Your ancestors in Poland
Poland (officially The Republic of Poland) is a Country with a rich history. With a population of 38.5 million it is the sixth largest member of the European Union. Warsaw is the capital with other major cities including Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk and Szczecin. Wanting to trace your Polish ancestors? This blog will help you get started.
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The establishment of the Polish State can be traced to AD966. Mieszko I converted to Christianity as the ruler of a realm similar to the territory of the Poland today. The Kingdom of Poland was created in 1025, cementing a long standing political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1569. This association created one of the largest and most populous countries of the 16th and 17th C in Europe.
With the passing of prosperity the country was partitioned by neighbouring states at the end of the 18th C. It regained independence in 1918 following the Treaty of Versailles. It continued to reaffirm its independence most notably through the “Miracle at the Vistula”; a defeat of the Russian Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw. This is said to have halted the advance of communism into Europe and made Lenin reconsider his objective of achieving global socialism.
In September 1939 World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany. The Soviet Union followed within weeks and Poland was split into two zones, one occupied by Germany and one by Russia. Six million Polish citizens including 90% of the Country’s Jews perished in the War. Following World War II in 1947, the Polish People’s Republic was established as a satellite state under the Soviet Union. Following a revolution in 1989 Poland re-established itself as a democratic republic.
Poland is divided into 16 provinces (voivodeships) based on the country’s historic regions. Administration at this level is shared between a government-appointed governor (voivode), an elected regional assembly (sejmik) and a voivodeship marshal (an executive elected by that assembly). Voivodeships are subdivided into 380 counties (powiats) with these further divided into communes or municipalities (gminas).
Since the 11th C Poland has been predominently Roman Catholic. In 2014 it was estimated that 87% of the population belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. Religious minorities include Polish Orthodox, Protestant (including Lutherans, Pentecostals, Adventists and other smaller Evangelical denominations). Further minorities include Eastern Catholics, Mariavites, Jews and Muslims.
Source: Wikipedia, accessed 2019
Family History records are created and organised locally. Civil Registration (birth, marriage and death) are kept at a local level. Church records (christening/baptism, marriage and burial) are kept at a local level. Duplicates were sometimes sent to higher jurisdictions such as a diocese or voivodeship.
If you are unsure of your ancestors town in Poland follow the advice in the FamilySearch Wiki.
Births, marriages or deaths are civil records. Civil registration records (zapisy cywilne) are kept at the civil registration office, called urząd stanu cywilnego, abbreviated as USC.
The Church was involved with early civil registration records. This makes it difficult to distinguish between civil registration and church records.
In 1795 the old Kingdom of Poland was divided by neighbouring states (Russia, Austria and Prussia). Civil Registration coverage varied for each part of Poland controlled by these states.
Napoleon created a new Polish state in 1807 from territories previously seized by Prussia. In 1809 Napoleon’s forces won additional Polish territory from Austria. The enlarged Polish state was called the Duchy of Warsaw.
Civil registration of births, marriages, deaths, and sometimes of marriage intentions was initiated according to the Code of Napoleon in the territory of the Duchy of Warsaw on May 1st, 1808.
After the Russian government assumed control upon the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the practice of maintaining civil registration of births, marriages and deaths continued, even after Poland became an independent republic in 1918.
Civil registers in the Napoleonic format are found in all of Russian Poland, in Kraków and in parts of the Prussian province of Posen, which are all formerly part of the old Grand Duchy of Warsaw.
Catholic clergy were responsible for all civil registration from 1808 until 1825.
Beginning in 1826, Jews, Evangelical Lutherans, Protestants, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc. were allowed to maintain separate civil registers.
From 1826 on, civil records were once more church records in nature, but their form remained true to that of the Napoleonic Code.
From the beginning in 1808, the civil registers were kept in the Polish language. As of April 1868, they were required to be kept in Russian. In 1918, they were again kept in Polish.
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Austria took possession of the southern part of Poland in 1772. In 1784 Catholic parish registers were designated as state records and standardized Latin columnar forms were issued. Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic clergy were responsible for the registration of all vital records for all religions and recorded these in their parish registers.
Civil transcripts of these registers were prepared for state use. The church records therefore functioned as civil registration until 1918. Most are now in State Archives where many have been microfilmed.
In the former Austrian territories conventional civil registration began after the establishment of the Republic of Poland in 1918.
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Civil authorities in the German territories of Poland began registering births, marriages and deaths in 1874. People were required to report all births, marriages and deaths to a civil registrar (Standesamt).
From 1874 to 1918 all these records were kept in German. Some areas were annexed to Poland after World War I and then began using Polish. After 1945 all those areas were annexed and using Polish.
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Modern Civil Registration records over 100 years of age are supposed to be transferred from the USC office to the state archives. Poland has strict privacy laws and access to birth records is restricted up to 100 years and marriages and deaths up to 80 years.
A snapshot of a family, on one night of the year; the Census or population counts (lustrums; lustracji), household tax registers (rejestr podatkowy, 1675), Prussian population surveys (przegldy, 1789, 1793, 1797), municipal revisions (rewizja mieszka, 1619, 1765, 1792).
During the period of the First Republic, and thereafter, relatively complete population records were compiled at the occasion of tax collection. Tax registers are preserved within separate collections or included in, for example, judicial or municipal records.
The Russian area of Poland, called Kingdom of Poland, had a government statistical institution called the Statistical Department (Oddzia Statystyczny przy Wydziale Administracji Ogólnej) founded in 1847 to oversee the collection of statistical reports.
Austrian census counts were taken in 1770 and 1776. These lists were largely for military purposes. Specific dates of subsequent censuses up to the mid-1800s cannot be determined.
The first true census of Austrian territories was conducted in 1857. After this censuses were taken in 1869, 1880, 1890, 1900, and 1910.
The content of these various population surveys vary according to the census and its purpose. For example the census of 1793 for the region of South Prussia includes:
- names of adult males and widows
- number of people in each household
- no age
The census of 1790-1792 for areas of Pozna and Kraków includes school age children as well as adults with
- dates of birth
- marriage and
State archives preserve population records from the period from the end of the 18th C until the 20th C, as well as many censuses of the 19th and 20th centuries. These materials are usually preserved within the institutions that carried out the registration.
Check the main Archives of Ancient Documents [Archiwum Gówne Akt Dawnych – AGAD] in Warsaw. It is also worth checking the various district and municipal archives. These records have also been seen in the city archives of Pock and Kraków and probably exist in many other municipal archives.
Emigrants and Immigrants
Emigration (leaving) and Immigration (arriving) records tend to be passenger lists, permissions to emigrate or records of passports issued.
People emigrated from Poland to places such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France and South America beginning in the 1820s. Most early emigrants came from areas under Prussian (German) rule to the United States and to a lesser degree France. These included both ethnic Poles and ethnic Germans. The earliest emigrants from Russian-governed Poland were from the districts of Suwalki and Łomża. A great many of these people were Jewish.
Most later emigrants left from Austrian-governed southern Poland (Galicia) and Russian Poland, destined largely for the United States. From 1870–1914 3.6 million Poles left from the three empires that controlled Poland.
Parish Registers generally detail Baptism, Marriage and Burial. They may be used as an alternative or substitute for civil registration.
Generally Church records in Poland have been kept since the mid-1600s, although a few parishes have records dating from about 1548. The Catholic Church was the first to maintain vital records; Protestants followed soon after.
In 1704, following concerns about destruction, some parishes began making copies of their church books. Civil transcripts were made of most church records in Poland after the 1790s. These records were a form of civil registration and included non-Catholics entries. You could use these duplicates where available to supplement parish registers that are missing or illegible.
During Austrian Partition
Austria introduced laws in 1782 establishing Catholic priests as civil registrars. In 1784, an edict by the emperor Joseph II required the Catholic clergy to make civil transcripts of church records. Catholic parish registers were designated as state records and a standardized Latin columnar form was issued. The parish register thus became the official register of births, marriages and deaths. A duplicate was made for state purposes. Greek-Catholic and Roman-Catholic clergy were responsible for the registration of all vital records for all religions. Protestants were permitted to keep their own registers under the direction of the Catholic priest. Jews were allowed the same privilege in 1789. In the mid 1800s non-Catholics, including Jews and Protestants, were made responsible for their own vital records transcripts.
During Russian Partition
Napoleon established the Duchy of Warsaw in 1806. The French Empire introduced a system of civil transcripts under the control of the Catholic clergy. Most of the Duchy of Warsaw came under Russian administration after 1815. The Napoleonic practice of civil transcripts continued in areas governed by Russia until the creation of the new Polish Republic in 1918. Catholic clergy were responsible for recording all births, marriages, and deaths until 1826, when the non-Catholic community was allowed to keep its own separate official registers. After 1826, clergy of other religions (Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish) were required to maintain civil transcripts of their church record. These records are essentially civil transcripts of the various denominational registers, except in the case of Jews where these civil records were usually the only record kept. The early records were kept in Polish, but usually in Russian from 1868.
During Prussian Partition
Prussia gained a sizable portion of Poland until the settlement of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 reduced Prussia’s share. Church registration of births, marriages, and deaths was mandatory by Prussian law from the 1794-1874. Clergy were required to make exact records of births, marriages and deaths. For civil purposes the Prussian government required transcripts (duplicates) of the church record which were to be sent to local courts. In 1808 the practice was reinforced and expanded. In accordance with this law, Mennonites, Jews and others who did not keep christening registers had their births, deaths and marriages recorded by the Lutheran minister. The practice of civil transcripts was replaced by actual civil registration in 1874.
Original Catholic records are usually found in individual parish or diocesan archives. Protestant records are often in state archives; some are in the possession of Evangelical Church archives or officials. Civil transcripts are generally kept in the local civil registration offices (Urząd Stanu Ciwilnego) for 100 years; then they are transferred to state archives.
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Wikipeadia, accessed 2019
FamilySearch, accessed 2019
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