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Effective family research requires a knowledge of major historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family. Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you also use histories to learn about the events they may have participated in. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married. [Click here [for more on the historical background of Poland.]
The following are some key dates and events in the history of Poland:
500 Slavic tribes settled in the area that is now Poland.
966-1795 The Polish Kingdom existed. The Polish state emerged in the 10th century when several tribes united. Christianity was accepted in 966 A.D., and Poland became a kingdom.
1569 Poland reached its greatest territorial expansion. At that time it included Lithuania, Borussia (Latin for Prussia), Volhynia, Podolia, and the Ukraine.
1582 The Kingdom of Poland adopted the Gregorian calendar.
1772 First Partition. Russia, Austria, and Prussia each seized one-third of Polish territory (see maps)
1793 Second Partition. Russia obtained one-half of the remaining territory of Poland, and Prussia took Posen
1772 First Partition. Russia, Austria, and Prussia each seized one-third of Polish territory (see maps).
1793 Second Partition. Russia obtained one-half of the remaining territory of Poland, and Prussia took Posen.
1795Third Partition. Polish resistance was overwhelmed, and the remaining Polish territory was divided among Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The Kingdom of Poland ceased to exist.
1806–1813 Napoleonic Era. Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw (1806) and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1809) from territories previously seized from Prussia and Austria.
1813 Napoleon’s armies were defeated at Waterloo, bringing an end to the French Empire.
1815 The Congress of Vienna reassigned Polish territory to Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Kraków was established as a free city republic. The Kingdom of Poland was established within the Russian Empire with the czar as king. This kingdom was often referred to as “Congress Poland” because of its origin at the Congress of Vienna.
1846 Austria took over the Republic of Kraków, and it was incorporated into the province of Galicia.
1864 January uprising resulted from Russia’s efforts to Russify the Kingdom of Poland.
1918–1939 The Republic of Poland. At the end of World War I Poland reappeared as an independent state after 126 years of foreign rule. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 established Danzig/Gdansk as a free city, nominally independent of both Germany and Poland.
1939–1945 German Occupation. The invasion by the Nazis in 1939 marked the onset of World War II. After the war Poland ceded her eastern territories to the Soviet Union and her western borders were moved west to the Oder and Neisse Rivers, thus establishing her present borders. A provisional government was set up under Soviet auspices in 1945.
1947 The Communist party gained full control of the Polish government in state-controlled elections.
1952 Poland became a people’s republic on the Soviet model.
1989 The fall of the Communist regime. Lech Wałęsa was elected president in 1989 in Poland’s first free election.
The Family History Library has several published national, provincial, and local histories for Poland.
You can find histories in the Family History Library Catalog under:
EUROPE - HISTORY
POLAND - HISTORY
POLAND, (COUNTY) - HISTORY
POLAND, (COUNTY), (CITY) - HISTORY
The following historical sources are only a few of the many that are available. Books with film numbers can be ordered through local family history centers. Some may be found in major research libraries.
'Ć'wik, Władysław.Miasta królewskie Lubelszczyzny w drugiej poł'owie XVIII wieku'''
Gieysztor, Aleksander.History of Poland. Warszawa: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1979. (FHL book 943.8 H2gk, FHL film 1181701.)
Leslie, R. F. The History of Poland since 1863.New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. (FHL book 943.8 H2hp.) Includes a bibliography.
Topolski, Jerzy. An Outline History of Poland. Warszawa: Interpress Publishers, 1986. (FHL book 943.8 H2tj.)
Wandycz, Piotr S. The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795–1918. Vol. 7 in series: A History of East Central Europe. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1974. (FHL book 940 H2ho.) Includes maps.
Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of citizens, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide clues. A local history may also give you ideas of other records to search.
In addition, local histories can provide information about your family’s lifestyle and the community and environment your family lived in.
Although relatively few local histories have been published for towns or regions in Poland, a careful search for available histories for your ancestor’s locality is worthwhile. You might want to write to the village mayor to see if these histories are available for your town when they are not available at the Family History Library. Sometimes local histories are available at major public and university libraries and archives.
The Gregorian calendar is the calendar in common use in the world today. It is a correction of the Julian calendar that had been in use since 46 B.C. Leap years had been miscalculated in the Julian calendar, so by 1582 the calendar was 10 days behind the solar year. Most Catholic countries, including the Kingdom of Poland, began using the Gregorian calendar in 1582. In Protestant areas of western Poland, the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar took place in 1700.
In Congress Poland, where Russian administration affected record keeping, the Julian calendar was generally used. Often both the Gregorian and the Julian dates were used on documents, the Julian date being listed first, which may make the records confusing to novice researchers. When both dates are given, use the Gregorian date for your record keeping. The Julian calendar was no longer used after 1918. By then the two calendars were 12 days apart.