Thursday, November 21, 2013

Developing an Albion Polonia Wedding Photograph Database

Photographs are a peculiar part of family history research, and history research in general. The phrase, "a picture is worth a thousand words," best fits the photograph's role in genealogy. For a family historian such as myself, locating an image of a direct line ancestor is probably the most rewarding find I will ever experience. I will spend years searching for the documents to prove my lineage; documents full of words describing who my ancestors were, where they lived, what they looked like, and the communities they lived in. However, nothing will be able to put that research into context better than a photograph.

Photographs are peculiar in the sense that they stand alone when we think of family heirlooms. Some researchers are blessed with family bibles, locks of hair, the family's sterling silverware, fine china, or Grandma's prized glass pieces. Yet there is one shortfall of these artifacts in the overall scheme of family history research; they can't be shared. You can take photographs of the items and share them, put them on display in your house, but undoubtedly, most relatives will simply tell you they have it, and you may never see it again.

Pictures are different. They have the habit of showing up out of nowhere. They have the ability to be thrown in a drawer or a cigar box, only to be discovered fifty years later by an unsuspecting son, daughter, or grandchild. This alone should be enough of a calling to urge families to label their photographs, but that is another point. Unlike 3-D artifacts, photographs can be scanned, they can be copied, they can be placed in a frame and stuck on a shelf, they can be e-mailed to family, posted to Facebook and shared with friends, they can be shrunk or compressed to fit in a collage, they can be blown up and turned into a wall portrait, and they can be manipulated and enhanced by computer software. The most important part of all this is that the photograph can be shared. Although the original is an important piece, it's intrinsic value is, more often than not, less important than the contents of the image itself. This of course is only true for family history researchers, while collectors of photographs would be more inclined to retain the original of, say, a tin-type, or glass-plate negative.

Over the last thirteen years of my own family history research, and over the last three years of researching the history of Albion's Polonia, the biggest shortage of materials on the subject was in the form of photographs. This is not because they do not exist, but because there is no central collection of materials to share on the matter. Making photographs available in a database format, available online, has the potential to help researchers across the country. With the creation of this website, I have received thanks and praise from researchers as close to home as Albion and as far as Alaska, California, Texas, and Wisconsin. Those researchers did not have contact with distant cousins here in Orleans County as I, and many others, do. Therefore, they would not have been able to access the vast wealth of information found locally within print sources without such a resource as Albion Polonia; a resource that continues to grow but sees its greatest growth through the help of others.

It has been my goal to start a photograph database on subjects relating to Albion's Polonia, and the best way to start that is with a Wedding Photograph collection. The sacrament of marriage was of significant importance to Poles, as the Catholic Church played a large role in their daily lives. So, even for families with limited financial resources, having a memento of this all important day was almost a necessity. I have been working on this collection for some time but response has been slow, so I've turned to the web and social media to seek out those who would be willing to contribute to this collection for the benefit of researchers who are not local, who would like to add a visual piece to their family history.

If you would like to contribute, please e-mail me at I am in the process of creating a marriage record database, which lists others in the wedding party. This will be a way for researchers to put names to those unknown faces found within your ancestors's wedding portraits.

Franciszek Kaniecki & Weronika Sterczynska - 1907

Franciszek Kaniecki & Rozalia Romanska Danielewska - 1919

Joseph Zwiewka & Bronislawa Ugorek

Antoni Rajs & Rozalia Lukaszyk

Wladyslaw Norkowski & Walerya Rajs

Theodore Ludwiczak & Marianna Danielewski

Louis Rytlewski & Weronika Marcinowski

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