By far, the most easily accessible and useful records for Eastern European genealogy are the records of Birth/Baptism, Marriage, and Death. After the Council of Trent, Roman Catholic parishes were expected to maintain records of the sacraments, and it is these records that are the earliest extant records for most Eastern Europeans.
The earliest records (from the 17th and early 18th centuries) were maintained in Latin, the language of the Church. Different parishes began to keep these records at different times, and the earliest records contain only a minimum of information. Sometimes, the records were written in Polish.
With the Partitions of Poland and subsequent political events came changes in the records.
Austrian Partition: The format and content of the records in the Austrian partition were mandated by the Austrian government. Fairly detailed records, including names of parents and sometimes grandparents were written in Latin in a columnar format. These records were maintained in essentially the same format into the early 20th century. Until 1869, the Roman Catholic parishes were also required to maintain records of the births, marriages, and deaths of non-Catholics, although this requirement was not frequently practiced. The records from the Austrian partition were almost never indexed.
Russian Partition: After the arrival of Napoleon and the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, in 1808 a Napoleonic style of record keeping was mandated by the state, which used the parish records as civil registration. Long, detailed paragraphs were written for each birth/baptism, marriage, or death. These records include much information of genealogical value, including names, dates, ages, occupations, names of parents, and names of witnesses. After the defeat of Napoleon and the creation of the Congress Kingdom of Poland, records in the Congress Kingdom continued to be maintained in Polish, using the Napoleonic style. The failed January Uprising of 1863 was to have repercussions, however. By the 1870s, the Russian government required that all official records be kept in Russian, although the Napoleonic format remained intact. Frequently, these records were indexed annually, and a cumulative index was usually prepared every decade.
Prussian Partition: The earliest church records were maintained in Latin, Polish, or German. There was no state mandated civil registration until 1874, and so the records in the Prussian partition are not as detailed as in other partitions. Records in Roman Catholic parishes were usually written in Latin or Polish. Records in Lutheran churches were usually written in German. These records were rarely indexed.
This article is Part 3 of a three part series that includes:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Eastern European Genealogy – Part 1
- A Beginner’s Guide to Eastern European Genealogy – Part 2
- A Beginner’s Guide to Eastern European Genealogy – Part 3
A Beginner’s Guide to Eastern European Genealogy is also available as a downloadable PDF document.
Written for the 93rd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy
Copyright © 2010 by Stephen J. Danko