Interview with PolishOrigins™ – Part 1

What’s Past is Prologue is pleased to welcome Zenon Znamirowski, the founder of PolishOrigins™.  The PolishOrigins™ web site, PolishOrigins.com, offers a variety of information useful to those researching Polish genealogy.  In this 2-part interview, I asked Zenon to describe the background of the site as well as some of its key features.  Here is what he had to say…

On the site, PolishOrigins™ is described as “a virtual space of collective wisdom”. This refers to the site’s forum as a place to learn from other researchers.  Can you tell us more about the forum and how members have learned from each other?

Before creating PolishOrigins.com, I was replying to many email requests related to the wide subject of Polish genealogy research and I was doing my best to respond with timely, knowledgeable replies, sometimes after consultation with other experienced Polish genealogists. I noticed three main things over the years. First, although the individual inquires were unique, my initial replies with suggested first steps, useful websites and online tools, and tips for understanding Polish language were often similar. Second, I was often amazed by the detailed knowledge that many of these people had acquired before contacting me. Third, their desire to help others and share the knowledge gained from countless hours of work, was remarkable.

If shared, this collective wisdom could save hours of pointless and frustrating work for others. This is especially true when two (or more) persons are researching the same surname or geographic area. This is why the PolishOrigins™ Forum may be so valuable.

Even with the vast amount of information and tools available on the internet, many people feel lost or isolated while struggling to begin their family history research. The PolishOrigins Forum gives people the chance to share with a wide audience. When sharing knowledge and experience, I believe that the equation 1 + 1 may equal more than 2.

I think Shellie from our Forum expressed the idea best in one of her very recent Forum posts when she commented to another researcher, “You have come to the right place. I was in your shoes just a short time ago and thanks to Zenon and the members of PolishOrigins I’ve learned how to uncover my roots. It has been a very rewarding experience for me. There is a spirit of sharing and discovery here among the members of PolishOrigins and I think that you will enjoy being part of the crowd.”

The mission of Polish Origins™ sounds rather philosophical when you say that a genealogical search is really a search to discover more than just where we came from, but WHO WE ARE.  Can you tell us a little bit more about this philosophy and how you got started in genealogical research?

I don’t think that I have the typical background of a genealogy researcher. I wasn’t  bitten by this “bug” because of a family member or a school genealogy project. A few years ago, while offering some Polish folk items on an online auction website, I met Nancy. While we were corresponding, she asked me if I knew any genealogists in Poland because she was planning to visit Poland in a few months. I asked her about the area she was interested in. Nancy replied, naming a few villages that were located … in the county I come from! And one of the towns of her ancestors was the exact town where I was born!

Nancy and her husband arrived a few months later and we had a very successful tour. Together with my cousin, who is a very experienced genealogist, we had the good-luck to not only visit all the villages and find much information in parish books, but we also discovered and met living relatives that Nancy had not known existed!

This is how my adventure with genealogy started. Nancy encouraged me to try to help other people looking for their relatives and became PolishOrigins.com ‘godmother’. She has actively supporting our efforts for years. Thank you Nancy!

Returning to your question about our “philosophy” and mission. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to observe people’s reactions when they make new discoveries about their families, see them walk through villages of their ancestors, or stand by the graves of older family members and talk what this all meant to them.

I am not a philosopher, and I am not sure if it is possible for me explain it clearly enough (not to mention that English is a foreign language for me) but I believe many of us doing genealogy for some time may have similar experiences. Usually we start with an interest in the lives of our closest family members – grandparents, great-grandparents. Then we become curious about the times and places they lived and this curiosity expands to other ancestors, also in collateral lines. We want to know more about local history and people living at that time. From local history we move further to the history of the country or nation where ancestors came from. We read or watch more and more about history, culture and heritage of the nation. And we want to go still deeper and deeper into our family investigation. I think each of us could it describe it his or her on words even better. We hope that by providing our services and building useful tools we will assist our visitors with this adventure and help find answers to the questions: “Where are my roots?” and “Who am I, really?”.

Your Forefathers Traces Tours to Poland give people the opportunity to see their ancestral hometowns and even meet relatives.  What can people expect from the tour? If they can’t travel, do you give “virtual” tours?

As I described on our Forefathers Traces Tours page, each trip is unique…and very personal. What is invariable, and what I have observed each time (no exceptions!) is an incredibly strong emotional experience accompanying visits to ancestral hometowns or homesteads and meeting relatives for the first time.

Of course, before any tour we discuss its main purposes and interests of our guests. We set the itinerary together, we assist in finding and booking lodging, and organizing transportation. On the tour we drive on Polish roads, very often in rural areas, interpret, and negotiate with local institutions.

A Forefathers Traces Tour itself is a great opportunity to perform research on the spot, especially if there are no other records available outside of our client’s ancestors’ home parish. It is very exciting to witness the moment when one of our guests sees their grandfather’s actual birth record, or when they enter the church where their great-grandparents were married.

As a rule, we are very flexible. As I always emphasize to our guests, “This is YOUR tour”. If there is a need or desire, we can together change our plans within minutes or hours. Unscheduled stops and side trips along the way are always welcome and often add to the excitement of the tour, especially when it leads to an ancestral home site, or the discovery of relatives. You will not be able to ask for this on trips organized by a tourist company for  large groups, where itineraries are strictly followed.

In my opinion Forefathers Traces Tour can be the crowning jewel in years of genealogical treasure hunting. Just read and view photos from our Forefathers Traces Tours Blog.

I haven’t mentioned it anywhere yet, but we are working on expanding our Tours offer to include Belarus. Soon, official information will appear on the Tours page.

If someone is not able to travel to Poland we can perform “virtual” tour for him. We can visit the place he is interested in seeing and take pictures there. We can also try to find relatives. We will prepare a report of what we find and send photographs.

Learn more about Zenon’s efforts to find relatives as well as some of the unique databases found on the PolishOrigins™ site in Part 2 of the interview.

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