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Begin with family and home sources. Look for names, dates, and places on certificates, family Bibles, obituaries, diaries, and similar sources. Ask your relatives for any additional information they may have. It's likely that your second cousin, great-aunt, or other relative already has some family information. Organize the information you find, and record it on pedigree charts and family group records.
Select a specific relative or ancestor born in Poland for whom you know at least a name, the village or parish where he or she lived in Poland, and an approximate date when he or she was born there. It is also very helpful to know the names of other family members born in Poland.
As you look over your family group records, or pedigree charts, ask yourself “What do I want to find next?” Common goals might be:
- The last person on a specific line of your pedigree chart
- A missing parent on the family group record
- A gap between the birth years of the children on a family group record (a wide enough gap that there may be missing children in between siblings)
- Finding the last children to the parents (during the mothers’ child bearing years)
- To find the birth date and place for an individual listed on the family group record without one
- Locating the marriage date and place for the parents on a family group record
Before you start
Before doing Polish family history research, you will need to find:
- The actual name of an ancestor
- The date of birth, marriage, and death
- The place of origin
- The religion of an ancestor
- You can calculate an approximate date from other information you know. A birth date can be calculated from a persons age.
- If you do not know where the event took place, back up to the place where you have some record of him or her and work from there.
Determine the actual name of an ancestor
A serious problem for some researchers is to determine the actual name of their immigrant ancestor. Some ancestors in their eagerness to be assimilated into American culture, traded their dificult foreign names for American names. This occured often with given names and to a lesser extent with surnames. To learn more about historical background of Polish surnames and given names see Personal Names.
Determine the date of birth, marriage, and death
If you cannot find an exact date, you may estimate dates based on other information. You need at least the approximate year of an event. You may use standard genealogical approximation. From a marriage date, you can estimate that a man was married at age 25 and a woman at age 21. You can also estimate that a first child was born one year after the parent's marriage and that subsequent children were born every 2 years after that.
Determine the place of origin
In Poland, most records used in family history research are kept on a town or parish level. Therefore the exact town of origin must be known before research in Polish records can begin. Most of the time, the Polish place of origin is found in sources created in the country of immigration. These records should be searched for the ancestor, possible relatives, and other associated persons. If you do not know the place of origin in Poland see Determining a Place of Origin in Poland for sources that may give you that information.
Polish place names are often mispelled in American sources. Difficult names were shortened and diacritic marks ommitted. A gazetter, which is defined as a geographical dictionary, is an essential tool for identifying places. Look up your place name in the gazetteer to be sure that it is spelled correctly.
To learn about several important gazetters for Poland, including instructions and examples, see Gazetteers.
Locate the ancestral home
After you have determined the correct name of the town from which your ancestor emigrated, you must still determine its location. Many Polish localities have similar names that may be easily confused.
Determine the religion of an ancestor
Until the 1900s, vital records were kept by church parishes or Jewish congregations. The records of different religions were kept separately. If you are not sure of your ancestor's religion, start by searching Roman-Catholic records. Catholicism was the dominant religion in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Determine the record keeping jurisdiction
Not every village in Poland had its own parish. Often, several smaller villages belonged to one parish. Use gazetteer to determine the proper record keeping jurisdiction. Knowing the parish is important, because the Family History Library Catalog lists church record microfilms by parish. After determining the parish information, it’s just a matter of checking each one in the FHL records to see what’s available.
Find your ancestor in the records
The best sources of genealogical information in Poland are the church records kept by the local parishes. The Family History Library has church records on microfilm from many parishes throughout Poland. Use the Family History Library Catalog to determine what records are available for the locality.
If the records you want are not available through the Family History Library they may be available in Poland.
Research by mail
Records for the last 100 years may be obtained by contacting the consular division of the Embassy of Poland. However these records are confidential and restricted to authorized applicants: registrant, mother, father, sister, brother, son and daughter, legal guardian, individual with a court order authorizing the release of the record or individual who demonstrates legal interest.
If you are not authorized person, you must provide a notarized letter from an authorized person advising us that we may release the record to you. All requests must include a certified copy of one valid ID from the applicant and (if necessary) supporting documents.
Click here to enter the Embassy's site. Click on Consulate and then choose the VITAL STATISTIC DOCUMENTS link. You will be able to download applications for copies of birth, marriage and death certificates with the instructions on how to proceed. You will not receive a copy of the actual historical document but a typed official certificate.
Birth, death and marriage records older than 100 years are public records.
However, most of Polish family history research still requires that you write to the Poland for genealogical records. Please refer to the Letter Writing Guide for detailed information.