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Repatriation and Resettlement of Ethnic Poles Maps Immigration to Ellis Island from Czeremosznia and Usznia
Greek Catholic Records of the Central State Historical Archive of Ukraine, Lviv Emigration from Bialy Kamien through the Port of Hamburg
Roman Catholic Records of the Central State Historical Archive of Ukraine,  Lwów / Lviv   Bielawa Family (of Poznan region, not Galicia)
Great Books: Ukrainian Genealogy: A Beginner's Guide                                                              -Older Bielawa Generations    -Newer Bielawa Generations
Going Home: A Guide to Polish American Family History Research

Researching On Site in Ukraine and Poland--
On Your Own!

Not only is researching on site in Ukraine and Poland very possible, it's fun, rewarding and pretty easy to arrange!

There was a time not long ago before 1991 when travel to these countries was more restricted.  This was especially true in the case of Ukraine.  The Soviet travel industry restricted travel to specific cities.  Visiting towns and villages in the countryside was strictly forbidden.  It was even difficult to meet with people.  Archives were only open to western scholars...and even they would not have access to the most important documents for genealogists.

Fortunately, the situation is very much different today.  Travel to Poland is easiest.  Visas for U.S. citizens is no longer required.  The service industry field in Poland is much better than it was in years past.  Travel to Ukraine is a little more complicated.  Although renting cars is possible in both Poland and Ukraine, it is not advised that you do this in Ukraine due both to reasons of impracticality (few rental agencies, gas stations far and few in between, poor roads with poor signage) and for the reason of the high rate of car theft.  Visas are still required for U.S. citizens to travel to Ukraine.  The travel industry, though growing, is still not as advanced as other European countries.  (A longer history with the USSR, I'm afraid, is to blame.)  I highly recommend you making travel arrangements through a U.S. travel agency that specializes in traveling to Ukraine.  These specialized travel agencies are familiar with the unique travel conditions in Ukraine and will easily arrange all your important needs: arrange your visa application, find the best hotels, arrange travel between cities or out to the countryside to visit ancestral villages.  Such agencies can also help arrange for you to have a drive and interpreter.

The issue of language is important.  Of course, understanding the language will undoubtedly benefit you and your research.  But you need not be fluent!  I strongly suggest for those who do not speak the language to hire an interpreter.  Such a person can help archival research possible and allow you to freely meet and talk with people in your ancestral village.

Archival Visits

Polish archives no longer require a letter of permission to be required of you before your trip.  However, it's a best idea to first send a letter to both Polish and Ukrainian archives before your trip.  This way they will expect you and perhaps, have some material waiting for you already! 

When you first arrive, ask to speak to the person in charge of giving you permission to use the archives.  In Ukrainian archives, such permission is mandatory.  Although these archives are open to foreign genealogists, you should stress that you are searching for your own relatives.  (It would be wrong for you to have them work for you by getting materials for you just so that you can get paid by someone else!)

Give yourself plenty of time.  Business practices are very different in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, from North America.  Do not expect to get in and out of an archive the same day with pages and pages of information.  When you first request to see a parish registry book or other such document, it may take up to two days to fulfill the request.  Plan your trip accordingly!  In between periods of waiting for material, sightsee the city or visit the ancestral village.  Try the local cuisine!  Sit back and enjoy your ancestral home!!

Photocopying machines may not be available.  If you go with this attitude, you won't be disappointed.  Even if the machine is working, it may cost quite a bit, roughly 10 dollars per page.  And then the archivists may not photocopy your documents right then and there...they may mail them to you later!

For more tips, read below.

Visiting Villages

This is perhaps the most important and rewarding trip you'll ever make in terms of your own family history or genealogical research!  I can not begin to explain how emotional my trips are to my ancestral village...especially that first trip.  For a detailed account of my first trip, which includes tips on traveling and genealogical researching, visit my article "Returning to the home of my ancestors. My trip to western Ukraine and the villages of Bialy Kamien and Czeremosznia". 

In Ukraine it's best to make arrangement with a driver.  If making such arrangements are done through a reputable U.S. based travel agency, you can be assured of the driver's commitment to both you and his car.  He'll be able to fix the car if trouble occurs (auto shops are not found as often as here in North America.) and will even stay with the car to avoid theft.

Understand that the people of Ukraine and Poland are very friendly and hospitable.  However, keep in mind that you are a guest of theirs and their country.  You should be sensitive to their culture and traditions  (which are your ancestral traditions, too, don't forget!).  Don't complain about food or weather or lodgings, or anything.  Most people will go out of their way to help you and provide you with as much comfort as they can.  Complaining will be seen as an insult.  Living conditions are difficult for the average citizen.  In any event--it's your vacation and your genealogy!  Enjoy yourself!  Take a care free attitude with you!

When you visit, bring a notebook, pen, camera, (video cameras capture live action and will bring you the most vivid memories of your trip), and a small tape recorder.  Before you photograph or tape record anyone, ask for permission first!  Be polite!  You'd never walk up to someone in your home town and start least I hope not!  I carry a small notepad with me at all times just in case I need to record any information, names or places.  Of course, if you go to an archive, bring lots of paper and pencils!

Travel Trips to Ukraine, Lviv, and TsDIAL

  • Use travel agency familiar with Ukraine.  They'll help with:
    • passport and visa
    • hotel reservations and/or letters of invitations
    • drivers and translators
    • easier border crossing
    • registering with local registry office-required of all visitors

  • Learn some Ukrainian!  At least the most common words and phrases:
    • greetings and thank you's
    • numbers
    • foods

  • Plan your trip ahead of time.
    • Buy travel guides and surf the WWW
    • Consider carefully what records you're looking for
    • Be specific, don't be vague and don't over extend yourself

  • In between waiting for records, sightsee beautiful historic Lviv or ancestral villages

  • Prepare a folder filled with your genealogical data.  Don't bring everything-only the most important information you'll need to help you in your research.
  • Bring copies, never the originals!

  • Send letter ahead of time requesting permission to research in archive. 
    • Explain exactly what you're interested in, they may have some things waiting for you!

    On to the archive!  Archive Visit Tips

  • Be polite!
  • Be patient!
  • Be sincere!
  • Respect their rules  and customs!
  • Visit archive with a translator if you don't speak Ukrainian, Russian, or Polish.

  • Bring a copy of your letter requesting permission to research in archive in case the original is lost in the mail.
  • Ask to speak to the director for permission to research.
    If interested in vital records, ask to see the index for Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic records.

  • If interested in other documents relating to your village, ask to visit the card catalog room.
  • Fill out request form for the documents.  Ask for help in filling out the form.
  • Have patience!!  Wait for the material, which may take a day to two to be delivered to you in the reading room.

  • Inquire about photocopying procedures and costs.

  • When leaving, say THANK YOU accompanied by a sincere gift.  It's not a bribe---it's a popular Ukrainian custom.            Questions and Comments to Matthew Bielawa
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