The Second Day of the PGSA Conference

Saturday at the conference was pretty much full of lectures with a few hours for meals.

Most of the lectures I attended today were presented by Mikołaj Petraszak Dmowski, a guest lecturer from Poland who present five hours of lectures on the Polish Nobility.  I can’t say that I now completely understand the Polish nobility and how to research them; I can certainly say I’ve learned enough to want to learn more.

To start with, I know from various church records that my Niedziałkowski ancestors are listed as “owners of a part of the village”, indicating that they were landed gentry.  My Chotkowski ancestors (who are also ancestors of some of my Niedziałkowski ancestors) are listed in the church records as “Nobles”.  Thus, I have some reason to be interested in the Polish nobility.

According to Mikołaj, Poland was a democratic country, but the benefits of democracy only applied to the szlachta, or noble classes.  The peasants were simply peasants, and the peasants did not enjoy the benefits of democracy.

The szlachta apparently originated as the warrior class who protected Poland from her enemies.  By the 14th century, the szlachta were essentially synonymous with knights.  Eventually, the szlachta evolved into a privileged social class, and in order to be admitted to the szlachta, one must either prove his noble birth or be declared noble by the King or the Polish Sejm (the Polish Parliament).

Because of a significant number of peasants and merchants who pretended to be szlachta, those who claimed to be members of the noble classes eventually had to prove their claim.  There was good reason to have a claim to be a member of the noble class.  At several times throughout history, when the King of Poland wanted an agreement from the szlachta regarding his successor, the King granted the szlachta new privileges, including reductions of taxes, the inviolability of the nobles’ property, and a guarantee against the arbitrary arrest of the nobility.

Several reference works discuss the nobility in Poland and provide genealogies for those families.  Church records for the Polish population seldom extend further back than the late 18th century, but the genealogies of the nobility extend much farther back in time.

Some useful resources for researching the Polish nobility include:

  • Sławomir Górzyński. Nobilitacje w Galicji w latach 1882-1918. Wydawnictwo DiG. Warszawa. 1999.
  • Elżbieta Seczys. Szlachta wylegitymowana w Królestwie Polskim w latach 1836-1861. Wydawnictwo DiG. Warszawa. 2000.
  • Kasper Niesiecki, S.J. Herbarz Polski. Lipsk edition. 1839-1846.
  • Adam Boniecki. Herbarz Polski; Wiadomosci Historyczno-genealogiczne o Rodach Szlacheckich. Warszawa. Gebethner i Wolff. 1899-1914.

In addition to the lectures on Polish nobility, I also attended a lecture on Cemeteries: Look High and Low, Above and Below! by Jeffrey Bockman.  In this lecture, Mr. Bockman discussed how to find cemeteries, what to do when cemeteries are moved, what to do when cemeteries are no longer active, and what cemetery iconography can tell you about the person who’s buried there.  some helpful hints when doing cemetery research are: remember that the cemetery office is running a business, be considerate if they are busy, and be considerate of grieving families.

Finally, one of the highlights of the conference was the annual awards luncheon with performances by the Lajkonik Dancers.  This year, there was even a Polish selection at lunch (roast pork with bigos, potatoes, and pierogi).

One more half-day of the conference to go, and then I head back home!

This entry was posted in Daily Journal and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.