I knew this before, but it took a bit of research difficulty to remind myself that this is useful to practice: if at first you don't—yeah, I know you are saying it along with me—try, try it again.
That's what I ended up doing when I couldn't find any birth records for Aniela Zielinski, Uncle John's Polish-born mother-in-law. I couldn't tell from American records—probably gleaned without the help of a fluent translator—whether her maiden name was Zelinski or Zielinski. I couldn't tell what her year of birth might have been, since the only two census records in which I could find her didn't agree (born in 1861 versus 1869). And looking at the only Polish website I could find which offered any records for the region where she might have lived—Geneteka—gave me no options.
So I went back and looked again.
Of course, I had inspiration. I looked at FamilySearch.org for the very microfilmed record set which Geneteka had mentioned for Płock, and realized once again how much I need to take a vacation to Salt Lake City—or at least my nearest FamilySearch Center. Finding what I thought might be the records of birth, marriage, and death for Płock—or, more specifically, the akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów—I scrolled through the search results to locate Catholic Church records.
What I found was that the record set was actually, according to the notes, a civil transcription of Roman Catholic parish records. Further notes warned me that, rather than having to gear up for deciphering handwriting drawn up in Latin, the transcriptions were written in Polish—and, after 1868, handwritten in Russian.
Not to worry: scrolling down the listing of each individual microfilm, I quickly saw that lock and key icon. I couldn't have looked at the files, even if I could understand Polish or Russian.
But keeping my new mantra "try again," I kept scrolling down the list of film numbers. As I scrolled, the key icon magically gave way to several camera icons without any sign of restriction. I was free to look!
Since Aniela's death record gave her year of birth as 1871, that was the first film I took a peek at. What I saw might have been beautiful handwriting, but it was clearly not in Latin. I was pretty sure it wasn't even in Polish. I've never seen a handwritten version of Russian, but that was what I thought I was viewing. I closed the window and tried something else: thinking again. There just has to be another way.
That's when it struck me: go back and try the Geneteka website again. And I did, thankfully. First, I learned that, when a website offers the button labeled "clear," take them seriously, even if it seems redundant. Then, I tried several different ways to search the collection. I experimented with Zelinski versus Zielinski—hint: there weren't any entries for that first variation. I broadened the search to a fifteen kilometer radius. I played with the date option. I even tried looking at Aniela's married surname Aktabowski, to see if her husband had come from the same region (apparently not).
After several iterations—and I have no explanation for this—returning to my original search terms of Zielinski and then the feminine form, Zielinska, the website gifted me with two pages of results. Why it was so generous with this iteration, I can't say, but I'm glad I tried it again. This time, out of all the entries, there was one—and only one—line containing the given name Aniela.
Born in 1865, this Aniela was the daughter of Józef Zieliński and Anna Kwiatkowska. They were from a small town called Radzanowo. Northwest of the city of Warsaw by what today would be considered a moderate commute distance, the village was within the fifteen kilometer (or nine mile) radius of Płock designated in the search terms at Geneteka.
Could this be our Aniela? I can't say for sure yet. At least on this one of many tries, it was the only option, but perhaps that is my warning to try it all again another time. However, it certainly is worth taking a closer look.