Genealogy is the organized and documented study of
an individual family. To find your Polish ancestors and their place
of origin in Poland, it is necessary to build a bridge from yourself
through your parents and grandparents to that place.
Begin with yourself. Write down the vital statistics
of your life and add copies of its documentation where possible.
For instance, when and where were you born, in hospital, at home,
or more interestingly, in an emergency in a taxi, a boat or a plane.
What doctor attended your mother? What schools did you attend? What
places did you work? When and where did you meet your spouse? When
and where did you marry? Do you have a marriage certificate? Can
you attach a copy to your genealogical records?
Repeat this information for your parents if you can,
and for your grandparents. Then interview any relatives to fill in
the missing statistics. Ask to see old photographs of the family
and note when and where the photos were made. Names and addresses
of portrait photographers found on the original framing can sometimes
provide clues to town names or cities that your relatives have forgotten.
From clothing styles, there may be a clue to dates.
The census files from 1790 to 1920 are rich sources
of information. From 1850 to modern times, the head of household
listed all persons living there and frequently provided relationship
data as well. The 1890 census which might have been the best source
for Polish immigrant information was lost in a fire. Only fragments
of the veterans' listing in 1890 remain.
Census records for Poles before 1920 usually show
the place of origin as Prussia, Russia, or Austria which reflects
the partition of Poland in the late 1700's. These Poles were Polish
in spirit, but they came from territories taken over by other nations.
Occasionally a Pole would claim to be from Prussia when he was not,
since those from the German region were reputed to have more skills
Catholic church records can be very helpful because
of their permanence. A closed church facility deposited its records
with either the nearest Catholic church or with the chancery. Protestant
or Jewish records are also excellent when you know what faith your
When possible, tape an interview with your older and/or
interested family members. Take along a copy of whatever charts you
have made so that you may ask specific questions to fill in the blanks.
If your relative wanders away from your question, you may gently
remind that person about what information you need, but also you
may have taped an interesting family story which can serve as a clue
to further research. A tape may be replayed to better understand
a name or a date long after your visit is over. Do take extra batteries
and tape. Remember to thank your family member for reminiscing with
Try to learn if your Polish ancestor was a naturalized
citizen. Voting lists exist. Naturalization applications may have
specific information about towns of origin in Poland. These records
are kept by the National Archives Service. Death certificates in
the early years of this century required an estimate of length of
stay in the U.S. This can be a clue to when your family entered this
country. Follow up by checking passenger lists. It may require an
extensive time commitment unless an exact date is known. Relatively
few of these lists are indexed.
If a Polish village or town name is found, it may
be difficult to locate on a modern road map. Try a Polish gazetteer.
The town could be one of several of the same name. It helps to know
if this town was near a city, or in Galicia. Prussia, etc. Sometimes
the gazetteer will indicate the parish which serves a particular
town so that a letter addressed to the pastor of the church in that
town will provide baptismal or birth information when you write.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints -- Mormons -- are an excellent
source for such information. Their teams photocopied records both
civil and church in Poland in about 1970. They were permitted to
copy records 100 or more years old, so that the last records copied
in the first effort were those of 1870.