I’ve also been deep into trip planning as I will be traveling back to Eastern Europe in early summer together with my husband. Our travels will take us to Budapest, Warsaw, Radom (the town my grandfather came from), Cracow and Prague. I’ve gotten to know Radom quite well in putting together the Shtetlink site, but felt it was time to visit the town and do some research in the archives. I have no idea how I will respond to being there. Of all the places in Eastern Europe from which my family came, this is the city which is closest to the Holocaust for me personally. I have a list of at least 50 family members who died, many as close as second cousins. They all have names, ages and family histories that make them real. My grandfather immigrated to the US in the early 1900s, but everyone else remained in Poland only to perish in the Holocaust. Based on my experience in Lithuania, I know how intense this type of visit can be so sought to mitigate it with travels to other areas where I don’t have a personal connection.
I do my own trip planning and it involves considerable research that may prove helpful to others planning similar travels. The hardest part is figuring out the itinerary. I briefly considered going to both Radom , Poland and Kamenetz-Podolsk in the Ukraine where the rest of my family came from. Ultimately I decided that I needed to focus on one region at a time. Preparing to do research is even more time consuming than planning a trip and I want to make sure I allow sufficient time and focus to do it justice.
I’ve been fortunate in that a friend who had traveled to Radom advised me on how he would put a trip together in hindsight. Our travels will begin with five days in Budapest, then on to Warsaw by train. We will rent a car in Poland and travel from Warsaw to Radom where I will go to the archives to do research and put in an order. While they gather the information that I will request, we will head down to Krakow for several days. From there we will visit Auschwitz, a visit I feel I must make, but also dread. We then come back to Radom for a few days to gather the information from the archives. My friend suggested I leave enough time to make any additional requests that might be spurred by the information that the archives provide. Also while in Radom, we may do a side trip to Majdanek, a well preserved concentration camp that the Nazis didn’t have time to destroy. From there we head back to Warsaw for a few days and then on to Prague for six days. All total a trip of three weeks.
While in Radom I plan to visit both archives, the Polish State Archives (PSA) has information older than 100 years ago and the civil registration office (USC) which has the records from the last 100 years. I’ve been told that for the USC, I need to document my relationship to the people for whom I am requesting information. Not much clarity on how to do that, but I should be able to put a chain of birth and death certificates together that will take me as far back as the 1700s on one side of the family. I have ordered many records from the PSA and anticipate sending them an e-mail advising them of my arrival and what I hope to see while there.
I am especially interested in records that they have of identity papers that were required by the Nazis in 1941, the year before they murdered the Jews. Identity papers frequently have photos attached, often the only family photos that people have. I have gotten some identity papers in the past from the PSA although it seems those should be at the USC as they are more recent.
Understanding what information is where will be one of my challenges and I’ve been told that what I find in one archive may send me looking for information at the other. My other challenge will be language. I do not speak any Polish and based on my one phone call there, English speakers are a scarce commodity. They do accept e-mails in English, but respond in Polish, so I assume there are some English speakers. My friend who traveled there was able to manage without the language skills and found people who spoke English or enough that he could be understood.
The records present yet another language challenge, but one I’ve been able to contend with successfully in the past. Written Polish is somewhat decipherable in official records, but the Russian records remain challenging despite a few courses in Russian. I’ll need to brush up on my Russian before I leave as records from the 1860s through World War I are in Russian.
I am also interested in a file that sounds as if it has name changes for the Jews who first took last names around 1822/23. Prior to that time Jews had patronymics, the father’s last name with an ending added to it. It is possible that I can find the fathers’ names for my great-great-great grandparents David and Sura.
I’ve been watching the recent TV series on Who Do You Think You Are and thinking how much easier it is when you have a crew of genealogists doing your legwork. At the same time I am often glad that I’ve never found that a family member has already documented our family tree. Instead they left to me the wonderful opportunity to discover my family through my own efforts. Those efforts imbue the discoveries with much greater satisfaction than if someone had handed me the information. The search is itself a great gift for a mind that loves to solve puzzles.