Archive for Category: Research Trips


Europe 2012 – Day 3 – Genealogy!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sleeping on this trip has been weird. I lie down feeling tired and close my eyes only to feel wide awake. Then soon before I want to be up, I actually fall asleep for a bit. I’ll sleep again someday, in America.

I read that many Poles know English, but I’m not finding them. I really put my Polish to the test today. First, I was in the wrong building, but with the right address. I was given directions I didn’t quite understand. I checked the web site again for the picture of the building and figured out that it was the one with no number and no visible entrance until I walked all the way around it.

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Polish State Archive in Lomza

Inside, one person spoke only one sentence in English to me. I had to deal with another person all day who didn’t know a word of English. We managed, only turning to Google translate for two or three words. Forms were filled out for every book, up to five books at a time, and more forms at the end. I got through many books, photographing the pages, and I even got through a few books that weren’t indexed and found a few extra records. I spent too much time on some that were a random sampling of documents. There was still plenty more to do when it was close to 3pm, closing time.

I returned to my hotel in the rain and napped a bit. The rain slowed a bit later and I took a walk. The old synagogue building was just a few blocks away along with the old Jewish hospital. Neither building showed any sign of their former purposes. One is now a high school and didn’t show any sign if its current purpose either.

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Former Lomza Synagogue

(This picture looks terrible to me on this Android. Come back next month when I can post the pics from my camera’s SD card instead of just the ones from my Androids, which can only read microSD, or the pics I take using them.)

I decided against cemetery visits because it was late and likely muddy. But it will probably rain tomorrow too. It looks like I’ll be staying in Lomza one more night. That was always a possibility. I’d like to stay at least two more days really, to do more archive research and to visit all the small towns later, after the rain stops, but other cities beckon.

I am already planning to return here to do more and I haven’t even left yet. I’m only worried about the part of my trip after I leave Poland. I haven’t heard back from my potential guides in a while and I’ve spent all my time learning only Polish. I am planning to learn some more Russian on the long train rides to get there. At least, I will if I can’t sleep instead.

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Europe 2012 – Day 2

Monday, 25 June 2012

Now that’s more like it.

After the mess with my luggage, it was brought to my door in the morning just before I needed it for a shower. I felt very tired until I put down my Android, then I finally slept briefly around the time I meant to get up.

At check-in, the receptionist knew English. At check-out we did some communicating via Google Translate, or rather, Google Tłumacz. I tried to get directions to the train station. He just gave up and drove me.

Difficulty with the ticket machine, I bought an all day pass just in case I would use it. I didn’t. I also learned that I couldn’t go to the central station from an older gentleman who couldn’t speak a word of English. He ended up sticking around with me most of the day.

After stashing my luggage at the expensive check, because communicating was a challenge, he then walked with me to the mall to get a SIM card for my phone, then to some sightseeing. It was interesting trying to communicate when the phone wasn’t connecting easily all the time to the diction. I went early to make sure I could get a rental car before they all closed and he never came back from dinner. I didn’t even get his name.

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Remnant of the Ghetto Wall

I visited a few more spots in Warszawa before heading out to Łomża, which was about a two hour drive. I arrived just after dark, with no Androids having cooperated by loading the details of the Łomża map. But I found the hotel and I think I’ll sleep tonight.

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Gate of the Warszawa Jewish Cemetery

Why is it that we all change the names of places? I thought it was an American thing, like Italy and Italia, but it’s Włochy in Polish. Would it drive people mad if I used the native names? Would it confuse them?

Tomorrow is my first crack at research at the Łomża state archive. This is for my paternal grandmother’s family.

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Europe 2012 – Day 1

Monday, 25 June 2012

I should call this minus day one and not count it, but I am in Europe, so here goes.

This post will be filled with the nitty gritty details of my journey here. I haven’t really been anywhere yet, so skip it if you only want to know about seeing Europe and doing research. This one is kind of more about venting.

I didn’t sleep at all last night because I wasn’t close to being ready. I do that far too often actually when I fly somewhere. Driving, I just leave a little later. I still have things to do to plan for the trip I’m already on.

Amazingly, and to my own surprise, I was able to pack for a month in two carry-on bags. (I figured ten days of clothes was good.) I called for the shuttle and took a flight to JFK. I was three rows from the back of the plane and all the small children were back there. And yet, the flight was fine. The elder gentleman sitting next to me was friendly enough. And I guess most of the kid noise was drowned out by the engine noise. We even arrived a little early.

At JFK, it started going downhill. There was a shuttle to my terminal but there was no sign about it where there needed to be. I had about 30 minutes left of my two hour layover, after walking through the terminals, to check out the Delta Sky Club. I got some free passes for it a while back. The clerk let me in without keeping the pass since my time was so short, but they expire soon anyway so when else will I use them? (When arriving early to SLC, would be the appropriate in hindsight answer.) I was not impressed, then took the bus to the new terminal.

Because I pay attention to things, I saw the sign about one carry-on and checked it. The flight was very long. I dozed off many times but never got any real restful sleep. They served breakfast before landing but surprised me with dinner too, which I missed because I was half asleep. Exiting the plane, I saw a guy with three bags. I guess nobody enforced that sign much. I should have ignored it myself.

And then, I was in Europe. If I haven’t mentioned it enough, this is my first time off the American continent since I was 12, and that was the only time back then. After a walk through the airport, I got to customs and stepped into the shortest line, which moved at least eight times slower than all the others. And I’m not exaggerating about that. I now have an Amsterdam stamp in my shiny new passport.

My next flight boarded and it was less than two hours in the air. They gave us two sandwiches each. Seriously, US airlines are pathetic in comparison to the KLM service; the number of meals, drink service, the long flight even had warm towels for everyone multiple times just like I’d only seen in movies.

Warsaw is not a large airport. At least, it didn’t seem like it. After the bags went around and no more came out, there was a line at the missing baggage office, all from my flight. That’s right. I packed two carry-ons, checked one, and it didn’t make it to Poland with me. My first lost bag ever.

I was planning to use a bigger bag and check it, carefully packing a few clothing changes in the smaller bag, but once I realized I could go with two small ones, the second bag only held what it needed. I do have a few extra shirts, all my Androids and their chargers, my camera, and a few other things. Several hours ago, the KLM web site said they’d initiated delivery to me. It’s almost 4am. Are they waiting for sunrise? Not cool. Their Twitter person said someone would contact me. Then they said they would forward it in the morning. That had better be really, really early.

Now, about this hotel… It said it had a hotel shuttle when I booked it, which is why I came so far out from the airport. They changed the listing already. My taxi driver had trouble finding it even with a map. It also doesn’t mention the lack of air conditioning. Actually, I don’t see that listed for my next hotel either. It’s raining too, but not cooling off enough for me. That’s bad for sleep, but sleep is bad for this trip. I don’t have time for sleep or weekends.

What else went wrong on day one? My bluetooth keyboard refuses to pair with all of my Androids suddenly. I brought all my charger cables, but only one for two devices, and it’s the two I use the most. They’ll just have to take turns. I only brought my USB cables and not all the plugs, but one device actually needs its own plug and won’t charge. I haven’t eaten and I got hungry around 11pm in the middle of nowhere. Breakfast is in 4 hours. I still need a SIM card for my phone.

(Future note: take the plug for the biggest device. And do some doggone testing first.)

But those really cheap American to European adapters work just fine.

I think I’ll just kind of start over tomorrow. After breakfast, I will take the train to the city center and get started on my plans. I just booked my next hotel but not the rental car.

Also, when I got to the Warsaw airport, I followed the signs to customs and thought I took a wrong turn when a door just opened with no guard. No customs here for me. No Poland stamp. Too much European cooperation. I stepped back and took a picture. Hey, it’s better than pictures of my planes.

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You may have also noticed that I’ve been trying to learn some Polish. I don’t know why I feel weird trying to speak to them. Maybe today. I eventually turned on the TV just to listen. So weird. US shows. Not captioned or dubbed how you might think. They play the original audio but a man overlaps it with a translation slightly louder.

Wait, I do have one other picture. I had a window seat only on the last flight. I took a picture of my view for most of that trip.

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I didn’t have my camera ready as we approached for landing. Pretty. Lots of green and all orange roofs.

Gosh, that was a lot of venting, wasn’t it? I’ll balance that a little more.

HEY, I’M IN POLAND! :-)

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The Journey of Learning Other Languages

Friday, 8 June 2012

… and a review of one method in two languages.

In anticipation of my first European Research Trip, I have been trying to learn Polish. I actually started with Russian, but switched pretty early, realizing that I would probably be in Poland longer. How am I learning to speak Polish? I’ve tried a few things.

First, I went with Pimsleur. The problem is that I don’t do listen and repeat learning well. I need to be able to read what I’m saying. In addition, while Pimsleur starts by teaching some useful things, it then gets into the more ridiculous. It teaches how to ask for directions, but the only answers it teaches are “here” and “there”. Not helpful. When it gets into food and drink, it teaches beer and wine. Um, no water? It also takes either three or four lessons until it teaches how to say “I am an American”, for a female. Seems a little sexist there, since it teaches the male version right away.

Second, I tried Rosetta Stone. This taught some general vocabulary, then went into a few phrases with no explanation of the grammar — Polish words change depending on where they are in a sentence, and I need real instruction. When it insisted that I learn how to say “the boy is under the ball”, I knew it was teaching me some very useful phrases. Yeah. I did learn that flash card-type learning actually works for me though, because I did remember a few of those words for a very long time.

I didn’t know where to go from there, so I turned to the Internet. I found some videos on YouTube that taught the numbers, the months, and just some general how to speak in Polish lessons, including conjugating verbs. I typed in some sentences I thought would be useful to me in Google Translate, and I loaded all of this into Quizlet, downloading those flash cards to my Android. I worked with those for a while, but it kind of faded away.

Memrise.com was brought to my attention next. I started learning vocabulary in Polish and I even went into French for a refresher. Well, refresher might be an understatement. I am still using the site, but no amount of vocabulary was going to teach me the grammar and how to put together sentences. Having learned French in school, that one wasn’t the problem. It was still the Polish I needed.

My final destination was another audio method of learning. Again, like with Pimsleur, I needed to read, so I typed as I went.

I had briefly listened to a bit of the beginning of the Michel Thomas Polish Foundation some time ago and thought it was also teaching useless vocabulary. This time, I listened longer and realized that it was actually a terrific way to learn a language. Because I’d been trying to learn for so long, I already knew some of the words it was teaching.

And here is where I begin my review.

The Michel Thomas method involves listening to a recording between a teacher and two students. The teacher teaches a few words then asks the students to compose sentences from them. As the third student, they suggest you pause after the English to compose the word or sentence in the new language before the other students answer. Groups of words that are similar to English are taught together. Grammar rules and sentence structure is explained. You are not supposed to read or write, though there is a booklet with the vocabulary.

The Polish Foundation course was wonderful. The teacher was a native speaker, the students were intelligent, there was time to pause before they spoke the answers. It went into conjugation, future tense, and paste tense all in the eight hour foundation course. It did not mention the cases in Polish, which still confuse me. I did not have the booklet when I started, so since my only Polish background was in reading vital records (and the previous attempts to learn), I typed as I learned.

By the third CD, I felt like I was falling behind and not remembering things, so I began to repeat. I did the first three again, then after completing each CD, I would play it back a second time. I really wanted to learn the language well.

As I began the Polish course, and realized how much I was learning so quickly, I looked online to see if there was more. Among other things, I came across a site that gave the French course a bad review. But since I was going to France on this trip, I decided to try it too.

The Polish course was by far superior to the French.

Having taken French in high school and college, I had a head start. I had also been working with French in Memrise, though not as much as the Polish. I had the booklet for this one before I began, so I could read as I went.

The French teacher was Michel Thomas himself, who is a native Polish speaker. He pronounced words oddly to teach them, over-exaggerating constantly. He also pronounced English oddly, and a few times, I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to say. On many occasions, he had to stop and think about what sentence to ask next, as if he hadn’t prepared the lesson. Especially in the later lessons, he would just spew off a list of vocabulary words or sentences, not even asking the students to respond. That is not the way you are supposed to learn with this method, so it didn’t do much for me.

The French students were terrible. The students often jumped in with the French so there wasn’t time to pause the recording before they began. The female was especially dense, and French is much closer to English than Polish, so it should be easier to learn. She often repeated things after the male student and the teacher, many times. As the lessons continued, there were fewer and fewer times when I heard her voice, until she came back again near the end. She did not listen very well, struggling right at the beginning.

Probably because the students were doing so badly so often, when asking for a sentence with more than just a few words, the teacher often repeated the English while the student was trying to translate, one or two words at a time. The Polish never repeated like that, except for very long sentences with multiple phrases.

Because I mentioned it about the Polish, I’ll point out that the French lesson taught the future tense in two different ways, just barely touched on the past tense, and did not complete the conjugation lessons. The informal “you” does not exist in the French Foundation.

Even with the drawbacks of the French version, the method is still valid for learning another language. Because I had that school background, it made the French easier for me. Someone learning from scratch might have a slightly harder time learning some things correctly the way he taught. I completed the Polish Foundation before beginning the French Foundation. I went on to the French Foundation Review, which was the Foundation chopped up, just the teacher without the other students, stating the English, then pausing before stating the French. I enjoyed it much more without waiting for the other students, but the full course is still needed first, unless you already have the vocabulary and grammar rules it teaches. Upon my completion of the Review, I have just returned to the Advanced Polish.

After that, I don’t know if I will go on to any of the other French lessons. There are Advanced, Advanced Review, Builder, and Vocabulary; I believe they should be played in that order.

I also have the Russian lessons ready to go, but I’m not sure if I want to get into them before this trip. Russian and Polish have many similarities and I will likely confuse them a lot. Maybe I’ll listen on the plane, or the trains; I probably won’t get much else done on the long journeys.

Uczę się mówić po polsku.

Je peux parler français un peu.

Now that I’ve learned how to type those Polish characters, and got them working in WordPress with a bit of nudging, I’ve got to figure out the French ones too.

Anyone else out there bilingual or trilingual or more? How did you learn the other languages? Any other tips for me when I’ve run out of these lessons?

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Europe Research Trip, Summer 2012

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Well, it’s finally happening. I have booked my flight to Europe. Since I procrastinated enough, the trip is coinciding with the IAJGS conference, thus, I’ll be finishing my European tour there.

My whirlwind tour of Europe will be to all of my ancestral locations, as much as I know them now. I’m obviously hoping to find more when I’m there. In Poland, I will be researching in Kalisz for my Halpert and Szleper families, Rutki for my Mularzewicz family, Wizna for my Kurlender family, and Lomza for records for the two. In Ukraine, my family is from Mukacheve, Kopynivtsi, and Zubivka. And in Moldova, my family was from Otaci (Ataki) and there are a few records in the capital of Kishinev.

European Research Trip, Summer 2012

Yes, there is a bit of distance between those locations. I think my biggest challenge, besides the languages, will be getting to Moldova. The trains in Ukraine seem a little screwy. I hope they’re not as complicated as they seem online.

For quite a while, I have been trying to learn Polish. At this time, I have found a really great method to learn to speak Polish, but I don’t know that I’ll be any good at understanding when other people speak Polish. I might also go through the Russian version of the same method before I get there; I have it ready to go.

This is my first venture to Europe, besides the week in England when I was 12. I’ve never been to these archives and I’m not sure what I will find. I certainly hope everything works out well and I get access and find the records that I need. Although cautious about it, I am willing to take on some client work, especially to help pay for the trip. If you need research in any of these locations or others along the way, contact me and we’ll see if we can work something out. Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll be going back again in the future.

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