyn — even though the next column tells us that each child was still born in Mistrzewice.

So how do we interpret that? Does this change in parishes suggest that our ancestors could pick and choose what parish they baptized their child in, much as we do today?  No. It’s important to remember that Roman Catholic priests were also civil registrars in those days. Each village was assigned to a particular parish, and when a birth or death occurred in that village, villagers were required to report it to the parish in which the event occurred. In this case, it’s a bit of an historical sidenote, but this article explains that the parish in Mistrzewice was closed in 1898 and the village was transferred to the parish of Młodzieszyn. The timing explains perfectly the results we see here, wherein Władysław Zieliński was born and baptized in Mistrzewice in 1897, but his brother Jan was born in Mistrzewice and baptized in Młodzieszyn in 1899. So, if you see a sudden change in parish but the entry indicates that your ancestors’ village has remained the same, you may want to investigate the history of the parishes in that area to detect a reassignment or the establishment of a new parish.

Getting back to the discussion of Geneteka search results, you’ll notice that there are some little yellow “infodots” in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column on the far right.  If you hover your cursor over each of them, additional information is revealed. For example, in the first entry for Franciszek Zieliński, hovering over the “i” reveals his exact date of birth, 16 September 1886.frank-zielinski-dob

Similarly, hovering over the “Z” indicates the name of the archive that holds the original record which was indexed here. In this case, originals are at the Grodzisk branch of the State Archive of Warsaw. This is not to suggest that the copies might not also be found some other way, such as at one of the online repositories, or on microfilm from the FHL. In this case, there is a “scan” button which we can click to obtain a scan of this vital record. Hovering over the “A” reveals the name of the volunteer indexer to whom we owe our debt of gratitude.

Let’s take a look at the results obtained under the “marriages” tab for this same search.zielinski-marriages-closeup

It’s evident here that neither of these marriages pertains to my family. The basic search algorithm looks for the names “Zieliński”and “Kalota” or approximate phonetic variations thereof, in any data field from the original indexing spreadsheet. So in the first instance, it picked out a record for which the groom was Jan Kalot and his mother was Marianna Zielińska, from a marriage that took place in 1839 in the parish of Brzóza. In the second case, the algorithm returned the marriage record from Leszno for a groom named Jan Zieliński and his bride, Apolonia Osińska, whose mother was Franciszka Kalota. This is where another one of Geneteka’s new search options comes in very handy. Suppose you’re looking for a Zieliński groom and a Kalota bride, and you want the algorithm to ignore any results with those surnames in the fields for parents of the bride and groom. In that case, you can tick the box for “skip search in parents column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach.” If this search is repeated with that box ticked, there are zero search results, as expected. However, in other cases, it could be used to refine the search hits and reduce the extraneous results that are reported.

Let’s take a look at the results returned under the “deaths” tab before we move on to a further discussion of the new search tools. zielinski-deaths

These results aren’t too different from what we’ve seen previously, but you’ll notice that under the “remarks” column, there’s no “i” column that provides the precise date of death. In fact, as you explore Geneteka in more detail, you’re likely to notice that the content of each index varies quite a bit. Some indexes have scans attached, some do not. Some include only the names of the baptized child, the deceased, or the bride and groom, along with the year, the parish, and the record number, but no other identifying information, such as parents’ names. This is because Geneteka is an evolving entity. In its early days, these digital indexes were created from the year-end indexes that the priests made within each parish register. Presently, there is more of an emphasis on making the indexes as complete as possible, utilizing information from the records themselves.

Obtaining Scans

Having successfully identified some records of interest, how do we obtain those scans? Obviously, we start by clicking the “skan” button, but we also want to make note of the record number for the record of interest. For example, if we want to obtain the death record for Piotr Zieliński from 1891, we note the record number, 5, circled here:

Zielinski deaths

Now we click “skan,” and we’re taken to this screen:deaths 1891 In this case, the index entry is linked to a scan within the Metryki database, although some indexes are linked to scans in Szukajwarchiwach or possibly elsewhere. In the middle of the screen, where it says “Pliki” (“Files”), the scans are arranged according to the record numbers they contain. So for example, the scan entitled “01-02” holds death records 1 and 2 from Mistrzewice in 1891. Since Piotr’s death was #5, we want to click on the next file, circled here, which contains deaths 3-6. Clicking on that file takes us to the next screen, which is the scan of the record book itself.

piotr zielinski death

Since Mistrzwice was in Russian Poland and this death occurred after 1868, all records are in Russian. However, as was typical for vital events in this period, names of key participants were written first in Russian, then in Polish, so the viewable portion of the record shown here includes his given name in Russian, Петръ, as well as his full name in Polish, underlined in red. Two useful icons are circled above, on the left in this image:  the “ladder” icon takes us back to the preceding page, where we can select a file to view, and the “floppy disk” icon on the right will allow us to download a copy of this image.

Searching Within a Specified Parish

Since we know that my Zieliński family was from Mistrzewice before 1898 when the parish switched, it’s possible to choose to view just the records from that parish by selecting the parish from the drop-down menu below the province name. This is not a new feature, but we now have the additional option of changing the province while keeping all the search parameters the same, instead of having to change the province, then retype all the search parameters. Here is the result of a basic search for “Zielinski” just in the parish of Mistrzewice.Mistrzewice

Note that timeline bar that I circled in red. This tells us exactly what marriage records have been indexed for this parish. Although this information was included previously in the “parish” drop-down menu, it’s nice to have the graphic depiction. The bar will change as you select births or deaths if different ranges of years have been indexed for those vital events. It’s very important to pay attention to these ranges of years for indexed records, because more often than not, this explains why we don’t find a particular vital event in Geneteka, even when we know that event took place in a particular parish. In some cases, such as this example for Mistrzewice, all existing records for a parish have been indexed on Geneteka. If a record is not found there, it no longer exists. However, in other cases, the problem is merely that the record has not yet been indexed but is still available if you know where to look.

Sometimes it happened that our Polish ancestors moved around a bit within the general area of the ancestral village we originally identified. To address this issue, Geneteka offers the option to include in the search all parishes within 15 km of a selected parish. For example, records from Mistrzewice told me that my great-great-grandmother Antonina (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska was the daughter of Jan Ciećwierz and Katarzyna Grzelak, and that Jan Ciećwierz was the son of Wojciech Ciećwierz and Katarzyna, whose maiden name was not specified. A search of Mistrzewice plus nearby parishes for surnames “Ciecwierz” and “Grzelak” produces four records for my family in Mistrzewice, but also a marriage record for Jan’s sister, Marianna Ciećwierz, to Karol Grzelak in Mikołajew in 1830.search-nearby

The actual parishes included in this search, as well as their distance from the specified parish, are shown here. Again, remember that there might be additional parishes within a 15 km radius of the target parish, but if they aren’t indexed, they won’t show up here.

These particular search results illustrate another issue to consider when designing search strategies: the earlier records are less likely to mention a mother’s maiden name. Even if you have a hint of a maiden name from one document or another, it’s better to leave it off and search according to given names. So let’s say we want to follow up now on that hint about Mikołajew and search for children of Wojciech and Katarzyna Ciećwierz. When we search in Mikołajew for children of surname “Ciecwierz” and given name “Wojciech” paired with given name “Katarzyna” we obtain the following:mikolajew-ciecwierz

So far, so good. We have 5 children born between 1810 and 1824, a reasonable range of years, to parents Wojciech and Katarzyna, all born in the village of Wyczółki within the parish of Mikołajew. But we have two different maiden names reported for the mother, Pietrzak and Szymaniak. Hmm…. did Katarzyna Pietrzak die after 1820 and did her husband remarry a woman named Katarzyna Szymaniak before 1824? And where is Jan Ciećwierz, my ancestor, the father of Antonina Zielińska?

The answer to the first question is another story for another day, but the answer to the second question offers a nice opportunity to illustrate another search tool offered by Geneteka, which is wildcard searching. A wildcard is a character that can be used to replace other characters in a search string. Geneteka allows the use of the asterisk (*) to replace one or more characters in a search term. (The use of “?” to replace just one letter is not supported, however.) There are definitely times when it’s advantageous to search this way, but understanding when that is requires a bit of a deeper discussion about Geneteka’s search algorithms.

Geneteka’s Search Algorithms and Wildcard Searches

The indexers at Geneteka are instructed to record surnames as they are written in the record, without making an attempt to standardize them according to modern spelling rules.  Consequently certain letter combinations are treated as equivalents, so names with an e/ew, such as Olszeski and Olszewski are equivalent, as are oy/oj names like Woyciechowski/Wojciechowski, and ei/ej names like Szweikowski and Szwejkowski.  Similarly, search results include common phonetic substitutions, such as changing “sz” to “ś” such that searching for “Szczygielski” will include results for “Ścigielska,” and “Szcześniak” will include results for “Sciesniak.” Although “ż” is phonetically equivalent to “rz,” Geneteka does not equate “z” with “rz,” because it ignores diacritics so it “sees” z, ź and ż as equivalents. Consequently, names like “Zażycki” and “Zarzycki” need to be searched separately.

Since the original records indexed in Geneteka might be in Polish, Russian, German or Latin, the indexers must be familiar with those languages, and the search engine must be able to handle transliterations between these languages.   Therefore we find that the German “ü” is interchangeable with “u”, “fitz” with “fic”, etc.  A search on the name “Schmidt,” for example, results in a wide range of phonetic equivalents:  Szmit, Schmiedt, Schmit, Szmitt, etc.  In addition, the search engine truncates names ending in “e”, “y” or “a,” so searching for Mischke will result in Miszka and Mischka.

Going back to our present example, this means that Geneteka’s search algorithm automatically equates “Ciecwierz” with “Ciećwierz” and reports results for each, as in the above example. However, some approximate phonetic matches might nonetheless be missed. So if we repeat the search using “C*” instead of “Ciećwierz,” we find my missing ancestor:jan-ciecwierz

Ta da!  There’s Jan’s birth in 1815, which fits precisely with the year of birth suggested by his death record from Mistrzewice.

What’s immediately apparent here is how many variant spellings of Ciećwierz and related surnames are not returned by Geneteka’s search algorithm, including Czetwirz, Ciecwierski, Cieczwierz, etc. Additional careful research, including full review of the documents themselves from the diocesan archive in Łowicz, is needed before I can state with confidence which of these records pertain to my family and which don’t. But without doing a wildcard search, I would have missed out on finding many of these.

Now suppose I want to find marriages for children of Wojciech and Katarzyna Ciećwierz in Mikołajew or in any of the surrounding (indexed) parishes. If I repeat this search, checking the “search nearby parishes” box, I get the following:marriages search not as a pair

Some of the results returned are marriages for grooms named Wojciech C* and brides named Katarzyna, but results are also returned for marriages in which the groom’s father was Wojciech and the bride’s mother was Katarzyna, or the bride was Katarzyna and her father was Wojciech, etc. — not what we’re looking for. To eliminate these stray hits and help us focus on the results we want, there’s a new feature, “Relationship search/wyszukaj jako para,” which allows us to search using the specified names as a pair.  When we repeat this search after checking this box, the results include only those marriages between a groom named Wojciech C* and a bride named Katarzyna, or those marriages for which both Wojciech C* and Katarzyna were named as the parents of either the bride or the groom.

Marriages search as a pair

Finally, for those of you who find searching in Geneteka to be addicting, there is a new feature which allows you to search only indexes which have been added recently (past day, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 31 days).

Recent additions

In my case, repeating this search with that box ticked indicates that none of these indexes which include my Ciećwierz ancestors have been added recently, so apparently I’m late to the party, just now tripping over these ancestors who have been waiting here for me, deep within the wonder that is Geneteka.

“Ask not what Geneteka can do for you….”

Hopefully this discussion will give you a better idea of how you can search Geneteka effectively to find your ancestors in Poland. Of course, no discussion of Geneteka can be complete without a final word of gratitude to the volunteer indexers and the PTG, and also an appeal to those of you who find this tool as helpful as I do. If you’re competent with reading vital records in Polish, Russian, German or Latin and want to give back to the genealogical community, please consider volunteering to index records for Geneteka yourself.  Most volunteers index records from their own parishes of interest, which is why it’s not possible to submit requests for particular parishes to be indexed. Indexing instructions are provided.. ”

Maybe you don’t feel comfortable with indexing, or don’t have the time?  You can still help out by making a donation to the project.  Although all the records for both Geneteka and its sister site, Metryki, are indexed or photographed by volunteers, the PTG still must pay for server space to host these online, and those costs add up.  If we hope to see this valuable resource remain online and free to everyone, donations are needed, and every little bit helps.  Happy hunting!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Those Infamous Border Changes: A Crash Course in Polish History

Newcomers to Polish genealogy often start with a few misconceptions.  Many Americans have only a dim understanding of the border changes that occurred in Europe over the centuries, and in fairness, keeping up with all of them can be quite a challenge, as evidenced by this timelapse video that illustrates Europe’s geopolitical map changes since 1000 AD.  So it’s no wonder that I often hear statements like, “Grandma’s family was Polish, but they lived someplace near the Russian border.”  Statements like this presuppose that Grandma’s family lived in “Poland” near the border between “Poland” and Russia.  However, what many people don’t realize is that Poland didn’t exist as an independent nation from 1795-1918.

How did this happen and what were the consequences for our Polish ancestors?  At the risk of vastly oversimplifying the story, I’d like to present a few highlights of Polish history that beginning Polish researchers should be aware of as they start to trace their family’s origins in “the Old Country.”

Typically, the oldest genealogical records that we find for our Polish ancestors date back to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which existed from 1569-1795.  At the height of its power, the Commonwealth looked like this (in red), superimposed over the current map (Figure 1):1

Figure 1:  Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth at its maximum extent, in 1619.1polish-lithuanian_commonwealth_at_its_maximum_extent-svg

The beginning of the end for the Commonwealth came in 1772, with the first of three partitions which carved up Polish lands among the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian Empires.  The second partition, in which only the Russian and Prussian Empires participated, occurred in 1793.  After the third partition in 1795, among all three empires, Poland vanished from the map (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Map of the Partitions of Poland, courtesy of Wikimedia.2partitions-of-poland

This map gets trotted out a lot in Polish history and genealogy discussions because we often explain to people about those partitions, but I don’t especially like it because it sometimes creates the misconception that this was how things still looked by the late 1800s/early 1900s when most of our Polish immigrant ancestors came over.  In reality, time marched on, and the map kept changing. By 1807, just twelve years after that final partition of Poland, the short-lived Duchy of Warsaw (Figure 3) was created by Napoleon as a French client state.  At this time, Napoleon also introduced a paragraph-style format of civil vital registration, so civil records from this part of “Poland” are easily distinguishable from church records.

Figure 3:  Map of the Duchy of Warsaw (Księstwo Warszawskie), 1807-1809. 3duchy_of_warsaw_1807-1809

During its brief history, the Duchy of Warsaw managed to expand its borders to the south and east a bit thanks to territories taken from the Austrian Empire, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4:  Map of the Duchy of Warsaw, 1809-1815.4duchy_of_warsaw_1809-1815

However, by 1815, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Duchy of Warsaw was divided up again at the Congress of Vienna, which created the Grand Duchy of Posen (Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie), Congress Poland (Królestwo Polskie), and the Free City of Kraków.  These changes are summarized in Figure 5.

Figure 5:  Territorial Changes in Poland, 1815 5territorial_changes_of_poland_1815

The Grand Duchy of Posen was a Prussian client state whose capital was the city of Poznań (Posen, in German).  This Grand Duchy was eventually replaced by the Prussian Province of Posen in 1848.  Congress Poland was officially known as the Kingdom of Poland but is often called “Congress Poland” in reference to its creation at the Congress of Vienna, and as a means to distinguish it from other Kingdoms of Poland which existed at various times in history. Although it was a client state of Russia from the start, Congress Poland was granted some limited autonomy (e.g. records were kept in Polish) until the November Uprising of 1831, after which Russia retaliated with curtailment of Polish rights and freedoms. The unsuccessful January Uprising of 1863 resulted in a further tightening of Russia’s grip on Poland, erasing any semblance of autonomy which the Kingdom of Poland had enjoyed. The territory was wholly absorbed into the Russian Empire, and this is why family historians researching their roots in this area will see a change from Polish-language vital records to Russian-language records starting about 1868.  The Free, Independent, and Strictly Neutral City of Kraków with its Territory (Wolne, Niepodległe i Ściśle Neutralne Miasto Kraków z Okręgiem), was jointly controlled by all three of its neighbors (Prussia, Russia, and Austria), until it was annexed by the Austrian Empire following the failed Kraków Uprising in 1846.

By the second half of the 19th century, things had settled down a bit.  The geopolitical map of “Poland” didn’t change during the time from the 1880s through the early 1900s, when most of our ancestors emigrated, until the end of World War I when Poland was reborn as a new, independent Polish state.  The featured map at the top (shown again in Figure 6) is one of my favorites, because it clearly defines the borders of Galicia and the various Prussian and Russian provinces commonly mentioned in documents pertaining to our ancestors.

Figure 6:  Central and Eastern Europe in 1900, courtesy of easteurotopo.org, used with permission.6europe_map_large

Although the individual provinces within the former Congress Poland are not named due to lack of space, a nice map of those is shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7:  Administrative map of Congress Poland, 1907.7  (Note that some sources still refer to the these territories as “Congress Poland” even after 1867, but this name does not reflect the existence of any independent government apart from Russia.)polska_1907_adm

The Republic of Poland that was created at the end of World War I, commonly known as the Second Polish Republic, is shown in Figure 8.  The borders are shifted to the east relative to present-day Poland, including parts of what is now Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus.  This territory that was part of Poland between the World Wars, but is excluded from today’s Poland, is known as the Kresy.

Figure 8:  Map of the Second Polish Republic showing borders from 1921-1939.8rzeczpospolitaii

During the dark days of World War II, Poland was occupied by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  About 6 million Polish citizens died during this occupation, mostly civilians, including about 3 million Polish Jews.9  After the war, the three major allied powers (the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) redrew the borders of Europe yet again and created a Poland that excluded the Kresy, but included the territories of East Prussia, West Prussia, Silesia, and most of Pomerania.10, 11 At the same time, the Western leaders betrayed Poland and Eastern Europe by effectively handing these countries over to Stalin and permitting the creation of the Communist Eastern Bloc.12

To conclude, let’s take a look at how these border changes affected the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in present-day Słupca County, Wielkopolskie province, where my great-grandmother was born.  This village was originally in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but then became part of Prussia after the second partition in 1793.  In 1807 it fell solidly within the borders of the Duchy of Warsaw, but by 1815 it lay right on the westernmost edge of the Kalisz province of Russian-controlled Congress Poland.  After 1867, the vital records are in Russian, reflecting the tighter grip that Russia exerted on Poland at that time, until 1918 when Kowalewo-Opactwo became part of the Second Polish Republic.  Do these border changes imply that our ancestors weren’t Poles, but were really German or Russian? Hardly. Ethnicity and nationality aren’t necessarily the same thing. Time and time again, ethnic Poles attempted to overthrow their Prussian, Russian or Austrian occupiers, and those uprisings speak volumes about our ancestors’ resentment of those national governments and their longing for a free Poland. As my Polish grandma once told me, “If a cat has kittens in a china cabinet, you don’t call them teacups.”

Sources:

1Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at its maximum extent” by Samotny Wędrowiec, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed 9 January 2017.

Rzeczpospolita Rozbiory 3,” by Halibutt, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed 9 January 2017.

3 Map of the Duchy of Warsaw, 1807-1809,” by Mathiasrex, based on layers of kgberger, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0., accessed 9 January 2017.

4“Map of the Duchy of Warsaw, 1809-1815” by Mathiasrex, based on layers of kgberger, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed 9 January 2017.

5 “Territorial Changes of Poland, 1815,” by Esemono, is in the public domain, accessed 9 January 2017.

6 “Central and Eastern Europe in 1900,” Topgraphic Maps of Eastern Europe:  An Atlas of the Shtetl, used with permission, accessed 9 January 2017.

7 “Administrative Map of Kingdom of Poland from 1907,” by Qquerim, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed 9 January 2017.

8 RzeczpospolitaII,” is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed 9 January 2017.

9 Occupation of Poland (1939-1945),” Wikipedia, accessed 9 Janary 2017.

10  “Potsdam Conference,” Wikipedia, accessed 9 January 2017.

11 Territorial changes of Poland immediately after World War II,” Wikipedia, accessed 9 January 2017.

12 “Western betrayal,” Wikipedia, accessed 9 January 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Thank Goodness for Godparents! Researching my Ancestors’ FANS, Part II

In my last post, I wrote about using Elizabeth Shown Mills’ FAN principle with an emphasis on godparents, as a means to extend one’s family history research in the absence of direct evidence.  As Mills defines it, “FAN” is an acronym for Friends, Associates, and Neighbors, and godparents fall squarely into that category. Previously, I had analyzed data from the Polish vital records database Geneteka, and discovered a woman named Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska, who might have been a cousin or sister of my great-great-grandmother, Antonina Naciążek.  To gather additional evidence to substantiate this hypothesis, I examined the godparents of Antonina’s children to see if Marianna Kowalska was named among them.  Sure enough, one of the godmothers was a Marianna Kowalska, and even given the popularity of the Kowalski surname, it seems likely that she is the same as the woman I suspect to be my great-great-grandmother’s sister (or cousin, at least), under the circumstances.

This kind of analysis can also be used in reverse, to suggest a possible mother’s maiden name, which is what I’d like to illustrate today.  A few years ago I was working on my Schulmerich line which I had traced back to Hillesheim, Mainz-Bingen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.  Records are on microfilm from the LDS, but they’re also indexed and searchable online at Family Search.  I had worked my way back to my 5x-great-grandparents, Johann Georg Schulmerich and Anna Margaretha Appelmann, who were married in 1797 (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Marriage record from Hillesheim (kr. Oppenheim) for Johann Georg Schulmerich and Anna Margaretha Appelmann, 5 July 1797.1j-georg-schulmerich-am-appelmann-1797

In translation, this reads, “July.  On the 5th day of this [month] were married the honorable widower Georg Schulberich, townsman residing in Hillesheim, with the honorable, upright maiden Anna Margaretha Appelmaenn, surviving daughter of the late townsman Michael Appelmann. [The marriage was] blessed by the Most Reverend Pastor of the parish in Hilsheim before the congregation and in the presence of required witnesses.”

As you can see, the parents of Georg Schulmerich are not mentioned.  The record indicates that he was married previously, however, which is a valuable clue.  Perhaps his first marriage record contains his parents’ names?  A search of indexed records at Family Search suggests that Georg’s first wife was Apollonia Weber, as there are a number of birth records for children of Georg Schulmerich and Apollonia Weber that can be found in the parish records for Weinolsheim, just 5 km north of Hillesheim.  Unfortunately, no marriage record for Georg and Apollonia was found in any of the indexed records on Family Search, nor was I able to find one in the microfilmed records for Weinolsheim that the indexers might have missed.

Lacking a marriage record, we can still estimate that Georg Schulmerich married Apollonia Weber circa 1786-1787, since existing birth records suggest that their oldest child was their daughter Anna Maria, and Georg and Apollonia were already “conjuges legitimi” (lawfully married spouses) by the time she was born in October 1787 (Figure 2).2

Figure 2:  Baptismal record from Hillesheim for Anna Maria Schulmerich, born 4 (?) October 1787.2anna-maria-schulmerich-1787

Assuming that Georg was at least 18 when he married, and probably a few years old than that, this suggests a birth year between about 1761 and 1768.  Lo, and behold!  There’s a birth record that fits perfectly for Johann Georg Schulmerich in in the records of Hillesheim in 1766 (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Baptismal record for Johann Georg Schulmerich, baptized 21 December 1766 in Hillesheim.3johann-georg-schulmerich-1766

In translation, this record reads, “[On] 27th December in Hillesheim was baptized Johann Georg, [son of] the lawful spouses Philipp and Margaretha Schulmerich, [who was] lifted up by Johann Georg Lindhoff.”  The word “levabet” that appears in this record is presumably a misspelling of “levavit,” meaning, “lifted up.”  This is a reference to the child’s godfather, who lifts him out of the waters of the baptismal font during the sacrament of baptism.  The record even includes Johann Georg’s death date, 20 March 1836, in the marginal note.  This is another valuable clue because it suggests that the Johann Georg Schulmerich who was baptized here, remained in the parish until his death, which is consistent with what we know of “my” Johann Georg Schulmerich.

For those who might not be familiar with German genealogy, it’s worth mentioning that the difference in the names used on the marriage and baptismal records, “Georg” on the marriage vs. “Johann Georg” on the baptismal, is not cause for concern.  According to German tradition, it was common for all the boys in a family to be  baptized with the first name Johann, and then called by their middle name (see this article for more details).  So although the names on the records are not a problem, and the date of baptism fits with what we’d expect for “our” Johann Georg Schulmerich, there is still the problem of no maiden name for Margaretha Schulmerich.  Maybe it’s recorded on the birth record of one of their other children?

A search in the indexed records at Family Search for children of Philipp Schulmerich and Margaretha, no maiden name specified, results in four birth records, which are summarized in Figure 4.

Figure 4:  Summary of Information Recorded in Baptismal Records for Children of Philipp and Margaretha Schulmerich.

baptism-summary-table

From this, we can guess that Philipp and Margaretha Elisabeth were married circa 1765-1766, since Johann Georg appears to be their oldest child.  Although the spacing of births is typical, the relatively small number of children suggests that Margaretha died young, assuming that she was in her late teens or early 20s when she began having children.  Once again, a search of the indexed records for the Rhinehessen region on FamilySearch failed to produce Philipp and Margaretha’s marriage record or a death record for either of them, nor were these found in a subsequent search of microfilmed records. However, the fact that Johann Georg remained in the parish, as did his sister Anna Elisabeth, suggests an error or omission on the part of the priest keeping the records, rather than a migration out of the area.

So, is this the end of the line?  Can we learn anything more about this family? Of course we can! Note that two of the godmothers had the maiden name Hausmann, and one was a Schulmerich.  The godmother, Maria Magdalena Schulmerich, might have been either a sister or sister-in-law to Philipp, but the sparsely available records from this time period offer no insight there. However, a search for Anna Elisabeth Hausmann’s birth record turns up a promising candidate:  one Anna Elisabeth Hausmann, born in 1744 in Hillesheim (Figure 5).

Figure 5:  Baptismal record for Anna Elisabeth Hausmann, baptized 30 October 1744 in Hillesheim.7anna-elisabetha-hausmann-1744

In translation, this states, “On the 30th day of October in Hillesheim was baptized Anna Elisabeth, legitimate daughter of the spouses Nicolaus and Christina Haussmann, [she was] lifted up by Anna Elisabeth Schad.”

Nicolaus and Christina Hausmann!  Might there be more records for their children, and might these records include evidence for a daughter named Margaretha Elisabetha?  Since her oldest son, Johann Georg Schulmerich, was born in 1766, we can guess that Margaretha would have been born circa 1746.  And voilà!  The FamilySearch index shows nine births to Nicolaus and Christina Haussmann including the births of daughters Margaretha Elisabetha in 1743 (Figure 6) and Maria Charlotta, who was noted as the godmother of Maria Charlotta Schulmerich.

Figure 6:  Baptismal record for Margaretha Elisab. Haussmann, baptized 2 January 1743 in Hillesheim.8margaretha-elisabetha-hausmann-1743

 

In translation, this record reads, “On the 2nd day of January in Hillesheim was baptized Margaretha Elisab., legitimate daughter of the spouses Nicolaus and Christina Haussmann, [she was] lifted up by Margaretha Rudolf, single.”

Taken all together, this is pretty good indirect evidence that Margaretha Elisabeth Haussmann, daughter of Nicolaus and Christina, was the wife of Johann Georg Schulmerich.  Paying attention to the names of the godparents paid off, and I was able to push the family tree back one more generation.  It should be noted that this information is only available when one views the images of the parish register on microfilm — the FamilySearch index does not include godparents’ names.  This is one of many reasons why one should never rely solely on the information found in an online index, which is a common rookie mistake.  So the next time you think you’ve hit a brick wall with researching your Catholic ancestors, take a look at the list of people they asked to be godparents to their children.  You just might find some clues in there!

Sources:

Roman Catholic Church (Nieder Saulheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1756-1797,” 1797, Marriage record for Georgius Schulberich and Anna Margaretha Appelmaenn.; FHL Film #997333 Item 2.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” Baptisms, 1787, record for Anna Maria Schulmerich.; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1766, Baptisms, record for Johannes Georgius Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” Baptisms, 1768, record for Anna Elisabetha Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

5 Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1770, Baptisms, record for Maria Magdalena Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1773, Baptisms, record for Maria Charlotta Schulmerich; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1744, Baptisms, record for Anna Elisabetha Haussman; FHL Film #949088.

Roman Catholic Church (Weinolsheim [Kr. Oppenheim], Mainz-Bingen, Rheinhessen, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1740-1876,” 1743, Baptisms, record for Margaretha Elisab. Haussmann; FHL Film #949088.

Featured Image:  Pietro Longhi, The Baptism, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, accessed on 11 January 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

50+ Useful Websites for Polish Genealogy

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens….”  Like Maria in The Sound of Music, we all have lists of our favorite things.  For me, there are quite a few Polish genealogy websites that are on my list of favorite things.  With that in mind, and with Christmas right around the corner, here are some of my favorite online resources for Polish genealogy.  Some of these bear futher mention in future blog posts, and I’ll probably get around to discussing them in greater detail at some point.  For now, give it a look, maybe you’ll find something new that will help with your research. (And in case you were wondering, I’m calling it “50+” because some of the links are to related sites, so number them as you wish.) Happy hunting!

Maps, Phonetic Gazetteers, and Period Gazetteers:                            

Jewish Gen Gazetteer (www.jewishgen.org/communities/loctown.asp):

  • An indispensable Soundex-type (phonetic) gazetteer for identifying villages for which the name is spelled incorrectly on a U.S. document. For more hits, try using the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, rather than Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching.

Kresy Gazetteer (http://www.kami.net.pl/kresy/):

  • This is a fantastic site for determining parish for villages in the eastern border regions (Kresy) that formerly belonged to Poland (Second Polish Republic) but are now located in western Ukraine, western Belarus, and southeastern Lithuania.
  • Soundex-style allows you to search without knowing the exact spelling of the place name, if you select “similar” (Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex) or “rough” as your search method.

Mapa.szukacz.pl (http://mapa.szukacz.pl/):

  • Does not show parish for a village, but does show current administrative divisions including the gmina (useful if you want to write to the USC for a record less than 100 years old).
  • Only shows villages within current borders of Poland.
  • Polish diacritics don’t matter (i.e. a search for “lodz” will give you “Łódź”.)
  • Advanced search allows you to search within a specific Voivodeship; useful when searching for places like “Nowa Wieś.”

Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/Slownik_geograficzny/):

  • Coverage includes all localities in the former Polish provinces of Russia, most localities in the former Austrian province of Galicia (now divided between Poland and the Ukraine), Belorussian provinces of the Russian Empire (now in the Republic of Belarus), and also contains significant localities in other Slavic and eastern European nations; Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. While the information is a bit less comprehensive, localities from the provinces of Poznan, West Prussia, East Prussia, Silesia, and Pomerania are also covered.
  • Published between 1880-1902 in 15 volumes.
  • Contains information on parishes, history, population, etc.
  • Abbreviations are common; assistance can be found at PGSA website (below)
  • Must use proper Polish diacritics (i.e. a search for “lodz” will yield no result, but a search for “Łódź” will give multiple hits)

PGSA Translated Słownik geograficzny entries (http://pgsa.org/polish-history/translated-descriptions-of-polish-villages-and-provinces/ and related pages, http://pgsa.org/polish-history/translated-descriptions-of-polish-villages-and-provinces/glossary-of-unfamiliar-terms/, etc.:

  • Defines abbreviations and explains historical context for Słownik entries; also offers English translations for a limited number of villages.

Polish Roots Translated SGKP entries (http://www.polishroots.org/GeographyMaps/S%C5%82ownikGeograficzny/tabid/61/Default.aspx):

  • Similar to the above site, but different coverage.

Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego (https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra/publication/11404/edition/10794/content?ref=desc for Volume 1 and https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra/show-content/publication/edition/10795?id=10795 for Volume 2):

  • Seems to work best with Microsoft Edge or Firefox as your browser. Incompatible with some (or all?) versions of Google Chrome.
  • Will need to install a Deja Vu reader onto your computer to read these files. Follow instructions at website for downloading (the site will prompt you) or you can download it here.  Running the most current version of Java is also important. Easy-to-read, tabular format shows name of village, gubernia/governate, powiat/county, gmina/township, parafia/parish, as well as sąd pokoju/courthouse, and poczta/post office.
  • Published in 1877.
  • Includes only the Kingdom of Poland (Congress Poland, or “Russian Poland”) – not Galicia or Prussian Poland.

Kartenmeister (http://www.kartenmeister.com/preview/databaseuwe.asp):

  • Includes Eastprussia, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia.
  • Flexible search parameters; can search by German or Polish name of village, or use other methods.
  • Catholic or Evangelical parish for the village is usually included in search results.

Gesher Galicia Town Locator (http://www.geshergalicia.org/galician-town-locator/):

  • If you’ve got the correct spelling of a town, this is a great resource because it includes places of worship for people from all towns and villages in Galicia as of 1900.

Genealogische Orts-Verzeichnis (GOV), The Historic Gazetteer (http://gov.genealogy.net/search/index):

  • This German-language database includes locations around the world. It searches for the character string typed in the search box (truncate by leaving off as many letters as desired). The results list includes the type of location, the higher level jurisdictions, and the current postal code, and includes links to additional articles about this place for further reading.

Meyers gazetteer (http://www.meyersgaz.org/index.aspx):

  • This is an online, searchable version of the popular Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs The goal of the Meyer’s compilers was to list every place name in the German Empire (1871-1918). It gives the location, i.e. the state and other jurisdictions, where the civil registry office was and parishes if that town had them. It also gives lots of other information about each place. The only drawback to Meyer’s is that if a town did not have a parish, it does not tell where the parish was, making reference to other works necessary.

Brian Lenius’s Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia (http://www.lenius.ca/gazetteerorder/gazetteerorderform.htm ):

  • Not an online resource, but this gazetteer is available in print from the author, and is considered to be a superlative resource for those with ancestors from Galicia.

Bigo’s Skorowidz of Galicia, 1918 (Skorowidz wszystkich miejscowości z przysiółkami w Królestwie Galicyi, Wielkim Księstwem Krakowskim i Księstwie Bukowińskim, wydanie V – Bigo Jan, 1918) (http://www.mtg-malopolska.org.pl/images/skany/skorowidz1918djvu/skorowidz1918.djvu):

  • Like the Skorowidz of 1877, you need a Deja Vu reader to view these files.
  • Tabular format includes columns for village name, the county and district council, district court and tax office, parish office, population, post office, klm distance (from the post office), telegraph office, klm distance (from the telegraph office), and the owner of the “Major estate” in a village, as opposed to the owners of the “minor estates” (commoners).
  • Roman Catholic parishes are distinguished from Greek Catholic by the use of “ł” (abbreviation for “łaciński,”) or “gr” (abbreviation for “grecki”) next to the name of the parish that served that locality. The word “loco” means that there was a parish within that location.

Index of Place Names in the Republic of Poland (Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) (http://www.wbc.poznan.pl/dlibra/docmetadata?id=12786&from=publication ):

  • Like the Skorowidz of 1877, you need a Deja Vu reader to view these files.
  • Published circa 1933, it covers locations that were within the borders of the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939).
  • Tabular format again, includes villages in the eastern border regions (Kresy) that formerly belonged to Poland but are now located in western Ukraine, western Belarus, and southeastern Lithuania.

3rd Military Mapping Survey of Austria-Hungary (http://lazarus.elte.hu/hun/digkonyv/topo/3felmeres.htm):

  • Contrary to what the name suggests, maps include places that were in Russian Poland and Prussian Poland.
  • Individual maps can be downloaded by right-clicking on them.
  • 1:200,000 scale resolution shows most small villages.
  • Place names may be in Polish or German.
  • Does not cover the northern third (approximately) of modern Poland.

Map Archive of Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny 1919 – 1939 (http://www.mapywig.org/):

  • Mapywig is a treasure-trove of maps in a variety of different scales, time periods, and resolutions.
  • Maps might be in Polish, German or Russian.
  • An overview (in English) can be found here.
  • Clicking on a map quadrant in the index will take you to a page showing all the maps available for that quadrant, which vary in resolution and date of map.
  • Offers full coverage of northern Poland, unlike the maps at the Lazarus site (above).

Mapire:  Historical Maps of the Hapsburg Empire (http://mapire.eu/en/):

  • This is a really fun site if you have ancestors from Galicia.  It includes maps from the first, second and third military surveys of the Austrian Empire and allows you to overlay these maps with modern maps and vary the transparency between the two.

Sources for locating vital records in Poland:

Note:  Sites marked with * are primary sources, at which actual images of the records can be obtained.  Sites marked with § are indexes for records; copies of the records themselves must be obtained from another source.

*LDS FHL microfilms (https://familysearch.org/catalog-search):

  • Not an online source for records, but all researchers should be aware of this option nonetheless. Check back regularly — the FHL has been digitizing more and more of their microfilms and changes are NOT reflected on their “Poland Research” page (below). You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that some of your favorite microfilms are now online.

*§Family Search digitized or indexed collections for Poland: (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/location/1927187):

  • Collections exist for Roman Catholic dioceses of Lublin, Radom, Częstochowa, and Gliwice, with images; index-only records exist for the Diocese of Tarnów.  There’s also a collection of curiously-named “Evangelical” Church records. 1700-2005, that not only includes Baptist and Lutheran records but also Greek Catholic records from Sulmice in the Lublin province.

*Szukajwarchiwach, “Search the Archives” (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/):

  • Use proper Polish diacritics for best results.  Often you’ll get results without them, and it may be an old bug that has since been fixed, but if you get no results without diacritics, repeat the search with them.
  • For best results, search according to parish or gmina name rather than village name. The exception for this is for records from Galicia/Austrian Poland, where separate books were kept for each village within a parish, so you may find villages indexed individually.
  • Check box for “Vital records and civil registers” to limit search results.
  • Detailed instructions for using (with screen shots!) can be found at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/a/af/Polish_State_Archives.pdf

*Metryki.GenBaza (http://metryki.genbaza.pl/):

  • Must create an account at http://genpol.com/ first in order to access records, and must log in each time.
  • Some overlap with Metryki.Genealodzy.pl in terms of records collections, but contains many parishes not found elsewhere online.
  • Use of site in Polish is recommended; portions of site are not usable in English (am error message will result — although again, this might be an old bug that has since been fixed, as I haven’t had this happen in a while).

*§Genealodzy.pl websites:  Geneszukacz, Geneteka, Metryki, Poczekalnia (http://genealodzy.pl/):

Geneteka: http://geneteka.genealodzy.pl/

  • Surname-indexed records searchable by individual parish or entire province.
  • Can input a second surname to find all children of a given couple; can also limit range of years.
  • Polish diacritics not important, and searches for the masculine version of a surname will return results for both genders (i.e. “Zielinski” à Zieliński and Zielińska).
  • Can be helpful if only some information about an ancestors’ birthplace (e.g. county) is known, but not the precise location; however, only a small fraction of Polish parishes are indexed to date, so there is a risk of chasing down the wrong ancestors if Geneteka is used in an attempt to side-step preliminary research in U.S. documents.
  • Some indexed records are linked to scans of documents within the Metryki.Genealodzy.pl collection or at Szukajwarchiwach.

*Metryki.Genealodzy.pl: http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/

  • More than just a repository of scans for records indexed at Geneteka, Metryki often contains different parishes or different ranges of years for parishes indexed on Geneteka.  See this post for more information.

*Poczekalnia (“Waiting Room”): http://poczekalnia.genealodzy.pl/

  • Records waiting to be indexed and added to Geneteka. Click on “Wejście” (entrance) to get to the directory of parish records, grouped according to the archive from which they were obtained.

*AGAD (Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie, Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw): http://www.agad.gov.pl/inwentarze/testy.html

  • Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant records from parts of Eastern Poland which are now located in Ukraine.

*Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu:  http://www.przemysl.ap.gov.pl/skany/

  • Has Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic records from parishes in the Przemyśl area. Most of these records are also available from Szukajwarchiwarch, but there are a few parishes for which records are only online here, and NOT at that site as well.

*State Archive in Olsztyn: http://www.olsztyn.ap.gov.pl/apnet/wybierz.php

  • Has vital records from some villages in this area formerly located in East Prussia; click “Skan Digitalizacja,” and then use the drop-down menu under “Nazwa zespołu” (name of the collection) to find a town based on current Polish names, or use “Nazwa oryginala” to look up record sets based on former German names.

*State Archive in Szczecin: http://www.szczecin.ap.gov.pl/iCmsModuleArchPublic/showDocuments/nrap/65

  • Has vital records from some villages in this area formerly located in the Prussian province of Pomerania. Scroll down the page to see the available locations, listed in the column on the left.

*Civil Registry Office in Wrocław/Standesamt Breslau:  http://ahnenforscher.pl/?page_id=120

  • Has vital records for Wrocław (Breslau in German) from 1889-1911
  • Viewing records requires the installation of the DjVu plug-in, so the site works best with Internet Explorer and appears to be incompatible with some versions of Google Chrome (like mine).

*Matricula: http://icar-us.eu/cooperation/online-portals/matricula

  • Has vital records for two towns (Siedlęcin/Boberröhrsdorf in Jelenia Góra County and Jerzmanowa/Hermsdorf in Głogów County) in Lower Silesian Voivodeship (województwo dolnośląskie).

*Epaveldas:  http://www.epaveldas.lt/vbspi/lang.do?language=lt

  • Has vital records for locations that are in present-day Lithuania.

*Genealogy in Archive:  https://www.genealogiawarchiwach.pl/

  • Has vital records for locations in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Pomorskie, Wielkopolskie, and Warmińsko-Mazurskie provinces.  A relative newcomer to the Polish vital records scene, this site is somewhat infamous for its awkward and slow user interface.  However, attempts are being made to resolve some of these issues, so there’s hope.

*Górnośląskie Towarszystwo Genealogiczne (Upper Silesian Genealogical Society):   http://siliusradicum.pl/ksiegi-metrykalne/

  • Has some Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish vital records for some locations in Upper Silesia; original records are held by the State Archive in Katowice.
  • Records can be browsed online via Dropbox.

BaSIA (Baza Systemu Indeksacji Archiwalnej, Database of Archival Indexing System): http://www.basia.famula.pl/en/

  • Has indexed vital records (births, marriages and deaths) from the Poznan area, some linked directly to scans from the Polish State Archives
  • Extended search allows you to restrict search to a give range of years, type of document, distance from a specified location.
  • Polish diacritics not important.
  • One can create an account, register surnames of interest, and they will e-mail you when new records for those surnames are added.
  • To view scans, go to archive information in the results column on the right, and click on the line below the archive name that has code numbers and the word “scan.”

*§Lubgens:  http://lubgens.eu/portal.php

  • Has indexed vital records for Lublin area, many with scans attached.
  • Polish diacritics don’t matter (i.e. “Zielinski” yields same result as “Zieliński”) BUT masculine or feminine version of surname DOES matter (i.e. “Zielinski” yields different results from “Zielinska”).

*§Słupca Genealogy:  http://slupcagenealogy.com/

  • Indexed records from parishes in Słupca and Kalisz counties; Jewish records recently added for Słupca.
  • Many results linked to scans from the Polish State Archives.

*Pomeranian Genealogical Society database: http://www.ptg.gda.pl/

  • Indexed civil and church vital records from Pomerania.
  • Go to “PomGenBase” in menu bar at the top of the page and then select “Search PomGenBase” followed by the type of records you wish to search. Alternatively, select “Metrical Book Indexes” followed by “Parish and Registry Offices” to see the full list of parishes and years currently indexed.
  • Polish diacritics DO matter IF you choose “search directly” (i.e. “Wolinski” yields different results than “Woliński”). Can use wildcard characters (“?” replaces one letter, “*” replaces more than one) if you’re not certain of the spelling.

*Poznan Marriage Project: http://poznan-project.psnc.pl/

  • Indexed marriage records from the Poznan region, 1800-1899, currently about 80% complete.
  • One may request a copy of a single record by clicking “original record” and requesting it from the archive, OR it may be requested from the site’s creator, Lukasz Bielecki, with a donation to the project. However, clicking the parish name in which the record was found will yield a list of LDS microfilms for that parish, and by searching these one is likely to find not only that marriage, but also many other vital records for one’s family.

*Katalog Szlachty: http://www.katalogszlachty.com/

  • Click on “indeksy” in menu at left, and then on “indeksy” again to reach the list of indexed parishes.
  • Records for Szlachta (noblemen), primarily from northeastern Poland.

*Szpejankowski and Szpejankowski Family Website: http://szpejankowski.eu/

  • Has indexed vital records for the Dobrzyń region of Poland.

*SGGEE Databases: https://www.sggee.org/research/PublicDatabases.html

  • Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe; public database includes indexed Lutheran vital records for select parishes in Volhynia, Kiev and Podolia, and Lublin.

*§Metryki Wołyń: http://wolyn-metryki.pl/joomla/index.php

  • Has indexed church and civil vital records from 19th century Wołyń/Volhynia (eastern Poland/Belarus/Ukraine).  English-language search portal yields results that are linked to scans at the AGAD site.  Polish diacritics are not required to search this site.

*§Indexed records from Zieluń parish: 

http://www.zielun.pl/metryki.php?parafia=zielun&metryki=b&year=1900

  • Has indexed birth, marriage and death records from Zieluń parish in gmina Lubowidz, Mazowieckie province, from 1822-1912, linked to scans in Metryki. Note that the range of indexed years is broader at this site than what’s available on Geneteka. To navigate between births, marriages and deaths, click on the icons of the star (births), wedding rings (marriages), and cross (deaths) located between the column with the years and the column with the names.

*Jamiński Zespół Indeksacyjny (Jaminy Indexing Team): http://jzi.org.pl/ OR https://www.facebook.com/Jaminski.Zespol.Indeksacyjny

  • This group is indexing records for the parishes of Jaminy, Krasnybór, Sztabin, Bargłów Kościelny, and others in Augustów county, Podlaskie. Select from the drop-down menu of parishes (“Parafie”) on their home page to get to the indexes.

*Databases of the State Archive in Płock: http://plock.ap.gov.pl/p,136,geneaa

  • Has indexed vital records for several Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes in the Płock area (under “Genea”).

*Częstochowa Genealogical Society database: http://www.genealodzy.czestochowa.pl/index.php

  • Has indexed vital records from a number of parishes in the Częstochowa area.
  • Must create an account in order to search records.

*Strony o Wołyniu Przed Wojennym (Volhynia Before the War): http://wolyn.ovh.org/

  • Pre-WWII era genealogical data for individuals living in the Volhynia region (which straddles eastern Poland, Belarus and Ukraine), grouped by village name.
  • Click on “Alfabetyczny spis miejscowości” at the top of the page for an alphabetical list of villages covered; each listing provides contact information to connect with others researching those families.

*Poland GenWeb Archives: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~polwgw/polandarchives.html

  • Assorted records transcriptions from parishes across Poland.

*Church Registers of Tyniec Mały/Klein Tinz: http://frontiernet.net/~michael6/tinz/

  • Data from Catholic parish registers; village is in Wrocław County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship.

Polish State Archives’ PRADZIAD database search portal:  http://baza.archiwa.gov.pl/sezam/pradziad.php?l=en

  • Enter a parish or gmina/township name for a complete list of the vital records holdings of the Polish State Archives for that location. If records are found, you can write or e-mail the archive to request a search of records for a particular record or records.  See this post on writing to archives in Poland.

Catalog of Metrics in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus:  http://metrics.tilda.ws/  

  • This site is a great finding aid for vital records in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, organized by geographic region within each country, with links to archives, gazetteers (in Russian) and other resources.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

 

 

10 Tips for Finding Your Family on Passenger Manifests

Those of us with ancestors who immigrated to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries know how valuable passenger manifests can be, as they often provide the name of the immigrant’s place of birth. We also know how frustrating it can sometimes be to find those immigrants in indexed databases such as Ellis Island and AncestryToday I’d like to review some basic concepts regarding passenger manifests, and then share a few tips for finding your ancestors in those databases.

Types of Manifests:  Embarkation vs. Arrival

It helps to begin with an understanding of the manifests themselves and how they were created. There’s a persistent myth in American culture that names were changed at Ellis Island. This article explains more fully why that isn’t true, but the short version is that the manifests were recorded at the port of embarkation, and Ellis Island officials were merely working from those original lists. Many of these manifests recorded at ports of embarkation did not survive. For example, most of the Bremen lists were destroyed due to lack of space in the Bremen Archives. However, the Hamburg emigration lists recorded between 1850-1934 have largely survived, and sometimes it’s possible to find both the outgoing Hamburg manifest and the incoming Port of New York manifest for the same immigrant.

Types of Errors:  Original vs. Transcription

There are undoubtedly errors in spelling and transliteration that occurred on these passenger manifests, but most of the name changes that people attribute to “Ellis Island” were adopted by the immigrants themselves as part of their efforts to assimilate into American culture. In my experience, far more dramatic spelling errors were created during the process of transcribing and indexing the passenger manifests to create a searchable database, than occurred during the original recording of the manifests. I don’t want to place too much blame on the indexers here, as they’re faced with a formidable task. Anyone who’s ever looked at a passenger manifest knows that the handwriting can be cramped and illegible, the manifest might have been torn, taped, or faded, and the microfilmed image might be blurry or grainy. Combine this with the fact that you might see on the same page immigrants from a variety of different countries, each with its own language and maybe its own alphabet, and it’s immediately clear that indexers are brave and hardy heroes, indeed.

Faced with all these obstacles, how do we find our immigrant ancestors on those manifests?

1. Use wild-card searches.

If you have a subscription to Ancestry (or can access it at your local public library or Family History Center), you can search their immigration database using wildcard characters. Ancestry‘s directions state,

“An asterisk “*” replaces zero or more characters, and a question mark “?” replaces exactly one character. For example, a search for “fran*” will return matches on words like “Fran,” “Franny,” or “Frank.” A search for “Johns?n” matches “Johnson” and “Johnsen,” but not “Johnston.”

2. Try leaving off the surname entirely.

In cases where I suspect a surname has been butchered in the transcription, I sometimes omit it entirely, and search for the immigrant based on other identifying information.  For example, I could search for my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, by looking for a female passenger named Weronika, born about 1876, stating Polish ethnicity, arriving about 1898.

3. Play with the search parameters.

If your parameters are too specific, you get too few hits, but if they’re too broad, you get too many, so try tinkering with them one by one. Sometimes male passengers are marked as female and vice versa, sometimes first and last names are reversed, and that “race/nationality” box is tricky for Poles, who might be marked as Polish, Russian, German, or Austrian. Be flexible.

4. Determine your ancestor’s name at the time of immigration before you search.

I’d bet a million dollars that a Polish ancestor named “Walter Cherry” will not be listed under that name on his passenger manifest. There’s a good chance you’d find him under “Władysław Wiśniewski,” though. That’s because many of our ancestors adopted new given names, or new versions of their surnames, as part of their efforts to assimilate into American culture. Some common name changes among Polish-Americans were Władysław to Walter, Stanisław to Stanley, Czesław to Chester, Bronisław to Bruno, and Wojciech to Albert or George. For women, common changes include Jadwiga to Ida or Hattie, Władysława to Lottie or Charlotte, Pelagia to Pearl, and Bronisława to Bertha. These are generalizations, and it’s important to recognize that there were no hard and fast rules. You need to do research into your own family history to determine the names that your immigrant ancestors used. (See here for my story of my challenge in finding the passenger manifest for an immigrant who used Edward in the U.S. when his real name was Stanisław!) For Polish ancestors who settled in the U.S., try checking church records from the parish they attended here, as those are frequently a good clue to their original names.

5. Familiarize yourself with spelling and pronunciation rules in your ancestor’s native language.

In Polish, “Szcz” is a common combination of two digraphs (sz and cz), and there are a lot of surnames that start this way. In contrast, surnames that start with “Lz” are quite rare (I found exactly one example, Lzarewicz, which belonged to exactly 1 person in Poland as of 1990, in this database). So when your search results at Ellis Island or Ancestry include results for passengers with names like “Lzczerba,” “Lzcrepaniak,” and “Lzcsepansky,” you can bet that those names are misspelled and actually start with “S.” In these examples, when I checked the original image of the manifest, those names were clearly Szczerba, Szczepaniak, and Szczepansky.

6. Databases index differently, so if you can’t find your ancestor in one database, check another.

My husband’s great-grandfather had a sister named Marcjanna Szczepankiewicz who was indexed on Ellis Island as “Marcyanna Sezezefsankiewiez” and on Ancestry as “Marcyanna Sczezyoankiemg.” On the manifest, the surname is clearly “Szczepankiewicz,” so this is a case of the indexers having no familiarity with Polish surnames. Even better, in looking up those examples, I came across one poor guy who was indexed on Ancestry as a 24-year-old Ruthenian woman named  “Fazel Lzczzvca.” I took a look at the actual manifest, and the passenger was a 24-year-old Ruthenian man named Józef Szczyrba. I didn’t have the heart to see how he was indexed on Ellis Island, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

7. Give Steve Morse’s site a try.

If you’re not familiar with Steve Morse’s website, you’re missing out. He’s got a variety of very helpful tools for genealogists, including resources for translations, DNA, searching census records, and a search portal for the different immigration databases (both free, like Ellis Island and Castle Garden, and paid, like Ancestry). I used to use his search portal all the time back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, because it was far superior to Ellis Island‘s search portal for the same data. But to be honest, a lot has changed since then, and both Ancestry and Ellis Island now offer fairly powerful, flexible search parameters that are comparable to Steve Morse’s. However, you may find that his search page is laid out in a more intuitive fashion, so it can’t hurt to try if you’re not having luck with the other search engines.

 8. If you already know your ancestor’s hometown but you still can’t find his manifest, try searching according to place of origin.

This technique is not only useful for finding missing manifests, but also can sometimes be used to gain insight into the family groups in your ancestral village. For example, one of my ancestral parishes is Młodzieszyn in Sochaczew County, Poland. Records for Młodzieszyn were largely destroyed in World War II, leaving only records from 1885-1908. So, my understanding of my family history there is very incomplete. However, I’ve discovered that passenger records can offer a surprising amount of information to help fill in some of these blanks. Manifests for emigrants from Młodzieszyn have given me their names, approximate birth dates, and the names and relationships of contacts in the new world (often family members), as well as the names and relationships of family members still living in their former home town. Many of these emigrants were born before 1885 when existing birth records for Młodzieszyn begin, so their passenger manifests are incredibly useful in constructing family groups. Of course, one problem with this is that the hometown is just as likely to be misspelled as the passenger’s name, but it’s still worth a shot.

9. If your ancestor has a common name but he immigrated with other family members, try searching for the manifest using the family member with the least common name.

For example, “Nowak” is the most common Polish surname there is, so if your great-grandfather was Jan Nowak, you’ll probably have to wade through a lot of manifests to find the right one.  But if you have reason to believe that he emigrated at the same time as his wife, Pelagia, try searching for her instead.

10. If your ancestor naturalized after 1906, get his naturalization papers first, then try to find his manifest.

I was really stuck trying to find a manifest for my husband’s great-grandfather Joseph Bartoszewicz. He was supposed to have come in with a large family group, and I’d tried pretty much all the tips I mentioned here, but I just couldn’t tease the data out of the search engines. However, he naturalized in 1914, and after 1906, Petitions for Naturalization included questions about the person’s arrival date in the U.S., the port of entry, and the name of the ship. I obtained Joseph’s naturalization petition, which told me that he arrived on 12 October 1890 in the Port of Philadelphia on the ship Pennsylvania. Great! Only I still couldn’t find him, using that date as an exact search term. Further investigation revealed that Joseph reported his arrival date inaccurately — the Pennsylvania did not arrive in Philadelphia on 12 October 1890, but rather on the 13th. I finally found Joseph and his family by browsing through the manifest page by page.

If you’ve been struggling to find the right passenger manifests for your family, know that you’re not alone. It can certainly be frustrating sometimes, and we’ve all been there. But persistence and flexible search strategies will usually pay off. As always, I’m happy to hear from other researchers, so if you try some of these strategies and they work for you, or if you’d like to offer other suggestions, please leave a note in the comments.  Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

 

 

 

 

5 Places Online to Find Polish Census Records

In my last post, I discussed some of the reasons why census records from Poland aren’t the first-stop, go-to source that they are for many of us when researching our ancestors in America.  This is not to suggest that it’s not possible to find census records of one type or another for your ancestors in Poland, and as genealogists, we like to leave no stone unturned, gathering every bit of data we can about our ancestors.  However, existing census records may not be indexed by surname, meaning that it will take more effort on the part of the researcher to find these records, since one might have to browse through them page by page.  More importantly, there’s no single name under which census-type data will consistently appear, so researchers should try several different search terms.  And as always, the most imporant consideration isn’t what the records are called or whether they’re indexed — it’s whether or not any have survived and are available for one’s town or village of interest.

Meldunkowe.genealodzy.pl

So where can one find these records?  Online sources are limited, but one developing resource is the Meldunkowe database hosted by the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne.  Meldunkowe is a sister database to the popular databases Geneteka and Metryki, and at present, it only includes records for 37 locations, 31 of which are in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie province.  There are an additional 3 sets of records from the Wielkopolskie province, as well as 3 more collections from a handful of parishes in Ukraine.  Most of the records fall under the category of “Księgi Ludności Stałej” (“Books of the Permanent Population”), although a few other types of records (e.g. passport applications) are included as well.  The collections from Ukraine are all parish census records.  In some cases, indexes do exist for the Księgi Ludności Stałej — look for the word “skorowidz” (index) and brush up on reading your ancestors’ names in Cyrillic cursive, because many of these indexes (as well as the records themselves) are in Russian.

Szukajwarchiwach

Another possible source for online census-type records is the old standby, Szukajwarchiwach.  If you have never used this resource, it’s probably best to start with the quick tutorial offered here.  There are a number of different ways to search for records.  One might start with one’s town of interest with or without a keyword like “Spis” to help narrow the search results.  Polish diacritics are not required with this site. Since you’re looking for census records, be sure that you don’t check the box for “vital records and civil registers” (old habits die hard….).  As discussed previously, census-type records can be called by different names, e.g. “Księgi Ludności Stałej,” “Spis parafian,” “spis parafialny,” “Ewidencje Ludności,” “Regestr Ludonosci,” etc., so you might try searching using several different keywords.  Keep in mind that there might be more than one place in Poland with the same name.  For example, one of my ancestral villages is Zagórów in Słupca County, but a search for “zagorow spis” at Szukajwarchiwach includes a result for Spisy ludności województwa krakowskiego z lat 1790-1791: II. Parafie powiatu krakowskiego na litery A-K which translates as, “Censuses of Kraków province for the years 1790-1791:  Parishes in Kraków County beginning with letters A-K.” The “scope and content” for this particular unit names the villages belonging to each parish covered by the census, and one of those villages is Zagórowa in Olkusz County  — not my place of interest at all.

Polish Digital Libraries

You might be lucky enough to find some census records for your town of interest at one of the Polish digital libraries. This search engine for the Federacja Bibliotek Cyfrowych (FBC, Federation of Digital Libraries) can be used to search the holdings of a number of different Polish libraries and archives simultaneously. Another good search engine for digital libraries is Europeana.  As the name suggests, it includes results from digital libraries all over Europe.  It should be noted that Europeana taps into FBC, so search results for Polish census records might not vary too much between the two sites. Again, searches should be conducted with a variety of search terms for best results, and again, both of these search engines are forgiving when it comes to Polish diacritics, so a search for “Mlodzieszyn” will return the same results as one for “Młodzieszyn.” Be aware that many European digital libraries utilize the “DjVu” file format, which is similar to PDF.  You will need to have a DjVu reader installed on your computer, however, which you can download here.

ELA database

As with any type of records, census records available online represent only the tip of the iceberg for what’s out available.  If you don’t mind paying the archives or a researcher in Poland to access records for you, there is an entire database in the Polish State Archives for census records.  It’s called Baza ELA, and you can search it here.  ELA is an acronym for Ewidencje Ludności w Archiwaliach, “Population Registers in Archival Material.”  A detailed list of the types of records found in this database is provided along with the acronyms and abbreviations that will help you interpret your search results.  (Hint:  Copy and paste into Google Translate, or use Chrome as your browser and right-click on the page to translate to English.)  Many of these records tend to be from the early 20th-century, rather than the 19th century, but you might find something of interest.  For example, I have ancestors from Sochaczew county, and a quick search on “Sochaczew” resulted in a potentially enlightening document from 1892 entitled, “spis cudzoziemców zamieszkałych w pow.sochaczewskim,” or “List of Foreigners Residing in Sochaczew County.”  Documents like this are a bit of a gamble — they could provide critical clues, or they might be worthless to my research.  If I had reason to suspect that my family moved to Sochaczew from, say, Prussian Poland circa 1892, something like this could be very important, especially if it included details about where the “foreigners” lived previously. But given that time and money are limited resources for all of us, it’s up to each researcher to decide if his research dollars are best spent investigating a document like this one, versus (for example) obtaining vital records from a parish of interest whose records are not available online or on microfilm.  Note that if you do find something of interest in the ELA database, you should double check to see if it’s online at Szukajwarchiwach before requesting anything from the archive or hiring a researcher.

Google Search

Finally, you might get lucky and find census records for your parish of interest via a Google (or Google.pl) search.   Occasionally individual researchers will create online databases for census records that they’ve obtained personally. One good example of this is Debbie Greenlee’s database of Spis Parafialny records from Bukowsko parish in Sanok County. Over time there might be more websites like this cropping up (hey, a girl can dream….), so it never hurts to give Google a try.

So there you have it, my friends:  five quick and easy places to mine for those nuggets of genealogical gold for your ancestors in Poland.  Polish census records might not be your fall-back when you can’t find great-uncle Jan’s baptismal record in the same parish were all his siblings were baptized, but they can still provide valuable insights into the lives of your ancestors, and they’re worth seeking out.  Until next time, happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

“Why Can’t I Find Census Records for My Ancestors in Poland?”

In the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook, we often get questions from people wondering how they can find census records for their ancestors in Poland.  Most of us American researchers have come to rely on the census as a first step in researching our ancestors, and there are good reasons why we love it.  Census records provide a “snapshot” of our families at different points in time, revealing names, ages and relationships of family members, as well as other important details such as year of immigration, year of naturalization, how many children a woman had, and more.  Most importantly, the census has been digitized and indexed, which allows us to find our ancestors with relative ease, even when they migrate around the country.  It seems natural, then, that people would want to find similar records for their ancestors in Poland.  So where are these records?

The answer is a bit complicated, and depends on our understanding of the history of census-taking.  Censuses have been conducted since ancient times.  Remember the Census of Quirinius mentioned in the Bible, in which Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be counted?  Perhaps in recognition of the logistical problems of “no room at the inn” created by having an entire population move around, more contemporary emperors have conducted censuses by having enumerators go door to door, counting people where they lived.  The purpose of any census was usually to provide information for taxation and military conscription as well as statistical information about the population, which might include ethnic minorities living in a given area, languages spoken, religious affiliation, etc.  Here in the U.S., the census was mandated by the Constitution, and has been conducted every ten years since 1790.  However, since Poland did not exist as an independent nation from 1795 until 1918, there could be no “national census of Poland” during this time.  Rather, censuses were conducted at different times and in different places by the Russian, Prussian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires which occupied Polish lands.

In the Russian Empire, a large census was conducted in 1897, although it’s worth noting that this census was criticized for undercounting Poles and overestimating those with Russian ethnicity.  Similarly, the German Empire conducted a census in 1895, which was criticized for lowering the number of Catholics and ethnic Poles in German-occupied lands.  Many smaller-scale censuses were conducted (a nice summary of which can be found here), but in many cases, original returns have not survived, and only statistical summaries remain.  In addition to these governmental census records, some religious census census records survive for Poland.  Each Catholic parish priest conducted an annual census of his parishioners, which was called “Status Animarum” in Latin, or “Spis Parafialny” in Polish, an example of which can be seen here.  The original intent of these censuses was to allow the priest to verify that his parishioners were receiving the sacraments as appropriate, but these censuses eventually grew to include addresses and ages of household members.

The result of all this history is a patchwork of records that includes parish censuses, tax lists, population registers, conscription lists, etc.  Although some of these are available online (more about where to find those in my next blog post), there isn’t a huge impetus in Poland today to put these records online.  Why not?  Because Poles have something that’s arguably preferable to census records:  vital records.  Vital records are the ultimate source for documenting individuals.  Children might be born and they might die in between census years, but there will still be birth and death records to document them (hopefully!).  The Polish archives and genealogical societies have been going to great lengths to get more and more of these vital records digitized, indexed, and online.  One might ask instead, why we Americans haven’t made a huge push to get these vital records online.

Once again, the answer lies in the history.  Civil vital registration in America began slowly, and regional practices varied widely.  Town vital records exist for Massachusetts that date back to the 1600s, but vital registration didn’t begin in most parts of the U.S. until the mid-to-late 1800s.  It wasn’t until about 1920 that vital registration requirements were reliably enforced.  Prior to that, researchers must turn to church records to obtain births, marriages and deaths for their ancestors.  A national effort to digitize church records would be problematic in the U.S. because church records are not public documents, and churches are not required to hand them over to the state or make them public for any reason.  (Of course, churches will sometimes make records available to individuals if asked nicely and if a donation is offered.)

While we in America tend to think in terms of this separation of church and state, the same is not true in Poland, or elsewhere in Europe.  As I wrote previously, church officials frequently served as civil registrars throughout Poland, and parish record books were recognized as legal documents. The practice of making duplicate copies of church books for civil authorities dates back to the late 18th century across much of modern-day Poland, and these duplicate copies serve as our foundation for Polish genealogical research.  The greater availability of vital records relative to census records does require a bit of a shift in mindset for American researchers.  Instead of having a decennial snapshot of your ancestral family groups indicating the names of all the family members, researchers will have to discover those names through careful analysis of parish records.  Although more time-consuming, the result is ultimately more complete, as it will include any children who died in infancy between census years.

In many cases, Polish vital records themselves will provide guideposts to migrations of the family.  Marriage records will usually state where the bride and groom were born, and where their parents are living at the time of the marriage.   But what happens if a couple moves around during their childbearing years?  One might suspect such an occurrence if there is an unusually large gap (more than about 3 years) between births to a married couple in the records for a particular parish.  It’s times like this that indexed records can be very, very helpful.  In their absence, a researcher is often faced with the task of searching parishes in the surrounding area more or less at random, unless other clues are available which suggest where the family might have gone (e.g. a child’s godparent with the same surname as one of the parents is living in another local parish).  Still, what about those researchers who have no clue where in Poland their family originated?  Indexed vital records would certainly make life a lot easier for them, too.

At present there are a number of popular indexing sites available for vital records in Poland.  The most comprehensive and ambitious of these is Geneteka, which aims to cover every province within Poland today as well as offering limited coverage in areas that were once part of Poland but are no longer.  Other indexing efforts, such as Lubgens for the Lublin area, BaSIA and the Poznań Project for the Wielkopolskie province/Poznań area, the Pomeranian Genealogical Society database for the Pomerania region, and other, smaller efforts, are strictly regional and don’t aim to include full coverage of Poland.  The situation is very reminiscent of the way things were here in the U.S. in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when numerous small indexing projects existed for census records, prior to the completion of indexing efforts by Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and others.  Although all these Polish indexing efforts are presently free and not behind a paywall, the sponsoring genealogical societies rely on donations to pay for servers and keep the records online.

At some point in the future, tracking your ancestors’ migrations through indexed records in Geneteka might be as easy as finding them in indexed census records in the U.S. Geneteka’s search engine is powerful enough to allow for some pretty great searching already, especially now that it’s possible to search using two different surnames (e.g. father’s surname and mother’s maiden name). New indexes (i.e. new parishes, registry offices, or new ranges of years for parishes or registry offices for which coverage already exists) are being added all the time, but the vast scope of this project — indexing over 300 years’ worth of records from every parish, synagogue, other place of worship, or civil registry office in an area of about 121,000 square miles —  means that it will take some time before coverage is even close to complete. So for now, the best approach is still to accurately determine one’s ancestors’ place of origin in Poland, using U.S. records, before attempting research in Poland, rather than hoping to get lucky with indexed vital records.

In my next post, I’ll review some options for those intrepid and hardy souls who still hope to find actual “census records” of one type or another for your ancestors in Poland.  Until then, happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016