Changes at the Polish State Archives

There are changes afoot at the Polish State Archives (PSA). Most of the databases of archival records hosted at the main archives site, which included ELA (population registers), SEZAM (combined search of PRADZIAD and ELA) and IZA (search of archival inventories) are gone, and they will not be returning. The only database remaining there, the PRADZIAD database of vital records, may not be there too much longer either.

Instead, you are expected to use the (search the archives) site. There are many advantages to this new search engine, although there are some disadvantages as well.

On the plus side, if the archival files have been scanned, you can in most cases see that and access the scans directly on the site. This is very convenient. Not all archives share their scans with the site for some reason, however. Archives that come to mind with their own pages hosting their scans include AGAD, Przemyśl, and the Bydgoszcz and Toruń archives which jointly have files on the Genealogia w Archiwach site. So if you’re searching the site for records in one of these archives, don’t trust the indication of if scans exist for the records, but rather try to find the files on the above archive sites.

Another plus is that there are many more options for advanced searches, although figuring everything out is complicated. You can reproduce the same search as on PRADZIAD, but you need to figure out what to configure. I don’t know yet if it’s possible to set up the same searches as on IZA and ELA, as its a bit of a learning curve with the new system.

My main criticism of the new search interface, besides the steep learning curve, is how it displays its results. The old databases displayed search results in a simple tabular format, while the new search interface gets too fancy for its own good, making it harder to see at a glance what records are available.

PRADZIAD vs. szukajwarchiwach search results
PRADZIAD vs. szukajwarchiwach search showing same number of Jewish vital record sets

If you take a close look at the comparison image above (you can click on it to load a larger version) you’ll notice that while the SA results show a bit more information, the PRADZIAD results are organized alphabetically by town, and allow you to click on any column title to sort the results by that column. The SA results also show two results from the same town, which might lead you to think those are the only ones from that town, but when in fact there are four results. On the plus side, both systems return the exact same number of results, 3303, which means at least the data is currently in sync.

All in all I’m hopeful that the focus on a single database will benefit everyone by giving the PSA a single place to focus on the technology. The old databases had an annoying problem whereby you could not reliably offer a link to a results page, since every time they updated their database (several times a year) the links would change. As far as I can tell that is not a problem with the new system. I wish the Polish State Archives the best of luck, and hope they’ll work out the kinks as soon as possible. If you have experience using and want to share your tips on finding specific types of records, please share them in the comments.

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