50+ Useful Websites for Polish Genealogy

“Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens….”  Like Maria in The Sound of Music, we all have lists of our favorite things.  For me, there are quite a few Polish genealogy websites that are on my list of favorite things.  With that in mind, and with Christmas right around the corner, here are some of my favorite online resources for Polish genealogy.  Some of these bear futher mention in future blog posts, and I’ll probably get around to discussing them in greater detail at some point.  For now, give it a look, maybe you’ll find something new that will help with your research. (And in case you were wondering, I’m calling it “50+” because some of the links are to related sites, so number them as you wish.) Happy hunting!

Maps, Phonetic Gazetteers, and Period Gazetteers:                            

Jewish Gen Gazetteer (www.jewishgen.org/communities/loctown.asp):

  • An indispensable Soundex-type (phonetic) gazetteer for identifying villages for which the name is spelled incorrectly on a U.S. document. For more hits, try using the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, rather than Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching.

Kresy Gazetteer (http://www.kami.net.pl/kresy/):

  • This is a fantastic site for determining parish for villages in the eastern border regions (Kresy) that formerly belonged to Poland (Second Polish Republic) but are now located in western Ukraine, western Belarus, and southeastern Lithuania.
  • Soundex-style allows you to search without knowing the exact spelling of the place name, if you select “similar” (Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex) or “rough” as your search method.

Mapa.szukacz.pl (http://mapa.szukacz.pl/):

  • Does not show parish for a village, but does show current administrative divisions including the gmina (useful if you want to write to the USC for a record less than 100 years old).
  • Only shows villages within current borders of Poland.
  • Polish diacritics don’t matter (i.e. a search for “lodz” will give you “Łódź”.)
  • Advanced search allows you to search within a specific Voivodeship; useful when searching for places like “Nowa Wieś.”

Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/Slownik_geograficzny/):

  • Coverage includes all localities in the former Polish provinces of Russia, most localities in the former Austrian province of Galicia (now divided between Poland and the Ukraine), Belorussian provinces of the Russian Empire (now in the Republic of Belarus), and also contains significant localities in other Slavic and eastern European nations; Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. While the information is a bit less comprehensive, localities from the provinces of Poznan, West Prussia, East Prussia, Silesia, and Pomerania are also covered.
  • Published between 1880-1902 in 15 volumes.
  • Contains information on parishes, history, population, etc.
  • Abbreviations are common; assistance can be found at PGSA website (below)
  • Must use proper Polish diacritics (i.e. a search for “lodz” will yield no result, but a search for “Łódź” will give multiple hits)

PGSA Translated Słownik geograficzny entries (http://pgsa.org/polish-history/translated-descriptions-of-polish-villages-and-provinces/ and related pages, http://pgsa.org/polish-history/translated-descriptions-of-polish-villages-and-provinces/glossary-of-unfamiliar-terms/, etc.:

  • Defines abbreviations and explains historical context for Słownik entries; also offers English translations for a limited number of villages.

Polish Roots Translated SGKP entries (http://www.polishroots.org/GeographyMaps/S%C5%82ownikGeograficzny/tabid/61/Default.aspx):

  • Similar to the above site, but different coverage.

Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego (https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra/publication/11404/edition/10794/content?ref=desc for Volume 1 and https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra/show-content/publication/edition/10795?id=10795 for Volume 2):

  • Will need to install a Deja Vu reader onto your computer to read these files. Follow instructions at website for downloading (the site will prompt you) or you can download it here.  Running the most current version of Java is also important. Easy-to-read, tabular format shows name of village, gubernia/governate, powiat/county, gmina/township, parafia/parish, as well as sąd pokoju/courthouse, and poczta/post office.
  • Published in 1877.
  • Includes only the Kingdom of Poland (Congress Poland, or “Russian Poland”) – not Galicia or Prussian Poland.

Tabella of the Kingdom of Poland (Tabella miast, wsi, osad Królestwa Polskiego z wyrażeniem ich położenia i ludności alfabetycznie ułożona w Biórze Kommissyi Rządowey Spraw Wewnętrznych i Policyi; Volume 1:  http://bc.wbp.lublin.pl/dlibra/docmetadata?id=7612&from=pubstats and Volume 2: http://www.wbc.poznan.pl/dlibra/doccontent?id=110117)

  • The Tabella is similar to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego in that it covers the same territory (Russian Poland). However, it was published 50 years earlier, in 1827, so may be of value if you need to focus on that earlier time period.

Kartenmeister (http://www.kartenmeister.com/preview/databaseuwe.asp):

  • Includes Eastprussia, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia.
  • Flexible search parameters; can search by German or Polish name of village, or use other methods.
  • Catholic or Evangelical parish for the village is usually included in search results.

Gesher Galicia Town Locator (http://www.geshergalicia.org/galician-town-locator/):

  • If you’ve got the correct spelling of a town, this is a great resource because it includes places of worship for people from all towns and villages in Galicia as of 1900.

Genealogische Orts-Verzeichnis (GOV), The Historic Gazetteer (http://gov.genealogy.net/search/index):

  • This German-language database includes locations around the world. It searches for the character string typed in the search box (truncate by leaving off as many letters as desired). The results list includes the type of location, the higher level jurisdictions, and the current postal code, and includes links to additional articles about this place for further reading.

Meyers gazetteer (https://www.meyersgaz.org/):

  • This is an online, searchable version of the popular Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs The goal of the Meyer’s compilers was to list every place name in the German Empire (1871-1918). It gives the location, i.e. the state and other jurisdictions, where the civil registry office was and parishes if that town had them. It also gives lots of other information about each place. Click the “Ecclesiastical” link in the menu bar at the top to see the distance in miles from the target location to the nearest Catholic, Protestant and Jewish places of worship.

Brian Lenius’s Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia (http://www.lenius.ca/gazetteerorder/gazetteerorderform.htm ):

  • Not an online resource, but this gazetteer is available in print from the author, and is considered to be a superlative resource for those with ancestors from Galicia.

Bigo’s Skorowidz of Galicia, 1914 (Najnowszy skorowidz wszystkich miejscowości z przysiółkami w Królestwie Galicyi, Wielkiem Księstwie Krakowskiem i Księstwie Bukowińskiem z uwzględnieniem wszystkich dotąd zaszłych zmian terytoryalnych kraju) (https://www.pbc.rzeszow.pl/dlibra/publication/5332/edition/4909/content?ref=desc):

  • Like the Skorowidz of 1877, you need a Deja Vu reader to view these files.
  • Tabular format includes columns for village name, the county and district council, district court and tax office, parish office, population, post office, klm distance (from the post office), telegraph office, klm distance (from the telegraph office), and the owner of the “Major estate” in a village, as opposed to the owners of the “minor estates” (commoners).
  • Roman Catholic parishes are distinguished from Greek Catholic by the use of “ł” (abbreviation for “łaciński,”) or “gr” (abbreviation for “grecki”) next to the name of the parish that served that locality. The word “loco” means that there was a parish within that location.

Index of Place Names in the Republic of Poland (Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) (http://www.wbc.poznan.pl/dlibra/docmetadata?id=12786&from=publication ):

  • Like the Skorowidz of 1877, you need a Deja Vu reader to view these files.
  • Published circa 1933, it covers locations that were within the borders of the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939).
  • Tabular format again, includes villages in the eastern border regions (Kresy) that formerly belonged to Poland but are now located in western Ukraine, western Belarus, and southeastern Lithuania.

3rd Military Mapping Survey of Austria-Hungary (http://lazarus.elte.hu/hun/digkonyv/topo/3felmeres.htm):

  • Contrary to what the name suggests, maps include places that were in Russian Poland and Prussian Poland.
  • Individual maps can be downloaded by right-clicking on them.
  • 1:200,000 scale resolution shows most small villages.
  • Place names may be in Polish or German.
  • Does not cover the northern third (approximately) of modern Poland.

Map Archive of Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny 1919 – 1939 (http://www.mapywig.org/):

  • Mapywig is a treasure-trove of maps in a variety of different scales, time periods, and resolutions.
  • Maps might be in Polish, German or Russian.
  • An overview (in English) can be found here.
  • Clicking on a map quadrant in the index will take you to a page showing all the maps available for that quadrant, which vary in resolution and date of map.
  • Offers full coverage of northern Poland, unlike the maps at the Lazarus site (above).

Mapire:  Historical Maps of the Hapsburg Empire (http://mapire.eu/en/):

  • This is a really fun site if you have ancestors from Galicia.  It includes maps from the first, second and third military surveys of the Austrian Empire and allows you to overlay these maps with modern maps and vary the transparency between the two.

Sources for locating vital records in Poland:

Note:  Sites marked with * are primary sources, at which actual images of the records can be obtained.  Sites marked with § are indexes for records; copies of the records themselves must be obtained from another source.

*LDS FHL microfilms (https://familysearch.org/catalog-search):

  • Not an online source for records, but all researchers should be aware of this option nonetheless. Check back regularly — the FHL has been digitizing more and more of their microfilms and changes are NOT reflected on their “Poland Research” page (below). You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that some of your favorite microfilms are now online.

*§Family Search digitized or indexed collections for Poland: (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/location/1927187):

  • Collections exist for Roman Catholic dioceses of Lublin, Radom, Częstochowa, and Gliwice, with images; index-only records exist for the Diocese of Tarnów.  There’s also a collection of curiously-named “Evangelical” Church records. 1700-2005, that not only includes Baptist and Lutheran records but also Greek Catholic records from Sulmice in the Lublin province.

*Szukajwarchiwach, “Search the Archives” (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/):

  • Use proper Polish diacritics for best results.  Often you’ll get results without them, and it may be an old bug that has since been fixed, but if you get no results without diacritics, repeat the search with them.
  • For best results, search according to parish or gmina name rather than village name. The exception for this is for records from Galicia/Austrian Poland, where separate books were kept for each village within a parish, so you may find villages indexed individually.
  • Check box for “Vital records and civil registers” to limit search results.
  • Detailed instructions for using (with screen shots!) can be found at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/a/af/Polish_State_Archives.pdf

*Metryki.GenBaza (http://metryki.genbaza.pl/):

  • Must create an account at http://genpol.com/ first in order to access records, and must log in each time.
  • Some overlap with Metryki.Genealodzy.pl in terms of records collections, but contains many parishes not found elsewhere online.
  • Use of site in Polish is recommended; portions of site are not usable in English (am error message will result — although again, this might be an old bug that has since been fixed, as I haven’t had this happen in a while).

*§Genealodzy.pl websites:  Geneszukacz, Geneteka, Metryki, Poczekalnia (http://genealodzy.pl/):

Geneteka: http://geneteka.genealodzy.pl/

  • Surname-indexed records searchable by individual parish or entire province.
  • Can input a second surname to find all children of a given couple; can also limit range of years.
  • Polish diacritics not important, and searches for the masculine version of a surname will return results for both genders (i.e. “Zielinski” à Zieliński and Zielińska).
  • Can be helpful if only some information about an ancestors’ birthplace (e.g. county) is known, but not the precise location; however, only a small fraction of Polish parishes are indexed to date, so there is a risk of chasing down the wrong ancestors if Geneteka is used in an attempt to side-step preliminary research in U.S. documents.
  • Some indexed records are linked to scans of documents within the Metryki.Genealodzy.pl collection or at Szukajwarchiwach.

*Metryki.Genealodzy.pl: http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/

  • More than just a repository of scans for records indexed at Geneteka, Metryki often contains different parishes or different ranges of years for parishes indexed on Geneteka.  See this post for more information.

*Poczekalnia (“Waiting Room”): http://poczekalnia.genealodzy.pl/

  • Records waiting to be indexed and added to Geneteka. Click on “Wejście” (entrance) to get to the directory of parish records, grouped according to the archive from which they were obtained.

*AGAD (Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie, Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw): http://www.agad.gov.pl/inwentarze/testy.html

  • Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant records from parts of Eastern Poland which are now located in Ukraine.

*Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu:  http://www.przemysl.ap.gov.pl/skany/

  • Has Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic records from parishes in the Przemyśl area. Most of these records are also available from Szukajwarchiwarch, but there are a few parishes for which records are only online here, and NOT at that site as well.

*State Archive in Olsztyn: http://www.olsztyn.ap.gov.pl/apnet/wybierz.php

  • Has vital records from some villages in this area formerly located in East Prussia; click “Skan Digitalizacja,” and then use the drop-down menu under “Nazwa zespołu” (name of the collection) to find a town based on current Polish names, or use “Nazwa oryginala” to look up record sets based on former German names.

*State Archive in Szczecin: http://www.szczecin.ap.gov.pl/iCmsModuleArchPublic/showDocuments/nrap/65

  • Has vital records from some villages in this area formerly located in the Prussian province of Pomerania. Scroll down the page to see the available locations, listed in the column on the left.

*Civil Registry Office in Wrocław/Standesamt Breslau:  http://ahnenforscher.pl/?page_id=120

  • Has vital records for Wrocław (Breslau in German) from 1889-1911
  • Viewing records requires the installation of the DjVu plug-in, so the site works best with Internet Explorer and appears to be incompatible with some versions of Google Chrome (like mine).

*Archion: https://www.archion.de/de/browse/?no_cache=1

  • Has Lutheran church records from parishes located in the former German provinces of Posen, West Prussia, East Prussia and Silesia, with over 20 million scans online.
  • Searching is free, but a subscription is required to access scans.

*Matricula: http://data.matricula-online.eu/en/polen/breslau/

  • Has Lutheran church records for four places in Lower Silesian Voivodeship (województwo dolnośląskie), Siedlęcin/Boberröhrsdorf in Jelenia Góra County, 1748-1914; Sobieszów/Hermsdorf in Jelenia Góra County, 1742-1916; St. Elizabeth’s Church in Wrocław, 1750-1945; and St. Bernhard’s Church in Wrocław, 1812-1906.

*Epaveldas:  http://www.epaveldas.lt/vbspi/lang.do?language=lt

  • Has vital records for locations that are in present-day Lithuania.

*Genealogy in the Archive:  https://www.genealogiawarchiwach.pl/

  • Has vital records for locations in the Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Pomorskie, Wielkopolskie, and Warmińsko-Mazurskie provinces.  A relative newcomer to the Polish vital records scene, this site is somewhat infamous for its awkward and slow user interface.  However, attempts are being made to resolve some of these issues, so there’s hope.

*Górnośląskie Towarszystwo Genealogiczne (Upper Silesian Genealogical Society):   http://siliusradicum.pl/ksiegi-metrykalne/

  • Has some Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish vital records for some locations in Upper Silesia; original records are held by the State Archive in Katowice.
  • Records can be browsed online via Dropbox.

BaSIA (Baza Systemu Indeksacji Archiwalnej, Database of Archival Indexing System): http://www.basia.famula.pl/en/

  • Has indexed vital records (births, marriages and deaths) from the Poznan area, some linked directly to scans from the Polish State Archives
  • Extended search allows you to restrict search to a give range of years, type of document, distance from a specified location.
  • Polish diacritics not important.
  • One can create an account, register surnames of interest, and they will e-mail you when new records for those surnames are added.
  • To view scans, go to archive information in the results column on the right, and click on the line below the archive name that has code numbers and the word “scan.”

*§Lubgens:  http://lubgens.eu/portal.php

  • Has indexed vital records for Lublin area, many with scans attached.
  • Polish diacritics don’t matter (i.e. “Zielinski” yields same result as “Zieliński”) BUT masculine or feminine version of surname DOES matter (i.e. “Zielinski” yields different results from “Zielinska”).

*§Słupca Genealogy:  http://slupcagenealogy.com/

  • Indexed records from parishes in Słupca and Kalisz counties; Jewish records recently added for Słupca.
  • Many results linked to scans from the Polish State Archives.

§Pomeranian Genealogical Society database: http://www.ptg.gda.pl/

  • Indexed civil and church vital records from Pomerania.
  • Go to “PomGenBase” in menu bar at the top of the page and then select “Search PomGenBase” followed by the type of records you wish to search. Alternatively, select “Metrical Book Indexes” followed by “Parish and Registry Offices” to see the full list of parishes and years currently indexed.
  • Polish diacritics DO matter IF you choose “search directly” (i.e. “Wolinski” yields different results than “Woliński”). Can use wildcard characters (“?” replaces one letter, “*” replaces more than one) if you’re not certain of the spelling.

§Poznan Marriage Project: http://poznan-project.psnc.pl/

  • Indexed marriage records from the Poznan region, 1800-1899, currently about 80% complete.
  • One may request a copy of a single record by clicking “original record” and requesting it from the archive, OR it may be requested from the site’s creator, Lukasz Bielecki, with a donation to the project. However, clicking the parish name in which the record was found will yield a list of LDS microfilms for that parish, and by searching these one is likely to find not only that marriage, but also many other vital records for one’s family.

§Katalog Szlachty: http://www.katalogszlachty.com/

  • Click on “indeksy” in menu at left, and then on “indeksy” again to reach the list of indexed parishes.
  • Records for Szlachta (noblemen), primarily from northeastern Poland.

§Szpejankowski and Szpejankowski Family Website: http://szpejankowski.eu/

  • Has indexed vital records for the Dobrzyń region of Poland.

§SGGEE Databases: https://www.sggee.org/research/PublicDatabases.html

  • Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe; public database includes indexed Lutheran vital records for select parishes in Volhynia, Kiev and Podolia, and Lublin.

*§Metryki Wołyń: http://wolyn-metryki.pl/joomla/index.php

  • Has indexed church and civil vital records from 19th century Wołyń/Volhynia (eastern Poland/Belarus/Ukraine).  English-language search portal yields results that are linked to scans at the AGAD site.  Polish diacritics are not required to search this site.

*§Indexed records from Zieluń parish: 

http://www.zielun.pl/metryki.php?parafia=zielun&metryki=b&year=1900

  • Has indexed birth, marriage and death records from Zieluń parish in gmina Lubowidz, Mazowieckie province, from 1822-1912, linked to scans in Metryki. Note that the range of indexed years is broader at this site than what’s available on Geneteka. To navigate between births, marriages and deaths, click on the icons of the star (births), wedding rings (marriages), and cross (deaths) located between the column with the years and the column with the names.

§Jamiński Zespół Indeksacyjny (Jaminy Indexing Team): http://jzi.org.pl/

  • This group is indexing records for the parishes of Jaminy, Krasnybór, Sztabin, Bargłów Kościelny, and others in Augustów county, Podlaskie. The search form for their indexes is found here: http://search.jzi.org.pl/geneo/.

§Databases of the State Archive in Płock: http://plock.ap.gov.pl/p,136,geneaa

  • Has indexed vital records for several Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes in the Płock area (under “Genea”).

§Częstochowa Genealogical Society database: http://www.genealodzy.czestochowa.pl/index.php

  • Has indexed vital records from a number of parishes in the Częstochowa area.
  • Must create an account in order to search records.

§Strony o Wołyniu Przed Wojennym (Volhynia Before the War): http://wolyn.ovh.org/

  • Pre-WWII era genealogical data for individuals living in the Volhynia region (which straddles eastern Poland, Belarus and Ukraine), grouped by village name.
  • Click on “Alfabetyczny spis miejscowości” at the top of the page for an alphabetical list of villages covered; each listing provides contact information to connect with others researching those families.

§Poland GenWeb Archives: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~polwgw/polandarchives.html

  • Assorted records transcriptions from parishes across Poland.

§Church Registers of Tyniec Mały/Klein Tinz: http://frontiernet.net/~michael6/tinz/

  • Data from Catholic parish registers; village is in Wrocław County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship.

Polish State Archives’ PRADZIAD database search portal:  http://baza.archiwa.gov.pl/sezam/pradziad.php?l=en

  • Enter a parish or gmina/township name for a complete list of the vital records holdings of the Polish State Archives for that location. If records are found, you can write or e-mail the archive to request a search of records for a particular record or records.  See this post on writing to archives in Poland.

Catalog of Metrics in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus:  http://metrics.tilda.ws/  

  • This site is a great finding aid for vital records in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, organized by geographic region within each country, with links to archives, gazetteers (in Russian) and other resources.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

5 Places Online to Find Polish Census Records

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.

Meldunkowe.genealodzy.pl

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.

Szukajwarchiwach

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.

ELA database

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.

Google Search

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

 

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

Overview of Vital Records in Poland, Part I: Historical Background

Finding vital records in Poland can be a little confusing to the uninitiated, and sometimes even to more experienced researchers.  I’ve written about obtaining copies of vital records by writing to the archives in a previous post, but today, I wanted to give you a general overview of vital records in Poland.  Understanding how and why they were created can give you some insight into determining where to look for them.  In my next post, I’ll discuss the implications of all of this, and provide some examples for you.

Vital records, by definition, are records of life events — primarily births, marriages, and deaths — and the keeping of vital records began with the Roman Catholic Church.  At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Church decreed that, “The parish priest shall have a book in which he shall record the names of the persons united in marriage and of the witnesses, and also the day on which and the place where the marriage was contracted, and this book he shall carefully preserve.”1  Additional rules regarding the sacraments of marriage and baptism were set forth at this time, with instructions to the priests about recording those sacraments.  In 1614, Pope Paul V further defined the rites pertaining to the administration and recording of sacraments in his Rituale Romanum (The Roman Ritual) and introduced a requirement for priests to record deaths in their parishes as well.  At the same time, priests were required to maintain a register of souls (Liber Status Animarum) in their parish, for the purpose of ensuring that all their parishioners were receiving the sacraments as appropriate and were being duly catechized.  These parish census records later came to include additional information about each household in the parish, such as home addresses, and the ages and relationships of household members.

Over time, civil authorities came to recognize the value in these vital records as well, primarily for their use in documenting the local population for taxation and conscription.  Civil vital registration was introduced in different parts of “Poland” at different times, depending on which empire was in power in a given time and place.  During the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, church records were the only vital records in existence.  The very earliest church records are more informative for the nobility than they are for peasants, as surnames for peasants did not come into general use until the second half of the 18th century or even later, depending on the area.  Following a series of three partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795, “Poland” disappeared from the map as an independent political entity, and the lands which had formerly been part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were divided up by the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian Empires.

Civil Records in Austrian Poland

In 1784, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II gave official status to Catholic parish registers, and authorized Catholic priests to act as civil registrars for vital events pertaining to all people in their parish, regardless of faith. At that time he also prescribed the use of the columnar format for parish registers, and the use of individual records books for each village within the parish, replacing the practice of combining vital events from every village within the parish into one parish register. These records were required to be kept in Latin. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that legal authority was granted to Protestants and Jews for the maintenance of their own vital registers, independent of those maintained by the Catholic Church.  A duplicate copy of the parish vital register was created at the end of each year, and was required to be sent to the civil authorities.

Civil Records in Russian Poland

Meanwhile, in another part of “Poland,” Napoleon introduced the practice of maintaining civil vital registers in the Duchy of Warsaw, starting in 1808.  The format of these civil vital records, prescribed by his Napoleonic Code, was quite different from the earlier Latin church records.  They were written in Polish, in a very flowery, legalistic style, and often included quite a bit more information than the Latin church records.  When the Duchy of Warsaw was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland (“Congress Poland“) in 1815, the Napoleonic format continued to be used.  In 1826, the true Napoleonic format was replaced by a modified form, and at the same time, other religions were granted the authority to maintain their own civil registers distinct from those created by the local Catholic priest. Civil records from this period were written in Polish until about 1868, when Congress Poland, which was a Russian puppet state since its inception, was absorbed entirely into the Russian Empire, erasing any semblance of autonomy that existed previously.  Both church and civil records were required to be kept in Russian from this time, making the two types of vital records virtually indistinguishable.  The use of Russian continued until the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918, when civil records were recorded in Polish once again.

Civil Records in Prussian Poland

In Prussian Poland, civil transcripts were created from church records starting in 1794, based on a proclamation by Emporer Friedrich Wilhelm II. Both Catholic parish priests and Lutheran ministers were required to send these transcripts (Kirchenbuchduplikate) to the local courts.  In 1874, civil registration began in Prussian Poland that was independent of any churches.  People were required to report all births, deaths and marriages to a civil authority (Standesamt), the territory for which might be different from the territory of the local Catholic or Protestant parish.  Records were kept in German.

Civil Records since 1945

Since the end of World War II, civil registration in Poland has been carried out in local civil registry offices.  Each township (gmina) has its own registry office, or Urząd Stanu Cywilnego (USC) which creates and maintains official birth, marriage, and death records, as well as civil divorce records.  Official recognition was also given to civil marriages that take place independently from church ceremonies.  Until recently, any vital records that were less than 100 years old were protected by Polish privacy laws, and only immediate family or direct descendants (with proof of relationship) could request copies.  However, since 2015, a new law was enacted that makes marriage and death records available as archival documents after only 80 years, although births are still protected for 100 years.  Records older than 100 years are supposed to be transferred from the USCs to the appropriate state archives, and stiff penalties are in place to ensure that this happens on schedule.  However, in cases where the births, marriages and deaths are all bound in the same volume, it might happen that the USC retains possession of the volume for 100 years, but provides copies of the marriage and death records after only 80 years, as permitted by law.

In my next post, I’ll discuss some implications of these historical practices and how they influence where to find vital records, and after that, I’ll give some examples of vital records from each partition.

______________________

1Eternal Word Television Network. “Pius IV Council of Trent-24.” (https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TRENT24.HTM  (accessed September 16, 2016).

For further reading:

http://www.halgal.com/vitalrecordsaustria.html

https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Poland_Civil_Registration

https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Poland_Church_Records

https://www.archiwa.gov.pl/pl/dla-uzytkownikow/genealogia/typy-%C5%BAr%C3%B3de%C5%82-wykorzystywanych-do-bada%C5%84-genealogicznych

https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urz%C4%85d_stanu_cywilnego

https://mswia.gov.pl/pl/sprawy-obywatelskie/rejestracja-stanu-cywi/12982,Rejestracja-Stanu-Cywilnego-Wiadomosci-ogolne.html

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 2016

 

Tips for Hiring a Professional Researcher in Poland

If you’re like me, you prefer to do your own research, rather than hiring it out to a professional.  Those moments when you find the long-sought record that finally gives you your great-great-great-grandmother’s maiden name are priceless, right?  And if the records can be found on microfilm, online, or even by writing to one of the archives in Poland, that’s great.  But sometimes it happens that the pastor of your ancestral parish has parish registers from the past 300 years sitting in his office, or the records are at diocesan archive which doesn’t respond to queries, and requires you to find a professional to search in person.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of people who have paid money up front — sometimes quite a bit — and maybe gotten a record or two before their “professional” falls off the face of the earth and stops responding to e-mails and phone calls.   You don’t want to be in that situation, because often there is no recourse — most people in this case just lose whatever money they’ve put up.  But hiring a pro doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience if you work with someone who’s experienced, honest, and fair.  So how do you find the right professional?

1. Get recommendations before you hire.

As an admin for the Galicia Family History Group, I often get messages from group members asking for recommendations for researchers, and I’m happy to share my experiences with you.  There are also plenty of other group members who have used professional researchers, so ask around, send a message to one of the group admins, or request references from any researchers you’re considering.

2.  Determine the scope and budget for the project.

Personally, I’m happy if my researcher finds the records of interest, uploads the images to a site like DropBox so I can access them, gives me a report on exactly what books and ranges of years were researched, and I’ll take it from there.  But others are looking for a completely documented family tree, including a GEDCOM and a more detailed research report, including full translations of all the records.  Obviously, the more work you need your researcher to do, the greater the cost, so bear that in mind as well.

3. Start with clearly defined research goals.

After you’ve decided what kind of final product you’re looking for, establish clear research goals to begin with. For example, “I would like to find my great-grandmother’s birth record in X parish, circa 1876, her parents’ marriage record, and any other records for her surname in this parish.” Prepare a concise summary for the researcher of what you already know about your family in Poland and your immigrant ancestor (name, approximate date of birth, names of parents and siblings who stayed in Poland, etc.) Stick to facts and keep the family stories and speculation to a minimum.

4. Expect to pay per hour of research, rather than per record.

A good researcher may be able to find two dozen records for your surname of interest in one hour’s time, or maybe only one record. Generally speaking, the earlier you go, the more “spotty” the records become. If the records aren’t indexed, that will also increase the time it takes to find them, because the researcher must skim through every record.

5. Get an estimate before you begin.

Most researchers require some of the money up front, whether in the form of a minimum retainer (e.g. 5 hours’ research time paid in advance), or according to other terms.  Some will allow you to pay after the work is finished.

6.  Understand what’s included, what’s not, and how billing is done.

Travel costs and  donations for the parish or archive are usually billed separately.  Time spent writing the research report and creating the GEDCOM might be billed separately from the research time in the parish or archive as well. A good researcher will break down the invoice for you. Full translations are usually not included, but you could negotiate a price if you’d like them.  Key information extracted from each record, i.e. names, dates, godparents’ and witnesses’ names, etc., is usually included, but I’ve heard of researchers who did not provide this without an additional charge.  Establish in advance what is provided so there are no surprises.

7. Good communication is key.

I personally would not hesitate to work with someone who only speaks Polish if he were highly recommended (there’s always Google Translate!). But if you choose to do that, understand that you might need to work a little harder to be sure both parties clearly understand the expectations.

8. Understand that there are no guarantees.

If a researcher visits a parish in search of your great-grandmother’s baptismal record, but finds nothing because you’ve incorrectly identified the parish, that’s on you.  Or sometimes a researcher may travel to a distant parish to obtain your ancestors’ marriage record and DOES find it, but the record itself indicates that the bride or groom was from another parish, necessitating further research elsewhere. That happens.  A good researcher should at least be able to document his efforts, showing you where he’s looked and how he’s spent his time, even if positive results are scarce.

9. Since travel costs are usually extra, it helps if you can find a researcher who is more or less in the same part of Poland as your ancestral villages.

I’ve heard of researchers who don’t overtly charge extra for travel within the country and travel all over Poland for records, but I suspect that they must be rolling this cost into their research time somehow.

10. Be sure you clearly understand the time frame over which the work will be done.

It might take a few months before the researcher has the opportunity to get to your work, but having to wait a year for results is excessive.  Things can be especially slow if a visit to a parish is required, as some pastors aren’t enthusiastic about having a researcher come in and peruse their parish registers, and may put off granting an appointment.  However, gentle persistence from your researcher will usually (hopefully, fingers crossed) win the day, and your researcher should keep you informed of his phone calls to the parish.

11. Research in Poland may not be as expensive as you think.

Years ago I was reluctant to hire a researcher in Poland because I feared the cost might run into thousands of dollars. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable it was. As an example, one researcher searched parish records for me from 1784-1826 (births, marriages and deaths), found 48 records during that time, and the charge was just $150 plus $10 for gas. In another instance, a researcher visited both the parish and the USC, found 56 records for me (between 1826 and 1880), and the cost was $115. Your mileage may vary, and results are not guaranteed, but I have been delighted by how much I have learned about my family from these records.

Hiring a professional researcher doesn’t have to be terrifying or break the bank, but it does take some effort to ensure that you and your researcher are communicating clearly and effectively.  As long as both you and she understand the expectations in terms of research goals, final product, and billing, having a researcher find records for you can be a very satisfying way to further your research into your Polish roots.  It may not be as much fun as a trip to Poland to do the research yourself, but it’s almost certainly much cheaper.

Good luck and happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

Writing to Archives in Poland

A few days ago, I wrote to the Konin branch of the Polish State Archive of Poznań to request a search for death records for Pelagia and Konstancja Grzesiak, who were two sisters of my great-grandmother.  This is pretty routine for me now, but when I first began researching Polish vital records, I was intimidated by the thought of writing to an archive in Poland. I worried that it would be prohibitively expensive, and I worried about translating their correspondence in an era before Facebook groups and Google Translate.  However, writing to the archives is pretty straightforward, and should be a standard research strategy for anyone researching Polish ancestors.  In this post, I’ll walk you through the process of writing to an archive to request records for your family in Poland.

Why Write to an Archive?

Although it’s true that more and more vital records from Poland are coming online every day, thanks to the efforts of both the state archives and the various Polish genealogical societies, there are still plenty of records that are not available online or on microfilm from the LDS.  Some of these records can be found in the diocesan archives, some are in the state archives, and some may still be at the parishes themselves.  You might need to rely on multiple sources to find records in the range of years you need to thoroughly document your family history.

As an example, for my Grzesiak’s ancestral parish in Kowalewo-Opactwo, the LDS has both church and civil records available on microfilm.  However, upon closer examination, we see that the civil records only go from 1808-1865, then there’s a two-year gap, after which coverage extends from 1868-1879.  The church records might be helpful in tracing some of my collateral lines forward in time, since they begin in 1916, but they aren’t useful for finding ancestors.  Those records go all the way up to 1979 (with gaps), which is interesting, given that Polish privacy laws typically restrict access to such recent records.

Microfilm is great, but online access is even better, and in the years since I began researching this family, records for Kowalewo have come online for those same years from 1808-1879, including that same gap from 1866-1867.  One might conclude that the records from 1866-1867 were destroyed, since they don’t appear in either the online collection from the Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu Oddział w Koninie (State Archive of Poznań Branch in Konin) or on the LDS microfilm.  However, that’s not the case, those records DO exist. How do we know this?

Baza PRADZIAD:  The Vital Records Database for the Polish State Archives

Baza PRADZIAD can be searched quickly, easily, and in English to see what vital records are held by the various state archives for any given parish or civil registry office.  Note that you must know the parish or civil registry office for your village of interest.  If I search for records for Wola Koszutska, which is a village belonging to the parish in Kowalewo, I won’t get any hits.  But I can find records for ancestors born in Wola Koszutska by knowing that their vital events would have been recorded at the parish in Kowalewo.  Although Polish diacritics aren’t supposed to be important when searching this site, I’ve had it happen on occasion that a search without diacritics comes up empty, but redoing the search with diacritics gives good results.  Maybe that was due to cybergremlins, or maybe there are bugs that only affect certain parishes, but it’s something to consider if nothing turns up the first time you search.  There are ways to set up your keyboard to allow for Polish diacritics, but if you haven’t done that or don’t know how, there’s always this site which works in a pinch so you can copy and paste your proper Polish text into the search box.

Now, let’s take a look at what comes up in Baza PRADZIAD for Kowalewo (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Baza PRADZIAD Search ScreenPradziad

Figure 1 shows the search screen, and as you’ll see, I got results only by entering the town name.  There are options for restricting the search by entering the “commune” (i.e. gmina), province, religion, or type of event you’re looking for, but you really don’t need all that, and sometimes simple is best.

Figure 2:  Baza PRADZIAD Results from Search for “Kowalewo”:Kowalewo

Figure 2 shows the top part of the search results; if you were to scroll down, there are a few more entries for “Nowe Kowalewo” below this.  Note that there may be multiple parishes or registry offices with the same name that come up in the search results.  However, when you click “more” at the far right, you can see which place is referenced by looking at the province, as shown in Figure 3:

Figure 3:  “More” information on the first entry (“małżeństwa, 1808-1819, 1821-1890, 1911”) of the search results for Kowalewo:Konin

Let’s consider these search results a bit more carefully.  In Figure 2, we see that there are two collections of marriage records (małżeństwa) for Kowalewo.  The first collection, boxed in red, covers marriages from 1808-1819, 1821-1890, and 1911.  This collection belongs to the Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu Oddział w Koninie, as we can see from Figure 3 which comes up when we click, “more.”  The second collection, boxed in green (Figure 2), covers marriages from 1828-1866.  If we obtain more information about that collection (Figure 4), we realize that both collections are for the same Kowalewo, and they’re stored in different archives!

Figure 4:  More” information on the second entry (“małżeństwa, 1828-1866”) of the search results for Kowalewo:Konin 2

These records belong to the Diocesan Archive of Włocławek.  Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Hey, isn’t this site supposed to be for the search engine for the STATE Archives?  What’s a diocesan archive doing in the search results?  And does this mean that I can expect to find all the holdings of the diocesan archives catalogued here?”

Welcome to the murky world of archival holdings in Poland.  It would be great if there were one, central repository for all vital records in Poland, and if those holdings were completely catalogued, and if that catalogue were searchable online at only one website. But as my mother always says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”  Although you may find that some diocesan archives have their holdings catalogued in Baza PRADZIAD, not all do.  So I generally think of this as a catalogue for the holdings of State Archives, and if any diocesan results come up as well, that’s icing on the cake.

Now let’s go back to Figure 2.  If you compare the boxes in red, blue and yellow, you see that these represent marriages, births (urodzenia) and deaths (zgony) for the same range of years.  This makes sense, because frequently parishes would keep one parish register for each year, divided into three sections.  Looking further at Figure 3, we notice the “dates” and “microfilms” underlined in purple and yellow, respectively, and herein lies the answer to the problem of our two-year gap in microfilmed and online records that exists from 1866-1867.  As you can see from the text underlined in yellow, the archive also has those same microfilms, with the same gap.  But their total collection, underlined in purple, includes years which are not available on microfilm.   Whereas online and microfilmed records end in 1879, the archive also has births, marriages and deaths from 1880-1890, in addition to having births, marriages and deaths to fill that gap from 1866-1867.

How Do I Write to the Archives?

First, you want to make sure that the records aren’t available any other way (e.g microfilm or online), before you write, as archival research is generally slower and more expensive than obtaining records by these other methods.  Popular websites for Polish vital records include Szukajwarchiwach (“Search in the Archives” or SwA), Metryki.GenBaza (or just, “GenBaza”),  Metryki.Genealodzy.pl (or just “Metryki”), Poczekalnia (“Waiting Room,”), Genealogiawarchiwach (“Genealogy in the Archives”, or GwA), the digital collections for Poland available from the LDS, and others (mentioned on this list, starting at the bottom of page 3).  If you’re not familiar with these sites and don’t know how to use them, visit us in Polish Genealogy and we’ll help you out.  To determine whether your parish of interest has been microfilmed by the LDS, check the Family History Library catalog.

If it looks like your records of interest can only be found at one of the archives, you can send an e-mail to the address found in your Baza PRADZIAD search results (see above).  You should write in Polish.  Since this is professional correspondence, this is not a good time to break out Google Translate.  Instead, use one of the letter-writing templates that are available online, either from the LDS or the PGSA.  Alternatively, you can post a translation request in one of the Facebook groups (Polish Genealogy or Genealogy Translations) and a volunteer will probably assist you with a short translation, if you ask nicely.

How Much Will It Cost?

The cost of archival research depends on how many years they have to search, whether or not they find anything, and which archive you’re writing to.  You might think it would be standardized across the country, but that hasn’t been my experience.  I have paid as little as 4 zlotys ($1) to the Archive in Grodzisk for two records found after a search of marriages over a 12-year period, and as much as $30 to the Archive in Konin after a search of marriages over a 9-year period that turned up empty.  (In that case, it’s possible that the girls died before reaching a marriageable age.)  It’s important to have very clear, specific research goals in mind, however.  Sending the archive a request that’s too vague, such as, “please search all your records for Kołaczyce for the surname Kowalski” or too broad, such as, “please search all your death records for Kołaczyce from 1863-1906 for Łącki deaths” is probably not advisable. For that kind of research, it would be better to hire a professional in Poland who can visit the archive for you in person.

What Happens When They Find My Records?

When the archive has completed their research, they will reply to notify you of the results. The letter or e-mail will be in Polish; if you need assistance with translating it, I would again recommend those Facebook groups (Polish Genealogy or Genealogy Translations).  If they found records, they will summarize their findings, but you will not receive copies until you make payment.  If they didn’t find anything, they will still charge you a search fee for the time they had to spend looking.

How Do I Make Payment?

The archives will only accept payment by direct wire transfer to bank account number specified in their correspondence.  They do not accept personal checks, credit cards, cash, or PayPal.   Here’s where it gets tricky:  most U.S. banks charge high fees for international wire transfers.  However, there are alternatives to paying your bank.  You can set up a wire transfer with a company like Western Union or Xoom, where the fees are typically much lower.  If you live in a community with a Polish travel agency, you can often ask them to wire money for you for a small fee.  Or, you can ask a professional researcher in Poland to handle the transaction for you, and you can reimburse him or her via PayPal.  (Be sure to add in a tip if the researcher does not specify a charge for his or her time).

When Will I Get My Records?

Again, your mileage may vary, based on the archive in question, but in general, I’ve gotten results within a week or two after payment has been made.  Be sure to attach your payment receipt to your return e-mail to the archive.  I’ve always received my records in the form of digital images sent via e-mail, but I’ve heard from others who say they’ve always received hard copies.

That’s pretty much all there is to it!  Writing to archives in Poland doesn’t have to be an intimidating process, nor will it necessarily break the bank.  As long as you have clearly defined research goals and a relatively small range of years for them to check, archival research can be quite affordable.  If you’ve been on the fence about writing to an archive, I hope this encourages you to go ahead and give it a try.  And if you do, please let me know how it turns out.  Happy researching!

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz