Frequently Asked Questions

The best single place to look for an answer is a search engine such as You can then put phrases (in quotes) or single words in the search box, and check out the results.

Q: I have a lot of information on my family in this country; how do I search their records in Poland?
A: Start by searching the records filmed by the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). To do this, you must know 1) the town they came from and 2) the parish serving that town, and an LDS Family History Center near you. Please note: not all parishes have been filmed, especially those in southern Poland.

When you have the answers to these questions, go to the LDS website:

  • Click on Library.
  • Click on Library Catalog.
  • Choose Place Search.
  • Type in the name of the parish.
  • If you get multiple results, choose the one(s) that seem to best fit your family.
  • Follow the links until you see one that says “View Film Notes;” this will take you to the number(s) for the film(s) you need to order through your Family History Center.
  • To find the closest Family History Center, go back to the Family Search website. In the middle of the page, you will find a place to search for centers by country or state. Historically, church records were kept at both the parish and diocese levels.

Q: How can I identify the Polish town my ancestors came from?
A: Look for the town through your U.S. research. Possible information sources are:

  • Interviews with relatives
  • Documents kept by the family
  • Documents kept by other relatives and friends who came from the same area.
  • Vital records in the United States
    • Civil and church birth records
    • Civil and church marriage records
    • Civil and church death records
  • Local newspaper articles, not just obituaries, of family members
  • Naturalization records after 1906, especially Declarations of Intention, alien registrations, and passports.
  • Ship manifests
    • Passenger departures, especially the Hamburg lists
    • Passenger arrival lists
  • World War I U.S. draft registration forms
  • Local histories

Q: I’ve pinned down the town my family emigrated from, but I can’t find it listed at the LDS genealogy website.

A: Many Polish records are from church documents. The LDS films records of churches, but does not presently allow you to search by town. You need to know the parish. Sources include:

  • Gazetteers of Poland are the best source, because they tend to list such items as parishes. Many Family History Centers have gazetteers; ask at your public library about arranging access to a Polish gazetteer.
  • Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego….. is a gazetteer with extensive coverage of partitioned Poland, published in the late 19th and early 20th century. Although it is in Polish, you can look for par. or parafia to identify the parish.
  • Several atlases of Poland have a symbol for churches. Find the home town on the atlas and look for nearby towns with the church symbol.
  • Contact the PGSA volunteers at [email protected]. Tell them the town name, distinguish it from others with the same name, and ask them to look up the parish.Please note: not all parishes have been filmed, especially those in southern Poland.

Q: I have found all the information that I can on the LDs films, and would like to write to Poland for help. But I don’t know Polish.
A: You can hire someone to do the writing; some sources can be found at

Refer to sources, such as:
LDS online: In the search box, type “Polish Letter Writing Guide.”
Going Home, by Jonathan Shea, pp. 228-235.
A Translation Guide to 19th-Century Polish-Language Civil-Registration Documents, by Judith Frazin
In Their Words by Shea & Hoffman
Polish Roots, by Rosemary Chorzempa

Q: I’d like to hire a family researcher in Poland. How can I locate such a person?

A: Be sure that you’ve thoroughly researched the family in this country first. No one but you can dig deep and wide enough to get a picture of your family.

  • Before you start, read some consumer-type information on hiring a genealogist.

Genealogy how-to books

  • Names of researchers

Sources above
Polish Researchers and Guides
This topic is discussed on many message boards and mailing lists. Check to see if the topic has been discussed before posting your own inquiry. You can find a lengthy list of such sources at

Q: How do I send money to Poland to pay for services?

A: There are several possibilities. Start by trying to find out what procedure(s) the organization/individual expects.

Send a wire transfer through your bank. This can be quite expensive.
Several services have been used by PGSA members:
PayPal (
Western Union (
Moneybookers (
This topic is discussed on many message boards and mailing lists. Check to see if the topic has been discussed before posting your own inquiry. You can find a lengthy list of such sources at

Q: I’ve found my great-grandparents on your Marriage Index for the Polish Parishes of Chicago. Now what do I do?

A: The marriages refer to the records filmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) staff.

If the CHURCH column says that the marriage was at Holy Trinity, St. John Cantius, or St. Stanislaus Kostka, PGSA can provide a copy. Click on Order Form and follow the directions.
Otherwise you will need to go to your local Family History Center; see Order the film that has the marriage; the film number is listed after the Church, as well as the Item and Page numbers. When you receive the film, it’s a good idea to search through it for other family members/events.

Q: Where can I find forms to use in genealogy?

A: You can buy forms at genealogy stores, conferences, workshops, etc. You can also download forms from the World Wide Web, from such sites as: Look under “Other tools and resources.” Look under “Start Your Family History.”

Also try:

  • How-to genealogy books from your local library, e.g., Croom’s Unpuzzling Your Past.
  • Genealogy software programs

Q: Can you recommend any sources for learning Polish?

A: We lack the expertise to do so, but we have collected some ideas from people we’ve asked for help.

Check at local colleges and adult education agencies to see if Polish is being taught. Sign up for a course, or at least investigate the textbook being used.
Check the gift shops of local Polish institutions.
Local bookstores, especially of the big box variety, have foreign language dictionaries, and may have other guides.
There are vendors that carry sources for learning Polish on ones own. Some that we know of are online:

Polart (
D&Z House of Books (
Polonia Books (

Q: I’ve tried using a Polish dictionary but can’t find the words I’m looking for. What am I doing wrong?
A: You may be doing nothing wrong. The most likely causes:

The Polish language uses a number of diacritical marks (e.g., ł, ę, or ó). All words beginning with diacritical letters are in separate listings after the standard letters. When a letter with a diacritical mark is part of the word it will follow after the standard letter. For example, the town of Żnin will be listed after ALL words beginning with Z with no diacritical.
Polish grammar has seven cases, which means a root word may have a number of endings, depending on the case and the gender. Most dictionaries only contain the root words including those for the three genders but not the endings (examples: “-ego”, “-ich”) that are a result of grammatical usage
No dictionary can be totally comprehensive, and many words are omitted.

Q: My grandparents said they were Polish and the language was spoken at home. But the documents I’ve found say they are from Austria. Why the discrepancy?
A: In the late 1700s Poland was partitioned by its three neighboring countries: Prussia, Russia, and Austria. While the people in each area considered themselves Poles and continued to use the language and customs, politically they were part of the partitioning powers and so that is the information which usually appears on passenger lists, census records, etc. U.S. census records may say they were from “Austrian Poland” or “Prussian Poland” (later “German Poland”), or “Russian Poland.”

Q: How can I identify which of the many Dombrowas is the right one?
A: One way to narrow the choices is by trying to link them to a specific area.

Determine which partition your family was from: Prussian/German, Russian, or Austrian. You can then rule out Dombrowas from other partitions.
Check the records for siblings and long-time neighbors for leads.

Q: How can I find my ancestors when they come from big cities like Krakow or Warsaw?
A: While it is possible your ancestor was born in one of many major locations, just as in the United States, many people respond with the larger city near where they lived rather than the specific village. It is important to look at multiple documents to see if they contain any additional, or conflicting, information.
If your family was actually from the city, you will probably need to search multiple parishe.

Q: What does my family name mean?
A: The most comprehensive source that we know of is W. F. Hoffman’s Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. It is available in many public libraries, and can also be ordered from the After an extensive discussion of language and naming, you’ll find an alphabetical list of names/roots, the derivation and meaning, and names derived from the root. A number after each indicates the number of people in 1990 Poland who had that name. For a small fee, you can also request a surname search from PGSA volunteers; see

Q: How do I use the Polish Archives?
A: Here’s a link to the Polish State Archives website homepage: On the top left of the page you’ll see an English language option.

On the right side of the homepage you’ll see a set of boxes. The third one is labeled “data bases”. Click on this.
For genealogy there are two interesting search engines on this page. The first one is “The Registers of Population in Archival Materials ELA”. If you click on this it will take you to a search page which will search a variety of items. A list of what is searched is provided. On the search page enter the name of the town or village where your family lived (not the parish town for this search engine).
The next search engine is “Vital Records And Civil Registers PRADZIAD”. Click on this. This will take you to a page which gives you a brief explanation. At the top of this explanation in red is “Go To PRADZIAD Search Engine”. Clicking on this will take you to the search engine.