Poland History

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Effective family research requires a knowledge of major historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family. Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you also use histories to learn about the events they may have participated in. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married. The following are some key dates and events in the history of Poland:

History[edit | edit source]

Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania to the north, Belarus and Ukraine to the east, Slovakia and Czech Republic, to the south, and Germany to the west.

The establishment of the Polish state can be traced back to AD 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of the realm coextensive with the territory of present-day Poland, converted to Christianity. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented its longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin. This union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest, 390,000 sq miles and most populous countries of 16th- and 17th-century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system which adopted Europe's first written national constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.

More than a century after the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, Poland regained its independence in 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles. In September 1939, World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany, followed by the Soviet Union invading Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. More than six million Polish citizens, including 90% of the country's Jews, perished in the war. In 1947, the Polish People's Republic was established as a satellite state under Soviet influence. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1989, most notably through the emergence of the Solidarity movement, Poland reestablished itself as a presidential democratic republic.

Poland is a developed market and regional power. It has the eighth largest and one of the most dynamic economies in the European Union, simultaneously achieving a very high rank on the Human Development Index.[21] Additionally, the Polish Stock Exchange in Warsaw is the largest and most important in Central Europe. Poland is a developed country, which maintains a high-income economy along with very high standards of living, life quality, safety, education, and economic freedom. Poland has a developed school educational system. The country provides free university education, state-funded social security, and a universal health care system for all citizens.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

966 - 1795 The Polish state emerged in the 10th century when several tribes united. Christianity was accepted in 966 A.D., and Poland became a kingdom
1386 - The Polish-Lithuanian Union is established
1569 - Poland reached its greatest territorial expansion. At that time it included Lithuania, Prussia, Volhynia, Podolia, and Ukraine
1582 - The Kingdom of Poland adopted the Gregorian calendar
1772 - Russia, Austria, and Prussia each seized one-third of Polish territory
1793 - Russia obtained one-half of the remaining territory of Poland, and Prussia took Posen
1795 - Polish resistance was overwhelmed, and the remaining Polish territory was divided among Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The Kingdom of Poland ceased to exist for 123 years
1806 – 1813 Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw from territories previously seized from Prussia and Austria
1815 - The Congress of Vienna reassigned Polish territory to Russia, Austria, and Prussia
1846 - Austria took over the Republic of Kraków, and it was incorporated into the province of Galicia
1864 - January uprising resulted from Russia’s efforts to Russify the Kingdom of Poland
1917 - During World War I a total of 2 million Polish troops fought with the armies of the three occupying powers, and 450,000 died and at the end of World War I Poland reappeared as an independent state after 123 years of foreign rule
1939 – 1945 The invasion by the Nazis in 1939 marked the onset of World War II. After the war Poland ceded her eastern territories to the Soviet Union and her western borders were moved west to the Oder and Neisse Rivers, thus establishing her present borders. A provisional government was set up under Soviet auspices in 1945
1947 - The Communist party gained full control of the Polish government in state-controlled elections
1952 - Poland became a people’s republic on the Soviet model
1989 - The fall of the Communist regime
1990 - Poland’s first free election

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of citizens, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide clues. A local history may also give you ideas of other records to search.

In addition, local histories can provide information about your family’s lifestyle and the community and environment your family lived in.

Although relatively few local histories have been published for towns or regions in Poland, a careful search for available histories for your ancestor’s locality is worthwhile. You might want to write to the village mayor to see if these histories are available for your town when they are not available at the Family History Library. Sometimes local histories are available at major public and university libraries and archives.

The Family History Library has several published national, provincial, and local histories for Poland.

You can find histories in the FamilySearch Catalog under:





The following historical sources are only a few of the many that are available. Books with film numbers can be ordered through local family history centers. Some may be found in major research libraries.

Ćwik, Władysław. Miasta królewskie Lubelszczyzny w drugiej połowie XVIII wieku

Gieysztor, Aleksander.History of Poland. Warszawa: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1979. (FHL book 943.8 H2gk, FHL film 1181701.)

Leslie, R. F. The History of Poland since 1863.New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. (FHL book 943.8 H2hp.) Includes a bibliography.

Topolski, Jerzy. An Outline History of Poland. Warszawa: Interpress Publishers, 1986. (FHL book 943.8 H2tj.)

Wandycz, Piotr S. The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795–1918. Vol. 7 in series: A History of East Central Europe. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1974. (FHL book 940 H2ho.) Includes maps.

Calendar Changes[edit | edit source]

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar in common use in the world today. It is a correction of the Julian calendar that had been in use since 46 B.C. Leap years had been miscalculated in the Julian calendar, so by 1582 the calendar was 10 days behind the solar year. Most Catholic countries, including the Kingdom of Poland, began using the Gregorian calendar in 1582. In Protestant areas of western Poland, the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar took place in 1700.

In Congress Poland, where Russian administration affected record keeping, the Julian calendar was generally used. Often both the Gregorian and the Julian dates were used on documents, the Julian date being listed first, which may make the records confusing to novice researchers. When both dates are given, use the Gregorian date for your record keeping. The Julian calendar was no longer used after 1918. By then the two calendars were 12 days apart.

Websites[edit | edit source]




A wiki article describing online collections are found at:

Poland Lublin Roman Catholic Church Books - FamilySearch Historical Records