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Resources for Polish Genealogy

Posted by Sean Daly on Oct 13, 2023
Polish castle, eagle emblem, girl in traditional costume

Do you have Polish ancestry? The many border changes of Poland in the past centuries — including several partitions when the country was divided up by its neighbors — make Polish genealogy a true challenge. These resources will help you find your elusive forbears.

Poland is a country which has been coveted by its neighbors for centuries, who sadly all too often succeeded in their territorial gains. This was facilitated by Poland’s lack of natural barriers to invasion, with the exception of the Carpathian Mountains to the south. Poland’s territory on the Nizina Środkowoeuropejska — the Central European Plain — has shifted many times since the Polish Golden Age of the 16th century, most recently in 1945 following World War II. For genealogists, this means navigating a maze of place names and languages!

Color postcard image of a Polish family in traditional dress
A Polish family in traditional costume. From Geneanet’s extensive Postcards collection.
Photo of the medieval townhouse where Nicolaus Copernicus was born in 1473
The birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus in Toruń in 1473. Source: Wikimedia
Poster with an illustration of Tadeusz Kościuszko
In 1917, the US Food Administration created this poster featuring Polish and American patriot Tadeusz Kościuszko to reach Polish-Americans in their native language, showing asking them to not waste food as part of the war effort. Illustration: George Illian. Source: Numelyo
1896 photo of Joseph Conrad
Perhaps you have read the works of Polish nobleman Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski? Known to English speakers as Joseph Conrad! Photo 1896, from his wife’s memoir, “Joseph Conrad and his circle”. Source: BNF-Gallica

A note about Polish diacritical characters

The Polish alphabet has extra letters you won’t find on an English-language keyboard:

Ą/ą, Ć/ć, Ę/ę, Ł/ł, Ń/ń, Ó/ó, Ś/ś, Ź/ź, Ż/ż

Tip: copy/paste any of these letters you may need in a database search!

An excellent overview of the Polish alphabet and how letters and dipthongs are pronounced is available on the website; there’s even a multimedia presentation on the topic.

And has a helpful online Polish module to obtain Polish characters without a Polish keyboard.

Keep in mind that some databases will process accented and diacritical characters as variants of a plain Latin letter, and search for the variants, while others may only return hits if the correct Polish letters are specified.

Map of the partitions of Poland 1772-1795
The three partitions of Poland, 1772-1795. Following the third partition, until 1918, Poland ceased to exist but nationalist movements worked toward an independent Poland. Source: Wikimedia

A timeline of Poland

The dozens of wars which Poland has experienced over the past three centuries generated a worldwide Polish diaspora sometimes called Polonia. It is estimated about 20 million people outside Poland have Polish ancestry, half of whom live in the United States. Although emigration started in the 1820s, there was a great wave of emigration in the 1870s, culminating in a huge influx through New York 1900-1910. Many Polish émigrés were Jewish. Since 2004 when Poland joined the European Union, about 1 million Poles have left for other European countries to find work.

  • 1385 Beginning of the Jagiellonian dynasty, union with Lithuania.
  • 1506-1648 Złoty Wiek Polski, the Polish Golden Age of the Renaissance
  • 1569 The Union of Lublin creates Pierwsza Rzeczpospolita, the First Polish Republic; the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth reaches its apogee over the following century.
  • 1648 The Cossack Khmelnytsky Uprising.
  • 1655-1660 The Second Northern War; the Swedish Deluge.
  • 1700-1721 The Great Northern War.
  • 1772 First Partition of Poland.
  • 1791 The Constitution of 3 May 1791, the first modern European constitution.
  • 1793 Second Partition of Poland.
  • 1794 The Kościuszko Uprising.
  • 1795 Third Partition of Poland; the Polish state ceases to exist.
  • 1806 Great Poland Uprising; the Duchy of Warsaw created the next year by Napoléon.
  • 1815 The Congress of Vienna redraws borders and creates the Congress Kingdom of Poland under Russian rule.
  • 1830 The November Uprising.
  • 1918 Second Polish Republic founded, followed by several years of wars and plebiscites to settle borders including the Greater Poland Uprising in Poznań (Posen).
  • 1939 Nazi Germany and the USSR invade, conquer, and partition Poland.
  • 1939-1941 Many Polish Jews under Soviet control are deported east to the USSR; most survive.
  • 1939-1945 The Holocaust in Poland under German control: 3 million murdered, nearly all of the Jewish population, who had lived there since the 12th century.
  • 1940 The Katyn massacre: Soviet forces exterminate 22,000 Polish prisoners of war; military officers, police officers, and intellectuals.
  • 1943 The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Jews fought a hopeless battle against the Nazi SS.
  • 1944 The Warsaw Uprising.
  • 1945 The Potsdam Agreement transfers previously German territory to Poland, establishing the western border of Poland on the Oder–Neisse line. Pomerania, Upper and Lower Silesia, East Prussia, Gdańsk (Danzig) pass to Poland, except for the Kaliningrad enclave to the USSR. Polish territory east of the Curzon Line goes to Lithuania, Byelorussia, and Ukraine. The Polish People’s Republic, a satellite state of the USSR, is founded.
  • 1989 The Solidarność (Solidarity) opposition, led by Lech Wałęsa, wins parliamentary elections; end of communist rule and the founding of the Third Polish Republic.
  • 1990 The German-Polish Border Treaty is signed with reunified Germany, settling the issues pending since 1945.
Map made after the 1921 census showing the predominant language of regions of Poland and neighboring countries
This map, prepared following the September 1921 census, shows the languages spoken in Poland and beyond. At the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 following World War I, followed by territorial wars with the Soviet Union and Lithuania, as well as other border adjustments, re-created Poland sought to govern areas where Polish was spoken. Today’s Poland has borders further west on both sides. Source: BNF-Gallica.

Polish genealogy resources

Did we miss any resources? Please let us know in the comments! And don’t hesitate to ask for help in our forums. Geneanet members are helpful and questions are monitored by support!


Thanks for this informative site.
Polish Genealogical Society of California (PGSCA) has disbanded
Polish Genealogical Society of Texas (PGST) does not respond to communications. It appears to have also disbanded.

2 sites that continue to index Polish records – most not found anywhere else:
Bukowsko Triangle:
Bukowsko Triangle Indexes:

Debbie’s Photos of Poland: Click on RECORDS

Answer from Geneanet: Thank you very much for your suggestions! We have updated our article.

Which link do you recommend to help find information on an ancestor who was born in Dirschau (now Tczew) in Poland?

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