Sunday, July 19, 2015

2014 Road Trip to Poland

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been looking for my great-grandfather Paul Primas for a long time.  When I started my family history research for a school project in 6th grade, he had already been gone for over 50 years.   As a teenager I wrote to the German Consulate to ask how to find records I was looking for and was told all the records were lost in the war (World War II) and any that did survive were now behind the Iron Curtain and unavailable.  I kept looking and asking.

Paul Primas Death Certificate

In 2012 I decided I needed to go to Poland and try to find out more information about my elusive great-grandfather Paul.  I still had many questions.   Having previously used his services for obtaining documents, I contacted Dr. Lukasz Bielecki of Discovering Roots in the fall of 2013.  I engaged his services to help me plan the trip as well as conduct some research prior to our arrival.   My sister Donna and I bought our tickets in January 2014, but probably would have had a better selection of seats if we had bought them sooner.  Because of some other touring we wanted to do, we chose to fly in and out of Berlin, Germany.  From Berlin, our destination, Poznan, is a 3 hour train ride through beautiful country.

Caron at the Poznan train station

In April 2014, we traveled to Poznan, Poland to see sights related to our family history and to conduct additional research at the local archives.  We stayed at Hotel Włoski Poznań as Lukasz recommended and found it to be well-located, clean, reliable and reasonably priced.  While Donna is fluent in German (which was the language of our ancestors who lived in the Posen area during the Prussian Empire) and I can read “genealogy German” neither of us speak nor understand Polish.  Having Lukasz to interpret during our visit was very helpful!

Planning the day with Lukasz in the hotel lobby

During our three day visit Lukasz guided and chauffeured us as we made daily trips to the ArchiwumPaństwowe w Poznaniu (State Archive in Poznań) in the city and the surrounding areas specific to our ancestors. 

State Archive building in Poznań

At the Archive, he assisted us to complete the necessary paperwork to access the Archive’s materials and used his knowledge of the local geography to determine which records to access.   It was obvious that Lukasz is well known at the Archives as well as knowing his way around the resources!  The Archive’s rules are that only a limited amount of items can be accessed and at restricted times.  We were able to triple the numbers with three of us there.  Donna and I took many pictures of pages of old church records of our known ancestors and “suspect” ancestors. 

Lukasz and the records at the Archive  

Caron looking at a church record book 

Church record book with Paul Primas baptismal record

Page with Paul Primas baptismal record
Paul Primas baptismal record

During the afternoons, Lukasz used his excellent knowledge of the area and its history to take us down mostly unmarked roads to access the rural areas where our ancestors had lived.  He also used some maps from the 1980s Communist military.  He told us they were very detailed and accurate. Had we been on our own, we never would have been able to navigate the area.

Map used by Lukasz

We visited the churches where our family baptisms and weddings were performed, family cemeteries and the areas where our ancestors worked or owned mills and had their homes.   The Lutheran churches no longer exist; they have been converted to Catholic churches, community or art centers or torn down, usually with a park in its place.

Circles indicate all the places we visited

Church in Rejowiec, formerly Revier, where Friedrich Primas and Amalie Petrich
 (my 2nd great-grandparents) were married in 1857, still in use as Catholic Church

Picture of inside of the Rejowiec church

Church at Murowana Goslina, currently abandoned


Church at Nekielka, formerly Nekla Hauland, being remodeled as a music arts center

Inside view church at Nekielka (Nekla Hauland)

Church at Pobiedziska, formerly Pudewitz

Inside of the church in Pobiedziska

Church in Skoki, formerly Schokken.  It is now a community center.
It looks like they play basketball inside.

While we drove through the beautiful countryside, Lukasz related information about the general history of the villages and area. He also took us to charming local restaurants each day where we were able to taste the local cuisine.

Lunch stop in Skoki – wonderful pirogi!

Typical view from the car when there were no farms, this near Nekielka

Farm land near Glinka Panska

One road we went down did not look like a real road.  It looked like a track through a farm field.  Lukasz assured us it was a real road, it was on the map!

This is a real road!  On our way to Czerniejewo, formerly Schwarzenau

Site of Gottfried Primas’ (my 3rd great-grandfather’s) water mill at Borowo Mɫyn

There was something spiritually moving and a bit mysterious about walking on the same land that my ancestors walked on.  There was a feeling of comfort and familiarity. 

We knew many of our great-grandparents had been millers – we have “wind millers” and “water millers” in the family.  We did not see any water mills, but we did see a “wind mill” that looked like one our family might have worked.

Old windmill building in Czerniejewo on the road to Nekla

This is what it might look like new or in use

We were very pleased with our visit and would highly recommend Lukasz and DiscoveringRoots in Poland for local or long distance research and on-site guided tours in Poland.   We thought his fees were very reasonable for the flexible and personal services he offers. 

Here are my tips for a successful research trip, based on this and other excursions:
  • Plan well in advance.  For overseas, at least 3 months in advance.  Check if a visa or other special permission is needed.  None were needed for Poland, but when I checked for Russia, you needed to request a visa at least 3 months prior to travel.  Know Before You Go.
  • Travel during off-season if you can.  Because we traveled in April, we missed the summer crowds and prices.
  • Check the weather in the location you are traveling to before you pack!
  • Note any holidays in the location you will visit.  The Monday after Easter is a holiday in Germany and all the stores were closed.  We had planned to shop that day!
  • Check ahead on sites you want to visit for any special events or other changes in availability.  When we visited Wittenberg, the Luther related churches were shrouded and one was closed in preparation for the 500th Anniversary in 2017.  The only picture of the churches we got were on a postcard!
  • If you will be in a country where you do not know the language, seriously consider hiring a guide.  It will be worth the money!
  • Do advance research for the location you are going.  Know the hours and rules of any repositories you want to visit.   Can you take pictures?  Scan?  State Archive of Poznan only pulls records three times per day and only 5 records per person per pull.  No scanning or copies, but you can take pictures.
  • Have a research plan before you go.  Take any reference materials you may need.  Do NOT assume you will have an internet connection available.  I printed out family trees and family groups sheets of the families I was looking for and had them spiral bound into a book at Office Max.  I made 3 copies (me, Lukasz and Donna).  We used them!  I also had my netbook with FamilyTreeMaker loaded in case we had questions not answerable by the print outs.  We used it!!
  • Have a scanner and/or camera with you.  In our case, we could not use a scanner, but I used a camera for the records.  Donna and I both had cameras and took over 3,000 pictures between us – scenery and records.
  • Pack light.  Donna and I each took a 22-inch carry-on suitcase and a fully-loaded backpack.  That was all for 14 days!! 
    • Lay out all the clothes that you think you will need and leave half of them home.  We had a few basics in solid colors and changed it up with shirts, scarves and such.  Hotels had laundry services or equipment.
    • Dress in layers.  April in Poland/Germany was rainy and 45-55 F.  We layered turtlenecks under fleece jackets/sweaters and those under raincoats.  When we went inside or it warmed up, we could peel off a layer.  Also, remember that buildings and hotels outside of the US do not always have the same temperature control availability.  PS: I appreciated my gloves!
    • Have two pair of good walking shoes.  Wear one, pack one.
    • Unless you know you will be attending an official dress up affair, leave the fancy clothes and jewelry home.
  • Keep a daily journal of where you went and what you did.  Write it up each night before bed.  If you wait to write it up on the plane or at home, you will forget most of it!  In my case, I also noted the weather each day, as it was pertinent to our tours.

It is hard to believe it has been over a year since our trip!  I would go back tomorrow if I had the chance.

PS:  I have been writing this post since March 2015.  I keep thinking I will add more or perfect it.  I keep thinking of more items to add.  However, I have decided to address some of the other aspects of the trip in individual posts and just get this one posted!

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