Sunday, November 17, 2013

Poznan Project Receives Major Upgrade

Albion's Polish community has very deep roots in the present day regions of Wielkopolska and Kujawsko-Pomorski, two voivodeships in the north-western region of Poland. Over one hundred years ago, the region existed as the Province of Posen, a portion of the ex-Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth which was annexed into the Kingdom of Prussia in the later quarter of the 18th century. As most amateur family historians uncover their German-Polish roots, they'll find the region most commonly referred to as "West Prussia," "Borussia" (in Latin) or "Prusy Zachodnie" in the Polish church records (Polish for West Prussia). The history of Poland is a very convoluted one, full of confusing land divisions created by the 18th century monarchs of Prussia, Austria, and Russia. As mentioned, we know these regions now as Wielkopolska and Kujawsko-Pomorskie, however both of these voivodeships were created in 1999 as an effort to deconstruct the Polish political divisions of the post-Cold War era, returning them to more "historically related" regions.

A region of considerable size and importance to the history of Poland and old Germanic tribes, the Vistula River cuts through portions of this historic region and was most likely a natural border for early land divisions in the 1770s. These land divisions and the harsh and violent political history of the 19th century uncovers an interesting story which all of our ancestors played a vital role in. From the early uprisings led by Napoleon with the establishment of the Duchy of Warsaw to the Congress Kingdom, right up to the Bismarckian wars of the mid-19th century, our ancestors found themselves amidst a vital political struggle, the same struggle which would eventually lead to the World Wars in the early half of the 20th century.

Aside from this history, which would be far too complicated to explain in vague words in a small blog such as this, there is a vital genealogical resource that has been growing over the last decade. In 2000, Lukasz Bielecki sought to resolve a common genealogical problem that most Polish-Americans can admit to having encountered; the vague birthplace of "Posen." Because Posen existed as a historic region and a city, most researchers found themselves wasting money and time chasing ghosts in unrelated places.

Having spent nearly a decade on my own Polish roots before tracing my lineage back to the region of Kujawsko-Pomorskie, the research process was frustrating, full of brick walls and speed bumps. Just as Mr. Bielecki has done, I spend a great deal of time sharing my knowledge with other researchers to prevent them from wasting time the same way I did. Having shared that knowledge, I was able to watch my distant cousin trace his lines into Poland in a matter of several months, a task which took me many years. That revealed that I was doing something right, and therefore I continue to share that knowledge.

Last month I completed a research guide on the use of Bielecki's "Poznan Project" database of Posen Marriages. Since completing that research guide, the website has seen a major upgrade into a database, which I can confirm, is considerably easy to use compared to the older version. So I wanted to highlight some of the basics of using the database to help you, the researcher, start the easy task of locating your Posen ancestors in Poland.


The initial screen provides you with various search boxes for entering information on your Posen ancestors. The "additional search criteria" bar is minimized, but can be expanded by clicking on it, which will reveal the advanced search limiters. 

So, to start, simply enter the surnames (last names) of your ancestors. When you use Catholic Church records, you will often find a listed surname for your female ancestors (especially within Baptismal records), so take advantage of them when you can. Upon entering the surnames, you can select your ancestor's first name from a drop down menu, which will provide you with name variations to account for German, Polish, and Latin forms of the name (e.g. Ludovicus, Ludwik, Ludwig).

After entering that information, you may opt to limit your results by region (I wouldn't suggest), by year, and by record type (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Civil). Unless you know specifically where your ancestors married, or are sure that they were Catholic or Protestant, it is best to just avoid these limiters. However, the "Year from ____ to ____" option can be valuable, especially with more "common" Polish surnames (i.e. Kwiatkowski, Lewandowski, etc.).

For a test, try this search;
Tomasz Sterczynski
Agnes Kiszka

Both were born in the 1860s, so set the year limiter for abt. 1875 to 1890. Logically, we can assume that at least one of them was 18 at the time of marriage and that since they appear in Albion, NY by 1892 and immigrated prior to 1888 that they were married sometime between those two years.

What results do you get? Do they look something like this?


The search returns one result, which won't always be the case, however we can use other records to verify the date of births based on the ages at the time of marriage. According to this record, we have Thomas Sterczynski, age 24 (born 1862), son of Laurentius and Josepha, who married Agnes Kiszka, age 22 (born 1864), daughter of Adalbertus. This marriage occured in 1886 in the Catholic parish of Pobiedziska (Pudewitz was the German name for the parish). The entry number "5" indicates that the marriage was the 5th marriage for the year 1886. So, we can use this information to either write to Poland for the original record, or we can use this to locate LDS microfilm to research the record ourselves on microfilm.

But, maybe Thomas and Agnes has some siblings who married? How do we find that? Try this search;
Sterczynski for the groom, 1865 to 1890. Do you receive any results that seem to match? Nope, we'd ultimately like to find some results for the surname Sterczynski in the town of Pobiedziska with either a father named Laurentius or a mother named Josepha, but the search returns no likely candidates. Try some other searches; Sterczynska for the bride, 1865 to 1890? Nope, no results either. Perhaps searching Agnes's information could return results? How about Kiszka, for the groom, 1865 to 1890?


Here we see some potential results, one set sticking out for the town of Pobiedziska, for Martinus Kiszka, age 27 years (born 1857), the son of Adalbertus and Marianna, who married Vincentia Karaskiewicz, age 26 (born 1858), the daughter of Michael and Catharina. They were married in 1884 and are entry number 10 for that year. So this provides us with another potential sibling to research while we are looking at information on Thomas and Agnes, and helps to confirm the family's location (as you may already know that Agnes had a brother Martin who lived in Albion with a wife named Vincentia).

We can go one step further and search for information on the parents of Agnes and Martin Kiszka by searching for "Adalbertus Kiszka" and "Marianna." We can assume that they were married prior to 1858/9 based on Martin's age, and can enter 1840 as an early cutoff. What type of results do you get?


We end up with one "exact" match for an Adalbertus Kiszka and Marianna Jankowiak from the parish of Kostrzyn. We can take that name, "Kostrzyn" and plug it into google maps, searching Gmina Kostrzyn, Poland, and by getting directions from that town to Pobiedziska, we see that they are approximately 16km from each other, increasing the likelihood that Adalbertus and Marianna are the parents of Agnes and Martin.

So there is considerable value in utilizing the Poznan Marriage Database in you research. With the ultimate goal of our research being to locate our Polish ancestors in Europe, this database will allow you to focus in on specific town names to continue your search. Once you have located the towns in which your ancestors came from, you can use that information to pinpoint which LDS microfilm will contain the records for your ancestors. That is a process which I will cover in an upcoming post.

For now, try you luck with the database and see which ancestors you can locate in the Poznan Project Database! http://poznan-project.psnc.pl/

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