In my last post, I discussed some of the reasons why census records from Poland aren’t the first-stop, go-to source that they are for many of us when researching our ancestors in America. This is not to suggest that it’s not possible to find census records of one type or another for your ancestors in Poland, and as genealogists, we like to leave no stone unturned, gathering every bit of data we can about our ancestors. However, existing census records may not be indexed by surname, meaning that it will take more effort on the part of the researcher to find these records, since one might have to browse through them page by page. More importantly, there’s no single name under which census-type data will consistently appear, so researchers should try several different search terms. And as always, the most imporant consideration isn’t what the records are called or whether they’re indexed — it’s whether or not any have survived and are available for one’s town or village of interest.
So where can one find these records? Online sources are limited, but one developing resource is the Meldunkowe database hosted by the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne. Meldunkowe is a sister database to the popular databases Geneteka and Metryki, and at present, it only includes records for 37 locations, 31 of which are in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie province. There are an additional 3 sets of records from the Wielkopolskie province, as well as 3 more collections from a handful of parishes in Ukraine. Most of the records fall under the category of “Księgi Ludności Stałej” (“Books of the Permanent Population”), although a few other types of records (e.g. passport applications) are included as well. The collections from Ukraine are all parish census records. In some cases, indexes do exist for the Księgi Ludności Stałej — look for the word “skorowidz” (index) and brush up on reading your ancestors’ names in Cyrillic cursive, because many of these indexes (as well as the records themselves) are in Russian.
Another possible source for online census-type records is the old standby, Szukajwarchiwach. If you have never used this resource, it’s probably best to start with the quick tutorial offered here. There are a number of different ways to search for records. One might start with one’s town of interest with or without a keyword like “Spis” to help narrow the search results. Polish diacritics are not required with this site. Since you’re looking for census records, be sure that you don’t check the box for “vital records and civil registers” (old habits die hard….). As discussed previously, census-type records can be called by different names, e.g. “Księgi Ludności Stałej,” “Spis parafian,” “spis parafialny,” “Ewidencje Ludności,” “Regestr Ludonosci,” etc., so you might try searching using several different keywords. Keep in mind that there might be more than one place in Poland with the same name. For example, one of my ancestral villages is Zagórów in Słupca County, but a search for “zagorow spis” at Szukajwarchiwach includes a result for Spisy ludności województwa krakowskiego z lat 1790-1791: II. Parafie powiatu krakowskiego na litery A-K which translates as, “Censuses of Kraków province for the years 1790-1791: Parishes in Kraków County beginning with letters A-K.” The “scope and content” for this particular unit names the villages belonging to each parish covered by the census, and one of those villages is Zagórowa in Olkusz County — not my place of interest at all.
Polish Digital Libraries
You might be lucky enough to find some census records for your town of interest at one of the Polish digital libraries. This search engine for the Federacja Bibliotek Cyfrowych (FBC, Federation of Digital Libraries) can be used to search the holdings of a number of different Polish libraries and archives simultaneously. Another good search engine for digital libraries is Europeana. As the name suggests, it includes results from digital libraries all over Europe. It should be noted that Europeana taps into FBC, so search results for Polish census records might not vary too much between the two sites. Again, searches should be conducted with a variety of search terms for best results, and again, both of these search engines are forgiving when it comes to Polish diacritics, so a search for “Mlodzieszyn” will return the same results as one for “Młodzieszyn.” Be aware that many European digital libraries utilize the “DjVu” file format, which is similar to PDF. You will need to have a DjVu reader installed on your computer, however, which you can download here.
3 May 2020 Update: Earlier this year, the baza.archiwa.gov.pl site which permitted searching in the ELA database was shut down. Consequently, the original links in this section are no longer working. Searching must be done through Szukajwarchiwach.
As with any type of records, census records available online represent only the tip of the iceberg for what’s out available. If you don’t mind paying the archives or a researcher in Poland to access records for you, there is an entire database in the Polish State Archives for census records. It’s called Baza ELA, and you can search it here. ELA is an acronym for Ewidencje Ludności w Archiwaliach, “Population Registers in Archival Material.” A detailed list of the types of records found in this database is provided along with the acronyms and abbreviations that will help you interpret your search results. (Hint: Copy and paste into Google Translate, or use Chrome as your browser and right-click on the page to translate to English.) Many of these records tend to be from the early 20th-century, rather than the 19th century, but you might find something of interest. For example, I have ancestors from Sochaczew county, and a quick search on “Sochaczew” resulted in a potentially enlightening document from 1892 entitled, “spis cudzoziemców zamieszkałych w pow.sochaczewskim,” or “List of Foreigners Residing in Sochaczew County.” Documents like this are a bit of a gamble — they could provide critical clues, or they might be worthless to my research. If I had reason to suspect that my family moved to Sochaczew from, say, Prussian Poland circa 1892, something like this could be very important, especially if it included details about where the “foreigners” lived previously. But given that time and money are limited resources for all of us, it’s up to each researcher to decide if his research dollars are best spent investigating a document like this one, versus (for example) obtaining vital records from a parish of interest whose records are not available online or on microfilm. Note that if you do find something of interest in the ELA database, you should double check to see if it’s online at Szukajwarchiwach before requesting anything from the archive or hiring a researcher.
Finally, you might get lucky and find census records for your parish of interest via a Google (or Google.pl) search. Occasionally individual researchers will create online databases for census records that they’ve obtained personally. One good example of this is Debbie Greenlee’s database of Spis Parafialny records from Bukowsko parish in Sanok County. Over time there might be more websites like this cropping up (hey, a girl can dream….), so it never hurts to give Google a try.
So there you have it, my friends: five quick and easy places to mine for those nuggets of genealogical gold for your ancestors in Poland. Polish census records might not be your fall-back when you can’t find great-uncle Jan’s baptismal record in the same parish were all his siblings were baptized, but they can still provide valuable insights into the lives of your ancestors, and they’re worth seeking out. Until next time, happy researching!
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016