Vital Records in Poland
by Warren Blatt
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 1918 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 1918 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 1917 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:
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-1918 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.
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.
Some helpful guides to using these records:
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