Understanding "Old Polish"

Judith R. Frazin, an award-winning genealogist with a special knack for language, has released the newest version of a book that already is a vital tool both for Polish and Jewish history scholars and ordinary people hoping to trace their family history.

For the last 39 years, she has dedicated herself to the study of genealogy by serving for 10 years as president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, one of the oldest Jewish genealogical societies in the world. She is also the program chairman of the 1984 National Seminar on Jewish Genealogy held in Evanston; and for three years as member-at-large on the board of the International Association of Jewish Genealogists.

Alan Spencer, a founding member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, called Frazin's guide “monumental,” adding, “There is no other publication of its kind in the world. Genealogists who are tracing their Polish roots cannot translate these documents unless they understand ‘Old Polish.' The only way I know to do this is with this book.”

Spencer added that the third edition refines some of the findings with input from people all over the world.

Amazingly, Frazin does not read, write or speak Polish.

But she has made it far easier for those who want to do this kind of research because she has created a tool to unlock the meaning of 19th century Polish-language civil records.

Frazin focuses on documents that followed the Napoleonic Code, the system of civil laws formalized in 1804. The narrative style was used only within “Russian” Poland, although Krakow, a city located in “Austrian” Poland is an exception to the rule. In the rest of “Austrian” Poland, a column-like format in German or Latin was usually used, and in areas of Poland under German control, various formats were used, though mostly in German.

Her guide is not a dictionary, since the scope of the actual documents is more limited. However, most of the Polish words in the guide were found in actual documents, which Frazin believes is an advantage since a researcher does not have to go through page after page to find what is desired.

“Unlike a dictionary, there is no need to know exactly how the Polish words are spelled to find the translation. After you have deciphered the beginning letters of the word, it is possible to locate its translation, because the choices have been narrowed to only those words and phrases relevant to the topic,” Frazin said.

And the words in the guide are alphabetized and sub-divided into 15 topics, such as age, birth, census, death, family, illness, etc.

Frazin's book also includes other important sections — suggestions on how to locate an old Polish town on a modern map; how to find 19th century documents and indices from Polish towns; sample records in script and block letters; step-by-step directions on how to extract data from the documents; a list of given names in 19th century documents; tips on finding records at Polish state archives; and information on how the Polish language works; as well as other related topics. (Pioneer Local)

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