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Poland has had many minorities, including Jews, Gypsies, Brethren, Calvinists, and Mennonites. You should learn the history of the ethnic, racial, and religious groups your ancestors belonged to. This historical background can help you identify where your ancestors lived and when they lived there, where they migrated, the types of records they might be listed in, and other information to help you understand your family’s history.
For some minorities in Poland there are unique resources available, such as histories, gazetteers, biographical sources, settlement patterns, and handbooks. The Family History Library collects records of these groups, especially published histories. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog Place Search under:
POLAND - MINORITIES
POLAND, (COUNTY) - MINORITIES
POLAND - JEWISH HISTORY
Other sources are also in the subject section of the catalog under the name of the minority, such as Jews, Germans, or Mennonites. Some sources are listed under:
JEWS - POLAND
An example of the type of book you might find is:
- Hagen, William W. Germans, Poles and Jews: The Nationality Conflict in the Prussian East,1772–1914. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1980. (FHL book 943 F2hw.)
The Family History Library also has several books about Poles in other countries. These are listed in the Place and topic sections of the Family History Library Catalog under:
(COUNTRY NAME) - MINORITIES
POLES - (COUNTRY NAME)
In the United States, Germany, and other countries where members of these ethnic groups migrated, various local and national societies have been organized to gather, preserve, and share the cultural contributions and histories of Polish minority groups.
A group for German researchers in Middle Poland can be found at this site Mittelpolen.de. It may be helpful for those searching for German ancestors and even possibly living relatives that settled in this area. This site is only available in the German language.
For English language coverage of Germans in Middle Poland (Russian Poland), consider Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe. It's indexing database of church and civil records and family data includes over 500,000 entries for Germanic people from Russian Poland and Volhynia (northwestern Ukraine). These two regions have strong migrational links and therefore many family connections.
It is not certain when the first Jew arrived in Poland. Many came to Poland and began their businesses and sold their wares and then settled with their families. Many Jews came here because persecution drove them away from areas outside of Poland. Here they found some peace. A great influx came into Poland between the 12th and 15th centuries. Because Poland was in need of merchants and other businesses, they were readily accepted and found the protection that they needed. Mostly the Ashkenazi Jews settled in Poland. Poland consisted of about 10% Jewish population between the two World Wars.
Sources in Print: Burg, Brian Neil. "Lessons Learned in Finding the Chajkielson Family of Suwalki." In. AVOTAYNU, Vol. XXIV, No. 4 (Winter 2008); pp. 37-42. [ FHL INTL 296.05 Av79 v. 24].
Kashubians also called Kashubs, Kaszubians, Kassubians or Cassubians, are a West Slavic ethnic group in Pomerelia, north-central Poland. Their settlement area is referred to as Kashubia. They speak Kashubian, classified either as a language or a Polish dialect.
Pomerelia is a historical region in northern Poland. Pomerelia was situated in eastern Pomerania on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, centered on the city of Gdańsk (Danzig) at the mouth of the Vistula. It is now located in the Polish Pomeranian Voivodeship and sometimes referred to as Gdańsk Pomerania.
Pomerania (Pommern in German, Pomorze in Polish) is a former province of Prussia. Both names, Pommern and Pomerania, are Slavic in origin coming from the Slavic word "pomorze" which means "by the sea." Pommern is located along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea. During Prussian times, it was bordered by (from west to east) the Provinces of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and West Prussia with Province Posen slightly to the south.
Traditionally the Prussians divided the province into two parts: Vorpommern (Hither Pomerania-the area west of the Oder [Odra in Polish] River closer to Germany proper) and Hinterpommern (Farther Pomerania-the area east of the Oder ). Today, most of Vorpommern is located in northeastern Germany while Hinterpommern is located entirely in northwestern Poland.
How to differentiate between the Pomeranians and the Kashubians?
The ethnic origins of both groups are identical. The original Pomeranians were a Slavic tribe that settled in the area around 500 A.D. under the Polish ruler Mieszko (died 992). Farther Pomerania formed part of the Polish realm. Then in the 12th century and/or the next roughly 300 years the Pomeranians were subject to the pressure of the German Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East). During this period the German effort to germanize the native Slavic population of the area was largely successful. However, it was less successful in the eastern reaches of Pomerania and in what became West Prussia. The Kashubians are those Pomeranians (in eastern Pomerania and in northern and western West Prussia) who resisted germanization and largely retained their native Slavic language and their Catholic religion. The Pomeranians are those who adopted the German language and the Protestant religion. Yet the ethnic origins of both the Kashubians and the Pomeranians are the same.