Landsberg an der Warthe was a busy center for military and commerce situated on the Warthe River in Neumark. Today, it is known as Gorzów Wielkopolski. Numerous churches line the street corners. It was also a very populous city, meaning that there were hundreds of births registered to the Hauptkirche annually. I loved visiting the archive in Gorzów. It set the pace for the rest of my trip and was definitely the warm welcome we needed to Poland after an excruciating flight. This is one of those things I would highly recommend for anyone planning a trip to Gorzów: see the archives. Even if you feel unsure because of the language barrier or are worried about keeping on track… make time. The staff is friendly, and if you are there during the summer season, they typically have fewer people and more time to tour you around their facilities.
Before continuing, it is recommended to read Visiting the State Archives in Koszalin and Using Szukaj w Archiwach to Find Archival Documents first to familiarize yourself with archival procedures and compiling a list for your research. This guide assumes that concepts from those two earlier articles are understood before proceeding.
Preparing for Your Trip
Thoroughly research what books are of interest prior to going. All files can be found on Szukaj w Archiwach. At the time of publication, it is recommended to search using the old version rather than the newer szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl, as I have found it quite difficult to find items via the new search. With that being said, double-check that the files you are looking for have not already been uploaded on the newer website. While at the archives, I was informed that all materials would be updated on the newer site. Additionally, published scans are linked from the archive’s website for convenience.
Fill out and bring an archive user form with you. They do have forms available, but it is helpful to fill them out in advance to save time. Both the user form and the document request forms are available from the archive’s website. There is a daily limit for the number of materials requested; this is currently limited to five items per day, though exceptions can be made. I would recommend contacting the archive in advance of your trip to notify them of your intent to do research. They are very accommodating and can allow more than the daily limit in special circumstances–this is true if you are traveling from another continent to do research. If you are aware of what books you need to request and know you might exceed the limit, ask.
If you are unsure of what materials you need, the staff there can help search through several indexes to their collections. All materials are ordered digitally on their websites in the reading room and are also delivered digitally to the computer when available. For this reason, bring a USB drive and ask for permission to copy them to save your time from having to read them on-site. When files aren’t available digitally, you will be brought the books and provided with the gloves to protect older materials. If there is a book that is digitized but has significance to you, you may request to see the physical copy. They do try to limit this to preserve materials already digitized. For us, they brought us the books so we could hold the documents that kept the names of our family members.
Each desk is equipped with a lamp and a computer. The lamp is useful when photographing your own records. Ordered materials take about half an hour to arrive.
One final thought: while the digital files are in very high quality, I noticed that several pages were out of focus for the books I was looking through. Seeing the physical copies helped remedy this.
The reading room is small, but well equipped and cozy. This is the view looking back from my previous picture.
My Experience at the Archive
Parking is free and is located just behind the archive. The archive was dead silent when I walked in, and I was greeted by a staff member. She didn’t speak English, but she motioned for me to follow her. One of the women who works at the desk in the reading room spoke German. It was a pleasant surprise when the Head of the Archive Resources Collection Department, Paweł Kunicki, warmly greeted us and began speaking to us in English. He was very friendly and helped us with everything we needed.
When arriving, you will be provided with a locker for your belongings. They do not allow food or beverage in the room.
After our first day at the archive, we were invited back for a second unplanned day to tour the facility. He led my wife and I through the storage room and showed us his favorite document: a papal scroll from 1408 when Pope Gregory XII pardoned the city from excommunication by the Bishop of Posen because of an evasion of tithing. The pope’s seal was visible from the document.
Gorzów’s archive was created in 1950 as a branch of the Poznan Archive. Since then, much dedication on the part of its staff has truly made Gorzów’s archive stand on its own. Of the archives I visited, I was the most impressed with Gorzów’s level of preparation for the construction and move of their new facility, which happened in 2013. The storage rooms are temperature and humidity controlled. Collapsible storage shelves allowed for a large capacity of documents, not just now, but for the future as well.
One level up on the main floor, the archive had a display of Solidarity and Poland’s campaign towards freedom. The display was in both English and Polish, discussing at length the role of the Catholic Church in the elections and the climate that led up to and effects after the election.
Other rooms on the main level were dedicated to preservation of documents. We were shown how their specialist cleaned and repaired documents. The one shown below was a larger map that was being restored.
Thankfully, Gorzów’s preservation of the past also includes a vision for the future. Their new machine allows documents to be easily scanned for digitization. While I don’t remember exactly how high the resolution of images is, let’s leave it at this–big… really big… huge… gigantic. Pick your adjective. I was impressed with how zoomed-in one could go when scanning at even the more normal settings. For a computer geek and gearhead like me, their machine was a dream (and so expensive I wouldn’t be able to afford it in my lifetime!) The way it works, the image is read through the glass and almost instantly arrives onto the computer where further adjustments can be made to cropping. We were told it is especially important when working with the machine that no jewelry or other items scratch the glass.
Meeting with the staff was amazing. The people who work there are some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered on all of my travels. If you’ve read my article on the archive in Koszalin, I would brag about similar attitudes of the staff. They genuinely love their jobs and want to encourage more people to come travel to see their facilities and perform research.
Paweł’s help was greatly appreciated. He let me perform research on my wife’s family through church books, gave my wife and I a tour of the archive, allowed us to photograph documents, and happily invited us back anytime. Of all our conversations, and that even includes his love of the Minnesota Vikings, one conversation was of significant importance. During it, I referred to the church books as “their records.” Paweł corrected me, saying, “They are your records. They are for everyone.” He further explained that these were paid for by the government, and as such, were available to all. He encouraged me to start up my own tours, bring people from America, and said I could write books and sell them. I made very clear to him that my end goal was not money. However, he still proceeded to give me his blessing if I were to go that route. I truly wish more institutions had people like him at the helm.
From my personal experiences, there is a clear vision from the Polish archives to preserve and make available as much history as they can for free access. My wife noted that the work they were doing there was impressive and important. There is hope to digitize entire holdings and place them online at szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl (their older site is still online at szukajwarchiwach.pl). I admire their dedication to keeping this knowledge open to the public and their work to ensure that these documents are well preserved.
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