Save Your Family Stories

We all have family stories that give insights into the lives our ancestors. Some are entertaining, others are celebrations of our cultural heritage and others are more historical in nature. They all should be saved for future generations.

Don’t be afraid to begin. Concentrate on finding one story and then another by doing the research. Finding the small pieces will make the task easier and will be fun. Eventually the small pieces will begin to fit together and the overall story that is your family history will appear.

Jump start your Polish genealogy research

The Polish Genealogy Society of America (PGSA) has scheduled their 2015 Conference for Saturday September 26 and it will feature four great speakers. If your family lived on Chicago’s south side, mark your calendar for Friday September 25 and join the PGSA bus tour of the Polish churches and neighborhoods where your ancestors lived.

The conference will be held at the Chicago Marriott Midway at 6520 S. Cicero Avenue in Chicago. On Saturday morning, Ginger Frere will discuss the golden nuggets that you can find in community and local government resources including NARA at Great Lakes. The second session in the morning will be led by Ellie Carlson who will give you insights on dating your pictures by identifying the period clothes you see.

The conference luncheon will feature entertainment by the Keith Stras and Rick Rzeszutko Polka Radio Show and will be followed by the keynote speaker Dominic Pacyga. His talk is titled “Polish Chicago: From Fourth Partition to Suburbia” and will describe the emigration of four million Poles from the Russian, Austrian and German partitions to the United States between 1870 and 1920 in search of a better life. Their relocation is referred to as “the Fourth Partition.”

Both afternoon sessions will be given by Ola Heska. In the first afternoon session learn how to obtain vital records from the Polish State Archives website with step-by-step instruction. Free Wi-Fi is available to allow you to follow along on your laptop or tablet. The second session will cover two exciting new Polish websites Geneteka and Metryki. Learn how to search for ancestors in these databases that have been indexed by the Polish Genealogical Society (PTG). Learn how to obtain the digitized vital records that are now available online.

The bus tour on Friday will include stops and tours of the “original” Sears-Roebuck water tower, St. Adalbert Parish in the Pilsen neighborhood, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Parish in Bridgeport, the Pullman Railroad Car Company site and St. Michael the Archangel Parish in the South Shore neighborhood. More views along the bus route will include the Spiegel Warehouse, the 1893 Columbian Exposition Fair Grounds, Immaculate Conception Parish, over Blues Brothers movie ‘bridge,’ the site of US Steel mills and more.

Plan to stay at the Chicago Marriott Midway. The hotel is conveniently located close to Midway Airport and a discounted room rate of $99 per night has been arranged for a limited number of conference attendees..

Life is short. Your efforts in attending the PGSA conference will be rewarded with a wealth of new sources to find information for your family history.

Visit www. PGSA.org for registration information and more detail.

Ask the Right Question

Searching on the internet, in books or reviewing documents will provide you a wealth of family history but at some point you will need to ask someone for help.

Asking questions the right way is important to getting the answers you need. Focus your question on getting one specific result. Think about your objectives: what do you know; what do you want to learn; which people and events is the person you are asking likely to be the most knowledgeable. Do not ask a question seeking everything someone knows about a subject; they may ignore your question because they do not know where to start. Also do not ask a question that can easily be found; do not waste an expert’s time by asking them to do something you should be able to easily find yourself.

The same advice will be true when seeking information from family members. If you ask Uncle Fred to tell you everything he knows, he may side-step you by responding that he can’t remember anything. Ask specific questions that jog the memory. Whenever possible, show old photographs of people and places.

If you write others seeking information, remember your manners. You are asking them for help and it should be easy for them to reply. Ask questions precisely. Include as much information as necessary to identify the individual you are interested in, but don’t include information that will not help or is confusing.

My Polish Ancestors: Peasants or Nobles

When I found the Polish baptismal records for my ancestors, I was surprised to see that they were of “royal birth.”

How could my ancestors be nobility and still be poor farmers? A recent article by Iwona Dakiniewicz helped explain what happened to my ancestors and many more of the nobility. Iwona’s article was titled Time for Nobles and it appeared in the February 2015 edition of the Rodziny published by the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

Iwona explained that at one time all of the children of the nobles had an equal right to inherit the property. The sons received equal parts of the land and the daughters received dowries. This caused rapid subdivision of large estates. If the farm became too small, the landowner had to work the land himself because he could not afford to support serfs or pay laborers. Thus the class of minor nobles (zaściankowa) was born from the heirs who owned small farms but whose ancestors were brought up on large manor estates (folwarks) and had lived privileged lives. Their heirs could not enjoy the right of inheriting equally. After the estates were reduced to sizes that could barely support one family, the laws were changed to giving the right to inherit to only the oldest son.

Iwona’s article also explains that the adjective zaściankowy comes from za, “behind” and ściana, “wall.” This describes the idea that the minor nobles were impoverished and working their own fields but seemed to stand behind an invisible wall that continued to separate them from the peasants who lived nearby.

The mass exodus of the farm laborers from the Polish countryside between 1870 and 1920 was due to their poor living conditions. They needed to emigrate to find a place that could improve their living conditions. This wave of immigration is often called za chlebem or “for bread.” Peasants were not the only class of Polish people included in this wave. It also included many of the children of minor nobles who did not have the right to inherit and had to emigrate to find opportunities for themselves.

The majority of Polish-Americans are descendants of Poles who arrived after 1850. It is estimated that more than 2 million Poles had immigrated by the 1920s. Today, there are over 10 million Americans of Polish descent in the United States. Learn more about your Polish ancestors and enjoy your heritage.

Memories of Dziadka: Rural life in the Kingdom of Poland 1880-1912 and Immigration to America

My new book is about the life of a Polish immigrant from the Russian partition of Poland. It covers his early life in Poland, includes descriptions of his journey to America and his life in his new land. I used my grandfather as the main character but it is not his biography. I included information from accounts from various immigrants to give an example of a complete life and used this format to make it interesting for the reader. My hope is to show what our immigrant ancestors endured to come to America.

Oral History – Fact or Fiction

Our family’s oral history may involve stories of the immigration of the family to America or it may be as simple as saving a family recipe. The information we obtain through conversations with relatives must be taken at face value. But remember that memories often fade and facts get confused with other facts. Some of the facts may not seem accurate but remember that some parts are probably true.

It takes practice to recognize what parts of oral history should be believed but in most cases all portions of the stories should be researched to confirm their validity. Remember that we may never find the complete story because some information simply isn’t available. Also be patient and research the facts thoroughly.

Translate Polish Records

The language used for the records that you find in Polish records will be in Latin, Polish, Russian or German. As you browse the images you should have a list of key words such as dates and relationships to help you select the images that may pertain to your ancestors. You will be able to assemble your list from word lists in the wiki articles at Familysearch.org or genealogy books that have glossaries of genealogy terms. Modern translation dictionaries will not normally include the terms that you find in these older documents because many terms have fallen out of use and have been replaced with modern terms.

I have found that translating old Russian records are difficult for those that learned Russian in modern schools because they cannot interpret the old script and are not familiar with the old formal terms. Also the Cyrillic alphabet was changed by Stalin in the 1950s. The Napoleonic format was written in Polish until the Tsar tightened his control over his Polish provenances and required the use of Russian on all records. In 1868, officials and priests began using the Cyrillic alphabet and Russian for vital records Russian was used for this area until after WW I when the language used reverted to Polish.

I hope that my new eBook, Hints for Translating Polish Genealogical Records, will prove help as a quick reference.

Other books that will aid you in understanding Polish records are:

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