Tag Archives: family history records in Poland

My boring ancestors.

naming a child - ancestors to modern

during baptism

Why do I consider my ancestors boring? Because I am frustrated. And I am frustrated because my ancestors took a family tradition to a whole new level! It goes like this:

An unusual name in a family tree. Once we have seen it, we hit gold. I think everybody know this feeling! Sheer joy – everybody but me that is!

I am dealing with very stubborn ancestors on pretty much any branch of my family tree. I was prepared to have a lot of the same surnames, but nothing prepared me for the first names bonanza!

Just as a taste: my mum’s name is Maria. She had three brothers; the oldest named Marian (can you guess this is a male form of the same name?). He was the son of Jan who was a son of Marian. This older Marian’s father was called Paweł Tomasz or Tomasz Paweł or Tomasz or Paweł depending on a source I am looking at, but he had a brother and a son called Jan. His father name was Jakub, but Jakub’s father was called Stanisław and so is another of my mum’s brothers. The third brother is called Henryk and so is my grandfather’s brother. Are you confused yet? So am I; and so was the post office at times delivering letters to my uncle and great uncle who used to live in the same village. This is just one branch of my family. It should be mentioned here that my great-grandfather Marian had five brothers. They had quite a lot of sons between them and acted like there were only about ten possible names to use… The name giving business became a family joke when every time one of my great uncles was asked about a name chosen for his new grandson (and he has a few) he used to answer: “there already is one like that”.

I am not even going to try and explain the “fun” I had with another branch of my tree called Stępień and Stępień-Drzazga. Lots of kids in every generation and very little name variety. To the point where Józef Stępień was marrying Józefa Stępień, both from the same village and not related!

In a moment of frustration when my FTM software would ask: “This is the 7th Jan Kominek. Are you sure this is not the same person?” I did a little bit of statistics. There are just over 1300 individuals on my tree. Roughly half men half women. Have a look at the names and percentages in the table below and try to understand my frustration.

Adam 13 1.93
Andrzej/Jędrzej 26 3.85
Antoni 10 1.48
Franciszek 33 4.89
Grzegorz 10 1.48
Henryk 7 1.04
Jakub 15 2.22
Jan 54 8.00
Józef 48 7.11
Kacper 5 0.74
Kamil 6 0.89
Karol 7 1.04
Kazimierz 14 2.07
Krzysztof 10 1.48
Maciej 9 1.33
Marcin 18 2.67
Marian 7 1.04
Mateusz 14 2.07
Michał 21 3.11
Mikołaj 11 1.63
Paweł 22 3.26
Piotr 20 2.96
Stanisław 44 6.52
Sylwester 5 0.74
Szymon 9 1.33
Tadeusz 6 0.89
Tomasz 26 3.85
Walenty 12 1.78
Wawrzyniec 10 1.48
Wincenty 17 2.52
Wojciech 20 2.96
Zygmunt 5 0.74
overall 79.11%
Agata 5 0.80
Agnieszka 39 6.24
Aleksandra 8 1.28
Anna 36 5.76
Antonina 6 0.96
Apolonia 7 1.12
Barbara 14 2.24
Elżbieta 9 1.44
Ewa 11 1.76
Franciszka 19 3.04
Helena 14 2.24
Jadwiga 13 2.08
Józefa 22 3.52
Katarzyna 48 7.68
Magdalena 15 2.4
Małgorzta 15 2.4
Maria 19 3.04
Marianna 111 17.76
Róza/Rozalia 9 1.44
Salomea 8 1.28
Teresa 9 1.44
Wiktoria 9 1.44
Zofia 20 3.2
overall 74.56%

So as you can see, although there are over 400 different male names and over 300 female names known in Poland my family mostly used a fraction of that. It does becomes a problem as I have about 20 females called Marianna Stępień, 7 males named Józef Stępień, 7 Jan Kominek, 7 Jan Siudak, 6 Jan Stępień and so on.

Oh, how I longed for a really whacky name! Have to say I did came across one -Anelm- I was overjoyed! But soon after, I discovered that in a day to day life he was using the name Józef. Rather common among my family as the table above proves. So then he was Anzelm one time but Józef another what only made my life harder instead of easier! How frustrating.

On the other hand, there is only one other Jolanta on my tree (same generation than me and related by marriage). So in a way very unusual name. And it saddens me that I don’t belong to a long line of name sharing women… Guess no pleasing me, is it?

Parish records – a gold mine of knowledge hidden in plain sight.

Parish records – a register of births, marriages and deaths. Very useful, but providing a bare minimum of information. I used to wonder how I learn more about my ancestors’ lives. How do I go beyond the date and name? I thought that I don’t have enough sources to fill up gaps between born-married-had children-died scenario. And then I discovered a source that I was already using had this depth of easily overlooked knowledge. This post is about my guilty pleasure:)

Kleczanów parish records - akt zgonu - F Stępień 1936

an example of death record – Franciszek Stępień 1936

Back in the early years of my genealogical research, I was slightly obsessed with going back in time as fast as possible.   You can just imagine that it was causing problems. Now when I am older and wiser, I like reading parish registers for fun! I can just see you cringing or looking blankly thinking “Crazy”. Well, not as crazy as it might seem at first. I don’t read random books from a random parish (although I can see benefits of that). What I mean is reading not just entries relating to my ancestors. It all started from a stubborn need of finding my 2nd great grandmother entry of death.

I found:

  • her and my 2nd great grandfather marriage entry;
  • entries of their children birth;
  • my 2nd great grandfather’s death entry – quite young.

But I could not find her death although her son’s marriage entry gave information that his parents were dead. I thought “I am going to find you” no matter what! I started reading every entry in the parish register dated between her husband dying and her son’s marriage. I know that the information in the marriage record of parents being deceased could have been a lie for whatever reason, but I was leaving this option for later.

I read through 3 years worth of data, and I surely found her! She remarried under her maiden name! Knowing about the marriage, it was easy to find the death entry. I was able to finally put all the pieces together, but there was an unexpected bonus of being stubborn. I learned that my 3rd great grandfather from a different branch of my family tree was a village chief.

Most of the descriptive Polish records has witnesses of any vital event noted. Sometimes those witnesses are random neighbours, sometimes family members and sometimes village officials.  There is more to records that just dates and names. I can find a lot of useful information about my ancestors’ lives when I read entries from a few years. Sometimes I can say who was a village official at a certain time, who was close to whom, or what was the name of a blacksmith or a midwife.  I know this because if a child was born illegitimate or to an absent father (for example dead before the birth or in an army what is an interesting fact per se) the birth was recorded by a midwife. So I know the names of midwives working in villages where my ancestors lived!

All this because I like reading old parish registers like a documentary book. There is so much more in there than just names and dates. All you have to do is just pay attention and don’t rush through indexes. Take your time, immerse yourself into this long lost world.

akt urodzenia Walerii Krasula/Waleria Krasula - birth record

Multilingual records of my monolingual family

Multilingual records of my monolingual family

Somebody once asked what I mean by translation of records when I said I had to translate a lot of source documents for my family. Good question. Yes, it is true that I am Polish, so is absolutely everybody in my family and I am yet to find an ancestor who moved abroad. You might then ask yourself: what need is there for Translation? Surely but life is hardly ever normal. I am as Polish as it gets: born and bred there. I come from long line of Polish farmers who quite often never even left a parish, never mind the country, BUT as Poland is situated right in the centre of Europe it was regularly turned into a battlefield.

From the establishment of Poland in the Middle Ages, there was war after war after war. The land was invaded pretty much by any neighbouring nation and some from further afield as well, until the point in the eighteenth century where Poland ceased to exist altogether – on the map of Europe that is. The country was divided between Prussia, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Different laws and prohibitions were in place depending on the region (with Galicja enjoying quite liberal attitudes) but, generally speaking, using the Polish language was discouraged and then by the late nineteenth century, it was replaced by Russian and German respectively. There are many examples of Polish people fighting to save the language and culture. What does it mean for me or any other genealogist searching for Polish roots? It means that records are written in a different language. In my case, every record starting from 1868 is written in Russian (if I am really lucky there is a Polish name in brackets pic.1). Because of politics and geography, a good part of my family records have to be translated even though all the ancestors I found to date lived in one district and spoke Polish.

If you remember that the concept of a civil register was only introduced in Poland at the end of the eighteenth century and the first civil registers were completed by priests alongside parish records then it is reasonable to expect that most older church sources are written in Latin.

I was lucky enough to learn Russian at school although my choice of words here could be problematic as the Russian language and culture, visible everywhere in communist Poland, was hardly a reason for celebration. I also spend long hours learning Latin as a part of my MA in Archaeology, so I consider myself well equipped to deal with what my genealogical research throws at me, but I can just imagine the frustration of other people with Polish roots when they discover that even knowing Polish is just not enough to be able to trace their Polish ancestors.

akt urodzenia Walerii Krasula/Waleria Krasula - birth record, multilingual record

pic.1 Waleria Krasula -akt urodzenia (birth record) 1905