Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Code-Switching for Polish Genealogy


I know, I know: code-switching is a current buzz word for far more than the example I want to examine today, but bear with me. Researching Polish roots becomes an exercise in code-switching, once you realize the geo-political implications inherent in the country's history.

I'm thinking in particular of the fallout of what was once called the policy of Germanisation. In addition to changes impacting the very face of Polish cities through colonization policies and cultural changes, the names of Polish towns and cities were changed in the wave of language policies. In other words, a form of code-switching existed for Poles during that time in their history which still affects how we do genealogical research today. 

I had already realized that quite some time ago when I stumbled upon the recording error revealing Aunt Rose's foreign origin. At first, when I read the name of Rose Kober's home town in the 1920 census—"Schwartzwald"—I had taken the translation literally as the famed Black Forest region in southwestern Germany. It took me quite some time to realize that Schwarzwald was the politically correct term (at the time) for the tiny town of Czarnylas, as it is now called in Poland, which Rose once called home.

Now that I'm searching for any sign of Felix Anton Aktabowski, Uncle John's father-in-law, back in his native Poland, I'm being reminded of that need to geographically code-switch once again. Looking over the towns and church parishes I had found yesterday via the website Geneteka, I'm learning that the place names now showing in the website are not the same names that were used when government and church officials drew up the documents I'm interested in seeing from the mid-1860s. Why? It was again time to code-switch.

So Wąbrzeźno, site of one parish in which Aktabowski names appeared among baptismal and wedding records at Geneteka, would not be the name I would seek, if looking for microfilmed records at FamilySearch.org. Rather, I should look for a place called Briesen.

Fortunately, guided by results from Google searches, I discovered an entry at a website called WeRelate.org, which provided a way-finding list of microfilm numbers for specific entries in church records for Briesen—now Wąbrzeźno. Sure enough, film number 7947667, as the website mentioned, delivered just what I was looking for: records of the Katholische Kirche Briesen. Added bonus: as long as "tauten" means baptismal records, the film for the dates I'm seeking is not limited in viewing privileges at this date. I can start searching through the documents now, as soon as I set aside a chunk of time to do so.

Remembering that ever-present code switching requirement as I work my way through my Polish ancestors' history will help me identify which towns might have been their place of origin—called, back then in their lifetime, by their German place names rather than the names traditionally and currently used by their Polish families.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Miss Merry! The more I learn about these Polish ancestors' local history from the time period in which they lived there, the more I can understand their reticence to acknowledge where they came from, even after reaching the United States.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...