One of the most frequently-asked questions in Polish genealogy groups on Facebook is, “Where can I find vital records—whether church books or civil registrations—for X parish or registry office?” There are really only four answers to this question: vital records might be at the parish, the diocesan archive, the regional state archive, or the local civil records office (urząd stanu cywilnego, or USC). The devil is in the details, however. Sometimes it’s difficult to ascertain precisely which books are held by a given repository, without a phone call or email to the repository. At other times, it’s much simpler, and one of the tools that makes life simple is the PRADZIAD database.
What is PRADZIAD?
PRADZIAD’s official name is Baza danych Program Rejestracji Akt Metrykalnych i Stanu Cywilnego, or The Program for the Registration of Records from Parish and Civil Registration Offices. The name is also something of a play on words, since “pradziad” is the Polish word for “great-grandfather,” and this database pertains specifically to metrical books and civil registers, which are the source of vital records. Although the database originally (prior to 2011) excluded information from some of the state archives (Lublin, Poznań), it presently contains information on the vital records holdings of all the Polish state archives, plus some additional archives:
- the Roman Catholic diocesan or archdiocesan archives in Łódź, Poznań, Płock, Szczecin, Warszawa-Praga, Włocławek, and Wrocław;
- the Książnicy Pomorskiej im. Stanisława Staszica w Szczecinie (the Stanisław Staszic Pomeranian Library in Szczecin);
- the records for the diocese of Pińsk held by the Archiwum Diecezjalnym w Drohiczynie (Roman Catholic diocesan archive in Drohiczyn);
- the Fundacji Kultury i Dziedzictwa Ormian Polskich (the Foundation of Culture and Heritage of Polish Armenians); and
- the “Zabużańskie archive,” which holds record books of the Jewish and Roman Catholic denominations that were formerly located in the Kresy (territories of Poland that became part of the USSR after 1944). The Zabużańskie books are currently stored at the Urząd Stanu Cywilnego m.st. Warszawy (Registry Office of the Capital City of Warsaw) but are gradually being transferred to the Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (Central Archive of Historical Records).
How Do I Search PRADZIAD?
The database can be searched quickly, easily, and with an English search interface, here. This same search screen is shown in Figure 1:
Figure 1: PRADZIAD search screen.
Although it’s pretty straightforward, there are a few things that are helpful to know in setting up a search.
- Diacritics are not required, so searching for “Lodz” will produce results for Łódź.
- The search term must be the name of the parish or registry office that served a village, not just the village name. If my ancestors were from Wola Koszucka, a village belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Kowalewo Opactwo, powiat słupecki (Słupca County), I must search for Kowalewo, not Wola Koszucka. Not sure how to find the parish? Use a gazetteer. A number of them are listed here.
- All other input boxes except for the place name are optional. I usually skip the box where it says, “enter the name of the commune on the territory of which the town searched for is located or the county on the territory of which it was located before the war” because it’s easier to refine the search in other ways. However, when searching for a common place name (e.g. Dąbrowa), it’s useful to utilize the drop-down menu in the next option, where it states, “select the name of the province within the 1975-1998 or 1918-1939 borders.” This will help narrow the search results. If the province in which the parish was located under the old administrative structure is not known, there’s a handy tool offered by the PTG (Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne) that can help. The PTG are the same folks who bring us Geneteka and Metryki and a whole host of other genealogical gems, and this particular tool is called the Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych (Catalog of Metrical Resources). The search page is shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Search interface for the Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych.
Diacritics are not required here, either, so I can search for “Dabrowa,” and find a list of all the parishes in Poland with “Dąbrowa” as part of the name (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Search results from the Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych for “Dabrowa.” Only the top 16 search results out of 42 are shown.
The column boxed in red, “stare,” indicates the former województwo (province) to which the parish was assigned during the period from 1975-1998. From this chart, it is apparent that the parish of Dąbrowa which is located in the present-day Mazowieckie province, was formerly within the Ciechanów province. When this information is added to the search screen in PRADZIAD, the search hits are reduced from 111 down to 12.
4. Additional options for limiting search results include specifying the religion, and specifying the type of document (birth, marriage, death, etc.) While I rarely use the latter option, there are definitely times when specifying the religion can be useful.
The Fine Print
As you will have guessed by now, this database does not offer any information on individuals. It’s not a nominal index like Geneteka where the name of an ancestor can be searched. This database will only provide information on the vital-records holdings of the state archives (and a few additional archives, as noted above) for a particular location. A lack of results in PRADZIAD, does not imply that all the vital records for that location were destroyed, as vital records may still be found in the diocesan archive, the parish itself, or the USC (which would typically have the most recent 100 years of civil registrations, which are protected by Polish privacy laws). PRADZIAD offers no information on collections other than metrical books—such as census records, population registers, business records, town records, maps, photographs, notarial records, court records, etc.—which might be available for a given town. These can be discovered through a search at Szukajwarchiwach instead, where results will include all the holdings of the state archives related to a particular search term, including metrical books, where applicable. (For more information on using Szukajwarchiwach, a tutorial is available here.) Finally, search results displayed at PRADZIAD will not offer any indication of which collections might be found online and which can only be obtained by other means. It’s up to the researcher to perform his own due diligence before writing to the archive to request a search. (Examples of sites which offer online scans of vital records from Polish parishes include Szukajwarchiwach, Genealogia w Archiwach, Metryki, GenBaza, FamilySearch, etc.)
So what’s the point in searching only in PRADZIAD, if Szukajwarchiwach offers more comprehensive search results? It may be nothing more than a matter of personal preference, but for a researcher who is focused on finding vital records, the search format may be a little easier, and the results may be a little less to wade through, when using PRADZIAD. More information about writing to archives in Poland and examples of using PRADZIAD can be found here. Happy researching!
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020