Thursday, August 11, 2016

Finding Herby

The trouble with researching one's roots from another country is that, to do so, it helps to understand the native language. So, to research my Gramlewicz rootsand, by extension, the Laskowski relatives who likely came from the same villageI would have to be able to work in Polish.

Problem: I don't speak Polish.

That problem didn't stop me when I was still tracking the Gramlewicz folks back in New York City, even though I did learn to search for them in some unexpected places, like the Italian Genealogical Group's website. (For websites like that, you don't have to be Italian; your family just needs to live in a part of NYC.) But when it came to jumping the pond and landing in Polandor German-occupied Poland, or Prussia, or whatever politically-correct term was being used at the timeit helped to know a bit about the local lingo.

Back when I was first attacking this research issue, services like Ancestry were in their nascent state. Genealogists learned how to make do by reaching out to each other, sharing their quandaries, and pooling their knowledge in a crowdsourcing effort for mutual assistance.

That's when I first learned about Herby.

Herby was this website which could tell you where all the Polish folks with your target surname might have been living, by province, in 1990. Well, let me correct that: not all the population. About ninety four percent of them. Missing were folks from about eighteen locations throughout the countryenough to add up to about six percent of the total population of the country. But hey. It's better than nothing.

Now that I'm picking that research quest back up for my Polish roots, I had to dust off my notes and see if Herby was still around on the Internet or whether it had simply vanished into the ether. I did a Google search to see what I could find, and was pleased to see that someone had resurrected an old blog post by a researcher whose name I remembered from those earlier, genealogy forum using years: Fred Hoffman. Thanks to the website run by JRI-Poland ("Jewish Records Indexing Poland"), Fred Hoffman's article explaining "Herby" is still available onlinean excellent resource if you want to understand more about this Polish website; I advise you take the time to read it.

Of course, if you need no help understanding phrases like "Proszę wprowadzić nazwisko," you are all set to jump in on your own and search for your ancestors. The rest of us need some hand-holding while we learn the ropes on navigating Polish websites like Herby. That is where I found those old genealogy forums to be invaluable. Of course, now, in the hacking zeitgeist of our era, most people assume they can enter a surname in the dialog box directly under that Polish phrase. And they'd be right; the phrase means "please enter a name."

Then, too, now we have Google Translate. Back in the nineties, we didn't.

In the hopes of finding resources to help me with surname mapping for the Gramlewicz family, I put Herby through its paces. I entered "Gramlewicz" in the search box, and hit "Szukaj"er, "Search."

The websitewhich looks suspiciously like it hasn't been updated since 1990came up with a series of codes in response to my query. To find out what the codes mean, you have to click on the highlighted phrase near the top, "Tutaj znajdują się objaśnienia skrótów." ("Here are the abbreviations.") The codes pop up in a box, in which is embedded another hyperlink leading to a map of the regions detailed in the first box.

As for the Gramlewicz name, there were four provinces in which people with this surname were found: one in Warsaw, one in Lublin, three in Katowice, and six in Bydgoszcz.

While having such information is greatit is certainly much more than I knew before this pointit wasn't entirely helpful. For one thing, I am totally lacking in familiarity with Polish geography. Forget about any geopolitical boundariesI am clueless what is where.

But there was one more problem: even if I knew the provinces in which those Gramlewiczes lived in 1990, come 1998, everything changed as far as provinces were concerned. The geopolitical map of Poland was redrawn and boundaries changed. Just when I thought I had my answer.

The next task, then, became juxtaposing the discovery on Herby with the more recent map of Polish provinces since the lines were redrawn in 1998. And, just as I had found when fellow researchers shared with me the news about Herby, there were other resources to use that would help with this task, as well.

Above: "Femmes séchant le linge" (Women drying the laundry), undated oil on canvas by Belgian artist Évariste Carpentier (1845 - 1922); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Good luck. It sounds like you're moving forward in you quest to find Gramlewitz Family.

    1. Thanks, Grant. It's always exciting to make new discoveries after a search has been languishing for far too long!

  2. I have been following your Polish Genealogy series religiously and they are very good.I have to confess - I saved my Polish genealogy for last as I knew it would mean conquering the Russian language in deciphering the records. My Polish ancestors were from Russia Poland. I did join my local Polish genealogy society which has been very helpful as well as PGSA. Fred Hoffman's ( and Jonathan Shea ) books are like my bibles in getting through the records in Poland.

    1. I don't envy you that position, Magda, and it is certainly understandable to put off a task of that magnitude. Still, you have to remember every research task is conquered bit by bit. I think that message was driven home to me, now that I'm reviewing all those email messages and notes, and seeing all the dates. This is a process which took me well over ten years--with about eight of them being the span of time in which I exchanged emails with my Polish cousin. There were a lot of stops and starts, too. It wasn't all smooth sailing. But we learn as we go--and become grateful for all those whose help has been invested in our quest.

      Glad to see you back and hear you are joining in here, Magda, for this sequence. Remember I'm just a genealogical guinea pig, so consider my discoveries the unfolding of a learning process. I have a lot to learn, too--just want to share it as I go.

  3. Herbie (the VW) was in Monte Carlo the last I saw him.


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