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Vital Records in Poland

by Warren Blatt

Records of 1913 and later
Records of 1912 and earlier
LDS Microfilms
History of Vital Records
    · Important Dates
    · Records Chart
Translation Guides

Poland's excellent system of civil registration of vital records (birth, marriage and death records) is the best in Eastern Europe — better than most U.S. States.  In what became the Kingdom of Poland (Królestwo Polskie = Congress Poland = “Russian Poland”), civil registration began in 1808, and most of the records survive to this day.  These documents are extremely informative — for example, a birth registration usually contains the names and ages of both parents, the date, time and place of birth, the father's occupation, and often both grandfathers' given names.

These records are kept in many different branches of the Polish State Archives and Civil Records Offices across Poland.  Many of those in the Archives have been microfilmed, and are thus available for viewing around the world.  Vital records less than 100 years old are most often still in each town's town hall, and records more than 100 years old are at one of the Polish State Archives regional branches.  Most existing records before 1880 have been microfilmed by the LDS.

Records for 1913 and after:

Vital records in Poland are recorded in each town's Civil Records Office (in Polish, “Urząd Stanu Cywilnego”, abbreviated “USC”), and those records less than 100 years old are generally still kept there.  USCs are typically located in the City/Town Hall.

After 100 years, the vital records registers are supposed to be transferred to one of the branches of the Polish State Archives.  (There are exceptions, typically when a register book contains records for more than one year.  In such cases, the transfer is not legally required until the final year in the volume is more than 100 years old.  In a few cases, Civil Records Offices have chosen to send all of their Jewish registers the Polish State Archives).

To obtain birth, marriage and death records of about 1913 and later, write to:

   Urząd Stanu Cywilnego
   [YourTown], POLAND

The town's Civil Records Office may or may not write back to you — it depends upon many factors, from the whim of manager of the USC, to the inability to understand a letter written in a language other than Polish (see “Why your request might not be successful”).  The USC will provide only typewritten abstracts of the vital records in their possession, as photocopies of records less than 100 years old are not permitted.  The response will usually come back through the Polish Embassy or nearest Polish Consulate, and they are now asking for $30 or $35 per record, but this is not consistent.  You can also visit the Civil Records Office in person, or hire a private researcher to visit for you.

Records for 1912 and before:

Records older than 100 years are held at the various branches of the Polish State Archives.  In July 2000, the Polish State Archives instituted a new system, specifying that requests for information or research are to be directed to the specific branch holding the records in question, rather than the main archive in Warsaw.  To determine the branch with your town's records, see the Polish Archives Holdings of Jewish Vital Records list.

Write to the branch archive that holds the Jewish vital records for your town.

The archives require a $30 deposit to initiate a research project, and charge an hourly fee of $15.  You will be advised what records were found, and you will receive a request for payment for the research.  To purchase photocopies of the records, there is an additional fee of $10 each.

Depending on the nature of the research, responses may take two to six months.  Be sure to include dates and places in your request — without knowing a specific locality, no research can be done, because all vital records are kept on a local, municipal basis.  See tips on Writing to Poland.

For an inventory of what vital records are available in Poland for each town, you can consult:

  • Polish Archives Holdings of Jewish Vital Records, by Town.
            {List of which archive holds the Jewish vital records for each town}.
  • Jewish Roots in Poland: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories, by Miriam Weiner (New York, 1997).
            {Detailed inventory of Jewish records at all Archive branches and USC offices}.
            Available online at www.rtrfoundation.org, or in the published book.
  • Księgi metrykalne i stanu cywilnego w archiwach państwowych w Polsce. [Metrical and civil registration documents in the State Archives in Poland], edited by Anna Laszuk. (Warsaw, 1998).  Third edition, 2003.
            {Detailed inventory of all vital records at all Archive branches}.
  • SEZAM database.
            {The Polish State Archives' web-searchable database of all its holdings, in Polish}.
            http://baza.archiwa.gov.pl/sezam/sezam.php?l=en
  • Mormon (LDS) microfilms.
            {See below}.

For more information about these inventories, see the InfoFile Polish-Jewish Genealogy — Questions & Answers, Question #1.

Indices to Jewish vital records of Poland

However, you often do not have to write to Poland to find these pre-1913 records, because many have been microfilmed by the Mormons (LDS), and many others have been or are being indexed by the Jewish Records Indexing - Poland project.  These online indices are for records microfilmed by the Mormons (LDS) as well as those in the Polish State Archives which have not been microfilmed.

LDS Microfilms:

The Mormons microfilmed more than 2,000 microfilm reels of 19th-century Jewish vital records in the Polish State Archives branches between 1968 and 1992 — quite literally millions of records — mostly dating from 1808 up through the 1860s or 1880s (depending upon when they filmed the records of a particular town — they could only film those records that were more than 100 years old as of the time of microfilming).

To see what records have been microfilmed and are available for your town, look in the Family History Library Catalog™ (FHLC).  The FHLC is available on CD-ROM at all 4,600 LDS Family History Centers, and also online at www.familysearch.org.

(Note that the FHLC uses Poland's 1945-1975 internal provincial boundaries).

A list of all Polish-Jewish vital records microfilmed as of 1985 was published in Avotaynu II:1 (January 1986), pp. 5-17; and was reprinted (but not updated) in Appendix L of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy (1991), pages 202-215.  However, this list is now out of date, since hundreds of new microfilms have been acquired since 1985.  You should consult the FHLC for the most up-to-date listings.

Here is a table of microfilms filmed 1985 to 1993, to supplement the above-mentioned published list.

Mormon microfilming at the Polish State Archives stopped in 1992.  There is no additional microfilming planned at the Polish State Archives.  The Mormons are currently continuing to microfilm at church diocese archives in Poland, but these do not contain Jewish records.

Since most records before 1860/1880 are on microfilm and thus accessible to you locally, you need to write to the Polish State Archives only for those records not yet filmed, usually 1870s thru circa 1910.

History of Vital Records in Poland:

Civil vital registration in what became Russian Poland (the Kingdom of Poland, also known as Congress Poland) began in 1808 in the Duchy of Warsaw, and the records were kept in “Napoleonic format”, a paragraph-essay style.  For 1808-1825, Jewish registrations (and those of other religious denominations) were recorded in the Roman Catholic civil transcripts.  Beginning in 1826, separate registers were kept for each religious community (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc.)  Records were recorded in the Polish language from 1808 until 1868, and were kept thereafter in the Russian language, until 1918, when Poland regained its independence.

Important dates:

  • 1795 — 3rd and final partition of Poland; Poland ceases to exist as a nation.  Northern and western areas (Poznań, Kalisz, Warsaw, Łomża, Białystok) taken by Prussia; Eastern areas (Vilna, Grodno, Brest) taken by Russia; Southern areas (Kielce, Radom, Lublin, Siedlce) becomes part of Austrian province of West Galicia.
  • 1805 — West Galicia: Jews required to take surnames - Austrian government mandate.
  • 1807 — Duchy of Warsaw created by Napoleon, from former Prussian partition territory.
  • 1808 — Duchy of Warsaw: Civil vital registration begins.  Napoleonic format, Polish language.  All religions registered in the Roman Catholic civil register.
  • 1809 — Napoleon defeats Austria; West Galicia (includes most of future Kielce-Radom-Lublin-Siedlce gubernias) becomes part of Duchy of Warsaw.
  • 1810 — Duchy of Warsaw: Civil vital registration begins in former West Galicia (includes Kielce-Radom-Lublin-Siedlce region).
  • 1815 — Napoleon defeated; Congress of Vienna; "Kingdom of Poland" formed from former Duchy of Warsaw, now under Russian control.
  • 1821 — Kingdom of Poland: Jews required to take surnames - Russian government mandate.
  • 1826 — Kingdom of Poland: Separate civil registers begin for each religious community (Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Russian Orthodox, etc).
  • 1863 — Kingdom of Poland: Insurrection against Russia.
  • 1868 — Kingdom of Poland: Vital records kept in Russian language (Cyrillic alphabet).
  • 1918 — End of WWI, Treaty of Versailles, Poland reborn as a nation.  Vital records kept in Polish again.

An overview of Jewish vital records in Russian Poland1
Years 1808 - 1825 1826 - 1867 1868 - 1917 1918 - 1942
Where Recorded Catholic Civil Transcripts Separate Jewish registers
Language Polish Russian Polish
Location of Registers Records older than 100 years are kept in regional branches of the Polish State Archives.  Many of these records have been microfilmed by the LDS Family History Library, usually up through the 1860s-1880s. Records less than 100 years old are typically kept in each town's Civil Records Office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego).
1 This chart applies only to records in localities within the semi-autonomous region under Russian rule known as the “Kingdom of Poland” (Congress Poland, aka “Russian Poland”).  This area covered forms almost half of present-day Poland.  For other localities which are now part of Poland (e.g. former parts of Galicia, Prussian Poland, Grodno Gubernia), the record format, language, and periods covered are different.

Some helpful guides to using these records:

  • A Translation Guide to 19th-Century Polish-Language Civil-Registration Documents, by Judith A. Frazin.  3rd ed.  (Chicago: JGS of Illinois, 2009).  463 pp.  ISBN 978-0-9613512-2-9.
    {Helps translate Napoleonic format vital records microfilmed by the LDS for 1808-1868}.
    Available from JGS of Illinois, P.O. Box 515, Northbrook, IL 60062-0515.  $35 + $6 postage.

  • In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents. Volume I: Polish. by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman.  (New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2000).  400 pp.  ISBN 0-9631579-3-0.  $35.
    {Helps translate Polish-language documents of all types}.  (See table of contents).
    Available from: Avotaynu or PGSA.

  • In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents. Volume II: Russian. by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman.  (New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002).  496 pp.  ISBN 0-9631579-4-9.  $35.
    {Helps translate Russian-language documents of all types}.  (See table of contents).
    Available from: Avotaynu or PGSA.

For other useful guides see Bibliography: Polish-Jewish Genealogical Research.

For additional questions, see the InfoFile Polish-Jewish Genealogy — Questions & Answers.


Adopted from an article in Mass-Pocha, the Newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, IV:1 (Winter 1994/95).
Copyright ©1995, 2013 by Warren Blatt.

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