Tracing your polish Ancestors - Baltimore Family History Workshop

Tracing your Polish Ancestors
A presentation by
Thomas P Bocek
E-mail [email protected] Net
Overview: Millions of immigrants came to America from Eastern European
countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tracing these people is complicated by
border changes, language differences, political considerations, name changes in people
and cities, as well as the ravages of wars and natural upheaval. Surprisingly, there are
many records still available, and we will discuss where and how they can be found. This
can be time consuming and full of obstacles, but also quite rewarding even if you are
only partially successful.
Who is a Pole and where is Poland? A very brief history of Poland.
Poland came into being early in the 10th century.
It embraced Christianity in the year 955
First coins appeared before 992.
Fought wars with the Tartars (1241), Mongols, Turks (1683), Swedes (1655),
Prussians, Teutonic Knights(1410)
In the 14th century, King Jadwiga of Poland married King Jagielo of Lithuania and
The Kingdom of Lithuania and Poland was formed. Further acquisitions over the
Centuries led it to be the second largest country in Eastern Europe’ by 1700.
Its political system was chaotic and left it helpless to fight off partitioning of the
Country by Russia, Prussia and Austria, first in 1772, then 1793 and finally in 1795
From 1795 until 1918, Poland did not exist. No Polish citizens were born for 123
years. All of the immigration and naturalization records for this period reflect this
When Poland was re-constituted, it was shifted from its original boundries for the
Period between the two wars and shifted once more in 1945.
Read the novel “Poland”, by James Michener
Beginning your search
Start in this country first. Before you do, familiarize yourself with Polish
pronunciations of your name. It may save you years of futile search,
especially with census records. Also find the meaning of the name. Many
changed their last name to the American translation. Diacritical marks play a
large part in pronunciation. There is no v or q in the Polish alphabet and no
word begins with y.
You will need the exact spelling of your ancestors name and his place of birth
Find the spelling he used in the earliest records
Check the marriage records. They usually give the place of birth.(ex loco)
Use the census records in their entirety. They will give many bits of helpful
information such as year of entry, year of marriage, and date of naturalization
Get blank entries to make your search easier
Take a trip to the cemetery. Check tombstones and interment records.
Once you have the death date, visit the library and look for any mention of the
Make note of all siblings.
Interview family members
Look for letters from the old country
Check fraternal organizations, burial insurance
Locate the immigration records
Naturalization records may be a source of locating his birth-place. Prior to
1906 they are in local courts. After that they became Federal records. Get
Form G-639 F.O.I
Search the SSDI. Began in 1936
Local death index is at the State Archives, listed by year and alphabet. When
found, it has the death certificate number. Copies can be ordered.
Many immigrants returned to the old country. Check passport applications.
Military records
Alien registrations – will give a description, address, employer and signature
Check city directories
World War I & II Registration records
Finding Records in Poland
The LDS library is the best source in the world. It has millions of records on
microfilm, the cost is very minimal and the staff is knowledgeable and willing
to assist you.
Records are listed by Parish and not cities.
Ask to see the book “Polish Catholic Parishes in the Polish Peoples Republic
in 1984”.Most cities, towns and villages are listed, followed by the name of
the parish that served that area.
Enter the Parish name in the Family History Library Catalogue and it will
bring up whatever records are available.
If you do not find the town in the book mentioned above, then ask to see the
“Slownik Geograficzny”. It is a CD containing 16000 pages of name places.
Unfortunately it is written in Polish with instructions for use in English.
If you find your families records, they will be in Polish, Latin, German,
Russian or a combination of Latin and one of the other languages.
Make copies of all records bearing your family name.
The FHC has guides that translate most items found on these records.
You may have to write a letter to the parish priest. Simple requests are also
available in Polish and English which you can copy.
A list of Polish Archives is on the internet. They will reply immediately, but
only in Polish. You may have to hire a researcher.
Most civil records are a copy of original church records.
Many reputable genealogy researchers can be found. Best bet is to search the
newsletters of Polish Genealogy Associations.
Plan a trip to Poland
Try to make contact with someone from your village via internet
Some local sources
Family History Center
Eastern European Interest Group. A branch of the Baltimore County
Genealogical society
Archives of Maryland Polonia- Langsdale Library
Historyk Press. A collection of books by Tom Hollowak.
Archives of Baltimore Archdiocese @ St. Mary’s Seminary 410/864/4074
Central Branch- Enoch Pratt Library
Maryland Historical Society
University of Maryland- Catonsville- library
A great boon to researchers has been the internet. It is a wonderful tool, but
cannot solve all of your problems because of the mountains of records that
have yet to be digitized. Below is a list of my favorite sites.
1. - $- Most comprehensive. Available in public libraries
2.One step web pages by Stephen P.Morse (best when used with Ancestry)
3. Family search – LDS (Shtel-links- good town locator)
5.Polish roots (instructions for using Slownik Geograficzny)
6. RootsWeb ( SSDI)
7. Poland Gen Web (Some Parish records)
8. Ellis Island (millions of passenger lists)
9. ( maps )
10.Polish Genealogical Society of America ( book list)
11. Maryland Archives.-Death Records
12.Enoch Pratt Library. Census
Search Google for Polish Genealogy. You will get 269000 hits.
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