Monday, December 7, 2020

Both And


When we're stuck on a family history research project, the temptation may be to go one of two ways. We can expand our search horizons, taking in far more general information in an attempt to better orient ourselves to the research problem at hand. Or, we can retrace our steps back to square one to reorient ourselves to the basics of that same research problem.

Actually, it's not a matter of either or. I say it's a matter of both and. In my opinion, they're one and the same approach, and I'm taking both sides of the road in search of an answer as I grapple with my research problem of the two Gramlewicz residents of Żerków, Poland, who married Laskowski descendants from their hometown.

While I'm grinding through the Gramlewicz and Laskowski data on the births, marriages, and deaths listed for the region surrounding Żerków—of which I promised I'd spare you the monotonous details—I've found some useful websites to help expand my understanding of the geographic area my ancestors once called home.

For instance, the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast, in their "Beginnings" page on their website, noted that "because of Poland’s turbulent history, the nation’s administrative jurisdictions have changed many times over the past three hundred years," and concluded:

In view of all these changes, it is necessary to study the historical geography of the region of Poland where your ancestors lived.

While much of the website's advice is geared toward American researchers who are just beginning their family history exploration, it does provide a solid overview of material available online in Poland. Among my small victories in going back to square one with this quest to expand my research horizons was the discovery on this website of exactly what the designation "USC" meant. I had seen that abbreviation in last month's research project, when the towns I was reviewing gave options of viewing records designated at the town name or the town name plus the letters USC. Answer: USC is the acronym for the Polish phrase, Urządy Stanu Cywilnego.

See? Easy! USC. Thanks to Google Translate, with a slight variation on spelling, that means "registry offices"—or, as the Polish Genealogical Society website puts it, "Vital Statistics Offices."

The Society website also reminded me of an old standby I had used in the 1990s, a website called Herby, which is a surname distribution chart based on Polish directories in 1990. Of course, 1990 is a far cry from the mid-1800s when my ancestors still lived in Poland, so I was not surprised to learn that, of the eleven individuals still claiming the surname Gramlewicz in Poland at that time, none of them lived in the province which includes Żerków—turbulence in Poland's history, indeed. (By the way, if you attempt using Herby, arm yourself with Google Translate—or at least remember that "Szukaj" in the little gray box at the top of the web page means "Search.")

Get comfortable with performing Google searches for the key terms in your family's history. Everything from the surname to the ancestral town or region, to the history of the area during the time preceding your ancestor's emigration can reveal a clue you might not otherwise have considered. 

It surely took a lot to convince someone, especially in those earlier centuries when travel was so difficult, to irrevocably leave their home and break ties with family and community. Something equally compelling—whether war, extreme poverty, or widespread disease—was likely present to convince our ancestors to choose such drastic measures as mounting such a difficult move. It's up to us to piece together the story on their behalf. Perhaps, in the doing, the process will lead us to realizations which also point us to the family history details which started us on this journey in the first place. 

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