Using Gazetteers for Polish Genealogy

Every so often, I get feedback from readers of this blog. Sometimes people have general comments about the blog, or they’re interested in recommendations for onsite researchers in Poland. At other times, people have very specific research questions, or questions about methodology or resources. Recently, I received such a query from researcher Mike Cooper, who gave me permission to mention our discussion in this article. Mike wrote,

“So I feel like I tend to be more of a brute force style where I sort of randomly search until I find something.  I know there has to be a better way.

I know part of my family is from Lednogora which is outside of Gniezno.  I tried searching by place with that village name in FamilySearch and it’s not there.  I sort of looked under Wielkopolskie on Geneteka and don’t see it.  I’m guessing that the church was in a city close by.  I feel like I’m struggling to connect the Places in Poznan Project with the Provinces/Locations in Geneteka or with Places in FamilySearch…. Do any of your past blogs help unravel this mystery of how to more effectively use these tools?  I’ve read a bunch but still seem stuck.”

Mike is correct in thinking that there’s a better way to find records besides “brute force searching,” or guessing at the parish which served a particular village. The key is gazetteers, which I think are the most underutilized resource out there among North American researchers who are trying to trace their Polish ancestry. Gazetteers play an important role in the process of locating records from Poland for one’s family, a process which involves three steps:

  1. Use U.S. records to gather evidence for the name and location of your ancestral village.
  2. Use one or more gazetteers to identify the parish and/or registry office that served that village. This part is key, because records were not created in each individual village, they were created at higher administrative levels, e.g. parish, powiat (county), or province.
  3. Identify the repositories for those records. Vital records from parishes or registry offices are typically found in four places:
    1. the parish archives
    2. the local registry office
    3. the diocesan archive
    4. the regional state archive. 

The first step of this three-step process is described in more detail here, so today I’d like to use Mike’s question as a opportunity to examine Step Two more closely.

Choosing a Gazetteer

There are essentially two types of gazetteers for Polish genealogy: phonetic gazetteers, and period gazetteers. Phonetic gazetteers are those which offer some leeway in terms of spelling, and are useful when attempting to identify a place whose name was more or less mangled in the source document. How do you know if the place name was mangled or not? The Google Test will usually tell you that: do an internet search on the place name as it’s spelled in the source document, and see what turns up. If places with that name exist, then you know it’s a valid spelling. If nothing shows up, then a phonetic gazetteer can help you make educated guesses about what the place name should be.

There are two phonetic gazetteers that I use regularly, the JewishGen Gazetteer and the Baza Miejscowości Kresowych [Database of Towns in the Kresy]. The latter is useful if you suspect that your village was located in the Kresy Wschodnie—the eastern part of the Second Polish Republic (interwar Poland), which was excluded from the borders of Poland after World War II and became part of Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania. (For a brief overview of Polish border changes, see here.) The JewishGen Gazetteer is more generally useful, since it includes locations throughout Central Europe. Both gazetteers will allow you to input a misspelled place name, and will return possible phonetic matches, based on various Soundex options.

Period gazetteers were published in a particular time period, and are useful for determining the administrative assignments of a particular location during that time. Administrative assignments include the gubernia [governorate or province), powiat or kreis (county), smaller administrative divisions such as gmina or gemeinde (an administrative level similar to a township, consisting of a number of small villages), as well as local parishes or religious communities, all of which are important to know because the source documents we need for genealogical research were created at these various administrative levels. Some examples of period gazetteers are the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries], which was published between 1880–1902; the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, Volumes I and II, an index of places in the Kingdom of Poland (i.e. Russian Poland), published in 1877; the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs, which is useful for Polish places that were previously located in Germany; and the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, [Index of Towns in the Republic of Poland] which was published circa 1933. In addition to these, there are some gazetteer databases such as Kartenmeister (for Eastprussia, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia) and the Gesher Galicia Town Locator, that contain information extracted from historical sources, but which don’t link directly to the original source material for each entry.

You’ll probably find that some gazetteers are easier to use than others, especially if your foreign-language skills are limited. Many of the search engines for the period gazetteers online will require you to know the exact spelling of the place name, including diacritics. It’s also important to realize that no gazetteer is perfect. Errors exist in (probably) all of them, so you may want to use more than one gazetteer to cross-check the information you find, perhaps in conjunction with a good internet search. (When searching the internet, try for information, as you’re more likely to find articles about small Polish villages written in Polish, rather than English. Despite these caveats, gazetteers are an ideal starting point for locating information about a place. A more complete list of useful gazetteers, with a brief explanation of each, can be found here.

Using a Gazetteer


Now let’s see how we can use gazetteers to help Mike determine where records would have been kept for villagers living in “Lednogora.” In this case, his place name passes the Google Test, as there is a place in Poland today called Lednogóra. This means that we don’t need to utilize a phonetic gazetteer, so we can move on to identifying the correct parish and registry office for this location. Since Lednogóra was in the Prussian partition, the first gazetteer I’d consult would be Kartenmeister. Searching for “Lednogora” (diacritics not required) in the “Polish City Name/Ortsname” category produces a number of matches, but drilling down in the results reveals that all of these are alternate names or spellings for the same place, which was previously known as Lettberg (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Search result from Kartenmeister for Lednogora.

Mike mentioned that his ancestors from Lednogóra were Catholic, and this fact is also very important. Civil registration began in Prussia in 1874, but prior to that, church records were recognized as legal documents. As good genealogists, we want to leave no stone unturned, so our initial research plan should include examination of both the Catholic church records and the civil records. Kartenmeister informs us that circa 1905, there were two parishes to which parts of this village were assigned, Dziekanowitze, which is presently known as Dziekanowice, and Wenglewo, which is Węglewo. This situation of having two parish assignments is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, and it may be that further research into the history of the village reveals some explanation. The entry also notes that the civil registry office was located in Libau/Łubowo. Therefore, Łubowo, Węglewo, and Dziekanowice, not Lednogóra, are the places that one would seek in Geneteka, BaSIA, the Poznań Project, etc. 

The Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs

You could also check the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs [Meyer’s Gazetteer and Directory of the German Empire] rather than Kartenmeister, in order to identify the parish. A search for “Lednogora” produces a brief entry that directs one to the entry for Lettberg. but it should be noted that this trick does not always work, as this gazetteer typically requires one to search according to the German place names. There are a few different websites that can help with determining former German names of places in Poland today, including this index by Anna Sluszkiewicz, this list, and this additional list, for places in East Prussia, and it might be worthwhile to bookmark them. However, none of these lists are complete, and in this case, none of them are especially helpful since they don’t include Lednogóra. This is where Kartenmeister really shines, since it permits searching according to either the Polish or German place name, depending on what you find in your source documents. The Meyers search results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Search result from Meyers for Lettberg/Lednogora.

The Meyers gazetteer offers two especially nice features which can be accessed from the menu bar at the top, and are circled in red in this image. The first is the Maps feature, which pinpoints the location on an old historical map (Figure 3). As an added bonus, you can use the “Toggle Historical Map” feature to vary the transparency between the historical map and the modern map. Better still, there’s an option to select administrative jurisdictions, surrounding Standesämter (civil registry offices), Catholic parishes, Protestant parishes, and Jewish synagogues, and any or all of those will be pinpointed on the map for you.

Figure 3: Historical map from the Meyers gazetteer showing Lettburg/Lednogóra and the location of local Catholic parishes (yellow pins marked with “C”) and registry offices (red pin marked with “R”).

Similarly, the “Ecclesiastical” tab will display a list of parishes in tabular form, indicating approximate distance in miles from each parish to the target location (Figure 4). Common sense would suggest that the closest parish was always the one to which a village was assigned, but there are exceptions to every rule, including this present example.

Figure 4: Ecclesiastical assignments for the village of Lettberg/Lednogóra from the Meyers gazetteer.

The Meyers site will often include information about the parish assignment for a village as it’s suggested by the catalog entries in FamilySearch. However, some errors may exist, as in this case, since the Meyers entry correctly states that the Catholic parish for Lednogóra was Wenglewo/Węglewo, but omits the fact that this village was assigned in part to Dziekanowitze/Dziekanowice as well, as evidenced by the “Notes” in the FamilySearch catalog entry for Dziekanowice. (This oversight in the Meyers gazetteer website was probably caused by the historical use of two spellings for the village name, Lednagóra and Lednogóra.)

The Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego

The granddaddy of all Polish gazetteers is the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries], published between 1880–1902. The Słownik geograficzny is renowned for its incredible size—15 volumes— and the wealth of historical information it provides for many of the entries. The entire publication is now searchable online, and you must use Polish spellings with diacritics when you search. In this case, the entry for Lednogóra refers you to the entry for Lednagóra, which suggests that this latter spelling may have been more prevalent in the late 19th century, although the former spelling is the one used today.

Unfortunately, the Słownik may be a bit off-putting for researchers not fluent in Polish, as the entries are filled with abbreviations as well as archaic terms for land measurement, social status, legal arrangements (e.g. krowa żelazna) and more. Fear not, however, because resources are available to assist. The Polish Genealogical Society of America offers a dictionary of unfamiliar terms encountered in the SGKP, a list of commonly-used abbreviations, some translated entries, and more. Similar resources are offered at the Polish Roots website, including a different set of translated entries, located in the drop-down menu under “Geography and Maps.” Armed with these tools, you’ll be able to discover that “krowa żelazna” was an arrangement in which a cow was fed and kept by its owner, while its milk was donated to another designated party. Who knew?

Despite the relatively lengthy entry for Lednagóra provided by the Słownik geograficzny, there is no mention of the reason why the village was divided between two Catholic parishes, nor, in fact, is there any reference to the parish for the village at all. This underscores the importance of checking multiple gazetteers in the course of one’s research: sometimes you just might strike out with the first one you check, but that’s no reason to give up. A more typical entry from the Słownik which indicates the parish is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Entry from the Słownik geograficzny for the village of Kuznocin, which describes two unique places called Kuznocin. The first was located in powiat sochaczewski (Sochaczew County), gmina Kozłów Biskupi, and belonged to the parish in Sochaczew, and the second was in powiat piotrkowski (Piotrków County), gmina Bogusławice, and belonged to the parish in Wolbórz.

The Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej

One final gazetteer I want to mention today is the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z oznaczeniem terytorjalnie im właściwych władz i urzędów oraz urządzeń komunikacyjnych (Index of place names of the Republic of Poland with corresponding governmental agencies and offices, including communication facilities), published circa 1933. This gazetteer is especially useful for identifying places that were located in the Kresy Wschodnie, but are presently located in Belarus, Lithuania, or Ukraine. However, it is also obviously useful for obtaining information about places located anywhere within the borders of Poland between the World Wars, as in this example with Lednogóra (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Entries from the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej for Lednogóra.

One advantage of this gazetteer is its ease of use, thanks to the simple columnar format. The handful of abbreviations which it employs are defined on page 24 of the digital version, within the introduction. From this, we can tell that the “st. kol.” in the top entry for Lednogóra refers to the stacja kolejowa (train station) which was located in Lednogóra, as opposed to the wieś (village) of Lednogóra itself. As one might expect, both the train station and the village of Lednogóra were noted to be located in gmina Lednogóra, the powiat (county) of Gniezno, and the województwo (voivodeship or province) of Poznań. Besides the parish information provided in the last column, these first three columns are the most useful from a genealogical perspective, since it was not uncommon for our immigrant ancestors to reference a larger administrative division (e.g. Gniezno or Poznań) in response to the question, “Where were you born?” In this particular gazetteer, the only Roman Catholic parish (denoted with r) indicated for villagers of Lednogóra is Dziekanowice, suggesting that the village was no longer divided between the parishes of Dziekanowice and Węglewo by 1933. There was a Lutheran parish (denoted with e for ewangielicka) located within the village of Lednogóra itself, which corroborates information found in Kartenmeister and Meyers.

Hopefully this example has illustrated how gazetteers take the guesswork out of finding vital records for your Polish ancestors. With so many great gazetteers readily available online, there’s no need to wonder which local parish might hold the records for your ancestral village, nor will you be puzzled as to why an immigrant from Lednogóra might have said he was from Gniezno or Poznań on various documents. Although this is by no means a complete discussion of every gazetteer that might be useful to Polish research, nor even of every gazetteer that’s useful to those researching Prussian Poles, I hope it’s enough to convince you to add some gazetteers to your genealogical toolbox and use them regularly. In my next post, I’ll walk through Step 3 of the process of finding vital records for one’s Polish ancestors: identifying repositories for records from the parish and registry office which served one’s ancestral village.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

More Translation Tips: Resources for Surnames and Place Names

In my last post, I offered some tried-and-true tips for learning to translate Polish and Russian genealogical documents. Today I’d like to offer a couple additional recommendations for strategies that I’ve found to be extremely helpful for deciphering surnames and place names found in vital records.

As mentioned previously, vital records are very formulaic. There’s a lot of standard language in them, but the parts that frequently give us the most trouble are the names and places. Unfortunately, these are also the most interesting parts, so when it comes to deciphering this information, it’s important to pull out all the stops, and use every resource at your disposal. For research into Polish ancestors, here are a few of my favorites:

The Słownik Nazwisk database

The Słownik nazwisk database is a searchable database of over 800,000 surnames that were in use in Poland in 1990. William F. Hoffman provides a nice explanation of the database and offers instruction on how to use it here. The capacity for using wildcards to search the database makes it a great starting point when  struggling to decipher a particular surname in a record. If, for example, you’re pretty sure that the surname starts with “Cie-,” followed by some letters you can’t make out, and then ends in “-rski,” you can do a wildcard search for “Cie*rski” and see the surnames that were extant circa 1990 that might fit the bill. The only drawback here may be, “extant circa 1990,” since the database will not pick up surnames that might have died out long before then.


Where would we be without Geneteka? Not only is it our go-to finding aid for Polish vital records, but it can also be used to help decipher surnames when translating. Sometimes it happens that the particular record you’re translating is from a parish that is indexed in Geneteka, but falls outside the range of years that is indexed. For example, birth records for the parish of Wyszyny Kościelne are presently indexed in Geneteka from 1826–1909 with a gap from 1898–1900. (Since new indexes are added to Geneteka all the time, this range of years may be extended at some point.) But let’s say you’re translating a birth record from Wyszyny from 1823, online here. The indexed records are nonetheless useful to you because they can inform you of the surnames that were found in that parish. As with the Słownik Nazwisk, wildcard searches (“exact search”) are your friend when using Geneteka this way. If a surname clearly starts with “Wa-,” you can search within that parish for “Wa*” and use the resulting list of surnames to help decipher the name in the record. Remember, too, that you can broaden the search by adding in indexed parishes within a 15-km radius, or even search indexed parishes within a whole province, to pick up individuals who might have been from another parish originally. Using Geneteka in this manner gets you around the problem of the Słownik Nazwisk being limited to surnames that were in use in Poland circa 1990.

When it comes to deciphering place names, it’s helpful to fall back on both maps and gazetteers, to wit:

Magnificent Maps

This is probably Step 1 in your problem-solving process. When translating a vital record, you presumably know the location of the parish in which the record was created. Pull up a map of that location, and use it to identify other villages in the area. However, you may find that very small villages which were mentioned in vital records no longer appear on modern maps, possibly because they were absorbed by larger towns in the area. In such cases, it’s helpful to check an older map, preferably one from the same period (more or less) in which the record was created. Here are some good online sources for period maps of Poland and historically Polish lands.

Gazetteers are also incredibly helpful when translating vital records because they typically provide information on the administrative hierarchy for a location, as well as parish assignment. It was common for priests to provide some descriptive details, such as the parish or district in which the place was located, when identifying the birthplaces of key individuals in a vital record, and gazetteers can help you make sense of those details.

A good example of this is shown below in Figure 1. This is an extract from the marriage record for Tadeusz Skolimowski and Marianna Kessling, who were married in Wyszyny Kościelne on 28 January 1877. Tadeusz and Marianna were my husband’s great-great-grandparents, and my further research depended on my ability to correctly identify the birthplaces of the bride and groom.

Figure 1: Extract from marriage record of Tadeusz Skolimowski and Marianna Kessling, Wyszyny Kościelne, 28 January 1877, with details about the groom underlined in red.1Tadeusz Skolimowski marriage extract marked

The text underlined in red starts with the groom’s name in Polish instrumental case, “Skolimowskim Tadeuszem,” and then continues in Russian, “тридцати шести лҍтъ отъ роду холостымъ садовникомъ и жителемъ деревни Косинки Капличне уроженцемъ деревни Болешинъ тогожѣ прихода въ прусскомъ королествҍ,” which means, “age thirty-six, a single gardener and a resident of Kosinki Kapliczne, born in the village and also parish of Boleszyn in the Kingdom of Prussia.”

There are two places to identify here, Tadeusz’s place of residence at the time of his marriage, and his place of birth. Although his place of residence looks to me like Косинки Капличне (Kosinki Kapliczne), a quick look at the map tells me it’s got to be Kosiny Kapiczne, a few kilometers west of Wyszyny Kościelne (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Map of Wyszyny Kościelne and surrounding villages, Google Maps.Map of Wyszyny area

Although certain that this is the correct location, I ran my transcription past William F. “Fred” Hoffman, co-author of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian, to see if he agreed that the place was spelled “Капличне [Kapliczne],” or if perhaps I was just misreading the handwriting and seeing an л where none was intended. Fred gave me permission to quote his reply, in which he wrote,

“I clearly read the name of the village as Kosinki Kapliczne. I’m guessing that may be a local variant of the name. The Kosiny vs. Kosinki is no big deal, that kind of thing goes on all the time with Polish names. But KapLiczne vs. Kapiczne appears to be a mistake, or, maybe, a regional form. I looked this place up in a series on the history of place names, and that name was consistently -picz-, not -plicz-. Russian does sometimes insert an -л- in palatalized situations where we wouldn’t expect it: for instance, the verb for “to love” is любить, but “I love” is я люблю. So perhaps the priest thought Капличне might be a proper Russified form. But I suspect I’m being too clever here. Maybe it’s a simple mistake. For a priest, confusion with kaplica, “chapel,” might explain how that -l- snuck in there where it doesn’t belong. It seems certain Kosiny Kapiczne is the right place. Scholars say the Kapic- part comes from association with a local fellow named Piotr Kapica — no -L-.”

Great Gazetteers

For kicks, I also looked up this location in the Skorowidz Królewstwa Polskiego (T. 1), which is a gazetteer of places in the Kingdom of Poland (i.e. Russian Poland), published in 1877. The Skorowidz tells me that Kosiny Kapiczne, village and folwark (manorial farm), was located in the Płock gubernia (province), Mława powiat (county), and Kosiny gmina (community, consisting of several villages), and that it belonged to the parish in Bogurzyn (Figure 3). The village of Bogurzyn can be seen just to the west of Kosiny Kapiczne on the map in Figure 2.

Figure 3: Entry for Kosiny Kapiczne in the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego.2

Kosiny in SKP

The parish assignment is an important detail, from the standpoint of translations. In situations where the bride and groom were living in different parishes, it was customary for the banns to be read in both parishes, so that anyone with any objections to the marriage might come forward. If we were in any doubt at this point about whether or not we had read the name of Tadeusz’s place of residence correctly, we could use the name of the parish to test our hypothetical identification of the village. In this case, we can predict that the parish of Bogurzyn will be named further down in the record when the banns are mentioned. Sure enough, Figure 4 shows that it is.

Figure 4: Extract from marriage record of Tadeusz Skolimowski and Marianna Kessling, Wyszyny Kościelne, 28 January 1877, with details about the marriage banns underlined in red.Bogurzyn in record

This section states, “Браку зтому предшествовали три оглашенія публикованнъл въ Вышинскоемъ и Богурзинскоем приходскихъ костелахъ,” which means, “This marriage was preceded by three announcements published in the parish churches of Wyszyny and Bogurzyn.” Bingo.

Moving on to Tadeusz’s birthplace, the record tells us that he was born in Boleszyn in the Kingdom of Prussia. An internet search informs us that this is not a unique place name in Poland: there is a village called Boleszyn that’s presently in the Świętokrzyszkie voivodeship, and another village by that name in the Warmińsko-mazurskie voivodeship. A quick look at a rough map of the borders between Russia and Prussia in the late 19th century is enough to suggest that the latter village is the one we want. Nonetheless, this is still a hypothetical identification until we find a record of Tadeusz’s birth in the parish of Boleszyn. In this case, it’s simple to do that. Records for Boleszyn are freely available on FamilySearch, and Tadeusz’s marriage record informs us that he was 36 years old in 1877, suggesting a date of birth circa 1841. A few minutes of searching results in his birth record, shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Birth record from the parish in Boleszyn for Tadeusz Skolimowski, born 17 September 1841.3Tadeusz Skolimowski birth 1841

This record confirms that Thaddeus/Tadeusz was born 17 September 1841 in Słup, baptized on September 26, and that he was the son of Laurentius (Wawrzyniec, in Polish) Skolimowski and Marianna née Zwolińska. Godparents were Mateusz Kalinoski (sic) and Franciszka Winter, wife of the church organist. Although not included in the underlined text in Figure 1, the next section of his marriage record identified Tadeusz’s parents as Wawrzyniec Skolimowski and Marianna (née Zwolińska) Skolimowska, both of whom were already deceased. Since the child’s name, parents’ names, year of birth and the baptismal parish all line up with the body of evidence accumulated for Tadeusz, we can overlook the fact that he was actually born in the village of Słup rather than in the village of Boleszyn as stated on the marriage record.

If this record were not so easy to find—if perhaps these records were only available onsite at the parish, and we’d need to hire an onsite researcher to get a copy of Tadeusz’s birth record—then we might want to take an extra step to confirm the location of Boleszyn before sending someone off on a wild-goose chase. The marriage record provided a small but important detail about the village of Boleszyn with the statement, “деревни Болешинъ тогожѣ прихода,” which indicates that the particular Boleszyn we’re looking for had a Catholic church located right in the village. We can therefore predict that if we look up the village of Boleszyn in a gazetteer of places in the German Empire, the correct village will be the seat of a parish. So what gazetteer should we use? Well, the Meyers Gazetteer is always good, except it requires us to know what the village of Boleszyn would be called in German, and we only have the Polish name (transliterated from Russian) available. We could transliterate again, guess that the village name might be something like Bolleschin, and do a search for that name in the Meyers Gazetteer, and in this case, we’d be right. Even if that weren’t exactly correct, we could do a wild-card search for “Bol*” which will produce all villages starting with “Bol-” and we can sift through the results. But sometimes the German names for places in Poland aren’t simple transliterations (e.g. the German name for the Polish town of Zagórów is Hinterberg), so this method might not pan out.

For these reasons, my first-choice gazetteer in this case would be Kartenmeister, since that gazetteer allows the input of Polish place names. Kartenmeister quickly informs us that the village of Boleszyn was also known as Bolleschin or Bolleßyn, and was the seat of both a Catholic parish and a German Standesamt (civil registry office). Moreover, both gazetteers confirm that there was only one village by this name in the German Empire, so we can be confident that this is the place mentioned in the marriage record.

As you can see, the various surname databases, maps, and gazetteers can be valuable resources to tap into when translating vital records pertaining to your Polish ancestors. Even situations in which village names are misspelled, such as Tadeusz Skolimowski’s place of residence, or misidentified, such as his place of birth, present only minor obstacles when armed with the correct tools for understanding the problem. Hopefully some of these tools will be useful to you, and if they are, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy researching!


1 Roman Catholic Church (Wyszyny Koscielne, Mlawa, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wyszyny powiat mlawski, 1826-1909,” 1877, Małżeństwa, no. 3, marriage record for Tadeusz Skolimowski and Maryanna Kessling, accessed as browsable images, ( 24 June 2020)

2 I. Zinberg, Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego, Volume 1 (Warsaw: W. Drukarni, I.J. Ałapina 1877), “Kosiny kapiczne w. i fol.,” page 286.

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Martin’s parish (Boleszyn, Nowe-Miasto, Warminsko-mazurskie, Poland), Taufen 1761-1852, 1841, no. 29, baptismal record for Thadeeus Skolimowski, accessed as browsable images, “Kirchenbuch, 1644-1938,” FamilySearch ( : 24 June 2020), path: Taufen 1701-1759, 1761-1852 Heiraten 1644-1862 Tote 1761-1787, 1789-1845 (DGS no. 7948735) > image 303 of 635.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

Tips for Getting Started with Genealogical Translations

In my last post, I wrote about the new release of Shea and Hoffman’s Russian translation aid, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian, as an e-book. Today I’d like to offer a few tips to keep in mind when learning to translate Polish or Russian vital records for your family. Some of these tips could apply to translations from any language, but these languages are the ones I feel most comfortable with. Please note I am not a linguist, or a scholar, nor am I conversational in either of these languages. I’m a genealogist who was motivated to learn to read vital records so that I could be more independent in researching my family tree. If you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing that description might fit you, as well.

Setting the stage

When I started my family history research, I knew nothing of the Polish language, beyond a few Christmas carols, food words, and folk songs. I had never attended Polish Saturday School, neither of my parents speaks Polish, and when I tried to get Grandma to teach me Polish when I was about 10, both of us felt overwhelmed by the task rather quickly and the project was soon abandoned. So the first time I loaded up a microfilm reader at the Family History Center with a reel of parish records from one of my ancestral parishes in Poland and started scrolling through the records, I was frustrated and discouraged. The handwriting was cramped, faded in some places and full of ink blots and smudges in others, and it seemed doubtful that these Polish-language documents were even written with a Roman alphabet, since the style of the cursive was so unfamiliar. I wasn’t at all sure that I could do this. However, vital records are very formulaic, and if I could learn to read them, I think pretty much anyone can, given enough practice and patience.

Know what to expect, and plan for success

I began with the parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo, which was the birthplace of my great-grandmother, Veronica/Weronika (née Grzesiak) Zazycki. I knew that Weronika was born circa 1876, and at the time of her birth, the parish was located in the Kalisz gubernia (or province) of the Russian Empire. (If you’re new to Polish genealogy and are puzzled by the fact that an ethnic Pole would have been born in the Russian Empire, this article may help clarify things.) Parishes in Russian Poland were required to keep records in Russian starting in 1868. Therefore, I knew that Grandma Veronica’s birth record would be in Russian. I also knew that I did not want to start with these Russian records, if I could avoid it. Although the language in which the records were written changed in 1868, the format of the civil birth, marriage, and death records from this part of Poland remained the same from 1826 through the early part of the 20th century. Since Polish and English both use the Roman alphabet, I figured it would be easier to learn to read Polish records first, and familiarize myself with the structure of the records, as well as the grammatical features common to both Russian and Polish, such as a high degree of grammatical inflection.

So I took a look at my family tree again. I knew that Veronica’s older brother, Walter/Władysław, was born circa 1867. That suggested to me that their parents were married before 1867, which meant that their marriage record should be in Polish, rather than Russian. Sure enough, I was able to locate and translate the Polish-language record for Veronica’s parents’ marriage in 1865. This enabled me to trace back further through the records, discover some of Veronica’s ancestry, and get some practice with reading Polish records along the way.

I highly recommend this strategy if you’re able to employ it. Learning to read Russian is sufficiently challenging that you’ll want to set yourself up for success by easing into it. If you’ve already got enough experience with Polish records to know, for example, that the names, ages, and occupations of the witnesses to a baptism come at the beginning of the record, immediately after the father’s name, age, and occupation, and that the names are written in the genitive grammatical case, then half the battle is won. At that point, when you start to examine Russian vital records, you’ll be able to anticipate certain elements of the text and grammar. This in turn will allow you to focus your attention on deciphering the Cyrillic cursive in which the Russian records are written.

Get a good translation guide, and focus on the parts that you feel are most helpful.

With Shea and Hoffman’s Polish guide, I spent a fair amount of time on the first section, which presented the Polish alphabet, phonetics, and the introduction to grammar, and then zeroed in on the pages that included date and time expressions, numbers, months, days of the week, and family relationships. After that I skipped to the transcribed and translated examples of birth, marriage and death records. Even though the records for my family are in the paragraph form, I found it useful to read through the examples presented in the columnar form as well. There’s a fantastic glossary in the back, along with a list of Polish given names and feast days that I found very helpful when I encountered a name that was unfamiliar to me.

Let the boilerplate text be your guide.

As mentioned previously, Polish civil vital records are pretty formulaic. The paragraph-style records from this part of Poland (after 1826) always begin with, “Działo się w…” meaning, “It happened in,” or “This happened in.” Since some words in these documents are always the same, you can use those words to familiarize yourself with the handwriting found in the document. This is especially true when you make the move to Russian records, since there are multiple forms that certain cursive letters can take. For example, the Russian т can be written in such a way that it looks like our lowercase cursive m, or like our lowercase cursive f. If you’re lucky, the priest was consistent with how he formed his letters, so you can apply that knowledge to unknown words in the document.

Take a break if you get stuck.

It happens to all of us that we encounter a word, phrase, or even just part of a word that we can’t figure out. When that happens, avoid the temptation to spin your wheels for too long; sometimes moving on in the document is the best thing you can do. As you proceed further and encounter more of that boilerplate text that is your Rosetta Stone for deciphering the document, you may realize what those mystery letters are that were eluding you. If you find yourself getting really frustrated, it’s probably time to take a break. Coming back to the problem later, with fresh eyes, can do wonders.

Pick up a pen.

While I can’t say I’ve tried this one too often myself, some people swear by the practice of trying to mimic the scribe, recopying the text in an effort to get a feel for his letter formation. Where I think that the practice of writing the letters by hand would be especially helpful, is in learning the Russian alphabet (more on that below).


Although some would argue that Facebook groups like Genealogical Translations eliminate the necessity of studying a foreign language at all, I believe that there’s still value in learning to read documents relevant to your ancestors for yourself. The more competent you become with reading (at least) the basic birth, marriage and death records, the more independent and efficient you will be as a researcher, since you’ll be able to tell immediately from the record itself whether the details confirm that it is relevant to your research, or merely a record of someone with the same name as your ancestor. While you’re learning, however, the Facebook groups can be a great asset, like having the answer key for a practice test. Even after you become comfortable with translating these documents for yourself, the Facebook groups are a great resource if you get stuck on a particular document due to some awful handwriting or unusual phrasing. You may also find that volunteers in the Facebook groups are quicker to offer assistance to those researchers who appear to be trying to learn for themselves, as opposed to those who request one full translation after another of documents with a similar format.

Special Tips for Learning to Read Russian

Once you’ve gained some familiarity and experience with Polish vital records for your ancestral parish, it may be time to tackle those Russian records. Here’s what worked for me.

Clear your calendar

Although I dabbled in learning to read Russian for about a decade, I never got serious about it until December 2012, when I discovered a cache of records on Geneteka, pertaining to the family of my great-grandfather, Józef Zieliński. Not only was Józef’s 1892 birth record included, but also birth records for eight of his siblings who were previously unknown to my family, and many other records besides. I really wanted to learn to read those records. I had no time during the busy holiday season to spend on this project, but the best gift my family gave me that year was the gift of time during our week of family vacation between Christmas and New Year’s, to just sit there and plug away at the records until they started to make sense.

Retrain your brain

No matter how you schedule it in, you will definitely need to set aside some time for this, as there’s an element of retraining the brain that’s involved. Initially I spent a lot of time just staring at each record, trying to make my brain recognize the individual Cyrillic cursive letters within the words, instead of automatically interpreting them as letters in the Roman alphabet. That’s because many of the Cyrillic cursive letters look deceptively like Roman letters, as mentioned previously. It takes some time to learn that what looks like a b is really a Polish w which makes the sound of the English v; the English letter d (д in Russian print) can be written so that it looks like a cursive lower-case g; the cursive Russian letters that look like n, p, c, and m are really the equivalents of p, r, s, and t in English; and that word that looks like “mpu” is really “три” and means “three.” Shea and Hoffman sum this up in a single chart on page 1 which compares printed and cursive forms of the Cyrillic letters with their English, Polish, and Lithuanian phonetic counterparts, with an added bonus chart of some archaic letters which were removed from the Russian alphabet during the Russian Revolution, but which are still used in other Cyrillic alphabets (e.g. Ukrainian). I spent a great deal of time in the beginning just digesting this chart, and this is where I believe in hindsight that the learning process would have been faster had I picked up a pen and started writing these letter forms rather than simply trying to memorize them visually.

Another page that was bookmarked early on was page 9, which focuses specifically on the different cursive forms each letter can take, and offers tips on how to distinguish between letters that may appear similar. These tips will make it clear that the word shown in the “Russian cursive makes me cry sometimes” image at the top of this page is intentionally written to be confusing.[1] This word, лишиться (meaning “to lose”), should be written with a horizontal line under the ш and another horizontal line over the т to distinguish them from the other letters. Written like this, without those clarifying marks, I needed assistance to figure this word out, and fortunately, this is not a word you’re likely to encounter in a Russian vital record. Nonetheless, Shea and Hoffman do provide a definition of the related word лишённый (“deprived,” as in, “лишённый всѣхъ правъ, “deprived of all rights”) in the glossary at the end of the book.[2]

Rethink your АБВ’s

In addition to learning the printed and cursive forms of each Cyrillic letter and their phonetic equivalents in Polish and English, you’ll have to relearn the alphabetical order. Russian throws us another curve ball in the fact that the alphabet is presented in a different order from what we’re used to, which is important to remember when using the glossary in the back of Shea and Hoffman’s book. I can’t tell you how many times I would try to look up a word like землевладелец (meaning “landowner,” often used where the word gospodarz was used in Polish-language records) and instinctively flip to the end of the glossary, only to remember that the letter з which sounds like z comes near the beginning of the alphabet. It may feel like you’re spending an inordinate amount of time with that chart on page 1, but I think it will be time well spent.

In the beginning, it might help to think of your efforts as “deciphering” more than “reading.” It used to take me a long time to make it through each word in a document, identifying each letter individually, and you’ll probably go through this stage as well. By “long time,” I mean that I think it took me a week, chipping away at it in my free time, to fully translate my first Russian vital record. Nowadays, if it’s a record from one of my ancestral parishes where the handwriting, the surnames, and nearby villages mentioned in the record are familiar to me, and there aren’t a lot of uncommon occupations or unusual phrases to look up, I can read a new record in just a few minutes. So the moral of the story is, don’t get frustrated, be patient with yourself, and stick with it. Think of it as a puzzle to solve. Some folks do crosswords or Sudoku; you read 19th-century Russian documents. It really does get easier with time and practice.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

[1] IgorAntarov, “Russian cursive makes me cry sometimes,” Imgur ( : 13 June 2020)

[2] Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian, (New Britain, Connecticut: Language and Lineage Press, 2002), 388.















Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian, (New Britain, Connecticut: Language and Lineage Press, 2002), 388.

IgorAntarov, “Russian cursive makes me cry sometimes,” Imgur ( : 13 June 2020)

Using the PRADZIAD Database

Update (June 1, 2020): Shortly after this post was written, the Polish state archives announced that the current version of PRADZIAD will only be available through the new version of Szukajwarchiwach. I was disappointed by this development, because I preferred the old PRADZIAD format for displaying search results. However, life is all about change, so adapt we must. A tutorial for using the new Szukajwarchiwach site can be found here.

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.


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 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.PRADZIAD search screen

Although it’s pretty straightforward, there are a few things that are helpful to know in setting up a search.

  1. Diacritics are not required, so searching for “Lodz” will produce results for Łódź.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.Katalog

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.Katalog results for Dabrowa

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



Szukajwarchiwach Version 2.0: Better Than the Original!

On 8 June 2019, the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe launched a new and improved version of Szukajwarchiwach, the popular search portal for the holdings of the Polish state archives. The new site is accessed at, while the old site,, will remain active for the time being to allow users time to transition to the new site. Although the new site still seems to have a few bugs, it offers some wonderful improvements, and it’s well worth taking the time to become familiar with it.

What Does Szukajwarchiwach Do For Me?

SzwA is an incredibly powerful tool that allows one to search the holdings of 111 (at present) different archives whose collections are relevant to Polish research. While the vast majority of these are in Poland, this new version of SzwA includes materials from four archives in the U.S. (the Polish-American Liturgical Center in Orchard Lake, Michigan; the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America in New York; the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Polish Music Center in Los Angeles), in addition to material from other archives outside of Poland. The complete list of contributing archives can be explored by browsing the map that’s found at the bottom of the new home page. Alternatively, the list of contributing archives from Poland can be viewed here. In addition to offering a searchable database for archival materials, SzwA presently offers over 37 million scans, free of charge. There’s absolutely no fee for accessing any of this information, or for downloading scans, although a new feature of the site is the ability to order high quality prints for a fee. Although most English-speakers tend to use SzwA for locating vital records, it can also be used to locate maps, business records, municipal records, census records, notarial records, and more. The new search interface allows one to simultaneously search not only the former SzwA site, but also the former Zbiory NAC On-line site, which houses historic photos and audiovisual files within the holdings of the state archives. What’s not to love?

What Szukajwarchiwach May Not Do For You

Szukajwarchiwach is not a database of vital records indexed by name. That is, you should not expect to type the name of your ancestor in the search box and obtain results, unless your ancestor happened to a person of prominence, such as a noble, historical figure, or notary. Instead, you need to determine where your ancestors lived, and based on that you can identify the parish or registry office which would have created the records that documented their births, deaths and marriages. Archival fonds are organized based on the institution, individual, or governmental entity which created them, so searches can be made using any key word which might be found in the title of a collection, or in a tag added to the item by the archives. One can therefore search for items pertaining to a place (Rzeszów), a document type (księgi ludności), a topic (sztuka ludowa), etc.

SzwA does not include the vital records holdings (akta metrykalne) of the various diocesan archives, nor does this site catalog the holdings of any local parish archives. That said, in some cases, search results will include results from diocesan archives, but this is the exception, not the rule. In such cases I suspect the state archive has microfilmed copies of the records for which the originals are at the diocesan archive, or perhaps they’re partnering with the diocesan archive in some way, and that’s why these results are included. However, I have yet to discover an example in which scans are available on SzwA for collections reported to be held by a diocesan archive. In such cases, researchers should always check the FamilySearch catalog because I often find that scans are available there for the same ranges of years reported at SzwA.

In any case, hope is not lost if there are no vital records available at SzwA for a particular parish or registry office, as those records may still exist, only in another location. Moreover, the catalog is apparently incomplete, as anecdotal evidence abounds of sought-after records that were not mentioned in SzwA, but were nonetheless obtainable through personal visit or letter to the archive. Ultimately it’s best to inquire directly with the regional archive for one’s village or parish of interest, if something particular is needed. Despite these caveats, SzwA is still a great starting point when determining what records are available that might be relevant to one’s research.

Using the New Site

Although the instructions at the site are very good, the English interface has a few quirks, so let’s begin at the beginning. Figure 1 shows the new SzwA homepage.

Figure 1: Home page of the new Szukajwarchiwach site.SzwA home page

English-speakers may want to begin by switching the language to English using the drop-down language menu located to the right of the “Zaloguj się” (login) button. The login button itself is another new feature. SzwA now offers the ability to create an account (free of charge), to personalize one’s SzwA experience. When logged in, it’s possible to save searches, create collections of favorite materials and add to those collections, order materials in better quality, and make appointments if one wishes to visit one of the archives in person. Once the language is changed to English and I’m logged in, the screen appears as in Figure 2.

Figure 2: English version of the new Szukajwarchiwach site.SzwA in English

A quick search tutorial is available in the lower right corner, boxed in red. That explains the site very nicely, so an additional lengthy tutorial here really isn’t necessary. Ultimately, we can hope that the site will perform pretty much as advertised in that tutorial. However, as I mentioned, there are presently a few bugs, which I discovered when I took the site for a test-drive. I wanted to see how the search results were different with the new site vs. the old site, for several of my ancestral parishes, so I started with Młodzieszyn.

As soon as the cursor is placed in the search box, a drop-down menu appears which offers options for refining the search (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Options for refining a search. Document types include “Acts,” “Posters, Leaflets, Placards,” “Technical projects,” “Maps,” “Photographs,” “Sound records,” “Civil,” “Volatile,” and “Museums.”SzwA search options

While most of these options are self-explanatory, a couple don’t translate well; namely, “volatile” and “civil.” “Volatile” is the funky English translation of “pergaminowe,” which really refers to old documents written on parchment. Selecting this option returns results from the 17th and 18th centuries (and possibly earlier). “Civil” is how the site translates Akta metrykalne (metrical acts, i.e. vital records), as opposed to unmodified Akta which refers to other files of local government records, court records, etc. I should also point out that, while the old SzwA search engine would return the same results with or without diacritics, this search engine is sensitive to diacritics. For example, a search for “Mlodzieszyn” returns only one result, a topographical map from 1942 which was originally written in German, since it was created during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Since the German language lacks Polish diacritics, the only search result returned is this one in which the village name was written without diacritics when the document was created. However, a search for “Młodzieszyn” with diacritics returns 45 files, 2 technical projects, 5 maps, and 9 “record files,” for a total of 61 collections. On this page of search results, the site translates Akta metrykalne as “Record files” rather than “civil” (go figure), so these are the vital records that should be the first stop in researching one’s family tree. Figure 4 shows the search results with the “Civil”/”Record files”/Aka metrykalne search filter applied. 

Figure 4: Search results for metrical acts from Młodzieszyn.Figure 3

When the same search is performed in the old version of SzwA, with the box checked for “Vital records and civil registers,” the result is the same—nine collections of vital records from three parishes (Młodzieszyn, Mistrzewice and Kamion) located within gmina Młodzieszyn, which is what we would expect. From past experience, I know that the first collection shown in Figure 3 should be birth records from Młodzieszyn from 1859–1898. Clicking on the title of the collection ought to direct one to a page with further information about these records, and it does do that, in a way.  Unfortunately, it leads to the page shown in Figure 5, which seems to be a list of all the 36,213 parishes and registry offices in the Pradziad vital records database.

Figure 5: Screen which results from clicking on “Młodzieszyn” (1859–1898) in Figure 4.Pradziad

The trouble seems to be that this is such a long list that it’s very slow to load and the site tends to hang up for long periods. After many minutes, I was finally able to search the page (Ctrl-F) for Młodzieszyn (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Result of using page-search function to identify search results for Młodzieszyn parish from list of available parishes and registry offices in Pradziad database. Mlodzieszyn search result

Clicking on “rozwiń” (“expand”) gives more information about each collection. However, at this point, there’s no indication of what type of vital records are contained in each collection. For example, I know from experience (and can verify by repeating the search in the old version of SzwA) that the records from 1889-1925 are death records. But this is not indicated in the display format at the new version of the site (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Expanded data on vital records collections from Młodzieszyn.More data on Młodzieszyn

Although the entry identifies these as Roman Catholic records, which is important, the lack of information about the type of vital event is a significant omission. Hopefully this issue will be addressed in the near future. After additional tinkering with this new version of SzwA and testing multiple parishes, I discovered that the screen with the long list of contents of the Pradziad database only results if there are no scans online for that particular parish. If scans are available, they will be accessible as shown in the example below. As always, if scans are not available at this site, then it’s advisable to check other digital archives like Metryki, FamilySearch, GenBaza, the Archiwum Głowne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD), Genealogiawarchiwach, etc. to see if scans are available there, before concluding that the scans must be ordered from the archive.

In a second test of the site, I tried searching for records for another ancestral parish, Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County, Wielkopolska. A search for “Kowalewo” returned results for Kowalewo Pomorskie and other unrelated places, suggesting that the search engine is very specific, as was noted earlier with its sensitivity to diacritics. Although the very first result (boxed in red) was a collection of vital records from this parish, the search result paradoxically indicates no record files/akta metrykalne (boxed in green, Figure 8). This is probably a bug that will be fixed eventually.

Figure 8: Search results for Kowalewo Opactwo. Kowalewo Opactwo

Clicking on the collection of vital records boxed in red in Figure 8 results in the screen shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Detail regarding available civil records for the Roman Catholic parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca county.Kowalewo Opactwo detailed entry

Clicking on “Scans,” boxed in red, allows direct access to the scans in chronological order, in contrast to the old version of SzwA, which required progressive navigation to the scans by first clicking through the series and units. Figure 9 also highlights the limitations of the English interface. While the notes on the history of the creator are often very interesting and helpful in understanding the historical context in which the records were created, they do not translate automatically even when using the English version of the site. However, a simple cut-and-paste into Google Translate will usually provide the gist of the text, if not the nuances.

Although direct access to the scans is now possible with this new interface, navigating through the scans in chronological order may not be desirable if, for example, scans start in 1808 and you’re looking for an event that took place in 1866. In that case, click “List of Units,” boxed in red in Figure 10, and then navigate through the pages to find the scans from 1866, underlined in green.

Figure 10: List of scanned units for Kowalewo Opactwo showing number of scans available in each.Scanned units

Since Kowalewo Opactwo was a parish in Russian Poland, our first step in locating a vital record from 1866 would be to find the internal index, typically created by the priest at the end of each year. This index will allow us to identify records pertaining to our ancestors. Index pages can be spotted from the thumbnails on the basis of their appearance, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11: Index page, boxed in red, for birth records from 1866.1866 index page

It’s evident that this page contains a list of names, rather than the paragraph-style entries observed in the other images. Clicking that image brings us to the next screen, where we have the familiar array of options for zooming in and out, rotating the image, and changing brightness (Figure 12). Note also in Figure 11 that there is now an option to select all 40 scans from 1866 and download them, or add them to one’s personal collection. (This option only exists when one is logged into one’s account.) My colleague Roman Kałużniacki tested this feature and reported that the entire book will arrive in a zip file, containing all the selected pages. He added, “In the past, I had to download each page separately—I could do about 80-100 per hour but it was somewhat tedious. Here, I selected all, ‘Wszystkie,’ and got 240 pages, about 500 MB of data, in just a minute or so. Of course, many people don’t do full books but if you are in the indexing business or have a favorite home village then that feature is a great time saver.”

Figure 12: Screen with photo-enhancing tools and other options for saving and using scans.Index image

There are several nice new features offered here. One of these is the blue “Add Orders” button located at the bottom of the screen. Clicking this will put the scan into your “shopping cart.” When research is complete, the shopping cart appears next to your name in the login area of the screen. Clicking on the cart will initiate the checkout process, as shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13: Checkout screen for ordering prints from the archive.Cart for ordering scans

Several options are available for paper size, ranging from “13×18″ (units not indicated, perhaps centimeters?) up to A1 (23.4″ x 33.1”). There is also a choice of 300 dpi resolution, or 600 dpi. In this example, the lower-resolution print was 8 PLN (about $2.12) and the higher resolution print was 30 PLN (about $7.97) regardless of paper size, and results are presumably suitable for framing. The menu on the right in Figure 12 also offers options for cropping, downloading, bookmarking, and sharing the image on social media, in addition to providing the direct link to the image.

Going back to that index page, we can zoom in by clicking the plus magnification icon until the image becomes readable (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Detail of birth index from 1866 for Kowalewo Opactwo parish.Index image closeup

In this particular index, the Akt number (record number) is written to the left of the name, while the page number is written to the right. So the birth record for Józef Dogoda will be found on the scan containing the first page of the book, and it will be the second birth recorded on that page.

Whenever a new website like this debuts, there’s always a considerable amount of discussion in the genealogical community on Facebook. In a discussion about this new site in the Galicia Family History Group, Jeanne Kogut Wardrop asked if there is “an easier way to make the record pages larger and easier to read without having to press the plus magnification icon 20 times each time you want to see a record.” Images do tend to enlarge by very small increments with this version of the site, but you may be able to get around that by clicking on “link” in the menu to the right of the image and copying and pasting the resulting link into a new browser window. This brings up an image of the scan that is readable with only one additional click of the magnifying glass. In another discussion, Jody Tzucker pointed out the lack of a specific filter for locating vital records for a particular denomination. 

While it’s true that the layout of the old site was a bit more intuitive when it came to locating records for a specific religious denomination, it’s still possible to do this at the new site, using the Advanced Search feature. Figure 14 shows the Advanced Search screen, which can be accessed immediately below the search box on the main search screen.

Figure 14: Advanced Search screen.Advanced Search

Jewish records for the town of Zagórów in Wielkopolska can be located by searching for the term “Zagórów” in combination with the term “mójżeszowe” which is the term employed by the archives for records from the Jewish (Mosaic) faith. The result is four collections—births, marriages, deaths, and alegata (birth records and other documents typically provided to the registrar at the time of marriage)—identical to the collections of Jewish records produced by a search at the original SzwA site (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Results of Advanced search for Mosaic (Jewish, mójżeszowe) records for Zagórów. Zagorow Jewish records search results

Figure 15 also shows the option for saving search results. If this option is selected, the user is prompted to name the search, and results can be accessed through the user’s profile when logged into the system.

From the perspective of English-speakers using the site, there’s an obvious disadvantage to the layout of the new site, which requires the user to type in the name of a religious denomination in order to filter results that way. The old SzwA site offered a drop-down menu from which one could select the appropriate denomination, which was easier if, for example, one did not know that Protestant church records are generally referred to as “ewangelickie” and not “luterański” or  “protestancki.” The original version of SzwA offered a total of 31 options for religious denomination and it was helpful to be able to choose from that list, rather than having to guess at the standard term used by the archive to describe one’s ancestors’ religion. Researchers whose ancestors belonged to a church other than the Roman Catholic Church might therefore want to visit the original SzwA site before it is discontinued, to make a note of the specific term used by the archives to describe that faith. Of course, we can hope that the new interface may continue to be tweaked so that it eventually includes a standardized religious denomination search filter, but it’s best to be prepared for the possibility that this change is not forthcoming.

Since this new SzwA site combines the databases from the old SzwA with the old Zbiory NAC On-line, I wondered if perhaps this was the dawn of a new era in Polish genealogy, when all of the digital archives of each state archive would be accessible through one search interface, instead of requiring users to search the sites for the individual archives like Przemyśl and AGAD separately. In the past, I’ve noticed that a portion of the scans from these archives could be accessed from either SzwA or their own site, but each archive also maintained a unique collection of scans which could only be accessed from their own site. So I checked a couple random parishes for which scans are available at these sites  (Rybotycze, Greek Catholic records, from the archive in Przemyśl; Baworów, Roman Catholic records, from AGAD) and unfortunately, scans continue to be unavailable from SzwA. I also checked records for the Roman Catholic parish in Rogowo (Rypin county) for which scans from the Archiwum Państwowe w Toruniu Oddział we Włocławku are available at Genealogiawarchiwach, and these continue to be unavailable from SzwA also. Well, one can’t have everything.

One final point that was made in the discussions on Facebook and in the comments below was that not all of the scans that were previously accessible at the original SzwA site are currently accessible at the new SzwA site. Researcher C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon commented on this fact in a discussion in the Galicia Family History Group, as he compared search results between the old and new sites for his ancestral parish of Pacanów: “If I limited myself to just searching on “Pacanów” [at the new SzwA site] I found 544 records across all Categories…. I searched long enough that the site started returning 594 records across all categories. Good thing I snapped a picture of 1st result or I might have thought my memory deficient. So they must still be loading card catalog meta data (probably hash tag indexes).” Michael’s experience suggests that patience is in order when missing scans are discovered. Fortunately the old site is still active and it’s likely it won’t be discontinued until the new site is fully functional.

Despite the existence of a few bugs, I think the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe has done a great job with this updated version of Szukajwarchiwach. Whether you’re a new user of the site or a veteran, I think you’ll agree that the site opens up some wonderful pathways into the past as we discover our Polish heritage through the documents, maps, and photographs which recorded our ancestors’ stories. Jump in, click around, and let me know what you think. If you discover any new tricks for improving the search experience, please add them to the comments. Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

No Scan in Geneteka? No problem!

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the lack of a scan linked to a record found in Geneteka does not imply that no scan is available online.

I was reminded of this recently while researching my Wilczek family. A search of marriage records from Mazowieckie province for children of Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka produced the results shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for marriage records from any indexed parish in Mazowieckie province which mention Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka together.Wilczek marriages in Mazowieckie

While the first two marriage records are linked to scans, the last one, from Iłów parish, is not. Hovering over the “Z” reveals that the original record is in possession of the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim (Grodzisk Mazowieckie branch of the state archive of Warsaw). Although this seems to suggest that the only way to obtain a scan is to write to that archive to request a copy of the marriage record, the reality is that this record can be accessed online from either of two repositories, GenBaza or Metryki.


GenBaza, whose home page is shown in Figure 2, is a digital archive of Polish vital records privately hosted through the generosity of Tomasz Nitsch. Although the main site is found here, it’s necessary to register first at GenPol (Figure 3). Creating an account is free.

Figure 2: GenBaza‘s home page.GenBaza screen shot

Figure 3: GenPol‘s home page.GenPol home page

GenPol’s site can be switched to English by clicking the British flag icon shown under the login area, boxed in red in the image. To create a new account, click “Zarejestruj się” and follow the instructions. Note that if you want to view the GenBaza site itself in English, clicking “English version” in the upper right corner won’t get you very far. What’s shown in Figure 2 is the “English version.” (It states “Wersja Polska” in the upper right corner in the image because that’s what you click to change it to Polish.) Using the English version helps a tiny bit when it comes to viewing the scans themselves, but if you want to read the material on the home page in actual English, you’re better off translating the page via Google Translate by copying the URL for the page into the input text window, as shown in Figure 4, and then clicking on the resulting link in the output box.

Figure 5: Using Google Translate to translate web pages from Polish to English.Google Translate window

Alternatively, those who use Chrome as their browser can right-click anywhere on a web page and select, “Translate to English” as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Using Google Chrome to translate web pages from Polish to English.English translation via Chrome

Getting back to GenBaza, the nice thing about it is that fluency in Polish is not necessary in order to navigate the site and locate vital records. C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon wrote an excellent tutorial for using GenBaza at his blog, Stanczyk — Internet Muse, which I highly recommend. However, I’ll quickly walk through the steps I used to obtain a scan of that 1909 marriage record from Iłów that was indexed in Geneteka.

Records on GenBaza are arranged according to the archive which houses them, so some familiarity with the archival structure in Poland is helpful if one wishes to locate scans for a particular parish. To quickly determine which archive holds the records for a parish or registry office, check the PRADZIAD database. Although this database is no longer being updated, the version that existed in July 2018 is still available, and I personally prefer PRADZIAD’s display format to that of Szukajwarchiwach when it comes to determining the range of available records, but either site will do. In this case, however, when the object is simply to find a scan that’s already been indexed in Geneteka, we can determine the archive simply by hovering over the “z” in the indexed entry.

Once I’m logged into the GenBaza site, I select the parent archive from the list on the left (Figure 7). In the case of Iłow, the records are at the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim, so the parent archive is AP_Warszawa.

Figure 7: Root directory for archives with scans in GenBaza.GenBaza root directory

When we click on AP_Warszawa, we get a list of all the branch archives that operate under the umbrella of the state archive of Warsaw (Figure 8). From this list we choose AP_Grodzisk.

Figure 8: Directory of branch archives within the State Archive of Warsaw system.AP Grodzisk

This brings us to the list of available vital records collections from this archive (Figure 9). Remember that civil records from this part of “Poland” were maintained by each religious denomination separately starting in 1826, so denominations are indicated by abbreviations, such as “ew” for “ewangelickie” (Lutheran), “moj” for “mojżeszowe” (Jewish), etc.  Another important abbreviation which you will see in GenBaza is “gm,” which refers to “gmina.” As it’s used in GenBaza, this term designates collections of civil vital records created in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Russian partition between 1808-1825. During this period the local Catholic priest usually served as the civil registrar for everyone in the gmina (an administrative division comprised of multiple villages but smaller than a county), regardless of religion. Of course, the majority of collections in GenBaza are not designated with any of these abbreviations. and in these cases, the default seems to vary based on the collections themselves. For example, most of the undesignated collections from AP_Gdańsk—an archive which mainly holds records from places that were in the Prussian partition—are civil vital registrations,  which were introduced in the Prussian Empire in 1874. On the other hand, most of the undesignated collections from AP_Warszawa—an archive which mainly holds records from places that were in the Russian partition—are civil records for Roman Catholics, created at Roman Catholic parishes. These are generalizations, and your mileage may vary, so your best bet is to click around within a collection. The style of the records themselves will usually tell you about their origin.

Figure 9: List of vital records collections from AP Grodzisk Mazowieckie for which scans are available from GenBaza.AP Grodzisk parishes

From this list of parishes in AP Grodzisk, I can scroll down to find Iłów and then click on it, which brings us to the page shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10: List of scans available from Iłów parish.Ilow

The list on the left indicates eight collections of civil birth (U, urodzenia), marriage (M, małżeństwa) and death (Z, zgony) records created by the Roman Catholic parish in Iłów and dating from 1889–1927. There is also a collection of civil records created by the Lutheran parish in Iłów (“Iłów_ew”), and clicking on this link will open up to a similar list of vital records collections dating from 1834–1934.

The marriage record indexed in Geneteka for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska was number 22 in 1909, so it will be in the collection entitled “1890–1910 M_05.” Clicking on this link opens up the range of individual years shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11: List of individual years within the collection of civil marriage records from the Roman Catholic parish in Iłów, 1890-1910.Ilow marriages 1890-1910

Clicking on “1909” brings up the page shown in Figure 12, where we can select an individual image file to view. These are named according to the numbered marriage records contained on each, so marriage record number 22 will be on the image “_22-23.jpg.”

Figure 12:  Individual image files for 1909 marriages. 1909 marriages

Clicking on that image file brings us at long last to the image of the marriage record of Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska which was indexed in Geneteka with no link to a scan (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska, 7 November 1909.Franciszek Wilczek marriage in GenBaza

Since Iłów was located within the Russian Empire in 1909, the record is in Russian rather than Polish. However, it was common practice to write the names of the key participants first in Russian and then again in Polish. So even without an ability to read Russian, it’s possible to ascertain that this is the correct record by scanning through the text to find the names of the target individuals. In the example above, Franciszek Wilczek’s name, written in Russian and Polish (in the instrumental grammatical case, so Franciszek becomes Franciszkiem and Wilczek becomes Wilczkiem) is underlined in red. To download a copy of this record in full resolution, click the “Pobierz zdjęcie” button boxed in green.


The second digital archive in which a scan of this marriage record can be found is (Figure 14). A common theme is evident in the names of these digital archives, since both contain the word “metryki.” “Metryki” is just the plural form of “metryka,” which can mean certificate, registers or metrics. In other words, these are birth, marriage and death registers. Many researchers refer to as “Metryki” and as “GenBaza” for simplicity’s sake.

Figure 14: home page.Metryki screen shot

Metryki is the work of the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, or Polish Genealogical Society, and is supported financially by donations to the society. I’ve written previously about using this site, so again, a detailed tutorial is not necessary. However, typing  “Ilow” into the search box and selecting the records from Iłów, 1889-1910, results in that same book of marriages, 1890-1910, that is found at GenBaza. Further drilling down to marriages from 1909, and then to the image file which contains marriage number 22, results in exactly the same image of the marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska, 7 November 1909.Metryki marriage record.png

Since both Metryki and GenBaza offer the same image in this case, it makes sense to obtain the record from Metryki and avoid the hassle of having to log in to the GenBaza site (and then continue to log in periodically, since the site seems to require frequent re-logins). However, it’s important to recognize that, while there is some redundancy between these sites, the overlap is not complete, and each of the major sites from which one can obtain scans of Polish vital records (e.g. Szukajwarchiwach, FamilySearch, AGAD, AP Przemyślu, etc.) offers some unique collections that are not duplicated elsewhere.

Although Franciszek Wilczek’s marriage record was found in GenBaza and Metryki, the specific sites that might contain a particular scan will vary depending on the parish or registry office in question. Knowing which sites to check when no scan is linked to an indexed entry is sometimes a matter of experience. However, help is always available via Facebook groups, an assortment of which can be found in Katherine R. Willson’s indexed list. Of course, not every indexed entry without a linked scan has a secret scan lurking online somewhere. In some cases, indexes were created from parish or diocesan archival collections for which no online scans are available. In those cases, the best recourse may indeed be to write to the archive identified by the “z” infodot in the indexed entry. The good news is that an indexed entry in Geneteka means that the record exists somewhere, and with a little perseverance, it can be tracked down.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019


DNA Testing for the Scientifically Challenged

Autosomal DNA testing has become an increasingly popular tool in everyone’s genealogy toolbox these days, but I’ve noticed that there are many everyday family historians who are still bewildered by their DNA test results and aren’t really sure what to make of them. For many genealogists, high school biology classes are a distant memory, so the language of genetic genealogy is foreign. Comments like, “What’s the point of DNA testing? I already know I’m 100% Polish-American,” remind me of how far we need to go in educating people about the value in looking beyond those ethnicity estimates so that they can really make use of their test results. With all that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to review some of these basic concepts in genetic genealogy and present some strategies for the absolute beginner to use when confronted with a list of autosomal DNA matches. If you’re already comfortable working with your DNA match lists, and you’re looking for a blog post with cutting-edge information written by an acknowledged expert in the field of genetic genealogy, then this post is not for you. But if you’re one of those people who’s scratching his head wondering how all these people could show up in the match list when they’re not in the family tree, then keep reading.

Going Beyond the Ethnicity Estimates

Biogeographical analyses, also known as admixture analyses or “ethnicity estimates” are a big draw these days, and are the primary motivation for DNA testing for many. Eager to learn whether they should trade in their lederhosen for a kilt, many people pore over their ethnicity breakdowns, and don’t pay much attention to their lists of DNA matches. That’s a shame, because the real value of DNA testing lies in those lists of matches, which offer evidence that will allow you to extend and support your documentary research. The underlying assumption of DNA testing is that the people on your match list are your genetic cousins, whether or not you know at this point how you are related to them. There’s a significant caveat, which we’ll get to in a moment. However, generally speaking, if you match a particular individual to whom you have a known relationship, and if the amount of DNA you share is consistent with the known relationship, it suggests several things:

  1. That the paper trail is correct from you to the most recent common ancestral couple that you share with this DNA match.
  2. That the paper trail is also correct from your DNA match to that same most recent common ancestral couple. 
  3. That the matching segments of DNA shared between you and this person were passed down to each of you from that most recent common ancestral couple.

To illustrate, let’s say that I have a maternal first cousin once removed named Fred. (I do, actually, and I have his permission to use his name in this post.) Fred is the son of my maternal grandmother’s brother, Leon. Fred and I share 544 centiMorgans of DNA across 28 segments, according to Ancestry. A centimorgan (cM) is a unit of genetic linkage that is commonly used to express genetic distance, so the more DNA you share with a match in centimorgans, the more closely you’re related. Since 544 cM of DNA is within the range that first cousins once removed can be expected to share, we can say that the DNA evidence supports the documentary evidence. That is, the proposed, documented parentage shown in Figure 1 is also borne out by DNA evidence, so there are no misattributed parentage events in my line back to my great-grandparents, Jan/John Zażycki and Weronika/Veronica Grzesiak, and there are no misattributed parentage events in Fred’s line back to that same couple.

Figure 1: Relationship chart showing documented relationship between me and cousin Fred.relationship chart to fred zazycki

Misattributed parentage events (also known as non-paternity events, or NPEs) can occur in a family for a number of reasons, such as informal adoption, illegitimacy, marital infidelity, surname change, etc., and they can sometimes come as quite a shock to people who test their DNA and suddenly discover that their lineage isn’t what they thought it was. Similar discoveries can also be made with documentary research, of course, so anyone who is considering DNA testing or genealogy research should be prepared for the possibility of such surprises. However, in the example above, no NPEs were found (whew!), so now we have both genetic and documentary evidence to prove that cousin Fred and I are first cousins once removed.

If we download the raw data from Ancestry and upload it to a site that offers a chromosome browser, such as GEDmatch, we can visualize where each matching segment is located on each chromosome, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Matching DNA segments (shown in blue) between me and Cousin Fred, courtesy of GEDmatch Genesis. Only data from Chromosomes 1, 2 and 3 are shown here. 

first three chromosomes showing matching segments

Each of those blue segments is presumed to be identical by descent (IBD). That is, Cousin Fred and I each carry those specific DNA sequences because we inherited them from a common ancestor. Based solely on these data, it’s not possible to know which of these segments was inherited from Jan Zażycki and which was from Weronika Grzesiak, but we know they had to come from that ancestral couple. Now let’s say we identify a hypothetical third cousin, Joe. Let’s suppose that we have documentary evidence to prove that Joe descends from Weronika Grzesiak’s brother Tadeusz. Moreover, let’s say that Joe matches Fred and me on Chromosome 2 along that segment shown in blue. If that were the case, we would call it a triangulated segment, and we could state confidently that the common ancestor from whom Fred and I inherited that bit of DNA was Weronika Grzesiak and not Jan Zażycki. 

Chromosome Mapping with DNA Painter

Analysis like this supplies the foundation for creating chromosome maps like the ones that can be generated quickly and easily at DNA Painter. Each time you use documentary evidence to verify your relationship to one of the genetic cousins from your match list—assuming you also have segment data for the match—you can paint the segment(s) onto your chromosome map. Currently, all of the major test companies except Ancestry offer chromosome browsers and segment data that can be used for chromosome mapping. So if you test with Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, or 23 & Me, you’re good to go. However, if you determine your relationship to a cousin found in your match list at Ancestry, you cannot paint the match onto your chromosome map unless you can persuade that person to download his or her raw data from Ancestry and upload to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch Genesis. (23 & Me does not currently accept uploads from other companies.) So although it’s intellectually satisfying to document your relationship to a DNA match found on Ancestry, the lack of segment data is a serious drawback, and these matches are useless for chromosome painting. My current map is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: My chromosome map, generated by DNA Painter.

dna painter screenshot

If you look closely at the map, you see that each chromosome is represented by two bars that appear next to the chromosome number on the left. The upper bar is lightly shaded in blue and represents the copy of that chromosome which I inherited from my father. The lower bar is lightly shaded in pink, and represents the copy of that chromosome which I inherited from my mother. Superimposed on those base colors are darker-colored segments which are defined in the key on the right. For example, there’s a dark pink color that indicates DNA I inherited from my great-grandparents, John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak. I know I inherited this DNA from them because all of those dark pink segments represent DNA shared between me and my late grandmother, their daughter. I tested Grandma before she passed (thank you, Grandma!), and these are the segments where she and I matched. This is important information, because it implies that the segments of my maternal (light pink) chromosomes that are not shaded in dark pink must have been inherited from my maternal grandfather. The entire light pink chromosome came from my Mom, and all of her DNA came from either her mother or her father. So if I know from empirical evidence which segments came from her mom, I know by deduction which segments came from her dad. 

Those dark-pink segments inherited from Grandma can be further refined, since all of her DNA was ultimately inherited from her mother’s ancestors and her father’s ancestors. You’ll notice that chromosomes 1, 4, and 13 show red bars superimposed on that dark pink. These red bars indicate DNA segments that I inherited from Grandma’s great-great-grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska. Maciej was born about 1775, and Barbara was born circa 1781, and I find it utterly amazing and fascinating that I can pinpoint at least some of the bits of my own DNA that were inherited from one or the other of them. Figure 4 shows a close-up of a portion of my chromosome map, where the red bar indicating DNA inherited from Maciej and Barbara is especially visible on Chromosome 4.

Figure 4: Closer view of my chromosome map showing red segment on maternal Chromosome 4, corresponding to DNA inherited from 4x-great-grandparents Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, indicated by black arrow.

dna painter crop

DNA Painter offers the additional option of a closer look at each individual chromosome. If we focus on Chromosome 4, we can see the breakdown of Grandma’s dark-pink segments as I’ve been able to map them to date (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Expanded view of Chromosome 4 showing underlying ancestral contributions to each dark-pink segment inherited from Grandma.chromosome 4

I’ve removed the names of my living DNA matches to protect their privacy. However, each of those red bars represents a match to a 5th cousin who is a documented descendant of Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska. The orange bar represents a match to a second cousin once removed (2C1R) who is a documented descendant of Maciej and Barbara’s great-granddaughter, Józefa Grzesiak (my Grandma’s aunt). This means that the segment of DNA which Grandma inherited (pink bar) which overlaps with the segment of DNA inherited by my 2C1R (orange bar) came from either Maciej Dąbrowski or his wife Barbara, and was passed down to at least two of their great-granddaughters—both my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, and well as her sister Józefa Grzesiak—who ultimately passed it down to me and my 2C1R. There may be other descendants who share this bit as well, who haven’t yet tested their DNA. 

Ultimately, this bit of DNA, or any of the other bits of Grzesiak DNA carried by documented Grzesiak descendants, might someday be the key to identifying unknown cousins from Poland. Weronika and Józefa had at least one sister, Konstancja, who remained in Poland, married, and had at least two children whom I’ve identified through documentary research. Thanks to a fortuitous marginal note on a baptismal record, I know that one of these children married in Lower Silesia in 1927. Unfortunately, it’s not currently possible for me to know if there were any children from that marriage, because Polish privacy laws protect birth records for a period of 100 years. However, if a descendant from that marriage were to test his or her DNA, it’s quite likely that he or she would show up as a match to me or one of those other Grzesiak descendants. With any luck, that hypothetical cousin might be interested in collaborating to confirm the match, through documentary research. As next-of-kin, Polish law would permit him to request the recent birth, marriage or death records to which I have no access. 

These segment data also illustrate how matches to more-distant cousins can refine our understanding of matches to closer relatives. My match to Grandma tells me that the DNA underlying that pink bar in the middle of maternal Chromosome 4 comes from one of her parents, John Zażycki or Veronica Grzesiak, but it doesn’t tell me which one. My match to my 2C1R tells me that the subset of that Zażycki/Grzesiak DNA, underlying the orange bar, comes from Veronica Grzesiak because I’m related to that cousin through the Grzesiaks and not through the Zażyckis. This suggests that the DNA on either side of that segment, represented by the pink tips that extend past the orange on the left and the right, might have been inherited from John Zażycki. However, it’s impossible to know that definitively at this point, because some future DNA match might prove me wrong.

If I only had data from Grandma and that 2C1R, I would know that the DNA segment represented by the overlap between the orange and the pink bars had to come from either Józef Grzesiak or his wife, Marianna Krawczyńska, but I would not know which one contributed it. However, thanks to those DNA matches to my fifth cousins (a set of siblings), I know that the DNA segment represented by the overlap in pink, orange and red bars must have been inherited from Józef Grzesiak and not Marianna Krawczyńska, because those fifth cousins are related to me through Józef Grzesiak’s grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, and not through the Krawczyński side. The more DNA matches you can identify, the deeper you can drill down into your DNA, because every bit of DNA in your body, no matter how small, had to come from one ancestor or another. Theoretically, you should be able to go through your list of DNA matches and identify the ancestors responsible for passing along even the tiniest fragments of DNA shared between you and a match, right?

IBD or…Not?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. It may not be possible to determine your relationship to every single one of your DNA matches. It’s not a perfect world and I don’t know anyone who has his family tree traced back to 6x- or 7x-great-grandparents on every single line. Moreover, there’s always the possibility of an NPE or two (or more!) in each person’s tree, which would throw a monkey wrench into the analysis. Furthermore, some of the DNA matches who show up in our match list may not be related to us at all through common descent in the genealogical time frame.  This is that caveat I mentioned earlier, and it’s true regardless of the company you test with. Although DNA testing is predicated on the assumption that your matches share common ancestry with you due to inherited DNA segments that are identical by descent (IBD), not every DNA segment that is identified as a match by the test company’s algorithm is IBD. What else could they be?

Any DNA match that is not IBD is sometimes described as IBS, “Identical by State.” However, IBS is something of a catch-all term, because it encompasses matches that are Identical by Population (IBP), as well as Identical by Chance (IBC). Let’s take a closer look at these two possibilities. There are some segments of DNA that you will share with people just because your ancestors and their ancestors came from the same endogamous population, meaning a community in which intermarriage between distant (or not-so-distant) cousins was common. These are typically small segments of DNA (<10 cM) that will not be possible to assign to a particular ancestor within the genealogical time frame—that is, within the time frame in which it’s possible to find documentary evidence to confirm the relationship. Such segments are often referred to as Identical by Population (IBP). The other possibility is that the DNA segment identified as a match by the test company is a false positive, also known as a pseudosegment. To understand how this can happen, we need to take a closer look at the methodology behind DNA testing.

The Nuts and Bolts of Autosomal DNA Testing

Autosomal DNA testing focuses on the tiny differences in our genetic makeup that make us unique. Most of our genetic code is identical, of course, but there are places in the human genome where slightly different forms of the same gene can exist. These different forms of the same gene are called alleles. DNA is made up of chemical units called  nucleotides, and each nucleotide in the DNA is referred to by a letter (A = adenine, T = thymine, G= guanine, C = cytosine), and each time one letter is substituted for another at a particular place in the DNA sequence, it’s called a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism, or SNP (pronounced “snip”). There are 4-5 million SNPs in the human genome, and each of the DNA test companies samples between roughly 630,000-700,000 of them.1 Figure 6 shows an extract of my raw DNA data file (called a genotype) as downloaded from Ancestry.

Figure 6: Extract from my genotype from Ancestry showing SNPs on Chromosome 2.

raw dna data

The raw data file includes some additional columns which I’ve omitted, and I’ve obscured the data in the column that identifies the precise position on Chromosome 2 where these SNPs are located. The letters to the right of the position column indicate the nucleotide found at that position on each copy of my Chromosome 2. Note also that only half the DNA is shown here. If you remember from high school biology class, DNA exists as paired strands, so every time there’s an A, it’s paired with a T, and every C is paired with a G. However, this report only provides information on one strand from each parent.

The sequence of the data looks nice and neat, and one might assume that the left column represents data from maternal alleles while the right column represents data from paternal alleles. However, the reality is that the test cannot distinguish between maternal and paternal alleles at any given position. The data in the genotype are intermixed, and therein lies the problem. Although all of the test companies use algorithms which can successfully sort out the data and identify matching segments of DNA between individuals, the accuracy of the matching algorithms decreases significantly when they attempt to identify smaller segments of DNA as matches. The result is that a large percentage of small “matching” segments (less than 7 cM) reported by the test companies are not IBD, they’re Identical by Chance (IBC), or false positives. Roberta Estes offers a more detailed discussion of these types of matching (IBD, IBS, IBC, and IBP),2 and if you really want to delve into the nitty gritty, you can read Ancestry DNA’s Matching White Paperwhich explains how their matching algorithm works in technical terms.

The Big Problem of Small Segments

So how big a problem is this? Genetic genealogist Tim Janzen estimates that there is only a 5% likelihood that a shared segment of 6-12 cM indicates a common ancestor within the last 6 generations for you and your DNA match.4 You can see his full table here. That same article states that, “False positive matching rates of between 12% and 23% have been reported for Family Finder data [Family Finder is the autosomal DNA test offered by Family Tree DNA], and up to 34% at Ancestry using their current algorithm.” 5 Yikes! So how can we know if a match is real or not? One possibility is to test not only yourself, but both your parents. Since all your DNA must come from either one parent or the other, any DNA match who matches you, but who does not also match one of your parents, cannot be your genetic relative. If both parents aren’t available for testing, the safest thing to do is to avoid basing genealogical conclusions on evidence from small segments. Consider restricting your analysis to segments larger than 10 cM.  This is good advice even if you do have phased data—that is, data which have been compared to both your mother’s data and your father’s data using a tool such as the Phased Data Generator, available as a Tier 1 utility at GEDmatch Genesis. 

To illustrate the problems with small segments, consider the following example. Figure 7 shows a 9 cM segment on Chromosome 22 which is shared by a DNA match, “Czesław C.” along with my mother (EZR), my grandmother (Helen Zielinski), my sister (AW), and me. 

Figure 7: Matching segment (shown in blue) shared by Czesław C., my mother, my grandmother, my sister, and me, courtesy of GEDmatch Genesis. chromosome 22

The segment is clearly IBD, identical by descent, because it was passed from Grandma to mom to my sister and me. However, thorough comparison of Czesław’s genealogy and Grandma’s offers no good clues regarding common surnames or places of origin. At best, this segment could be IBP, identical by population, since Grandma’s documented ancestry was entirely Polish and so was Czesław’s. However, I had the opportunity to discuss this example with genetic genealogist Blaine Bettinger over the summer, and he pointed out that the segment is still untrustworthy. Even though it’s IBD on my side, it’s possible that it’s still IBC, identical by chance, on Czesław’s side, and therefore a false positive. Of course, DNA evidence is always just one piece of the puzzle. If further documentary research turns up evidence of a shared surname or common place of origin between Grandma’s ancestors and Czesław’s, we might want to reevaluate this segment in that light. However, at present there’s no reason to believe there is any connection at all between my family and Czesław’s, so an exhaustive effort to seek documentary evidence is unwarranted.

Hopefully this discussion has helped at least a little bit with demystifying some of the concepts and terms used in genetic genealogy discussions, and explaining why autosomal DNA testing is such a powerful research tool. There are so many great resources out there to help educate budding genetic genealogists, including the list of some of my favorite blogs and Facebook groups included below, and with just a little effort, you, too, can grow comfortable with looking beyond your ethnicity estimates and incorporating DNA evidence into your research methodology. In my next post, I’ll offer some specific suggestions for working with your DNA match list at Ancestry so you can make the most of the information that’s provided there. Happy researching!


1 Tim Janzen, “Autosomal DNA Testing Comparison Chart,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 14 January 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Roberta Estes, “Concepts – Identical by…. Descent, State, Population, and Chance,” DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy, posted 10 March 2016 ( : 14 January 2019).

3 Catherine A. Ball, Matthew J. Barber, et. al, “Ancestry DNA Matching White Paper,” AncestryDNA, ( : 14 January 2019).

Tim Janzen, table relating “Length of Shared Segment” to “Likelihood You and Your Match Share a Common Ancestor Within 6 Generations,” “Identical by descent,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 14 January 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

5 Identical by descent,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 14 January 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

For further reading:

The ISOGG Wiki (online encyclopedia of genetic genealogy, hosted by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, or ISOGG) has articles on pretty much any topic of interest in the field of genetic genealogy and is highly recommended. 

Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

Kitty Cooper’s blog, Musings on Genealogy, Genetics and Gardening.

Roberta Estes’ blog, DNAeXplained.

Leah Larkin’s blog, The DNA Geek.

CeCe Moore’s blog, Your Genetic Genealogist.

Of interest to Polish-speakers is Eryk Jan Grzeszkowiak’s blog, Genealogia Genetyczna

An even more comprehensive listing of popular genealogy blogs is found here

In addition to these blogs, some of my favorite genetic genealogy Facebook groups are Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques, DNA Detectives, User Group, and AncestryDNA Matching. Be sure to also check Katherine R. Willson’s index of genealogy-related Facebook groups. At present, the list includes several pages of Facebook groups, although not all are focused on autosomal DNA testing.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019




Using Cadastral Maps of Galicia

If you’re researching ancestors from the Galicia region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, chances are good that you’ve come across vital records which mention a house number where your ancestor lived at the time he married, died, or had a new baby baptized. Moreover, if you’re interested in genealogy, chances are good that you’ve used Google Maps to obtain a street view of a home located at a particular address where your ancestors lived. So it’s inevitable that those researching Galician ancestors would want to use the house number from an old church record to find that ancestor’s home on a modern map, or at least see what exists in that place now. Unfortunately, this process is not quite as straightforward as it seems. In this post, I’ll provide a little background information about Galician cadastral maps, which can be used to assist in this process, and then walk through the steps needed to locate a Galician ancestor’s house on a cadastral map so you can then determine the corresponding location on a modern map.

What is a Cadastral Map, and What Cadastres Exist for Galicia?

A cadastre (kataster or kataster gruntowy in Polish) is a land or property register typically created for purposes of taxation, and it normally includes both detailed maps and corresponding property registers. In order to create those detailed maps, a survey of the land is required at an appropriate scale so that every separate plot of land can be distinguished on the map, e.g. 1:2,880 or 1:7,200 rather than the scale of 1:28,000 which was typical for a military survey. In Austrian Galicia, there were essentially three land surveys that are important for genealogy. The first of these, known as the Josephine Cadaster (Kataster Józefiński), was conducted between 1785 and 1789 during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. Detailed maps were not created from this survey, only field sketches (Brouillons or Feldskizzen).However, “surveyors were instructed to identify all houses, to record the number of livestock, to describe woods, rivers, and roads, and to indicate the nature of terrain on the maps. Joseph II said of it: ‘If one is to rule countries well, one must first know them exactly.'”2 Although no detailed maps were created to accompany this survey, the property registers (Metryka Józefińska) and some of the field sketches remain, and these have genealogical relevance.

The second important Galician cadastre, the Franciscan Cadastre (Kataster Franciszkański), began with a patent issued by Emperor Franz I on 23 December 1817. Also known as the Stabile cadastre, this cadastre was planned as an ambitious, long-term project for which a land survey was conducted at a scale of 1:2,880. It included such information as detailed descriptions of each parcel of land and its use (agriculture, pasture, forest, pond, etc.) in addition to noting landowners and homeowners — all of which was intended for the purpose of determining appropriate taxes. In recognition of the fact that this cadastre would take a long time to complete, orders were issued in 1819 for a provisional survey largely based on the Josephine Cadastre. This provisional survey was to be used for tax purposes in the interim, while surveying for the longer-term project was being carried out.3 The resulting property registers from this provisional survey of 1819 are known in Poland as the Metryka Franciszkańska. Since they were largely based on the Josephine surveys, the parcel numbers are almost always the same between these two sets of documents.

Meanwhile, the long-term cadastral survey, based on the patent issued by Francis I in  1817, was an ongoing project until it was finally completed in the Austrian part of the Empire by 1861. “A total of 30,556 cadastral parishes with a ground area of 300,082 square kilometers divided into nearly 50 million land parcels were surveyed. This was an astonishing rate of progress, achieved because the surveyors worked from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, and because much routine work was done by assistants.” It was finally implemented in the province of Galicia some 30-35 years after the original patent date, and the resulting cadastre includes a series of maps of Galician villages along with the corresponding descriptive documents, collectively known in Polish as operaty (or operat, singular), all of which were produced between about 1848-1854. To distinguish it from the provisional land survey registers created circa 1819, the documents from this comprehensive land survey are known as the Kataster Galicyjski (Galician Cadastre). Note that the parcel numbers resulting from this survey are almost completely different from the parcel numbers recorded in the Metryka Józefińska and Metryka Franciszkańska, so it’s important not to try to extrapolate too much from those earlier surveys.

There are many types of documents, tables, and statistical data included in the operat for a village and they constitute a treasure trove of information for serious scholars. However, the two that are perhaps most useful and accessible for armchair genealogists are the Alphabetisches Verzeichniss, which is the alphabetical list of parcel owners, and the Hauser Verzeichniss, which lists all the houses in the village. These are the all-important documents that are needed in order to use a cadastral map in combination with the house numbers found in Galician vital records. This will be discussed further shortly, but first, we need to find copies of both the cadastral maps and the corresponding operat documents for our village of interest.

Where Can I Find A Cadastral Map for my Ancestral Village?

Fortunately, a large number of Galician cadastral maps and descriptive property documents have survived, but due to the upheavals of war (and perhaps bureaucracy), the ones you need may be housed in different archives. For example, the cadastral maps for my ancestral village of Kołaczyce belong to the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie, but the operat for Kołacyzce that are necessary for interpreting these maps are housed in the Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu. You may need to hire a professional researcher to access them for you as only a small fraction of these maps and indexes are online, but the maps themselves are inexpensive–16 zloty (about $4.39 U.S.) each, based on current prices from the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie. Some cadastral maps may be found online as well, mainly those in possession of the state archives in Przemyśl and in Kraków. Those maps and operaty owned by the archive in Przemyśl are found in collection 56/126/0, Archiwum Geodezyjne. Those maps and operaty owned by the archive in Kraków are found in collection 29/280/0, Kataster galicyjski. Although none of the cadastral holdings of the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie are online, a list of maps which can be ordered from this archive can be viewed hereGesher Galicia also maintains a searchable inventory of cadastral maps and cadastral records for Galicia which includes voter records, tax records, school records, and Polish magnate documents, in addition to Galician cadastral records. Last, but not least, you can always search Szukajwarchiwach for maps and related documents for your village of interest, whether that village was in Galicia, or was located elsewhere in Poland.

Although the earlier Metryka Józefińska and Metryka Franciszkańska documents should not be used with the cadastral maps from the 1850s, they may be of interest nevertheless. The Central State Historical Archives in Lviv, Ukraine is the repository for the Metryka Józefińska and Metryka Franciszkańska documents for a large number of Galician towns and villages, and a complete list of these holdings can be found here (note that this document is in Ukrainian).

Locating an Ancestral Home on a Cadastral Map

Now that we know where to find a cadastral map and the accompanying property registers for our ancestral village(s), we can turn our attention to locating our ancestors’ homes on those maps. The Alphabetisches Verzeichniss for my ancestral village of Kołaczyce was dated 1850, and I found it helpful to keep this time frame in mind when perusing the list for my Kołaczyce ancestors (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Cover page of Alphabetisches Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce.

Alphabetisches Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce 1850 cover page

Let’s use this index to locate my Łącki ancestors in Kołaczyce. Here is the relevant entry for Franciszek Łacki, boxed in red (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Franz Łącki in the Alphabetisches Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce.6Franz Lacki 191 b

Before we jump in, let’s take a moment to orient ourselves to the layout of the page. On the far left side, we see that Franz Łącki is entry number 133 in the alphabetized list of homeowners. The Roman numerals in the next column indicate the map sections on which we’ll find his parcels of land (more on that below). Circled in green, we see the all-important house number–“191b.” Leaving aside the “b” designation for a moment, this is the same as the number that is mentioned for Franciszek Łącki in vital records from Kołaczyce, such as his 1847 death record  (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Death record for Franciszek Łącki from Kołaczyce, 12 December 1847, with house number (191) underlined in yellow.7Franciszek Lacki death 1847 image 2

The fact that Franciszek Łącki died in 1847, and the homeowners list is dated 1850, explains the word that comes after his name in that alphabetical homeowners list: “erben,” meaning “heirs.” What this entry tells us is that Franciszek Łącki’s heirs continued to live in house number 191 after his death in 1847 — at least through 1850 when the index was created. We can gain a bit more insight into this situation thanks to another document in the operat, the Hauser Verzeichniss, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Going back to the page from the alphabetical homeowners list (Figure 2), we see 16 different numbers in the middle of the entry, and these correspond to the numbers of land parcels which were owned by Franciszek Łącki. At the bottom of the entry, we see in red ink, “Bauparzelle 347.” The word “Bauparzelle” means “building parcel,” and the number that follows this term (347) is the number we need to use in order to locate Franz Łącki’s home on the map. This is the key point — if we assume that Franciszek Łącki’s house number, 191, corresponds to parcel 191 on the map, we’ll be looking in the wrong place. 

Now let’s take a look at the map itself. The map of Kołaczyce was provided by the archive as a series of five high-resolution TIFF files which were scanned from the five individual cadastral maps contained in this set, showing Kołaczyce and the adjacent hamlet of Kluczowa. Each segment of the map has one or more Roman numerals on it. For example, the “downtown” area of Kołaczyce is found on map section IV (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Section from cadastral map of Kołacyzce, showing map section number (IV) boxed in red.8Kolaczyce map 4 marked

However, this is not the section of map that we want, since the alphabetical homeowners list stated that Franciszek Łącki’s land was located on map sections I and II. Zooming in on map section I, we see that Franciszek Łącki actually lived on the outskirts of Kołaczyce, in the Kluczowa neighborhood (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Extract from map section I showing Kluczowa district, with map section number (I) boxed in red.9Kolaczyce map section 1 marked

Zooming in still further, we can now see where Franciszek Łącki’s land and home were located (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Detail from Kołaczyce map section I, showing Bauparzelle 347 and some of the other lots owned by Franciszek Łącki, noted in green.Franz Lacki's land, marked

As evidenced by this map, Franciszek Łącki’s home, which was called house number 191 in the vital records, is the yellow rectangle marked with the black number 347. The red, black and yellow colors are original to the map, along with the charming little “trees,” complete with tree shadows, that dot some of these parcels of land. I’ve underlined in green some of the additional parcels of land owned by Franciszek Łącki that appear on this section of the map.

To find this location on a satellite map, we need to zoom out again and identify some points of reference that can be seen on both the cadastral map and the satellite map. Here’s the cadastral map again, with Franciszek Łącki’s home circled in green and some prominent roads similarly marked in green, near the northern edge of Kołaczyce (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Cadastral map showing Franciszek Łącki’s home in relation to main roads and waterways. Franz Lacki's land, marked, zoomed out

To some extent, we can also use waterways such as the Wisłoka River to orient ourselves, although some waterways which appear on the cadastral map (e.g. the Bukowska River, which forms part of Kołaczyce’s northern border) no longer appear on the modern map. Now here’s the satellite view of the same location, with the same features marked (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Satellite map of the northern Kołaczyce area, showing approximate location of Franciszek Łącki’s home (circled in green) in relation to main roads and waterways, courtesy of Google Maps.satellite map, marked

When I zoom down to the street level on the satellite map, none of the houses appear to be old enough to date back to 1850, so I’m not certain that I’ll find any trace of Franciszek Łącki’s home if I visit that area on my next trip to Poland. Nonetheless, this technique gives a pretty good idea — at least to within a hundred meters or so, based on my mediocre map skills — of where in the world my great-great-great-great grandfather lived and worked, raised his family, and took his last breaths. I think that’s very cool.

Now let’s go back to Figure 2, the entry for Franciszek Łącki in the alphabetized list of homeowners. Remember how the house number was described as “191/b”? That suggests that there was another landowner who owned house number 191 jointly with the heirs of Franciszek Łacki, who would be found under the designation “191/a.” Who might that be? To answer this question, we can check the Hauser Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Cover page of the Hauser Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce.10

Hauser Verzeichniss cover page

This brief index is a list of the house numbers for each home in the village, along with the name of the homeowner. The answer to our question about the other owner of house number 191 is found at the bottom of page 13 (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Extract from Hauser Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce showing owners of house number 191.11Homeowners of House 191

This indicates that the home was jointly owned by (a) Jakob Dąbrowski and (b) the heirs of Franz Łącki. From a genealogical perspective, this is interesting information, although unsurprising. Vital records tell us that Franciszek Łącki was married first to Tekla Stadnik or Stachnik, with whom he had five children, only two of whom lived to adulthood—daughters Marianna and Klara.12 Klara married Jakub Dąbrowski, who is undoubtedly the same as the Jakob Dąbrowski mentioned here.13 After Tekla died, Franciszek married Magdalena Gębczyńska and had five more children with her.14 By 1850, at the time of the Galician cadastre, both Franciszek and Magdalena had passed away along with their three youngest children, leaving 15-year-old twins Jakub and Anna as the remaining residents in the house, in addition to their older step-sister Klara, her husband Jakub, and their children, Jan, Stanisław, and Andrzej.15 

Genealogy and a love of old maps seem to go hand-in-hand for most of us. Our ancestors’ stories are rooted in the time and place where they lived, and cadastral maps help us to understand the element of place in a uniquely specific way. Fortunately, Galician cadastral maps and registers are widely available, relatively inexpensive to obtain, and not difficult to use, once you understand the need for the appropriate homeowner lists. So if you have ancestors from this region, why not poke around a bit in the archival collections mentioned here, to see what’s available for your villages of interest? You might gain a whole new perspective on your Galician heritage as a result.


Featured image: Detail from Stadt Kolaczyce mit der Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Provinz Galizien [Miasto Kołaczyce z miejscowością Kluczowa, pow. Jasło – Galicja], scan 59_1313_2848_04; file 2848, collection  59/1313/0 Kataster gruntowy; Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie, Rzeszów, Podkarpackie, Poland.

1 Kain, Roger J.P., and Elizabeth Baigent. The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State: A History of Property Mapping. (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 194; digital images, Google Books, ( : accessed 25 September 2018).

2 Ibid., p. 195.

3 Nowak, Daniel. “Metryki Józefińskie 1785-1788 r. i Franciszkańskie 1819-1820 r. nie tylko dla genealogów.” Pamięć Bliskich,, accessed 25 September 2018.

Kain and Baigent, The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State, 198.

Alphabetisches Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce sammt Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Steuer Brzostek, Provinz Galizien, 1850, page 27; file 4, “Zbiór dokumentów dworskich;” series 543, Kołaczyce; collection 56/126/0 Archiwum Geodezyjne; Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

Alphabetisches Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce sammt Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Steuer Brzostek, Provinz Galizien, 1850, entry for Łącki, Franz, page 74; file 4, “Zbiór dokumentów dworskich;” series 543, Kołaczyce; collection 56/126/0 Archiwum Geodezyjne; Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1847, record #152, death record for Franciscus Łącki, 12 December 1847, Archiwum Archidiecezjalne w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

Stadt Kolaczyce mit der Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Provinz Galizien [Miasto Kołaczyce z miejscowością Kluczowa, pow. Jasło – Galicja], scan 59_1313_2848_04; file 2848, collection  59/1313/0 Kataster gruntowy; Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie, Rzeszów, Podkarpackie, Poland.

9 Ibid., scan 59_1313_2848_01+03.

10 Provinz Galizien Kreis Jasło Steuer Bezirk Kołaczyce Hauser Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce im Jahr 1850, file 4, “Zbiór dokumentów dworskich;” series 543, Kołaczyce; collection 56/126/0 Archiwum Geodezyjne; Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

11 Ibid., p. 13, house no. 191.

12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anne’s parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1784-2015,” 1818, baptismal record for Simon Łącki, born 26 October 1818; and

Ibid., 1821, baptismal record for Marianna Łącki, born 1 February 1821; and

Ibid., 1823, baptismal record for Clara Marianna Łącka, born 9 August 1823; and

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births,” baptismal record for Valentinus Casimirus Łącki, born 8 February 1826, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889″, Stary Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts on 9 January 2015; Excel spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Stanislaus Łącki, born 22 March 1829.

13 Maciej Orzechowski, “Kołaczyce Marriages,” marriage record for Jacobus Dąbrowski and Clara Łącka, 28 September 1843, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Śluby, 1826-1889,’ Stare Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on 9 January 2015; Excel Spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

14 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1835, baptismal record for Jacobus Łącki and Anna Łącka, born 24 July 1835; and

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births,” baptismal record for Josephus Łącki, born 7 February 1838, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stary Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts on 9 January 2015, Excel spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Catharina Łącka, born 16 April 1841; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Adalbertus Łącki, born 22 April 1843.

15 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889,” Stary Kopie, 1839, death record for Josephus Łącki, died 2 October 1839; and

Ibid., 1842, #20, death record for Catharina Łącka, died 9 March 1842; and

Ibid., 1843, #28, death record for Adalbertus Łącki, died 1 June 1843; and

Ibid., 1848, #11, death record for Magdalena Łącka, died 17 January 1848; and

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births,” baptismal record for Joannes Dąbrowski, born 9 December 1844, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stary Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts on 9 January 2015, Excel spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Stanislaus Dąbrowski, born 1 May 1847; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Andreas Dąbrowski, born 21 October 1849.

For further reading:

Zbigniew Stettner’s article for Polish Origins, “Cadastral Records for Galicia Online.

Matthew Bielawa’s article, “The Central State Historical Archive in Lviv, Ukraine and Polish Genealogical Research. (Provides a little information on cadastres in both the Austrian and Prussian partitions of Poland.)

References and more Information about the Gesher Galicia Map Room (in particular, the links mentioned in the references are very informative): 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 2018.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Geneteka, Part III

Recently, I posted the first installment of an updated, more comprehensive tutorial for using the popular Polish vital records database, Geneteka. In that post, I provided an introduction to Geneteka, a walk through the search interface, and some information about how Geneteka’s search algorithms work. The second installment, posted two days ago, included information on searching with two surnames, using the infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, searching within a specified parish, using the “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link, and using the “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para.” In today’s final installment, I’ll discuss the last two search options, “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach,” and “Exact search/Wyszukiwanie dokładne.” Then we’ll get into the various options for finding scans, based on the repository to which the “skan” button is linked.

Using “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach”

As we’ve already observed, Geneteka’s default search algorithm will return results in which the target search names appear in any field. In many cases, such a broad search is undesirable. For example, if I want to find a death record for my great-great-grandmother, Antonina Zarzycka, some time after 1904, but I have no idea where she died, I’m not interested in all the results that crop up that mention Antonina as the mother of the deceased, or the mother’s maiden name of the deceased, as shown below.

Antonina Zarzycka

Maybe I don’t know her mother’s maiden name, so I can’t narrow the search that way. However, I can still eliminate a lot of the extraneous results by selecting, “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach.” When I repeat the search that way, the results include only birth and death records for women named Antonina Zarzycka, and marriage records for brides with that name. Shown below are the results for death records which were returned using these search parameters.

Antonina Zarzycka deaths

Note that this is an example of one of those situations alluded to previously, where an infodot is found next to a name. In this case, it alerts us to the fact that Antonina Zarzycka was known by another name (her maiden name), Marczewska.

Using “Exact Search”

As mentioned earlier, Geneteka’s search algorithms are flexible and powerful, allowing for a fair degree of phonetic latitude with the results that are returned for a target surname. Since the search engine is so flexible, you might think that results will include pretty much every surname that contains the same etymological root as the target name. For example, there are quite a few patronymic surnames which derive from the given name “Grzegorz,” including my great-grandmother’s maiden name, Grzesiak. But although a search for “Grzesiak” turns up variants such as Grzesiek, Grzesik, Grzeszyk, Grzech, and Grusiak, there are still variants under which I’ve found records for my family which did not turn up in a basic search. Such variants include Grześczak, Grzesczak, Grzeszczak, and even Grześkiewicz. (Those old priests got really creative sometimes!)


This is where Geneteka’s wildcard search feature comes in handy. If I do a search for “Grze*,” the results include all surnames that begin with “Grze” exactly — again, without taking diacritics into consideration. Therefore results include surnames that start with Grze- as well as surnames that start with Grzę-. (Theoretically, at least, results would also include surnames that start with Grże- or Grźe-.) Obviously, this approach will generate a large number of search hits, so it’s best to narrow the search in other ways (e.g. specifying a range of years, a given name, etc.) if you’re going to use the wildcard option.

In my own research, this wildcard search proved to be especially effective when I was searching for records for my Ciećwierz family. Antonina Ciećwierz and Michał Zieliński were my great-great-great-grandparents. Antonina’s 1897 death record reported her parents’ names as Jan and Katarzyna Ciećwierz, and I began to accumulate evidence that the family was originally from the nearby village of Mikołajew, before they moved to Mistrzewice. Unfortunately, a marriage record for Jan and Katarzyna was elusive. I searched within a 15-km radius of Mikołajew for paired names (1) Jan Ciećwierz, and (2) Katarzyna, no maiden name specified, and obtained the following result:

Ciecwierz search

The search produced marriage records for several of Jan and Katarzyna’s children: Józefa in 1871, Antonina in 1873, Stanisław in 1878, and Joanna in 1879. Moreover, the results suggested that Katarzyna’s maiden name was Grzelak. Yet there was no marriage record for Jan and Katarzyna themselves. So how can we tease it out of the database? This is where the exact search comes in handy.  When the search was repeated using “Cie*” instead of “Ciećwierz,” their marriage record was discovered.

Jan and Katarzyna

In addition to simple wildcard searches like this one, Geneteka also permits wildcard searches for both surname fields. For example, I recently assisted someone who was seeking the marriage of Piotr Wąszewski and Marianna Pacewicz in Drozdowo parish. The record was a bit elusive, and the year of the event was uncertain. I finally discovered it by using wildcards in both fields.


The marriage in 1862 for Piotr “Wąswski” and Maryanna Pancier may, in fact, be the correct record, as the year is in the right ballpark, and Pancier is not too far a stretch from Pancewicz. Obviously, further research is needed, but the indexed records in Geneteka have certainly helped get this research off to a good start. Notice also that I did not check the box for “exact search.” This may be a recent change in the search engine, but I was surprised to note that the results were the same whether or not that box was checked. It may be that the presence of an asterisk in the surname field works the same way as checking the box. There is also the possibility of performing a wildcard search in both the surname and given name fields. So for example, if I want to find all birth records for children with surnames similar to Wąsewski and first initial J, the search result looks like this:

J Waszkiewicz

For kicks, I even tested it with wildcards in all four fields. It still worked, as in the example shown below which shows a search in all of Mazowieckie province for couples (“searching as a pair”) in which one partner was named “J. Was*” and the other had initials “T. N.” In practice, I don’t know that there would be too many circumstances where you would need to search for people only by their initials, but it’s impressive that Geneteka offers this as an option.

Searching by initials

You may have guessed by now that even though this is called an “exact” search, diacritics still don’t matter, so a search for “Was*” is the same as a search for “Wąs*”.  Notice that the exact search can also be used to make your results gender-specific, should you wish to do so, in the case of surnames which exhibit gender, . For example, a search for “Zielinski” with the “exact search” box checked will return results for the masculine version of the surname only.

Masculine surnames

Of course, as soon as you enter a given name, you will make the results gender-specific, as well. Finally, the Exact search can also be used to eliminate all the phonetic variants that are included in a standard search, which could be helpful with a surname like Zieliński if you’re fairly certain it was not likely to have been recorded in some other way.

Locating Scans in Geneteka

Let’s move on now and discuss the process of obtaining scans when this option is available. At first, it seems like it should be pretty straightforward: click the button, and it takes you to the scan, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. There are a number of repositories for scans that are currently linked to indexes in Geneteka, depending on the geographic area. Some of the less common repositories I’ve discovered have been indexed records from Ukraine that are linked to scans in AGAD (the Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych in Warsaw), and indexed records from Wielkopolskie province that are linked to pdf files a from Polish digital library (in this case, the Biblioteka Cyfrowa Regionalia Ziemi Łódzkiej), but you may find examples of other less common repositories. In most cases, however, indexes are linked to scans found in one of three places: Metryki, Szukajwarchiwach, and FamilySearch.

Finding scans linked to FamilySearch

With all of these examples, your mileage may vary. Sometimes, the scan button takes you right to the page with the proper image. Other times, you may have to work a bit harder. Here’s an example of an indexed entry in Geneteka that has a Skan button linked to a collection of digital images in FamilySearch.

Jozef Nowak Boby

When we click “Skan,” it takes us to FamilySearch’s collection entitled Lublin, Roman Catholic Church Books, 1784-1964. Moreover, we can see from the heading that we’re looking at records from Boby parish, and specifically, the book, Births (Akta urodzeń) 1844-1866.

Boby records

So far, so good. If we go back to the indexed entry in Geneteka, we can see that the birth record for Józef Nowak was from 1854, record #7. So what we have to do at this point is scroll through the images until we find the right record. Less than 5 minutes later, I’m looking at this:

Jozef Nowak birth

Although it’s not circled in this image, you can see the download button (between “print” and “tools”) near the top right corner of the screen. Obviously, I didn’t have to go through 110 pages of images individually in order to find this. The little tool bar on the side (circled in red on the image below) is invaluable here — especially that icon of the rows of dots, which allows you to zoom out and view a gallery of thumbnail images.

Jozef Nowak birth

Here’s the zoomed view:


It’s fairly quick work to click on an image, read the date to see what year we’re in, and then repeat that process until we get to the records from 1854. One word of caution is that records from this part of Poland will be in Polish (we’re researching Polish ancestors, after all!) so the dates will all be spelled out in writing rather than in numerals. There are a lot of great online resources to help you find your way, however, including all the Polish translation aids in this document. (Polish numbers can be found here.)

Finding Scans Linked to Metryki

Let’s say I want to find the scan for this record, the marriage of Zygmunt Zarzycki and Henryka Kurkiewicz which took place in Warsaw in 1929. Once again, we’re going to hit the “skan” button, but this time, it takes us to a collection of digital images found in Geneteka’s sister site, Metryki.

Scan again

Metryki is another effort sponsored by volunteers from the PTG, and I discussed previously how to use it directly, without going through Geneteka. (It’s always a good idea to check there for your parishes, because sometimes it happens that there are collections of scans found in Metryki for which there are no indexes in Geneteka, or the range of years covered differs between the two sites.) In this case, however, we’re just following the link from Geneteka, so what we see is this:

Metryki page

Even if you’re not comfortable with Polish, resist the temptation to click that American/British flag icon at the top, because clicking that will take you back to Metryki’s home page, and you don’t want that. Instead, realize that you don’t need much Polish to figure out what’s going on here. The bit highlighted in red at the top tells you what it is you’re looking at: Metrical books of the Roman Catholic parish of All Saints in Warsaw. You can copy and paste that line into Google Translate if you want to. The next line tells us that we’re looking at the book of marriages from 1929 for this parish. All the numbers you see in blue in rows beneath that heading are the file numbers for images from this book. Since the entry in Geneteka told us that Zygmunt and Henryka’s marriage was record number 525, we want to find the file that contains that number, which is underlined in red in the image above. When we click that link, we’re on the page with the marriage record.

Download button

The groom’s name is underlined here in red. Again, you don’t need much Polish to navigate the page, but it helps to know that “Powiększ” is the “zoom-in” button to enlarge the text, and “Pomniejsz” is the “zoom-out” button to shrink the page. The “floppy disk” icon, circled in red, will allow you to download a copy of the image.

Finding scans linked to Szukajwarchiwach

For our final example, we’ll take a look at how to find scans in the Polish State Archives database, Szukajwarchiwach. We’ll start with this indexed entry from Geneteka for the marriage of Stanisław Grzesiak and Jadwiga Dąbro(w)ska.

Stanislaw and Jadwiga

When we click “skan,” we find ourselves on this page from Szukajwarchiwach:

Kowalewo 1832

The first thing we want to do is to get oriented to the page. The top section, boxed in red, identifies the collection we’re looking at: Civil records from the Roman Catholic parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County, which is where we want to be. Note that we’re not just looking at a book of births, as we were in the previous FamilySearch example. We’re looking at “Akta urodzonych, małżeństw i zgonów,” which means we’ve got birth, marriage and death records, all in the same book. The “dates” section, further down the page, notes that we’re in the year 1832, which confirms that the link from Geneteka took us to the right place. The indexed entry in Geneteka noted that Stanisław and Jadwiga were married in 1832, but in this case, the record number is not noted. That means we have to first find the marriage index for 1832, then find the record number, then find the record itself. Let’s jump in!

Immediately to the right of that large, red arrow in the image above (the one with all the numbers on it), it says, “Digital copies [27].” That’s what we need to click to get started. That brings us to this page of thumbnail images. The very first thing I usually do is switch the number of scans per page from the default 15 up to 100 to save time.

number of scans

However, that’s less important in this case because it’s a small parish and the entire book from 1832 only covers 27 digital images. The parish of Kowalewo was in Russian Poland, and books from that part of Poland are usually laid out with births in chronological order, then an alphabetical birth index, created by the priest at the end of the year. This was followed by marriage records, in chronological order, and a marriage index, and finally by death records and a death index. Normally, when looking for a marriage record, we need to skip past the births and the birth index, and then it’s easy to spot the marriage records just from the thumbnails, since these records are typically twice as long as the births or deaths. In this particular example, it’s a small parish and a short book, so there is no marriage index — we just need to skim through each record until we spot the names we’re looking for. We can see from the thumbnails that marriage records start on image 10. When we click the image, we see this:

Marriage records, Kowalewo

The button marked in red will allow you to expand the image so it’s readable. When you do that, you come to this page, where you have some tools to adjust brightness, contrast, and magnification. You can navigate through the images using the “previous” and “next” links. To move around the page, click and drag the gray box marked with the red arrow in the image below. SwA navigation

After flipping through a few images, we arrive at image 15, which contains the marriage record for Stanisław Grzesiak and Jadwiga Dąbroska. To download a copy, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, where the download link appears.

Grzesiak Dabrowska marriage

That’s pretty much all there is to finding digital images in Geneteka. While it does take a bit of patience and perseverance, and some scans are definitely easier to access than others, it’s still a great finding aid, especially for researchers who might be unaware of the existence of scans for their parish of interest.

That brings us to the end of this tutorial series. I hope it’s helped to give you a better understanding of how Geneteka works so that you’re able to use it more effectively for your research in Polish records. Geneteka is truly a phenomenal resource that’s revolutionized the field of Polish genealogy. Thanks to its tremendous power and the wonderfully flexible search interface, we can find Polish vital records more quickly and easily than ever before, even for those ancestors who were especially mobile. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments. Even better, if you find you use Geneteka, and you’re able to make a donation to help keep this project going, please click here. Thank you!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz




A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Geneteka: Part II

Yesterday I posted the first installment of an updated, more comprehensive tutorial for using the popular Polish vital records database, Geneteka. In that post, I provided an introduction to Geneteka, a walk through the search interface, and some information about how Geneteka’s search algorithms work. Today I’ll discuss searching with two surnames, using the infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, searching within a specified parish, using the “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link, and using the “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para.”

Searching with two surnames

Let’s return now to our search for my great-grandfather, Józef Zieliński, anywhere in Mazowiecki province. If you recall, there were 29 pages of results from our first attempt to find him by inputting only his given name and surname. Let’s assume that I do a little more research in U.S. records and discover evidence that he was born between 1890 and 1895. That immediately reduces the results down to a mere 3 pages.

Jozef Zielinski range of years

If I do just a bit more research to procure his marriage record or death record from U.S. sources, I can discover his parents’ names: Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota. This is the most powerful bit of information we’ve discovered so far, because it allows me to zoom in immediately on my great-grandfather’s birth record.

Jozef Zielinski birth

Voilà! Instant gratification! If I want to discover all the children born to this couple, I can search again, leaving out Józef’s given name. (For that matter, inclusion of his mother’s given name is not necessary here, so I’ll leave that out, too.) Remember to remove the restriction on the range of years, however, unless you have a very good idea of your ancestor’s position in the birth order in his family.

Zielinski Kalota

Geneteka is a thing of beauty, truly. Even if I never bothered to accurately determine from U.S. records that my great-grandfather Józef Zieliński was from the village of Mistrzewice in gmina Młodzieszyn, in Sochaczew County, I could have discovered that instantly based on indexed records in Geneteka. Of course, it still makes sense to gather all the information that you can from U.S. records first, as further evidence for the soundness of your conclusion, and to guard against the possibility that there were two men named Józef Zieliński, both born in Poland in the same approximate time period to fathers who both happened to be named Stanisław and mothers who both happened to be named Marianna Kalota. Although that seems highly improbable, it might be more possible if the mother also had a very popular surname such as Nowak or Kowalska.

If we click on the “Marriages” tab, we can look for marriage records that involve these two surnames.

Zielinski Kalota marriages

This result illustrates another feature of the basic search: results will include either of the specified surnames in any field. In the first result, the groom had the surname Kalot (discovered by the search algorithm since the final “a” is truncated) and his mother’s maiden name was Zielińska. In the second result, the groom was a Zieliński, and the maiden name of the bride’s mother was Kalota. Since the other names in these records don’t match well with existing evidence for my family, and since these marriages took place in the parishes of Brzóza and Leszno rather than Mistrzewice or Młodzieszyn, we can conclude that neither of these results is relevant to our search.

Moving on to the death records now, we see that all of these results are relevant and correspond to 8 of the 10 children of Stanisław and Marianna Zieliński whose birth records were discovered previously. (If you’re interested, the sad story of the Zieliński family is here.)


There’s one final point I’d like to make about searching with two surnames before we move on, and that is, sometimes less is more. In older Polish records, particularly marriage and death records, it’s not unusual for a woman’s maiden name to be omitted. So if you’re searching for marriage records for all the children of hypothetical couple Jan Kowalski and Jadwiga Lis from the parish of Różan, it’s quite possible that a marriage record will exist for one of their sons (let’s call him Piotr), in which he is described only as “son of Jan and Jadwiga, the spouses Kowalski.” If you restrict your search too much by specifying both surnames, Kowalski and Lis, and both given names, Jan and Jadwiga, you’ll miss Piotr’s marriage record. The search engine won’t find it, because the indexer could not possibly have included Jadwiga’s maiden name in the index since it wasn’t mentioned in the original record. One the other hand, if you search for records containing (1) surname Kowalski, given name Jan, and (2) given name Jagwiga (no surname), Piotr’s marriage record should show up. The other technique that would be helpful here would be to check the box for “Wyszukaj jako para/Relationship search,” but we’ll discuss that further tomorrow.

Using the infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column

Focusing now on the various buttons in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, we see that the page showing birth records mentioning Zieliński and Kalota has three infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, “i,” “Z”, and “A,” in addition to “Skan.” However, the page showing death records that mention these surnames only has “Z” and “A” infodots, and only two of the records are linked to scans. This is a pretty typical result for Geneteka, and it arises because of the way Geneteka is created. As mentioned in the introduction, Geneteka is an evolving work in progress, and indexing requirements have changed since its inception. Therefore some indexes are more limited than others in the information they provide. In this case, the birth records are as complete as one could wish for, including all information necessary to determine the relevance of a record to one’s research, and a link to the scan. Some of the death entries are slightly less complete, since they’re missing the “i” infodot and the “skan” link, but they’re still pretty good. However, you may encounter indexed entries in Geneteka for which very little information is available beyond the parish, the year of the event, the record number, and the name of the key participants (baptized or deceased in a birth or death record, names of bride and groom in a marriage record). The lack of parents’ names found in some indexes makes it more difficult to determine if a record is relevant to your research or not, but any information online at all is better than nothing, and even such “bare-bones” indexes can be helpful finding aids when going through parish records. If your entry of interest is complete except for a link to a scan, there are often places where these can be found online. (For one example of how to do this, please see this post on using the FamilySearch catalog.)

So what do those infodots tell us? Starting with the “i,” if you hover over it, additional information about the record is revealed. For example, the “i” infodot for Franciszek Zieliński tells us that he was born 16 September 1886 (the little “r” that appears after the year stands for “roku,” the Polish word for year, and is merely an artifact of the translation process.)

i infodot

Other types of information might be available via the “i” as well, such as the towns where the bride and groom lived in a marriage record, whether or not the bride or groom was married previously, or whether the information provided in that entry came only from the sumariusz or skorowidz (internal indexes created by the priest within the book itself), rather than coming from a reading of the actual record. You may also see “i” infodots located in other places in an indexed entry, such as near a name. In such cases they’re usually there to indicate the existence of an alternate name under which the person was known, such as a maiden name in the death record of a married woman, or an alias, usually indicated by “vel” (meaning alias).

The “Z” infodot provides information about the archive that holds the original record which is indexed for a particular entry. In this case, originals are at the Grodzisk branch of the State Archive of Warsaw, and the archive’s address is also provided.

Z infodot

The “Z” button acts not only as an infodot, but also as a link: hovering over it will provide information, but clicking it will take you to the archive’s website. Note that in some cases, the Z will tell you only that the record came from “Archiwum Parafialne,” or the parish archive. That means that these records were indexed because the parish priest permitted the volunteer indexer to go in and index the books on site. In order to get copies of the records, you need to contact the parish, or find a professional researcher in that area. However, in most other cases copies of these records can be obtained in some other way, such as in an online repository like GenBaza, FamilySearch, etc. Just because the information in the “Z” infodot states that a record was obtained from, say, the Archiwum Diecezjalnym w Płocku, doesn’t mean that the only way to obtain a copy is by writing to the archive. Many records from both state and diocesan archives in Poland have been microfilmed or digitized by the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church), and are available online or are viewable at your local Mormon Family History Center (FHC). The final infodot, the “A,” reveals the name of the volunteer indexer to whom we owe our debt of gratitude.

Searching within a specific parish

In our ongoing example with the family of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota, we discovered that all of the births and deaths for their children were recorded in either Mistrzewice or Młodzieszyn. In fact, it’s clear that the family lived in Mistrzewice the entire time, although it appears that the village was transferred to the parish of Młodzieszyn sometime between the baptism of Władysław in 1897 and the baptism of Jan in 1899.


We might predict, then, that Stanisław and Marianna were married in or near Mistrzewice circa 1885, before the birth of their oldest child in 1886. However, no marriage records were found for this couple anywhere in present-day Mazowieckie province when we searched for records mentioning both their surnames. Why might that be? The answer can be found by careful examination of the range of records indexed for each parish. To illustrate, let’s go back and repeat our search for surnames Zieliński and Kalota in Mazowieckie, this time using the drop-down menu in the “Parish/Parafia” search box to limit the search to results from Mistrzewice parish. When we do that, the results are displayed with the handy graphic, shown below, which gives us a timeline of the range of years available for indexed records.

Parish search bar

If we switch over to marriages, we see that marriage records for Mistrzewice are indexed from 1855-1863, with a gap in 1864, then continue from 1865-1893, followed by another one-year gap in 1894, and then finish with 1895-1898. Since we anticipate that Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota were married circa 1885, their marriage record should appear in this index if they married in Mistrzewice, but it does not. So where did they marry? Probably someplace nearby, so let’s repeat the search using the “Include search in nearby parishes (15 km radius)/Wyszukaj również w pobliskich parafiach (15km)” option.

Mistrzewice marriages

When we repeat the search with that box checked, the display will tell us exactly which indexed parishes were searched, and their distance from the target parish.

Nearby parishes

However, there’s still no marriage record. Why? Well, in this case, further research revealed that Marianna Kalota’s family was from the parish of Młodzieszyn. Since it’s customary to marry in the bride’s parish, the answer to the problem is apparent after a quick check on the availability of indexed marriage records for Młodzieszyn.

Mlodzieszyn marriages

Stanisław and Marianna married circa 1885, and marriage records for Młodzieszyn are not indexed until 1889. Unfortunately, the State Archive has no earlier records for this parish beyond what’s indexed in Geneteka, nor does the diocesan archive, and the parish website states that records exist only back to 1945. Apparently, I’m out of luck with that marriage record. However, this example demonstrates the importance of paying attention to the range of years that’s indexed for your parish of interest, because it will absolutely influence your results.

Using the Parish Records Collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych

There’s another handy feature associated with that timeline graphic that’s worth mentioning. This is the “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link, circled here in red.

Parish records collection

When you click that link, it takes you to a page with information about the selected parish in the Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych, which is one of the sister sites to Geneteka sponsored by the PTG. (You can also access the site directly, without going through Geneteka, here.) Theoretically, this page is only available in Polish, as indicated by the lack of an American/British flag icon.

Mistrzewice in KZM

In fact, you really don’t need to know a whole lot of Polish to be able to use the site as-is. However, if you’re really uncomfortable this way, there are two options for translating the page into English. The first is to use Google Chrome as your browser, then right-click anywhere on the page and select, “Translate to English,” as shown here.

Translate to English

The second is to copy the URL, and then paste that into the “input” box in Google Translate for Polish to English translation. The URL won’t appear to change, but if you click on the URL in the “output” box, the page will appear in English.

Once we do either of those things, we see that this page has some great information about the parish, including the parish name (Sts. Stanisław and Dorothy), the year the parish was founded, and some information about the old Województwo (province) in which the parish was located prior to the administrative reform of 1998, when Poland reorganized its 49 provinces into the 16 provinces that exist today. Knowing the old province can be useful for looking up the parish at sites like Baza PRADZIAD, which use the old administrative designations to distinguish between parishes with the same name. Similarly, information is provided about the new province and powiat (county) in which the parish is located today.

English version for Mistrzewice

We also see a very helpful note about which portal(s) contain indexed records for this parish, as well as which books are available from the archives. In this case, the only records that are available from the State Archive branch in Grodzisk Mazowieckie are already indexed in Geneteka, so no further information is provided in these boxes about available birth, marriage (“oath”) or death records. There’s also a note explaining that the parish ceased to exist in 1915, which isn’t strictly true. As mentioned previously, the parish functions were transferred to Młodzieszyn in 1898, but the church in Mistrzewice was destroyed by a fire in 1915, which is probably what was meant here. In any case, let’s look at another example, the parish in Kowalewo-Opactwo, Wielkopolskie province, to see an example of a Katalog entry for a parish that’s currently active.


The parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo (which translates as Kowalewo Abbey) is in the historical Poznań area, so marriage records from this parish are indexed in the Poznan Project, in addition to being indexed in Geneteka for the range of years noted. The parish itself only has records since 1916 (births) or 1947 (marriages and deaths), as shown here, underlined in green, so you could presumably write to them to request a copy of a recent record, and they might be willing to comply, within the restrictions imposed by Polish privacy laws. (Under current Polish privacy laws, access to birth records is restricted for a period of 100 years from the date of the event, and access to marriage and death records is restricted for 80 years. Only immediate family or direct descendants can request copies of records dated within this interval.) Finally, this tells us that the Archdiocesan Archive in Włocławek has additional marriage records from 1828-1866, which implies that there’s an extra year’s worth of marriage records available that’s not indexed in either Geneteka or the Poznan Project.

While the information available in the Katalog can be extremely helpful in identifying the repositories in which one might find records for a particular parish, it’s important to realize that you should still do your own research. In this case, the entry fails to mention the LDS microfilms/digitized records that cover births, marriages and deaths for the period from 1868-1879 which were created from original records held by the State Archive in Poznań. Additional records (1880-1889, and 1910-1914) are also available online at Szukajwarchiwach. There are also these microfilms of parish records for Kowalewo that go all the way up to 1979, covering births from 1916-1958, with a gap from 1936-1944, as well as marriages from 1947-1956 and deaths from 1947-1979. Since such recent records are clearly protected by the aforementioned Polish privacy laws, it’s unlikely that these will be digitized any time soon but could nonetheless be researched in person or by proxy at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Despite these occasional flaws, it’s convenient to have so much parish information in one place, which is why it’s worth clicking that “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link on the Geneteka search page for your parish of interest.

Using “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para”

The remaining search options that we haven’t discussed in depth include “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para,” “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach,” and “Exact search/Wyszukiwanie dokładne.” To illustrate the first one, let’s give Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota a break and use the example of Stanisław’s parents, Michał Zieliński and Antonina Ciećwierz. Let’s pretend we have no idea where this family was from, and want to search in all of Mazowiecki province. Since it’s possible that there will be records for this family that don’t mention Antonina’s maiden name, we’ll try searching according to just Michał’s name and Antonina’s given name. As noted previously, Zieliński is a popular name, so that strategy will yield a lot of results to wade through.

Michal and Antonina results

Moreover, as mentioned previously, this search will return results for these names in any field. So for example, the first birth in the list is for Antonina Kucharczyk, daughter of Michał Kucharczyk and Zofia Zielińska — not what we’re searching for at all. However, Geneteka gives us the option to tie Michał Zieliński together with Antonina and search for them as a pair. If we repeat the search with the “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para” box checked, our results are much more targeted.

Michal and Antonina as a pair

With this box checked, every birth record that is returned is a child of Michał Zieliński and a mother named Antonina. In all of the instances shown here, the mother’s maiden name was included, so we probably could have narrowed the search just by specifying that piece of information. However, if we switch over to the page of death records from this same search, we see that there is, in fact, one death record we would have missed if we’d specified that maiden name.

Waleria Zielinski death no mother's maiden name

Sure enough, the death record of Waleria Zielińska from 1900 did not mention her mother’s maiden name, and so we might have missed it if we’d been too rigid in our search methods.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer some examples of using the final two search options that require a bit more discussion, “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach,” and “Exact search/Wyszukiwanie dokładne.” Then we’ll get into the various options for finding scans, based on the repository to which the “skan” button is linked. See you then!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018