Face it: when your family history quest brings you into new research territory, it helps to have a guide to walk you through unfamiliar places. That, in a way, is what finding aids are: lists of where to find resources that will help with your specific research goal.
Delving into my paternal grandparents' roots in Poland is indeed, for me, walking into unknown territory. I have already tried my hand at researching one branch of my paternal grandfather's ancestors when I included that relative in my Twelve Most Wanted list for last year. Now, I want to find more information on another branch of my paternal side: my great-grandmother Marianna Jankowska's family.
But where to look? That's where locating finding aids is so important.
When we think of finding aids, one resource that comes to mind might be Cyndi's List, which includes a long list of possible places to check in her section on Poland. Another might be to pull up the catalog at Ancestry.com. However, even though I have a World Explorer subscription, I found the listings for Poland at Ancestry seem to focus mainly on several record sets from the World War II era—many of them free to access, no matter what type of subscription you have—or they cover a different region of Poland than the area where Marianna's family lived.
When all else fails—and why wait until then?!—one sure bet is to check the wiki at FamilySearch.org, and that is indeed what I did. My first stop was to check the resources FamilySearch might have pertaining to Catholic church records in Poland, mainly to orient myself to their holdings. I also looked at the FamilySearch wiki for all church records in Poland, since several civil records were derived from church copies.
Working one's way through a wiki sometimes ends up being a chase through a chain of links. Sure enough, the Poland Church Records wiki advised how to determine your family's specific parish, recommending a visit to the website Kartenmeister to find the church and civil jurisdictions for Marianna's family in the tiny town of Żerków. As promised, the website provided the information I was seeking, including the helpful detail that the town, under German control, was called Bergstadt.
The FamilySearch wiki went on to provide a list of several websites either hosted in Poland or devoted on Polish ancestry. Some of them were already familiar to me. Others focused on specific regions in Poland other than Marianna's homeland. One, for instance, was a site I had heard of before—Geneteka—but had never used. While FamilySearch provides an entry on Geneteka in their own wiki, the website itself provides a tutorial, as well.
Working with resources like the FamilySearch wiki, you will find the website is good for providing information in more ways than one. Sure enough, there was yet another entry in the wiki on finding aids in Poland, this one listing many of the sites mentioned in the previous paragraph, but also listing regional websites, as well as browsable images within their own website.
If that were not enough, the wiki also included a clickable list of websites by record type.
Granted, there are many gaps to contend with in record availability. Not only in the town of Żerków, but also in the greater surrounding region of Poznań, the devastation of World War II destroyed not only buildings but the records housed within—not to mention the staggering number of lives lost.
With this list of lists as our starting point, we will sift through the possibilities to see what can be located on Marianna's relatives in the Jankowski family next week.