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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 a 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.