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.

Q1: I have a lot of information on my family in this country; how do I search their records in Poland?
A: To start, be aware that historical Poland includes parts of Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Germany/Prussia. Thus, geography and time period determine if records are written in Latin, Polish, German (in various script styles), Russian Cyrillic or Ukrainian Cyrillic.
An excellent place to begin is a search of the records filmed by the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). To search the databases on the LDS website, you must 1) open a free account, 2) know the town from which your ancestors came, and 3) the parish serving that town. Knowing an LDS Family History Center or Affiliate near you is also helpful
Please note: Not all parishes have been filmed or digitized, especially those in southern Poland.

With this information in hand, go to the LDS website: Then…

  • Log in.
  • Click on Search.
  • In the drop-down list, click on Catalog.
  • Under Search By, choose Place.
  • Type in the name of the parish and click Search.
  • Click on the one(s) that seem to best fit your family.
  • If there are records, it will show search results. To start, click on Church Records to expose contents. Click on the book you feel a best start. This lists the available film(s) and their contents.
  • The image of a Camera indicate the film is viewable on your computer. Click that line to open for viewing. A Camera & Key indicates the film is viewable only at a Family History Center or Affiliate.
  • To find the closest Family History Center or Affiliate Libraries, return to the Home Page. As you did earlier, click on Search, then Catalog. Two to the right of Catalog, click on Wiki. On the page with the world map, in the bar on the left, the second category is Centers/Libraries. Beneath, click the appropriate title to locate Family Centers and Affiliate Libraries.

Q2: 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 Arrival Records and Customs Lists
    • Passenger departures, especially the Hamburg, Germany, lists
  • World War I U.S. draft registration forms

Q3: 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. The complete “Słownik” is available through the PGSA Store at:

  • 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.
  • Join the Polish Genius email list:

Q4: 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: and
some of the researchers/guides will do translations;

Refer to sources, such as Polish Roots, by Rosemary Chorzempa (available through the PGSA Store)
In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide by William F. Hoffman and Jonathan D. Shea. Individual texts cover documents in Polish, Latin, German and Russian. Available through the PGSA Store at:

Q5: I’d like to hire a family researcher in Poland. How can I locate such a person?
A: Be sure that you have thoroughly researched the family in this country first and documented your sources. No one but you can dig deep and wide enough to get a clear picture of your family. Seek referrals. Shop and compare. Ask questions to determine they can provide exactly what you need in the region(s) you are searching. Before you start, read some consumer-type information on hiring a genealogist.

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

Q6: 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. Poland does not use personal checks, post office or other money orders, cashier’s or traveler’s checks. Of course, do not send cash.
Note: You usually want to indicate sending funds in Polish Złoty, not US Dollars.

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

Q7: 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. This link takes you to the library services page that provides instructions, forms and any costs:
Otherwise you need to explore the records of the LDS on Family Search as described above in the first question.

Q8: Where can I find forms to use in genealogy?
A: Though forms can be useful, you will soon find yourself under a sea of paper. It is best to upload a genealogy software program. However, you can purchase forms at conferences, workshops, local LDS Family History Centers, etc. Forms are also available for download on the web. Simply Google “genealogy forms” to obtain a large selection of sources.

Q9: Can you recommend any sources for learning Polish?
A: PGSA does not run language classes, but here are some suggestions:

  • Check local college and high school adult education and extended learning classes.
  • Check with local Polish institutions for referrals to locations or private instructors.
  • Bookstores, especially the big box variety, have foreign language learning sections.
  • One can find self-instructions websites. A good one for beginners or to practice is

Q10: 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 are due to the grammatical complexity of Slavic languages.
The Polish language uses a number of diacritical marks (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ż, ź). All words beginning with diacritical letters are in separate listing in the alphabet. 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 has a number of endings depending on the case, number and 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, with many words omitted.
The PGSA Store has a translation guide designed for use in genealogy including word lists in several languages and scripts.
The web also has some very good, free, translation sites:

Q11: 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 a partitioning power. It is this information which usually appears on passenger lists, census records, etc. U.S. census records might also say they were from “Austrian Poland” or “Prussian Poland” (later “German Poland”), or “Russian Poland.”

Q12: How can I identify which of the many “Dombrowa” families 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.
Keep in mind that as it is in the US, the same town name can occur several, even many times, in Poland. This can even be in the same partition. Furthermore, the root name can also exist with a qualifying term – such as meaning upper, lower, colony, etc. – that was dropped by your ancestors. Thus, in some cases, the search requires additional “hints”.
In addition, towns and villages can change their name; even if always Polish in nature. During the period of partitions, towns can be found on maps with the Polish phonetically rewritten in German or Russian. And, the town might have a completely different name during the period of partition. This includes large cites: Dantzig=Gdańsk, Breslau=Wrocław.

Q13: 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 parishes.

Q14: What does my family name mean?
A: The most comprehensive source that we know is W. F. Hoffman’s Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. It is available in many public libraries, and can also be ordered from the books section of the PGSA Store at 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

Q15: How do I use the Polish Archives?
A: You will find a good explanation here:
A large selection of civil and church options can be found by Googling “Polish Archives”. Be aware that most sites will be in Polish, though some have an English version for some of the information. Included in the Google search are informative and descriptive sites, many with categorized links, in English or an English version.