Haller's Army Recruitment Papers Indexing Project

by James J. Czuchra

There is a 'history' already written about the Haller's Army indexing project, but the author never bothered to interview any of the actual participants. This means some significant details were left out or included incorrect information. As the person who came to direct this project, let me tell you about it.

Edward Peckwas, then President of the Polish Genealogical Society (of America), was aware of the Haller's Army recruitment papers. At that time, Father Donald Bilinski was the curator of the Polish Museum of America (PMA). He would not let Ed have access to the papers for fear that a nonprofessional might disturb the state of the papers and mess them up. Prof. Hapak had been allowed to work with the papers but it is not known what or how much work was done with them. It appeared that maybe a hand printed card index was begun but had not gotten very far. By 1991, Krzystof Kamyszew had became curator and granted Ed access. That is when Ed showed the records to me. At that time, the materials were stored in bankers boxes on shelving in a narrow space occupied by miscellaneous stuff and the air conditioning unit for the library. These were tight quarters. There were books of forms A, B, and C as well as boxes of loose papers. The loose papers were roughly separated by the first letter of the surname but without any apparent order beyond that. Ed secured permission from Mr. Kamyszew to put the papers in strict alphabetical order. We started working at a table in the library. Our initial strategy was to file the records in their correct order as we went. This was time consuming and not very efficient. On another day, I adopted a strategy of further rough sorting into a series of smaller stacks. Not only was this quicker but also cut down on the amount of handling. The task required lots of space as sorting was done creating subgroups which were eventually merged. For example, "K" records were sorted into "KA", "KE", "KI", "KL", "KN", "KO", "KR", and "KU" piles. I used long strips of paper cut from exams I gave while teaching at Loyola University to create tabs with the piles' contents prominently written on them. These tabs served as section separators and an easy way to find an individual's papers as needed. Some of these strips can still be found in the collection. Each pile was similarly broken into smaller piles by the next letter and so on. When a pile was relatively thin, its content was then completely sorted in strict alphabetical order. Sorting was time consuming work and encroached on space needed by other patrons. Packing up each session at the end of the day also took time. Ed got permission from Mr. Kamyszew and cooperation from the PRCUA to conduct the sorting work in the basement of the PRCUA. We didn't have to be concerned about packing up each session but it was still very slow work. At the time, I was a faculty member of Loyola University of Chicago and based on my academic credentials, Ed secured permission for me to take a box of papers home and work on them at home. This was very efficient because I could work on them any time I had free. I could completely sort a box or two every week. Generally, I sat on my living room floor and sorted creating my subgroups while I watched television. The cooperation of the PMA continued even when Joanna Janowska became the curator.

Some boxes contained bound volumes of forms A, B, and C used by registrars at the recruiting centers. Each volume was about an inch thick and contained perforated sheets, all of the same kind of form. The form C volumes were longer and about the size of a ledger book. The registrar would complete an original form and a carbon copy. The original or the copy remained in the bound volume while the other copy was torn out at the perforations to become part of the recruit's record already sorted as described above. Form A included basic information about the recruit. Form B included a medical report on the recruit. Form C was the most genealogically significant form including the name and address of the recruit’s closest relative in the US and back in Poland. Each volume had a number. There were over 400 volumes. An inventory was prepared. It seemed logical to create an index of the records. The bound volumes of forms A and C contained typed indexes (example) pasted inside their front or back covers-- certainly a lot easier to read than handwritten information on the forms themselves if it happened to be a carbon copy. Who and when those volumes were indexed is not known. The pages were numbered at the top of each page and is the page referred to in the index. My plan was to index the records based on these already prepared indexes. I photocopied the index from each volume and took them home to begin the index. It occurred to me that many recruitment centers were not in Chicago and that regional Polish genealogical societies might like to participate in keying in information for their locality. Presidents of other societies were contacted in December 1992 and either volunteered themselves or found members to help out. Home computers in the early 1990s were not very standard with respect to the software they included but some sort of basic text entry program was usually available. After I mailed out copies of the typed indexes to the societies, they sent back a disk containing the text file they created using the format I asked for. The format used my q-encoding system to represent Polish letters with diacritical marks-- thus the Polish spelling was preserved. Here's an example of what was returned with "instructions" in red. On my end, I wrote a program to parse the text file for creating the database. To this day, I marvel at the level of cooperation I received from these societies and am grateful for their participation. Once the master index was completed, each society was sent a copy of the complete index on disk.

Form B books were not as numerous and not indexed. Most of the pages were poor quality carbon copies.

The PGSA Board could see that progress was being made on this project and agreed to provide a small honorarium to those who continued to work on the project and bring it to a conclusion. Sign in sheets with hours worked were maintained for that purpose. So now the index would help someone find a recruit in the bound volumes, but what about the loose papers that were sorted? A copy of the index was printed out in alphabetical order. It was divided up among several of us including Marty Mazurk and Harry Kurek. We went through the boxed sorted records and checked them against the print out. This helped us correct some misfiled papers but also added persons not already in the index. Notation was also made of which forms were available for each person. This was another "take home" project. The final index was created from the additions and corrections we made. While most recruits had a set of papers in the "loose paper" collection, I discovered (fall 2019) that they were left out of the index for some unknown reason (see below).

The LDS had been contacted about microfilming the Haller's Army records. They did an assessment and agreed they had genealogical value. A contract was signed. The photographer, Tim Portwood, who was part of the assessment team, noted that the bound volumes would not film well because they didn't lie flat. It would be best if the pages were not bound. We received permission from the curator to remove the staples from the volumes to prepare them for filming. Once the volumes were imaged, the plan was to restaple the volumes back together. It made no sense to restaple them until they were imaged. The photographer was working on other Cook County record projects at the time and didn't finish the job. The filming of Form A books started in early 1995 but was probably not completed (Only about half of the books appeared on film). I have not seen images of any of the Form C books. A preface on each Form A microfilm provides some background and acknowledgements to those who worked on the indexing/documentation preparation project. The LDS did digital imaging of the loose papers in 2005. I have not looked at all the images yet but there appears to be a missing section among the W's (Wisniewski through the beginning of Wojciechowski). As of fall 2019, I am working on reindexing the loose papers since many sets did not appear in the index (see comment above). Imaging imposed an order to the papers that "loose" doesn't have. That is, some sets were misfiled out of alphabetical order which would make them hard to locate. If the index says the record we want starts on image 643, that's where we will find it even if it's alphabetically out of order with respect to those names around it.

Last I knew, the records are now stored in smaller acid free archival boxes and have been relocated elsewhere in the Polish Museum.

The LDS is currently (August 2019) indexing the records. I offered them a copy of the index to save time but they rejected it. There are multiple reasons for the rejection, but the one I didn't like was the implication that their effort would be more accurate because they use an arbitrator to ensure accuracy. Their arbitrators are precisely why I stopped volunteering to index with them. They often use people who have no experience with Polish names so what they index is garbage and of little use to anyone.