Poland Church Records

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Introduction

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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. The Catholic Directory. Click on 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. Another helpful site for Evangelical records in the Silesian region of Poland can be found here Evangelische Kirchenbücher Here is a fast link to all Evangelical Augsburg church records that are available at the Polish State Archives. Here is another quick link for Evangelical records in Poland's State Archives. A collection of images of church books containing baptisms, births, marriages, burials, and deaths for Evangelical congregations around Poland can be found on familysearch.org


For these later records, see Poland Civil Registration- Vital Records

General Historical Background

In general, church records in Poland have been kept since the mid-1600s, although a few parishes have records dating from about 1548. The efficient recording of baptisms, marriages, and deaths developed slowly. Record-keeping requirements were limited at first to baptisms, marriages, and confession registers. The Pope Paul the 5th demanded from the priests to keep five sets of records: baptism, confirmation, marriage, death, and status animarum–list of parishioners. The amount of information 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. The records before the partitions of Poland (1772-1795) included entries for all of the villages within that parish and in most instances were written in Latin. After the partitions of Poland, each of the divided area fell into the administrative laws of the occupant. For more information about the churches in Poland, see Poland Church History.

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.

1565 The parish priests were asked to make at the end of each year the extracts of the previous year’s records and to send them to the bishop, whose responsibility was to keep them at his archive.

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 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.

Civil Transcripts

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.

Civil Transcripts of Church Records in the Austrian Partition
[Odpisy Ksig Metrykalnych w Zaborze Austriackim]

Research Use: Civil transcripts are a primary source for birth, marriage, and death information and for lineage linking data.

Record Type: Transcripts of birth, marriage, and death records prepared by Catholic clergy. Austria took possession of the southern part of Poland in 1772. Austria introduced laws in 1782 establishing Catholic priests as civil registrars. Then, in 1784, an edict by the emperor Joseph II required the Catholic clergy to make civil transcripts of church records. Catholic parish registers were designated as state records and a standardized Latin columnar form was issued. The parish register thus became the official register of births, marriages, and deaths. A transcript (duplicate) was made for state purposes. Separate registers were required for each village in the parish. Greek-Catholic and Roman-Catholic clergy were responsible for the registration of all vital records for all religions; Protestants were permitted to keep their own registers under the direction of the Catholic priest. Jews were allowed the same privilege in 1789. In the mid 1800s non-Catholics, including Jews and Protestants, were made responsible for their own vital records transcripts.

Time Period: 1784 to 1918 (may continue into Republic period).

Contents: Birth registers: child’s name, birth date, christening date, name and religion of the father and mother; often includes names of the parents of child’s father and mother; names and occupations of the witnesses; house number of parents’ residence. Marriage registers: names of the bride and groom, marriage date, religions, ages, house number; names of witnesses; sometimes parents of bride and groom. Death registers: name of deceased, house number, dates of death and burial, religion, age, names of witnesses; sometimes cause of death and names of parents or spouse.

Location: Austrian civil transcripts are in state provincial archives. Recent records of less than 100 years are in local vital records offices [Urzd Stanu Cywilnego].

Population Coverage: In former Austrian territory about 95% of the Catholic population, considerably less of the non-Catholics until about 1820. By the 1840s about 85% of non-Catholics were registered. By the latter 1800s these transcripts included nearly 99% of the population .

Reliability: In former Austrian territory the registers are fairly accurate for Roman and Greek-Catholic persons but the registration of non-Catholics was sometimes incomplete and inaccurate until responsibility for registration was broadened in the mid-1800s.[1]

Civil Transcripts of Church Records in the Russian Partition
[Odpisy Cywilne Ksig Metrykalnych w Zaborze Rosyjskim]

Research Use: Civil transcripts are a primary source for birth, marriage, and death information and lineage-linking data.

Record Type: Transcripts of birth, marriage, and death records prepared by Catholic clergy as a form of civil registration. Napoleon established the Duchy of Warsaw in 1806. Whereas the French Empire introduced true civil registration in most of the areas under their administration, they instead introduced in 1808 a system of civil transcripts under the control of the Catholic clergy. This practice was essentially a form of universal civil registration. Although most of the Duchy of Warsaw came under Russian administration after 1815, the Napoleonic practice of civil transcripts continued in areas governed by Russia until the creation of the new Polish Republic in 1918. Napoleonic civil transcripts are found in all of Russian Poland and in parts of Prussian Posen and in Kraków, all formerly under Napoleonic administration. Catholic clergy were responsible for recording all births, marriages, and deaths until 1826 when the non-Catholic community was allowed to keep its own separate official registers. After 1826 clergy of other religions (Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish) were required to maintain civil transcripts of their church record in the officially designated Napoleonic format. These records, then, are essentially civil transcripts of the various denominational registers except in the case of Jews where these civil records were usually the only record kept. The early records were kept in Polish, but usually in Russian from 1868. The birth, marriage, and death registers usually have an index for each year.

Time Period: 1808 to 1918 (may continue into Republic period).

Contents: Birth registers: child’s given name; registration date and place, birth date; father’s name, age, occupation, and residence; mother’s maiden name and age; names, ages, occupations, and residences of godparents. Marriage registers: marriage date and place; names, ages, occupations, and residences of bride and groom; parents of bride and groom; usually also birthplaces of bride and groom; sometimes birth dates; names, ages, occupations, and residences of witnesses. Marriage supplements: [dówody, alegata, aneksy, or dokumenty do akt maenstw] documents which support various facts in the marriage registers, such as the birth certificates for the groom or bride, death certificates of a parent or former spouse, etc. Death registers: date and place of registration of death, death date and place, name of deceased, age at death; often includes parents, spouse, surviving children; sometimes birthplace; names, ages, occupations, and residences of witnesses.

Location: Civil transcripts of the Duchy of Warsaw and the Russian Kingdom of Poland are in state provincial archives. Recent records (less than 100 years) are in local vital records offices [Urzd Stanu Cywilnego].

Population Coverage: In the former Russian territory, civil transcripts recorded about 95% of the population.

Reliability: Very good.[1]

Civil Transcripts of Church Records in the former Prussian Territories
[Kirchenbuchduplikate]

Research Use: Prussian civil transcripts are a primary source for birth, marriage, and death information and lineage-linking data. They are particularly valuable since so many of the original church records have been lost or destroyed in this area of Poland.

Record Type: Transcripts of birth, marriage, and death records prepared by church clergy. Prussia gained a sizeable portion of Poland in the Polish partitions until the settlement of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 reduced Prussia’s share of Poland. Church registration of births, marriages, and deaths was mandatory by Prussian law from the time of the partitions. From 1794 church records were considered as both public and legal documents. Clergy were required to make exact records of births, marriages, and deaths. For civil purposes the Prussian government required transcripts [duplicates] of the church record which were to be sent to local courts. In 1808 the practice was reinforced and expanded. In accordance with this law, Mennonites, Jews, and others who did not keep christening registers had their births, deaths, and marriages recorded by the Lutheran minister. These records were kept in German, Latin, and sometimes Polish. The practice of civil transcripts was replaced by actual civil registration in 1874.

Time Period: 1794 to 1874.

Contents: Birth records: child’s given name; date and place of birth; father’s name, occupation and residence; mother’s maiden name; names of godparents. Marriage records: marriage date and place; names, ages, and residences of bride and groom; parents of bride and groom; sometimes also birth places of bride and groom; names of witnesses. Death records: name of deceased, date and place of death and burial, age at death, cause of death; often includes names of parents, spouse, and surviving children.

Location: Prussian civil transcripts are in state provincial archives. Recent records of less than 100 years are often in local vital records offices [Urzd Stanu Cywilnego]. Some records are in state archives in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Population Coverage: In the former Prussian area, civil transcripts cover 70 to 80% of the population, but minority religions, especially Jews, were likely to be less thoroughly registered.

Reliability: Very good.[1]

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.

Marriage Intentions

(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.

Marriage Records

(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 Poland Gazetteers and Poland Maps and the following information 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 FamilySearch 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.

Click here to find information regarding Baptist church records in Poland.

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 Poland Church Directories. 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.)
  • Poland, Częstochowa Roman Catholic Church Books, 1226-1950
  • 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 FamilySearch 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 FamilySearch 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 FamilySearch Catalog every two or three years for the records you need.

Poland, Częstochowa Roman Catholic Church Books, 1226-1950

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 Poland Church Directories). If the records you need have been moved to a diocese or state archive, your request may be forwarded to that archive.
*Diocese archives.
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 Poland Archives and Libraries 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 Poland Civil Registration- Vital Records. 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.

Search Strategies

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 known 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.

Online Databases

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Poland,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1987-1999.