Polish church records – researching our Polish ancestors

When we found out the names of the villages in Poland where our ancestors had lived (in the region called “Little Poland” (Malopolska) we began searching the Latter Day Saints catalog for vital records.  We were thrilled when we found out that the Latter Day Saints had microfilmed all of the Roman Catholic Church parish records for our ancestral villages from the 1600s through the 1940s and that we could order these microfilms for viewing at a nearby Family History Center. The records from the 1600s for these parishes however are in journal form, rather than log form, and are written in Polish script, making them too difficult to read. However the records from the 1700s forward are written in Latin in log form and I was able to decipher them fairly easily (although my eyesight has never been the same).

Baptism of Sophia Szczerba
Baptism record for Sophia Szczerba

Here is a link to Family Search Catalog for our ancestral villages microfilm Roman Catholic parish registers of baptisms, marriages and deaths for Bobowa (Ciężkowice), Galizien, Austria; now Bobowa (Gorlice), Rzeszów, Poland. Text in Latin and Polish. Mikrofilm zrobiony z rękopisów w Archiwum Państwowym w Warszawie i w Tarnowie, także w Archiwum Diecezjalne w Tarnowie. Księgi metrykalne, 1626-1947. You can search the Family History Center catalog for microfilm numbers for other towns and cities in Poland. You can order the microfilm on line but it has to be sent to a Family History Center or an affiliated Library to view them.  The Latter Day Saints are also working on an indexing project, digitalizing their microfilms. The records for Bobowa are indexed but the records for Plawna are not yet indexed online. This particular microfilm, that includes the baptism of Sophia Szcerba is available online in digital form on the Family Center website.

The Roman Catholic Church records from Poland provide a lot of useful information beyond parents names and dates of events. Baptism records provide godparents names and often the grandparents names too. If the midwife performed the baptism (quite common in remote villages) the name of the midwife is given. Baptism records are often annotated with future events such as date of marriage and/or death. The man’s occupation is given (written in Latin but easily transcribable using a Latin – English dictionary). If the person is of the nobility the record will indicate that too. Not always, but some times, the microfilmed records include letters from the U.S.A. where a priest has written to the village priest to confirm the individuals had been baptized prior to performing marriages. Death records give the cause of death and the name of the spouse or parent, whether the person was a widow(er). The “house number” is recorded on every record. These are not street numbers. Each house in the village is given a number by the priest as it is built or as the family joins the church. Marriage records give the house number of both spouses.  One line of our ancestors lived in the same house in Plawna from at least from the 1700s through the 1940s (dates included in the microfilmed records), being passed down from father to first born son.

We started searching the Polish church records purely for genealogical information. Then we realized we could pair up this information with names and bits of information on photos and prayer cards  and determine what relationships we had to these people our mother and grandmother knew. I had met some of my grandmother’s relatives as a small child but I really didn’t know much about them.   As my sister wrote in a recent blog, we went to see our mother’s “step-cousins” in western Pennsylvania some time ago.  It wasn’t until a few years afterward  that we came to realize, through the Polish church records, that Stanley and John Wasik were not Zofia’s step-brothers but were in fact her half-brothers (which explained the family resemblance).  Sophia’s father, Peter Szczerba, died fairly young (41) and Paulina remarried Walter Wasik.  Paulina and Walter had five children together  and Paulina had four children from her first marriage. Only two children from each marriage lived beyond infancy. The oldest, Paul Szczerba had come to Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines before the others, returning to Poland once he had made enough money to help out his family. After helping his sister emigrate (and she in turn helping her other brothers emigrate) Paul had to remain in Austrian occupied Poland because of tightened travel restrictions.

We have been very lucky that the Roman Catholic Church allowed the Latter Day Saints to microfilm the records for the villages and cities in Poland. And that these records are available to anyone.  Given the upheaval of emigration and relocation due to wars and foreign occupation it is quite likely that these records could have been lost otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Polish church records – researching our Polish ancestors

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