Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Expanding Your Research Horizons


One drawback to becoming comfortable with relying on old standard resources—such as or—is that we lose the urge to reach out and stretch beyond those familiar sites. This is particularly true when venturing beyond the borders of our own country, and even more so when we explore those regions beyond our own language barrier.

In my search for my second great-grandfather's Jankowski family in Poland, it is true that there were several record sets available to me on both FamilySearch and Ancestry. One glance—no, make that two—at the FamilySearch wiki's listings of specific Polish resources seemed full of options, until I took a closer look. That was when I realized so many of the links provided only pointed back to the same few American-based websites.

True, among those links was one which led me to a tutorial for using the Polish State Archives website. But keep in mind, there are several resources for Polish genealogy in Poland—and that is what I wanted to find. I wanted to broaden my research horizons.

Besides the site I've already mentioned this week—the Poznan Project—there is another site pertinent to the region I've been researching. While the volunteers at Poznan Project dedicate themselves to transcribing nineteenth century marriage records from "the historic Greater Poland"—also known as Poznań, for the city at the center of the region, or Posen—I wanted more than just marriage records. I found that in a website known as the Baza Systemu Indeksacji Archiwalnej, or the Database of Archival Indexing System.

Let's just call that the BaSIA for short.

Though the website's English version still contains much introductory content written out in Polish, it is easy to navigate, and the data we seek are definitely provided in English. The content is free to search, starting with a dialog box on the top right, inviting visitors to "type surname to search for..." and press the search bar.

Following my research trail from yesterday's discovery, I wanted to find any collateral lines from either my second great-grandfather Franz Jankowski or his wife, Franziska Olejniczak. Since Jankowski is a far more common surname, I opted first to enter his wife's maiden name, Olejniczak.

Though all the results were transcriptions, the surname search provided not only records for the identity of the person featured in a document, but searched for the key term within fields for the names of parents and even witnesses. Besides, this website went beyond the focus of the Poznan Project—nineteenth century marriage records only—to include births and deaths as well. With a far more generous time frame—the dates reach back to the 1500s and all the way up to the current century—the only restriction would be if the records were destroyed during the region's turbulent history. The place search can be restricted as narrowly as needed, which was useful for my purposes in examining records specifically from the town of Żerków. Best of all is the clickable link alongside each entry leading to scans of the document held at the Polish State Archives.

While browsing the results at BaSIA line by line by my selected surnames, I opened up the profile page for those two families' surnames in my tree at Ancestry. When I found a record in BaSIA which matched names in my tree, I added the information to the specific person's profile page at Ancestry. Once I complete this process for both the Jankowski line and the Olejniczak line—at least for those names which I already know link to my specific branches of those families—I will have gained usable information on collateral lines.

The next steps will be to see whether any of those families also migrated to the United States like their relatives—a common scenario, as so many researchers have found—and also to see whether the information will shed some light on DNA matches whose ancestors also led them back to Poland. By stretching beyond that research comfort zone, new horizons may indeed provide the extra detail to jettison me over that brick wall, back on the road to finding the next connection in the family tree. 


  1. My husband's family is Polish. All the information I have for his GG Grandfather is the manifest when he arrived under a nickname and said he was going to Kansas in 1892. His name on a birth certificate for his youngest son born in Arkansas later that year and his name in parenthesis next to his wife (as widowed) in a city in New York in a 1900 city directory.

    I first tried his name on the BaSIA site - nothing. Then I tried Poznan and found their marriage listed! Luckily that page could be translated to English. Have you used the Poznan site to obtain copies of anything. There seems to be some kind of application, but it does not translate. As soon as I get a block of time, I am going to try to google translate it word for word. Or can you recommend or give advice on contacting them?

    1. Miss Merry, I haven't obtained any actual documents through the Poznan Project site, although I certainly have found their transcriptions very helpful. Actually, I'm surprised you couldn't locate the record at BaSIA, as the Poznan Project records seem to be a subset of what is included within the BaSIA transcriptions.

      When I search at BaSIA, I actually do a surname-only search, being careful to hone the parameters to specifically the town I'm researching. From that point, I browse through all the mentions of that surname, since I'm looking for collateral lines, but don't know the given names. Tedious, I know, but worth the effort. I don't want to overlook any possible helpful entries.

      I'm wondering if you could try the same approach for your husband's second great-grandfather. I know it is more work this way, but it also overcomes search problems like forename being entered Latin style (or German style!) versus Polish names, all very possible causes for a search to yield nothing.

      In addition, I know some sites are particular about using diacritics--searching for Żerków at BaSIA, for instance, will not come up successfully without the diacritical marks, whereas in the Poznan Project, that is no object.

      I'll post about that search situation tomorrow, with some tips on how to access those diacritical marks. In the meantime, I always keep Google Translate open in Polish for those website sections which, even in the English version of a site, are entered only in Polish.


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