So you think you have Polish ancestors, and you are ready to embark on the genealogical research journey of your life . . . but you have no idea where to start. Take heart, you are not alone. There are almost 10 million Americans of Polish descent (AmPols) living in the United States, representing more than 3% of the population, which is the largest ethnic group of Slavic origin in the U.S. Many of your fellow AmPols have been and will be in the same position you are – beginning their Polish ancestor search. What would your Polish relatives say about your endeavor? Perhaps they might share a Polish proverb with you: Ucz sie ucz bo nauka to potegi klucz, which means, “Keep learning because knowledge is the key to power.”
Before you get started with your Polish genealogical research, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the history of the country, because the geographic boundaries of Poland have changed many times throughout its history. The geographic complexities can make Polish genealogy research rather difficult. Add to that the fact you will be dealing with a Latin-based language containing 32 letters that is chock full of diacritics, kreskas, kropkas, ogoneks, and strokes. That’s another hurdle to cross, but we’ll deal with that at a later time. Just keep in mind, Polish records written before 1918 may be in German, Russian, Latin, or Polish.
For now, let’s focus on those Polish genealogy resources that are in English. First and foremost – start your Polish genealogy research on United States soil. The U.S. Census shows that the states with the largest Polish American populations include New York, Illinois, and Michigan, as well as California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These states, along with the majority of U.S. states, support a number of local Polish genealogy libraries, Polish heritage societies, Polish cultural and educational centers, Polish cultural festivals and heritage days – all of which offer a plethora of activities and resources to entice AmPols to become more involved and educated in their heritage.
Getting Started with Your Polish Genealogy Research
There are a lot of Polish genealogical research resources available at your fingertips; one of which is your own family. The best way to start the genealogy research process is to interview your living relatives (immediate and extended) about your Polish ancestry. Listen to the stories and take notes, especially dates, towns, names, etc. Check what family documents and photographs you do have. Next, check U.S. civil and church records. Birth, marriage, and death records include important information that may help you link to your family in Poland. Search for newspaper articles or obituaries; naturalization records (after 1906); Declarations of Intention; alien registrations; passports; World War I U.S. draft registration forms; local histories; and ship manifests. All of these may include important facts about your ancestors.
It is very important for you to know your ancestor’s town, province, and parish before you begin your Polish genealogy research. That’s because, in the late 1700s, Poland was partitioned by its three bordering countries: Prussia, Russia, and Austria. The Polish state didn’t exist between 1795 and 1918, and its borders were further dismantled as a result of World Wars I and II. In 1975 Poland increased the number of its provinces from 22 to 49, and then rearranged in 1999 from 49 to 16. Regardless of the partitioning, the people in each area still considered themselves Poles, continuing to use the language and customs. However, once you start researching Polish genealogy, you will find that records, including those of the US. Immigration and Naturalization Service, may indicate your relatives were from Germany, Austria, or Russia – even though you know they are from Poland.
The Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) – Chicago, Illinois
Simultaneous to interviewing your family, tap into the myriad of research tips and leads provided by the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA). The site offers an extraordinary array of resources for Polish genealogical researchers at any level. Some of their databases include birth, marriage, death, immigration, and military service indices for U.S. areas heavily-populated by AmPols. It also has databases for Polish language newspapers and church records. For the most part, church records in Poland have been kept since the mid-1600s; however, in some cases, a few parishes have records dating from the 1590s. Though the Catholic churches were the first to keep vital records, Protestant churches started the same practice soon after. The PGSA site provides additional resource links, including Polish genealogical societies; libraries and archives with an emphasis on Polish genealogy research resources; information on Polish history and culture, and a calendar of events.
The PGSA suggests the best starting point for a new researcher is the Family History Library (FHL) of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). The FamilySearch website is the best online portal to the information available through the FHL, offering a database for parish names in Poland. Not all Polish parishes are on microfilm, especially those in Southern Poland, but it is worth a try by accessing the Polish Parish Finder.
The Family Search Wiki also offers a lot of helpful information, including links to research tools, online databases and digitized records, and other Polish genealogy topics.
One of the best genealogical research resources available to you is FamilySearch’s Research Outline for Poland. It is 115 pages jam-packed with easy-to-understand Polish genealogy research tips and Polish genealogy search strategies that will help you locate maps of Polish states and provinces past and present; church directories; records such as birth, death, marriage; and military papers; as well as Jewish files and documents.
Polish State Archives
Definitely peruse the Polish State Archives website. You can select the English language option at the top left of the page. The icon for databases is located on the right side of the page. In February 2013 the Polish State Archives signed a new agreement with Jewish Records Indexing (JRI) to continue indexing Jewish birth certificate registries based on copies of digital indices obtained from state archives. The database will be made available on the Internet, free of charge to the public.
PolishOrigins – Polish Genealogy Databases
The Polish Genealogy Databases link found on PolishOrigins allows you to access Polish genealogy resources in English. According to the site, Google and Google Translate are used to search and provide translations from Polish-language sites.
JewishGen and Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (JRI Poland)
Described as the “Home of Jewish Genealogy” (an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish heritage), JewishGen is a multiple database search facility, incorporating several databases. Its “All Poland Database” offers more than 5 million entries (new entries are being added regularly) for individuals living in areas now or formerly part of Poland. Its JRI Poland database includes more than 5 million Jewish birth, marriage, and death records from more than 500 Polish towns, including other indices from census records, legal notices, passports, and newspaper announcements, as well as vital records, voter lists, and passenger manifests. Additionally, you can access business directory pages for more than 34,000 locations in inter-war Poland. The number of databases will increase, given the recent agreement between JRI and the Polish State Archives to continue indexing Jewish birth records.
Other Polish Genealogical Research Resources
- Ancestry – Check out the Polish Collections on Ancestry, many of which are free to access, such as Poland vital records, military records, immigration, pictures, schools, directories, tax records, land records, wills, maps, memories, and histories, etc.
- Rootsweb (an Ancestry company) hosts PolandGenWeb, which offers Help pages, and town locators.
- About.com for its Polish Genealogy & Family History
Whether you are a polskiego pochodzenia (Polish-American male) or an Amerykanka polskiego pochodzenia (Polish-American female), it matters not; what’s important is your personal Polish genealogy research journey. There is always something to learn, another database to search, a directory to peruse, and records to investigate. In this case, time is your friend, because more and more databases are being made available online on a regular basis for Polish genealogy research.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting Polish genealogy tips, best practices, special topics, and genealogical research resources for your Polish ancestor search? Some of your Polish genealogy research will be easy to access and some not so easy. Because RecordClick has the desire to help you with your ancestor search for Polish relatives, the professional genealogy research company is increasing its genealogy ancestry services in Poland and Germany, staffing more in-country professional genealogists to help you discover your Polish family history. With so many archives to deal with, language barriers, and the inevitable need to research in faraway locations, a professional genealogy researcher for hire who is experienced in Polish genealogy research may be your best bet.