Europe–genealogy search in Poland

I’m really tired of the “Pursuing the expatriate life in Italy…” title. I think it’s now become misleading. I’m not really now pursuing such a thing. As of this writing and those of the last few days, I’m in Poland doing genealogical research. As the months tick by before my return to North America, my presence here will be less of an “expatriate life” and more of, say, an “expatriate experience“?

I’ve been having fits with internet here in Poland. I suppose it was too much to expect the good wifi access to remain. I’m now sitting in a McDonald’s (yes, I said MCDONALD’S) because I can be certain of good wifi. I know, Mickey D’s sucks the bag, but at least wifi is available. It’s worth the occasional Quarter Pounder gut bomb.

Enough of all that. This is the day that was. I made it to the archives at the archdiocese at a decent time, didn’t even eat breakfast. A very friendly young man named Artur approached me and I told him of my search. Artur gave me a document to complete for the association’s records. This document requested my personal identification, my address, nationality and the names of the people I sought. It also asked me why I was searching and, if I were planning to publish my findings, to send them a copy of my publication.

Artur then provided me with a binder showing available information broken down by date/activity (marriage, birth, baptism, death)/parish/town/last name. It wasn’t that easy understanding the pages of this document. Each binder had a number, each page had a number, and each date had a number. And there were lots of Polish abbreviations. I was getting confused.

Once I determined that I wanted information specifically from Olesko Parish within a particular date range, Artur brought me a roll of microfilm to attach to the viewing machine. From there things moved a little more quickly yet I still found myself sometimes needlessly pondering irrelevant pages as I tried to decipher what I saw on the screen.

Artur came by after again after helping a Polish couple navigate their microfilm and asked if I needed help. I showed him where I was on the microfilm. He showed me how to pinpoint the pages I was looking for. Complicating matters was the fact that everything not only was written in Polish, for which I was somewhat prepared, but it was handwritten in the flowing script of yore. Lettering, especially capital letters were fluid and elaborate and dates were in Roman numerals. Coupled with the difficulty in reading all the information on microfilm, my neck was hurting from the awkward location of the screen.

However, once I started to get the hang of the way the information was catalogued, I began to gain confidence. I was specifically seeking my grandparents’ marriage information. My aunt Julia, their oldest child, had been born in 1912. I reasoned to myself that my grandparents were probably married around 1910-1911 since, during this time, people generally produced children within a year of marriage (and continued to produce children) due to high infant mortality.

After scrolling through 1910, I moved in to 1911. Some names were very common. It seemed as though every woman was named “Catarina”. Page after page I found “Catarina” and I realized that I found myself seeking that name which is similar to my grandmother’s name of “Karolina”. This caused me to backtrack to make certain I hadn’t passed her name by mistake.

Suddenly, the name “Bakun” jumped out at me. “Bakun” is my mother’s surname. I had not seen any names even similar so my eyes were immediately drawn to it.

I looked closer and saw my grandfather’s first name, “Teodor”, or “Theodore”. This was it! I looked over every word, much of which I couldn’t understand because they were written in Polish. Yet, I saw my grandmother’s name, “Karolina Dlugosz” and her birthplace of “Roswasz”. This was the “Rosvausch” indicated on her death certificate, the town I couldn’t find because of the misspelling.

I sat and stared, amazed. Excitedly, I called over Artur and told him what I found. He was grinning from ear to ear over my joy. He looked at the screen and interpreted the scribbling for me.

I found out that my grandfather had been married once before. He was identified as a “peasant” and a widower, his first wife being one Maria Michalishyn. He had been born in the town of Konty, Austria-Hungary. It even gave the address of his birthplace!

I was dumbfounded at the amount of information in the tiny square on this microfilm. As Artur read, I heard more. My grandfather’s parents were Onufry Bakun and Anna Sawczuk. My grandfather lived in Konty at the time of his marriage. My grandmother lived there, also. They were married a few miles away in Brody. My grandmother, Karolina, had been born in Konty Palace.

Konty Palace???

She couldn’t have been royalty, could she? My grandfather was a peasant. Why would she marry down? However, as soon as the thought entered my mind, I knew it couldn’t be true.

“No, Bob.” Artur said. “She was probably born in the palace to a servant of the palace aristocracy.”

This made sense to me, yet it was still another fascinating thread to this family history. Who were these wealthy people?? And why did her birth city show “Rozwaz” when she was born in Konty Palace which is in the hamlet of “Konty”? I would have to verify this info.

Artur also explained to me that the document I was viewing was the equivalent of a “fiancé record”. During that time, the village priest would visit the betrothed and document their engagement. He would visit multiple times to verify that the couple was still engaged and still intended to marry and to ask the locals if there was any reason the couple should not marry. Did he have another wife? Was he of good character? Was he a drunk? Was she a ho bag? They would visit three times before giving a “blessing”, as it were, and be allowed to marry.

I also found out that my grandmother was Polish Catholic and my grandfather was Greek Catholic. Up to this time, I had been unaware of these particular differences. I didn’t even know there were “Greek Catholics”.

After finding such a wealth of information, I wanted to sing from the rooftops. I had been texting my brother in Kazahkstan with updates. I have not heard back from him today. He’s going to be fascinated.

I plan to return to the archives to try and find any information I can on my great-grandparents now. Aleksander, my host, has suggested checking the Greek Catholic Church in downtown Krakow since they might have a great deal of information from the area.

The largest cities in this region are Krakow, Poland and Lviv, Ukraine. At the time of my family, this area was Austria-Hungary and both cities were in that nation. This is why I centered my search in this area. The churches and synagogues were meticulous in maintaining records, as I said in another posting. I’m really experiencing that now and I am so thankful.

Aleksander is still encouraging me to travel to Warsaw to visit the main archives and I will do so. The archives here only hold about eighty percent of the information. While there is no guarantee that Warsaw will have what I seek, it doesn’t hurt to check it out. I’m here. Why not? I’ll kick myself later if I don’t, that I know for sure. Warsaw is only 3-4 hours away by train and I need to cover all my bases.

There’s still so much more to write, but I want to save it for the rest of the week. For now, I’m still on cloud nine.


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