Describing Place Names in the Duchy of Warsaw 1807-1815

When genealogists enter the names of the locations where events in their ancestors’ lives occurred, they are faced with the dilemma of how to enter place names so as to unambiguously identify the locations in both space and time.

Back in February 2009, I wrote about Describing Place Names in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1569-1795. In that article, I discussed the administrative divisions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and how to use those administrative divisions to describe the place name in a manner similar to the format of city, county, state, country that is used in the United States.

However, on 05 August 1772, about a third of the Commonwealth was occupied and partitioned among Austria, Russia, and Prussia. On 23 January 1793, another significant portion of the Commonwealth was occupied and partitioned between Russia and Prussia. Finally, on 24 October 1795, the remaining territory of the Commonwealth was partitioned among Austria, Russia, and Prussia, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ceased to exist.

Several years after the partitions, Napoleon Bonaparte waged war with Prussia and created a satellite state from Polish territories annexed from Prussia. For the most part, the new state corresponded with those territories seized by Prussia during the second and third partitions and, on 09 June 1807, the Duchy of Warsaw was formally established.

The Duchy of Warsaw was split into several different types of administrative divisions including departments (singular departament, plural departamenty) which were subdivided into powiats (districts) (singular powiat, plural powiaty) which, in turn, were subdivided into gminas (townships) (singular gmina, plural gminy).

After the formation of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, the duchy was composed of the following six departamenty:

Departament bydgoski (Bydgoszcz Department)
Departament kaliski (Kalisz Department)
Departament łomżyński (Łomża Department)
Departament płocki (Płock Department)
Departament poznański (Poznań Department)
Departament warszawski (Warsaw Department)

Napoleon continued his conquests, however, and the borders of the Duchy of Warsaw were expanded to include territory Napoleon annexed from Austria on 14 October 1809 at which time the following four departments were added to the Duchy of Warsaw:

Departament krakowski (Kraków Department)
Departament lubelski (Lublin Department)
Departament radomski (Radom Department)
Departament siedlecki (Siedlce Department)

With this understanding of the administrative divisions of the Duchy of Warsaw, the genealogist may specify a place name as follows:

name of city or village, powiat, department, nation

for example:

Krasne, Krasne Gmina, Przasnysz Powiat, Płock Department, Duchy of Warsaw

or, if one prefers to write the place name in Polish:

Krasne, gmina krasińskiej, powiat przasnyski, departament płocki, Księstwo Warszawskie

From a practical standpoint, one need not include the name of the Gmina, since the Gminas are seldom required in order to precisely identify the location of a village.

To learn the names of the Gmina, Powiat, and Department to which a village belonged, the researcher should consult the civil registrations recorded in the corresponding parish during the 1808-1815 time period. Most civil registrars of the time included the names of the Gmina, Powiat, and Department directly in the records.

Eventually Napoleon was defeated. On 09 June 1815, the Congress of Vienna dissolved the Duchy of Warsaw and established the Congress Kingdom of Poland under the administrative authority of Russia.

By providing accurate place names as they were known at the time of the events described, genealogists can enhance their work with a richer understanding of the world in which their ancestors lived.

Other articles in this series:

  • Describing Place Names in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1569-1795
  • Describing Place Names in the Kingdom of Poland 1815-1816
  • Describing Place Names in the Kingdom of Poland 1816-1837
  • Describing Place Names in the Kingdom of Poland 1837-1844
  • Describing Place Names in the Kingdom of Poland 1844-1867
  • Describing Place Names in the Vistula Land 1867-1915
  • Copyright © 2010 by Stephen J. Danko

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    2 Responses to Describing Place Names in the Duchy of Warsaw 1807-1815

    1. Kim Eisman says:

      Steve,

      These entries are both fascinating and educational for since I have a part of my ancestry which states that he/she came from Prussia in the mid 1840s to 1860s into the US. I am seeking info to track back into that time frame and to find records but can tell Prussia was absorbed by other countries.

      Could you give me few sugestions on the time frame in searching, and also any refernces for good history books that may enlightne me in understanding the period in time and the resulting needs they had to leave? Thank you again, Kim

      • Steve says:

        Hi Kim,

        Thanks for your kind words. The most important thing to know when researching your ancestors (from anywhere, not just Prussia) is the exact place where they lived. The borders changed repeatedly and it’s difficult to know the conditions under which someone lived without knowing the place where he/she lived. For a general overview of Prussia see the very good (and accurate) article about Prussia on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussia

        Best regards,
        Steve

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