Disclaimer…I do not claim to be an expert on Polish research, but I did want to share some highlights from a research guide I received for Christmas. It has been on my wish list for quite some time. If you have ancestors in the Polish, Czech and Slovak areas, it is an excellent resource. Let’s look
The guide I’m referencing is The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide by Lisa A. Alzo. You are probably familiar with Lisa’s online and magazine articles. She is an expert in this field. I thought I would share a few highlights as I delve into this work. You may want to order your own copy if you do have relatives in those regions.
As we cross the pond, the two key items need to be known for success: your ancestor’s name and their hometown. This is true whether you are researching in Luxembourg or England or Poland. Just imagine how challenging it would be to look for your ancestor in the United States if you did not know the state and county they were from. The same is true when researching in another country.
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke
In a similar way, we may waste time and make silly mistakes if we do not understand the history of the country we are researching. Poland was ruled by several different countries, saw extensive border changes, and survived wars. It is worth your while to read up on the Polish history. You can do this by a quick internet search or read the history chapter in this book. By knowing the timelines and border changes you increase your odds of looking for records in the right location.
Understanding names. You may find that the Polish names of your ancestor were changed or Americanized once they settled in the United States. This could happen because they wanted to change their name because of English pronunciation or because the Polish alphabet has letters that do not exist in the English language. In the case of my ancestors’ first names: Nicholas in America was Mikołaj, Mikołajek or Mikołojek in Poland while his bride, Anastasia was Stanislawa in Poland. I was puzzled by Stanislawa until I found this site that has Polish given names and their English equivalents. The English equivalent is Stacy which is also a nickname for Anastasia. Take some time to figure out what your ancestor’s first name might be in the Polish records.
Using this site, you can view your surname and how many people were living in Poland and in what region as of 1990. The source is “Dictionary of Surnames Currently Used in Poland” edited by Kazimierz Rymut If you are unsure of where your ancestor’s place of origin is, this may help you figure out the general area to start searching. There is a link to the map and a key to the map in the text under the search bar.
And to explore names further this is a fun site, Behind the Name, which allows you to search first names and see their popularity and meaning and variations by country.
We will continue Polish research next week. Have fun delving into Polish history and take some time to understand your ancestors’ names.
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.