Land of the archives and home of the scans – Part 2 (Short and sweet…)

Opava Regional archives is an amazing place that scanned and currently is indexing their records, not only church but also census, school and land records to name some.

What I was unable to find was a good visual help for the area so locating closest parish or getting idea what was around was easier. Here is my effort at that visual help and, while it is massive help for me, I hope it will be useful to some of you as well.

For those who would rather download and use via their own Google Maps or Google Earth here is the link to file.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hhmxVrqZAjP_ciGLwYus9f1srzG4CtqA/view?usp=sharing

Land of the archives and home of the scans – Part 1 (Long and boring…)

My partner and I managed to travel to Poland and Czech Republic this year. It’s been quite a visit – I got to know his family and he got to know mine. But from genealogical point of view I accomplished a lot! I managed to plan 3 days solo trip (no need to drag a partner to a trip he won’t enjoy) to Podkarpacie region of Poland to do my genealogy, but I also had a chance to gather all documents in Czech Republic that I needed to have a good base for genealogy research of his family.

Before we left I have asked my partner and my future parents’ in law about their family. Great surprise – his family is very open to genealogy! Even more open than my own family. Future father-in-law’s brother even traced the last name line to late 1700s (thank you, Karlik!) On other lines I only got names of my partner’s grandparents with their birth dates, and few names of great-grandparent. It was not much, but a concrete information.

So, first thing’s first. Since my partner is from Northern Moravia I have read a bit about the history of the region. Including the infamous annexation by Poland of the Zaolzie region. It was even more interesting since my partner’s family lived in that annexed region… Family Search was my first stop to check what they hold for Czech and particularly Ostrava-Cieszyn region. To my surprise FS has a lot, but all resources they had came from Opava archives in Czech Republic. So that was my next step – I navigated the archive’s website to their online archive: http://digi.archives.cz/da/

And I fell in love with Opava archives! I’m not sure if other Regional Archives in Czech do as amazing job at digitalization of their records, since I for now have no interest in other regions, but Opava has what many dream of. Missive holdings and digitized scans of parish and civil registers, census records, land records from multiple cadasters, school records and so on. As I roamed through it I found school records for my future father-in-law and his dad (but that’s a topic for another entry 馃槈 ). One thing I have noticed is that Czech also does have privacy protection law, just like Poland, and while marriages and death records were often available online well into 1920s and 1930s birth records were often not extending beyond mid 1910s. Opava does however, in opposition to Polish archives, note what types of records and years are available and at which local registrar. Did I mentioned I love Opava archives?

Well, having such a massive amount of documents available one could immediately and unfortunately start chasing down the wrong rabbit hole! One of my partner’s grandparents was born in 1913 and his birth record was available, but 2 of his grandparents were born in 1918 and last one in 1919. Those birth records were not available online, but at registrar at my partner’s hometown. I decided I won’t bug anyone to get those records for me, since I want to experience registrar visit myself. But going back to wrong rabbit hole – I roamed through available censuses for each village and I noticed that while half of the family names are extremely common to the point of 2 Josephs and Marys or 2 Johns and Marrys living there with similar “set” of kids other half of the family name did not appear at all. I took a step back. Back to basics. I first need to get birth records for all grandparents and then I can start the chase.

Before our trip, next step was preservation of DNA. Few months before we left I bought DNA kits at the sale. Quick calculations – his dad is one of 5 siblings (oldest one has passed away) , his mom is one of 3, my partner has a sister – I needed 8 kits. Done! DNA kits have been sitting in my closet for few months since our original tickets have been postponed from May to September.

Once we got to Czech first work day we went to registrar. I was positively surprised that registrar do serve as an archive. Let me explain the way it was explained to me:

Birth records come under protection of 100 years and, just like in Poland, they cannot be searched by anyone but registrar workers. Only related people can access the birth record.

Marriages and Deaths are completely different story. Marriages have 75 years of privacy protection, while deaths have only 30 years privacy protection on them. For marriages AND deaths, once 75 years passes from the last entry in the book then those books are transferred to the regional archive and will be scanned soo after. But years that are not under the protection, but still at registrar because they are in the same book as protected records, can be searched by public just like they could be searched in regional archive. For that reason I was able to search only up to 1945 in marriages even though the book had marriages up to 1946.

This situation allowed me to find 2 out of 3 missing birth records for my partner’s grandparents, both marriage records for grandparents and 2 death records for grandparents (I had information on 2 other death records from family already).

Another vital step was to take both parents of my partner for a trip down the memory lane. We drove with them around their area so they could show me where they lives, where they went to school, where their church was and a cemetery visit was a must. I had a chance to meet with many people who were excited to show me photos and talk about who is on it. I took plenty of photos and also took video of them explaining who is on what photo (you know you will never remember if you don’t record info in some way so don’t even try). To my surprise father-in-law’s sister had many birth, marriage and death records of my partner’s paternal side of the family, as well as some obituaries that she allowed me to take photos of (thank you, Relka!).

Overall this trip was highly successful and this new experience in searching roots of my partner’s is very exciting.

But! Yes, there is a but. I am not very familiar yet with my partner’s region and many village names as well as parish locations still confuse me. As much as I love Opava archives I was unable to find a good visual resource of their holdings and of all churches they had in their area. This posed a bit of a problem because if a record stated particular place of birth I had to somehow locate which parish it could be at. And so I set up a task for myself after my return from Europe. A map of locations of churches that Opava archive has records for. More about that you will find in Part II of this post here 馃檪

“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:13

Death is all around us. From the moment we are born to the day we ourselves die death is accompanying us. As genealogists, we see death records, photos from funerals and obituaries on daily basis. For some it never gets easier. For others, like me, it is but an event to note in a family tree. I’m not sure why but I rarely stop to reflect upon the event itself. Maybe because I’m not so afraid of death? For me death is not the end.

But as you may have noticed “I rarely stop to reflect.” My very recent discovery made me stop and reflect for a moment. I have plenty of death events and sad stories to share but I decided to share my recent discovery first. As it is not only a tale of death but also a tale of perseverance and has a happy ending.

Apolonia D膮browska was my 4x great-grandmother. Going back in the records I found out that her father Mateusz D膮browski (or Dobrowski as earlier documents indicate) was a shoemaker in a village of S臋dziejowice near 艁贸dz. On 23rd of January, 1790 he married Apolonia’s mother Jadwiga Nici膮ka (Niciak in later documents). I strongly believe Mateusz’ father, Sebastian, was one of their witnesses. I have not found other Sebastian Dobrowski in the village so far, but search in earlier records is not yet done.

Record indicates that it was their first marriage, and as I later discovered their only marriage.

Mateusz and Jadwiga had a first child – Gertruda – born in S臋dziejowice on or couple days before November 4th 1890. This particular record does not indicate when a child was born, only when it was baptized.

To my surprise their second child is not born until 1794. Jan z Mathy (John of Matha) Dobrowski was born on February 8th and baptized a day later. Priest at S臋dziejowice parish was spotty with his information. Sometimes he would put names of child’s grandparents which I’ve seen rarely in records pre-1800, and sometimes he would limit information to what was absolutely necessary. In this particular record priest did indicate that Jan’s godfather Adam Dobrowski was a brother of Mateusz. What I also find interesting in this record is that Mateusz and Jadwiga lived at the rectory – “habitantium in domuncula Plebanali.”

Apparently having children every 3-4 years was Mateusz and Jadwiga’s thing. Their third child – Marcianna Dobrowska – is born on January 6th 1797.

In 1801, on July 7th, 4th child – Ma艂gorzata Dobrowska – is born.

Last child of Mateusz and Jadwiga was Apolonia, my direct ancestor. She was born on or couple of days before February 9th, 1805. It is another record that does not indicate the day of birth but only day of baptism. Although not indicated in this particular record Apolonia’s godfather Antoni Dobrowski was Mateusz’s brother. What is also interesting is that Apolonia’s godmother Marianna Naglinska was not a Catholic (“Acatholica”). I’ve searched for Marianna but I was unable to find records for her. Nagli艅ski last name does appear in later records in Lutheran church in Zdu艅ska Wola, so I do suspect Marianna was Lutheran as well.

I can only assume that time went on peacefully for Mateusz and Jadwiga until 1807. They got married in Prussian partition, and that is where all 5 children of theirs were born. But in 1807 S臋dziejowice becomes part of Duchy of Warsaw. Area of Sedziejowice sees armies march through, but victorious in creating new country that is suppose to be a step to creating independent Poland once again.

Sebastian Dobrowski, Mateusz’s father lived to see that happen. Unfortunately he died on January 24th 1809. His death record follows the newly established in the Duchy of Warsaw standard of Code of Napoleon and is nicely written in Polish. Mateusz Dobrowski, age 36, living with his mother El偶bieta, age 70, was an informant of his father’s death. Sebastian was apparently 90 years old. Another nice note is that he was buried in presence of his 2 other sons – Jan and Antoni. It looks like, mentioned in other record, brother of Mateusz Dobrowski – Adam Dobrowski – is already deceased.

We have this saying in Polish – “jak nie urok, to przemarsz wojsk” – which roughly means “if not the evil charm/whammy then it’s armies marching through.” It is a perfect saying to describe what happened to S臋dziejowice area next. As I read about the history of the area I found out that in 1811 scarcity of crops and famine came which caused epidemic of dysentery. In following year French army moving through the area brought an epidemic of typhus. I don’t know if any of those epidemics were a factor for Mateusz, as his death record does not say, but coincidentally he died on April 11th 1812, just when 2 critical events happened in the area. His wife Jadwiga was the informant, and a nice mention is included in the record that Mateusz left behind 5 children.

Year 1813 was critical to Apolonia Dobrowska. Before, at age 4, she lost her grandpa Sebastian. At age 7 she lost her father. But the worst was still ahead of her. On October 29th, 1813 her mother Jadwiga Dobrowska nee Niciak/Nici膮ka died with cause being written out as “common illness” (“powszechna choroba”). I have found both civil record in Polish and church record in Latin for this event. Both those records confirm grim events of next few days. As it is written in a death record of Jadwiga “in following 5 days three of her children departed this world, who are together with their mother buried” (“w pi臋ci dniach troje dzieci zesz艂o z tego 艣wiata kt贸re wraz z matk膮 pochowane”). For whatever reason no separate records are created, neither in Polish nor Latin, for the death of those 3 children. I do know, following further research, that those 3 children were Gertruda, Jan z Mathy and Marcianna. Apolonia, age 8, and Ma艂gorzata, age 12, became orphans and lost 3 of their oldest siblings.

Just a month later, on December 11th, Apolonia and Ma艂gorzata’ paternal grandmother – El偶bieta Dobrowska dies. Apolonia and her sister are most likely left under the care of their uncles Jan and Antoni. I was unable to find any relatives of Jadwiga being alive. That search is to be continued.

And if that is not enough in 1814 uncle Antoni Dobrowski dies as well.

But there is a happy end to it all. Both, Apolonia and Ma艂gorzata, get married. Both are listed as servants in Pruszk贸w, just north of S臋dziejowice. Apolonia Marries Grzegorz Piotrowski. Unfortunately, I’m unable to find her death record as of yet, but she was alive in 1857 when her son Karol Piotrowski, my direct ancestor, gets married. But the thought that, even though Apolonia became an orphan at the age of 8, she did survive to adulthood, got married, had children and lived long enough to see them get married brings me joy. Whatever the events were she was strong enough to live through it and become one of my ancestors.

Those are the stories that make genealogy a worthwhile hobby.

“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe.” R.L. Stevenson, author of ‘Treasure Island’

I cannot recall when I fell in love with the maps. I do, however, recall being around 5 years old and asking my grandpa to place an old heavy atlas he had in his office on a floor or a couch so I may lose myself in reading it. Maps are read, just like books. But since I am a dyslexic books never appealed to me. Reading maps did. I was told quite a long time ago that reading maps takes a skill. Just like reading letters that make up a word that is part of the sentence, one has to know how to read maps in order to see a whole picture they represent. I loved honing that skill. In school geography was my favorite subject. In history books I spend hours looking at maps of battlefields. And when other subjects focused on a place I always went to map to look up how that place looked like on a map. These days, before my trips to Poland, I always sit down to get myself acquainted with the area I’ll be going to to genealogically explore. I use navigation to get from one city to another, mainly for convenience or traffic information, but once I’m there I know what is where, which street to take and how to get to the church, cemetery or archive. I’ve explored those places before, on the map.

So when I started with genealogy I automatically went to Google maps to explore places my ancestors lived at. But those satellite maps, as amazing as they are, do not represent historical situation. My sister (we are not related by blood but friends since we were 3) is very much interested in history and explanations as well, she showed me another great service called wikimapia.org. I was amazed that Poles add their own historical annotations in that service – they mark old cemeteries, old homes and historically significant places in present day Poland. Few times my sister and I, we traveled through Polish countryside visiting old churches and cemeteries, many marked on that service – some of them long forgotten and destroyed.

I also just realized, while selecting photos for this post, that I have plenty of photos I made over time and I should post them here one of those days…

But let’s go back to maps! That’s main focus of this post, after all 馃槈

Since Google and wikimapia.org do not represent the historical state I roamed through the internet for old maps of Prussia, Russia and Austria. There are multiple sources out there, with my favourite being:

http://igrek.amzp.pl/

https://kartenforum.slub-dresden.de/en/vkviewer/main/show/

http://hgis.cartomatic.pl/

https://mapire.eu/en/

In the last link borders between 3 partitions are marked, but I discovered that a village my great-grandfather was born in – Marianowo (today called 艁ab臋dzin) – is incorrectly marked as being in Russia and not Prussia! Borders there are not carefully marked!

Closer reading of the map revealed that while border between Prussia and Russia is marked with yellow line (red arrow) real border seen on an old map is marked with interrupted line (blue arrow).

So I went on a search of a better representation of map with boarders of old partitions and I found http://lik.info.pl/granicetest.php?fbclid=IwAR06MJvNpDIFtXlUVUw5_WeWMMIuArFLmCUjZWv6hz-9okkNEClXx4IpHSM which overall is not a bad map of borders but it is not precise either (border marked with red arrow).

So I set out to create a precise map of borders of partitions – borders between Prussia, Russia (Kingdom of Poland part of Russia) and Austria (precisely Galician part of Austrian Empire) in a program called Google Earth Pro that can be downloaded for your desktop here.

Google Earth Pro uses .kml files. Let’s not get into technical details. What you should know is that multiple .kml files can be opened in Google Earth Pro and toggled on/off. For genealogy I see it as a great tool – it allows me to look into the past and mark important events from my family’s history to keep track of who moved where and with additional .kml files from other community members allows me to do radius search easily!

What my current Google Earth Pro menu looks like

I am currently in a process of marking specific family lines so I can keep track of where they were at what point in time. I am also marking which churches I already searched in and what I have found where. It gives me a visual look into my family. Many of my family members were “movers” (each kid in different village kinda thing…) and keeping track of who moved where was always a challenge for me. Pins on this map represent places just 2 generations of my Zieli艅ski line have been at. No wonder I can’t find a death record for my g-g-g-grandfather Wawrzyniec Zieli艅ski – he moved all over Prussia!

Let’s go back to my project of precise map of borders.

Why my obsession with precision and what is my obsession with Marianowo/艁ab臋dzin? Well, my great-great-grandfather Kazimierz 呕mudzi艅ski was a teacher in local school and few of his kids were born there, among them my great-grandfather Seweryn. By studying old maps I discovered where the school was located and I was lucky enough to visit it.

Ma艂gorzata Lissowska (https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1zwYwcXHsVgUW5cDUiPBnALYGkvE&ll=52.55474336887387%2C18.454826748909603&z=13) created a map of parishes in present day Poland. It is important to note that there are few missing, but it is one of the most precise out there currently. That project can be downloaded as a .kml file for your convenience here and it will open in Google Earth Pro once you have that program installed.

What that map allows me to do is radius search for parishes of interest, to know what parishes were nearby and to search their records for documents of my interest. In this particular case I knew my ancestor Seweryn was baptized in Ostrowo in 1893. Map of parishes, together with my created outline of borders confirms that it was a closest parish in 1893, when partitions were in place.

While working on the project of border outline I also discovered that my Junger line that moved from Germany and settled in Kurzyna 艢rednia in back-then Galicia lived right by the border with Russia (or more precisely Kingdom of Poland which was under Russian ruling)! I knew they lived fairly close to the border but I never realized how close it was back then! It makes me wonder if any of my ancestors were involved in smuggling…

In any case, if I got you excited about possibilities of Google Earth Pro I hope you will download my file of outline of boarders of partitioned Poland so you may explore it in more detail. File can be downloaded here.

For now boarders are representing 1815 to World War I state of partitions. That is the time after Congress of Vienna when new boarders were established after Napoleon was defeated. Those boarders for Prussia and Austria stayed in existence until 1917/1918. Free city of Krak贸w is done as a separate outline, but it became a part of Galicia in 1848. Kingdom of Poland had same borders from 1815 to 1912, when very small part of it (Che艂m Governorate) was taken away and included into Imperial Russia itself – so still under Russian government, just different administrative district.

Me, I’m going back to mapping my ancestors. There’s a lot of sleepless nights ahead… 馃槈

“The devil is in the details.” Polish proverb

“Diabe艂 tkwi w szczeg贸艂ach” (The devil is in the details) says a Polish proverb. I came to find out it is even more vital when doing family genealogy than anywhere else. Details, details, details! Every record, all names and all numbers may be a key to knock down the brick walls… Analyzing and reanalyzing records – don’t even stop doing so! One day something that you thought was no important may be THE wrecking ball you’ve been looking for!

I’ve sat down one day with a goal in mind – to find out next generation in my family and knock down a brick wall. Here’s a presentation of how I, step by step, did so, because… you know… I’m better at presentations than blogging 馃槈 Enjoy!

“You see, I don’t think age matters so much as people think. Parts of me are still 12 and I think other parts were already 50 when I was 12鈥” C.S.Lewis

While I greatly agree with C.S. Lewis on this, actual age does matter when it comes to law and legal rights of a person. Age of maturity or adulthood comes back once in a while in various groups on Facebook, especially when marriage record is being translated and person in that marriage record that is above the age of 18 has permission from the father to marry.

I have found a good article in Polish (Magdalena Mak贸wka 鈥淧ozycja prawa niepe艂noletniego w Galicji w 艣wietle Ustaw Cywilnych dla Galicji Zachodniey鈥 published in Studenckie Zeszyty Naukowe https://journals.umcs.pl/szn/article/view/5563/4641), that explains in great detail the civil laws pertaining to underage children in Galicia area of Austrian Empire. Various similar laws were in effect in other partitions of Poland as well as in other countries in the world. One of those days maybe I’ll get tempted to look it up and explain here. But for now let’s just focus on Galicia.

The new laws regarding adulthood and age of consent went into effect in whole of Galicia on 18th of September 1797, and overall were the most advanced civil laws regarding underage children at the time.

I’ll bring up the most important points of said article and said civil law.

The underage was divided into 3 categories. 1st category were children under the age of 7, 2nd were children under the age of 14, and 3rd were children under the age of 24. It is important to remember that sexual maturity and social maturity were two separate issues. Social maturity and age of maturity set at 24 was connected to social roles of a human being that go back to feudal times in Europe.

Legitimate children from official marriages:

Law regulated that children under the age of 24 were to be taken care of by parents. Parents were to ensure nourishment, clothing, upbringing and adaptation to life in the society. Father was the ruling figure in child’s life and, in case of any conflict between mother and father, child should listen more to the father’s decisions. The parental control could have been shortened if there was parental decision for such; if a person above the age of 20 had own steading with father’s permission; or if a daughter have gotten married.

Child under the age of 18 legally had no say in choosing future occupation. Person above the age of 18 was able to choose their occupation, and if father was against it child was able to go to court to go against such decision.

Father was responsible to financially support the child. After his death, or if he was unable such burden went onto mother of the child. If both parents were deceased such burden went onto parental grandparents, and then maternal grandparents.

Law also took care of disposition of finances of said child. If child had monetary resources from mother or other sources court was controlling if father of said child/children was properly using the resources. Any financial gain from child鈥檚 resources had to be placed into child鈥檚 needs.  Law also suggested that any money that was not spend on the child鈥檚 needs should be invested. Incompetent father could have lost their ability to control the child鈥檚 money if court ruled so.

Parents were also given ability to punish children, even by corporal punishment, as long as the punishment was not overly severe and did not harm their health. Severe punishments that resulted in child鈥檚 health damage or death were forbidden.

*The most important for marriage records* Person under the age of 24 was under father’s authority. They were not authorized to get into any obligations, a marriage was one of those obligations. Father had to give permission for a marriage of such person. If person did not have father’s permission such marriage could have been annulled, or person lost paternal monetary support. If father was deceased the role was undertaken by paternal grandfather. If he was also deceased the role was undertaken by “respectable successor” and court. If family was against the marriage and they would not give permission for said marriage the child was able to go to court to argue his case and undermine their decision.

Law also formalized the legitimacy of children from official marriages. Child born after at least 7 months from the marriage date and no more than 10 months from end of the marriage (either by death of the husband or annulment of marriage) was considered a legitimate child from that marriage. 

If a child was born before 7 months from marriage date and after 10 months from the end of the marriage it was husband鈥檚 decision if he accepts the child as his. Even if the wife was claiming to be unfaithful (before the marriage or during the marriage), husband was able to claim the child as his and her statements were not accepted.

It is important to mention that marriage could have been annulled by the man if woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage, but a man was not aware of it.

Illegitimate children:

Illegitimate child had no right to father鈥檚 last name or his crest (if father was from nobility), and said child was given mother鈥檚 last name. But law placed the obligation for financial support on the child鈥檚 father (if he was known to the mother of course). If said man was forswearing he was not a father, but it was proven he was a father financial obligations were doubled. If said father claimed he could not marry child鈥檚 mother, but such claims were unstained, said father鈥檚 financial obligations were tripled.

Therefore, law was punishing abnegation of paternity, and was promoting marriage between child鈥檚 parents. It was also ensuring financial support of the illegitimate child.

Father who was financially supporting the child was not obligated to reveal himself. (As a note: in case of illegitimate children there might be court cases where such father鈥檚 financial obligations were established. It is the court documents we genealogists should look for in case of such children.)

Even though the father of the child had financial obligations it was in hands of the mother to raise the child and make all the life鈥檚 decisions for said child (including giving the permission for marriage of the child under the age of 24).

If the mother was endangering the child father should take the child away and raise it himself or give him for upbringing to responsible person.

Upon the death of the parents of illegitimate children financial responsibility traveled to parent鈥檚 heirs.

Being a bastard child had negative social consequences to it and was not seen as a good thing in the society, but the law at least regulated the financial part of it and gave support to such children.

Legal adoption:

The civil law in Galicia allowed adoptions. Person adopting could not have made religious vows (be part of the religious order, for example a priest or a nun) and could not have rightful children of their own. Such restrictions in the law was protecting rightful children of adoptive parent, since adoptee had same right as any other heir.

Adoptive person had to be at least 50 years old and adoptee had to be at least 17 years younger. Which allowed people above the age of 24 to be adopted as well. Such practice was established to allow adoptive parent to establish an heir to their estate. Adoptee had to have biological parent鈥檚 permission to be adopted.

Adoption was not the same as raising someone. Parents of a child were able to give a child to be raised by someone else, and any formal decisions/agreements between both parties could not be against the law. Person that took a child to be raised agreed to pay for said child鈥檚 upbringing.

So, that’s my short recap about the article and laws about age of consent and maturity and adulthood in Galicia. I hope you enjoyed this little post and you now understand a lot better why parents’ or family courts’ approvals appear in records.

You’re Nowak? I’m Nowak, too! We might be related!

Ok, ok, *I* am not a Nowak. But if you do carry that last name keep in mind that so do 183,355 Poles in present day Poland (according to 2018 report from Polish Ministry of Digital Affairs). That’s a bit less than a number of people living in Salt Lake City, Utah! *I* do have, however, last name Kowalski in my family tree. In 2018 some 126,000 people in Poland carried that last name. That’s more than population of Hartford, Connecticut! Would any of us go to Salt Lake City or Hartford and ask every person met on a street if they are related to us just based on last name?

Nov谩k聽is also the most popular last name is Czech Republic and, to my surprise, Novak is the most popular last name in Slovenia. Oh, why so many Nowaks/Novaks! Why is it the most popular?! Well, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia do have Slavic roots and so do their languages. In all those languages “Nowak/Novak” means a newcomer, a new person. And last names did for many people originate from nick names. Imagine you’re living in a small village and suddenly a new person arrives at the village. His name is Jan (Polish version of John). He’s not the only Jan in the village. So you talk to your neighbor about situation at the village and it goes something like:

-Hey, there, neighbor! How are you? How are your kids? How’s moonshine making going?

-Oh, good, good. And yours?

-Good. Good, too. Say, what do you think about this Jan fella?

-Jan who?

-Jan the newcomer.

-Ah, him? Helped me with a roof and he has good head for drinking! He’s a good fella!

So Jan who just arrived at the village just got a nickname to distinguish him from all the other Jans’ in the village. And, as you can imagine, Jan the newcomer is not the only one with the nickname in the village. There’s Jan the smith (Kowal), Jan a son of Marcin (Marcinkowski), Jan a son of Piotr (Piotrowski), Jan a fat one (Gruby)… Can you see where I’m going with this?

Oh, and your village is not the only one where there’s newcomer Jan and Jan the smith and Jan a son of Marcin and so on. Same situation occurred in multiple villages across the land. So in two neighboring villages you might have Jan the newcomer but those two Jans’ are not related. They just happen to both be new to their villages.

At some point in history government said people can’t just have different nicknames for each generation and each kid in the family. They have to stick to one nickname/last name that will be carried over. And so last names for all in the population got developed.

Yes, I just shortened the history of last names, but if you are interested in knowing more I recommend you pick up William F. Hoffman’s book “Polish Surnames:Origins & Meanings”

But lest get back on track. Reason I write this entry is that I am an admin for one of the Polish genealogy groups of Facebook and as happy I am it is a growing group I also see more and more posts that go something like “I’m looking for [last name]” with no additional details given.

Those posts have very small chances of success. Reason being that, while your last name might seem strange and unusual to you it most likely is not strange and unusual in Poland. Would you ask “I’m looking for Johnson in US” on US genealogy group?

I would like to share 3 examples of why posts “looking for [last name]” makes little sense.

1) My last name, Cwynar, is very popular in 3 small villages in Podkarpackie Voivodeship. To a point where Cwynar marries Cwynar. I am not related to ANY of them. At least not in last 250 years – that is proven by paper trail. My Cwynars come from small village near Lw贸w. All Cwynars on all forums I found so far are NOT my family. We share the last name, not common ancestors. And if you were to search for my last name on nazwiska-polskie.pl it won’t show Lw贸w area, since that is in present day Ukraine. It won’t give proper distribution of MY family, since a lot changed after WWII.

2) In my tree I have Marcinkowski last name. Actually, I have it twice – I have it in my maternal line and my paternal line. My maternal line and paternal line never crossed each other, never lived near each other, not until my parents met. Marcinkowski is a patronymic last name coming from given name Marcin. It “popped up” as a last name in multiple places around Poland because many people, at the time when last names became a thing in Poland (late 1700s-early 1800s) were children of Marcin – different Marcins. My maternal Marcinkowski come from area of Zdu艅ska Wola in 艁贸dz area, while my paternal Marcinkowski come from Ostr贸w Mazowiecka. Those families are DEFINITELY not related to each other. It is a sheer coincidence, but at the same time there is around 38 million Poles and only limited amount of last names to use. If you were to ask me about my Marcinkowski I would have to know about which village Marcinkowski you speak about.

3) This example is rather complicated. I have Orchowski last name in my tree. I traced it back to Orchowski in late 1700s-early 1800s from around Zdu艅ska Wola. My ancestor Micha艂 Orchowski gives that last name to all his children. But he himself was married Orkowski. It was most likely a priest who changed the family last name and Micha艂 stayed with it. So did all his children and later descendants. Micha艂’s brother, Maciej, is married as Orkowski but most his children are baptized and get married as Workowski or Beutel. Maciej married a German Lutheran woman and his children attended Lutheran church. Priest there was German and translated Workowski into Beutel. It stuck. So Micha艂’s and Maciej’s grandkids, while 2nd cousins, were using either Orchowski, Workowski or Beutel last names. Here comes a twist! Micha艂’s and Maciej’s father, Marcin, was German. He moved with his family from Czarnk贸w (Polish/German area) to Zdu艅ska Wola area (heavily Polish) and priest in Zdu艅ska Wola area used Orkowski for them, but in Czarnk贸w Marcin was known as Beutel and his children were baptized Beutel. That is a reason why I was never able to connect other Orchowski families to my family – my Orchowski is fairly fresh last name! And thanks to paper trail I was able to figure out that Workowski, Orkowski, Orchowski and Beutel are all descendants of Marcin Beutel! But if I were to only post “I’m looking for Orchowski” I would have been stuck on a brick wall for years.

I hope this gives some lesson that only paper trail (with support of DNA) can lead you all down the correct line of ancestors, without any of us barking up the wrong tree. I am sure no one would want to do extensive research into a line to only find out years later they jumped the gun in the beginning and chased after wrong family.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

It’s been almost 6 months since my last post. Six months of… changes… Six months of almost loosing a life, gaining a life, gaining weight, gaining new family, loosing touch with family, gaining and loosing friends, loosing faith…

What I went through in last six months, I never wrote about. I might reveal some in my future blog posts, but there’s a slim chance for that. But genealogically speaking – no descendant of mine (if I’ll have any) will know details of it. And it just happened while I was making other plans and having other anxieties about future… Life just happened. I am glad it happened. And it makes me reflect on a life of my ancestors. We can discover all documents we want to but some details of their life will always be unknown to us.

Some details will always be unknown to future generations…

Isn’t it amazing how some details will always be unknown to future generations? Isn’t it sad? Or even heartbreaking? Isn’t it devastating? We can only imagine the struggles of our ancestors, we can put a story together and “imagine” the blanks, but we will never know the details. And most importantly we will never know how they managed to live on.

But what I went through teaches me that I cannot judge any of my ancestors. While I can say “I would have done differently under the circumstances” I cannot know their state of mind and their character to know if they even had other choices in their life. All I can do is uncover the most to put the puzzle together with limited pieces I hold in my hand.

Till the next entry… I plan to be here for it.

“Impossible to see the future is.” Yoda

This is it. My first real entry.

I have absolutely no idea what to write about. While some came up with the idea for a blog within second and on a spot wrote their first post I’ve been toying with this blog for months. And here I am – not really sure what to write about. Me? My life? My passion? Work? Family? Life…?

My good friend recently proposed a blog prompt for me that went something like ‘if you could go back to 1899 and talk to anyone who would it be and what would you ask?’ I tried thinking like my fellow genealogists – “I would talk to my grandmother” or “I would save 1890 census from fire.” Me, being my usual self, I thought long and hard about that question and here’s my answer – I have no need to go back in time. I want to go into a future!

Yes, I love genealogy. Yes, I love exploring life of my ancestors. But I do love the exploration process and documents are there waiting to be discovered. I am good at what I do. I am good at what I love therefore I have no need to go back in time. I believe if it’s meant to be discovered I will discover it. If it is meant to be explored and uncovered I will explore it and uncover it. I already have success stories to tell. I want more of such. I want to experience them to the full extend with all the hardship that comes with it! That is why I love genealogy! I love discovering my ancestors’ lives and their stories and each document is just another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that makes up me! I don’t want life of my ancestors to be delivered to me on silver platter! Not that time travel is possible. But imagine you go back in time and answer all your questions about your family. Where’s the fun in that???

Where’s the process of discovering who you are and what you’re made of…?

I love the detective work that is involved in genealogy. The discovery of pieces that make up the big picture. I do call myself a “natural born detective.”

…where was I? Ah, yes, the ‘time travel’ question. Instead of going into 1899 I would love to go into 2099 or, better yet, 2199. Some 200 years into a future. My present is so unstable and so unknown that I would love to take a trip into a future and see if I’ll ever fall in love or will I ever have children and grandchildren. Who will be the informant on my death certificate? Who will be a witness on my wedding and who will hold my children to baptism? Will I even have children? I want to see if my name will be on 2020 census… Because the way things are going I’m afraid I won’t be here for it…

My ancestors already lived their lives. They already did what they were suppose to. I feel confident I’ll discover what I need about their lives on my own. I don’t feel a need to time travel. Yes, I have brick walls. Who doesn’t? But I don’t feel like those brick walls are not holding me back in any way. I see my ancestors as people who lived their lives – had jobs, got married, had kids and I am aware of their future because it is my past. All their efforts came down to creating… me. But me? I am afraid of my future. I want to know now what it holds! Now! Today! In this instance!

“I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.”

Yoda

And so I am learning patience. I am patiently discovering my ancestors’ past that is also my past. But I am also patiently discovering my future. Future my ancestors will experience through me. They live through me and their other descendants. And it is up to me and others related to me to live, have hope, have faith and live passing on their genes and, most importantly, their spirits! So it is up to me to pass on their spirits (in form of nature and nurture) to next generations so that one day one of my descendants in 2199 will look back and say “I am who I am because my ancestors were who they were!”

I just hope to gather enough information about my ancestors and leave enough after myself so the future generations in my family will have a clear past to look at. Past without brick walls, misspelled last names, unknown places of births and uncertain stories that will cloud their research. That is my hope… The only hope I have, for now.