Overview of Vital Records in Poland, Part II: Practical Implications of Historical Practices

In my previous post, I gave an overview of the history of vital records in Poland.  Today I’d like to go into a little more detail about the implications of that history.   Originally I thought I’d offer some examples of vital records from the different partitions as well, but in the interests of keeping these individual blog posts to a reasonable length, I think I’ll break it down a bit further and include those additional examples and observations in a “Part III.”

1.  First, there is no single, centralized repository for vital records in Poland (or in any other country, for that matter).

It sure would be nice if there were, but just as in the U.S., where  you have to go to a town clerk’s office to find a civil marriage record, and a parish to find a church marriage record, the same is true in Poland — more or less. The lines get a bit blurred because of the role that church officials played in acting as civil registrars, so sometimes it’s not immediately apparent whether a given register is the original church register or a civil transcript.  It’s probably safe to say that the state archives have more civil records collections than they do church books, but the state archives do have plenty of original church books nonetheless, as you can see from this collection.  Theoretically, church records more than 100 years old are supposed to be transferred to the appropriate diocesan archive, just as their civil counterparts are supposed to be transferred from the registry office to the appropriate state archive.  However, some parishes choose not to comply with this, so it’s not uncommon to find parish priests with 300 years’ worth of vital records sitting in their office.

Because of this, you may have to get creative in order to get full coverage for your parish of interest, and check a variety of sources.  Some diocesan archives are more forthcoming than others about what their holdings include, and some parishes and diocesan archives aren’t very responsive to requests for records by mail, so I often find it’s most expeditious to hire a local researcher to investigate holdings and obtain records from parishes or archives.  For example, for my ancestral parish of Kołaczyce, records can be found in the parish, in the Archdiocesan Archive in Przemyśl, in the USC (civil registry office), and in the Sanok Branch of the Polish State Archive of Rzeszów (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Vital Records Coverage Table for Kołaczyce, Podkarpackie province, Poland

Repository Range of Years for Birth Records Range of Years for Marriage Records Range of Years for Death Records
Sanok Branch of the State Archive in Rzeszów

1900-1908

1871-1896

1863-1906

USC in Kołaczyce Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present
Archdiocesan Archive in Przemyśl 1746-1782; 1826-1889 1748-1779; 1826-1889 1762-1779; 1826-1889
St. Anne’s Church in Kołaczyce 1784-present 1784-present 1784-present

As you can see from this table, there’s quite a bit of overlap in the coverage, which is nice, but there are also a few gaps.  The Archdiocesan Archive’s collection only includes births through 1782, which suggests that birth records from 1783 are missing, since the parish collection of birth records begins in 1784.  Similarly, there’s a 4-year gap from 1780-1783 in both marriage records and death records.  It’s not clear why the State Archives have relatively few records and such a disparate range of years for the different vital events, but the fact that there’s so much overlap in coverage means that researchers interested in this parish won’t lack for material.

Coverage differs dramatically in different parts of Poland.  If you’re researching in Galicia, you’re lucky, because coverage there is generally good.  Researchers in Mazovia might have a different experience, however.  Figure 2 shows the coverage table for another one of my ancestral parishes, Młodzieszyn, in Sochaczew County.

Figure 2:  Vital Records Coverage Table for Młodzieszyn, Mazowieckie province, Poland

Repository Range of Years for Birth Records Range of Years for Marriage Records Range of Years for Death Records
Grodzisk Mazowiecki Branch of the State Archive in Warsaw  

1885-1912

 

1889-1911

 

1889-1901

USC in Młodzieszyn Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present
Diocesan Archive in Łowicz —- —- —-
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Młodzieszyn 1945 to present 1945 to present 1945 to present

This area suffered a great deal of damage during the Battle of the Bzura in 1939, and all the vital records from before 1885 were destroyed.  All of them.  Gone.  The point here is that your mileage may vary quite a bit when it comes to the availability of records for your ancestral parish of interest.  Records may exist dating back to the 1600s, or the only existing records may be relatively recent.

2.  The existence of separate record books for each village within a parish in Austrian Poland/Galicia means that you can search for individual village names in sites like Baza PRADZIAD and Szukajwarchiwach, rather than searching only under the parish name.

For example, the village of Nawsie, which belonged to the parish in Kołaczyce, has its own collection of birth records here (births from 1859-1900) at the State Archive Branch in Sanok.  As a corollary to this, since I know that my ancestors were from Kołaczyce, the other villages belonging to that parish would be the very next place I would look for records, if I could not find a record of a particular vital event in Kołaczyce itself.  Note that this is only true for villages and parishes that were within Austrian Poland/Galicia.  If I want to find records for the village of Wierzbno in Słupca County, Wielkopolskie province, which was in Russian Poland, I will not find them by searching under “Wierzbno” in Baza PRADZIAD, Szukajwarchiwach, or any other site which indexes or catalogues  Polish vital records.  Instead, I have to use a gazetteer to determine the parish, which is Kowalewo-Opactwo in this case.  Records from Russian Poland and Prussian Poland typically note the home village(s) of the key participants within each record, but all the records are bound in the same book.

3.  The existence of separate record books for each village within a parish in Austrian Poland means that you need to identify the present parish for the village, when requesting records from the parish itself.

As new parishes are created in Poland to serve the evolving needs of the community, parish borders change.  When a village that belonged previously to one parish is reassigned to a new parish, all the old record books for that village are transferred to the new parish.  As an example, my great-great-grandfather Andrzej Klaus was born in the village of Maniów in gmina Szczucin in the Małopolskie province in 1865.  At that time, Maniów belonged to St. Mary Magdalene parish in Szczucin, so that is the church in which he was baptized.  However, in 1981, a new parish  called Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and of the Rosary,was founded in the village of Borki,  and the village of Maniów was assigned to this new parish.  So when I visited Poland last summer, and wanted to see the original record book which contained Andrzej Klaus’s baptismal record, that book was in the shiny new parish in Borki rather than in the centuries-old parish in Szczucin.

Of course, in this case the problem is somewhat academic, because these records are also available on microfilm from the LDS.  However, it does frequently happen that the desired parish records that are not available online or on microfilm, and in that case, it is incumbent upon the researcher to determine the correct parish to write to before making an inquiry.

4. The fact that duplicate copies were created in every partition increases the likelihood that at least one copy survived.

There’s a pervasive myth out there that “all Polish records were destroyed in the wars” that often keeps people from even trying to find those records.  While it’s true that many records were destroyed, there are plenty of records that survived, and in some places, it’s possible to find both the civil and the church record for the same vital event.  As an example, Figure 3 shows the church version of the 1843 baptismal record for my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Krawczyńska,from the parish of Zagórów, in what is now the Wielkopolskie province, but was at the time part of Russian Poland.

Figure 3:  Baptismal record from Zagórów for Marianna Krawczyńska, born 1 February 1843.1film 2162127 item 2 record 31 page 226

The record is in Latin, in paragraph form, and it’s fairly brief.  It’s dated February 2, and in translation, it indicates that the same priest who was named in the preceding record baptized a female child named Marianna, born the previous day at 9:00 in the evening, daughter of Antoni Krawczyński and his lawful wife, Wiktoria Dęboska. (The spelling of Wiktoria’s surname is usually standardized to “Dębowska” in modern Polish.)  Godparents are also named.

In contrast, Marianna’s civil birth record2 includes quite a bit more information (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Civil birth record from Zagórów for Marianna  Krawczyńska, born 1 February 1843.2 maryanna-krawczynska-1843

The translation is as follows:  “It came to pass in the village of Zagórów on the 21st day of January /2nd day of February, at 3:00 in the afternoon.  He appeared: Antoni Krawczyński, shoemaker, of Zagórów residing, having 39 years of age, in the presence of Mikołaj Otto, shoemaker, age thirty, and Sylwester Bogusławski, farmer, age 41, both residing in Zagórów, and showed us a child of the female sex born in Zagórów in house number 113 (?), born yesterday at 9:00 in the evening of his wife, Wiktorya née Dęboska, age 37. To this child at Holy Baptism performed today, was given the name Maryanna, and her godparents were the aforementioned Mikołaj Otto and Antonina Bogusławska. All parties mentioned in this Act were of the Catholic religion. This act was read aloud to the declarant and witnesses, but signed by us only, because they do not know how to write. [signed] Fr. Mikołaj Wadowski, Pastor.”

Although the key facts are identical between these two records, the civil version includes the names, ages, occupations, and places of residence of two adult, male, legal witnesses in addition to the age, occupation, and place of residence of the father.  This particular record provides the address of the house where the child was born, although this information may be omitted, depending on the parish.  The use of double dates for both the date of baptism and the date of birth was required by the Russian authorities, and reflects the fact that Poland and Western Europe had adopted the Gregorian calendar, while Russia and Eastern Europe persisted in using the old Julian calendar.  The second date (Gregorian) is the one we use today.

This brings us to our next point:

5. Whenever both church and civil records exist for the same vital event, get both.  One may be more informative or accurate than the other.

In Russian Poland and Prussian Poland, the civil transcrips were created in parallel, at the same time as the church record.  So a record from the civil transcript (“Kopie księg metrykalnych”) is likely to be as accurate as one from the parish register, (“Księgi metrykalne”) though it might contain additional information, as shown with Figures 1 and 2.  However, one would predict that discrepancies between the church and civil records might occur somewhat more frequently with civil transcripts (“Kopie księg metrykalnych”) from Galicia, where church records were recopied at the end of the year.  If a discrepancy were found between the civil transcript and the parish register for a vital event from Galicia, I would be inclined to trust the parish register over the transcript.  In many cases, only one set of records (church or civil) is available, so you may not have the luxury of comparing the two.

6. If you’re looking for a relatively recent record, and the state archive does not have it, write to the USC for the township where the village is located.

As an example, my great-great-grandmother had a sister, Barbara Mikołajewska, who died in 1926 in Juliopol, gmina Młodzieszyn, Mazowieckie province.  Since her death occurred more than 80 years ago, it is classified as archival, and therefore anyone may request a copy whether or not they are a direct descendant.  However, If you check the holdings of the state archives (e.g. Baza PRADZIAD, as discussed previously) you see that the the local archive for Młodzieszyn, which is the Grodzisk Branch of the State Archive of Warsaw, only has death records for Młodzieszyn going up to 1901. Records from 1926 have not yet been transferred to the local state archive, so this particular record was still found in the USC for Młodzieszyn.  Tip:  USCs can be rather slow to respond to requests for records, especially if you don’t have an exact date for the event.  You may have better luck with hiring a local researcher to visit the USC in person to obtain records for you.

In the next post, I’ll provide some additional examples of vital records from all three partitions, as well as a few additional tips and observations.  In the meantime, happy researching!

Sources:

1Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1592-1964, 1843 #31 birth record for Marianna Krawczyńska, p. 226.; 2161271 Item 5.

2“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Zagórów (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), 1843, #31, birth record for Marianna Krawczyńska, accessed on 18 September 2016.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

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