Thursday, October 6, 2022

Dipping that Big Toe in Before
the Leap Across the Pond


Why is it that family history research "across the pond" can provoke such trepidation? I can push my way through documents with ease, generation by generation in my home country, but task me with adding the burden of a foreign language and I totally lose it.

Even though we've come this way before, sifting through what records can be found on my paternal grandparents' families in Poland, it was a strange feeling to go back to those oft-used websites after a year away from the task. It is one thing to attach U.S. census records, decade after decade, to my American ancestors; for a routine like that, I think little of it. When it comes to wrestling with proof arguments over whether I'm chasing the right John Smith—instead of his cousin by the same name—it may be tedious in English, but terrifying in Polish.

Still, that's my goal for this month: to find anything new on the generations of my paternal grandmother Sophie Laskowska. So my first step was to pull up the websites which had helped me in the past. Of course, I first stopped at Cyndi's List to find her list of all Polish categories, and then specifically to the list for Polish births, marriages and deaths. There was a reason for this first step: to my horror, I discovered I hadn't bookmarked the go-to sites I had used in past years, nor had I entered them in my "resources" file.

Thankfully, it wasn't too hard to recognize those website names, even if I can't pronounce them. My number one site in this quest has been the Poznan Project, named for and dedicated to records from the old Prussian province of Posen, now in Poland called Poznań. Of course, with border changes over the centuries through wars and power struggles, my grandmother's village of Żerków is no longer considered part of that old province, but when her family lived there over a century ago, that is where the records were kept.

It is to those records—and those of generations before her—that I'll turn my attention this month. Before we look for any updates in the collection, though, another task before us is to refresh our understanding of Polish phonics and key words to guide us through this foreign-language record set. Without having to learn an entire language before beginning our research, knowing a few Polish genealogical terms will allow us to use them as way-markers as we take our first tentative steps into the Poznan Project and beyond.  

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