Having Polish ancestry is something to be proud of, but also a new opportunity for many people. Inheriting the culture, traditions and history of our ancestors can be a fascinating experience. However, finding information about one’s Polish ancestry is not always easy. That is why preparations for a search in state or church archives should begin with gathering all the necessary information and documents.
It is very important to have copies of documents, extracts or photographs – even if they are unreadable for you. This is because with the help of experienced and specialised people, you will be able to retrieve the necessary information from them. Therefore, below we will look at various sources and tools to help you in your search and where to look for help in discovering your genealogical roots.
Family archives and histories
The first step in the search for your Polish roots should be to research your own family. Our grandparents, grandmothers and sometimes even great-grandmothers often have valuable information about our ancestors. So talk to your parents, grandparents and other relatives, asking about family stories, places of origin and events that influenced the fate of your ancestors. Interrogating family stories can provide many important clues and guide us to key places.
Family documents and archives
Family documents such as birth and death certificates, marriage certificates can provide key information. If you are in possession of such documents, let us review them carefully. If you do not have access to the originals, try to obtain copies. This is because such documents often contain information about the places and dates of important life events of our ancestors.
Researching the state archives
State archives are a valuable source of genealogical information. There are many state archives in Poland, and each of them holds documents relating to a specific area. Visiting the archives, searching parish metrics, censuses and other historical documents can yield a wealth of information about our ancestors.
Nowadays, there are many online genealogical databases that facilitate the search for ancestors. Such sites contain huge collections of documents, including parish metrics, censuses and many others. Searching such databases can therefore greatly assist in finding information about ancestors.
Genealogical organisations and associations involved in genealogical research can provide valuable assistance. They often have access to specialist resources and databases. Joining such an organisation can make your search much easier.
Consulting the Professionals
If your genealogical search is encountering difficulties, it is worth consulting professionals. Genealogists, archivists and historians who specialise in genealogical research can help solve complex genealogical puzzles. It is also a good idea to go to such a person if you have damaged archival documents and are unable to decipher anything helpful from them.
How do you determine the name of your parish or ancestral community?
Many of the above ways of finding your ancestors included documents and censuses for specific territorial precincts. But what if you do not know which parish or commune your ancestors belonged to? Then the first step is to find out what religion they practiced. If you are not sure, you will have to search the books of the various denominations in the locality. The key information to start with is the name of the place where your family lived and where civil status documents, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, were drawn up.
Therefore, you need to establish whether this place was the seat of a parish or commune, depending on the religion, or whether it belonged to a parish/municipality in another locality. You can then use:
- Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland: Published between 1880 and 1902, it contains descriptions of localities within the borders of the Republic before the partitions, in Silesia and partly in Western Pomerania. The individual entries contain information on the history of the village or town, religious structure, administrative affiliation and other relevant data.
- Directory of localities of the Republic of Poland: Published between 1933 and 1934, the index contains information on the administrative affiliation of the locality (commune, district, voivodeship) as well as the seat of the court and the distance to the nearest railway station.
Also useful in this case is information on the affiliation of the village to Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical parishes. It is worth mentioning that some sources may not contain such information. Therefore, in order to determine this, it is worth using, for example, Jerzy Michalewicz’s publication “Żydowskie okręgi metrykalne” (“Jewish metric districts”), which describes the affiliation to Jewish communes according to the names of districts and communes.
So, as you can see, finding one’s Polish roots can be a fascinating journey into the depths of history. Use available sources, family archives, documents, state archives, genealogical databases or genealogical organisations to find out more about your ancestors and understand your Polish ancestry. Check polish citizenship by descent also on Five To Europe, where there is a lot of interesting information on citizenship affiliation. No matter how difficult it seems, with determination and patience you can succeed in your genealogical search!