Friday at the Polish Genealogical Society of America Conference

Today was the first day of the annual conference of the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

In the morning I attended two lectures by Jonathan Shea, and in the afternoon I attended two lectures by Matthew Bielawa.

Beginner’s Workshop

The two lectures by Jonathan Shea were devoted to a Beginner’s Workshop. Despite the title, the lectures were useful for genealogists at any level researching Polish ancestry.

Jonathan stressed that to research one’s ancestry in Poland, a researcher must know the ancestor’s names in their native language and must know the exact location of the vital events.

Polish names were often anglicized, and researchers must learn to convert the anglicized names back to the original spelling. Often, this process requires that the researcher know how to properly pronounce the letters in the Polish language.

Genealogists in the United States should begin Polish research with American records: Birth, Marriage, and Death records using civil records and church records; obituaries; city directories; cemetery records; probate records; parish histories; fraternal societies; labor union records; consular records; census records (both federal and state); passenger lists; naturalization records; draft cards from World War I and World War II; U.S. passport applications; and alien registration records.

For the most part, immigrants from the Prussian partition of Poland settled in the midwest, those from the Russian partition settled in the northeast, and those from the Austrian partition settled in both areas.

To find the village of your ancestors, gazetteers specific for the partition in which one’s Polish ancestors lived are invaluable to find the locations of the parishes and civil registration offices for the village.

Records in Poland may be found in the parishes, the diocesan archives, the civil registry, or the state archives. Frequently, only one set of records was maintained, but the common assumption that the records were destroyed is usually incorrect.


Matthew Bielawa’s first lecture was on gazetteers.

He described the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów slowiańskich, the Genealogical Gazeteer of Galicia, the Gemeindelexikon der im Reichsrate vertretenen Königreiche und Länder, Gemeindelexikon fur das Konigreich Preussen, Meyers Orts und Verkehrs – Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs,, Spiski naselennyh mest Rossiiskoi imperii, Skorowidz miejscowosci rzecrypospolitej polskiej, Spis Miejscowosci Polskiej Rzeczypospolitej Ludowej, among others.

Galicia: A Historical and Cultural Perspective

Matthew’s second lecture was an overview of the history, politics, and religious culture of Poland with an emphasis on Galicia.

Galicia itself was an invention of the Austrian Empire (note: the Austrian Empire was more properly known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Crown of St. Stephen) and was created as a result of the partition of Poland. The area of Galicia included those who considered themselves Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish (among others) with Catholics belonging to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Greek Catholic Church.

In general, western Galicia was mainly populated by Polish Roman Catholics, and eastern Galicia was mainly populated by Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

Politically, life was better for Poles in the Austrian partition than in other partitions. In fact, after the Russian crackdown in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, Galicia became a center of “Polishness”.

Matthew also provided insight into certain aspects of Polish peasant life using examples from Stauter-Halsted, Keely. 2001. The nation in the village: the genesis of peasant national identity in Austrian Poland, 1848-1914. Ithaca [N.Y.]: Cornell University Press.

Sales of alcohol sales were frequently designated to the Jewish population. Peasants were required to purchase a minimum amount of alcohol (whether or not they actually wanted it) from that produced by the manors.

In 1848, the Spring of Nations provided emancipation of the Polish peasants but resulted in few real changes. Before the Spring of Nations, peasants worked in servitude on common lands. After emancipation, peasants were unable to pay new imperial taxes and so had to work on manorial estates.

World War I resulted in the creation of the Second Polish Republic and World War II resulted in massive border changes and ethnic cleansings that forced many to leave behind their homes and move to new ones within the restructured borders.

Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Danko

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