How to order and interpret records from Polish repositories for the illiterate in Polish

Polish Alphabet-gray letters are historical characters (source: Wikimedia Commons, User: Faxe)

Usually when I send an e-mail to the Polish archives or other authorities in English, they will reply to it and include payment instructions and/or the results of their research. In other cases they will just reply that they do not understand the English language and require another e-mail written in the Polish language. These replies from the Polish archives or authorities will sometimes be in English and sometimes in Polish.

On 6 December 2011 I received an interesting reply from the Registry Office in Tarnow (Urzędu Stanu Cywilnego w Tarnowie) in which they stated that by law the Polish language is the official language and, hence, communication should be done in Polish:

Szanowny Panie,

Artykuł 4 ustawy z dnia 7 października 1999 r. o języku polskim (Dz.U. z 1999 r., Nr 90, poz. 999 z późn. zm.) stanowi, że w Polsce język polski jest językiem urzędowym:

  1. konstytucyjnych organów państwa,
  2. organów jednostek samorządu terytorialnego i podległych im instytucji w zakresie, w jakim wykonują zadania publiczne,
  3. terenowych organów administracji publicznej,
  4. instytucji powołanych do realizacji określonych zadań publicznych,
  5. organów, instytucji i urzędów podległych organom wymienionym w pkt 1 i pkt 3, powołanych w celu realizacji zadań tych organów, a także organów państwowych osób prawnych w zakresie, w jakim wykonują zadania publiczne,
  6. organów samorządu innego niż samorząd terytorialny oraz organów organizacji społecznych, zawodowych, spółdzielczych i innych podmiotów wykonujących zadania publiczne.

W związku z powyższym bardzo proszę o przesłane do Urzędu Stanu Cywilnego w Tarnowie pisma sporządzonego w języku polskim.

Z poważaniem

Kxxxxx xxxxx
Kierownik Urzędu Stanu Cywilnego w Tarnowie
ul. Gumniska 30, 33 – 100 Tarnów
Tel. xxxxx, tel./fax xxxxxx
E – mail : k.xxxxx @ umt.tarnow.pl
Oficjalna strona internetowa : www.tarnow.pl

Now my translation of that e-mail:

Dear Sir,
Article 4 of […] provides that in Poland the Polish language is the official language and communication will be done in that language by:

  1. constitutional authorities of the state
  2. local government bodies and their subordinate bodies performing public tasks,
  3. local authorities,
  4. institutions established to carry out specific public functions,
  5. bodies, institutions and offices subordinate to the bodies referred to in paragraph 1 and 3, set up to carry out the tasks of these bodies, and state legal authorities performing public tasks.,
  6. government bodies other than local government and bodies of social organizations, unions, cooperatives and other entities while performing public tasks.

Therefore, please do not hesitate to send to the Registry Office in Tarnow a letter written in Polish.

Sincerely
[Signature]

I found it quite an interesting e-mail and thus had no other option but to compose a new e-mail in Polish. I don’t know any Polish except for a few words which I picked up here and there. The first tought of course was to use Google Translate which indeed is a very valuable tool, but it is far from great (in case you did not realise, never fully trust on the translation tool, lest you may turn up to upset some recipients of your emails and letters. You can read more about some Google translate bloopers by simply looking it up via, well, Google’s own search engine: https://www.google.com/search?q=google+translate+bloopers).

So in addition to the online translate machines you’ll still need to rely on another source for your Polish letters. It is for that reason that I strongly recommend the book “A Translation Guide to 19th-Century Polish-Language Civil-Registration Documents” by Judith R. Frazin (ISBN 9780961351229) to people who are researching their Polish ancestors, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

The book not only helps you to compose letters, but also to understand what is written on the records you may receive from Polish archives and authorities. This also includes a background on most of these typical Polish records.

You can order the book and read more about it with some sample pages on the website of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois (JGSI) (hosted by Jewishgen.org at http://www.jewishgen.org/jgsi/theguide.html).
It says there the following:

The new and expanded 3rd edition is a user-friendly and practical publication which focuses on 19th-century Polish-language birth, marriage, and death records but also includes many other related topics as follows:

  • Suggestions on how to locate an old Polish town on a modern map
  • Tips on finding 19th-century documents & indexes from Polish towns
  • Sample vital-record documents in script & block- letter versions
  • A unique step-by-step guide on how to extract data from the documents
  • A list of many given names which appear in 19th-century documents
  • Tips on how to find out what records are at the Polish State Archives
  • Information on how the Polish language works
  • Translations of column headings from old Polish census records
  • Model sentences in the Polish language for genealogical correspondence
  • 15 topical vocabulary lists, such as Age, Family and Occupations
  • Hundreds of new vocabulary words and phrases

Besides that book I should also recommend the InfoFiles on Poland at the Jewishgen website. The direct link to these InfoFiles is: http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/#Poland.

One of the links on that website refer to the JRI-Poland  project (link) which in itself is probably the most valuable resource for finding Jewish records at Polish repositories. There is a lot of information about where to find the records you are looking for and how you should best contact the archives with a provided template (link) prepared both in the Polish and English languages, and which you can use when sending your requests to the Polish archives.

Another way to get the translation for your obtained record, is the frequently used ViewMate (link) on the website of JewishGen. As  explained there, you can submit via ViewMate:

  • Photos: for identification of people, clothing, buildings, scenes, objects, artifacts, etc.
  • Letters, documents, book pages, maps, etc. for analysis or translation.

When you use this in combination with relevant discussion groups provided by Jewishgen (see http://www.jewishgen.org/ListManager), it can become a very useful tool.

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