The 19th century Prussian province of Posen was called Wielkopolska until 1793, literally "Greater Poland". This region was the historical center of origin of the Polish Nation in the 10th century and has always been one of the richest and most developed provinces of Poland.
In 1793 (as a result of the Second Partition of Poland), Greater Poland was taken over by Prussia and initially renamed "Southern Prussia". After 1815 this term was no longer used and the province was refered to with the name of its capital town, i.e. Poznan (German: Posen). This is often misleading, especially records providing only the name "Posen" are ambiguous - they suggest the town, where usually the entire province is meant.
To help those who are now unable to determine the precise place of origin of their ancestors within the large Province of Poznan, a special project has been recently launched! Its objective is to index all marriages from the period between 1835 and 1884, which can be extracted from the vital records. Still many volunteers and contributors are needed to accomplish this project. Please read an article about its details.
Even before the Partitions of Poland, Wielkopolska had some German population but as it became part of the Kingdom of Prussia, the German colonization increased significantly. Most of the settlers were Lutheran and many Protestant parishes were established. Before WWI, the German-speaking inhabitants were about 35% of the total population. The majority of them lived in the western and northern districts. The central and southern part of Wielkopolska retained its Polish and Catholic identity.
After Germany lost WWI, the territory of the Province of Posen was returned to Poland which was then restored as an independent nation. This was possible following the victorious Polish uprising in Dec 1918 - Feb 1919 and accepted later by the resolutions of the Versailles Treaty. Only some of the western regions remained part of Germany. Together with the western districts of the former West Prussia, those areas were included in a new province called Grenzmark Posen-Westpreussen which existed until 1938 (then dissolved into the neighboring Prussian provinces). The majority of the German-speaking inhabitants of the Polish parts of Wielkopolska emigrated to Germany after 1920.
After WWII also the areas of the former Province of Grenzmark were incorporated into Poland. Germans living there were forced to leave and Poles from the former Polish territories in the East started to settle there.
The map below shows the territory of the Province of Poznan (Posen) at the beginning of the 20th century. The division into districts and the Polish and German names of the district towns are provided. The regions marked in yellow are those which remained in Germany after WWI. The parts of historical Silesia which were incorporated into the Poznan voivodship after 1920 are shown in cyan.
Other selected topics and supplementary material:
Names of localities, their changes and related problems
How the ecclesiastical administration (Catholic and Lutheran) of the Province was organized in the 19th century and later
What kinds of vital records were produced for the inhabitants of Posen and where are these records available now
During longer historical periods (but NOT between 1815 and 1938) Poznan was the administrative center for the Eastern Greater Poland (with towns such as Kalisz and Konin), too. Also, the genealogical records for this area are in part stored in Poznan. Therefore, I have included a short genealogical introduction to this region as well, although it did not belong to the Prussian 'Provinz Posen' but rather to the Kalisz Gubernya of the Kingdom of Poland governed by Russia.
Comprehensive lists of existing vital records for the Province of Poznan and the Eastern Greater Poland.
Large map of the distribution of languages in Posen about 1900
Postcards from Poznan (about 1910): the Cathedral, the Castle, and the Royal Square.
Panoramic view of Poznan from the right bank of the Warta River (F. B. Werner, 1740)
Perspective view of Poznan (1618)
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