In August 2015, my wife Denise and I took a trip to Poland. I had been to Poland in 2013, met some family members, and saw some of Poland. The trip had a profound impact on me and I really wanted to go back. We had originally planned to go in 2014, but were unable to do so. When the opportunity presented itself to go in 2015, we jumped at it.
I would love to start telling you the story of our trip, but I think it would be best to inform you of the issues we had prior to going there.
We made the purchase of our airline tickets on Orbitz.com. We both sat down together and worked out what we thought would be the best times for both departure and return flights. We both looked at the information on the screen repeatedly and even asked each other numerous times, are you sure, are you sure, before we clicked purchase. We ordered our tickets, looked at the information on the screen and on the paperwork but somehow missed the obvious. (wait for it)
Meantime, prior to our trip, I had contacted PolishOrigins.com, run by Zenon Znamirowski and company. I had done some business with them in the past, mostly genealogy work, and knew that they offered tours of Poland. When I contacted them, I inquired about a genealogy based tour. I’ve been keeping notes on my family since I was a child, and have in my possession many photographs from the early 1900’s of my family. For some reason, I knew these would come in handy someday, so I never got rid of them. For the last 10 years I’ve really focused a lot of time and resources on trying to find as much information as possible on my ancestral lines.
I decided to pick PolishOrigins.com because I felt they could not only help me with my research, and see the ancestral grounds of my ancestors, but most importantly, they could help me find family. That was key for me! They had pages and pages of good reviews, not only for the company but for their guides. I spent a lot of time reading the reviews on the PolishOrigins website, and what I read reinforced my decision.
So I created a two-week itinerary and sent it to PolishOrigins.com. They altered and focused it based on availability of their guides and what would be the best route for travel overall. They handled everything from the hiring guides for major cities, to booking and finding our hotels. I can tell you from my experiences in 2013 that finding hotels in Poland can be difficult at best. It’s not like in America where you can just drive off the highway and expect to find a hotel within a few miles. You could drive for hours sometimes and not see a hotel in the Polish countryside. Many of them are on off road locations and finding them would be difficult, even for the most experienced traveler. It’s easy to locate a hotel in a larger city, but even there sometimes it can be difficult during peak travel months.
After a month of working with PolishOrigins we finally finalized the trip itinerary. Two weeks before we were supposed to leave my wife Denise comes downstairs and says is this a typo? She is holding a copy of our flight manifest. We were supposed to return from our trip on September 6, however, somehow the return date was listed as to September 13. Orbitz.com and the insurance we had obtained with our tickets were absolutely no help in resolving our issue. They wanted an astronomical $900-$1500 per seat to change the date back. For that price, we realized we could stay in Poland for an additional week and spend less money.
So, now in panic mode, we had to work out details in a very short time. Luckily my wife was able to get the additional time off from work, and both my family in Poland and PolishOrigins jumped to our rescue in regards to our additional time and itinerary changes. I can tell you that PolishOrigins went out of their way to help us, rearranging hotels and guides and calmed a panic situation.
When you’re dealing with a genealogy based tour, always prepare for changes in your itinerary. After the return flight issue was resolved, I foolishly believed we were all set and everything would be fine. That was not the case.
The very reason why I was going to Poland to begin with was to see where my grandparents had come from and to meet family. My maternal grandmother was the one who really got me into genealogy, and when I was there in 2013, I was unable to find anything on her family. Her family hailed from a little village called Skulsk. She had spoken about her family so frequently and told me so much information on Poland that I fell in love with it from childhood.
Village of Skulsk, Poland
While I am a professional genealogist, and I’m very knowledgeable on Polish records available online, more recent records are held at the civil record offices in the towns and villages, or within the archives. Contacting the archives can sometimes take months to get records back. So PolishOrigins helped get me in contact with a genealogist prior to my trip, Katarzyna Grycza. Katarzyna traveled to my grandmother’s village and was able to locate some more recent records on my grandmother’s family. I was so excited when I received an email from her, telling me she had located the married names of my grandmother’s two sisters, something I’d previously not known. She was also able to locate some children’s names of one of the sisters, and the death date of one of those children. That death date would become instrumental in making contact with the family.
Information Katarzyna located was then handed off to our genealogy guide who would be spending the first 10 days with us, Zbigniew Stettner of PolishGen.com. Before I tell you what happened to throw the itinerary into a tizzy again let me explain to you why we were working with another company, PolishGen.com
I think it’s important for people to know how PolishOrigins.com works in relation to helping you with your trip, such as a genealogy based tour. PolishOrigins hires out to reputable subcontractors. These subcontractors, such as Zbigniew at PolishGen.com, are the best in the business. If you’re visiting a city, they will hire you a guide who will show you things in that city you’ve never seen or heard about before. They also help you locate hotels, get tickets, and try to help you plan your entire tour so that you get the most out of it possible.
So back to the itinerary change.
Zbigniew Stettner, I can’t say enough good things about him. Nine days before we were supposed to go on our trip to Poland, Zbigniew contacted me and told me he had found some descendants of my grandmother’s family. Remember the death date that had been located earlier? Zbigniew made contact with the civil record offices of the town mentioned in the death listing and found that the descendants of my grandmother’s family still resided there. He spoke with them at length on the phone and they were very interested in meeting me. He was able to gather a lot of information on the family, that matched a lot of my notes. I was so excited and amazed. I had finally found my grandmother’s family and was going to be able to meet them, I couldn’t believe this was finally happening. I’d made a promise to my grandmother when I was a child that someday I would go to Poland, see where she came from, and find out what had happened to her family. The last part of the promise was about to be fulfilled. This family lived minutes from the German border, five hours away from Torun, where we would be spending our first few days. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity! So again, PolishOrigins to the rescue as we had to alter our itinerary for the first three days, and add and cancel hotels that had already been booked.
Another itinerary change…
It’s unfortunate that it happened, but a week later, the daughter of the family he had located had contacted Zbigniew and told him they did not know anything about their family prior to their grandmother, who was my grandmother’s sister. They did not want to be bothered, which was a first for any of the guides and for PolishOrigins. I felt terrible and was very upset, but based on what I was told, it made sense. The information that had been given to Zbigniew was that the family was taken to Germany during World War II and knew nothing about their ancestral past. The daughter did not know what we wanted and they were very leery of strangers. The reality of it was that I was just trying to keep a promise, and to possibly answer some questions in regards to my grandmother’s family that have plagued us to this day. This did put somewhat of a damper initially on my trip, but PolishOrigins came to the rescue again, canceling and booking hotel rooms and altering our already over altered itinerary just three days before we were supposed to arrive.
After the final round of itinerary changes our trip was set. No, really, it was!
Part two coming soon!