I made an extraordinary find in the Kutno archive—a map of Żychlin dating from 1869. I found reference to it in an article, but the archivists had a little difficulty locating it because it didn’t have an identification number (signatura). One archivist said something about it being so fragile they don’t show it. But another found it hanging on the wall and brought it out for me. The writing is in Russian. At that time, Żychlin was in the Russian partition of Poland. After the January Insurrection in 1863, the Russians mandated all public documents had to be in Russian, not Polish. That is why archival documents before the 1860s are in Polish while the later ones are mostly in Russian.

I don’t know what is written here–maybe a reader could translate it for me?


Map of Żychlin dated 1869

Properties are numbered on the map, but not by street address. That means the numbers are scattered throughout the city making it difficult to find particular locations. According to the Żychlin Books of Residents (Akta Miasta Żychlina, also in the archive), my Walfisz ancestors lived at various times at numbers 28, 53, and 63. My great grandmother Hinda Walfisz married my great grandfather Hiel Majer Piwko. I wrote about them in previous posts: Piwko Saga, The Photo, and Super Kosher Cookies and Sliced Ham.

The map is hard to read, patched, and creased. The cross-shaped church stands out in the top half. Below it is the market square, and #53 is in the row of buildings along its lower edge. #63 is further to the left, and #28 is on the street running down from the market square.Not surprisingly, these properties are all near the synagogue, which as best as I can tell is #86 on the map (a bit below #63).

I had already seen one Book of Residents in 2013, but in 2016 I found my great grandmother’s family listed in three others, as well. Since the books have been indexed, the archivist was able to tell me what page to look on. And even though these records are only a few years older than the map, they are in Polish. There is only one Walfisz family in the books (my great grandmother with her sisters and parents), but other more distant family names also appear: many Losmans, a couple of Kolskis, and one Jakubowicz. Each household has its own page in the book, but there can be several households in the same building. Because religion is one of the things recorded in the Books, I could see that it wasn’t uncommon for addresses with multiple households to include families of multiple faiths: some Catholic, some Jewish, some Evangelical.

I know this is just an old map, but being able to pore over it, to touch it, helped to transport me back in time, and to once again (for the first time?) connect with the place where I’m from. It doesn’t matter that I never actually lived there (nor did my mother nor even my grandmother). Some of my people did. Right there in that place. With this newfound knowledge, I drove back through Żychlin one more time, this time gazing at the buildings that once housed my family. It didn’t really matter that the buildings had changed, nor that I was still unsure how exactly the old building numbers match the contemporary ones. Once this was their home.