Iwona's Sources - Era of Digitalization at the State Archives

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Era of Digitalization at the State Archives

Genealogical research in the quiet of your home at any hour of the day or night? This dream of researchers is actually coming true! The days of traveling to regional branches of the State Archives (82 of them throughout Poland), filling out users' forms, dozens of call slips, and specifications, and waiting for books to be brought from the stacks in limited quantities and for limited hours, are all on their way to becoming history!

This revolution was set in motion in early 2008 when the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe [National Digital Archive] came into being, along with one of its priority projects, the Zintegrowany System Informacji Archiwalnej [Integrated Archive Information System], called ZoSIA for short.

[Translator's note - This name intentionally calls to mind the popular female nickname Zosia, an affectionate form of Zofia, the Polish version of the given name we know as Sophie or Sophia.]

ZoSIA is nothing less than the digitalized archival holdings made available online on the test search engine at <http://www.slukajwarchiwach.pl>. [Translator's note - the website's name means literally "search in the archives."] The search facility is free and, so far, does not even require logging in (there are plans for that, however). It has English and German language versions, to make it easier for foreigners to use, although the actual descriptions of the units are not translated. But that difficulty can be overcome in this era of Internet translators.

At the current stage of this project's realization, the number of scans is over seven and a half million, or 17% of all archival materials. Progress in digitalizing the holdings depends on decisions of the Ministry of Culture and Art, which administers funds and sets the criteria for selecting the archives and archival materials included in the National Digital Archive program. To the joy of genealogists, the metrical registers were entered into the program as third in priority, after materials of the highest historical value and those in poor physical condition. They were directly categorized in the group of records most often used.

So far, one can search in ZoSIA's holdings records from 36 regional branches as well as documents from the Hoover Archives and the Zamoyski Museum in Kozlowka. The choice of specific archives depends on fulfilling formal and technical conditions, including appropriate preparation of materials for the digitizing process, which is connected with additional investment of work and costs. The National Digital Archive imposed digitalization parameters of 300 ppi resolution and TIFF 6 format without compression.

ZoSIA is also gradually collecting data on units (one unit is, for instance, one register from a given parish) from all 87 branches of the State Archives all over Poland. At present, it has description of about three million units. An interesting fact: if one were to place all the record units from all branches in a single line, it would be over 290 km long, the distance between New York and Baltimore. ZoSIA's search engine is already enjoying great success; 92 thousand users visit yearly, which represents over 2,000% more users than those in research work rooms.

In principle, the search engine itself functions properly; we input a key word, we select the unit that interests us, we open it and study it. In practice, however, we encounter difficulties. Let me cite examples. After we enter the word "Lodz" (the newest version no longer requires use of diacritical marks) and restrict the search to metrical records, the search engine spits out 3,562 units, without any sensible arrangement in terms of chronology or subject. True, they all relate to civil registry records; but religions are totally mixed together, and we find records of Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews, Mariavites, and Orthodox in turn. We attain our goal most quickly if we select the option "tylko ze skanami," with scans only; the number of results in that case falls to 27 units. None of them, however, deal with records from the city of Lodz, but rather with a village of the same name in Poznan voivodeship. The lack of scans from the city of Lodz is due to the fact that the State Archives branch in Lodz is not included in the digitalization project. For that reason, it is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the list of the archives covered by ZoSIA (see the list at the end of this article).

One may also use a thematic keyword, for instance, "meldunkowa" (in the sense of a k.sieqa meldunkowa, a register tracking arrivals of new residents and departures of old ones). That produces 20,351 units, of which 526 are scanned. To further narrow down the search, we can use a two-part keyword, for instance, "Granowo meldunkowa," yields 84 results, or "Granowo ksiega," which produces 83.

A helpful option is search by specific archive. If we select the branch in Poznan and use the keyword "meldunkowa," ZoSIA produces 5,069 results; but we have no way of selecting only those with scans.

Let us also pay attention to distinguishing the names of localities in force during the partitions. For the word "Posen," 14,098 results come up, and 282,460 for "Poznan." It will be difficult to establish how many of them overlap.

If we choose the option "wyszukiwanie zaawansowane" [Advanced search], we can choose between sorting by the number of results produced, relevancy (growing or diminishing signatures, beginning dates or ending), type of objects and units (records, cartographic, technical, photographic, etc.) and other options more or less helpful or comprehensible. Such a selection does not seem to be compatible with the expectations of amateur genealogists; it is more of a typically archivistic character in it phraseology and methodology. Unfortunately, the search engine does not have the optimal version for genealogists, that is, by parish, religion, and scope of years (as the Pradziad database does).

Another matter is the incomplete sets of scans. For example, for some localities there are scans up to the 1860s, for others scans beginning in 1880, and for yet others, the scans are fragmentary. The selection of materials for scanning is left to the specific archives. At this point, I would like to give some recognition to the branches in Suwalki and Piotrków, which have included annexes to the metrical records. This sort of documentation - of great genealogical potential, but treated like an unwanted stepchild - usually eats up a lot of time in the research workshops, and time is often in short supply for traveling researchers.

No doubt, users will encounter more problems. But let us remember that this project is in its pilot phase. Its creators, who have been getting signals about its deficiencies, are working on new solutions as they aim for a satisfying finale.

ZoSIA is not, however, the only source of digitalized materials from the State Archives. The rest of the scans are scattered over the Internet, primarily due to social, organizational, and private initiatives. A great many scans can be found in Geneteka, Genpol, the Malopolskie Genealogical Society, and on the websites of the Olsztyn, Szczecin, and Wroclaw archives, as well as AGAD [Archiwum Glówne Akt Dawnych]. Integrating and inventorying all the sources of scanned records scattered throughout the virtual world would seem to be no small challenge.

Polish State Archives Included in the ZoSIA Program

Arch Akt Nowych in Warsaw














Piotrków Trybunalski









Zielona Góra









Grodzisk Mazowiecki


Radzyn Podlaski


Iwona Dakiniewicz, Łódź, Poland genealogy@pro.onet.pl

[with translation assistance from William F. Hoffman]

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Last Updated on July 5, 2017