Once you've been able to follow your family's generations back to the land where they originated, genealogical research takes on a new challenge: navigating documents filled with words you can't understand. From mąż to żona—and yes, even brat (brother)—Polish terms present challenges to English-speaking researchers, not only in words we'll encounter in genealogical records, but in special characters we never use in English.
We think nothing of encountering that problem when we speak English and follow our ancestors on their wanderings through England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the United States—and even Ireland and Canada, for the most part. But going back "home" to places like Poland (or any other country) should not present too much difficulty, either—if you know certain key terms, or at least where to find them explained.
In tracing my enigmatic grandparents' roots, once I discovered their true identity, I needed to grapple with reading documents which could have been written in Polish. Still, Polish history being what it was, that also meant I might encounter church records written in Latin, or even other documents written in the vernacular of the presiding official's native tongue, which in many cases might be German. Not to worry, though, once I located helpful cheat sheets for Polish phonics and research guides for the country's genealogical resources.
Ever increasingly, my go-to resource for delving into unknown research territory is the FamilySearch.org wiki. In the case of Polish research, there are ample resources available to guide me. One wiki resource delves into the history of the various languages in use due to the partitions of Poland, containing a pronunciation guide and links to genealogical word lists for the four languages in use throughout Poland's history, providing lessons in how to read the various handwriting formats, as well as lists of key words, numbers, dates and times. A more extended list of Polish words—a virtual dictionary of common words you might encounter in government or church documents—can help if the brief overview doesn't handle the less commonly-used term you encounter on this research journey.
Equipped with tools like these, we can more confidently approach such documents in foreign languages—even gain a sense of feeling vindicated over our childhood labels for an errant brother. With these resources in hand, the next step is to discover just where we can find the documents needed to trace this Polish family's generations. While I've already found, from my great-grandmother Marianna Laskowska's marriage record, that her father was Franz Jankowski, I need to rove backwards in time to see what else can be found about this man. My next step is to locate finding aids for documents still in existence from the Laskowski and Jankowski home town of Żerków in the region around Poznań.