Poland Historical Geography

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The name of the place your ancestor came from, the province, or the country may have changed several times.

This section describes the changes that have taken place in Poland. This information will help you find records in the Family History Library Catalog for the place your ancestors lived. This section will describe the jurisdictions used in the catalog.

Poland was formerly part of Prussia, Austria, and Russia until 1918, when it became an independent nation. Record-keeping practices and political jurisdictions were determined by the country controlling the specific area of Poland. Over time administrative districts have been reorganized, their names and boundaries changed, and local place-names changed. You may need to determine previous boundaries and jurisdictions to locate your ancestors’ records. Gazetteers and histories are helpful sources of information about these changes. The Polish partitions and the two world wars contributed greatly to the administrative changes that took place in Poland. After World War II, and Germany’s occupation of Poland, ended in 1945, Poland’s borders shifted considerably. The Soviet Union took territory in the east and Poland gained territory from Germany in the west.

In 1975 Poland changed its administrative system, increasing the number of provinces from 22 to 49. In 1999 the provinces were again rearranged from 49 to 16. Most records refer to the older provinces and place-names. After a strike at the Gdansk shipyard in the 1980s, a solidarity movement began and for the first time a labor organization was recognized.

The events that took place following the strike eventually led to the fall of the Communist government in Poland.

Sources about boundary changes are found in the Family History Library Catalog under:





The historical atlases described in the “Maps” section in this outline contain maps depicting boundary changes, migration and settlement patterns, military actions, and ethnic and religious distribution.