JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Communicating with Polish State Archive #general

Naidia Woolf <rnwoolf@...>

I recently learned, the hard way, how important it is to fully understand
written communications in languages other than your own. Misunderstanding
can mean the difference between getting the information you want in a
relatively timely fashion or not getting it at all!

In April 1999 I sent a letter to the State Archive in Warsaw, requesting
copies of six vital records (birth and marriage certificates) for my
maternal grandparents and great grandparents. At the same time I enclosed a
check for $US 30 (the requisite search fee). Four months later, I received
a reply. The letter included all of the names I'd provided; it also
contained, in the lower left corner of the letter, the following:

czek na 30 USD oraz 2 miezdzynarodowe.

After consulting my Polish/English dictionary, I assumed that the Archive
had traced the records requested and was asking for payment. I did not
bother to have the letter translated. If I had, I would have learned
that--on the contrary--the Archive had __not__ been able to trace my
records and saved myself a lot of time, trouble, aggravation, and extra

In January of this year (operating on the false assumption that my records
had been found) I sent a second letter (by mail and fax) to the State
Archive requesting copies of six vital records along with a second $US30
money order. I also enclosed copies of all previous correspondence. I never
received a reply. Six months later (last June) I sent a third letter
inquiring about the status of my order. Again, I never heard. Late last
week, at 2 in the morning(!), I telephoned. It was then that I learned that
in their letter of August 1999, Archive staff had advised they had not been
able to find my records. When I asked why I had not received a refund on my
second $30 money order, I was told to call back "in one hour."

This brings me to my second point, namely that you should always be
absolutely sure, ahead of time, that the information you request is both
accurate and as specific as possible. This is particularly crucial when
corresponding with countries with whose language you're not familiar (in my
case, Poland).

While waiting to call the Archive back, I reviewed my previous
correspondence with them only to realize that some of the vital information
I'd provided was either incomplete or incorrect. In some cases I'd omitted
to include dates of birth and marriage and AKT (document) numbers, even
though I had them in my files. I'd also misspelled some of my ancestors'
names (using other variant spelling). I then faxed them another letter in
which I apologized for my lack of Polish (!) and resubmitted my original
request with all of its errors & omissions amended.

At 3 a.m. I telephoned the Archive again -- this time the lines were
crossed and I got the wrong number.

The moral is: to get the results you want, always make sure you understand
what people are telling you and give them what they need!

P.S. I recently became aware of ViewMate through this discussion group (but
haven't checked it out yet). In the past I've relied on a very good
professional translator.

Naidia Woolf
San Francisco, CA

DROZDIASZ (or variants): Karczew, Poland
ISAACS (any city), Poland
SHORN (possibly HERSHORN), any city, Poland

Join to automatically receive all group messages.