Questions and Answers: How Do I Find Ancestral Records in Poland?

Today I received an email from Erik, who asked:

I saw while browsing Google for Powiat Ciechanowski I stumbled across your family history website and saw you have ancestors from there. Well, I do too, and I was wondering how you went about researching the people of that area. My great-grandfather and his family were all from a town called Szulmierz in that county and I really know nothing but his name, the year of his birth, and his father’s name. How do you recommend I go about researching his family? Are there any microfilmed records of the area? Since I see you’ve done Polish genealogy I was hoping you could provide me with some tips.

This is a great question, Erik.  When I first began to study my family history, I had no idea how to go about this, and for a while I thought this was an obstacle I would never get past.  You’re already part way to your goal, in that you know the name of your ancestors’ village.  Here’s a plan on how to proceed from here:

1.  The first thing to do is to find the name of the parish to which Szulmierz belonged by consulting a gazetteer.  I looked for Szulmierz in the Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich (The Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavonic Countries):

Slownik Geograficzny Entry for Szulmierz

Słownik Geograficzny Entry for Szulmierz

SOURCE:  Chlebowski, Bronisław, Filip Sulimierski, and Władysław Walewski, eds., Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavonic Countries) – Warsaw 1892, Volume XII, page 70.

The entry, translated from the Polish, states:

Szulmierz, a village and grange [a grange is a large manorial farmstead], Ciechanów Powiat [District], it has 2068 mórgs [1 mórg in the Russian Partition = 1.388 acres] in the grange (720 mórgs of settled forest) and 287 mórgs in the manor.  Compare Sulmierz and Dunoch.

I then looked up the entry for Sulmierz:

Slownik Geograficzny Entry for Sulmierz

Słownik Geograficzny Entry for Sulmierz

SOURCE:  Chlebowski, Bronisław, Władysław Walewski, and Filip Sulimierski, eds., Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavonic Countries) – Warsaw 1890, Volume XI, page 575.

The entry for Sulmierz, translated from the Polish, states:

Sulmierz, a village and grange [a grange is a large manorial farmstead], Ciechanów Powiat [District], Regimin Gmina [municipality], Niedzborz parish.  Eight viersts [1 vierst = 1.0668 km] not far from Ciechanów, it has 25 homes, 317 inhabitants, 1924 mórgs [1 mórg in the Russian Partition = 1.388 acres].

Finally, I looked up the entry for Dunoch:

Slownik Geograficzny Entry for Dunoch

Słownik Geograficny Entry for Dunoch

SOURCE:  Sulimierski, Filip, Bronisław Chlebowski, and Władysław Walewski, eds., Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavonic Countries) – Warsaw 1881, Volume II, page 227.

The entry for Dunoch, translated from the Polish, states:

Dunoch, a forest area in Ciechanów Powiat [District], Regimin Gmina [municipality], Koziczynek and Lekowo parishes, belonging to the property of:  Kosiczyn, Szulmierz, Włosty and others.  It consists predominantly of coniferous trees, although it is frequently possible to come across whole areas consisting of oak forests and birch groves.  Formerly, this forest was joined with the forests owned by the Opinogórski Manor in the village of Lekowo.

So, it appears that the Baptismal, Marriage, and Death Records for the Polish village of Szulmierz were probably maintained by the parish in Niedzborz.  However, since Szulmierz was part of the Dunoch forest area, it is possible that the records could have been maintained by the parishes of Koziczynek or Lekowo.

Click on the link for a PDF copy of the Słownik Geograficzny entries for Szulmierz, Sulmierz, and Dunoch, along with transcriptions and translations of those entries.

2.  The second thing to do is see if the records have been microfilmed at by the Family History Library.  Go to http://www.familysearch.org , click on the “Library” tab at the top of the page, then click on “Family History Library Catalog”.  Then click on “Place Search”, enter the name of the parish in the “Place” box, and click on the Search button.  I checked for Niedzborz, Koziczynek, and Lekowo.  I found that there were baptismal, marriage, and death records in Niedzborz from 1644-1900 (with some gaps), and there are baptismal, marriage, and death records in Lekowo from 1808-1903 (but the records for 1860 appear to be missing).  I could not find records for Koziczynek in the Family History Library Catalog, nor could I find Koziczynek on a map.

3.  The third thing to do is to go to your local Family History Center (you can find a list of Family History Centers at http://www.familysearch.org by entering the place where you live in the search box near the bottom of the main page).  Order the films you want, pay a small fee (usually about $5.50 – $6.50 US) and wait until the films arrive.  Then, you can search the films for the records of your family.  The FamilySearch website includes additional information about Family History Centers.

One difficulty is that records up through the early 19th Century are in Latin, from the early 19th Century to about 1865-1870 they’ll be in Polish, and after that they’ll be in Russian.  If you can’t read these languages you may have to find someone who can.

Usually (but not always), these church records will have an index at the end of each year and a cumulative index every ten years.  You can look up the name in the index and find the record.  For the Polish and Latin records, you shouldn’t have a problem finding the names in the indexes, but the Russian records usually only index the names in Russian using the Cyrillic alphabet.

Stephen Morse has a webpage at http://www.stephenmorse.com/russian/eng2rus.html that will transliterate English or Polish names to Russian.  The webpage will give you lots of possibilities, but sometimes doesn’t come up with the correct transliteration at all.  The webpage shows the transliteration in print form rather than handwritten form, so you still may need help in finding names handwritten in Russian in the church records.

Most of the Polish and Russian records will follow a consistent format.  I’ve shown some of these records, along with transcriptions and translations, on my website.  Additional help with translations can be found elsewhere on the web and in the excellent translation guides by Jonathan Shea and Fred Hoffman published by Language and Lineage Press:

Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, In Their Words. A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume I: Polish (New Britain, Connecticut: Language & Lineage Press, 2000).

Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, In Their Words. A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume II: Russian (New Britain, Connecticut: Language & Lineage Press, 2002).

Volume I: Polish is out of print, but should be back in print soon.  Volumes III and IV (German and Latin) have not yet been published.

Good Luck!

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7 Responses to Questions and Answers: How Do I Find Ancestral Records in Poland?

  1. Barbara Poole says:

    Steve, What a great reply and some of your steps could be used for all who are researching an area. I am sure Erik will be delighted to read your response. Is there a future Teaching Polish Genealogy course in your future? I was very impressed with the detail and examples you provided.

  2. Erik Bockenstette says:

    Thanks a lot Steve! I’ll get to this stuff as soon as I can.

  3. Thanks, Barbara! At one point in the distant past, I considered a career in teaching, but got sidetracked into Biotechnology research instead!

    Erik, please let me know how things work out for you. The collection of Niedzborz parish records on microfilm from 1644-1900 is one of the most complete sets of Polish parish records I’ve seen in the FHL catalog. Most Polish parish records only extend back to about 1800. Here’s hoping your ancestors didn’t move around much and that you’ll be able to trace them back to 1644!

  4. Cheryl Palmer says:

    This was just fantastic, your response! Heck with teaching, now I am wondering when you will be writing a book……

  5. It’s funny you should mention that, Cheryl! People have suggested that I write a book about Polish genealogy. Ceil Jensen just wrote one, however. Her book will be published later this year. If I think I can write a book that won’t just duplicate what is already out there, I’ll probably do it!

  6. Pingback: Steve’s Genealogy Blog » Using Maps and Gazetteers to Find the Parish for Szulmierz

  7. Henrietta Ruckle says:

    Hi:

    I have been looking for my mother’s father for a long time and no luck. I found him in the US and can fit in all the pieces. His name was Franz Gajtkowski and was born May, 1861. He also had a brother Valentine who was supposed to have been conscripted into the Russian army. This part I don’t understand since Prussia was controlled by Germany.

    I have checked as many records I could find out about his first wife, who died as a result of child birth. Any paperwork I have on him indicates he is from “Poland” “Prussia” or “Poland/Prussia.”

    I have had a researcher check about every parish in the Prussian area with no success.
    My mother did not know where he was born. She was the last of 11 children. I suspect that her brother Sylvester knew the info but when he died in 1958, I am positive that my Aunt Rose (Sylvester’s sister) threw out all he had since she did nto think the papers were of any use.

    Anyway I am grasping at straws here. My mother told me this story. In Poland people lived on property that was ownes by “Pons.” The children were educated in that the boys were taught to read and write and well as taught a skill. The girls were taught how to run a household and to raise animals and plant family gardens. She told me that my grandfather was a blacksmith. This story has made me think that perhaps where I should be looking for him is in Manorial records.

    I have no idea how to go about this. I do not read Polish, but I think if someone can put me in the direction of finding the names of Manners in the Prussian part of Poland, I might be able to find my grandfther.

    Any suggestions you might have would be much appreciated.

    Penny Ruckle

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