POLISH AND BELARUSIAN CONNECTIONS
Before January, 2018, I had very limited knowledge about my grandfather and had never become engaged in any Polish family history research myself.
I only knew that my grandfather, Edmund, was born in the former Polish area of Navahrudak in modern-day Belarus. The city used to be called Nowogródek, until the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939.
I had also met my grandfather’s sister, Henia, who lives in the UK, but I didn’t have any knowledge about my grandfather’s parents and his other sister, Yuzefa.
I am highly motivated by a desire for personal connection and getting a deeper sense of my roots. Hence, it was natural that my application for Polish citizenship encouraged me to do a little Polish family history research myself.
I hired an archivist to do some Polish genealogy research for me. Eventually, I found a very reliable and pedantic Belarusian chap on Upwork called Aliaksandr.
At the end of January, 2018, Aliaksandr wrote to me to say that he had information about my grandfather and relatives.
Learning of my relatives’ names, dates of birth, birthplace and how many years of education they received was an intriguing start.
Aliaksandr also sent me this intriguing map:
Apart from my great-grandfather, Józef, who was the only one born in modern-day Poland (in the Białystok province), all my relatives’ were born in three small villages – Ostaszyn, Bojary and Wyszkowo – which are only a few kilometres apart from another.
ARCHIVAL RESEARCH CAN PRODUCE SOME SHOCKS AND FURTHER QUESTIONS
If learning of my relatives’ names, birthplaces and dates of birth was not enough, Aliaksandr also found out that my family were deported by the Soviets to the Russian region of Arkhangelsk the winter of 1940.
Indeed, on March 1, 1940, my family arrived on special resettlement in the Arkhangelsk region. According to Aliaksandr’s findings, they were resettled in the “Ust-yansky district, the Lake of Veruezh”.
“Veruezh” must be an alternate spelling as I have not been able to find the lake on Google Maps or through a Google search. Unfortunately, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of unnamed lakes in the Ust-yansky district on Google maps.
My family members were released with special resettlement under amnesty on September 9, 1941. I am eager to know what happened to them after this date.
THE WAY FORWARD
I showed the archivist’s findings to my father who I think is very keen to go to Belarus to check out these villages and get a feel for what life was like for his father and relatives. Of course, I am also eager to go.
Considering that the Russians rounded up my family, and Polish territory was gobbled up by the Soviets, I guess that it’s nearly impossible for any distant relatives to be lurking in the area of the three aforementioned villages.
Meeting relatives is not really the objective of a potential road trip. It’s more about feelings and being able to visualise what life may have been like for our family.
INITIATING YOUR POLISH FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCH JOURNEY
Apart from hiring archivists on Upwork, you can find experts through the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). Click here to find out more.
I have found one genealogical researcher on APG called Daniel Paczkowski who can locate living relatives, knows Russian, English and Polish, and arranges ancestral tours to Belarus, among other countries.
There are no obvious obstacles standing in the way of an “ancestral tour” of my relatives’ villages in Belarus.
Spring 2021 could be the time for my father and I to fly to Minsk, hire a car and travel the 125km or so.
I will be back with more news in the coming months.