In my previous two posts, I gave some historical background about the evolution of vital records keeping in Poland, and about the implications of those practices for researchers today, seeking records of their ancestors. Today, I’d like to provide some examples of the kinds of records you might expect to see from the various partitions and from different time periods, to give you an idea of what you might expect to encounter in your own research.
Examples from Prussian Poland
I’ll start off with a couple of examples from the Prussian partition, and a little confession: Although my husband has ancestors from Prussian Poland, and although I have every intention of researching those ancestors at some point, I haven’t done much research in this area yet. Therefore, I don’t have a huge wealth of examples to offer, but here are a couple. Figure 1 shows a Catholic baptismal record from 1858 for Stanislaus (Stanisław in Polish) Lewandoski,1 also known as Edward Levanduski, my husband’s great-great-grandfather, about whom I wrote previously.
Figure 1: Baptismal record from Gąsawa parish for Stanislaus Lewandoski [sic], born 29 October 1859.1
The record is in columnar form, and column headings, from left to right, tell us the number of the birth record, the year, day and month of the birth, the place of birth, date of baptism and child’s name, the name of the priest who baptized the child, the parents’ names, father’s occupation, and then additional information on godparents’ names (cut off in this image). The record is written in Latin. Unfortunately, no information is given on the parents’ ages.
Figures 2a and 2b show a civil marriage record from Kucharki from 1890 for my husband’s great-great-grandparents, Augustyn and Agnieszka Drajem.2
Figure 2a: Civil marriage record from Kucharki for August Drajem and Agnieszka Jamrozik, 1 February 1890, p. 1.2
Figure 2b: Civil marriage record from Kucharki for August Drajem and Agnieszka Jamrozik, 1 February 1890, p. 2.2
As we would expect, the record is in German, and the translation, kindly provided by Johann Kargl in the Facebook group “Genealogy Translations,” is as follows:
“Kucharki 1st February 1890
1. Before the undersigned registrar appeared the farm servant August Draheim, personally known, Catholic, born on 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno, living in Kucharki, son of the deceased master tailor Josef Draheim and his wife Marianne, nee Kaszynska, living in America
2. the unmarried maiden Agnes Jamrozik, personally known, Catholic, born on 9 January 1865 in Kucharki, county Kleschen, living in Kucharki, daughter of the innkeeper Johann Jamrozik and his wife Rosalie, nee Juszczak, living in Kucharki.
As witnesses appeared:
3. The innkeeper Jakob Tomalak, personally known, 60 yers old, living in Kucharki
4. the innkeeper Adalbert (Wojciech) Szlachetka, personally known, 48 years old, living in Kucharki
read, approved and signed
August Draheim Agnieszka Draheim, nee Jamrozik
Kucharki, 8 February 1890
Notice that the record was created on a fill-in-the-blank form, with all the standard boilerplate text preprinted, so translating these civil records becomes a matter of learning to read a relatively small amount of German script. In contrast to the brief church book entry, this record contains a lot of wonderful genealogical details, including the precise birthdate and birth place of the bride and groom, occupations and ages of the witnesses, and more.
For those of you who might be panicking and thinking, “But I can’t read German!” help is on the way. The very best translation guides that I have found for genealogy are written by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman. Their “In Their Words” series of genealogical translation guides encompasses 3 volumes to date, Volume I: Polish, Volume II: Russian, and Volume III: Latin. Volume IV: German is currently in the works and will hopefully be out very soon. I cannot praise these books highly enough. These are the books that are constantly lying around the house, never making it back to the bookshelf, because I’m always referring to one or another of them for something. I can’t wait for their German book to be published so I can learn to read these records for myself. In the meantime, there’s always the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook, if you (or I) need assistance.
Examples from Russian Poland
In Russian Poland, the standard Napoleonic format existed from 1808-1825, followed by a modified format that was used from 1826 through the 20th century. So a civil death record from 1936 (Figure 3) looks much the same as a civil death record from 1838 (Figure 4).
Figure 3: Death record from Budy Stare for Marianna Zielińska who died 4 April 1936.3
Translation: “Budy Stare. It happened in Młodzieszyn on the 4th day of April 1936 at 8:00 in the morning. They appeared, Stanisław Wilanowski, age 40, farmer of Mistrzewice, and Kazimierz Tomczak, farmer of Juliopol, age 26, and stated that, on this day today, at 5:00 in the morning, in Budy Stare, died Marianna née Kalota Zielińska, widow, age 79, born and residing with her sister in Budy Stare, daughter of the late Roch and Agata née Kurowska, farmers. After visual confirmation of the death of Marianna Zielińska, this document was read aloud to the witnesses but signed only by us. Pastor of the parish of Młodzieszyn actiing as Civil Registrar.”
Figure 4: Death record from Kowalewo-Opactwo for Wojciech Grzeszkiewicz [aka Grzesiak], who died 25 April 1838.4
Translation: “Kowalewo. It happened in the village of Kowalewo on the 15th/27th day of April 1838 at 10:00 in the morning. They appeared, Stanisław Grzeszkiewicz, shepherd, age 31, father of the deceased, and Jan Radziejewski, land-owning farmer, age 40, both of Kowalewo, and stated to us that, on the 13th/25th of the current month and year, at 4:00 in the afternoon, died in Kowalewo, likewise born there in house number two, Wojciech Grzeszkiewicz, son of the aforementioned Stanisław and Jadwiga née Dąbrowska, having one year of age. All persons mentioned in this Act are of the Catholic religion. After visual confirmation of the death of Wojciech, this document was read aloud to the witnesses and was signed.”
Since records from all villages within a parish were kept in the same book in Russian Poland, we see the name of the village where the event took place inscribed in the margin, next to the record number. So in Figure 4, the death occurred in Budy Stare, but was recorded by the priest in the Catholic parish in Młodzieszyn. When you compare the translations of these two records, you see that there’s not much difference in the format. It’s pretty stable across 102 years and 120 miles in these examples. That’s even true during the period from about 1868 until 1918, when records from Russian Poland were required to be kept in Russian. Take a look at this death record from Mistrzewice in 1897, for my 3x-great-grandmother, Antonina (née Ciećwierz) Grzegorek (Figure 5):5
Figure 5: Death record from Mistrzewice for Antonina Grzegorek, who died 21 March 1897.5
Translation: “Mistrzewice. It happened in the village of Mistrzewice on the 11th/23rd day of March 1897th year at 12:00 at noon. They appeared, Józef Grzegorek, farmer, age 47, and Wawrzyniec Wilanowski, farmer, age 38, residents of Mistrzewice, and stated that, on the 9th/21st day of March of the present year, at 1:00 am [literally, “in the first hour of the night”], died in the village of Mistrzewice, Antonina Grzegorek, farm wife, age 59, born in Mistrzewice, daughter of Jan and Katarzyna, the spouses Ciećwierz. She leaves after herself her widower husband, Ludwik Grzegorek, residing in the village of Mistrzewice. After visual confirmation of the death of Antonina Grzegorek, this document was read aloud to those present and was signed.”
The style of this record is very much the same as in the previous examples. This is good news for those who are interested in learning to translate vital records, and it suggests a potential research strategy: If the prospect of translating Russian records is intimidating, try to trace back before 1868, and work on the records written in Polish first. This worked really well for me. My first foray into vital records from Poland occurred when I began researching the family of my great-grandmother Weronika Grzesiak. She was born in 1876 in a village within Russian Poland, so her birth record was written in Russian, along with the birth records for most of her siblings. I took one look at the page and thought it was hopeless. However, I knew her parents were married about 1865, back when the records were still written in Polish. I decided to look for their marriage record first, and then research earlier generations of the family tree. Starting out with those Polish records gave me a chance to familiarize myself with the grammatical structure of Slavic languages and the format of the vital records, and eventually I gained enough confidence to tackle that Russian cursive.
There are some good translations aids out there, some of which I shared previously. However, if you’re going to get serious about learning to translate Polish and Russian vital records comfortably, then you really need to get copies of Shea and Hoffman’s translation guides that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I know quite a few people — native English speakers — who never studied Polish or Russian formally, but have nonetheless taught themselves to read vital records in those languages, and it’s thanks to Shea and Hoffman.
Examples from Austrian Poland
In contrast to the relatively stable format found in records from Russian Poland, Austrian records seem to become progressively more informative throughout the 19th century, to a greater extent than is true for the other partitions. In this first example (Figure 6) from 1843, we see the typical columnar format that was prescribed for both church and civil records at this time:6
Figure 6: Marriage record from Kołaczyce for Franciszek Łącki and Magdalena Bulgewiczowa, 3 August 1834.6
Column headings, from left to right, tell us the month and date of the wedding, the house numbers of the bride and groom and who is moving in with whom. In this case, “de 33 ad 84” suggests that after the marriage, the groom will be moving from his house, number 33, to the bride’s house, number 84. The groom’s name and occupation (“figulus,” i.e. potter) is given, and check marks in the appropriate columns tell us that he was Catholic and a widower. The “Aetas” column tells us that he was 46 years old. Similarly, the bride was a 35-year-old Catholic widow named Magdalena Bulgewicz, widow of the late Dominik. Although the standard nominative form of Magdalena’s married name was Bulgewicz, the form used here, “Bulgewiczowa,” describes a married woman of the Bulgewicz family. Her maiden name is not provided. Additional information includes the names and social position of the witnesses, and the name of the priest who performed the marriage.
In contrast, this slightly later record from 18617 in the same parish (Figure 7) includes all the same information as the earlier record, but also includes the names of the parents of the bride and groom (boxed in red) and provides a bit of a description about them (“oppidario,” meaning “townsperson”).
Figure 7: Marriage record from Kołaczyce for Jakub Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz, 26 November 1861.7
Disappointingly, this early marriage record from Kołaczyce from 17507 (Figure 8) shows relatively little information.
Figure 8: Marriage record from Kołaczyce for Stanisław Niegos and Teresa Szaynowszczonka.8
In translation, this reads, “On this same day, I who am named above, blessed and confirmed a marriage contract between Stanislaus Niegos and Teresa Szaynowszczonka, having been preceded by three banns and with no canonical impediments standing in the way, in the presence of witnesses Casimir Rączka and Joannes Dystanowicz, all of Kołaczyce.” The form of the bride’s name used here, “Szaynowszczonka,” indicates an unmarried woman of the Szaynowski family, which would be rendered “Szajnowska” in modern Polish.
It helps to remember that this record predates the requirement for church records to perform double-duty as civil records for the Austrian authorities. Therefore, the priest’s only purpose in keeping it was to fulfill the obligations imposed upon him by the Roman Ritual. Since the Church had no interest in the addresses, ages, or occupations of the individuals mentioned in the record, that kind of information does not appear. In any case, finding a marriage record from 1750 for one’s Polish ancestors is actually pretty respectable, which brings us to my next point.
A Word About Early Records…..
Don’t expect too much from early records, and by “early,” I’m referring to Polish vital records for peasants, late-1600s to about 1750 records. As is evident from the history, recognition of the importance of vital records developed gradually. Perhaps this is why I have frequently found church records to be somewhat “spotty” in the late 1600s and early-to-mid 1700s. By “spotty,” I mean that records that “ought” to be found in a particular parish in a given year just aren’t there. It’s impossible to say for certain why this is, and in some of these cases, the event may have occurred in Parish B, despite evidence from other documents stating that it occured in Parish A. But for whatever reason, it seems that priests became more conscientious about over time, as their responsibilities as record-keepers for the civilian authorities increased. If you’re able to locate those early vital records, that’s a victory, but understand that there’s a chance the record will just not be there.
Poland’s complicated geopolitical history is reflected in her record-keeping practices, which can be confusing to the uninitiated. The different languages in which the records are kept might be challenging, too. However, the payoff comes in the satisfaction of being able to locate and read your ancestors’ story for yourself, as preserved by their paper trail. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the history of Polish vital records, with some examples from each partition. As always, I welcome feedback, including observations and insights based on your own research, so feel free to leave a note in the comments. Happy researching!
1 Roman Catholic Church, Gąsawa parish (Gąsawa, Żnin, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1782-1960, Akta urodzeń 1847-1860, 1859, births, #73, record for Stanislaus Lewandoski.; 1191249 Items 1-3.
2 “Urzad Stanu Cywilnego Kucharki,” Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), Akta malzenstw 1874-1909, 1890, #13, marriage record for August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik, accessed on 1 October 2016.
3 Urząd stanu cywilnego gminy Młodzieszyn, Sochaczewski, Mazowieckie, Poland, 1936, #16, death certificate for Marianna Zielińska.
4 “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),” Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), 1838, Zgony, #5, record for Wojciech Grzeszkiewicz, accessed on 1 October 2016.
5 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie, ” Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: Projekt Indeksacji Metryk Parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1897, Zgony, #3, record for Antonina Grzegorek. Accessed on 1 October 2016.
6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Śluby, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1834, record for Franciscus Łącki and Magdalena Bulgewiczowa, Archiwum Archidecezjalne w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Poland.
7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Śluby, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1861, #11, marriage record for Jacobus Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz, Archiwum Archidecezjalne w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Poland.
8 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anne’s parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Księga małżeństw parafii Kołaczyce 1748 – 1779,” 1750, marriage record for Stanislaus Niegos and Teresia Szaynoszczonka, Archiwum Archidecezjalne w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Poland.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016