Ordering new record scans directly from the Polish State Archives: a how-to guide #poland


Asparagirl
 

Frank asked in a previous post about making wire transfers to the
Polish State Archives to buy copies of records. It's now so much
easier than it used to be to get copies of records "ordered off the
menu" from many of the small Polish State Archives branches. You no
longer have to wait and hope that they will eventually scan an obscure
record or book or microfilm that you want, from the tiny little town
or region that you're researching. And you don't necessarily have to
hire a genealogist to go in person for you, either. You can just
research and pick the record(s) you want from their catalog, e-mail
the archives branch directly and ask for a price quote, pay the
archives branch directly, and have the new files on your laptop a week
later!

I've done this for three different archives branches in Poland just in
the past few month, for the branches in Poznan (formerly Posen),
Gorzow Wielkopolski (formerly Landsberg an der Warthe), and Bydgoszcz
(formerly Bromberg). And I have been happily surprised by the new ease
and relatively low cost in getting files. Some archives branches may
be busier or less responsive to e-mails or more expensive, but at
least in the western part of the country, I have only nice things to
report.

One of the archives couldn't scan the particular file I wanted (a
population list for the late 19th century) because it was too fragile
to be handled without having conservation work done first, but the
archivists did offer to do research and do name look-ups for me in the
file instead, and they did so...for only 75 PLN, which was only $18.37
USD!

But assuming the records you want are in decent condition, the rate
I've been quoted by the various archives lately is only 2 PLN per
scan, which is $0.24-0.25 per page, very reasonable! The scans are in
color and gorgeous quality, not just digitizations of the old black
and white microfilms.

Better yet, the new scans are then eventually uploaded to the main
Polish State Archives catalog website, "Szukaj w Archiwach" ("Search
in Archives") at http://szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ and are attached to
the specific "items" (books) in the catalog, so that everyone
everywhere can now see and use those new scans, going forwards.

In this way, one could hypothetically sponsor the digitization of many
books or records from your particular town of interest. And if you're
lucky, someone or some group will eventually notice the new image
files are now online there, transcribe them, and add the text data to
the many genealogy databases we all know and use. For example, these
particular towns I am researching were all once in Prussia, and the
records were civil records (not specific to any particular religion)
and written in German, so it's likely eventually they could end up
transcribed by volunteers and made searchable on a genealogy website
like BaSIA (http://basia.famula.pl/), which specifically covers
Prussian records. Of course, JewishGen or JRI-Poland or anyone else
could certainly put together a transcription project, too. But having
the image files be made so easily available is the crucial first step.

Here's a real world example of how this works, start to finish. I
recently wanted to get the 1874-1876 birth and death records, six
books in total, for a certain Prussian town. I found out that the
records existed in the first place by using the sometimes unwieldy
"Szukaj w Archiwach" website, and searching for the town name, plus
every variation of the town name I could think of (since Polish adds
suffixes to nouns). The site said the books did exist and were kept in
the Poznan branch of the Polish State Archives. The archives had
already scanned or microfilmed many of the vital records for later
years for this town, and those scans are mostly online already on the
"Szukaj w Archiwach" site, but they had oddly missed these three
years. And no, FamilySearch doesn't have any microfilms for those
years in this town either.

I then found the Poznan branch's official e-mail address, wrote up a
request for a price quote to scan the books, translated it into Polish
with Google Translate, and e-mailed them my request. They responded in
a few days. The total cost for scanning the six books, based on their
exact page count, was quoted to me as 1320 PLN, which is about $323.25
in USD, which is a very good price for over a thousand birth and death
records. (For comparison, ordering a single New York State death
certificate copy will currently cost you $45, plus an $8 vendor
handling charge, if you want a certified copy, or $22 for an
uncertified "genealogy" copy, yikes.)

So I added the Polish State Archives' Poznan branch bank account
information (i.e. the name and the IBAN number) in my Wise account,
saving it to my list of recipient accounts -- so I won't have to
re-add it if I want to order some more records some day. ;-)

I then added funds to my USD "bucket" within Wise, which you can do by
moving money from your own linked bank account using ACH, or even
adding funds from a credit card or from Apple Pay if you want the
funds faster (but with a bigger fee in those cases). And then I moved
the funds over to the PLN "bucket" still within my Wise account. And
then I sent the funds in PLN from there to the archive's account, all
for the low low fee of 2.03 PLN -- which is *fifty cents* in USD! Much
better than a $75 bank wire fee from a typical US bank account, and so
much easier, too.

The funds arrived in Poland in two days. The archives immediately made
and sent me the scans (via the file-sharing website WeTransfer) as a
big.zip file. And then they also uploaded them all to the "Szukaj w
Archiwach" catalog a day or two later.

Easy peasy! And now I have 1200+ birth and death records to go through
on my laptop.

So, to sum up:

- Use the "Szukaj w Archiwach" ("Search in Archives") at
http://szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ to see what kinds of files are held at
various little Polish State Archives branches. There's tons of amazing
stuff in there that has never been cataloged before, all kinds of
population lists and tax lists and even vital records (both Jewish and
civil) and Jewish cemetery lists that have never appeared in any
databases. It's mostly in Polish (and sometimes German, for Prussian
areas) so you'll need to translate with Google Translate or Google
Chrome. The site is slow, but if you create a login, you can save
items to your "favorites" list and come back to them later.

- Find specific items in that catalog that look interesting and note
their full exact item numbers, such as "53/1965/0/1/4", which is the
finding aid number.

- Note which archive branch holds that particular item/book/microfilm
and e-mail them, in Polish, asking politely for a price quote.

- Use the app "Wise" to convert between various currencies at a very
low rate, and also to send that money to overseas archives for
incredibly low rates.

- Enjoy lots of new genealogy records. :-)


- Brooke Schreier Ganz
Mill Valley, CA

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