Family roots – are you sure you know who you are?

family roots
Tree roots reminiscent of family roots

No one surprises you more than your own family, family roots. Also the one from centuries ago. The great-grandfather you thought was a war hero may turn out to be a hulk. And you will find out about your great-grandmother, who is supposed to have come from the peasant state, that she was a noblewoman. So before we ask ourselves, “Where are we going?”, let’s check, “Where did we come from?” our interviewees advise. – Looking for ancestors is always worthwhile. He who does not know his past has no future.

Ba-ba, ba-ba – a child’s voice is heard. It is Tymoteusz, Kinga’s one and a half year old son, who looks at the photos from the family album with his mother. Mom shows him a photograph of a noble woman in a hat and asks, “Sonny, who is that?” and the little one replies, “Ba-ba. ” – Since childhood, I have awakened in him a sense of family identity”, laughs Kinga Borowiec. But then she confesses frankly: “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I don’t have my own family tree yet. It is common knowledge that a shoemaker walks without shoes,” says the founder of the company, who helps others look for their roots.

How did it start?

It started like this. I studied history and archival science at the Pedagogical University in Cracow. During my internship I spent all day in the archives. Every day I saw foreigners from different parts of the world trying to find their Polish roots. Only that they were unable to do anything. The language barrier was breaking them down. Old documents are written in Latin, Cyrillic and German. It is, after all, black magic not only for foreigners. Nor did they always meet sympathetic officials. Then I thought that I would like to help them in their search,” Kinga recalls. This is how the idea of Your Roots in Poland was born. 

With whom cooperation was undertaken?

Kinga invited her friends from college to cooperate: Aldona Tomecka, Karolina Szlęzak and Robert Twardowski. – We make a good team. We have all the makings of seasoned trackers. Detective flair, passion, curiosity, persistence and patience, because information is sometimes collected for months. And we know languages: the aforementioned Latin, German, we read Cyrillic, Gothic, including Swabian,’ enumerates Kinga.

What Your Roots In Poland has done?

The company has been operating for a short time and has already helped many people. Most often, Americans, Australians, British, and Germans ask for help. – I thought that Polish roots are sought by those who want to confirm their citizenship. That is, they have a vested interest in it. But that’s not true. More often than not, sentiment, respect for tradition, simply put: matters of the heart come into play. I understand this perfectly: knowing about our family past is like a foundation for a house. Through it we also get to know ourselves.

Sometimes the search is inspired by a story about ancestors or a secret hidden by them. 

What exciting searches were carried out? What family roots uncovered?

Catherine's family roots

One of the most exciting researches I’ve conducted concerned the story of a Polish soldier from the Anders Army,” Karolina joins the conversation. – This man named Wladyslaw settled in England after the war and got married there. He had a granddaughter Catherine, now 25 years old. He told her about the war, but never mentioned his Polish family. This intrigued the girl. She felt her grandfather was hiding something. He claimed that the Nazis murdered his parents and he had to flee. He left his siblings in the country: two sisters and a brother. Why didn’t he ever contact them?

After his death, his granddaughter decided to solve the mystery. 

She asked us for help. We reached out to a woman who lived next door to her grandfather as a child. Now over eighty years old, she has a great memory. She told us with emotion that it was her mother who took in little Wladyslaw when he lost his parents. And they didn’t die in the war at all. The truth was different: Wladyslaw’s father had a penchant for alcohol and gambling. He got so in debt that he had to sell the house. Then he and his family left, he wanted to start a new life. However, he soon drank himself to death, and his wife soon died as well. The children were left alone. One of the girls was put on duty at a nearby manor, the other was taken to work in Germany. The youngest boy was taken in by neighbors. That was Catherine’s grandfather.

“Now I understand why he didn’t want to talk about his past,” Władysław’s granddaughter said when we notified her of the search results. Was she disappointed? She stated that a bad truth is better than a good lie. She plans to come to Poland to meet the woman who grew up with her grandfather. She would like to learn as much as possible about him. And she’s already made friends with us. She recently sent photos from her wedding. And she’s always writing whether she’s passed another exam because she’s still studying.

Knowing your roots is not just about knowing where your great-grandfather came from. Also information about where your sensibilities and the ideas you believe in came from.

Brigitte's family roots

Kinga still remembers the story of Brigitte Brauer, a German woman from Hamburg, who had been looking for her Polish father for many years. – After her mother’s death, she began to get sick. The doctors were unable to help her. It wasn’t until a psychotherapist said her soul was sick because she wasn’t whole. A man takes half from his mother and half from his father. Brigitte never met her biological dad. She didn’t know it was bothering her so much. After all, she had a happy childhood and a father Hans. Until, at a family party, some uncle chimed in to say that such love shouldn’t happen. Hilde, Brigitte’s mother, was German and her biological father was Polish. When she became pregnant, they both went wild with joy. 

It was short-lived, because the Germans were taken over by the resettlement action. Hilde was afraid to stay in post-war Poland. The young couple agreed that they would part for a short time and he would arrive as soon as things calmed down at the border. Brigitte was already born in Germany. Father never got to them. – She knew his first and last name, the approximate year of his birth, and she knew that he came from Cracow or the surrounding area. It seemed that the data at its disposal guaranteed success. But neither the Red Cross, nor the Cracow magistrate, nor the local curia were able to help her. It wasn’t until she wrote in the paper that if he was alive, he must be over 90 and this was her last moments to see him that there was a response. Someone recognized the man in the photo. Too late. My father was already dead.

Maybe the daughter would have made it in time if she had outsourced the search to professionals? They know how to do it. For someone who doesn’t know the methodology, it’s a cosmos,” Karolina thinks. 

Tammy's family roots

Aldona tells us about this space: “Our client, Tammy Brandt from the town of New Berlin, Wisconsin, searched for her roots for 25 years! With no result. But he didn’t give up. Where does the power come from? He said it was probably out of spiritual hunger. He once read that he who does not know his past has no future. He knew that his great-grandfather’s name was Vincent Brandt, from a small town in Wielkopolska. He sent requests for confirmation of this fact to the state archives, to the parish. There was no response. Finally, Tammy wrote to us. In the email, he pasted a photo of his ancestor, “That you would look into his eyes and do everything you can. ” We did it!

We started with this tiny parish. Usually pastors are cooperative, but sometimes they have a lot on their plate and nothing gets done. Fortunately, the parish registers have copies in the curia. I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record in the 1854 book. At that time the books were still written in Polish, so there was no problem with reading the document: “It happened on July 14, 1854. Jan Brandt appeared, aged twenty-eight, and presented a male child born yesterday at eight o’clock in the evening from his wife Marianna. This child was given the name Vincent at baptism”.

What is next? What is a genealogist's job?

Tammy was so thrilled with the discovery that he wants more. So we reached out to Vincent’s parents and siblings. But the case is stuck. Since the holidays we have been waiting in a queue for access to microfilms from the Archdiocesan Archive in Poznań. It’s hard. Our job is like putting together a puzzle. A piece of tree here, a piece of tree there. Over time, you can find the missing pieces. Leaf by leaf create a branch,” says Robert Twardowski. 

The legend of Mr Twardowski

His friends joke: “Robert, you don’t have to search for your roots. You know where you’re from. ” – Everyone knows the legend of Mr. Twardowski. The nobleman is said to have had his own workshop in Krzemionki in Crackow. Strange, but my family’s fate is tied to them too! My father worked in Krzemionki, that’s where he met my mother. And I went to high school in that area. Maybe one day I’ll live there? 

“I dream of a big house. I will paint the family tree on the front wall,” says Robert.

His colleagues from Your Roots in Poland call him a joke: a rotten conservative. – I respect tradition. It is important, we forget about it in the busyness of everyday life. Often our knowledge does not go beyond two generations back. We know nothing about the older ancestors. And that’s kind of orphaned,” Robert believes.

Other family roots

German's family roots

There used to be a TV show called “Family Secrets. ” I remember the episode with Krzysztof Cugowski from Budka Suflera. He had joy in his eyes when he discovered that musical talent was hereditary in his family. Already one of the progenitors of the family, who lived 200 years ago, was a talented organist”, says Robert. – But in search, you can’t always get to your destination so quickly. 

There are often obstacles. We were approached by a German. He had only one clue: the place name Uschranken. Unfortunately, it was not listed in any village directories. After many adventures we found Osranki in Poland, a village that no longer exists today. We were not happy for long, because it turned out that most of the documentation was destroyed by the Red Army when they were stationed there. Fortunately, we know that a handful of documents were copied by Mormons and ended up in an archive in Berlin. We’ll get to them,” Robert assures us.

Ronald's family roots

A case he recently worked on was successful. – Mr. Ronald of Florida, a retiree, wanted to find ancestors who lived in Poland in the 19th century. The village of Czarnowąsy appeared in family accounts. We set off on this trail. We went through all the books, a thousand pages of documents. And nothing. Then, as if from heaven, a letter fell to us from the pastor of Opole. He confirmed that there were some clues in his parish records. In short: we were still looking for a long time, but we found it. Mr. Ronald’s wife recounted that when he received our email, he exclaimed, “We got them! An hour and a glass of cognac later, he decided he was going to Poland. And sky wem set off in the footsteps of his ancestors. He walked into the church where they had prayed years ago, stepped on the stone floor where they had walked. Then he visited their graves. We met with him. He was glad to finally know where he came from.

Some people, once they reach the source, stay with it…

Australian's family roots

Kinga smiles at the memory of an Australian who, looking for his roots, fell in love with a beautiful woman from Wroclaw and stayed in the city for good. – He was so desperate that he learned to read Cyrillic in order to look through books written with it. He could also handle Latin. Next to the name of his great-grandmother he discovered an annotation: “nobilis”, meaning “noble”. This was the title of the parochial nobility. He thought the woman belonged to a lower state, so he was pleasantly surprised.

Family roots are surprisingly

My grandfather surprised me recently – turns on Robert. – It was Christmas Eve. The whole family, thirty people, sat at the table. I said I would like to create our family tree. Then my grandfather said one word: Dziewin. It’s a village near Bochnia. It turned out that this may also be where our ancestors came from. Oddly enough, Grandpa never mentioned it.
Did he have something to hide?

Claudia 10/2012 – Agnieszka Rakowska-Barci