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Writing to Polish civil authorities, whether local or the centralized archives, should be a last resort, only after trying to find microfilms to use. Vital records were primarily kept by the churches until the second world war. Prussia established civil registration in 1874, but the church records are often more reliable. After WWII, Russians and Poles "cleansed" Posen of Germans and their "stuff". Protestant churches and cemeteries were destroyed or converted to other uses. The Prussian civil registration offices were probably converted to Polish counterparts, with the German records being destroyed or packed off to archives. German protestant church books either escaped with Germans who fled, or were destroyed or packed off to archives.

THE POLISH LANGUAGE by L. W. "Doc" L~epkowski -
The language of our ancestors is most difficult, and true translation is even more difficult, and sometimes literally impossible. To successfully translate one must be able to THINK in the language. I lived in pre-war Poland for a few years - and for the first year I was identified as an American as soon as I opened my mouth. Then one magic day my American identity disappeared, simply because I started thinking in Polish - not translating from one language to another. Polish is a very courteous language, replete with honorifics, titles and customs completely absent in English. One example: you do not ask anyone: "How old are you?" The simple inference that the individual is old is taken as insulting. You ask: "How many years do you have?". How often do you address an envelope to the "Honorable Doctor Mr XXX" ? Yet in Polish it is customary to address this envelope to: "Szanowny Panie Doktorze XXX" ............

Just remember this: The Polish language contains three genders,masculine, feminine and neuter. There are two cases, singular and plural, with seven declinations each. Word endings often identify gender. Diacritical marks appear on nine (9) different letters, making these letters difficult to pronounce by the average American. Here they are, with my version of the associated phonetics:

a - with a curl attached to the bottom pronounced with the tongue retracted and blocking the throat - a sort of OWN sound with nasal emphasis

c - with a slash on top - pronounced like CH

e - with a curls attached to the bottom - same pronunciation effort as for the a

a - sort of ennnh sound - nasal emphasis again

l - the letter L with a bar thru the capital or a curled bar over the lower case - pronounced like a W

o - the letter o with a slash on top - pronounced like the oo in wood or hood

s - with a slash on top - pronounced like ESH

z - with a dot on top, pronounced hard - clamp your teeth together, retract your tongue and trill it while you pronounce the z!!!! (easy -just takes practice)

z - with a slash on top - substitute the Z for the V in Viet and you've got it ZIET.

The final tip. Do you want to write letters in Polish? The best guide I know of is Rosemary A. Chorzempa's book Polish Roots. You can get it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and so on. She has made this an easy task - you don't have to study Polish to accomplish your genealogical search - thanks to this book this daunting task is possible for the rank & file. She deserves a big thanks from all.

For basic translation, you might try McKay's Polish-English/English-Polish Dictionary by Jim Stanislawski, 400 pages published by Random House, cost $17. The ISBN is 0-812-91691-3. It's reasonably priced and has a very decent amount of information in it, including a surprising number of entries on older terms that makes it rather good for genealogical translations.

There are eight major periods of Polish History:

(1) The Kingdom Period- 960 -1138 - during which Poland became organized as an independent nation.

(2) The Duchy Period -1138-1320 - during which Poland dissolved into smaller units lacking a central power.

(3) The Empire Period-1320-1572 - known as Poland's Golden Age, when the kingdom was unified, beginning with the reign of Casimir the Great. Poland then became the third largest nation in Europe.

(4) The Period of Elective Kings 1572-1772 - during which the county was weakened by the "liberium veto" in the Sejm(Parliment), allowing any deputy to stop the passage of a bill.

(5) The Partition Period 1772 to 1914 during which Poland lost its its independence identity. The first partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria took place in 1772 and the second in 1792. The final partition was in 1795 and it wiped Poland from the map of Europe as an independent political state. During the period of foreign occupation both Russia and Prussia tried to de-Polonize the Polish people by forbidding the use of the Polish language, and by various attempts to get the people off of the land. The Austrians were more lenient but their area suffered from a great deal of poverty. As a result of the oppression and the poverty, extensive migration took place prior to World War I, mostly to the United States. The immigrants were refugees,peasants and landless laborers.

(6) Two World Wars and the period of Independence 1914-1945 - Poland was liberated during the first World War and then experienced twenty years of instability. In 1939, under the heel of the Nazi invaders it was annihilated for the fourth time.

(7) Period of the People's Republic 1945-1989 - After World War II the county was stabilized as a "Peoples' Republic" allied with the Soviet Union.

(8) The collapse of Communism-1989

If your ancestors lived geographically in POLAND between 840 and today, here are the chronological sovereigns over Poland:
840 to 1231 A.D.--POLISH;
1231 to 1466 A.D.--Teutonic Knights ie German [Prussian];
1466 to 1772 A.D.--POLISH;
1772 to 1919 A.D.--Descendants of Teutonic Knights called themselves "Prussian";
1919 to 1939 A.D.--POLISH;
1939 to 1945 A.D.--GERMAN;
1945 to TODAY--POLISH.

Prior to the union of Poland and Lithuania, your ancestors may have been ethnic Lithuanians. Lithuania prior to the 1300's was the last pagan state in Europe. Poland had from time to time been invaded by the Lithuanians. (By Lithuanians, I mean residents of that country, not necessarily ethnic Lithuanians).

The Teutonic Knights, which had been founded during the time of the Crusades to the Middle East, had gotten permission to settle in Masovia, by the Duke of that territory. One of their missions was to Christianize the pagan tribes in the vicinity of the Baltic Sea, which included the Prussians and Lithuanians, which were causing problems for the various Polish borderland areas. These Prussians were a Balt tribe which were exterminated by the Teutonic Knights, who usurped the name - hence the name Prussia and Prussians, who were actually Germans. Anyway, the Knights became a threat to Poland and Lithuania, as they formed their own independent state, which was not the intention of the Duke of Mazovia at all. So, to fend off attacks, the Poles and Lithuanians joined forces to battle the Knights. This was a huge scandal in the Christian world, - a Christian nation allied with a pagan nation! The German propagandists used this as an excuse to call Poland a pagan country, and that it was their goal to Christianize (re--Germanize) them!

So Poland decided that if the daughter of the King of Poland, and the Grand Duke of Lithuania married (in 1386) and they became king and queen of the unified country, and as part of the arrangement, the Lithuanians were converted to Christianity, this would create a large and powerful Christian nation, which could repulse invaders. Also part of the arrangement was that the Polish gentry accepted the Lithuanian gentry as brothers - which meant they assumed Polish names and coats of arms of the existing Polish gentry - in effect they were adopted. These people's descendants spoke Polish, and became Polonized, or assimilated.

Something else that most people do not know is that at that time, Lithuania included all of Belarus and Ukraine. The official language of this country was Old Byelorussian, NOT Lithuanian. The number of ethnic Lithuanians was only a small portion of that country. The people who retained that language and culture were the peasants. And peasants had a history of being oppressed, no matter of what ethnic group. The gentry of Poland/Lithuania made up 10% of the population. Ethnic Germans and Jews made up about 15%. The rest were peasants of various ethnic groups. The residents of the larger towns and cities were largely Jews, German merchants, and the Polish/Lithuanian gentry. In the countryside of ethnic Lithuania, the vast majority of the population (peasants) spoke only Lithuanian. Many residents of Lithuania for hundreds of years spoke Polish and considered themselves Lithuanian, because they lived there, but of the Polish nation. Also, these eastern territories were colonized by Poles from farther west. Many of the wealthier Polish gentry had huge estates in these areas - another explanation why there were Poles in these areas. The most famous of the Lithuanian/Polish gentry were the Radziwill family - Jackie Kennedy Onassis sister married into that family, her name is Lee Radziwill.

Old Poland/Lithuania had many things in common with the USA - the country had as residents people from numerous ethnic groups and many religions. As the USA has English as the common language, so Poland/Lithuania had Polish. Many countries during that time had multi-ethnic populations. It wasn't until the idea of nationalism developed in the early 1800's that this started to cause problems for European countries, and went to the extreme in WW2 and the Holocaust - and continues toady with ethnic cleansing. Can you imagine what would happen in this country if everyone had to become English, and repudiate their non-Anglo cultural backgrounds? Countries with one language and one ethnic group became the ideal.

The ethnic Lithuanians today have their own version of history which states that they were oppressed by Poland, but anyone who reads and understands the entire history of this area will have a more balanced view of the situation. After WW1, the Lithuanians were furious with Poland over Poland incorporating Vilnius, the historic Lithuanian capital, (in Polish, Wilno) into Poland, however, the vast majority of residents in the city spoke Polish and considered themselves Polish, hence they wanted to be a part of Poland, as they had been for 400 years before the Partitions.

A 'Kreis' is, in essence, a county. It literally is a 'circle or ring' and refers to 'sphere' of influence. It is usually translated very generically as 'district', but with Prussian 'administrative districts' being comprised of several Kreise, it gets confusing to refer to them as districts. I've heard purists claim that they are not really counties, but in that they are the smallest district that includes several towns, I think the translation as 'county' is accurate. They are perhaps smaller than most US counties. I'm not real sure what a township is, but I think the typical Kreis would be of a larger scale.

The divisions were: the Kingdom of Prussia was divided into provinces (like Posen), which were divided into Administrative districts (2 in Posen: Bromberg and Posen), which included the Kreise. The Kreise could be further broken down into civil registration districts of half a dozen villages per 'Standesamt'.

Doing genealogy, no matter of what ethnic group, involves dealing with spelling variations. Up until about 75 years ago, spelling was not even a subject studied in schools. Ben Franklin said that he wouldn't trust a man who didn't spell his name at least three different ways.

Technically in Polish, there is an accepted spelling based on the sound of the name. Studying the language helps. When my father or aunts were asked how do you spell your name, they'd reply, "how it sounds!" This is true in Polish. Now if the recorder of the name was not Polish, as many government clerks and census takers, they would spell it the way they heard it, but based on English. And remember, in the early years, most Poles who came here could not read or write Polish, much less English! Even the Catholic Priests recording BP/M/D records in the early 1900's spelled names differently in the records.

People who identified as Polish, could have German, Russian, Lithuanian, or even English/Scot surnames, and still be Polish. There may have been one ancestor of these different backgrounds, but if they became assimilated into Polish culture/language, they're just as Polish as someone with a Polish name. Many people from other ethnic groups settled in Poland over the centuries - in that regard very much like the USA.

Also, in Polish and other Slavic languages, the last name reflected the gender of the person. Bonchowski would be the man's last name, but Bonkowska would be the woman's. Also there was a spelling difference for a single or a married woman (which I don't know the rules to). Perhaps a Polish speaker could explain this better.

An investigation of surnames can be initiated by clicking here:
Full Text [search engine] "hot link" Index of... If you find your surname on the Die Vorfahren Index at that site, you can learn more about getting information at Fetkenheur Index


Official webpage of the POSEN Rootsweb Mailing List: (Polish Archives) (Genealogy in Poland) (Posen, Poland Jewish Death Records 1831-1835) (Information on Jewish cemeteries in Poland) (The Polish Genealogical Society of America) (Poland Border Surnames> (more border names, updated twice a month) (Internet FamilyFinder - includes a database of over 10,000 researched surnames) (Notes of Fred Hoffman on selected Polish surnames) (Dictionary of names) (Poland information) (Polish post office) (Poland postal codes) (Cyndi Howell's Genealogy Links list) (The official web site of Poland) (Archdiocesan Archives in Poznan, Poland) (Clickable map of State archives in Poland) (Town locator for West Europe) (Polish dioceses in a clickable linked map) (Polish dioceses (names, addresses and links) (English-Polish dictionary) (Poland information) (Kaj Malachowski's homepage) (Genealogical information by Rafal Prinke) (Rand genealogy club) (Polish Terms) (Polish first names) (Polish Geographical) (Polish to English Legal-Economics & Business Terms) (Polish Provinces)

Here is what appears to be a Polish Search Engine . Try entering your last name. Unfortunately the whole site is in Polish.

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