Researching your Polish genealogy may seem a little intimidating at the start. Read these get-started tips from a Polish genealogy veteran at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Then you’ll know how to dive right into your Polish family history–and where to turn if you need a little help.
Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for supplying this guest blog post. Legacy Tree employs researchers with a wide range of expertise. They asked their Polish expert, Julie, to share tips for finding Polish ancestors, based on her decades of experience.
If you’re an American researching your Polish ancestors, you aren’t alone. Polish Americans make up the largest Slavic ethnic group in the United States, second largest Central and Eastern European group, and the eighth largest immigrant group overall. So how do you begin tracing your roots in Poland?
Get Started: 4 Polish Genealogy Tips
1. Get to know the basics of Polish history.
Probably every Polish-American family has heard mention of the “border changes” that were supposedly the reason why Grandpa’s papers say he was from Austria, although everyone knew he was Polish. What many people don’t realize is that Poland did not exist as an independent nation from 1795 until 1918. Historically, Polish lands were partitioned among the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian Empires, and ethnic Poles were citizens of one of those three nations. This is why you might see your Polish ancestors stating Russian birth on the 1910 U.S. census, but Polish birth on the 1920 U.S. census, after Poland was reestablished as an independent nation.
By Rzeczpospolita_Rozbiory_3.png: Halibuttderivative work: Sneecs (talk) – Rzeczpospolita_Rozbiory_3.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, click to view on Wikipedia.
2. Determine your Polish ancestor’s religion.
Buffalo, New York. Children of the Polish community leaving church with baskets of food on the day before Easter. Library of Congress photo; digital image via Wikipedia. Click to view.
Although we in the U.S. are accustomed to the separation of church and state, this was not the case in many places. In Poland, it was common for priests, ministers, or rabbis to act as civil registrars, blending ecclesiastical and government authority as they recorded births, marriages, and burials. Although this was the protocol in all three partitions for the majority of the 19th century, the exact span of dates in which this was true vary based on the partition in which your ancestors lived, and greatly affects where you should be searching for the records you need. In “Russian Poland,” for example, civil record keeping began in 1808 with Roman Catholic priests acting as civil registrars for people of all faiths (not just Catholics). Beginning in 1826, each faith was allowed to keep its own civil records using a paragraph-style format that remained relatively stable through the 1930s. Civil registration that was independent of any religious organization did not begin until 1945.
The fact that civil copies of church records were made increases the likelihood that records survived for your ancestor’s town. There’s a persistent myth that “all the records were destroyed in the wars,” but that’s simply not true in most instances. Existing records for some locations date back to the 1600s, but in other places surviving records are sparser.
3. Use U.S. records to determine your ancestor’s precise place of origin.
Grandma may have said that her father came from Warsaw, but most of our ancestors came from small villages, not large cities. It’s more likely that her father was using Warsaw as a point of geographic reference to give people a rough idea of where he lived, since others are unlikely to recognize the name of a small village. This means that you most likely won’t find his birth record by looking for it in Warsaw, but it also leaves you in the dark about where to look instead.
What kinds of records are most likely to indicate a precise place of birth? Passenger manifests and petitions for naturalization (if dated after 1906) are great sources for this information. If your Polish ancestors were Catholic, church records from the parish they attended in the U.S. are much more likely to contain specific place of birth than their civil equivalents. These include marriage records for immigrants who married in the U.S., baptismal records for U.S.-born children of immigrants, and church death/burial records.
Click here for an article about a woman who found her Polish Catholic grandparents’ church marriage record–and with it their overseas birth place–at St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo, NY. You’ll also learn tips for finding Catholic church records in the U.S.
If your ancestors were Jewish, check cemetery records for mention of any landsmannschaft to which they might have belonged. Landsmannschaften were fraternal aid societies organized by immigrants from the same town in Europe, and they frequently purchased large burial plots for their members.
4. Use a gazetteer to determine the parish or registry office that served your ancestor’s village.
Depending on which partition your ancestors came from, some good gazetteers include:
The Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, which includes all of Russian Poland (officially known as the “Królestwo Polskie” or Kingdom of Poland) published in 1877. The SKP is mostly written in Polish with some text in Russian.
Kartenmeister, an easy-to-use online gazetteer for “German Poland” that covers East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. Kartenmeister can be searched using either the German or the Polish name for a town.
The Galician Town Locator, offered by Gesher Galicia, is another easy-to-use resource that covers the historic Galicia region, which was a part of the Austrian Empire that is now split between Poland and Ukraine.
The JewishGen Gazetteer is a phonetic gazetteer to assist in identifying the correct location in cases where your ancestor’s place of origin is misspelled on U.S. records. It covers areas throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
Once you have correctly identified both your ancestor’s place of birth and the location of his place of worship or civil records office, you’re ready to make the jump back to records in Poland.
Get Expert Help with Your Polish Genealogy Questions
We at Legacy Tree Genealogists would be honored to assist you with any step along the way in your journey to discover your ancestral origins, including onsite research if needed. Our experts have the linguistic and research skills to efficiently find your family. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Exclusive offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Save $100 on a 20-hour research project using code GG100, valid through October 31st, 2017.
In this blog and video series I’m showing you how you can create captivating videos about your family history quickly and easily with Animoto.
In the First Episode
In episode 1 we laid a foundation for the family history video that you are going to create. Doing this will save you time and ensure a cohesive, well-told story. We also:
defined your audience
identified and outlined the story that you want to tell
collected the content that you will include in your video
If you missed episode 1, you can watch it below:
Get a Free Animoto.com Account
The first thing to do is to go to Animoto here and sign up for a free trial account, which gives you the full power of Animoto Pro. No credit card is required. This trial period is the perfect opportunity to test drive Animoto and see just how easy it is to use. As I’ve said before, if you can click, drag, and drop, you can make videos with Animoto.
The videos you create during the trial will be watermarked, but still downloadable and shareable. If you decide to use Animoto beyond the trial period, there are several pricing plan options. You can purchase as little as one month for around $16 (check their site for current pricing). If you’ve done your prep work like we did in episode 1, you can create several videos in that time period.
OK, I know you’re anxious to get going, so let’s create a video!
It’s super easy. Once you’re signed into your account, click the Create button.
First up, select a style that fits your story. Here are some of my favorites for family history:
You’ll notice that some styles have a Premium banner. Those require a Premium subscription. However, if you’ve opted for a Personal level subscription you still have lots of wonderful styles to choose from.
Click on a style that catches your fancy and watch a preview of what it will look like. When you find the one you want, click the Create Video button on that style page. This will load the Video Creator.
The style you chose will include a song, but you can change that if you want to. To select a new song, click Change Song, and you can pick a song from the Animoto library.
You can also upload your own music mp3 file from your computer. (Remember to keep copyright in mind, and make sure you have the rights to use the song.)
But wait, you can add more than music! You can also upload an audio file, such as a family history interview, or even an mp3 file that you created that includes both music and words.
Adding Pictures & Video
Now it’s time to add your photos, images, and video clips. Of course that’s easy because in episode 1 of this series you created an outline for your story, and you copied the files you wanted to use to illustrate that story into a folder on your computer. So you’re all set to go!
There are two ways to add files. From the menu, click AddPics & Vids, or on the timeline click the plus sign in the empty box. In the pop up window you’ll find lots of options for imagery, including stock photos from Animoto. But for now, let’s add the images you put in the folder on your drive (see episode 1).
Under Your Computer click Upload Pictures and Video. Navigate your way to your content folder on your computer’s hard drive. Click to select the first image, and then you can select them all by holding down the shift key on your keyboard, and clicking the last image in the folder. Press Enter on your keyboard to add them to your project.
You can rearrange the order of your images and videos by dragging and dropping them with your mouse. If you decide to eliminate an image, simply click to select it and from the menu click Delete.
Next, we’re going to add text to your videos, creating title cards. Again you can do this from the menu, or just click the plus sign in the empty box on the timeline, and then click Add Text.
In the pop up box you’ll type a title (or the main text) and then you have the option to add a subtitle. This is where the outline we created in Video 1 comes in so handy! When you’re done, click Save. And don’t worry because you can always go back and change any text at any time.
Title cards are great for the beginning and ending of your video and also for transitioning to different parts of the story.
Simply click and drag the cards into the order that you want them.
You can also add text captions to each of your images. Hover your mouse over the image and click Caption under the image. In the pop up window containing your image, click to place your cursor in the text area, type in the desired text, and then click Save.
Spotlighting an Item
You may have a few images or title cards that you want the “camera” to spend a little more time on, thereby spotlighting it. To create that effect, just click to the select the image or title card, and then click Spotlight in the menu. I particularly like to Spotlight title cards so that the viewer has plenty of time to read them.
So let’s see how this looks so far, and to do that we’re going to click PreviewVideo. You can preview your video at any time during the production process.
A low resolution version of your family history video will be created in about 15 seconds. Then you can watch and see what little tweaks and changes you want to make. Click Continue Editing to head back to the timeline and keep working.
I hope you’re getting excited about your video projects. Next time we get together, we’re going to bring our projects down the homestretch and produce them into glorious shareable videos.
A selection of American newspapers from 1885, with portraits of their publishers. Original image at the Library of Congress, no known restrictions. Digital image from Wikipedia (click to view).
The first daily newspaper in the US, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, appeared in Philadelphia on this day in 1783. It was short-lived as a daily, but gained traction as a semi-regular paper by 1775. How did publisher Benjamin Towne make it work? By not having a lick of journalistic objectivity, apparently.
“Towne was able to survive through the War for Independence by supporting the side in power,” says this post at FamousDaily.com. “In 1775 his Evening Post was vocal in opposition to the British; but when Philadelphia was occupied briefly by the British troops, Towne welcomed them with open arms. Then when the Patriots took back the city, Towne published a special ‘patriotic’ edition of his paper in honor of their return.”
What a great story! His success heralded more to come. According to a post at the U.S. Census website, “Americans’ hunger for news was such that by 1850, there were some 250 dailies. The number of newspapers peaked around a hundred years ago, when there were 2,600 dailies published across the nation, with a circulation of over 24 million.”
Newspapers are one of the best places to learn more about our ancestors’ everyday lives, their vital events and happenings that affected them. Learn more in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. Here you’ll findinspiring stories about what’s IN newspapers, step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free and worth-a-few bucks online resources, and a massive amount of location-specific websites for international and U.S. historical newspapers.
Would you rather learn by watching? Genealogy Gems Premium members and subscribing genealogy societies can enjoy Lisa’s two-part video series, “Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors in Newspapers.” You’ll learn what key family history information may be found in historical newspapers; how to identify newspapers that likely covered your ancestors; websites that have digitized collections of newspapers; Lisa’s top search tips and cool tech tools; how to use Evernote in your newspaper research; and more about African-American Newspaper Research (bonus download!).
Click here to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership, and (NEW!) click here to see how your genealogy society can watch these and other Premium videos at their meetings!
Don’t be intimidated by signing up for Backblaze, the cloud-based computer backup service I recommend.
Here’s how to download Backblaze in four easy steps. Protecting genealogy data, family photos, and other files is essential!
I was pretty startled when I discovered that the cloud backup service I used to use wasn’t backing up my video files! That was a deal-breaker for me. So, after reviewing other cloud backup service options, I chose Backblaze. I’m really glad I did. Backblaze runs 24/7 through my internet connection and is constantly saving changes I make to every file. That means if my computer is lost, stolen, destroyed, or hit with deadly viruses, I’ll always have copies of my files and that even includes my large video files!
Genealogy Gems Premium website member Kathy felt a little intimidated about downloading BackBlaze for the first time:
“I received your e-mail yesterday with all the helpful information. I remember you mentioning Backblaze in previous e-mails, and I looked up their website and read the information I could find. However, it did not show the download steps, so I could not tell how difficult it would be and if it would ask me really hard questions that I would not know how to answer during backup, so I didn’t subscribe.
I have had a few external hard drives with backup programs before and they were very difficult and I didn’t want to go through that again. But, I decided that today would be the day, that I would back up my computer…I subscribed to Backblaze. I trust your judgement, so thank you for your advice.”
Have you wondered, like Kathy did, if it would be complicated to set up Backblaze? Has it held you back from taking the leap to protect your files? I want you and our other readers and listeners to feel 100% confident in downloading this awesome back-up service. Here’s how to download Backblaze to your device in four easy steps.
You will be asked to create an account using your email address and choosing a password. Once you have clicked “Start Backing Up,” a pop up window will appear and you can download Backblaze to your device.
Next, another pop-up window will ask your permission to install Backblaze to your device. Click “Ok.”
Wait patiently. Yet another pop-up window will appear and ask you to “Install.” Click “Install Now.” It may take several minutes depending on the speed of your internet connection.
You have now installed Backblaze and the back-up process has begun. You can continue to use your device normally as all your data is backing up.
How to Schedule Your Back-up Time
It is quick and easy to set up a time for Backblaze to back-up your data. By clicking on “Settings,” and then “Schedule,” you have the pull-down menu options of a continuous backup (this is the option Backblaze recommends, and the one I chose,) a daily backup, or “when I click <back up now>.” Choose whatever option is best for you and then click “Apply” and “Ok” at the bottom of the window. You are all set!
A Crucial Aspect of Your Genealogy Research
So, why did Kathy want cloud backup service? She says:
In 2013, we had a house fire and we lost everything but the clothes on our backs. I lost 30 years of genealogy, all my records and my genealogy library, plus all the ancestral photos that can never be replaced. I did have a back-up system, but it burnt right along with my computer. At first, I thought I would never do genealogy again. I would never be able to replace all that I had lost. It was costly enough to order all the birth, death, and marriage records the first time. There was no way I could do it again. I bought another computer and a copy of Family Tree Maker 2012 and decided that I would just work on some of the families that I was most interested in. I have very limited resources now, but I am enjoying trying to rebuild little bits of my tree. Thank you for all you do for the genealogy community. It is greatly appreciated.
My heart aches for Kathy’s loss. I hear stories like her’s far too often. I truly believe that backing up our precious genealogy data is a crucial (and underutilized) aspect of family history research. I hope her story will help to encourage others to start backing up today. I am so happy that many Gems, like Kathy, are now using Backblaze.
After doing my homework, I was proud to bring Backblaze on as the official backup of The Genealogy Gems Podcast. Please get the word out there to your favorite genies that Backblaze is an effective and cost-efficient way to save us from loss of our most important data. They’ll be thanking you!