Questions and Answers: How Do I Specify the Exact Locations of Polish Villages?

Erik, who previously wrote to me asking how to find ancestral records in Poland, has another question about Polish research. He asks about the proper way to enter the names of Polish villages in a family history to reflect the political landscape at the time one’s ancestors lived there.

This is a great question and a particularly difficult one to deal with for Poland, since the borders of Poland changed many times throughout history and the political subdivisions changed as well.

To record the location of a Polish village, one must not only where your ancestors lived, but when they lived there. Eric’s ancestors were from the villages of Pyrzowice and Szulmierz, and the discussion below is specific to those villages.

  • From 1569-1795, Pyrzowice and Szulmierz were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a state that covered a large portion of central and eastern Europe.
  • Beginning in 1772, the Commonwealth was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria. As best as I can tell on the maps I’ve looked at so far, Pyrzowice and Szulmierz both remained in Poland until the third partition in 1795. At that time, both of these villages were incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia where they remained from 1795-1807.
  • The Napoleonic Wars resulted in another change in the boundaries, and between 1807-1815 both Pyrzowice and Szulmierz belonged to the Duchy of Warsaw, under French authority.
  • After Napoleon’s defeat, Pyrzowice and Szulmierz were part of a state that was established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and existed under control of Russia. The name Congress Kingdom of Poland is used to describe this region between 1815 and 1918, although the names Congress Poland and Kingdom of Poland are also used. The name Vistulaland is also sometimes used to refer to the Congress Kingdom of Poland between 1864-1918.
  • Poland regained its independence and became known as the Republic of Poland between 1918-1945, but was also referred to as the Second Republic of Poland.
  • In June 1945 at the Yalta Conference, Poland’s borders were completely changed and the new country was known as the People’s Republic of Poland. This name was used until the overturn of the Communist government in 1989.
  • Since 1989, Poland has been officially known as the Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska), although it is also referred to as the Third Republic of Poland.

Erik’s great grandparents were born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a common time period for many Polish immigrants to America. Both of Erik’s great grandparents were born in the Congress Kingdom of Poland or Vistulaland.

In a previous article, I reported that, at the time Erik’s great grandparents were born, the village of Szulmierz was in the Regimin Gmina, Ciechanów Powiat, Płock Gubernia, Congress Kingdom of Poland. Gmina may be defined as a municipality, Powiat may be defined as a district, and gubernia may be defined as a province. I would enter the name of this village in my genealogy software as:

Szulmierz, Regimin Gmina, Ciechanów Powiat, Płock Gubernia, Congress Kingdom of Poland

This should be enough detail to allow someone else to find the village. Because several Polish villages in different parts of the country may have the same name, it’s important to list the Gmina, the Powiat, and the Gubernia, if known.

Sometimes, one will see the name of the powiat written as powiat chiechanowski. This is the adjectival form of the powiat name. Ciechanów Powiat uses the noun form of the powiat name. Likewise, one may see the name of the gubernia written as gubernia płockiej, which is also an adjectival form. Either is acceptable, but the noun form of the name might be more palatable to those whose native language is English.

At the time Erik’s great grandparents were born, the village of Pyrzowice was in the Ożarowice Gmina, Będzin Powiat, and Piotrków Gubernia of the Congress Kingdom of Poland. I would write the name in my genealogy software as:

Pyrzowice, Ożarowice Gmina, Będzin Powiat, Piotrków Gubernia, Congress Kingdom of Poland

The adjectival form of the powiat name is powiat będziński, and the adjectival form of the gumbernia name id gubernia piotrkowskiej.

Many genealogy programs won’t allow the entry of the Polish diacritical marks, and so you may have to just leave the diacritical marks off.

Tomorrow: The Słownik Geograficzny entry for Pyrzowice.

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