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Searching Polish Archives

The Personal Experiences of Christa Shutkaitis on a trip to Poland.

Województwa (Provinces) - Ciechanow, Ostroleka, Suwalki

Parafii (Parishes) - Karniewo, Kopciowo (now Kapciemiestis), Krasne, Maków Mazowiecki, Pałuki, Podos, Wegrzynowo, Zielona

IMPORTANT: If you are searching for records after 1868, familiarize yourself with manuscript Cyrillic alphabet and the position of these letters in the alphabet. You will need this information for the index of the records. Know how your family name is spelt in Russian. Think of various ways that the name could be spelt in Russian. For example, the name Slaski was sometimes written beginning with the letter S, sometimes as Sz. Two different alphabet positions in the Cyrillic alphabet.

I wrote to the church and civil archive centers for permission to view their records. I did this 6 months prior to going to Poland. With each letter I sent two international postage coupons for their reply. I explained that I wanted to view my family records and named the parishes where I believed the records were located. It took 8 weeks to get a reply from the civil archives. When I received a reply, I was given permission to view only the Kopciowo records. I called the Warsaw civil archives and explained that I had only received permission to view the one parish’s records. They advised me that I should write another letter. I wrote them giving them the number of my permission letter and sent them two more international postage coupons. It took another 6 weeks for a reply. This time I received permission to view two parish records and was told that these records were in Mława. I called Warsaw again and was told to write another letter. I again wrote sending them two international postage coupons. I never received a reply to this letter. However, when I went to Mława, they accepted my permission letter and allowed me to view all of the parish records that were in their archives.

It took 4 months to receive a reply from the church archives in Płock. They wrote that they would be closed for the month of August, but I was welcome to come in September. Additionally, they wrote that they did not have the early records from Podos, Wegrzynowo and Zielona parishes.

I went to Poland the beginning of September. I rented a car at the Warsaw airport. It took me about 2 hours to drive to Mława. The road was in good condition, mainly a two-lane road with narrow dirt shoulders. Cars and tucks constantly passed one another. Everyone was courteous and would drive onto the shoulder when another vehicle wanted to pass.

I stayed at the Hotel Kasztelana about a mile outside of Mława. I had little choice of hotels. The hotel was a Polish style hotel, nothing fancy. I paid $26 a night. This price included breakfast. The breakfast was 6 slices of rye bread, and an 8" piece of smoked kielbasa and tea. On the down side, the soap in my hotel room was meant to be shared with the previous and next occupants of the room.

The Mława archives were opened from 9am to 3pm. They are located in the center of town about a block to the right of the church. There is parking for a few cars in front of the archive building. The archive building looks as if it was once a house.

One enters into a small reception office. The young man who works in this office, retrieves the record books. There were four other people working there. No one spoke English. I had to sign a visitor’s registration book. It was numbered and it appeared that I was the 103rd person to sign the book in the year 1998.

The receptionist asked for my permission letter, which he studied for about five minutes, before telling me that he would allow me to look at the records. I asked for the records from Zielona parish. I was told that there weren’t any records from that parish. They were destroyed by perhaps the Russians, maybe the Germans. I told him that I had seen records from this parish at the LDS library. He brought out an index and sure enough the records that I wanted were on the index.

I could not take my purse into the reading room, however I was allowed to take my wallet and working papers with me. He escorted me into a small reading room which was about 15’x12’. In this room were 6 small, narrow tables. The two women clerks worked in this room on two of the small tables. I was given an order form. I printed the parish name, the record year, signed my name and dated the form. Each year required a separate form.

The clerk would bring an act book, place it on my table and then return to his office. The two women clerks remained in the room with me. When I finished perusing the records in the book that he had given me, I would return the book to him, give him another request form and the procedure would be repeated.

I inquired about getting copies of the acts of which I was interested. I was told it was $10 for a copy and it had to be paid in American dollars. I had only one copy made. I had brought my camera to the archives and took pictures of all the other records in which I was interested. When I had these films developed, the pictures came out readable. The two women clerks were in the room with me and never remarked about the camera. I did not ask permission to photograph the records. On the second day that I was doing research, the director of the archives saw me photographing. He informed me that photographing the records was not allowed. If I wanted copies, I had to pay $10.

The reception clerk was able to read Russian. He very willingly read me parts of the acts, such as the dates, which were written in Russian.

I had lunch, every day in a small restaurant in Mława, which was close to the archives. Here a big dish of bigos with rye bread cost 75 cents.

I discovered that the church records and the civil records were not always duplicates of one another. I found records that the church archives had that differed from the civil records for the same year. It is important to check from where the LDS has retrieved the records that they filmed. If you can’t find a record then check the other archives.

I was told that the Karniewo, Wegrzynowo, and Maków records would be in the archives in Pułtusk. Consequently, I went to Pułtusk. In Pułtusk, I stayed at the Dom Polonii. An old renovated castle that is now a hotel. It was a five-minute walk to the archives. The Pułtusk archives are in an old Lutheran church that is no longer being used as a church. The facility here was more professional then the one in Mława.

In Pułtusk they examined my permission letter in great detail, and asked if they could copy the letter. I had to sign the registration book and leave my purse with the clerk. I was allowed to take my wallet and working papers with me.

I was escorted to a large reading room that had several long tables. This room was part reading room and part library. There were long tables with lamps that didn’t work. I had come prepared with a flashlight as the room was dim. I was given a request form to fill out. I initially asked to see the Wegrzynowo records. The clerk said that there were none as the Germans and Russians had destroyed them. I then replied that the people from the Mława archives had told me that those records were in Pułtusk. She then brought me the Wegrzynowo act books.

The Maków records were not in Mława or Pułtusk. No one seems to know where they are located.

From Pułtusk, I went to the church archives in Płock. The church archives are located in a seminary. One goes to the gates, rings a bell and a porter comes to escort you to another outside door. I was told that it was a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to view the records as the priest would not be able to see me. I showed him the letter that I had received from the priest archivist. That made all the difference in the world. He escorted me to the archival office. The head archivist then escorted me to a reading room. In this room was a young university student who was doing an internship in record retention. There was also a young man with a lap top computer and a small hand held scanner. He was scanning pages of old documents.

The priest archivist uses as his index the LDS records that were filmed in the church archives in Płock. He told me that he only had the records that the LDS had already microfilmed. I told him that it had been several years since the Karniewo records were filmed and that I wanted to see the newer records. He asked me to write down the names of the people that I was researching and my relationship to them. Twenty minutes later he returned with the books that I wanted. He brought me Karniewo and Wegrzynowo records. The first act book he held at arm length from me. He wanted to know what years I was interested in and only turned to those years. I asked him if it was possible to make copies. He told me that it was impossible to make copies. At this point, I suppose he began to trust me as he left the act books with me and he left the room. I never did see him again. I took photographs of the records. When I was finished looking at the records, I searched for the priest archivist. I only found a cleaning lady. I left the record books on the table with a donation for the priest.

From Płock, I went to the Urząd Gminia offices in Krasne and Karniewo. They had the records there from the years 1895 forward. The clerks in the Urząd offices were friendly and helpful. I was offered tea at each office. One clerk spent two days helping me look through the books and reading the acts, which were written in Russian. They made copies willingly and did not charge for the copies.

I had hoped to make copies in the Urząd office of several records that I had seen in Płock. I could not find all of the records in the Urząd office, even though I knew the dates of the records and there was an index. The civil records differed from the church records in other instances. The civil records gave more information. For example, in the civil death records the deceased’s birthplace was given and it also recorded with whom the person had lived.

The act books resemble old ledger books. They are covered with brown wrapping paper. These books are stored on shelves. The older books are falling apart.

I also went to the parish churches to speak to the priests. I was interested in locating older records that had not been recorded by the LDS. The priests had no knowledge of the whereabouts of old records.

My impression, that for the parishes that I was researching, is that if the LDS has not filmed the older records then the records do not exist. None of the priests in the parishes or archives knows or cares about if these older records exist.

Anyone interested in going to do research should make hotel reservations in advance especially in small towns that only have one hotel. I tried to stay longer in Pułtusk but was unable to do so, because the hotel was all booked.

In the smaller villages as Karniewo and Krasne there were no places to have lunch, so I always carried an apple and crackers,

All of the offices opened at 9am and closed at 3pm. They were opened a half day on Saturday. The church archives close for the month of August. All of the facilities had parking.

After the offices closed at 3pm, I spent the time driving to my family villages. I had purchased very detailed wojewodstwo maps, which were 1:100,000. Without these maps, I would not have located all of my family villages. Roads in the country to my family villages were for the most part just one narrow dirt lane. Some of the villages were marked with signs at the beginning and ending of each village. But the smaller villages had no signs and I often had to count the homes in each village as I passed it and then compare this with my map (my map showed where all of the homes in each village were located). I was fortunate that the weather was dry, had it rained the dirt roads would have been impassable. I could not go to one village as the road was too narrow with deep ditches on either side. The road was just 2 dirt paths with grass in between. I could see the homes in the village just ahead. It appeared that a car had never been to the village.

From this area of Poland, I went to Suwalki, which is in far northeastern Poland. I traveled 6 hours by train from Warsaw. My ticket cost me $5.50. There was no food or drink on the train. I shared a compartment with 3 other people. Everyone had brought their sandwiches and drinks.

I went to Suwalki to the civil archives to retrieve records from the parish of Kopciowo now Kapciemiesis in Lithuania. The archive office was just across the street from my hotel the Dom Nauczyczelna. The Suwalki archives are in an old building on the main street of the town. The receptionist compared my permission letter to the letter that she received from Warsaw. She took me to a room where there was a microfilm reader and a microfilm copier. All of the Suwalki records had been microfilmed in 1995. I signed the archives register. I was the 212th person the sign the 1998 register.

I was given the rolls of microfilm to view that I had requested. Occasionally the clerk would return to ask if she could assist me. I could copy any record without a charge.

Before I left the archives, the archival director stopped by to ask if there were any other records that I was interested in, other than what they had in their archives. He searched through correspondence that he had concerning church records that are now in Belarusk. He gave me the archive addresses in Grodno, Belarusk and in Vilnus, Lithuania as possible record sources. He even remembered a letter that he had that mentioned the Selivanowcy church in Belarusk.

The Suwalki archives were the most helpful and organized of all of the archives offices that I visited. The town of Suwalki although small, seems to have prospered. Within 2 blocks of my hotel were 2 computer stores. That was a better ratio than I had seen either in Warsaw or Krakow. One of these stores even allowed me to access my e-mail. There are several American firms that have opened up factories in this area. The Suwalki area has vast fields of tobacco. Tobacco plants were in every stage of growth.

As I rode on the train from Warsaw to Suwalki, I saw a beautiful wooded countryside, which was interspersed with large lakes. Many people were in the woods picking mushrooms. There were new modern homes that one could see from the train.

I also spent time in Kraków and in Warszawa doing research in the Czartoryski, Jagellonia University, and University of Warszawa libraries. There were old books in these libraries that mentioned branches of my family. Some of the books which I looked at were Zychlinski’s Złota Księga, the Zrodło Dziejowe, the Spis Szlachty, Niesiecki’s Herbarz Polski, Uruski’s Rodzina Herbarz Szlachty Polskiej, Boniecki’s Herbarz Polski, and Zaprzaniec’s Elektorów Ród Poczet Krolów Polskich.

I was also fortunate to find a book written in 1973 by my grandfather’s first cousin. In this book my grandfather’s cousin devotes a chapter to family history.

On my archival trip to Poland, I did not find all of the information that I was searching for. However, I obtained more than I had hoped to obtain.

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