HOW TO USE POLISH LUTHERAN RECORDS
FOR DOING RESEARCH IN CENTRAL POLAND
Lutheran Parish records are organized by parish and year. They usually contain separate entries for births, marriages and deaths and there is usually a yearly index for each type of event. They are, almost without exception, the records of people of German ancestry since people of Polish ancestry are almost all of the Catholic or Jewish faith. The records are generally in Polish before about 1868 and usually in Russian after that date, although the records also sometimes contain both Cyrillic and Roman alphabet surnames after that date. Even though both the people that these records record, and the authors of the records, spoke German, the language of the records usually reflects who ruled this area of Central Poland. The records are almost always handwritten.
In order to find any meaningful data in Central Poland, you as the researcher must have some idea of when and where the person you are looking for was born, married or died. You can establish relationships usually only by working backwards from what you know. Therefore, unless there are exceptional circumstances (you perhaps know the names of the parents of the person you seek), it is not advisable to pick a name from a record that is the same as you are looking for and then try to work downward toward yourself from there. Careful and accurate research usually requires one of the following records to start your research in Poland to make a connection further back in time:
1. A death certificate that lists the name of the deceased, the date of death and the names and place of birth of parents. (Be cautious of the data on a death certificate- the data about parents is often incorrect)
2. A marriage certificate that lists the place and date of the event, the bride and groom names, ages and place of residence, and also names of parents of bride and groom.
3. A birth certificate that lists a person's name, date and place of birth and parents names.
4. A ship's record that lists the name and age of the traveller and his or her place of residence prior to emigration.
5. A family bible or other entries that list any of the above data
One final caution: Do not assume that, because someone has the same name you are looking for, he or she is a relative. You can only be assured that a person in a record is really your relative when the person has the correct name, the correct year for the event, and the same parents. For instance, you cannot jump from your birth certificate to the birth certificate of one of your parents without knowing the names of your grandparents. That data, unless you know it already, is usually only available from one of the records listed above, usually a marriage certificate.
Translating Polish Indices
As soon as we get copyright release, we will be able to include on this web site some of the indices of Polish Lutheran Parishes. Those indices contain records of births, marriages and deaths, and many SGGEE members are already collecting the data that we hope someday to be able to post on our web site.
As noted above, Polish records are usually in Polish or Russian, and they are almost always handwritten. That does not mean that you need to be able to be fluent in those languages in order to translate the text. Since the indices contain only the names and record number of the individuals recorded in the actual birth, marriage or death record, you only need to be able to read the letters in Polish (and German) handwriting before about 1868 (until we can post some Polish handwriting samples, go to the nearest Family History Center to get a free guide), and the letters in Russian (Cyrillic) after about 1868 (until we can post some Russian Handwriting samples, go to the nearest Family History Center to get a free guide). As with any language, when the penmanship is clear it is very easy, and when it is not, it is difficult. As an incentive to translate the Russian, you will find that it is usually clearer handwriting than the Polish handwriting.
What do I do when I find a name in an index?
Someday, when enough SGGEE volunteers have finished our indexing task, you will find index information for all of the Polish parishes that have been filmed on our web site. Those indices will tell you which Family History film to go to and find the actual record for the individuals listed in the index.
For now, however, you can send a note or email to SGGEE and ask if we have data on a certain person in a certain parish, and we may be able to direct you to the correct film number by return mail or email. That film number is the number that you need to use to order a film from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although that library is in Salt Lake City, and you can view that film there for free, you can also order the film to and review it at the Branch Family History Library nearest your place of residence (at least in the U.S. and Canada). The Branch Family History Library nearest you can be found by looking in your telephone book (or by using the "Yellow Pages" in your web browser) for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the listings for that church will usually be one for Family History Library. If no such listing exists in your city, call one of the other numbers listed for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they should be able to tell you where the nearest Branch Family History Library is located. Be aware that more than half of the people that use both the Salt Lake Family History Library and also the Branch Family History Libraries are not members of that church. The cost for ordering each reel of film may vary slightly by how far the Branch Family History Library is from Salt Lake City, but it is only a few dollars for several weeks of use.
What do I do when the film arrives for me to review?
You will need to go to the Branch Family History Library to look at the film. You will not be able to take the film home, but you can review it at your leisure on one of their microfilm readers. Most Branch Family History Libraries also have at least one reader that can be used to make photocopies of individual records.
In addition to the samples of handwriting noted above, to translate the actual birth, marriage or death record, you will need to know some Polish or Russian words. You can find these word lists here: Polish word list (SOON) and Russian word list (SOON). The translation is also simplified by the fact that all of the records you wll find after about 1808 are recorded in the Napoleonic format that was instituted by Napoleon and continued even after his defeat. That code prescribes the order of the data recorded and almost all of the words used in the record. See sample Polish translation for example.
As you translate the record, pay attention to not only the names of the people for which the record was recorded, but also the names of parents and witnesses. Witnesses are often relatives and are a good way to determine that the record is really your relative.