Notes about Church and State records available in Poland

Roman Catholic Church 
Polish parishes began recording births, marriages, and deaths in the late 1500s and early 1600s as dictated by the Council of Trent in 1563. The Council required baptismal registers be kept, which were necessary to prove couples were baptized Catholics before they could be married. In 1614, a formal mandate required that all baptisms, marriages, and deaths be recorded. However, some parishes kept records before the Council established the requirement, and some parish registers kept communion and confirmation lists and marriage banns. 

     There was often more than one original copy of the registers. At the end of the year, the priest was required to copy all entries and send them to the local bishop or to the local civil records office. So, if you don't find the record you seek in the local parish, try the diocesan or archdiocesan archives and the state provincial archives for civil records. Some registers were taken to Germany during World War II and are still there. 

     Registers were usually written in Latin until Poland was partitioned, when they began being recorded in the language of the rulers of the partition (Austrian, German, and Russian). 

(Source: PolandGenWeb)

       From our own research in the parish of Gorzno near Garwolin we have seen that it is possible to find records dating back to early 1700s.  All eighteen century records were written in Latin that is rather difficult to decipher because the priests or their secretaries used many abbreviations.  Polish first names were latinized (Jan=John was spelled Joannis) but the surnames were spelled in Polish using the traditional Polish forms for women, where the form differed for the the daughter and wife, e.g., the wife of Mr. Galazka would be called Galazkowa or Galazczyna and his daughter would  be called Galazkowna.  Contrary to some theories, all inhabitants of this village (peasants, craftsmen, and noblemen) had proper surnames even in the oldest records that we have found (1713).  Click here to see a scan of this document showing a list of children enrolled in the Holy Rosary Brotherhood (96KB).  Birth and death records were identical for all classes; only the marriage records of noblemen were much longer than for peasants.  For a glossary of terms used in the 17th, 18th , and in the 19th century for description of class status please consult the excellent guide prepared by Rafal T. Prinke.

     In 1795, as a result of the Third Partition of Poland, Gorzno became a part of Austria.  In about 1800, the Austrian Government introduced a new law for keeping of vital records and provided the parish with special books that contained instructions both in Latin and in Polish.  These books had preprinted tables for entry of all records.  In addition to these short records, longer records were kept in separate books in Polish and in Latin.

     In 1807, Gorzno was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, a state created by Napoleon Bonaparte.  With this change of rulers came the change of law and the parish priest became also the head of the Office of Civil Records.  Characteristically, the new books of vital records, still maintained by the parish priest, now include the records for the Jewish community.
After the defeat of Napoleon, Gorzno became a part of the Russian-dominated Kingdom of Poland (so called Congress Kingdom, because it was created by the Congress of Vienna).  This change in rulers did not change much until about 1868, when the Polish language was banned and the records were kept in Russian.  Some early records from this period still have the names spelled in Polish, but later this custom was banned by the Russian authority.  This forced Russianization did not last very long and after about 1916 the records again appear in Polish and Latin.

     The format of 19th century birth/baptism, marriage, and death records followed a format, described sometimes as "Napoleonic".  If you want more information on this format and would like to be able to translate such records from Polish or Russian to English, please consult the Napoleonic Translation Guide prepared by Jack Bowman. 

     We will keep updating this page and we will include examples of the records together with a glossary.