I am a genealogist, but what are genealogists anyway and what do they do? Well, first of all, they do not study rocks – that is a geologist, nor are they in the medical profession for women’s health – that is a gynecologist, nor do they study genes i.e. DNA (indirectly maybe). A genealogist is a person that researches and studies family ancestries and histories.
My father was born in Oświęcim, Poland in 1942, but my grandparents left Poland with him and my aunt when he was six months old. He had always tried to find someone with the same surname in the US during his travels, and was never successful.
I had little to no knowledge of my roots when my adventure in genealogy began when I met Łukasz Firkowski from Dąbrowa Górnicza, Poland on the Internet in August of 2002. Łukasz & I wanted to know how we were related and the research began. I have been doing genealogy research ever since.
Within the first two years of research, over 1300 members of our family were located and by 2006 the family tree had grown to over 2300. It was an emotional time at the first Firkowski Family Reunion in Poland in 2004, which included 202 people from six countries. I now know family members in 22 countries around the world.
Despite studying Spanish & French in school and learning German while I was stationed in West Germany for 2 years, I had not considered learning the language of my father’s ancestors until that amazing day in 2002. When I was young, my father had only managed to teach me how to say Merry Christmas in Polish (Wesołego Bożego Narodzenia) and that phrase took me a number of days to get right. He was insistent on correct pronunciation.
Language plays a major part in genealogy research. Almost all of us will encounter the language of our ancestors at some point during our research. Many people rely on translators to allow us to navigate the information contained within documents that help us in our genealogical quest, but why not consider learning the language on your own? You may not become fluent, but at least take a first step and gain a new perspective into your family’s life story.
I am still learning Polish (a complex language), but what I have learned has become an invaluable tool not only for myself but also in the research I do for others. Łukasz was able to help me learn some Polish, but I needed more. In my search for software to help me learn Polish, I came across BYKI (Before You Know It) by Transparent Language and found it invaluable in augmenting the tutoring I received from family and friends living in Poland.
Years after I began researching my family, I formed The Genealogy Assistant in 2008 to research Polish and American-Canadian ancestry for clients out of a deep desire to help others discover and experience their own rich family histories just as I had. Given the fact that not all records are available in the US on microfilm or on the Internet, I have had to travel to Poland to research in churches and archives, and locate living relatives for clients. The Genealogy Assistant is ready to document and build your family tree.
About the author
Tim Firkowski is a Professional Genealogist. As a member of APG he was the 2010/2011 President of the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG). He has been a volunteer librarian at the local Family History Center, and a genealogy research consultant at “Ask the Expert” Ancestry Road Shows.