I have just recently returned from Poland from an archive Research trip for my employment thinking I was completely prepared, I must admit, you can NEVER be too prepared. Appointments were made with each of the archives and “Fond” numbers were emailed to them with records I had hoped to use. Fond numbers were found on their respective on-line websites.
When I arrived I had a copy of the information that I had sent to the first archive that I went to. This was an archive in Gliwice, Poland. Several archives were expecting me and had prepared materials I would need. I received packets for each of the Fond numbers I requested. I assumed that these were the actual records, however, they were the indexes for each of the individual fonds that I had requested. Within each fond (record group) there were numerous entries in the indexes called “Sygnatures”. The next step was to choose the sygnature within the Fond record group that I would like to see. THERE WERE MANY! Each fond index could be quite lengthy. For one particular fond that I requested the index stood about 9-10 inches high. This was the Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen collection housed in Katowice State Archives. Just looking at the index to choose the items I wanted was a really big project in and of itself. I did not find these sygnature indexes on the on-line catalogs or perhaps was not aware of them before going there and also didn't know how to search for them if they were there. Because I never saw any of these indexes.
In many state archives there are specific times when book orders need to be submitted during the day. These requests are gathered from the patrons and completed at the same time. In some archives, materials were off-site and brought in at various set times throughout the day. Therefore, the more precise the information that you have, the less down-time you will have waiting for materials you need.
It was most helpful to have my friend, Danuta who serves as my interpreter, with me to fill out the many forms. When you arrive, you must first fill out a personal information form which was in the Polish language. The two-sided form required my passport number, name, address, purpose of research, sometimes place of work with a letter of introduction stating the purpose of your research from your employer. This form was valid for one year at that archive only. Each state archive had the same form and had to be filled out at each one. Wish I could have xeroxed the first one and saved a little time!
The next form was a smaller sheet of paper which would later be cut in two. The top portion remained with the archive and the bottom was used to retrieve the book. Top and bottom both required the same information which was fond number, sygnature, name, date of order and return, comments, and page number, if known. Each item ordered needed to have this request form completed. After receiving the books you requested, there was another form in front of each book that required name, date, and the purpose of your request.
If you were using books that hadn’t been used previously, often the archive worker would have to number the pages prior to your receiving the book and also place the check-out form in the front of the book, where they would add the title and number. For each copy requested, another form was filled. Copies in most archives I went to were not allowed until after manager approval according to the physical condition of the materials requested. This usually takes several weeks. Copies can be digitized to CD. This, of course, will save shipping expenses. I ordered so many copies. I sure hope I will be getting them! There were some great samples that I requested and they will be a great help with my work at the Library.
A concern amongst researchers in Polish archives is a book limit restriction of 5 books per day. This can be a problem for those with little time and traveling from far away, like myself. To you I advise that you should contact your archive of interest, send them your requests and ask about this. If you take a friend, spouse, or or other family member, you probably will get 5 books each. In the case of Danuta and I, we didn't have too much difficulty receiving the books I requested. Maybe I was just lucky! Although all the archives that I visited were state archives, they seemed to each run things a bit differently than the other. So it is a good idea to contact them. However, the forms were the same in each one.
Another tip to Poland travelers and those going to hotels and archives, don't leave your passport at your "base location". I had thought about doing that and leaving mine in my friend's home in Warsaw. But I am so glad I thought better of it, because I needed it everywhere I went.