Russian Poland Civil Registration

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Russian Poland Civil Registration


Definition

  • Civil registration is the vital records (records of births, marriages, and deaths) made by the government. Civil registration records (zapisy cywilne) are an excellent source for information on names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths.
  • Legally, civil records were to be kept by state officials. Because there were not enough state officials, the clergy were frequently appointed as civil registrars. The clergy were required to make civil copies of birth, marriage, and death records. These are known as "civil transcripts of church records" (see Poland Church Records).
  • Because the church was involved in early civil registration, it is difficult to clearly distinguish between civil registration and church records.

In 1795, the old Kingdom of Poland was conquered and divided among Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Civil registration coverage varied for each part of Poland controlled by Russia, Prussia, or Austria.

West Prussia (Westpreussen)Pomerania (Pommern)East Prussia (Oustpreussen)BrandenburgPosenGalicia (Austrian PolandSilesia (Schlesien)Russian PolandPoland 1815-1918.png
About this image

This article covers civil registration in the Russian-controlled part of Poland. For the other parts of Poland, see:

Time Coverage

Duchy of Warsaw:

  • In 1807, Napoleon created a new Polish state, fashioned out of territories previously seized by Prussia. In 1809 Napoleon’s forces won additional Polish territory from Austria, and the enlarged Polish state was called the Duchy of Warsaw.
  • Civil registration of births, marriages, deaths, and sometimes of marriage intentions was initiated according to the Code of Napoleon in the territory of the Duchy of Warsaw on May 1st, 1808.
  • After the Russian government assumed control upon the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the practice of maintaining civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths continued, even after Poland became an independent republic in 1918.
  • Civil registers in the Napoleonic format are found in all of Russian Poland, in Kraków and in parts of the Prussian province of Posen, which are all formerly part of the old Grand Duchy of Warsaw.
  • Catholic clergy were responsible for all civil registration from 1808 until 1825.
  • Beginning in 1826, Jews, Evangelical Lutherans, Protestants, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc.) were allowed to maintain separate civil registers.
  • From 1826 on, civil records were once more church records in nature, but their form remained true to that of the Napoleonic Code.

Language of the Records

From the beginning in 1808, the civil registers were kept in the Polish language. As of April 1868, they were required to be kept in Russian. In 1918, they were again kept in Polish.

Information Recorded in Civil Registers

Both the Polish language and Russian language records followed the format established by the Napoleonic Code during the occupation beginning in 1808. They contained the following information:

Birth Records

Birth records state:

  • the place and date of the registration
  • the name and gender of the child
  • the date and time of the birth
  • the names, ages, residence, and occupations of the parents
  • the names, ages, residence, and occupations of the witnesses
  • date and place of the christening
  • names and ages of the godparents

Marriage Records

Marriage records state:

  • place, date, and time of registration of the marriage
  • place, date, and time of the marriage
  • names, ages, occupations, and residences of two witnesses
  • names, ages, occupations, residences, and marital status of the bride and groom
  • if married before, name and death date of the previous spouse
  • dates of the banns
  • fathers' names and permission, if needed

Death Records

  • the place and date of the registration
  • names, ages, and occupations of the two witnesses
  • name of deceased is given with varying amounts of information
    • age and occupation are almost always given
    • other information often given would be parents, birthplace, survivors
    • name of widow or widower

Indexes

The use of the Polish civil registers is further simplified by the indexes that usually accompany them. Indexes were prepared on a yearly basis. The birth, marriage, and death records were each indexed separately. The index is usually found immediately after the records indexed. In some cases the separate birth, marriage, and death indexes are grouped together at the end of the year’s records.

The indexes vary in quality. In some cases they are incomplete or missing entirely. Usually they are alphabetical by surname, but in some cases, they are alphabetized by first name or they may be chronological rather than alphabetical. Spellings in the indexes may differ from those in the actual entries. The indexes usually refer the reader to an entry number – sometimes to a page number. Researchers should realize that, although these indexes are a great help, one should not rely on them completely because some entries may be inaccurately indexed or not indexed at all.

Locating Civil Registration Records

Civil registration records are kept at the local civil registration office (Urzad Stanu Cywilnego) in each town or city. You must therefore determine the town where your ancestor lived before you can find the records. Your ancestor may have lived in a village that was part of the civil district of a nearby larger town. In large cities there may be many civil districts.

To find the town for the civil registration office:

  • Use mapa.szukacz to find the province, area, commune, and postal code of the town. Enter the town name in the "place" field in the right sidebar and click "Show". All information will appear at the bottom of the right sidebar.
  • If the town was in the area of Poland once controlled by Russia or Austria, look it up in Skorowidz Gazetteer Online to find the parishes of various religions. Here are the instructions. Use the second option, "Viewing anywhere via the Digital Library of Wielkopolska".

Online Indexes to Civil Registration Records

Jewish Record Indexes

If searching for a Jewish ancestor, select the database "Jewish Records Indexing - Poland" which is a good starting point.  The database has approximately four million records and can be searched in several ways, such as entering a surname and a town name.  Due to spelling errors, a "Sounds Like" search is usually more productive than an "is Exactly" search.  The results are sorted by the location of the event and by the source of the data.  "LDS" indicates that the records have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library.  For these records, the database frequently contains the record number and film number, so the records can be found easily.  "PSA" indicates that the records are available from a branch of the Polish State Archives. 

Finding Aids

Poland finding aids have been created by a variety of state, church, society, and private organizations. Their goal is to inform 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. Remember that churches often produced civil registration records. 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.

Records at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has microfilmed the civil registration records of many towns in the former Prussian areas of Poland. They are rarely available more recently than about 1890 because the  microfilming of records less than 110 years old is restricted. The specific holdings of the Family History Library are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog. To find civil registration records in the Family History Library, search in the Place section under:

POLAND - CIVIL REGISTRATION

POLAND, (COUNTY) - CIVIL REGISTRATION

POLAND, (COUNTY), (CITY) - CIVIL REGISTRATION

The library’s collection continues to grow. Do not give up if records are not available yet. The FamilySearch Catalog is updated annually. Check it again every year for the records you need.

Writing for Records

Birth, marriage, divorce, and death records may be found by contacting local civil registration offices or archives in Poland. To protect the rights of privacy of living persons, most modern records have restrictions on their use and access. You may have to prove you relationship to the person in the record, and that they are deceased.

The present location of records depends on the age of the record book. Records more recent than 100 years are generally in local civil registration offices, and older ones are in state archives.

To find the address of the civil registration office:

1. Google: urzad stanu cywilnego
with the name of the commune.

Dynow3.png

2. From the list of hits,
find the official page of the
URC (urzad stanu cywilnego).
Click on the link.

Dynow4.png

3. Find the e-mail address.

Dynow6.png

How to Write the E-mail

Write your request in Polish whenever possible. Information about how to write to local civil registration offices in Poland is given in Poland Letter Writing Guide.

Writing to Archives

  • Use PRADZIAD to see which archive might have copies of the civil registers or parish registers. Archive addresses are given by clicking on "More" under AKCJA.

Reading the Language of the Records

Word Lists

The language of the records depends on the controlling government. Most of Poland was part of Austria until 1918, and church records are in Latin. The parts of Poland which belonged to Prussia (Germany) used German until they were ceded back to Poland (after World War I or II). Records in parts of Poland controlled by Russia can be in either Russian or Polish.

Word-by-Word Reading Aids

How-to Guides

For areas of Poland that were once part of Russia:

Russian and Polish Transliteration Tools

Lessons

Other Translation Resources

  • In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents. Volumes I & II by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman. See LangLine for ordering information. (Volume I is Polish -> English; Volume II is Russian -> English; both contain a lot more translation resources than just the church records.)
  • A Translation Guide to 19th Century Polish Language Civil Registration Documents by Judith R. Frazin.