Presented in October 1995 – Poland/Lithuania Seminar at Balzekas Institute
How To Approach Your Polish Genealogical Research Problem
Research in Poland and Lithuania is really no harder than that of any other European country. Both countries have excellent church records and civil registration that covers nearly 100% of the population.
- Determine who was the immigrant ancestor.
- Determine the specific town the ancestor came from.
- Find the ancestral home using gazetteers and maps.
- Determine the record keeping jurisdiction.
- Find the records.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland unified under the Lublin agreement of 1569 to form a single state-the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania.
After 1795 Poland no longer existed as a sovereign nation. It was divided between Prussia (Germany), Austria, and Russia. In 1805 Napoleon’s Empire acquired parts of Poland and created the Duchy of Warsaw. After the defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna redistributed the territories of former Poland between Russia, Austria, and Prussia and created a the Kingdom of Poland under the jurisdiction of Russia which consisted of most of the former duchy. Thus the records of genealogical value differ somewhat in each of these three areas.
Find The Ancestral Home And Record Keeping Jurisdictions
To find the records needed to search out the genealogy of your Polish ancestor, you must know both his religion and the town where he lived since the most useful records were kept locally by churches and synagogues. Gazetteers can provide information about correct spelling of towns, what county or district they were in, and the location of the parish, synagogue, or civil registration office responsible for record keeping. Gazetteers are listed at the end of this paper.
Find The Records
The necessary records may be available through the Family History Library or it may be necessary to write for information.
Poland Ð The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many Polish church records, civil transcripts of church records, and Jewish records from towns in all areas of Poland. Records have also been acquired from some towns in areas of former Galicia, Austria, which are now in Ukraine. In most cases, privacy restrictions have prevented the microfilming of records more recent than about 1875. Available records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the town where they were produced. You can search the computer version of the catalog without knowing the province. These records are listed in the microfiche version of the catalog under POLAND, (PROVINCE), (TOWN) – CHURCH RECORDS or JEWISH RECORDS. Some civil registration records from the Prussian area starting in 1874 are available through the Family History Library but in most cases no later than about 1880. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under POLAND, (PROVINCE), (TOWN) – CIVIL REGISTRATION. Many church records, Jewish records and civil registration records have not yet been microfilmed.
Lithuania – Recently the library has acquired Protestant and Old Believer Orthodox records from Lithuania. These records do not appear in the 1995 edition of the catalog but should appear in the next edition. The process of microfilming, processing, and cataloging can sometimes take considerable time. Because of this, it is not possible to provide you with access to materials that are currently being filmed or that have been recently filmed until they appear in our catalog. The catalog is updated approximately every six months. If the materials you need are not listed in our current catalog, periodically check newer editions of our catalog as they become available at your family history center.
When The Records You Need Haven’t Been Microfilmed
If the records you need have not been filmed or do not cover the years you need, you can try to obtain information by writing to or visiting record repositories in Poland and Lithuania. The Polish Genealogical Society of America can provide you with a “Polish Letter Writing Guide” for writing to Catholic churches in Poland or you can write to the Polish State Archives:
Naczelna Dyreckja Archiwow Panstwowych
Skr. Poczt. 1005
For Lithuanian research, if the Family History Library doesn’t have the records for the locality or religion you need, write to the Lithuanian State Historical Archives at:
Lietuvos Valstybinis Archyvas
Gerosios Vilties, 10
Join a genealogical society for the ethnic group your ancestor belonged to. There are several genealogical societies and organization that can help with Polish, Lithuanian and Jewish research. You should also seriously consider sharing what you know about your Polish or Lithuanian family as well as information about any procedures that have proven successful for you with these organizations. The newsletters and journals of these societies are always seeking good information to share with their members. The following are the national organizations. There are also numerous local Polish and Jewish genealogical societies.
Polish Genealogical Society of America
984 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622
Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture
Immigration History and Genealogy Department
6500 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, Illinois 60629