Without a doubt, the State Archives in Koszalin (Archiwum Państwowe w Koszalinie) are one of the most valuable resources for uncovering more in your family tree. While in Poland, I visited three major branches of the State Archives: Gorzów Wielkopolski (Landberg an der Warthe), Koszalin (Köslin), and Szczecin (Stettin). Of these, the branch in Koszalin was my absolute favorite to work with. This is not a knock on the archives in Gorzów, as there are plenty of good things to say about their archive as well, some that outrank what Koszalin has to offer.
Koszalin does not limit the number of materials one can request per day. Other archives in Poland have such limitations which can severely hinder how much a foreign visitor can research in a trip. The archives allow photography of their books without flash. To make the most of your trip, I would highly suggest photographing everything and reading the books at home. This will increase how much you will be able to research and will give you the opportunity to review your research later.
Preparing for Your Trip
One of the most critical pieces of preparation to consider is which documents are of importance. The Koszalin Archives house a great deal of the material from former Hinterpommern. Having a list of books to order will be helpful. This list should also include the full signature number and any former reference numbers the book used to be organized by. The reason for this is simple: you should not waste precious time trying to figure out which books have already been ordered and if you have the correct book. For this, I prefer to use Google Sheets so I can review everything on-the-go. I would also suggest bringing a printed copy so you can cross documents off the list and take notes on findings of importance.
The best practice is to email the archives at [email protected] well in advance to notify them of your visit. While not required, I still attach a list of the documents to keep them informed of my intentions. Some are not stored at the main branch in Koszalin, so it is a good idea to ask if the file can be requested for the timeframe of your visit. They are very responsive, and one can also message them via Facebook.
Information concerning archival rules, forms, and archive hours can be found at the Koszalin Archive’s website.
Before visiting, a user form needs to be filled out. This covers your name, contact information, passport or identification number, and reason for your visit. It is a quick form to fill out, and it is recommended to both email the form and bring a physical copy of the form to expedite the process.
From your master spreadsheet, request forms should be filled out in advance to save on previous time in the archive. For your convenience, I have created a bilingual copy. 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.
To correctly fill out the forms, look at the complete signature number of the document. This can be found after clicking on any result from a search on Szukaj w Archiwach. The signature can found in the URL of the page. As shown below:
You do not need to be a web designer to find the signature. It’s embedded within the full path of the URL: 26/99/0/1.1/333
Let’s break down this number so we can understand it better. The first number, 26, is the archive. All signatures beginning with 26 belong to the State Archives in Koszalin. The second number, 99, is the collection. This can also be found on the page itself, telling you what the name of the collection is: Sąd Obwodowy w Kołobrzegu. You will need both of these for the request form. The 0 in the number is a null value. The 1.1 is the series and is not needed for the user form. (If you were curious, 1.1 is the collection “Księgi gruntowe” or land books.) However, if you wish to browse within the collection or series, you can do so by clicking on either of the tabs. The final number in the signature is the signature number of the book itself, in this case 333.
So, a completed request form would look similar to the one shown below. Since I went through almost 200 books in Koszalin, I also needed to know which forms went to which book on my spreadsheet. To make it easy, I wrote a note for myself at the very bottom.
My Experience at the Archive
Before the first day in the archive, write them an email requesting your first ten books. With any luck, they will be there waiting for you when you arrive. When I was there, requests were pulled from storage every hour on the half hour, starting at 8:30 a.m. I recommend going early, just a few minutes before they open to guarantee yourself a spot in the reading room. Some of my time was wasted on the first day understanding how their procedures worked and requesting my documents when I could have been researching from the very beginning. Preparation and understanding before you arrive is key.
When you do arrive, there is a keypad to the left of the main entrance. Using the guide provided, ring up to the “Lesesaal,” which is the reading room. Once inside there is a set of stairs leading upstairs. Turn left from this staircase on the main level. The reading room is at the end of the hallway on the right.
A translation of their website makes it a little confusing to understand the archive’s hours. In July and August, the archives are open for fewer hours, presumably because of all of the Europeans “making holiday.” This was a difficult concept to grasp as an American where everything seems to be open longer during the summer when people are able to do things. I stayed past closing time by mistake. Unlike my experiences elsewhere in Europe, the people working were exceptionally kind about it and very understanding about the confusion. They were patient as I packed up my things and left, offering an apology. I have never experienced such hospitality and understanding from government entities in Europe; it was a very pleasant surprise and is one of the reasons I strongly advocate for the Koszalin branch of the State Archives.
Another benefit for travelers on this side of the world: they speak fluent English! While I am fully capable of conversing in German, reducing the language barrier to my native tongue made it easier for me to describe what I was looking for.
When visiting and requesting so many items, a mistake here and here is to be anticipated. Several items that were delivered were the correct items but had previously been cataloged underneath the wrong name. For example, several of my documents for Podewils actually pertained to Pumlow. Several that were supposed to be Gramenz were actually Grabunz. Overall, the staff in Koszalin were extremely competent and were able to describe the discrepancies to me after checking into them. For one book, the man who was working the reading room phoned one of his colleagues. She in-turn called another. It was this large meeting of the minds to uncover if the book that was brought up was wrong or if the book was improperly listed online. Before the end of the day, they came back with their answer. Several words can be said about the people in Koszalin: hard-working, diligent, wonderful people. One of the maps I requested was not located on-site, and since I wasn’t able to see it, they offered to email me a copy.
To continue the praise of the Koszalin Archive, one of the women staffing the reading room continued helping me throughout the five-day duration of my research trip. After I had photographed a couple of books, she showed me the photo deck with a cross-lighting setup. With both lights illuminated, shadows on the pages were eliminated and the quality of my photographs improved dramatically. There are two sections to the reading room: a large area with long tables and another room with a large table and a photo deck. Attaching a DSLR camera to the the camera stand with a thumbscrew was simple. Align to the correct zoom and position of the table and all photos are guaranteed to come out looking professional.
On another occasion, one of the staff overheard my frustration as I was trying to photograph a map that was too large. I was telling my wife that it was impossible and there wouldn’t be a way to get a good photo of it. She came over and told my wife and I that she would be happy to help. She went into another room, brought out a large white piece of paper for backing the translucent paper and a ladder to stand on.
When we had to leave for Szczecin, I was sad to leave the people I met here behind, as I felt I had made genuine connections at the Koszalin Archive. I would encourage anyone doing research on their family to begin their journey here.
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