Passage of time, wars and immigration ensured finding information and documents to serve as evidence of ancestral Polish citizenship is a massive challenge. Those born outside of Poland rarely speak Polish to a level required to deal with bureaucracy in Poland.
Needless to say, we love our jobs. Polaron’s team of researchers, translators and project managers handle client cases with the respect they deserve. After all, they are each different and learning about clients’ ancestral history is one of the highlights of what we do. As we discover our clients’ ancestral paths, we thread carefully: we often come across traumatic events and dark secrets that we learn about between the lines of archival documentation, backs of photos and old letters.
From time to time, we trip over some major skeletons in our clients’ family closets, though. Take the Kowalski family.
It all started with our client’s grandparents, let’s call them Olga and Stan. They were no longer alive but, on the surface, the case seemed pretty standard. Tom, our client, had a very sketchy knowledge of his family’s history. That on its own isn’t rare, since most people of Olga and Stan’s generation were stoic introverts who just wanted to get on with their lives in their adopted lands, having gone through some really though times, and never talked about the past. Whilst we realised that the task at hand was always going to be difficult, when the archival folios we’ve ordered from the National Archives of Australia arrived we quickly realised that things just didn’t add up.
Our eagle-eyed researcher Aleksandra noticed that there was a 12-year gap between Stan and Olga according to some of the documents, whereas others stated they were born in the same year. Usually, a significant gap like that is a sign of a previous marriage and upon further investigation, we discovered some hand-written notes on the immigration documents from the archives with Olga’s name written above a crossed-out name of Anastasia. The file stated that Olga and Stan married in Poland in 1934 but there was no marriage certificate. A child of the marriage (Tom’s father) was born in Germany in 1944, so there was a 10-year gap between the marriage and the birth of the child. Again, somewhat unusual since there were no other siblings. At this point, we were still waiting for archival documents from Poland and Germany, where the family lived towards the end of the war and in refugee camps prior to coming to Australia. We passed all this information onto Tom with instructions to talk to his surviving family members, search any old boxes or drawers for documents, letters or photos and told him we’d be in for a long and possibly bumpy ride.
Surprisingly, documents from Poland arrived within a couple of weeks at our office. The file contained many of Olga’s documents including copy of her Polish passport, work records and … her death certificate dated 1968. We rang Tom immediately: did your grandmother die in Poland in 1968? No, was his shocked reply. She is buried at the local cemetery, next to Stan. They both died in 1990s. How can it be? This must be a mistake.
Sadly, it was more than a mistake. After months of gathering of evidence, we reached a conclusion that Stan and Olga never married. Well, not our Olga anyway. It turned out that Stan did have a wife in Poland, as well as three small children whom he left behind. The Polish Olga died in Poland in 1968 but her children are still alive. When the woman who we think was actually called Anastasia fell pregnant in Germany in 1944, she assumed Olga’s identity and came with Stan and their newborn son to Australia as his wife. One look at the photos from Poland and the Australian archives told us that there were two Olgas: the Australian Olga had a very large birth mark clearly visible in all the pictures we were given access to, whereas the Polish Olga did not.
What did it mean to Tom’s case, though? Massive complications, that’s what. The Polish laws, whilst generous, mean that Stan was a bigamist and therefore Tom’s father was essentially born out of wedlock. This in turn means that Tom can only pursue his Polish citizenship under Anastasia. The trouble is that apart from her first name, we have no idea who she is. The journey continues and we won’t rest until we find her records. In the meantime, Tom has been visiting Stan and Olga’s graves regularly. We’re not sure what, if anything, he thinks or says. We’d like to think that theirs was a love story that transcended continents, identities and ages. And Tom’s father discovered three half siblings half way across the world.
Need help you on a journey towards Polish citizenship? Polaron has helped over 7,500 people just like you to confirm their Polish (EU) citizenship and reclaim their heritage.