The World Wide Web recently put me in touch with, of all things, my past.
I have long been interested in the "before time" of my family - that period predating my paternal grandfather's arrival in the United States from Poland. Like many, I have pursued genealogy in fits and starts, occasionally dusting off a manila folder full of scribbled notes and faded documents to see if I can flesh out my family's history a little more.
Inspiration came yet again when I stumbled upon a Web site for the Polish Genealogical Society. Here was everything I would need for researching my family's roots: books, names, dates, connections. All easily accessible from the comfort of my swivel chair. Was genealogy really supposed to be so easy? The computer seemed to make it more a hobby than a hunt.
It wasn't always so. In the heyday of my determination to learn everything I could about my family's story, I actually went to Poland - woefully underprepared - in 1985. Solidarity was then on the march, and the future of the Communist government was by no means assured. With just a name and the birth city of my Polish-born grandfather, I hopped a train in Berlin and headed east.
It is difficult to describe what I felt upon crossing the Oder into a land I had only imagined. There it was. Poland. Flat, green, and wooded, geographically open but politically closed. As I stared out the window of my compartment I watched, captivated, as serene nature was punctuated by one worn village after another: gray places saddened by decades of neglect.
I changed trains in Warsaw and headed southeast to Lublin, where my grandfather was born just before the turn of the century. There, I hoped, I would find some evidence of his early life, though I wasn't certain where I would begin to look.
As we pulled into the station, a distinguished-looking Polish man in my compartment ventured to ask me what I was about. When I mentioned my grandfather he looked out the window, considered for a moment, and then nodded. "There is no doubt," he assured me, "that your grandfather knew this station."