It might be repetitive for me to state, but even if your ancestral village’s birth, marriage, and death records have been lost, there is still hope to advance your family tree. It might come as a surprise that whole families can be found in land registers, among other documents. The only way to know for sure is to use other books in the archives and find out. Sometimes a Grundbuch will contain numerous entries on families and inheritable rights; other times, the book will list only the owner. But where do you start?
The first place any Pommern genealogist should look is on Szukaj w Archiwach. I’ve written about using it in conjunction with the German BKGE website and doing a quick rundown on searching Szukaj w Archiwach to fill out archive request forms in the Koszalin Archives. While those guides intended to be for a more advanced audience, this article will cover the basics of how to navigate the site.
There is a newer version of the site at SzukajwArchiwach.gov.pl. According to the archive in Gorzów, some books are available through the new site rather than the old one. However, I do not recommend using the newer version yet, as the search is rather clunky. Documents I know exist do not always show up when running a search with the correct keywords. For this reason, I recommend only using SzukajwArchiwach.pl to look for books at this time.
I also recommend using Google Chrome as your web browser. It will allow you to right-click and translate full web pages. The website and its collections are in Polish, and the document names are typically in German. For the beginner, it might seem daunting, but stick with it! It will only get easier.
Step 1: Navigate to the Site and Enter Your Search
If you see the screen above, you know you are in the right place. Type your search in the box. As they will yield better results than searching for family names, I recommend looking for villages to begin.
While there are other tools to search the archives, Szukaj w Archiwach is maintained by the Polish State Archives and contains only holdings from their archives. The site allows you to view individual items as well as browse the larger collections as a whole.
Step 2: Run a Search!
Taking the example from above, I wanted to find books that pertained to the villages of Groß and Klein Panknin in Belgard. Rather than searching for one at a time, I eliminated the precursor words “Groß” and “Klein,” searching for only the word “Panknin.”
In earlier times, Klein Panknin was called “Lütken Pankenyn.” This posed a problem for me, and I knew I would need to search for spelling variations. This is important. Search for variations, as the correct standardized spelling doesn’t always apply. For example, I could continue to search for: Pankin, Panknen, Pancknin, Pancknen, Panckin, Pancken, Pankrin, Pankren, and so forth.
The two problems you will run into most are spelling variations and mistranscribed names. The archives occasionally misidentify letters in the old German script, especially when it comes to similarly looking letters such as: a, e, n, r, and u; f, h, and s; g, p, and q; x, y, and z; and v and w.
You can also limit your searches by using the minus – symbol before a word. Using my example above, I found another village in Schlawe named Panknin and wanted to remove those results. I copied the word “Sławno,” which is the Polish name for Schlawe, and appended my search with -Sławno to remove those listings and make my search easier. You can remove other entries that appear as well. Your search could be:
Panknin -Sławno -Schlawe -Stolp
That way, you can pre-filter what you are searching for.
Step 3: Look Through Search Results
At this stage, two pieces of information are important: the date and what type of document it is. Using Google Translate is a great way to learn what the German or Polish words are. For most documents, the date range is accurate and may include references to earlier dates as well. However, for Erbhof documents, I have found copies of mortgage documents from over 100 years before the indexed date! These types of documents vary and might have a wealth of information or nothing at all. They are typically small enough documents that it is worthwhile to request all of them for a village while researching in the archives.
Narrowing down the date range can help to build a request list that is relevant to your family history. Likewise, narrowing down documents to a specific village can also help you rebuild the history of that village in your research.
Step 4: Understanding the Document Listing
Although Szukaj w Archiwach is a logical search engine, the language barrier can create difficulties for English-speaking researchers. The image above breaks down the essential components you will find (and need). Firstly, the archive housing the document is identified. The reference code, also known as a signature, identifies a single book. There may be former reference codes listed below it. They are important! Some books have been re-cataloged, but the number on the cover does not reflect the newer numbering system. Having both of these numbers will save hours of time in the archives when books are delivered to the reading room.
Also on this page, you will be able to find the collection the item belongs to. Large collections are broken up into smaller series. Each series contains listings for books that fit into that category.
Using the image above as a reference:
Archive: Archiwum Państwowe w Koszalinie (Köslin Archives)
Collection: 142 – Sąd Obwodowy w Białogardzie (Amtsgericht Belgard, District Court of Belgard)
Series: 2 – Matrykuły niepodzielnych gospodarstw dziedzicznych (translated to: Matrix of indivisible hereditary farms)
Item: 1831 – Der Erbhof Nr. 1 Bd. III Bl. 20 zu Groß Panknin (The inheritable farm #1)
All of the information needed to fill out a request from the archives is included on this page and, specifically, in the URL of the website, as shown in the image. The only piece of information not needed is the “null value” zero included. That is a divider between the collection and the series and serves no purpose in identifying documents.
Step 5: Create a Spreadsheet to Organize Your Requests
This is a small snippet of the actual spreadsheet I used to organize my document requests before traveling to Poland. You can see all of the information necessary to request books and refer to the items while in the archives. I copied and pasted most of the information directly from Szukaj w Archiwach, and you should too. Titles, places, years, number of pages (if available), and the reference number are necessary pieces of information. I also included links to the listings online for the books in case I needed to reference it on-the-go. Spoiler alert: I needed the links.
It can also help to have columns for each step of the process, from requesting the documents to photographing them. I would recommend a column for marking which books have a request form filled out. This helps identify which books still need to be requested in advance of your visit. I tend to also number my requests in order of importance somewhere in the margins. When at the archives, I made a mark for each one I submitted paper requests for to know which ones to look for. This helps if there is a discrepancy with the title or the signature number, and there will be at least once on a research trip. It makes it easy to know which books have been brought and which still need to be completed. Finally, when home, it helps to cross items off the list as you re-organize them into folders.
Step 6: Exploring Collections
Let’s say you found a guild record for the Schneider guild in Belgard, but you want to see what other guild records exist for the county. From the individual listing, you can click on “Series” to bring up the complete index divided into categories or “Units” to see all of the items listed together, irrespective of their guild.
You can also click on the left or right arrows to move forwards or backwards by one item number.
By clicking on “Series,” I am able to see the Polish names for the guilds, the number of books held, the date range, and if any copies have been digitized.
By clicking on the first item (the butcher’s guild), I am able to see the titles (in German) of the guild books. From the date ranges, the Lehrbriefe (apprentice letters) and Amts Buch (official administrative book) seem to be of interest.
By utilizing this navigation, it is easy to check your work and see if there are books that did not show up in search results.
That’s all there is to it!
I hope this guide was able to help search Szukaj w Archiwach. I use it frequently, and it is my number one resource for searching the Polish archives.
If you have any feedback or would like more clarification, please leave your feedback in the comments below.