Archive for Book Review

Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy

Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy

Cecile Wendt Jensen

ISBN 978-0-615-36099-7

A review by Jerome Biedny

This book is perfect for someone who has several generations of family here in the United States and knows even less about their roots in Poland.  It will help you organize what you know and point you toward more information.  The various pictured examples, pulled from eastern cities with major Polish communities, will be familiar to many readers.  The ‘modern’ part of the subtitle is threaded throughout the book, culminating in tips for digital photographs and Web addresses.

Many of the subjects covered are relevant to non-Polish research as well.  Her coverage of census records, city directories, etc. is very helpful.  There are full chapters on Military Records and Immigration & Naturalization records.   Then the discussion turn specific with excellent summaries of the changing geography of Poland during the Partitions as well as tips on reading old-style, hand written records.  There is also good coverage on the care and preservation of documents, photographs and other heirlooms.

The most distinctive feature of the work is the Case Study chapter.  The half-dozen examples span a range of typical family situations.  They give great practical insights to research methods.  But more, they offer hope that, no matter how little you may currently know about your family, if you use the right research methods, you can find out even more.  This gives inspiration to the beginner and long-time searcher alike.

Unfortunately, the entire book was not fact checked.  For instance, the information on our Society still lists us as being located in Golden Valley.  But, on balance, this would be a great gift for the budding family historian with lots of energy, but not much previous direction.

A Traveller’s History of Poland – a review

A Traveller’s History of Poland

John Radzilowski

ISBN 1-56656-655-X

A review by Jerome Biedny

Poland has one of the most complex histories of any European country.  It has moved through political systems including dynastic and elected monarchies; flirted with a form of democracy before becoming absorbed by other states; endured iron curtain communism; and returned to .a modern democracy. While performing these political gyrations, its geographic boundaries tripled its initial size before shrinking and disappearing completely for over a century only to reappear in its present form like a national phoenix.

In this context of dynamic change, Mr. Radzilowski does an excellent job of clearly stating the facts in a conversational and readable way. His blend of the “who, what and why” of Polish history is a great primer for the uninitiated. His approach is balanced and up to date.  His outlook is not the overly chipper approach one might expect from a travelogue.  In fact, the title is a bit of a misnomer in that it is a solid, concise history of Poland simply published in this “Traveler’s History” series of several other countries.

If you are unfamiliar with terms such as: The Deluge, The Partitions, or Army in Exile-or if you thought Gustavus Adolphus is only a private college-a quick read will shed light on these and many more themes.  If you already understand these events, Mr. Radzilowski will add insights you may not have seen in print before.  The book includes very good maps and line drawings to reinforce the text. There is also an extensive timeline, list of Rulers , and bibliography.  My favorite feature is the gazetteer in which major cities and regions are summarized briefly for quick reference while reading elsewhere in the text.

Whether or not your plans call for a trip to Poland this year, you deserve a copy of this book.

Going Home: A Guide to Polish American Family History Research – a review

Going Home:

A Guide to Polish American Family History Research

Jonathan D. Shea, Accredited Genealogist

ISBN 978-0-9631579-7-3

A review by Jerome Biedny, Jr.

As a professor of foreign languages at several post-secondary schools in Connecticut, Mr Shea has a fine grasp of the Polish language.  But, it is his personal heritage that drives his newest offering from Language and Lineage Press.  Going Home is a compendium of his best published works well organized as a one 400 page, large format guide.

Whether you would love to give a gift to a Polish American just starting in their research or you would like to enrich your own genealogy library, Going Home is destine to become the seminal work on the subject for decades to come. He begins with a brief but comprehensive discussion of the Polish language useful to anyone doing first source research. He also includes a nice history of Poland so that readers can understand the Partition Period and its effects on immigration.

He then discusses solid genealogical research techniques applicable to any ethnicities- but he always places them in context of Polish America. He covers all sorts of records that can fill in and around the standard births, deaths and marriages.  The reader will find help with understanding the richness of everything from printed sources to school records.  His chapter on Federal Records such as Census, Passenger Lists, and Military Records is very clear.

He returns to specifically Polish research with a chapter on place names and sources and two more on sources in Poland and elsewhere in Europe. His discussions are very practical and you feel him unlocking each source through the text.  Always the linguist he even offers vocabulary lists in Polish, Latin, German, and Russian. He also devotes time to surname development and patterns.

A third of the pages in this book contain graphic examples to support the text. This make it lively and interesting. He offers maps, examples of standard vital records as well as other cultural documents. It also contains a wonderful Polish to English first names list. The Appendices are small books of their own: Polish Parishes in the US; Computer links to get you started; and Contact Addresses for Archives.

I research several ethnicities including Colonial American, Polish, Norwegian, Welsh, Irish and English. So, I am constantly looking for another book that will make my research path with that group more productive. For Polish Americans, I’ve found THE book. As a private printing it may take awhile for you to find it on the shelf at your local Barnes and Noble, but at $35 it is the best value in a research guide I have come across for any group.

The Polish American Encyclopedia – a Review

The Polish American Encyclopedia

Edited by James S. Pula

ISBN 978-0-7864-3308-7

A review by Jerome Biedny

In its nicely bound 600 pages, this book does an admirable job of distilling Polonia into one place and time.  Its nine editors have compiled articles from over 100 academics into an alphabetical listing of our past and present.  It is a herculean effort that must be commended as it is currently the most complete collection of its kind.

The book contains large, excellent articles on broad issues like literature, food, religious life, women, fine arts, and customs.  The same fine coverage is given to specific topics such as the Felician Sisters and Jamestown.  Actually, the coverage of the current Census results is the best summary I have every read.  There is also pithy coverage in scores of smaller entries on topics as diverse as the Polish White Cross to the Birds of Passage. Certainly over half the volume’s pages are taken up in biographical notes on hundreds of Polish and Polish American persons- living and dead.  All the traditional favorites are included between Abramowicz and Zygmund- literally.  These entries are from two paragraphs to two pages long and include a breath of cultural, political & religious leaders.

There are some nagging issues with this first edition that will hopefully be polished in the future.  Specifically, the articles lack the kind of evocative nature useful in telling our story to generations that have not lived the events.  For example, the entry on Dyngus Day records the history of the holiday in Poland and says nothing of the all-day drinking and dancing affair that it has become in America. Also, many items are double covered in a large article under, say ‘food’ and then a specific entry, say ‘pierogi’.  Usually, the specific entry holds no more information then was in the general.  So, coordinating them using references from general to specific could allow more room for other topics.  Further, some geographic regions get a specific entry (Pana Maria and Hamtramck) but others (Buffalo, Chicago, etc) are simply referenced in multiple topical entries.

The use of space might also be re-evaluated. The length of an article seems to have no correlation to the importance of the item being discussed.   The placement of photos and graphics are unbalanced.  One page may have three, and then several pages get nothing.  Some simple entries get a one-third page photo while others get two column inches.  There is also a lack of maps and graphs helpful in explaining topics such as Kashibia. Finally, the selection of the biographical subjects seems to be less than comprehensive.  It seems the articles were not commissioned under some organized structure but rather simply collected.

Every library should have this in its collection of ethnic information.  Whether you are doing serious research on people or events, or simply want to understand what your spouse means when they are talking about opɬatek, you can find it in this tome.  Hopefully, if a second edition fixes some of the content and format issues, the price drops, and the digital version becomes available, this work should be on the laptop of anyone doing solid Polish American genealogical work.  My very best to Dr. Pula and the hundreds of people that helped create this fine work.

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