Discovering our Ancestors' Travels and Travails

When I first started researching my Polish family history in the early 1990s, I only wanted to document what my parents knew of the family in America. They knew hundreds of relatives of immediate and related families, and had assorted papers, marriage invitations, and funeral prayer cards with names, places, and dates.

It was early days in personal computing, and I used a program called “Brother’s Keeper” to input names, dates, and places on my home computer. I made numerous printouts (on a dot-matrix printer) of family group sheets and graphic representations of family trees and postal mailed them to my parents and other relatives for updates and corrections. I had the use of a “portable” computer from work that booted from a 5¼ inch floppy disk (Drive A:) and wrote to a 5¼ inch floppy disk (Drive B:). I took it with me to my parents’ home in Buffalo, New York, where they were able to tell me things in person and correct my myriad mistakes in real-time.

In addition to the events they were sure about, I encouraged my parents to tell me stories about people and places. I told them they were clues, and gave me a start on things to verify, like city, county, state, and church records. I checked the original records myself when I could in Buffalo City Hall and the Erie County Courthouse. I asked for church and cemetery records. I researched federal census records at the National Archives office in Waltham, Massachusetts. I searched state microfilm records in Albany, New York. I ordered and viewed microfilm records at my local Rhode Island Family History Library at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). I found a lot of information in North America, including dates and locations of things that happened back in Poland.

But the records did not mention Poland! My great-grandfather’s naturalization papers said he renounced his allegiance to the emperor of Germany. The names of places varied, and I found it difficult to read old hand-written records. My mother’s parents came from Russia? It took me awhile and a number of history books to figure out what was going on.

Pre-internet, I ordered Polish atlases and topographic maps to try to find the small villages that my ancestors had left to come to America. I even visited the Central Library in New York City to consult the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich. Warszawa : nakł. Filipa Sulimierskiego i Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1914, the Geographical Dictionary of the Polish Kingdom and other Slavic countries 1880-1914. I was able to identify my grandmother’s birthplace in Gnieszowice near Koprzywnica in the Sandomierz area of Poland, and visited there in 2004. My grandfather’s records had named Stodoły, so I drove through that village as well. I was satisfied with that.

A decade later, things have changed a great deal. Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich is available online, and can be run through an online translator. (It is not grammatically correct, but you can get the gist!) Google has mapped out Poland, and you can find and virtually travel through the small villages that had been so elusive a decade previously. Wikipedia, in English and Polish, gives information on the little villages, their history and current status, at literally the touch of a button.

Best of all, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, the Polish Genealogical Society, has posted the records from many Polish churches and synagogues online at their Genealodzy website at http://genealodzy.pl. There are gaps in the records (not everything was recorded), and gaps in the indexes (not all records were indexed well). They are from Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish sources. One copy was kept in the parish or synagogue, and one was sent to the government. The original project was to put online the index at the back of the record books. If there were errors in the register indices, they merely looked more official online. Some volunteers are doing a second pass, re-indexing through the original records.

Geneteka, the index database at http://geneteka.genealodzy.pl/index.php?lang=eng is the best place to start. It shows a map of Poland with the boundaries of the current voivodeships (provinces), as they have been since 1999.

geneteka main page english

If you know the current province for an ancestral village, you can search the index of birth, marriage, and death records for the whole province, or a specific location. If you do not know the current province where your ancestors are from, you have two options:

GeneszukaczSearch the family name by clicking on upper left “Check occurrence of last name.”

  • For a common Polish name like my father’s Maciejewski, the results are not very useful:geneteka maciejewski
  • But it is easy to see where most people named Skrok (my mother’s family name) were found:geneteka skrok

Parafie You can also click on the church icon from the main page to “Search the Index of the Parishes/Records of Poland.” Only the first few letters of the city, town, or village are needed.

  • A search for my grandmother’s birth village of Gnieszowice does not come up, but a Wikipedia search for Gnieszowice shows that it is “a village in the administrative district of Gmina Koprzywnica, within Sandomierz County, Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, in south-central Poland.”
  • A search for “koprz” shows that in the locality (Miejscowość) there are two parishes (Wezwanie). Koprzywnica is currently in the province (Województwo) świętokrzyskie, but it was formerly (stare means old) in the province tarnobrzeskie, and the county (Powiat) is sandomierski.katalog koprz

American records said that my grandmother, Agnieszka Kapuścińska, was born in 1895 in Gnieszowice, Koprzywnica, and my grandfather, Jan Skrok, was born in 1892 in Kaliszany, Wojciechowice.

One of the nice things about the Geneteka database is that it is forgiving of differences in gender and diacritical marks. Thus, a search of Kapuscinski births (urodzenia) in Koprzywnica shows a listing for Agnieszka Kapuścińska in 1895, entry 38 of that year (rok):

geneteka kapuscinski births

A search of Kapuscinski marriages (małżeństwa) in Koprzywnica shows the marriage of Agnieszka‘s parents Wincenty Kapuściński and Maryanna Witoń in 1887 (entry 16). It is on line 15 below:

geneteka kapuscinski marriages

Searching for the birth of Jan Skrok in Wojciechowice was even more successful. The indexer, Tadeusz Łukaszek, included the names of Jan’s parents, Wincenty Skrok and Marianna Kasprzyk on line 17, year 1892, entry 68. Hovering over the dotted icon in the remarks column gives the date of birth: 1892-06-22, the place: Wojciechowice, and remarks: Kaliszany 1892.06.22.

We also can see that Jan had an older brother, Stanisław, born in 1889, an older sister, Antonina, born in 1891, and two younger sisters, Stanisława, born in 1894, and Zofia, born in 1896. Only Jan and Stanisława emigrated to Buffalo, so I did not know of the other three siblings. Jan and Stanisława had Rzepka cousins in western New York, children of Ignacy and Małgorzata Rzepka, and we can see here that Małgorzata‘s birth name was Skrok.

A click of the SKAN button on the right brought up the Metryki website with a scanned copy of the actual register pages!

geneteka skrok births

Searching Skrok marriages in Wojciechowice was also rewarding. The marriage of Jan‘s parents Wincenty Skrok and Maryanna Kaszprzyk in 1887 (entry 2) is on line 18 below. The indexer included the names of the bride and groom’s parents.

Wincenty Skrok‘s mother’s birth name was listed as Kopka (but further research of the actual records show it to be Kołek). Hovering over the dotted icon showed Wincenty‘s father’s name, Łukasz, and his mother’s name, Katarzyna.

Maryanna Kasprzyk‘s mother’s birth name is listed as Bartkiewicz, and hovering over the dotted icon shows Maryanna‘s father’s name, Jan, and her mother’s name, Małgorzata.

Hovering over the dotted icon in the remarks column gives the place: Wojciechowice, the date of the marriage: 1887-01-19, and remarks: Kaliszany 1887.01.19.

Again, pressing the SKAN button opened the Metryki webpage with a scanned copy of the actual register pages!

geneteka skrok marriages

Metryki allows you to see copies of the actual registers online at  http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/?lang=eng. There are more indices posted online than scanned records, and the Polish Genealogical Society is posting more regularly.

metryki main page english

  • After clicking on a province, the counties (powiat) are listed, and you can see what records are available online. Urząd Stanu Cywilnego is the Registry Office. If both religious and civil records are available, they photograph whichever are in better condition.metryki sandomierski
  • After selecting a collection, a year, and type of record, the files (Pliki) of entry numbers become available. These are the files of marriage records from Koprzywnica in 1887:metryki koprzywnica m 1887
  • Selecting the file opens the record, with options to scroll through or download the pages. In 1887, entry 16 was the marriage of Wincenty Kapuściński and Maryanna Witoń.metryki register
  • Polish nineteenth century records are often in the Napoleonic format and in the language and/or alphabet of the occupying government. That is why the 1887 records from the Sandomierz area are written in Cyrillic. Here the names in the margin and the text are also written using Roman letters. The Family Search wiki has background on the Napoleonic format of Polish vital records.
  • The translation of our grandmother’s parents’ marriage record is the 1887 Marriage of Wincenty Kapuściński & Maryanna Witoń
  • The translation of our grandfather’s parents’ marriage record is the 1887 Marriage of Wincenty Skrok & Maryanna Kasprzyk

Of course I made a donation to help keep the Polish Genealogical Society work going. They make it easy: http://www.geneszukacz.genealodzy.pl/donate-eng.

Comments on: "Researching Polish Church and Civil Records Online" (2)

  1. […] historically part of the Małopolska (Lesser Poland) region, where my mother’s parents and grandparents were […]

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  2. […] example, I used the Geneteka database of the Polish Genealogical Society (in Poland!) to find the birth records of my mother’s parents, their siblings, and their parents’ marriage record…. I learned how I was related to people I knew were cousins, but I was not sure how. Our ancestors […]

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