SILESIA / SCHLESIEN
The Town Hall in Breslau
Archives and Records
Silesian research is different than Pomeranian in that this area was
predominately German Catholic. I found the, "missing," LDS church books
for the family villages were still with the parish priest. One could try
writing a letter in Polish to the parish priest for the records but - I
think it would be difficult to get a reply for several reasons:
Personal possessions: Use common sense. Do not take or wear expensive, flashy jewelry. If you don't need it, leave it at home. Unless you are taking a photo, keep cameras, video cameras, tape recorders in a bag, not out in the open and around your neck especially in the larger cities. Our guide advised us never to give any money to people begging on the street.
Translator/Guide: Unless you can speak Polish it is absolutely necessary to have a translator/guide with you. If you are traveling that far to find family records and information, you must be able to communicate with parish priests, people at the archives and in the community. Also try to learn some words of Polish before leaving home, i.e. please, thank you, good day, etc. and use them. It is appreciated and it helped, "break the ice," and gain access to information I was seeking even though I had a translator. Our translator/guide had a cell phone with her, which was necessary to notify priests if we were detained or had to reschedule. As we were on the road going from village to village, it was also used to make reservations for rooms and/or dinner.
Maps: While in Poland I was able to buy highly detailed maps but they do not
have the old German name for the small villages you may want to visit. I recommend buying maps before leaving
home or in Germany as the best I have found for traveling in Poland is by the German company, Höfer-
Verlag. They show the village name in both German and Polish. Our Polish
guides did not know the German names or German history of the villages
or area. Currently the only official North American dealer of Höfer Verlag maps is Genealogy Unlimited,
Victoria, B.C., Canada. Customers in Europe should contact
Höfer-Verlag directly in order to save postage costs.
Town/Village Name Changes: Use the web site kartenmeister.com to find the current Polish name and government district of a former German town or village that is now part of Poland. This web site will give you all the historic old German names, current Polish name, County/Kreis, Former German and current Polish province, the location by longitude and latitude, where the nearest Lutheran and Catholic Parishes were located, the location of the Civil Registry, etc. as well as connecting you to a Google Map showing its current location on a Polish map.
Have an itinerary: Before leaving home, make a list of every place you plan visit, what you need to accomplish at each stop, records you want to look for, what photos you want to be sure and take, etc. It is easy to get sidetracked while traveling and checking this list throughout your trip will keep you focused.
Go prepared: Know exactly which archive has what records and their current hours. Be
aware of any closings for special holidays during the time period you will be visiting. Know what church records
and/or civil records have been microfilmed and for what years by the LDS church. Don't waste your time looking at
records that have been microfilmed by the LDS church which you can peruse at a local LDS library near your home.
If you go to Poland to specifically do family research at village churches, you need to know the religion of your
ancestor and be aware that the old German parish books may not exist as many were destroyed during the war. If
your ancestors were Lutheran, any existing records will NOT be found in the now Polish Catholic parishes. All of
the German Lutheran church books that survived World War Two were to be sent to Polish State Archives. Existing
Lutheran church records may be at any number of these Polish State Archives. Some of these records may also be
found at a German State Archive or at the Evangelischen Zentralarchiv in Berlin.
Make Appointments: You must have advance appointments at the archives and usually through
the director of the archives. Make your advance reservations and have a confirmation before leaving home. If you
are hiring a translator/guide, this person could make the advance reservations for you, check on records you want
to research, etc.
Researching German Catholic Church Records: The Silesian area where my husband's family was from
was predominantly German Catholic. The LDS church had not microfilmed the church books for his ancestor's churches
but these Catholic records were still in the Polish Catholic parishes.
German Script: You should be familiar with the old German script and be able to read your family names and basic information in the entries. If you are fortunate to have a translator/ guide who is able to read the records that is an asset, but as you are the person who has done the research on your family, you will see and catch family names that may be collateral lines. Also two or more people searching the records will save valuable time for the priest. I am a novice in reading the old script but was much more proficient than the guides we have used. The priests sat in the room but did not assist us. They were busy with their own parish duties. I don't think most of them could read the old German script.
Research Time for German Catholic Church Records: Keep your visit with the priests as short
as possible. We didn't see any church secretaries. In the larger parishes, the priests had housekeepers
but they were busy with their duties, making dinner, cleaning, gardening, etc. Come up with a system to search as
quickly as possible. We ran our fingers down the pages looking only for the family surnames. Only then did we read
just enough of the entry to confirm they were our family line and tagged the page with a slip of paper. There were
four of us, including our translator/guide, searching through the books as quickly as possible and it still took
hours because of the number of books we found in each parish.
Copying Records: We did not find any parish that had a copy machine. Instead our guide asked permission for me to photograph, without flash, my family records. The person in our group least able to read the old script, became our photographer. When we finished quickly scanning a book for family names and tagging the entries, our "photographer" took the photos of the tagged pages while we searched the next book. Most of the parsonages were quite dark inside. We either used a wide windowsill to take the photos in natural light or used a lamp. Our guide explained how we were being careful with the old records by not using flash and the priests were happy to bring a lamp to the table.
Visiting/Photographing the Church: If a priest says he has only an hour or two for you to search the records, do not spend your time researching the records and then ask or expect to see the inside of the church. Mention you would like also like to see the inside of the church upon arrival and let the priest set the time during your visit when it is convenient for him. If there is more than one Catholic Church in the town, both churches are probably under his jurisdiction. If you want to see the inside of both churches, again mention this at the beginning of your visit or when you make the appointment. The priest may then be able to arrange for someone to open the other church for you to photograph. Don't expect him to find someone at the last minute. Be understanding if he is the only one who can open the church and he doesn't have time. If you are lucky enough to see the inside of the church, be aware it is difficult to do justice to the beautiful old churches using only the internal flash on your camera as we found most of them quite dark inside. An external flash on the camera would be better to photograph the ceilings and walls.
Donations: When visiting a church or checking for German Catholic records, always offer a donation to the priest for his time and assistance. These offers were usually refused but when we asked if we could make a donation to the church and these were usually welcomed and accepted by the priests. If your offer is rejected, accept it, and don't insult them by insisting. Remember you want your visit to pave the way for those who come after you to see their family records.
Leave a business card: We found out someone from Germany had been to the same parishes researching the same family names only two weeks before. The priest had not kept any record of the person's name and we have no knowledge of living family in Germany. If you have a personalized card or something with your name, address and e-mail upon it that you can leave with the priest, it may be advantageous to you. But remember the priests do not need extra work and it is not their duty to keep track of visitors or make family contacts for you.
Photographing family villages: Allow enough time to take photographs of family villages and the countryside. Searching church records takes a lot of time. We ended up rushing from one appointment to another and missed getting photos of the villages. There was no time to take photographs when arriving in the village as we didn't want to be late for our appointments but by the time we finished, it was after dark.
Thank you notes: A thank you note to the parish priests you visited is always a nice touch. (Be sure your guide helps you get their complete name and address during your visit.) If you have Polish currency left after your trip, you may consider including these Zloty's in the thank you card to a parish priest. If you promised anything to anyone, do it promptly after arriving home. One priest asked if I could send him photos of the inside of his church as he had never seen any photos of his church. My only regret is that I didn't have more light when I photographed the beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings.
Scheduling Your Time: Allow extra time for traveling from village to village as well as locating the church. Allow extra time to see and photograph the villages not just the church. If you are researching German Catholic records, allow extra time for the unexpected - a mass, wedding, etc. which may interfere with your research time.
Security: Churches in Poland are not immune from theft. At one of the parishes we visited, a window had been broken and cherub and angel statues had been stolen off the altar. Another priest who had confirmed the marriage record of an ancestor a month earlier, refused to let us enter the parish ground upon our arrival. Our guide had telephoned early in the morning to let the priest know we would arrive on time for our appointment, but could not answer which family names we wanted to research as she did not have the papers in front of her. When we arrived at the parish, the priest met us with his Doberman pincher dogs and would not let us in. We left empty handed after leaving a small donation for his time. It was only because our guide was persistent in phoning him the next two days, giving him the name of the parishes we were visiting, that this priest finally consented to our visit. We found out later that the priest had become fearful when our guide could not recall the family name on the phone and then we arrived as a carload of four adults. (Our guide, my husband, daughter and myself.) He was afraid we were there to rob the church and parish. When the priest finally allowed our visit, my husband and daughter stayed in the car outside the gates and as this helped ease his fears.
Money: We used cash machines at gas stations and banks in Poland to obtain Zlotys. We carried two different cards from two different banks in case one card would not work. Be sure to let your bank and credit card company know what countries you will be visiting before you leave home or your cards may be frozen and unusable. Even before Poland joined European Union, our guides preferred to be paid in Euros not Zlotys.