Iwona's Sources - How to Find Living Relatives

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How to Find Living Relatives

When looking for living relatives, it is best to begin at the source, that is, to study the metrical records of their native parish, in order to ascertain whether there were brothers or sisters of emigrant ancestors who remained in the old country, and if so, how many there were. This knowledge will guide and narrow your search.

An important factor is the amount of time that has passed since your ancestors emigrated. The longer the period that sepa­ rates them from modern relatives, the more effort will have to be invested in searching. If we have a solid basis, such as data from metrical records from the early 20th century and/or letters from Poland that provide information on relatives' addresses and fates, the chances of a successful search rise significantly.

Let us remember that records less than 100 years old are covered by the laws regarding the protection of personal data, and as a rule, such records are not available to the researcher. This is a real obstacle; nonetheless, other sources of information exist from the period of the last century, the essential link between the period of mass emigration and the present. Among them are other kinds of documents accessible in State archives, old address books, cemeteries, and the oldest inhabitants of a given locality. It is worth the effort to contact the priest of a given parish (if it still exists), because it may happen that he will give the researcher a cordial invitation to look through the parish records for himself. Unfortunately, as a result of the growing popularity of genealogical research, priests are becoming less and less receptive to such requests.

The Internet has become the most widespread source for searching. It is a phenomenal instrument that not only connects us with the websites of specific parishes or gminas [local districts, the lowest national administrative subdivision], but also helps us translate from a foreign language. I havenoticed a new tendency to search using social media. I, personally, do not use this method, but I know of a few cases of successful contacts made. "Blind search" is an adequate description of this method, which has nothing in common with the so-called "professional approach."

Attempts to contact people with the same surname, even from the same locality, often misfire. This happens for a number of reasons. The first pitfall is the popularity of a surname in a given region - which may attest to deep roots, but makes it difficult to reach the right family. Secondly, the average Polish family only possesses knowledge of ancestors back to the third generation. It often happens that American descendants present multi-generational genealogical trees to their Polish relatives, to their great astonishment.

It is not easy to give guaranteed search methods, because every case is different and demands an individual approach, depending on the fate of a given family. Analysis of the basic methods, mentioned above, will describe their potential and possibilities.

Archival documents other than metrical records deal with every sort of personal registers. A treasure trove are the lcsieq; meldunkowe or registration books that were drawn up for all gminas, most often during the period 1870-1930 and subse­ quently from the early postwar years. A whole collection of information is given in a nutshell; a description of the whole family, on one page or several, includes dates and places of birth, parents' names, profession, religion, former residence, subsequent address (in cases of displacement), date of conscription and release from military service, sometimes notations on marriage and death, and even on any relevant court judgments.

If these registration books have not been preserved, then it's worthwhile to search through other registers: of taxes, land, conscription, schools, and repatriates. It is true, these sources do not give knowledge as complex as the registration books; but they may direct you to new leads.

As for address and telephone books, those from the period between World War I and II (1918-1939) are held in archives or libraries, but are limited to the larger cities and towns. According to 1938 statistics, only seven inhabitants out of every 1,000 had telephones. The first significant growth in the number of phone subscribers, by about 50%, took place in the years 1960- 1965, and still amounted to only a small percentage of the whole population.

A breakthrough did not come until the years 1970-1980. That was when the aver­ age family had a state-owned telecommuni­ cation cable telephone (this was before the boom in cell phones and the demonopolization of the market). The White Pages from the years 1975-1999 covered the whole country according to its administrative division into 49 provinces. Each province's telephone book began with subscribers in the region of the province's capital, and the next part covered the rest of the territory. A small percentage of subscribers had un­ listed numbers.

City addresses were incomplete. Usually, only the street name or number were published (without the house or apartment number); village addresses, however, were complete, and included house numbers.

Unfortunately, all telephone books listing private subscribers were taken out of circulation in 1999 as the result of a new law for protecting personal data. And although I possess a large collection of old books, it turns out that many of those telephone numbers are no longer in operation (due to competition from cell phones).

However, another tool is in operation that can be helpful for locating surnames on a map of contemporary Poland: the Internet site Moi Krewni [My Relatives] at <http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/>. The database does not include first names or specific addresses, but gives the exact numbers for specific surnames for individual towns and powiaty. It is compiled on the basis of Slownik nazwisk uzywanych w Polscena poczatku XXI wieku [Dictionary of Surnames in Current Use in Poland at the Beginning of the 21 st Century], published in 2002 by the Polish Language Instituteof the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Polish Genealogical Society of America. Its author, Professor Kazimierz Rymut, took as his source data from the Government Information Center, which collects the surnames of all persons possessing Polish citizenship. The usefulness of this data is inversely pro­ portional to the frequency of the surname.

Cemeteries are a proven source of genealogical knowledge; the majority of tombstones show exact dates of birth and death, and sometimes maiden names also appear. If we are not certain about degree of relationship, but have a specific date, we can more easily obtain complete data from a death record in a parish chancellery, cemetery administration, or civil registration office. It is also worthwhile to leave a letter, protected from rain and wind, on a discovered grave.

The method of obtaining information from ancestors' native region is effective in small villages where everyone knows everyone else. A conversation with a priest, soltys, or elder will lead us to our destination (provided some sort of family continuity has been preserved). The larger a locality is, the harder it is to get information.

Local civil registration offices are ob­ ligated to provide data only to relatives pienuszej knui, "of first blood" [immediate family], although not all officials demand documentation - a signed declaration suffices. If we seek information on such persons and have no knowledge as to where to look, then the matter is much simpler. You need only mail an application form, along with official papers proving you are related to the person sought, to the Polish national address office, officially called Wydzial Udostepniania Informacji Departamentu Spraw Obywatelskich MSWiA (Ministerstwo Spraw Wewnetrzych i Administracji) [Information Disclosure Division of the Department of Civil Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration]:

Wydział Udostępniania Informacji
Departamentu Spraw Obywatelskich
Pawińskiego 17/21
02-106 Warszawa

There is one more loophole via state administration, provided that the name and surname of the person sought is known. We address a letter to the local biuro ewidencji ludnosci [census office], requesting that it be forwarded to the addressee. The office has no right to share address data, but it will take on the role of intermediary. We must, however, take into consideration the fact that, in general, people are not overjoyed to receive formal notice to appear in person at that office. Only when they're there do they find out what it is all about.

In conclusion, I will mention the curious instance of an American genealogist whoset out for Poland to seek out living relatives, and to his great surprise, learned that they had all emigrated to the United States in the 1960s! He received a full set of current addresses and photographs from the local priest, who was a friend of his family.

Iwona Dakiniewicz, Łódź, Poland genealogy@pro.onet.pl

- with translation assistance from William F. Hoffman

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Last Updated on July 6, 2017