Iwona's Sources - Family Estate Archives

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Family Estate Archives

Family estate archives, in Polish archiwa rodzinno-majatkouie, are a treasury of knowledge on regional history - on probably underappreciated by genealogists. Their documentation covers the most varied aspects of public and private life.

In the State Archives, there are a total of 82ó family collections from the period of the 14th through the mid-20th centuries. The size of individual collections depends on the length of a given family's rule and the size of the lands it possessed. The collection of the Radziwills is among the largest. It is one of the most precious archival relics in all of Europe, a collection of documents measuring almost half a kilometer in total length.

As regards the contents of family estate archives, they are similar, and are systematized according to similar models. The usual categories of documentation cover financial administration, estate law, bookkeeping, cadastres, taxes, detailed estate inventories, inspection reports, mass mobilizations, wartime destruction, fires, hospitals, military affairs, educational activity, community and social activity, correspondence, and cartography.

The question is, what connection is there between records of magnate families and the common serfs, peasants with little land, who made up the nucleus of the great emigration to America? Collections of this type, however, conceal within their holdings interesting information on ordinary peasants as well, the sort of information we do not find in registers of birth, marriage, or death. For instance, they may tell us about the social status and property of our ancestors, their feudal labor duties, and their tax burdens. One can trace their fortunes with persistent and detailed research, because there are chances of uncovering more details from our ancestors' daily lives, to come to know their relation with their surroundings, their trouble and joys.

In every case, the life of a peasant was determined for long centuries by the will of the landowners. The peasant's most  onerous obligation to his lord was performing his panszczuzna or labor service (the term comes from the word panski, "of the lord"). Every peasant, depending on the size and location of the land he worked, had to perform physical labor and deliver a tribute or part of the annual yields of the land. The few privileges granted peasants - such as the right to pasture their herds in meadows or to cut wood from the forests were subject to constant verification and control.

All these aspects of the peasants' lives were immortalized on the pages of the many family archives.

The owners of farmsteads and landed estates kept very detailed inventories of their property of all kinds, and recorded the obligations of their serfs with equal accuracy. The term "estate" was relative: it could refer to a single manorial farmstead or to more than a dozen villages in a given area.

Finding information on a specific peasant family needs to begin with determining the names of their lords and then checking whether the latters' archival collections exist and if they are accessible. The key to picking out units with potential are titles that contain the name of the locality with accompanying descriptions such as dominium (domain), kataster (cadastre), rewizja (inspection reports), lustracja (audits), poiuinnosci (duties), or podatki (taxes).

To better illustrate the problem, I will use examples from the family archive of the Tarnowskis of Dzików, called the "Archiwum Dzikowskie." The Tarnowski family ruled the regions of Tarnobrzeg and Sandomierz for more than ó00 years, and specifically held (or leased) the following towns: Dzików (as the family's chief residence, with a stately castle), Chmielów, Dęby, Góra Ropczycka, Grebow, Hermanów, Jadachy, Kaimów, Krawce, Krzadka,MachówMędrzechow, Miechocin, Ocieka, Podlęże, Porąb, Przewloka, Przyszów, Rozalin, Sędziszow, Sielec, Sobów, Stale, Stany, Trześnia, Wielowieś, Wymyslów, Zakrzów, Zupawa, and Zwierzyniec.

All the books that contained personal data on serfs began with detailed descriptions of the buildings in a given locality, such as taverns, breweries, mills, windmills, foundries, cellars, and so forth. Next came descriptions of meadows, fields, forests, and waste lands. The lists of serfs are usually at the end, and depending on the period and nature of the documents, were in a tabular or columnar format. They contained concrete information on a given family, and especially the head of the family.

Here are three entries from a list of 52 townsmen settled in Dzików in 1772, written in columns:

1. Michal Wojtasiewicz, wójt on a lot of his own, two sons, one daughter, no cows or oxen, szarwark [compulsory labor by the populace for public purposes] in spring and autumn marked "1,"winter and spring fields marked "2."

3. Franciszek Skalski with his wife's sister and mother, one son, one daughter, one cow, no oxen, and as above.

14. Mateusz Kurosadowicz - cottage with a garden, two sons, four daughters, two cows, no oxen, and as above.

After this is a similar list of 72 Jews.

The obligations of the townsmen as of 1772 included:

- two days of szarwark during harvest,
- 1-2 days of work in winter, an additional two days of work in the fields in spring and fall, eight days of weeding and
15 days for winter harvest,

- 10 days for spring harvest; loading and shipping grain on the manor's orders; fortifying and taking care of the dams as ordered. Every citizen had the obligation of providing one chicken per head of oxen and cattle owned.

- Shoemakers had to provide 15 pairs of shoes to the "Dzików Income Treasury."

- Innkeepers and bakers had to pay with fruits and vegetables according to contractual prices.

In that same unit are similar lists for the villages of Dzików, Zakrzów, Wielowiś, Sobów, Sielec, Trześnia, and Grebow. In the  case of villages, the lists distinguish peasants by social status as kmieci [peasants with full-sized farms], zagrodnicy [peasants with garden-sized plots], and komomicy [boarders, peasants with no land who lived in the houses of wealthier peasants]. Duties and tributes also differed by location.

For example, the following were the obligations for Gebow at that time:

panszczuzna per week:
two days with livestock and on foot;

work in the fields during winter and spring: one day;

spring and fall szarwark: one day each.

Livestock owned:
peasant team: horses, oxen
farm gear: carts, plows, listers

Lease payments and other fees, in zlotys:
and pence


mushrooms or cash,

camelina or cash.

On the other hand, peasants from Miechocin or Machów paid tribute in the form of seed, oats, poultry, and hops. The land owners knew their estates thoroughly, and the duties and tributes they imposed were calculated on the basis of crops' size, the village's geographical location, the quantity and kind of livestock, and estimated yields.

The Tarnowskis' Archive contains i­spection reports of this sort from almost every decade; leases in the 1600s and 1700s; records of demesnes 1800-1820; land metryki or summaries of land owners in the 1820s and 1850s; and journals of panszczyzna performed from the 1830s to the 1840s.

One can seek out other interesting  documents in the Dzików Archive that enrich our knowledge of our ancestors. I noted down a few examples.

Files of arrivals and departures in 1857

10 June, Zofia Kuszewska arrived,age 24, religion Roman Catholic, citizen of the Kingdom of Poland, resided in Kleczanów, accompanied by Jędrzej Cholota, wagoner from Kleczanów; shepossesses a passport, and left Dzików on 13 June for Kleczanów.

An 1879 list of laborers' wages on the manorial farmstead in Góra Ropczycka illustrates the relations in incomes at the time. I shortened the list and adapted it tothe needs of this article:

Ignacy Deissenberg - commissar – 1700 zlotys

Roth Sydon - director - 1300 zl

Aleksander Czaplicki - steward - 200 zl

Maciej Gerlak - director's stable groom - 144 zl

Michal Rolek - directorate guard – 120  zl

Antoni Klamut - smith - 108 zl

Katarzyna Wozowicz - maid - 84 zl

Michal Karemski - guard - ó0 zl

Franc Sedzielowski - doctor - 50 zl

Józef Filar - estate overseer - 25 zl

Stanislaw Woycik - field overseer - 25 zl

Jan Motyka - herdsman - 25 zl

Franciszek Darlak - stable groom - 25 zl

Floryan Kupa - cartwright - 25 zl

A similar list of those employed on the Dzików estate 1880-1938 is found in the so-called Ordynariusze [an ordynariusz was a farm hand receiving an allowance in kind].

A foundation on behalf of war invalids 1918-192ó lists them with details:

Franciszek Ordyk, registered to the gmina of Dzików, opinion of the gmina: has a hut with a garden, exemplary behavior, married 35 years; opinion of the priest: same as that of the gmina; policeman's opinion: very decent and hardworking, 55% disabled.

The undersigned requests a grant as provided by the Charter of the Illustrious Counts Tarnowskis' Foundation. I am a poor invalid who supports a family consisting of five persons, but I do not receive adequate support from the 2 1/2 -morg field I own, because it is of poor quality and I cannot work it properly because I am unfit for heavy workdue to my hands being shot in the war in 1914.
JadachJ Michal, 10 September 1919

Assistance for homeless victims of floods 1908-1937:

To His Excellency Count Tarnowski in Dzików, I, the undersigned, petition His Excellency the Count for support, because I am poor, I have seven childen, and I cannot earn enough for them. Poverty is frightening for me because I live by the road and carriages go back and forth on it. I would ask His Excellency to have mercy and give me okrajniaki* for the fence ... just enough to grow bread for my children ... In turn, I will pray to the Lord God for the health of the Count'swhole family.
Mrs. Bronislawa Sitek

Furthermore, in the Dzików Archive are lists of loan collectors for loan associations,1850-1930 (many units), as well as long lists of debtors from the 1830s; stipends for 1901-1912; numerous regulations and legal administrative disputes between individual citizens and the manor, 1770-1880; shelters and orphanages 1918-1937; and aid during wartime, 1914-191ó.

Maps, outlines, and sketches depict not only complete localities in the terrain but also reflect the history of personal names; and numerous technical drawings of the most varied residential, farm, business, and public buildings bring us near the realities of past times.

The materials preserved by the Dzików Archive number over 4,000 units from the period 1310-1951 and are kept at the StateArchive in Kraków. They are partially available online at <http://www.skukajwarchiwach.pl>.

* The term okrajniaki is an archaic word, more or less forgotten. It refers to stones specially cut and trimmed and used  to reinforce structures such as bridges and fences.

Iwona Dakiniewicz, Lodz, Poland <genealogy@pro.onet.pl>

[with translation assistance from William F. Hoffman]

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Last Updated on July 16, 2015