Looking for Polish Roots?
Written by Anna Cholewinska
Never before in the US history, was diversity so valued. While immigrants were accepted to the United States for centuries, they were expected more or less to melt into American society and culture. A metaphor of melting pot was coined to illustrate a heterogeneous society of immigrants and their very different cultures becoming more and more homogenous. In this process, the different elements or cultures would “melt together” into a concordant society with a common culture. Melting pot term describing in particular the assimilation of immigrants to the USA was in use since 18th century.
It was not until 1970s when assimilation of immigrants and the melting pot model was challenged by proponents of multiculturalism who started acknowledging cultural differences within society. They emphasized that those differences are in fact very valuable and should be preserved, not lost in the process of assimilation or melting into American society and culture. The alternative metaphors, such as the mosaic, salad bowl, or American Kaleidoscope were conceived to show that US society is made of different cultures that mix together, but at the same time remain distinct. As a result, the attitude to immigrants and diversity has started changing. Immigrant groups became more active, curricula in schools have been re-written, and events such as Ethnic Festivals became part of our lives.
This change in attitude has also resulted in an increasing interest in family history and genealogy. Special software, such as Family Tree Maker or Family Tree Builder could be purchased or downloaded for free to help creating family trees. It is not unusual that access to special databases is granted along with the purchase of such software. However, family searches often require more than just access to such databases, especially if we know that our ancestors lived in countries other than US. Here are some tips on how to search for your family using popular databases and less know databases in Poland:
- https://familysearch.org – database own and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family records could be found there even for the families that were not members of the church.
- https://Ellisisland.org – many immigrants came to US via Ellis Island, therefore their records of arrival could be found and obtained from this site. Ellis Island database has travel records from 1892-1924. You can also find some tips on how to start your search and how to continue it on that website.
- http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/Slownik_geograficzny – most of the searches need to start with finding a parish where your ancestors were born. This site will allow you to find it.
- http://kartenmeister.com/preview/databaseuwe.asp – if you know that your ancestors come from Warmia and Mazury region or what used to be Prussia, your search of the parish should start here.
- http://polishroots.com – this database covers all areas that were historically part of the Polish Commonwealth, from the 16th through the 18th centuries, throughout the years of partitions by Prussia, Russia, and Austria, through its rebirth in 1918, subsequent domination during World War II and post-War occupation, to its present freedom and struggle for independence through the latter 20th Century.
- http://www.archiwa.gov.pl/en/for-archive-users/genealogy.html – Polish National Archives that have vital records.
- http://regestry.lubgens.eu/news.php – regional database for Lublin region.
- http://genealodzy.pl/ – search site for Polish Genealogical Society. (this link may be down.)
- http://rzecz-pospolita.com/ – a portal where you can find information about regions that used to be part of Poland, such as Ukraine. You can find maps, pictures of cities and towns, as well as discussion forums for people looking for their relatives.
These are just a few suggestions for starting genealogical searches online and in various databases. However, you should remember that the best way to start is to look and put together all documents that you have in the family as well as talk to your relatives who might shed some light and provide you with valuable information. It is not a bad idea to start with reading some books on genealogy and family searches or creating the first family tree and writing down questions that you might have about your family. Those would help you with your searches of databases and finding information that you are looking for.
We invite you to visit this page now and again for links to sites that might aid in your search for Polish roots. Most recently SGSCA hosted Jan Lorys of The Polish Museum of America in Chicago for a program on polish genealogy.
Polish Genealogical Society of America is the oldest and largest genealogical organization in the country; located in Chicago. PGSA provides assistance in the form of publications, meetings, conferences, website and personal research help. The Society’s quarterly publication Rodziny, shares information that can prove useful in family research. Their website offers several databases including: Obituaries found in the Dziennik Chicagoski; index of jubilee books from Polish parishes in US cities; index of insurance claims fro Polish Roman Catholic Union of America; Index of marriages at Chicago Polish parishe; index of Haller’s Army applications.
Watch this colorful you tube video to see how Poland’s borders changed throughout history. This alone could lead to clues on tracing your family history!