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Maps are an important source for locating places where your ancestors lived. They help you see the neighboring towns, transportation routes, and geographic features of the area your ancestor came from. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes.
Maps are published individually or as an atlas (a bound collection of maps). They may be included in gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, and history texts.
Different types of maps will help you in different ways. Historical atlases describe the growth and development of countries. They show boundaries, migration routes, settlement patterns, military campaigns, and other historical information. Road atlases are useful because of their detail, and they include an alphabetical index. Other types of maps include parish maps, county atlases, topographical maps, and military maps. Maps can show townships in great detail (to ½" to the mile). City maps are extremely helpful when researching in large cities such as Warszawa.
Maps must be used carefully for several reasons:
- There are often several places with the same name. For example, there are many towns called Dombrowa in present-day Poland.
- The spelling and even names of some towns may have changed since your ancestors lived there. Some localities have different names in different languages. For example, the town now known as Toszek was Tost before 1918.
- Place-names are often misspelled in American sources. Difficult names may have been shortened and important diacritic marks omitted. For example, Warszawa may be found as Warsaw on some maps.
- Political boundaries are not clearly indicated on all maps.
- The most common types of maps are road maps and topographical maps. Road maps are good because they usually contain an index of place names and they provide accurate distances and locational relationships. Topographical maps are often available in more detailed scales and are especially useful for picturing the topography (contours and elevations) of the region. They often also include very small named settlements such mills, foundries, inns and others that would not typically appear on a road map. The big disadvantage of topographical maps is that they do not include place name indexes.
Finding the Specific Town on the Map
To do successful research in Poland, you must identify the town where your ancestor lived.
Because many towns have the same name, you may need some additional information before you can locate the correct town on a map. You will be more successful if you have some information about the town. You may search gazetteers, histories, family records, and other sources to learn about the following:
- The state or province the ancestor came from
- Name of the parish where your ancestor was baptized or married
- Towns where related ancestors lived
- The size of the town
- The occupation of your ancestor (this may indicate the size or industries of the town)
- Nearby localities, such as large cities
- Nearby features, such as rivers and mountains
- Industries of the area
- Dates when the town was renamed
- Dates the town existed
- Other names the town was known by
Use gazetteers to identify the district the town you want was in. This will distinguish it from other towns of the same name and help you locate it on a map. (See the “Gazetteers” section in this outline.)
Finding Maps and Atlases
Collections of maps and atlases are available at numerous historical societies and at public and university libraries. The Family History Library has a good collection of Polish maps and atlases. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
POLAND - MAPS
Some maps at the Family History Library are:
- Karte des Deutschen Reiches(Map of the German Empire). Scale 1:100.000. Berlin, Germany: Kartographische Abteilung der Königlichen Preußischen Landesaufnahme, 1914–1917. (FHL film 0068814.)
- Mapa Polski (taktyczna) (Tactical maps of Poland). Warszawa, Poland: Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny,1926–38. (FHL fiche 6312622.)
A set of 483 microfiche maps of Poland as it existed between World War I and World War II.
Modern road atlases for Poland are for sale at various genealogical booksellers and many on-line bookstores through the Internet. The following is an easy-to-use, well-produced road atlas that is typical of what is available.
Polska Atlas Drogowy Warszawa (1996). Scale 1:200,000. (FHL book 943.8 E7ad.)
Atlas geograficzny illustrowany królestwa polskiego, J.M. Bazewicza, Warszawa (1907). (FHL book 943.8 E3b.)
Polska atlas samochodown, Publisher: Polskie Przedsiębiorstwo, Warszawa-Wrocław (1991). (FHL book 943.8 E7p.)
Euro-Reiseatlas Polen (Euro-travel atlas Poland). Scale 1:300,000. Berlin, Germany: RV Reise und Verkehrsverlag, 1993. (FHL book 943.8 E7er.)
Two excellent national historical atlases are:
Atlas geograficzny illustrowany królestwa polskiego (An illustrated geographical atlas of the Kingdom of Poland). Scale 1:420,000. Warszawa: J. M.Bazewicz, 1907. (FHL book 943.8 E3b; film 0873665 item 3; fiche 6000827.)
Instructions for use:
This is a detailed atlas of the Kingdom of Poland. This includes only those parts of Poland which were under Russian rule from 1815-1918. The atlas has a separate map for each district (Powiat). The index lists all districts according to province (Gubernia) with the page number for each.
Towns which had Roman Catholic parishes are marked with a cross. If you are looking for a specific town, you must know the district it was in. You can get this information from a gazetteer..
Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski. (Poland: A Historical Atlas). New York, New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1987. (FHL book 943.8E7p.)
- Poland 960 – 992
- Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth 1569–1648
- Partitioned Poland 1772 – 1795
- Napoleon’s Duchy of Warsaw 1807 – 1815
- Congress Poland 1815 – 1831
(Becomes a semi-autonomous part of the Russian Empire)
- Congress Poland 1907
- Interwar Poland 1920, the Polish Corridor
- Modern Poland 1945 – Present
Topographical Maps On Line
Two sets of good topographical maps covering Poland are available on line. You will have to know the location of your village before you can use them OR they can be very useful for manually searching for a village if you cannot find it indexed anywhere yet you know it to be close to another main town.
Austrian Series at 1:200,000 scale; 1910 era
Mapywig most at 1:100,000 scale; others available from 1:750,000 down to very detailed 1:25,000; generally pre WW II era
Tip: When you open these maps, standard magnification is generally not readable and the normal increase in magnification with the browser makes them difficult to use. Once you find the one you want, right click on the image and download it to your computer. Then use your image viewing program to open it and set the magnification level at whatever best suits your needs.
The following links will take you to a variety of other maps that will be useful in your research, especially with regard to boundary changes and other historical events that impacted your ancestry.