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Northeast Poland Catholic Records Microfilms

by Peter Gwozdz

16 Nov 2008

This document describes the contents of LDS microfilms of Roman Catholic records for the northeast part of Poland.   Most of the records are from the 19th century. Quite a few are older. Very few are early 20th century records.

There is an introduction document that describe the microfilms for Poland as a whole.  You many consider reading that document before this one.  Many of the links in this document jump to bookmarks in that introduction.  Use the Back button on your browser to jump back to where you were reading.

There is a 3rd document in this set of 3.  The 3rd is for South Poland.

I understand that much of the information in this document applies to Catholic records from the northern and eastern part of Poland that was dominated by Russia during the 19th century. My experience is with the LDS microfilms from the region just north of Warsaw. Much of my experience is with microfilms that are copies of books that are kept at the Plock Archive.

These are my notes. I originally wrote this as a reminder document for my use. Here, I post my notes to others with similar genealogy interest. I hope they save you time getting started. Send comments to pete2g@comcast.net.

Time Line



Few records have survived.  Very few from the 1600’s.  Most of those that survived are now on microfilm.  Latin records.  Short paragraph format



Many church records survive and are available on microfilm. Both Latin and Polish



Third Partition; region north of Warsaw becomes part of Prussia



Napoleon. Duchy of Warsaw. Lots of deaths in 1807



Napoleonic civil records begin in May. Polish. Lots of detail. Most are on microfilm



Russian "Kingdom of Poland." No change in record format



Last year of Latin records



Latin Church records & Polish civil records. (double records May 1808 - Dec 1825)



Format change. More detail in the Napoleonic paragraph style records



November insurrection



Bloody revolution. Russia clamps down. Polish language records banned



Polish to Russian Cyrillic switch mid year. Same Napoleonic style



Very few Poland microfilms available from LDS beyond 1890



Parish churches have many records 1900 +. Some have been moved to civil offices



End of World War I. Poland emerges as an independent country


The basic unit of information is a record. A record is usually a paragraph. During very few years, records are rows in a table. Each record has the date. The record always names the person, of course, who was born, or baptized, or married, or died. Other people, such as parents, may be named.

Records are almost always arranged in groups by year. Most are calendar year Jan - Dec, but a few books use the church ecclesiastic year May - April.

Records are almost always numbered consecutively. There are a few years with records not numbered.

Almost always, the village name is written with the record number in the left margin, or at the top of a record. The village is often repeated in the text of the record. Marriage records have 2 villages in the margin if the groom and bride come from different villages.

Different types of records have different facts, as explained below. First the minimum:

Births. Birth records are really baptismal records, but they usually mention the birth date, usually by words that the infant was born yesterday or the day before yesterday. There are rare cases of baptisms delayed by a few years, with date and year of birth recorded. Parents are always named; I have never noticed a north Poland record with grandparents named. (South Poland records have names of grandparents.) Godparents are named at the end of the record.

Marriages. Age of groom & bride. Mention of the reading of Banns.

Deaths. Age of the deceased. Parents always named for a child.


Most of the Volumes have annual indexes ("Registr"). The names for the year are listed, alphabetically by family name first. Marriages are alphabetized by groom's family name. Next to each name is the number of the corresponding record entry, for more information. Some indexes use page numbers instead of record numbers. Some use both. Most indexes, not all, number the index names on the left. So most names are associated with 3 numbers: page number, record number, and index list number. A few indexes are not alphabetized. Most alphabetization is by first letter only, so for example Ba... may come after Be... There are index errors.

Most indexes are at the end of each year of records. Some books have the index before the records for each year. A few books have one index at the end of the book; those usually are arranged by year, but a few are combined. I found one combined index in the midst of an Item.

Latin church records

The oldest records are in Latin. This same style was used in both the north and south of Poland.  My introductory document has a description of the old Latin record format.  The oldest from Gasewo starts in 1727. Makow Mazowiecki records start in 1666. It looks like the Plock diocese used Latin records until 1825. Baptisms, Births, Marriages. I notice no change in style following the 3 big upheavals in 1795, 1807, and 1815.

Table format is used for the years 1781 - 1787. The tables have about the same information as the more usual short paragraph format. The table goes across both facing pages. Columns are labeled at the top. I only studied tables in Gasewo and Szelkow; I do not know if this table format was some kind of standard for the Plock Diocese during those 6 years.

Latin records use the usual Jan - Dec calendar.

Napoleonic Paragraph Style

Records from May 1808 use the style introduced by the French. I notice no change in style when the Plock area was taken from the French in 1815 by the Russians. The style changes to a longer, more detailed paragraph in 1826. The older records are all Polish. In mid 1868, the Polish language was banned, and the records switch to Russian, with the Cyrillic alphabet. The Cyrillic records maintain the same Napoleonic long paragraph format. Family names and villages are Polish, using the Cyrillic alphabet phonetically.

Napoleonic date numbers are always script. Very few books have the year also as a numeral at the top of each page. Most books, most years, not all, have the year as a numeral just before record number 1, then again at the top of the index at the end of the year. For years using the church year May - April, a number like 1821/22 appears in the margin at record number 1, usually in early May.

Brief description of Napoleonic records:

Script Introduction. First few lines. A script writing of the full date of recording. A detailed description of the place of record, and the recorder.

Witnesses. After introduction. Names, ages, occupations, village of residence.

Village and day and time of day. For the event. The village is both in the text and in the margin. A birth or death day is usually "yesterday" or the day number in script. Either the month and year, or words that it is the current month and year.

Parents. Almost always, for birth, marriage, death. For birth or death of a child the record usually states that the witness, meaning the first one named, is the father. Errors in the mother's name and age are common; I presume the mothers did not attend the recording. The mother's maiden name is wrong particularly often for deaths of old people. Sometimes it is written that both parents' names are unknown for an old person's death.  The record may mention that the name, particularly a maiden name, is not known. It is not clear to me if the “unknown” always refers to the knowledge of the witnesses or sometimes to knowledge of the scribe writing the record.  For more discussion, see Copies.

Godparents for Births. Names and ages. One male and one female, usually. At the end. Distinct from witnesses, but sometimes a witness is also a godparent.

Witnesses for Marriages. Either at the beginning or at the end. Names and ages and places of residence.

Other. Marriage records and death records often mention place of birth. Occasional mention that a witness is a brother, uncle, etc.

Reading. The Napoleonic style calls for signatures by the witnesses. Almost all Polish Napoleonic records before 1900 end with a sentence to the effect that "this record was read to the witnesses, who are illiterate".

For more details and references to books on the "Napoleonic" style of records, see the web site by Warren Blatt, www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/polandv.html.

This document of mine does not teach translation.  See Translation Tips.

Civil Records

Starting in May 1808, the Napoleonic style records are called "Civil Transcripts" in the LSD Microfilm catalogue. LDS also uses the word "Kopie," which means "copies." The word "Cywilnego" is used in the books, but not the word "Kopie," and no word that means "transcript." See my introductory document for more discussion on types of Copies.

I have never seen two identical books from the section of northeast Poland that I study. The duplicate books that I do see are one Latin, one Polish. The Latin records are always much shorter than the Polish records. In a few cases where I find an obvious silly error, like a wrong maiden name, the error is the same in both. The Polish civil record always seems to have all the Latin church record information plus more. If there was a "transcription" or copying, it would have to be the Latin record. More likely they were written at the same time by the same person.  I wonder if there are such things in 19th century north Poland as actual copies (transcriptions) of either or both of these types of record.  I wrote this paragraph recently, based on my notes.  I have not checked this analysis vs actual films, which I studied before I understood these distinctions.

I discussed this with a person in International Cataloging at the LDS library.  He explained to me that librarians use what they call "Uniform Titles,".  The word “Kopie” was selected by LDS as the title for civil records, but should not necessarily be taken literally to mean the record book is a copy, he explained.  (It seems to me the south Poland “Kopie”, on the other hand, are mostly if not all civil copies.)  This explanation is consistent with my impression that the films catalogued as “Kopie” in the north are of books that identify themselves as civil records, per my notes and memory.

Summary for north Poland:  For the period 1808 - 1825, a microfilm Place Search by town name may show two categories of records.  Both before and after 1825, the category with the word “Kopie” are civil records in Polish.  The category without the word are the Old Latin format paragraph records before 1825.

Some information about the Napoleonic records style is available on web sites. I have seen references to Polish books with more details, but I have not read these books. I understand that my comments on this web page would not apply to Europe in general. I do not know if my comments apply to all of northeast Poland or just to the region north of Warsaw that I study. I noticed that some of the things that I read on the web do not apply to the region that I study:

For example, I have read that people of all religions had their records kept in the Civil Records of the Catholic Church from 1808 - 1825, and that after 1825 there are separate records for Jewish, Orthodox, and Protestant. This does not seem to be the case for the Plock 1808 – 1825 records; I have not seen any non-Catholic records in these books. The number of records per year is about the same as in the duplicate Latin church records.  Perhaps the Catholic Church kept the non-Catholic records in separate books, which ended up as separate LDS microfilm Items;  I am not sure.

I do not understand if the laws changed in 1825, but the records do have more detail after 1825.  After 1825 there seem to be no more Latin records.  The 1808 - 1825 records use only the minimum Napoleonic information (above). Sometimes only 1 witness. After 1825, the records are longer with more information and sometimes 3 witnesses. (The standard is two witnesses.)

Church Year

The church year, or ecclesiastic year, is May - April. The Napoleonic Civil Records use the church year from May 1808 to April 1822. May - Dec 1822 is separate. All other records including Latin records are calendar year, Jan - Dec. Again, I am reporting here on the region north of Warsaw; I do not know if this use of church year 1808-1822 was standard for a larger part of northeastern Poland.


Napoleonic marriage records after 1825 have a section, in words, giving the dates and places of the reading of the Banns. Banns are available as separate records in Polish Marriage books before 1826. Again, I do not know if this was a local custom or a regional standard. The Banns are not indexed. Sometimes, the Banns have two Banns records for each marriage. Some Banns are sections in Marriage books, some use BDBM:


"BDBM" is my name for those books with a unique format: Each year uses the following sequence: Birth records, birth index, death records, death index, banns without index, marriage records, marriage index. Gasewo uses BDBM May 1818 - Dec 1825. Szelkow uses BDBM May 1822 - Dec 1825. Probably a local standard at that time.

Old Russian Calendar

The old Russian Calendar was 12 days behind. The Russians required use of their calendar. The Polish priests recorded 2 dates. The difference is always 12 days. The larger number day (or the smaller number of the next month) is the date by the modern calendar. This starts about 1835. When a single date is used, it is the modern calendar.

Index Discrepancies: Record Number vs Index Number

You will notice the problem right away. The annual indexes usually come after the last record. The index lines are numbered. The last record number often differs from the last index line number by one or more. Most of the reasons are not serious:

The most common reason for discrepancies: birth of twins and triplets. These usually get only one record, but multiple index lines.

Deaths are often recorded for 2 or more family members in the same record number.

Sometimes the index repeats the index line number for twins and for multiple family deaths. In these cases, index count checks against the record count. I notice these, however, when the index is in two columns, and an odd number of entries are even at the bottom, or an even number of entries are one short at the bottom right. The doubled index line numbers are easily spotted by counting.

The introductory document has general comments about indexes.

Numbering Errors

Real numbering errors are not uncommon. You will notice them in the sequence of records, and in the list of index line numbers.

Records Missing from the Index

Conclusion: Too Bad! It is not simple to check if an index has missed a record that is in the book. Simple numbering errors are too common. When the count of records vs index count checks, there may still be a record missing from the index (two errors may seem to cancel each other).

I once checked a few year's indexes carefully. Szelkow, Deaths, 1836 - 1856. I was looking for an individual who I figured should have died in Szelkow. I scanned the index for the record numbers, in order, and checked them off. I was surprised by the number of duplicates and missing numbers. In that case, all the problems turned out to be numbering problems. I did find one death that was recorded twice but indexed only once. I quit this number check, because it made more sense to just read all the records looking for my man. (I did not find him.)

Alphabetical Errors

Groups of names out of order in the index are not uncommon. Very often, a few names are added after Z; obviously a few names were missed and added later.


Index corrections are common and easy to spot. Someone with a different pen and different handwriting added a name between lines in an index, for example.

Examples of Serious Index Errors

1. The Latin - Polish duplicate records give us a chance to estimate how often people are missed. I did a quick check of the indexes for Szelkow marriages, 1809 - 1816. 5 of the 9 years have a discrepancy! Most of the discrepancies are names in the Latin book index that are not in the Polish book index. I did not follow up to verify that the actual records are missing.

2. Wrong record number. A person is listed in the index with a record number, but the record is for someone else. This is the most common serious error; I estimate this error runs close to 1 percent just by itself. Usually, I find the correct record by reading all the records on the pages near by.

3. Wrong name. A witness indexed instead of the actual person who died. I found one.

4. Name switch. Bride & groom from two records switched. I found 2 cases where everyone was in the index, but the brides and grooms were switched, compared to the actual paragraph records, which seem OK.

Observation: Accuracy of course varies from book to book. My opinion is that some books have less than 1 percent real errors in the index, some books have a few percent. This is a judgment, not a result of careful study by me. Basis: about a hundred hours of study of the microfilms for my region of interest north of Warsaw.

Quality of Books

Book condition varies widely.

The Plock archive has continuous records for the parish at Szelkow for the entire 19th century with no gaps. All the books are legible. A few have stained lower corners, where a century of licked fingers have made the image too dark to read on the microfilm image. But that is only a few words per page (sometimes on an index). The best Szelkow books are in excellent condition.

The Gasewo parish books at Plock are the opposite extreme. A few survived a fire. You can see in the film image that an inch or two was burned away all the way around each page, with another inch charred, so that only about half the area of the page has survived.

It is common for the first page of a book to be very dark. I suppose that page was exposed to the elements. Perhaps the book had no binding for many years? I noticed this also in south Poland.

Handwriting legibility varies widely from book to book and sometimes from record to record. 

War Deaths

1794 – 1795 is when the 3rd division ended the existence of Poland. 1807 is when Napoleon came through. I typically notice an increase in the number of deaths in those years. Deaths do not seem to be soldiers, because other reasons for death are given. I do not know where (or if) deaths are recorded for soldiers or resistance fighters who die while fighting. I judge we are missing the records of the males who died in battle.

I studied the records for the parish of Szelkow most. The big spike in deaths in 1807 were mostly due to tuberculosis in Szelkow. In early 1807, the priests who made the records at Szelkow added comments that the dying were not getting the sacraments due to the war. Some records, in Latin, have the words "Bellum" or "Bellis" or "incursionis" or "negligentia Domesticorum". We can translate those words without a dictionary; they appear at the end of the record, next to the word "Sacrament". Later in 1807, the records get sloppy, with fewer details. It appears to me there was an epidemic and the priests lost interest in record keeping. I wonder how many people died without the priest even knowing about it.

I do not know if these observations are typical of Northern Poland during these periods of crises. I have not researched books or articles on the subject.

As an example, here is the data for Szelkow, deaths by year:
























































Microfilm Province List

My companion introductory document has a brief explanation of the words parish, province, etc.

Thom Bartold has a list of all parishes in the old Warszawa province. The list is conveniently arranged by county. Thom's list is active; you can click on a parish and go directly to the LDS microfilm notes for that parish.

Click here for Thom Bartold's page: http://www.bartold.com/genealogy/lds-heirch.html

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Reminder: The links without www address just jump around in this document. Use the Back button on your browser to jump back to where you were reading before you came here.


Much of my genealogy research is in the Plock diocese. The diocese seat, Plock, is the next large city down the river from Warsaw. The microfilm Item headers identify the books as located at the Plock diocese archive. I visited the archive in 1997. The archive director assured me that LDS filmed all the old church records in the archive.

I was lucky to arrive on a day when a young priest was glad to bring me record books from the storage room, which is off limits. The director, who does not encourage visits by the public, was a bit upset when he arrived. He allowed me to continue my studies for 3 days, just the same. On my 1998 visit, the director grudgingly checked some minor reference errors for me without bringing me any books, so I stayed less than one hour.

Unfortunately, the time delay between filming and cataloguing can be years. I thought the director was fibbing, because I studied books at Plock that were not available at LDS. All those books are now available on film. OK, I now believe the good priest.

It seems the archive library at Plock collected record books more than 60 years old for the churches in the diocese, back around 1950 or so. There is a 1978 Plock Diocese Directory on the reading room shelf there that lists all the records that were known to be available in 1978. This book is not available on microfilm. I noticed differences between the 1978 list and what was actually available in Plock in 1997 and in 1998 when I visited. I do not know if that means more books arrived after 1978, or that errors were corrected.

A good Plock Diocese Directory is on microfilm 1183644. The book was published in 1966. This book does not list records. This book has a very nice brief history of each parish. Each history gives the year the parish was founded, the address of the church, and lots more. Most parishes have a photograph of the church in this book. I used this microfilmed book to make a list of all the churches in the region of interest to me. I use the list to check the microfilms after updates to the on line catalogue.  There are microfilms of such diocese registers for most Polish dioceses.

Click here for a map of the Mazowieckie province: http://www.rootsweb.com/~polmazow/. The city and county of Plock are on the northwest of the map.

I did my studies before the web got started in Poland.  Since then, many parishes have provided very nice web sites.  Consult my introductory document for comments about web sites for a diocese web sites.


Lomza diocese is just east of Plock diocese. The region of interest to me extends east into Lomza diocese. The diocese archives seem to have few records. Microfilm 1183640 has a good Lomza Diocese Directory. I have studied microfilms of Lomza diocese records that are stored at the Bialystok archives. Sorry, I have little knowledge to add about Lomza and Bialystok. The records from the west side of the diocese, of interest to me, are the same format as the Plock diocese records.

The Region Just North of Warsaw

My interest is centered around the towns of Gasewo and Szelkow. These 2 towns are in the county or powiat called Makow Mazowiecki, which is north of Warsaw (Warszawa). This is in the modern province or viviodship of Mazowieckie (1999 Provinces). The town and county of Makow Mazowiecki are so named because the name "Makow" is very common all over Poland. In the older 1967 provinces used by LDS for indexing of microfilms, the county of Makow Mazowiecki is in the Warszawa province. (On early 1990's maps, this county is included in the Ostroleka province.) In the modern province of Mazowieckie, both Makow Mazowiecki and Ostroleka are counties (powiats). My interest is in both these counties. See Maps.

Most of Makow Mazowiecki county is in the eastern part of the Plock Diocese. Most of Ostroleka county is in the Lomza Diocese.

I intend this web document as a reference for genealogy research in the region north of Warsaw. I am sure most if not everything in this document is true for all of the northern part of Mazowieckie province, including Warsaw. Much of this web document is surely true for all of north and east Poland. I suppose there is no exact border where this is mostly valid. I suppose it becomes progressively less valid for towns farther from Gasewo and Szelkow.

Click here for a map of the Mazowieckie province: http://www.rootsweb.com/~polmazow/.  Makow Mazowiecki and Ostroleka counties are on the northeast top of the map.  There is my focus.

I did a lot of work on the Szelkow records.  I have two Word documents with detailed notes.  I have an Excel document with a list of over 500 names from the Szelkow records.  I submitted a copy of my Szelkow data to http://www.rootsweb.com/~polwgw/archives/szelkow.html. My family tree findings are all on the LDS online data base.

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Reminder: The links without www address just jump around in this document. Use the Back button on your browser to jump back to where you were reading before you came here.

Northeast Poland

Many of the comments in these notes apply, I am sure, to all the microfilms of Roman Catholic books from the region of Poland that was dominated by Russia during the 19th century. During the 19th century, Poland did not exist as a country. It was divided into three parts: Prussian (German), Austrian, and Russian. My introduction has details on this.  For more details, consult Web Sites for Poland General Information and Maps.

Pete Gwozdz

Hi. I'm the author of this web document. I live in the so called Silicon Valley in California. My father's parents come from Wadowice Gorne and Wisniowa, near Mielec, between Tarnow and Rzeszow. My mother's parents come from Sypniewo, near Gasewo and Szelkow, just north of Warsaw. I have a university home page.

Send comments to pete2g@comcast.net.

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© Copyright 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Peter Gwozdz.  All Rights Reserved.
Permission for reproduction of this article was granted PolandGenWeb by Peter Gwozdz
originally Feb 2000, and again for the update July 2007.  Thank you, Peter!

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