This page focuses on the central and eastern portions of Poland, historically known as RUSSIAN POLAND. Other names for this region include:
- Congress Poland
- Kingdom of Poland
- Duchy of Warsaw
- Vistula Territory
Description of the Research Area
Hundreds of thousands of Germans have lived in Polish lands over the centuries, through to the end of World War II. At that time, most were expelled either to Germany or to eastern Asia (Siberia). One map shows over 3500 German settlements in 19th century Russian Poland alone. Many of the Germans in this region were Lutheran (Evangelical). There were also significant numbers of Jewish Germans and to a lesser extent, Roman Catholics, Mennonites, Baptist, Reformed, and Moravian Brethern.
Poland had existed for centuries as a very large commonwealth. In the late 1700s, as the result of a weak monarchy, it was partitioned between Russia, Prussia, and Austria and ceased to exist as a nation. In 1807 after defeating Prussia and Russia, Napoleon established the independent Duchy of Warsaw which included large portions of both Russian and Prussian held territories. Napoleon was defeated in 1812. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna established the Kingdom of Poland, commonly known in English as Russian Poland (or Congress Poland), and in German as Mittelpolen.
Russian Poland consisted of the Duchy of Warsaw except for some portions of the Torun (Thorn), Poznan (Posen), and Bydgoszcz (Bromberg) districts which were given to Prussia. The balance of the territory was given some measure of independence though it was ruled strongly by Russia. Several rebellions occurred with the last ending in 1863 with defeat by the Russians. At this time Russia clamped down hard on the Poles, insisting on Russian as the official language and effectively removing Polish nobility from any power they may have had.
Poland regained independence after World War I. In doing so, it regained vast portions of land from Russia (roughly half of what it had held prior to the partitions) and Austria (all of the pre partitioned lands plus a little more). It also took back large portions of the former Prussian lands, regaining access to the Baltic Sea through what was known as the Polish Corridor. After World War II, much of the land Poland had regained to the east was returned to Russia and Ukraine. It took over additional land from Germany as compensation. This included former Prussian territories to the north and Silesia to the west and south.
Throughout these changes, hundreds of thousands of Germans lived in various parts of these Polish territories, often maintaining farms for their Polish landlords (nobility).
[Primary historical source: A Panorama of Polish History; Hanna Cierlinska - Editor; Interpress Publishers, Warsaw - Publisher; also available in French, German, Polish, and Spanish]
Genealogical and Historical Societies
The Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe SGGEE serves those with German ancestry in Volhynia and Russian Poland. You can click on the German flag to see a portion of the site in German. With its narrow focus, it should be considered as the primary English language resource for info about Germans from Russian Poland. A free mailing list is available at this site.
Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft ostdeutscher Familienforscher e.V. AGoFF of course serves many Germans with East European origins including Russian Poland.
Historical and other Societies
The Historical Society for Germans from Poland and Volhynia operates a small but well featured library in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Contact information can be found on the SGGEE website noted above.
Numerous Mennonite resources can be readily found with a GOOGLE search for that term but a good starting point is Mennonite Index.
Similarly numerous Jewish genaealogical resources can be found with a GOOGLE search but the best starting point is JewishGen.
Genealogical and Historical Records
From 1807 through World War I, church and civil records are generally synonymous in Congress Poland. Napoleon instituted a specific format and churches were required to maintain the civil registration. Documents are in Polish through about 1867 when Russian became the official language of record. Some local church records in the German language found their way into German archives. Thousands of these civil parish records have been microfilmed by the Mormon Church and are available in their Family History Centers. Some specific parishes and time periods are missing due to fires, wars, and so on.
Important Note: The religion of your ancestor will not always match the religion of the parish with the record. For example, if a Lutheran lived in an area where there was no Lutheran Church, he would have to register b/m/d at the local Catholic Church. A Mennonite might chose to register at the protestant Lutheran Church rather than the Catholic Church. In the early 19th century, Jews were not allowed to do their own civil registration so they were forced to register at the Catholic Church. If you cannot find your ancestor where you think he should be, then try checking the records of other churches in the area.
SGGEE (see Society link above) is undertaking the indexing of many of these records and the results are available to members through its website.
Civil Registration Records
The EWZ files are an important resource for research for those whose family was displaced prior to or during WW II. They can also provide valuable info by way of those families who remained behind during earlier migrations. Good instructions for using and researching these files can be found at Volhynia.
Villages and Maps
A good variety of village lists and maps (or links to same) can be found on the SGGEE website referenced above.
Bibliography and Literature
Literature in English
Most books covering the history and genealogy of Germans in Poland are in either the German or Polish languages. In spite of the language barrier, lists and maps in these books are relatively easy to read so they should not be ignored. This list is far from complete but represents a good start for research.
- Die Deutschen in Polen seit der Reformation Oskar Kossmann / J.G Herder-Institut - Marburg 1978
- Deutsche Gaue in Mittelpolen Albert Breyer / Verlag Gunther Wolff - Plauen im Vogtland 1935
- Kolonizacja Niemiecka w Poludniowo-Wschodniej Czesci Krolestwa Polskiego w Latach 1815-1915 Wieslaw Sladkowski / Wydawnictwo Lubelskie
Archives and Libraries
Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918, February 14 followed February 1. Poland had used the Gregorian calender for a long time but, under Russian rule, were obligated to use the Julian calender of Russia. For that reason, most of the records from about 1820 on through WW I will show both dates.