Poland Locating Town of Origin

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Finding Town of Origin


Sometimes the most difficult part of researching your immigrant Polish ancestor is locating their hometown. If your ancestor came from Poland to the United States, the following record types might provide that elusive clue to their place of origin.

Important Tips

Before you can begin to search in the records of Poland you must find that one record that gives the name of his or her hometown. You must also know enough about the ancestor to positively identify him in the records. Dates (even if they are approximate), places, and familial connections are key to helping you decide if a person you find, who has the same name as your ancestor, really is your ancestor.

  • Do you know the name of his/her parents?
  • Do you know his/her birth, marriage, or death date or can you calculate an approximate range of years to search for his/her birth, marriage, or death?
  • Do you know the name of the spouse? Did they marry before or after coming to the United States?
  • Do you know the names of any of his/her siblings?
  • Do you know the names of any children born in Poland?

Documents in the Home

Often the document you need to pinpoint the place of origin of your Poland ancestor is already found at home. These might include the following:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates or licenses
  • Death certificates
  • Obituaries
  • Funeral cards
  • Journals
  • Photographs
  • Letters
  • Family Bible
  • Naturalization papers
  • Citizenship papers
  • Military service records

Emigration Questions to Ask Relatives

Find the oldest living relatives that you can and ask them:

  1. What do you know about our first ancestor to come from Poland? (open-ended)
  2. Have you ever heard mention of towns in Poland where the family lived?
  3. Do you have contact with any relatives in Poland?
  4. Do you have contact with other branches of the family in the U.S.?
  5. When _____________ came from Poland, did he travel with other family members?
  6. Do you know when _________________ arrived?
  7. Did _______________ever become a citizen?
  8. Did_________________fight in World War I or II?
  9. When they first came, were there already family members here who they joined?
  10. Did_______________ever mention their parents in Poland?
  11. Do you have any old letters or postcards from Poland family?
  12. Do you have any pictures of family members in Poland?

Vital Records

Understand that any birth, marriage, or death certificate gives information about other people besides the primary person it is about

  1. It is important to remember that a birth certificate for a child might tell it's parents' birthplaces.
  2. Marriage certificates might name birth dates and places of the bride and groom. They might also give the names and birth places of the parents of the bride and groom.
  3. Death certificates are very important. Birth and marriage certificates might not have kept by a state during the earlier years of your ancestor's life. There is a greater chance that your ancestor died after detailed record-keeping began. Death certificates frequently state birth date and place. They also state the names of parents and their birth places.
  • There are wiki articles giving details on how to find vital records o each state. You can select the state of interest and the record (birth, marriage, or death) from this list: How-To Articles.
  • Many records may be online. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State, for online vital record databases.

Cemetery Records

Websites such as FindAGrave and Billion Graves are making it easier to get information from headstones, which frequently give birth dates, and occasionally give birth places. Each state has additional collections of cemetery records. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to other online cemetery records.

Obituaries

Modern obituaries usually list birth date and place and parents' names. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State and select your state for links to online obituary collections.

Military Records

Draft records for World War I and II ask for birth place, which can be listed as just Poland or in greater detail.

Social Security

Census Records

  • The censuses for 1900 to 1930 ask for the year of immigration and whether or not the person was naturalized. This information can help you find naturalization records or a passenger list.
  • United States Census Online Genealogy Records will give you links to every census. The FamilySearch links lead to a free search, but the search engine is not as reliable. The other links are for subscription websites, but they can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.
  • State census records vary in availability and the type of information they contain, but they are always useful as another source to document an ancestor in a specific locality. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to online state censuses.

Church Records

Just like civil registration records, church baptism, marriage, and burial records can name the birth place in Poland of the parents of a child; the bride and groom and their parents; or the deceased and his parents. Church records in the United States can be more work to locate, but if you can find the church, particularly a Catholic or Lutheran church in a predominantly Polish neighborhood,, where your ancestor would have had their children's baptisms performed, or where they married, you might get lucky!

Naturalization Records

  • Naturalization records may also list an ancestor’s birth place.
  • Prior to 1906 any U.S. court could naturalize foreigners. Many pre-1900 records only list “Poland” as the country of citizenship; however, there are notable exceptions, so these records should be checked routinely.
  • The process involved two sets of papers: a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen, and a petition filed some time later.
  • Beginning in 1906, naturalization records became more detailed, as the responsibility shifted to the Federal government.
  • More information about naturalization records, along with helpful links, is found at Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records and United States Naturalization Online Genealogy Records.

Passport Applications

Passenger Arrival Lists

Passenger lists, especially in the 20th century, may list birth place, last residence in mother country, and name and residence of a close relative in the mother country. United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records is a comprehensive list of passenger arrival databases that you can search right now from your computer. There are many, many databases. The following search strategy will make your search more efficient.

Suggested Search Strategy

  1. Check the partner website indexes, as these cover many, many databases at once. The FamilySearch Historical Records databases is free to search with a free registered account. The other websites are subscription-based but can be searched for free at a Family History Center near you. Try to search each partner site because their search engines can often bring up slightly different results.
  2. If it is difficult for you to get access to the subscription databases, next try Additional Nationwide Collections Not Included in Partner Sites. These websites have a lot of overlap with the subscription websites.
  3. Search the state collection for the first state where your ancestor lived.

Alien Registration

Catholic Church Records

Determine the Voivodeship or Province

Find the voivodeship (province) for your ancestors' town of origin. The best gazetteers for this are not online, but you can use Wikipedia. /if the town was in the area of Poland once controlled by Prussia, use Kartenmeister.