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Church records (Księgi metrykalne) are excellent sources for accurate information on names; dates; and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Virtually all Christian people who lived in Poland were recorded in a church record. Records of births, marriages, and deaths are called vital records because events in a person’s life are recorded in them. Church records, called parish records or church books, are vital records made by church officials, pastors, or priests. They include records of births and christenings, marriages, and deaths and burials. In addition, church records may include account books, confirmations, and lists of members. Church records are crucial for research in Poland. They are often the only source of family information.
Here is a link to find the addresses of Catholic parishes in Poland. http://www.genpol.com/Katalog-main.html. Type in the name of the town where the parish was located in the search field and your parish name and address will appear. If your locality's records have not been filmed you can write to the local Catholic parish using the address found through the above site.
A useful website for Lutheran church information can be found at http://www.luteranie.pl. This site will help you locate Lutheran churches which still exist today and the diocese information for the different Polish regions. A list of pre WW I Lutheran Parishes (in Russian Poland only), along with links to those with microfilmed records, can be found on the SGGEE site. Civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics until after 1874 in the former German areas and not until after 1918 in the rest of Poland.
For these later records, see the "Civil Registration" section in this outline.
General Historical Background
In general, church records in Poland have been kept since the mid-1600s, although a few parishes have records dating from the 1590s. The efficient recording of baptisms, marriages, and deaths developed slowly. Record-keeping requirements were limited at first to baptisms, marriages, and confession registers. The amount of nformation increased over time. For example, early records often failed to provide the mother’s full name. Catholics were the first to maintain church vital records, but Protestants followed soon after. Most parishes have records dating from at least the early 1700s. Sometimes Catholic parishes also kept records of people of other faiths. For more information about the churches in Poland, see the "Church History" section in this outline.
The following timeline shows important dates concerning church record-keeping in Poland:
1563 The Roman Catholic council of Trent required Catholic parishes throughout Europe to record baptisms and marriages. Few Polish parishes complied until the 1590s.
1614 A revised church proclamation repeated the order to keep church books and added a requirement to maintain death registers. Many more parishes complied. 1781 The Austrian Empire recognized the religious rights of non-Catholics with the Edict of Toleration.
1784 The Austrian Empire began requiring civil transcripts of church records under Catholic supervision.
1794 Prussia introduced civil transcripts of church records.
1807 Duchy of Warsaw established under jurisdiction of Napoleon’s French Empire. Expanded to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in 1809.
1808 Napoleon’s civil code introduced. Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths were to be kept in the Duchy of Warsaw written in Polish language. Catholic clergy were generally responsible for making transcripts of their church records for the state, including records of the Protestants and Jews.
1827 Revision of the civil transcript law of Congress Poland let Protestants and Jews keep their own vital records.
1830s Protestants and Jews in Austria, including those of the Polish area of Galicia, were allowed to keep their own civil transcripts of vital records. The practice was standardized by 1840.
1868 Russian law required civil transcripts throughout Congress Poland be kept in Russian language.
1918 The Republic of Poland was created, reuniting Polish territory. Laws regarding keeping vital records were gradually standardized throughout the republic.
Some Polish church records were destroyed in the wars of the 1600s. Others were destroyed as parish houses burned. In 1704, because of concerns about such destruction, some parishes began making copies of their church books. Civil transcripts were made of most church records in Poland after the 1790s. These records were a form of civil registration and included non-Catholics entries. You can use these duplicates where available to supplement parish registers that are missing or illegible.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
The information recorded in church books varies over time. The later records generally give more complete information than the earlier ones. The most important church records for genealogical research are christening, marriage, and burial registers. Some church books include confirmation records. Catholic records were generally kept in Latin, Protestant records in German, Orthodox records in Russian. Greek Catholic (Uniate) records were kept in Latin, Ukrainian, or sometimes Polish. Local dialects may have affected the spelling of some names and other words in the church records. Minority groups such as Mennonites, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Orthodox Schismatics, Independents, and others often did not keep church registers unless required by law. Their birth, marriage, and death records would be with those of recognized churches, such as the Catholic or Lutheran Church, until they had to prepare their own transcripts of vital records.
Records of Birth and Baptism
(akta urodzeń i chrztów) Children were generally christened within a few days of birth. Christening registers usually give the infant’s and parents’ names, legitimacy, names of witnesses or godparents, and the christening date. You may also find the child’s birth date, father’s occupation, and the family’s place of residence. Death information has sometimes been added as a note. Earlier registers typically give less information, sometimes only the child’s and father’s names and the date of the christening. Until the 1790s the pastors of many communities failed to give the name of the mother in the birth records or may have written only her given name. Occasionally the child’s name is omitted, in which case the child was probably named after the godparent. Some Orthodox records do not even give the names of the parents. At first only the christening date was recorded, but in later years the birth date was given as well.
(zapowiedź ) Marriage intentions (banns) were announced a few weeks before a couple planned to marry. The couple were required to announce their intentions two or three times so other community members could raise any objections to the marriage. This was a requirement in Poland probably since the time marriage records were first kept. Marriage registers sometimes give the two or three dates on which the marriage intentions were announced in addition to the marriage date.
(akta małżeństwo) Marriage registers give the date of the marriage and the names of the bride and groom. They also indicate whether they were single or widowed and give the names of witnesses. They often include other information about the bride and groom such as their ages, residences, occupations, names of parents, and sometimes birthplaces. In cases of second and later marriages, they may include the names of previous partners and their death dates. Early marriage records give little information about the couples’ parents. In most cases before the beginning of the 19th century, marriage registers recorded only the names of the bride’s parents. Some later marriage registers give the birthplaces of the groom and bride. Couples were often married in the home parish of the bride.
Records of Deaths and Burials
(akta zgonów i pogrzebów) Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place within a few days of the death. Burial registers give the name of the deceased person and the date and place of death or burial. Often the age, place of residence, cause of death, and names of survivors are given. Occasionally the date and place of birth and the parents’ names are included. Early death registers usually do not indicate the date and place of birth. The birth date and place of the deceased person and information about parents in a burial record may not be accurate. Burial records may exist for individuals who were born before birth and marriage records were kept. Burial records often start later than christening and marriage records of the same parish.
Locating Church Records
Original Catholic records are usually found in individual parish or diocesan archives. Protestant records are often in state archives; some are in the possession of Evangelical Church archives or officials. Civil transcripts are generally kept in the local civil registration offices (Urząd Stanu Ciwilnego) for 100 years; then they are transferred to state archives. To use church records, you must know the town and religion of your ancestor. You must also determine the parish that your ancestor’s town belonged to so that you will know which parish registers to search. Your ancestor may have lived in village that was part of a parish located in a nearby larger town. Over time, some villages may have belonged to more than one parish as jurisdictions changed. Some gazetteers indicate parish jurisdictions. For help identifying parish boundaries, see the "Gazetteers" and "Maps" sections in this outline and the following section on church record inventories. The town where the church building was located is considered the parish headquarters. Although the church building was often named for a saint, the Family History Library Catalog refers to a parish by the name of the town where the parish church was located. In large cities where there may be many parishes for each religion, the catalog uses the parish name (such as St. John) to distinguish records of different parishes.
Church Record Inventories
An inventory lists available church records, their location, and what years they cover. Sometimes they include information on which parishes served which towns at different periods of time. For example, the village of Kuzie may have belonged to the parish in Nowogród before 1743 and to the parish in Mały Płock after that date. See also the "Church Directories" section in this outline. Church record inventories are available for some areas in Poland, and the Family History Library has copies of several of these for different counties and provinces. For areas of Poland that were formerly part of Prussia, the library has created the following inventories showing which records are included and not included in the library’s collection:
- Pomerania (FHL book 943.81 D27b.)
- Posen (FHL book 943.84 D27b.)
- Silesia (FHL book 943.85 D27b.)
- West Prussia (FHL book 943.82 D27b.)
- Many other inventories and lists of archive holdings for Poland are available at the Family History Library.
Inventories of church records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under: POLAND - CHURCH RECORDS INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS POLAND, (COUNTY) - CHURCH RECORDS INVENTORIES, REGISTERS, CATALOGS
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has church records on microfilm from many parishes throughout Poland, some to 1875, some to the 1880s, and some as late as the 1960s. The library does not have copies of records that were destroyed, have not been microfilmed, or are restricted from public access by the archivist or by law. The specific holdings are listed in the Place section of the Family History Library Catalog. Look in the catalog under the name of the town where the parish was, not necessarily the town where your ancestor lived: POLAND, (COUNTY), (TOWN) - CHURCH RECORDS New records are continually added to the library’s collection from several sources. Do not give up if records are not available yet. Check the Family History Library Catalog every two or three years for the records you need.
Records Not at the Family History Library
Although the Family History Library is a convenient way to access records, sometimes the records you need are not available. You can often obtain needed information in other ways. Poland has no single repository of church records. The present location of records depends on nationality, religion, and local history.
Church records are available at:
*Local parishes. Most Catholic church records are still maintained by the parish, which will generally answer correspondence in Polish. You can write directly to the parish with a nonspecific address (Catholic parish, Town name with postal code, Poland), but using the specific parish address is better. For specific addresses, consult a church directory (see the "Church Directories" section in this outline). If the records you need have been moved to a diocese or state archive, your request may be forwarded to that archive.
Some parish registers are collected in diocesan archives. Generally the very old records (before 1800) are in diocesan archives. Some dioceses have parishes archive their records after 100 years. Protestants also maintain church archives, although their records are likely to be in a state archive. Church archives are often unable to handle genealogical requests, but they can tell you if specific records are available.
- State archives.Many parish records and transcripts are in state archives. Most of these records have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library. For more recent records and for those not yet microfilmed, write to the Directorate of the State Archives and request searches of the records. See the "Archives and Libraries" section in this outline for that address.
- Civil registration offices. Transcripts (copies) and sometimes originals of church records or Jewish records may be deposited in local civil registration offices. These are generally sent to state archives after 100 years. See the "Civil Registration" section in this outline. The Family History Library has microfilmed records at state archives and in the diocesan archives of several dioceses. The library is continuing to acquire film copies of additional records. This is a major ongoing project. Baptism, marriage, and burial records may be found by contacting or visiting local parishes or archives in Poland.
Write your request in Polish whenever possible. Information about how to write to local parishes in Poland is given in Poland Letter Writing Guide. In your letter include the following:
- Full name and the sex of the person sought.
- Names of the parents, if known.
- Approximate date and place of the event.
- Your relationship to the person.
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so on).
- Request for a photocopy of the complete original record. Please include money for the search fee (usually about U.S. $10.00 or equivalent in Polish currency). If your request is unsuccessful, write for duplicate records that may have been filed in other archives or in civil registration offices.
Effective use of church records includes the following strategies:
- Search for the relative or ancestor you have selected. When you find the ancestor’s birth record, search for the birth records of brothers and sisters.
- Search for the marriage of the ancestor’s parents. The marriage record will often give clues for locating their birth records.
- Estimate the ages of the parents and search for their birth records, repeating the process for both the father and mother.
- If earlier generations are not in the parish records, search the records of neighboring parishes.
- Search the death registers for all family members.
- Many genealogical societies have the resources to help you find parish information when all the usual sources fail. A good society is worth the membership fee for the support it can offer you.
Project that focuses on Russian Poland and the city of Cracow and has accumulated almost 70,000 marriages is available at http://www.przodkowie.com/metryki/en.php