Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I have the data - now to add the information.

My ancestor search (for my own ancestors) is slowly coming to a halt approaching a big brick wall.  Well, actually it’s not brick but I’m not sure I have what it takes to penetrate it.

Polish Roman Catholic church records before the 18th century – and in some cases into the 18th century are paragraphs of handwritten text in Latin. Later records generally have the data entered into labeled columns in the record books like this:

Language isn’t the problem with the early records, the problem is mostly the handwriting. Add to that the fact that many of the pages are faded or damaged by time. Ancient European handwriting is my (not exactly) brick wall.  Here’s a sample of one of more legible record books.

While it would be nice to know the names of my 3rd 4th and 5th great grandparents, I’m not sure that it is worth the effort to try to decipher these earliest records.

Why not?

My goal has been to understand my family history. I believe that I now know enough about that history to be able to add context to the names and dates.  My ancestors were peasants in a part of the world where civil records were not kept until 1874. They were farmers and laborers who were pretty much invisible in their times except to one another.

I can extrapolate from the known names and dates to guess when earlier generations lived. So even if I don’t know their names, history tells me much about their circumstances.  Were their leaders tyrants or magnanimous? What wars were going on?  Were there famines or floods?  I can go far back in time even without being able to name individuals.

I won’t stop searching. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m at the point of getting diminishing returns from poring over the available records.  

New projects for my ancestors will involve trying to depict my ancestors and their lives in words and images and share those with my extended family.  That’s a daunting challenge.  Maybe it would be easier just trying to decode the ancient scribbles.


  1. My dad's family was from Slovakia. I think Poland is similar in that the church records probably don't go all that far back, say before 1800. I found it worth the time to continue to delve into the more difficult records to decipher, knowing that there were not very many generations left to find. I found the same while hunting through my Danish/Swedish lines, although those records exist in an earlier time period. You might want to reconsider. There are Facebook groups that can help with reading the old writing and if you are able to visit the Family History Library in SLC, there are experts there who can read and translate them for you.

  2. +Linda Stufflebean – thanks for the encouraging words. I am in the FB Polish Genealogy group and everyone has been very helpful.

    Pattern recognition is the key to recognizing surnames in the early unformatted records and I find that to be quite fatiguing. I’ll just get accustomed to one priest’s pattern of entry and then someone new has started making entries - and of course he had his own style, not to mention handwriting.

    When I do find a record, I can often do the translation; if not I get help. But I can look at only so many pages of that before my brain rebels. It takes me many viewing sessions to get through a film

    But, I’m not giving up – I’m taking a rest. At this point I feel a greater urgency to share my findings than to search further back. Eventually, I’ll find them.

  3. It is written in Latin language

    1. It is very lucky for me that it is Latin. I grew up in the Catholic church when the Mass was still in Latin so It is reasonably comfortable for me even though I have no real expertise in the language. The problem for me these days is that I've been looking at civil records. German language is difficult enough but old German Script is a real challenge.