Poland Research Tips and Strategies

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Research Strategies

Ask the Community Button New Version.jpg At any point in this process, if you need assistance, this button will lead to a community of volunteers with experience in Polish research. They would love to answer your questions and help you.

Finding the Town of Origin

Blue check.png Use a wide variety of home, church, state, and U.S. records to find the name of the exact town in Poland your ancestors lived in. Also find out the name of the first immigrant, approximate dates of their life events, and their religion.
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 parents?
  • Do you know his birth, marriage, or death date or can you calculate an approximate range of years to search for his birth, marriage, or death?
  • Do you know the name of his wife? Did they marry before or after coming to the United States?
  • Do you know the names of any of his siblings?
  • Do you know the names of any children born in Poland?

Poland Locating Town of Origin

To find these important facts, there are a variety of home, church, state, and U.S. records you can search. Instructions for locating these records and in many cases, links to online databases of these records, are found in the Wiki article Poland Locating Town of Origin.

Geographic Details

Find the Voivodeship (Province)

Blue check.pngUse maps and gazetteers to locate the town in Poland.
At this point, you need to find out the general location of the town. Genealogical records are organized and maintained by geographical jurisdictions. To proceed further you need to find out the voivodeship (Polish:województwo) or province of the town. Later, you will find more details. But to use the gazetteers that will give you those details, you need to know the province. Here are some options for quickly finding the province:

If the town is large enough, it will show up in Wikipedia! A Wikipedia article should name the current province and might give the history of former provinces the town belonged to.

  • Mapa.Szukacz.pl shows the town on a map, its jurisdictions, population, and postal code. It names the current province.

Enter the name of your town
in the "place" field on the right.
Dynow1.png

In addition to the map, this infobox appears.

Dynow2.png

  • Spis Gazetteer

This gazetteer is simple to search. It is alphabetical. It lists jurisdictions and location of civil registration offices. At this point you need it most to find the Województwo/Province, marked with X mark.png. This will give you the 1968 province. Provinces changed in 1999. However, this is the province you need to use when looking for records in the FamilySearch Catalog. Just below this gazetteer links, you will find maps that show the two sets of provinces for comparison. There you can convert the 1967 province to the modern province. The Spis Gazetteer of Poland Wiki Article gives abbreviations.


Translated Headings for Spis Gazetteer


Nazwa i rodzaj miejscowości Gromada (osiedle-osied.) (miasto-m.) Siedziba PRN X mark.pngWojewództwo Poczta Stacja, przystanek kolejowy Urząd stanu cywilnego
Name and type of locality Next larger admini-strative unit County Seat X mark.pngProvince Post Office Railroad Station Vital Records Office

Austria, Prussia, or Russia

Blue check.pngDetermine whether the town was in Austrian, Russian, or Prussian Poland.

  • Poland was divided up among Prussia, Russia, and Austria from about 1815-1918/1945. In the maps and gazetteer above, you have found either the current province (voivodeship) or the 1967 province. Look at these maps and determine whether your province was in Austria, Prussia, or Russia.


A. Modern Voivodeships

Poland map with English.png

B. 1967 Voivodeships: Use these for FamilySearch Catalog.

Poland 1967 map.png

C. Poland 1815-1918: Poland was
divided among Austria,
Prussia, and Russia.

Poland 1815-1918.png


  • This affects the starting date of civil registration records, the language used in the records, and the format of the records. Now study this chart to see how your genealogy will be affected by the country of your province from 1815-1918/45:

Country

Use church
records alone:

Civil
registration
starts:

Language

Reading aid:
What the records look like.

Austria

Up until 1918

1918

Before 1784: Latin or German
1784-1918: Latin
1918-Present: Polish

Prussia

Before 1874

1874

1874-1918 or 1945: German
1918 or 1945-Present: Polish

Russia

Before 1808-1815

1808 in areas controlled by Napoleon
1815 all areas of Russian Poland

1808-1868: Polish
1868-1918: Russian
1918-Present: Polish

Town Details

Depending on the size of the town or village where your ancestors lived, it might have had its own parish church. It might have been too small, and people attended church (and had their records kept) in a nearby larger town. The same thing applies to civil registry offices. So now you need to do a little more geographic reference work to find out the names of those larger towns, if necessary.

Blue check.png Use maps, gazetteers, and directories to determine these important facts about the town:

  • the location of the Lutheran or Catholic parish for the town
  • the location of the civil registration office for the town


Earlier, you used *Mapa.Szukacz.pl to find the voivodeship of your town. It also lists the "commune". Usually the civil registration office will be in the commune.
Watch the online course, Poland Historical Geography The second half of this lesson will demonstrate several gazetteers.
Links to those gazetteers, and more instructions, can be found in the article Poland Gazetteers.
You might just locate the parish churches which appear to be closest to your town of village. This is not foolproof, as they may have been built more recently, or had boundaries to the parish that stretched in a different direction excluding your town. However, if you write to the wrong parish, they will forward your request to the correct parish. Here are two directories for parish address:

Poland Finding Aids

Blue check.png Use finding aids to find out whether records exist covering the parishes and civil registry of the town.
Poland finding aids have been created by a variety of state, church, society, and private organizations. Their goal is to inform genealogists what records exist and the repositories that hold them. Each finding aid has a different focus--a particular religion or geographical area or archive or collection. Be sure to search all that apply to your ancestors.

Churches often produced civil registration records for the government. The church records might have been destroyed, but copies had been sent to the government and still exist. So we search for both church records and civil registration records.

Searching Civil Registration and Church Records

Blue check.pngRead these articles to learn about church records and civil registration. The vast majority of the research you do will be in just two types of records: church records and civil registration records. Study these two wiki articles to learn about these records and what information they contain:

Blue check.pngSearch those records by one of these methods.

  • online databases
  • microfilmed records
  • correspondence with archives
  • correspondence with local churches
  • correspondence with local civil registration offices

Blue check.png Use the instructions and links provided in the Wiki specific to the voivodeship where your ancestors lived. There is a page for the voivodeship of your ancestors' town which specializes is research for that voivodeship. Here you will find the specific links you need to finding aids, online databases, FamilySearch records, state archives addresses, church archives addresses, and parish and civil registry office addresses.

Blue check.pngFollow this search strategy as you compile records about your family.

  • Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find his birth record, search for the births of his brothers and sisters.
  • Next, search for the marriage of his parents. The marriage record will have information that will often help you find the birth records of the parents.
  • You can estimate the ages of the parents and determine a birth year to search for their birth records.
  • Search the death registers for all known family members.
  • Repeat this process for both the father and the mother, starting with their birth records, then their siblings' births, then their parents' marriages, and so on.
  • If earlier generations (parents, grandparents, etc.) do not appear in the records, search neighboring parishes.

Writing for Records

Blue check.pngUse the Poland Letter Writing Guide to write letters in Polish for the correspondence searches you need. You can write or email offices and churches to request copies of their records. It is both courteous and more efficient if you write in Polish. The Poland Letter Writing Guide gives you Polish translations for all the sentences and questions you might want to use in your letter.

Reading the Records

Blue check.png Use language lessons, vocabulary lists, and reading aids to learn how to read the records. You do not have to be fluent in a language to read church records or civil registration records. Only a few words are necessary, such as mother, father, baptized, married, boy, girl, bride, groom.

Word Lists

Research Tutorials

How-to Guides

For areas of Poland that were once part of Russia: