It was 1978. I was out shopping and went into a bookstore. While browsing around, I saw a book called Our Family History. It was interesting because the book asked so many questions about the family that piqued my interest so I bought it. When I got home I looked through it. In it I found a two-foot pull-out chart for listing several generations of one’s family.
But now I was so disappointed. How wonderful it would be to have that whole chart filled in. My problem was that I didn’t know anything about my family beyond my grandparents. I wanted it ALL to be filled in but how would I ever do that when I knew so little about my family?
I decided I could probably learn a little more by talking to Grandma and Grandpa. So I was on my way to start learning as much as I could. My mom and I would sit with my grandparents asking questions. The more I learned the more I wanted to know. There was the time that, as a boy of eight, my grandpa had eaten a banana for the first time. It was during his trip to America in 1912. He was leaving his home in Poland for good.
Grandpa’s story about that trip was so interesting that I wanted to know more. I began talking to more relatives and continued to learn more. With the help of my family, I was able to start filling in some of those spaces in my new book.
It was exciting. I was actually making progress. But I wondered, “How could I get even more information?” I started reading genealogy books to learn what I could about doing research. Eventually, it was time for a trip to Salt Lake City. I had heard that was the place to go but I was skeptical. How could there be any information for me? I was Polish and so are my parents and grandparents! There wouldn’t be anything for me.
How wrong I was! Little did I know what a truly amazing library it was. (I’m much smarter now!) I learned so much that first trip. I became a believer – and I definitely wanted to come back. I was going to work hard getting my chart completed. How truly awesome it is to be able to search records from all over the world in one place and better yet – there were even records from Poland.
There seems to be a thought from some people in genealogy that Polish research can’t be done. I have been able to prove them all wrong. I have been able to complete seven lines to about 1740. Pretty cool. Some areas in Poland have more and better records than others. Along the Russian border in the county of Biala Podlask the church records only go back to 1810. In the area west of Bydgoszcy the records can go back to the 1700s. There are even a few pages from 1598. (Now I can give my husband’s English relatives some competition!) Maybe one day I’ll even be able to make a connection to that date.
At times, genealogy is a hobby of trials and tribulations. I search a record, but the name I’m looking for isn’t there. It’s disappointing but I continue on because next time it may all go right. During a recent visit to the library I was able to complete three generations in one afternoon – using Polish records! It happened to me. I had heard stories but never thought it could happen.
I continue with my research because of the “high” I get when I add one more date, one more name or one more place to my chart. It makes up for the times when the search doesn’t go well. Having made a dozen trips to Salt Lake City so far, I plan to continue to come as my life allows. For many years, I didn’t do research because of my young children but I always knew that one day I wanted to get back to it. Maybe when I retire I’ll even move here for a while. That would be the ultimate dream; actually being able to complete that book I bought in 1978. After all, these aren’t just people with name and dates, they’re my family – and nothing matters more than that.
I will also be eternally grateful to the LDS Church for having so much wonderful information available for someone like me with a “genealogy passion!” Despite the pitfalls of research, I will continue to keep coming back because there is still so much to learn!
This blog post was submitted as a letter to the Family History Library by Diane M. Hooper.