On Wednesday afternoon we headed for Poznan for two nights. My reason for choosing to stay here (in spite of all the Poles telling us not to go there ‘because there is nothing there’) is because it is the base for the organisation Discovering Roots (http://www.discovering-roots.pl/welcome.htm). I had booked a guide from this organisation to take me to Trzciel, the home of my German ancestors who made the long and perilous journey to Australia in 1840-41. The village was (and still is) a small country town where few (if any) people speak English, so if my visit was going to mean anything, a guide was quite necessary.
At 10am Thursday morning we met Magda, our guide. She turned out to be an enormously helpful and interesting woman in her early thirties. She dr0ve us to the village (my first time in a car driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road!) chatting all the time about the history of the town and what we might (or might not) find there. The town has a population of only a couple of thousand people, and is quite sleepy and off the beaten track. I don’t think they see too many Australians there! The town is divided by a river, and the German settlers (who had come to the area from other areas of Prussia) lived on one half while the Polish lived on the other. The German section had an Evangelical Church, and the Polish a Catholic. The two communities always existed harmoniously together, until the Germans were forced to leave and return to what was now Germany. Since WWII and the communist takeover, no German was welcome in this area. Anyone visiting claiming German ancestry (even if they were Australian) was regarded suspiciously, even with fear as the communists had successfully persuaded the local population that it was only a matter of time before the German sought to return to take their land from them. Thankfully this is no longer the case, and since 1989 and the end of Communist rule, many Germans have returned freely to visit the home of their ancestors.
I had hoped to visit the Evangelical church as it was the church my ancestors had attended and possibly married in. Unfortunately it was bombed during WWII and not rebuilt. A park stands there now. I already knew the nearby cemetry was virtually non-existent as there was no longer any German families to care for it, but was still pleasantly pleased by what we found. Yes, the gravestones had fallen and the whole area was covered in ivy. However it was a pleasant, quiet place, and a memorial had been recently placed there to commemorate the Germans who had been buried there. We will always wonder if any earlier generations of our family are buried there, but will never know for sure because of the lack of records.
We spent some time in the Catholic church, thanks to Magda who approached the priest to unlock the building for us. It is a beautiful building, and existed in the time of my ancestors. It is likely to have been a significant place for them.
After lunch Magda drove us to a nearby village to show us a church that had been built in the same style as the Evangelical church so we could see how it might have looked. She again sought out the local priest, and found a radical retired priest who apparently had written a book about his belief that original sin began with Cain rather than Adam and Eve. Interestingly the Catholic church was reluctant to publish it!
Magda returned us to Poznan where we shared a drink, and then dinner, and ended up chatting until 10pm. We really enjoyed talking with her, not only because of her genealogical knowledge, but to find out what life was like in a communist country (Magda was 17 in 1989, and well able to remember the things that happened). After 12 hours with Magda, I felt I had well and truely got my money’s worth, and then some. If you have ancestors who came from this region, I can highly recommend this organisation!