Probably many of you have thought about your roots and place that your family came from. Maybe some of you have even gathered and kept information for further generations. But if you are at the stage of planning your research, there are couple of things worth to remember. The research can never be successful if you do not start properly. Poland might seem small in comparison with the USA – but still, it is not always so easy to find what you are looking for.
First of all you must gather as much information as you can. It is always the best to ask the eldest in your family. You will be surprised what treasure their memory is! Write down everything... seriously everything! Names of uncles, aunts, names and nicknames of relations, parents, their parents or siblings... The information that might seem not relevant, can appear to be very important! The last names, especially in small villages, tend to repeat. Some of them are less or more popular. At some point it may appear that there were 5 ‘Jan Kowalskis’ living in the same place and being at almost the same age. The neighbours might remember which of them was the son of Tadeusz and which was the son of Jakub.
Even if your family is not sure of Polish writing, somebody will help you to figure out what the Polish version of the name was. Try to listen carefully how the surname is pronounced and also write it down simply as you hear it. The name might sound for you strange or even odd, but if you encounter a Pole on your way and ask for it, he might exclaim ‘it’s a very popular name in Poland! we just read it slightly different than you!’.
Gather names of villages from which your family came from (it is a very important point of your research!) and big cities nearby. It might appear that there are 15 villages with the same name but knowing which Polish city was nearby (i.e. Krakow or Warsaw) makes a big difference! Many Polish families left the country at the end of 19th century or at the beginning of 20th - it was the time when Poland did not exist officially as a country. Therefore, do not be surprised if you find in some documents that somebody came from Galicia (one of regions of eastern Europe that existed till WW I), Austria, Russia or Prussia although he claimed he was born in Poland.
Have you got any documents left after your ancestors? Birth or marriage certificates? Most of the time you will find there crucial information. If you are lucky and the certificate kept by your ancestors was issued still in Poland, it should contain names of his parents, place and church where he was baptised or married.
Other documents, that many of people do not think of as helpful ones, are letters. You may find there almost whole family history. There should be addresses, names, photos with signatures...
In case of missing documents, many start with the search on the website of Ellis Island foundation (www.ellisisland.org). It may help you to identify the place where your family arrived from and crucial dates (as birth dates).
These are only the first steps of genealogical research. How to continue? Start with the name of the city where your relations were born or lived before emigrating abroad. It is very probable that the records, holding history of your family, are still there. Most of the time they are still kept in churches in a local parish. In Poland till now you can find all the information in church records – the parish would note every birth, funeral, marriage... The priests would even do the official census.
You are ready to start your search in the country of your ancestors – that is in Poland. You may hire somebody to do it for you, you may visit the place yourself or you may just contact somebody who has access to your records.
I, personally, recommend a visit:)