Details pertaining to the history of particular provinces are accessible by clicking on their names
The practice of registering births (baptisms), marriages and deaths in local communities (esp. parishes) has been observed for centuries. The Tridentine Council required Catholic priests to keep such registers in every parish. Protestants and Jews also registered the events which happened in their congregations.
The Civil Codex of Napoleon Bonaparte imposed on pastors of all religions the obligation to make duplicates of their registers and to deliver them to the local authorities (the district courts). This practice was in force in all of the countries formerly governing the present territory of Poland. After the fall of Napoleon this practice was continued, although in Prussia it was later controlled by the Civil Registration Offices (German: Standesämter) which were established on Oct. 1, 1874. From this time forward all the citizens, regardless of their religion were required to register births, marriages and deaths in these offices. The seats of the Civil Registration Offices didn't necessarily match the existing parishes and their list remained generally unchanged since 1878 when a reform of the initial division was introduced. After Poland had become independent in 1918, the Civil Registration Offices still existed in the former Prussian provinces, whereas the other areas retained the older practice of producing duplicates separately for every religion. After WWII, Civil Registration Offices were established throughout the rest of Poland.
The Catholic church records were written in Latin (Province of Posen, Galicia), Polish (Kingdom of Poland until 1868), German (other former Prussian provinces) or Russian (Kingdom of Poland after 1868). The Lutheran church records were written in German as were the Prussian Civil State Office records. The Eastern Orthodox church records were written in Russian and the Byzantine Catholic (Uniate) records in Latin or Ukrainian.
The information contained in these records varies depending on the time period, area and religion. Older records (until the late 1700's) provide relatively little data: date of the event, names of the parents and sponsors, location of their origin (for births), names of the persons getting married and witnesses (for marriages), place of death and sometimes age (for deaths).
The 19th century records often indicate some additional information about the parents (e.g. father's profession) in the birth and death records, age in the marriage and death records, and cause of death in the death records. In the latter, a list of the surviving family is often provided. In Galicia, even the names of the baby's grandparents are listed in the birth records. Prussian Civil Registration Office (Standesamt) marriage and death records often provide the name of the place where the parents of the deceased person (or the individuals getting married) lived or had died.
Due to many wars and other catastrophes that Poland suffered, a great many genealogical records have been lost. The remaining records may be found in a variety of places.
The Roman Catholic church records (from parish books) older than the early 1900's are usually stored in the diocesan archives. Despite the ecclesiastical reform of 1992 (new dioceses were established), the system of archives reflects the old administrative division (dating back to 1926). Probably in the future new diocesan archives will be established and the records will be relocated according to their present position. Since many Lutheran churches from the former German provinces were transferred to the Catholics after 1945, some of the Protestant church records can also be found in the Catholic archives. A great deal of the Catholic church records, especially from the former provinces of West and East Prussia, were taken to Germany in 1945. The majority of them are now stored at the Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv, St. Petersweg 11-13, D-93047 REGENSBURG, GERMANY (in the next months this entire collection will be given back to Poland but the precise date of the transfer to the Polish Catholic archives is not known yet). Others (from the Province of Posen) can be found in the archives located in Leipzig, Potsdam and Berlin.
Currently not all Catholic parishes have sent their old records to the diocesan archives. Sometimes it is necessary to contact the pastor directly by mail to obtain a record; it is advisable to write in Polish (see also the section about writing letters to Poland).
A large number of Catholic & Lutheran church records, as well as some Jewish ones, are stored at the State Archives. Most of these records are the 19th century civil duplicates. Many Lutheran church records were taken to Germany with the escaping Germans in 1945. Many of these records are currently stored at the Evangelisches Zentralarchiv, Bethanienstraße 23-29, D-10997 BERLIN, GERMANY.
Most of the Civil Registration Office records from the formerly Prussian parts of present-day Poland still remain there. The records older than 100 years are relocated to the State Archives, according to the present administrative position of a given locality. It must be remembered that after WWII the Civil Registration Offices were incorporated into the community offices (town halls). As a typical community now comprises the territories of 1-5 former Prussian Civil Registration Offices, the community local archives usually retain the old records of several former offices located in their area (until they are 100 years old). Sometimes much detective work must be done to identify the actual place where records from a given former office are currently stored. Also, a certain amount of the pre-WWII Civil Registration Office records from the former German provinces were taken to Germany. They are now stored at the Standesamt I, Rückerstraße 9, D-10119 BERLIN, GERMANY.
A considerable part of the records relevant to genealogy currently stored in Polish and German archives have already been microfilmed by the Mormon (Latter Day Saints, LDS) Church and are available in their Family History Centers. This doesn't pertain to all of the records, however. Many areas have not yet been microfilmed and the necessity of searching in the local archives and the individual parishes will still remain for a long time.
Records from the areas which previously belonged to Poland before WWII (Eastern Galicia, Volhynia, region of Wilno) can now be found at the archives in Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania respectively. Some of them have been relocated to Poland and are now stored at the Civil Registration Office in Warsaw (USC Warszawa-Sródmiescie, ul. Jezuicka 1/3, PL - 00-950 WARSZAWA). A large collection of pre-WWII Roman Catholic records from Eastern Galicia (now Ukrainian) can be found in the Archive of the Lwow Archdiocese, ul. Kanonicza 13, 31-002 KRAKOW.
An article prepared by Warren Blatt describes the present situation of Jewish records that may be found in Polish archives and by the LDS. It contains general information about the vital records in Poland and might prove interesting for non-Jewish genealogy too.
For the Province of Poznan (Posen), comprehensive lists of existing vital records are available. PolishRoots has a compiled list of administrative districts and vital records available for the Province of Galicia (Galizien).
Another section contains some tips on about how to apply for official certificates of birth etc. from Polish archives, Civil Registration Offices and parishes.
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