Monday, April 13, 2015

Mixed Feelings

I have very mixed feelings when I read Polish history. My goal is to try to understand the times in which my ancestors lived. I take pride in the nobles of the 16th and 17th century who created a semblance of democracy in Poland. I am embarrassed by the greed and seeming self-absorption of many of the nobles of the 18th century.

In the 16th century, the ruling classes of the Republic of PolandLithuania conceived a type of democracy that was unique for it’s time.

Nobles had assumed governance, regarding themselves as the supreme authority of the state.[1]  The king gained his throne not by inheritance but by election. Once a king was elected, he was required to agree to the stipulations of the nobles before he could be crowned.  The king was elected to be a leader, not a ruler.  There was a parliament (Sejm) consisting of upper and lower houses and populated by the nobles’ envoys, and representatives from the provinces.

The Republic was thus freed from the whims and prejudices of an absolute ruler. State policies were shaped by the consensus of the nobles.

This was the age of Golden Liberty. Under that system, all nobles, regardless of rank or economic status, were considered to have equal legal status and enjoyed   extensive legal rights and privileges.[2]

But Golden Liberty applied only to the nobility. Peasants and townfolk were excluded.  There was no legal system to protect the majority of the population from the excesses of nobles who were greedy and despotic.

Polish serfs were just one step up from slavery. They were sharecroppers.  More than that, their daily lives could be controlled by the landlord.  The Lord of the Manor could forbid serfs from leaving the village. He could refuse to allow girls to get married off the estate.[3]  Peasants were subject to the attitudes and whims of the noble whose land they worked.

Fast forward to the early 18th century and the heirs of the architects of Golden Liberty seem to have become quite complacent in their rights and privileges.

After the Great Northern War 1700-21[4], Tsar Peter the Great of Russia had a firm grip on Polish affairs.  He emasculated the Republic by forcing severe reduction in the armed forces and removing financial support. The army was forced to provide their own funds and supplies by levying local taxes. But the nobility was not inclined to support the army.  The nobles’ strong resistance to any new taxes insured that the Polish armed forces remained feeble while both Prussia and Russia were rapidly building their armed forces.  

Alliances were made and broken; treaties were made and broken; confederations were made and dissolved.  In its weakened position, Poland sought the protection of her powerful neighbors.

By 1772, Prussia, Russia and Austria carved up and took control of Polish lands in the First Partition of Poland.

On May 3, 1791 Poland adopted a new constitution that gave equal rights and protections to all classes of society. Many nobles fiercely resisted this. It took only another two years for Poland’s powerful neighbors to again redistribute Polish lands among themselves. In another two years, by 1795, Poland completely disappeared from the map in the Third Partition of Poland.

This is the source of my embarrassment. How could the noble class with such a proud heritage act so ignobly!?   My reading of Polish history tells me that the ruling class, by its complacency and greed effectively gave away their homeland. Poland vanished for more than a century and came back into existence only after the end of WWI.

My ancestors were peasants. I’m glad of that.

Please comment if you have a differing view of history.  I truly want to understand my heritage. I want to learn.

[1] Norman Davies God’s Playground Vol I, p.326
[3] Wall, Robin and Laslett, Family Forms in Historic Europe, ch 4
[4] Norman Davies God’s Playground Vol I, ch. 17

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Historic Timelines Give Perspective

My 3rd great grandfather, Johann Ganas, was born in the village of Czerlejno in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  His son, Adalbert, my 2nd great grandfather was born in the same village. But Adalbert was born in Prussia.

The Wikipedia Timeline of Polish History has given me new insight into my ancestors’ lives. The borders of Poland have flexed over time as various neighboring powers sought to claim its land as their own. For a time, Poland did not even exist as a sovereign nation. I've read history, but a concise timeline makes the turmoil much more obvious.

Johann was born about 1779 after the First Partition of Poland.  By the time Adalbert was born in 1811, the country had seen two more partitions change or eradicate the borders.

In the meantime, there were multiple treaties made and broken; multiple uprisings, and various degrees of oppression of Polish culture. 

So I’m back at the history books trying to develop a narrative to describe what life may have been like for my ancestors in those times.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lucky Day! Friday the 13th!

Thanks to the work of the volunteers at The Poznan Project, I was able to identify 2nd and 3rd great grandfathers and brothers of my great grandfather.  Found them all on Friday the 13th!!

The Poznan Project is working to transcribe all 19th century marriages in the Polish province of Poznan. A very efficient search engine looks for either or both bride and groom. I’ve used it successfully searching for 3 of my lines, and finally got around to the 4 of my surnames.

Searching just on Ganas as the groom’s surname, I got 12 matches.  But the best part is that they’re all clustered in a relatively small area.  In some cases the search results include the names of the parents of the bridal couple.  Four of the grooms share the same parents. I ordered LDS films and hit a small jackpot on the first one I viewed.

I found my great grandfather’s 3 brothers, his parents and his grandparents! WOW!

There’s a lot more work to do here but I knocked at least one brick out of one wall.

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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is Genealogy Evolving? (My thoughts on Mommy bloggers)

To some people “evolution” is a bad word, but that may be just what’s happening in the genealogy community. Today’s technology gives us the opportunity to go far beyond just recording names and dates. It is easier, today, to put our ancestors in the context of their times.

There have been some comments made online that a few of the attendees at the 2015 RootsTech conference were displeased at the presence of so many lifestyle bloggers, or “Mommy bloggers”.  I’d bet that those same complainers would, or do, cherish any diaries or journals left by their ancestors.  Yesterday’s diaries are today’s blogs.

Apparently more people like me are pursuing genealogy – not for the sake of proving lineage; but to learn and document our family history. Genealogical research gives us the information we need to try to understand our ancestors. Where and how did they live?  

How I wish my ancestors had kept journals!  What was the minutia of everyday life? What drove them to leave their homeland and extended families?  What were the conversations that led to the decision to emigrate? How did they adjust to their new homes?  How did my mother feel when her husband enlisted in the army in 1944?  My childhood memories are disjointed.  My parents and all their siblings are deceased. I’m left with historical records but none of their personal reminiscences except what I remember hearing. I scour history books in an attempt to understand my history and heritage.

Here’s a toast to lifestyle and Mommy bloggers. They’re leaving a priceless legacy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Too Many BSOs!!!

Thomas MacEntee warns genealogists, especially those doing the Genealogy Do-Over to avoid being sidetracked by BSOs – Bright Shiny Objects.  We need to keep focused. 

I was doing ok for a couple of weeks.  I worked on my file naming strategy for documents and digitized photos. So far it seems to be working well. I have an Excel spreadsheet as an indexer of the photo files. As I prepare my scanned photos, I’ve been including metadata and a watermark of sorts - the three initials as shown in the lower left of the photo below.  I try to make the watermark fairly unobtrusive but definitely visible.

Then I was besieged with BSOs. On February 7 I attended an all day seminar put on by three Treasure Coast (Florida) genealogy societies.  This is an annual affair hosted by the Indian River Genealogical Society.  They’re always good but this one was GREAT.

Lisa Louise Cooke presented four classes from her book: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox   I knew that Google had more features than I’ve been using, but I was blown away by her presentation and her demonstrations of the powerful Google tools that can take online research to another dimension.  If you’re not watching her website, podcasts and videos, go take a look at Genealogy Gems

How can you not go home with a treasure trove of BSOs – new tools – and not play with them all?

Then on February 10, at the monthly Indian RiverGenealogical Society meeting, Mark Fearer spoke on the topic of immigration.  He gave me some ideas that may help with my one remaining immigration brick wall.  A couple more BSOs to play with.

I love new toys.  Self discipline has never been my strong point.  There are just too darn many BSOs.

Focus! Focus! Focus.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Revised File Name Scheme

Thanks to the people on the Facebook Genealogy Do-over group, I have revised my scheme for naming my digitized photos.

On FB I posted a link to my 1/24/2015 blog that asked for feedback; and got very good response that made me reconsider both my document file name scheme and the one for photos.


After much thought, I am not revising my document naming plan. I believe it will work for me. Here it is as posted on Jan 24:

Document Files = Date_Who_What

 YYYY_MM_DD  A lower case x will substitute for unknown entries: 195x_xx_xx
Surname-first name; or just family name
Type of record: Birth, Baptism, Marriage, Census, Deed, etc.

Here’s an example:  A copy of the church record of baptism from an LDS microfilm.
The file name is: 1841_11_14_Dachtera-Andreas_Baptism.jpg

The LDS film number is in the file metadata


Several people pointed out problems with my photo naming scheme. For one thing it was too complex. Even worse, it would be difficult to sort in a logical way. 

Old plan:

Date_Who_What-Description(description optional)_ Generation

 YYYY_MM_DD  A lower case x will substitute for unknown entries: 195x_xx_xx

Surname-First name; or just Family name plus additional information where appropriate
Type of photo i.e. snapshot or portrait
Optional description can include the event
Gx where x = the generation number.

Generation is one of the things I’ve wrestled with.  Here’s what I came up with.

Zero (Z) = me and my siblings, first cousins, etc.
1 = my parents and their siblings, etc,
2 = grandparents
3 = great grandparents
Z1 = my children
Z2 = my grandchildren
Z3 = my great grandchildren
M  = a photo with more than two generations.

A couple of examples:

File name:  191x_xx_xx_Dachtera-Stanley-kids_snap_g2-1.jpg

This tells me that it is a snapshot of my grandfather with kids, and that the primary person is generation 2 but it also includes generation 1 people.

Identifying the photo with Stanley’s name is my choice for my reasons. It could well have been “Dachtera-Johanna-sibs-dad”

File name: 1920_05_04_Dachtera-Supinski_port-wed_g1.jpg

New and Improved Photo naming scheme!!


Surname-First name; or just Family name plus additional information where appropriate
Type of photo i.e. snapshot or portrait
Wedding, birthday, reunion, etc.
Lower case x if there’s no specific event to be noted
Gx where x = the generation number.

Zero (Z) = me and my siblings, first cousins, etc.
1 = my parents and their siblings, etc,
2 = grandparents
3 = great grandparents
Z1 = my children
Z2 = my grandchildren
Z3 = my great grandchildren
M  = a photo with more than two generations.

Again, using the photos above as examples the file names would be


Not only is this simpler, it will sort well by name. The generation designation is unchanged.  In a family with several common first names, I want the file name to tell me which Joseph, for example, is the main subject of the photo.

Women’s names

There was much discussion in the FB group about how best to identify women. Should one use the maiden name or the married name? Here’s what I’m thinking:
Use the surname that is appropriate for the photo. A photo of my mother as a teenager would identify her as Ganas-Emily; while a photo of her after marriage would identify her as Dachtera-Emily-Ganas.

It seems that no matter how you approach this issue, there will be plenty of room for confusion. I'm hopeful that the supporting information will keep confusion at a minimum

Supporting information

I will also have an Excel file – one for documents and one for photos - that will keep track of the files as I create them.   Before I get too far along, I’ll try sorting these in various ways to make sure I have the info I need.

I hope my schemes will work for me, but it is still a work in progress