Pathways & Passages
volume 25, number 2, summer 2007
NO VITAL RECORDS? IS THE RESEARCH JOURNEY OVER?
by Aleksandra Kacprzak
Decidedly not! We all share the same passion, the need to discover and understand the history of our ancestors. We all start our adventure in genealogy in a similar way. We find artifacts from the Old Country in forgotten boxes and trunks in our grandmothers’ attics and we begin to ask ourselves what life was really like on the other side of the “Great Water.” We try to reveal a small bit of history from behind the veil of time. After dealing with all the documents available to us in the United States, we then begin our examination of the available vital records registers gathered in Salt Lake City. If the records from our parish are filmed, we can take our family history back several generations. But what to do when our parish is absent from this mine of genealogical data? At this point we simply transfer our research focus to Poland. Thousands of registry books not microfilmed by the Mormons await us in Polish church (archdiocesan, diocesan and parish) and civil archives. Although many are already aware of this, we will briefly repeat a bit about the Polish Archive system for those just beginning their genealogical journey in the ancestral homeland. State Archives—www.archiwa.gov.pl. The State Archives system contains information about its holdings of parish registers in the Pradziad database. Please visit the database often, as it is continuously updated, and if you looked for records some time ago, the ones you seek may have been added to the database during one of the periodic updates. Church archives—Ecclesiastical archives are generally are available for use for most interested parties, but each of them has its own internal regulations and policies. These rules are not always friendly to genealogists. Church archives are located in the following places.
Archdiocesan: Białystok, Częstochowa, Gdańsk, Gniezno, Katowice, Lublin, Łódź, Poznań, Przemyśl, Warsaw, and Wrocław. Diocesan: Drohiczyn, Elbląg, Ełk, Gliwice, Kielce, Koszalin, Łomża, Opole, Pelplin, Płock, Sandomierz, Siedlce, Tarnów, Toruń, Włocławek, Zamość, Zielona Góra. Parish archives are usually kept in a bookshelf in the parish rectory, and that shelf can contain priceless treasures for people like us. The person at the church in charge of keeping the records is the pastor. Please do not lose sight of the fact that he is under no obligation to grant access to vital records registers. In many cases, our research success is dependent on his willingness to allow such access; thus, it is necessary to know how to approach him and conduct a conversation with him that will open his heart—and access to the shelf where the record books are stored. But some researchers are faced with the situation that there are no vital records in the ancestral parish. What then? Aside from vital record registers of baptism, matrimony, and death, there exists a whole array of documents that can add color and flesh to our family histories. For those who find themselves “recordless,” these ancillary records become the basic building blocks of family trees.
The main places where we can find these supplementary substitute records can include:
– Church archives of the three types specified above
– State Archives
– Regional Museums
– Social Organizations
– Local offices
– People passionate about local history
Let us focus on some of the records one may find gathered at an ecclesiastical archive. They include the following, some of which will be explained in greater depth below.
Listy wiernych, Lists of the Faithful (parishioners)
Status Animarum, Status of the Souls
Raptularz, Priest’s notes
Allegata, Supplementary documentation
Protokoły przedślubne, Pre-marital examinations
Dokumenty szkolne, Parish school records
Księgi zaopatrzonych, Sick call register
Meszne, Donations and taxes for the church
Księgi pokładnego, Cemetery plot payment register
Księgi brackie, Record books of church organizations
Księgi pierwszej komunii i bierzmowania, Registers of those receiving First Communion and Confirmation)
Kroniki parafialne, Parish yearly reports and chronicles
Dyspensy małżeńskie, Marriage dispensations
Status Animarum—This is a list of families living in each household in the parish. Pastors, in addition to meeting parishioners in a public forum such as Mass, were also obliged to visit their parishioners in their homes in order to become familiar with their way of life, customs and practices, concerns, and family problems. The results of these visits were to have been recorded in the book of Status Animarum. The basic data included in these volumes were: the house number and the name of the head of household, including his or her parents’ names and the maiden name and parents’ names of the spouse. The names of the children were also to be listed, along with their birth dates and eventual marriage or death dates.
The obligation to keep these books was one thing and reality another. The fact was that it took a while before the custom of keeping these registers on a regular basis became ingrained in the pastors’ routines. We know this from various decrees by bishops that pastors were reminded of this obligation; but it wasn’t until the 18th or 19th centuries that this practice became widespread. Another problem is that many of these registers did not survive. Most surviving registers of this type come from the lands of the Austrian partition, Galicia. Far fewer survived in the Prussian partition, and unfortunately, the Russian partition ranks dead last in this regard, with very few surviving tomes.
Raptularz—It was customary for priests to make notes in small notebooks that they carried regarding births, deaths, marriages, donations, and expenses. This notebook, called raptularz, served for jotting down preliminary notes to be consulted when the priest made the actual registry entries. These notations were made at the time that the event occurred and are, consequently, chronological in nature. Because they are notes, they are not carefully kept and quite abbreviated. They do contain information, however, that was eventually entered into registers, and, in the absence of such registers, are the only sources of demographic and financial data. Allegata—This is supplementary documentation that was collected during the official entry of information into vital records registers. Allegata could be added as inserts to the registers or could be kept as separate files. Documents of this type could include birth records of persons entering into marriage who came from a parish other than that where the marriage was taking place, permission from parents to marry for underage sons and daughters, and certifications and statements as to the identity of persons named in vital records when there was no documentary proof of the individual’s birth. Sumariusz—This body of documents consisted of an alphabetical list of births, marriages, and deaths that took place in a specific time period, usually a span of several decades or even longer. A birth compilation of this type would typically include the name and surname of the baptized party; names of parents; mother’s maiden name; date of birth; and the page number in the register where the entire long form birth/baptismal certificate was located.
Księga zapowiedzi—These documents consisted of official announcements and included information about persons intending to contract marriage and the date that these marriage announcements were made and where (aka banns). They were recorded in the parishes of both the bride and groom if the parties belonged to different parishes. If a marriage did not take place, this information was also noted. Protokoły przedślubne—Kept at the parish level, these books consisted of a series of questions posed to persons intending to get married and provided personal information on both parties, names of parents, birthplaces, and other genealogically relevant data. Most frequently, they were kept at the parish of the bride.
Dokumenty szkolne—Parish schools, especially in rural areas, were the only places that children could learn basic reading, writing, and mathematical skills. Very little documentation of these schools exists, although they were popular and widespread. Lists of students frequently provide the father’s first name, which helps in identifying a given child. Inspecting this body of records brings a bit of joy to us as we can imagine our great-great-grandfather learning how to count to ten, being tested on how well he knew his catechism, and developing his writing skills.
Księgi pokładnego—To be buried, we need to pay for a plot in the cemetery; and such was the case centuries ago. In some parishes, information on income from cemetery payments was kept, and it included not only financial information but also names of the deceased, sometimes the parents’ names, and an occupation.
Księgi brackie— The activities of parish organizations such as the Sodality of the Rosary or St. Joseph’s Society were recorded in this type of documentation. Basically, they were books of dues collected; but they also provided a detailed account of the society’s activities which gives us a glimpse into the daily life of our ancestors in centuries past.
Kroniki parafialne—Parish chronicles are an excellent source of the history of a parish. They detail every event that took place in the life of the parish in a given year, be it dry statistics or events of local or historical significance. Dyspensy małżeńskie—Marriage dispensations are among the best non-vital records materials available to the family history researcher. Marriage of persons up to the fourth degree of consanguinity was prohibited by church and civil law. However, it did take place with relative frequency throughout Europe. When two distantly related persons decided that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, they were obliged to submit documentations to the Consistory, requesting a dispensation. Accompanying such requests were genealogical charts delineating the ancestry and degree of relationship between the two parties. To give an idea of the flavor of such a document, a translation of a dispensation is provided below. You can compare it with the first page of the original, which is reproduced on page 7.
the Great General Consistory of the
Archdiocese of Warsaw
The Administrator of the Parish in Pszczonów
In Pszczonów, 29 October/10 November 1878
Request for dispensation in the 4th degree of kinship
Mikołaj Tomanik, a farmer’s son, age 26, a bachelor, and Katarzyna Kwestarz, a farmer’s daughter, age 23, a maiden, parishioner of Pszczonów, wish to be joined in the bonds of matrimony, but there is a fourth degree of kinship among them, as represented by the accompanying genealogical table. For this reason they humbly petition the Great Consistory to grant them a dispensation from the aforementioned kinship. The reasons for them to marry in kinship are 1. The village they live in is inhabited almost entirely by their relatives.
2. Katarzyna cannot even dream about finding among the other local men a husband that would be equal to her in terms of property and would be as hardworking, gentle, sober, and kindhearted as her fiancée, whom she has been admiring since childhood. She knows his tastes and likings very well. She loves him as he does her. She expects to be happy living with him. Presenting their reasons and their request for the Great Consistory’s consideration, it is my honor to mention that they have long ago been intended, by the will of their parents, to become husband and wife. They live in close proximity, the see each other nearly every day and they love each other very much. As for their moral conduct, I have not heard anything negative about it. I have attached their payment for the dispensation plus another five for the expenses of the chancellery.
Signed, Rev. Wojna
The above brief description of resources deals with only with several of the books and documents that can be found in ecclesiastical archives. Not all of the representative document types were kept in all parishes. And even in those at which they did exist, not all materials have been preserved. Searching for these types of documents is time consuming but the satisfaction of locating such material especially when there is no other, is enormous.