Spring is here and with it come Easter and Dyngus Day! We celebrate with our own family traditions but those with Polish heritage have really adopted this time of year as their own. You don’t have to be Polish to enjoy all the delicious food (hello, pierogis!) and polka dancing that surrounds these holidays but according to the 2016 New York Census, approximately 29% of Niagara County residents do claim Polish roots. So, grab a Chrusciki and let’s get started!
Polish genealogy, like any other genealogical research area, has its own set of unique challenges. With changing politics and borders, a person’s country of origin could be listed in a number of ways other than Poland. Great-Grandpa was Polish, so why do his papers say he was born in Austria? Knowing the basics of Polish history helps. Polish lands were divided among the Austrian, Prussian and Russian empires from 1795 until 1918, and in 1920, Poland was reestablished as an independent nation. This explains why Great-Grandpa’s birth record lists Austria yet when asked his place of birth on the 1920 US Census, he answered Poland.
Another thing to note is that many people from Poland gave the nearest city (think geographic reference) as their place of origin instead of the actual village or town. Great-Grandma may have said her father came from Warsaw, but most of our ancestors came from small villages, not large cities. There are, of course, ways to work around this if you know where to look. I’ve listed a number of online resources available while we continue to stay safe, close to home.
FamilySearch.org. Family Search is free and includes church records with dates ranging from 1587 to 1976 for Czestochowa, Gliwice, Lublin, Radom and Tarnow, Poland.
Poznan Project (poznan-project.psnc.pl). This is a free, searchable database of more than 1.8 million marriage records from the 19th century within the former Prussian province of Posen, now Poznan, Poland, and neighboring areas. This is an index only site but provides information on how to obtain the digitized record.
PolishRoots.com. This site provides links to resources for maps, culture, immigration, geography and research tips. You can also register your Polish surnames and connect with others sharing those names.
Geneteka.genealodzy.pl. Created by Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (the Polish Genealogical Society), Geneteka contains more than 35 million entries. Click the US/UK flag icon to change the site to English then select a region from the map to view parishes.
Metryki.genealodzy.pl. Geneteka’s sister site contains a number of vital record indexes. The main page contains a list of provinces and the number of microfilmed collections in each. To access, click on the church name.
JewishGen.org. This site holds thousands of databases and other genealogical resources on more than Jewish ancestry. Click Databases, then Poland, to find the JewishGen Poland Database index to vital records and Holocaust sources.
Gazetteers. A Gazetteer is a geographical dictionary produced to cover a country, generally, as of the date published. These are best used to determine the parish that served your ancestor’s village. You can view what’s available online at Familysearch.org/wiki/en/Poland_Gazetteers.
Polish Genealogical Society of New York State. PGSNYS.org was founded in 1988 to promote the study of Polish genealogy. The society provides education and assistance to researchers in the Western New York and Southern Ontario areas.
Searching for your Polish ancestor can certainly be a challenge. But don’t let the tongue-twisting surnames, border changes and shifting political boundaries get you down, as there are many resources available.
Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is a member of the National Genealogical Society and Association of Professional Genealogists. She is a board member as well as president of the Niagara County Genealogical Society. Send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.