Records held in Poland
Establishing Place Names
It is very important to try to establish your family's place of origin so that you have some idea where to begin your search in Polish records. Polish place names have changed often during the course of the country's history. In the past they may have been Polish, German, Russian, Belarussian or Ukrainian and in some provinces names may have been used in two languages. Another complication is that a modern Polish name can differ from an earlier Polish name for the same place.
There can also be difficulties arising from the fact that immigration officials in this country could have written down places of origin phonetically rather than with strict accuracy.
If you do not know exactly where your family originated, a useful web site to help to identify place names is www.jewishgen.org/ShtetlSeeker
This enables you to search with either the exact name or a soundex equivalent for places in the countries of central and eastern Europe. It is also a useful source in helping to search for Jewish communities in eastern Europe. The Polishroots site also provides further information and links to a wide range of available geographical and gazetteer sources.
If you have absolutely no idea at all about the place of origin, then you can try a site www.herby.com.pl which is a surname frequency indicator. It can be useful in indicating concentrations on a particular surname in particular areas.
Having found the place name, the next step is to try to establish which administrative unit the place of origin falls into. Depending on whether the place was situated originally in the Congress Poland, Austria, Prussia, or Russia, this will determine how these areas were divided administratively. Again the Polishroots site can guide you through what can be quite a complex search.
Civil Registration and Church Records in Poland
The system of civil registration was introduced in Poland in 1874. Some registration records older than 100 years have now been transferred to the Polish State Archives. Other more recent records are still held locally. Civil registration records from areas which formed part of Poland prior to the Second World War, but now form part of Belarus and the Ukraine, are held in the archives of those countries, although some of these have now been relocated to Poland and are kept at the Civil Registration Office in Warsaw.
Catholic priests and Protestant and Jewish congregations were required to keep registers of births or baptisms, marriages and burials for their respective religious communities.
A number of Roman Catholic and Lutheran church records are held by the State Archives of Poland. These are duplicates of the original registers which priests and clergy were obliged to send into district courts by law. Some Catholic records have been placed in the care of diocesan archives centres. A large collection of Roman Catholic records from the former eastern Galicia ( Ukraine) have been transferred to the Lwow Archdiocese Archives.
To help you in tracing the whereabouts of civil and church records, the Polish State Archives, www.archiwa.gov.pl has an extremely useful database. This is not an index of names. It provides information about the covering dates and location of parish and civil records held either in the State Archives, regional archive offices and diocesan archive centres. Contact details are provided in each case. This information can be supplemented by a comprehensive list of addresses on the Polishroots web site.
If making an enquiry to Poland, then do remember to have it translated into Polish. Some archive services will charge for searches to be made. The Polishroots site provides sample letters and phrases which you can use.
LDS Family History Centres
Finally the work of the Genealogical Society of Utah (the Mormons or Latter Day Saints) means that some records kept in Polish archives have been microfilmed. They may therefore be accessible through their family history centres and it is worth checking this with them. Local centres in Staffordshire are located at
Lichfield : Purcell Avenue, Lichfield, Staffordshire (Tel. 01543 414843)
Newcastle under Lyme : The Brampton, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire (Tel. 01782 620653)