Basics of Polish Research
You know your ancestors were from Poland, and you want to begin researching in their country of origin. You know their full names and their birth dates. You don't know what town(s) they were from, but that's not important. Or is it?
Actually, it's vital to your research. You can't write to Poland for civil or church records unless you know exactly where your ancestor(s) lived. Present day Poland is roughly a little smaller than the size of the state of New Mexico (USA) and contains over 55,000 towns and cities. If you wrote to Poland, asking for the birth records of someone who was born "somewhere" in Poland, where would you write to? And how could the recipient of your letter hope to find that record in the dozens of records repositories in Poland, each holding the vital records for hundreds of towns?
You need to find the name of the town where your Polish ancestors were born. How do you do that? You need to obtain records about your ancestors from the country where they settled after leaving Poland. Below, you will find a basic explanation of how to begin researching your family tree, which includes many potential sources for finding that town name.
Use a notebook, file folder, or binder to keep all your papers in order. Make sure you note all of your sources for the information you gather. You never know when you will need to know where you got that date from or who told you that family story!
There are also database programs available to store your information. Many of them have features such as photo albums, family tree charts and reports, "to-do lists", research journals, citing sources, and much more. Here is a web page that list programs available:
Begin with yourself and work backward. Get as much information about yourself and your siblings, if you have any. Get the date and location of major events in their lives (i.e. births, marriages, and deaths). Do the same with your parents and any siblings they have. Continue backward with each previous generation until you reach the immigrant ancestor(s).
There are many great sites to help you get started:
These are several sources of records available in the United States.
BIRTH RECORDS. The birth record will supply the names of the parents and the place of birth. It may also have the place of birth of the parents. If your state offers a choice between the short form and the long form, be sure to request the long form. The short form often includes only the name at birth and the date of birth. Before the advent of Social Security, many births were not recorded with any civil office. In 1937, when Social Security was established, many delayed birth records were filed. So, if you've searched fruitlessly for a birth record for your ancestor, try searching the years when he would have been old enough to work or the year he would have retired. Delayed birth records are filed in the year they are submitted, not in the actual year of birth. Note: If a birth record cannot be located for your ancestor, don't forget to request records for any unnamed child born with his/her surname. Ocassionally, a first name wasn't provided on the birth record, particularly prior to centralization of records at the state level.
MARRIAGE RECORDS. Marriage records are held by the county in which they took place in most states. Information included depends upon the time frame and location. Some records were very detailed and included the birth date of each party, the location of birth, and residence at the time of the application being filed. Others provide only the "bare essentials," which were name and age.
DEATH RECORDS. The information found on death records was supplied by the person reporting the birth or death. Keep in mind that this person may have unknowingly given incorrect information. Not everyone's memory is 100% accurate, especially immediately after the death of a loved one! By obtaining the birth record, you will confirm the date on the death record. Also, the place of interment may be provided on those records, along with the name of the funeral home or undertaker.
CHURCH RECORDS. Records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths from the church can often supplement (and often surpass) information found on the civil records. Many churches recorded more precise birthplace of the parents on baptismal records and on marriage records. This is particularly helpful when researching births and deaths prior to records becoming centralized in each state.
CEMETERY RECORDS. Write to the cemetery where your ancestor is buried, and be sure to request the names and info for all persons buried in the plot. Otherwise, many cemeteries give you only the names you ask for! The information on cemetery records can be useful in providing the date of death and burial and can provide you with death/burial dates for others in the plot whose info you don't have. Beware: some cemeteries charge fees for this information, and some require the date of death for the person you are looking for.
FUNERAL HOME RECORDS. These records can be very helpful. Of course, the death and burial dates will be provided. Other information may include place of death, place of burial, place of residence, certifying physician, cause of death, date of birth, place of birth, and parents' names.
CENSUS RECORDS. The U.S. Census records are available for the years 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. The earlier the year you are searching for, the less information you will receive. Until about 1850, only the heads of households were named. At the very least, you will obtain an age and the place of birth (state or foreign country). However, the information on these records cannot be accepted as 100 percent factual unless confirmed by another source. Spellings can be more phonetic than accurate, since census takers usually wrote down the answers to their questions however they heard them spoken aloud. The info could have been given by anyone in the household or even by a neighbor if the residents were not at home when the census taker visited. For more information on census records, see NARA.
PASSENGER LISTS. Each port of immigration was required to keep records from the early 1800s to the present. Many of these records are on microfilm at various libraries, LDS Family History Centers, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). You will find the name of the port from where the ship sailed, the name and age of your ancestor, and any persons accompanying them. Port records vary in content depending upon the time frame. Information may also contain last place of residence, place of birth, name of nearest living relative, and intended destination once in the United States, among other bits of information.
HINT: Don't forget to look in the book series Germans to America for your ancestors. For those of you who are not familiar with this series of books, it is a compilation of German passengers arriving at the port of New York from the mid to late 1800s. It does not list only those passengers with German surnames, but any German citizen. Those living in the Prussian partition of Poland were considered German. The series is far from complete, but it is a valuable research tool.
NATURALIZATION RECORDS. In 1906, the U.S. requirements for the naturalization process underwent a vast change. A wealth of information became required on the records: full name, date and town of birth (not just the name of the country!); spouse's full name, date and place of birth; date and place of marriage; last place of residence in the foreign country (again, the name of the town!); the names and dates of birth of children; port of emigration; name of ship and arrival date; and the date of naturalization of spouse, if naturalized. Don't overlook this valuable source of information! The majority of U.S. naturalization records have been microfilmed. Knowing the date of naturalization is not required if the records are indexed. However, you must know the location of naturalization!
See our Immigration and Naturalization page for more information on American, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand naturalizations and links to online resources.
MILITARY RECORDS. These records should supply the birth date, birthplace, and service record. Parents' names may be included, along with other information.
See also Researching in America for additional sources of information.
Information about research in Canada is needed.
If you have information to add to this topic, please e-mail me and I will be grateful to include it on this page.
Special thanks go to Tom Wodzinski for the following information!
The National Archives of Australia has an excellent web site which provides a comprehensive description of their holdings, as well as online access to their electronic database and online ordering facilities. A 330-page guide to the archives for those conducting genealogical reasearch in Australia -- "Finding Families - The Guide to the National Archives of Australia for Genealogists" -- is an invaluable research aid and considered to be a "must have" publication.
Naturalisation Records in Australia
The National Archives of Australia possesses a comprehensive index of surnames for all naturalisations after 1903. Naturalisations prior to this date were held by the individual states, and these records are located in the State Offices of the National Archives. The index of surnames for naturalisations after 1903 is especially valuable, since the majority of Poles immigrated in the 20th century.
Immigration Post WWII
In addition to naturalisation records, the National Archives possesses readilly accessible material on post World War II displaced persons who were accepted in Australia as part of the International Refugee Organisations resettlement program in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The amount of resource material available is reported to be quite large.
Information about research in Australia and New Zealand is needed.
If you have information to add to this topic, please e-mail me and I will be grateful to include it on this page.
You must have enough information to begin searching in Poland. First, you will need the location of the event (birth, marriage, death) for your ancestor. Keep in mind that there may be more than one town with the same name! It is not uncommon to find two or more towns, located in different provinces, possessing the same name. You may need to send to some (or all) of the locations to find the correct record. See Town Locators.
You will also need the date of the event (birth, marriage, death). Without the date, it may prove impossible to locate the record you seek. There may be more than one child with the same name born in your ancestor's town within a certain year or month. However, if you have the parents' names, you may be able to determine the correct record without the exact date.
See Obtaining Polish Records for where to send for records in Poland.
Before you send to Poland for records, check your local Latter Day Saints' Family History Center (FHC). Many records from Poland have been microfilmed by the LDS Church. If those for the area in which you are seeking are among the microfilmed records, it will save you a great deal of money to simply order the roll from your local FHC. Sending to Poland for records can be quite expensive and can take months (even as long as a year or more!) to receive a response.
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