Discovering our Ancestors' Travels and Travails

I was surprised to learn my great-grandfather renounced his allegiance to the Emperor of Germany when he became a citizen of the United States in 1887. I knew he was Polish! This is where the history part of family history becomes important.

The country of Poland did not officially exist when many of our ancestors immigrated to the United States. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had been partitioned by the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Habsburg Austria in 1772, 1793, and 1795. Ethnically Polish immigrants were listed with German, Russian, or Austrian nationalities in the records, and their places of origin were given with Polish, German, or Russian names. The Latin versions of the place names were listed in Roman Catholic church records. These are research challenges.

Here is a Prussian map from the late 1800s, with the areas that with a few boundary changes, became officially part of Poland after World War I and World War II:

  • 2 East Prussia
  • 13 West Prussia
  • 7 Pomerania
  • 8 Posen
  • 12 Silesia

While my father’s ancestors came from West Prussia, allied families identified as German came from East Prussia, Silesia, and Posen.

Posen was the German name of the provincial city as well as the Prussian province. The province of Posen was divided into two government regions (Regierungsbezirke), named Posen (Poznań) and Bromberg (Bydgoszcz). These regions were again subdivided into districts called Kreise, similar to counties.

Kreise of the Prussian Province of Posen in the 19th Century

Of course, these districts had both German and Polish names. The following is a list, with links, from Wikipedia.

Kreis (“County”)Polish spellingOrigin
City of PosenPoznań 
NeutomischelNowy TomyślBuk
Posen OstPoznań, Wsch.Posen
Posen WestPoznań, Zach.Posen
SchwerinSkwierzynaBirnbaum – 1877
City of BrombergBydgoszcz 

A search for places of the old German Posen province at lists 12,936 entries, including duplicate and alternative spellings for villages, cities, and towns.

This region was historically known as Wielkopolska, or Greater Poland (Großpolen in German). The major city is Poznań. There is considerable overlap with the present-day Greater Poland Voivodeship, województwo wielkopolskie in Polish.

Historical boundaries of former Poznań and Kalisz provinces of Wielkopolska, or Greater Poland, in the boundaries of current Poland

In the twenty first century, Poznań is both a city and a powiat (county) in the Greater Poland Voivodeship. Powiat Poznań  contains the towns Swarzędz, Luboń, Mosina, Murowana Goślina, PuszczykowoKostrzyn, Pobiedziska, Kórnik, Buk, and Stęszew. Each of the towns is associated with about a dozen villages, some which are identified on the map below.

Poznań powiat (county) in present day Poland

Immigrants who said that they came from Posen may have been referring to the city, the nearby villages or towns, or the German province. Although the Poznan Project has been very helpful in indexing marriage records from the German province of Posen/Poznań from 1800 to 1899, it is not complete. Volunteers at Projekt BaSIA are currently indexing many records from this area. Other German and Polish place names can be found on and Meyer’s Gazetteer, as well as on old and contemporary maps. While their results are available at no charge, please consider volunteering or donating to these efforts if they can help you in your research.


File:Prussiamap.gif. (2014, November 25). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 17:15, September 27, 2018 from

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 20). Districts of Prussia. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:17, September 27, 2018, from

File:Prowincja Poznańska de.svg. (2018, January 9). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 17:18, September 27, 2018 from

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 26). Poznań. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:19, September 27, 2018, from

File:Poznańskie kaliskie.png. (2018, June 8). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 17:20, September 27, 2018 from

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 21). Poznań County. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:23, September 27, 2018, from

By Poznaniak [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Comments on: "Researching Polish/German/Prussian Ancestors from Posen" (14)

  1. Wow! This is exactly what I needed! (And more!) SO helpful — thanks!


  2. […] manifest said the family had come from Schroda, which was a kreis (district) of the Prussian province of Posen in the 19th […]


  3. […] each immigrated to Buffalo, New York, from Kościelna Jania, which was called Kirchenjahn, in the Prussian province of Marienwerder, West Prussia. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello my great great grandfather was born Jan. 21 1869 in Posen Germany and migrated to the USA in April of 1890 and in 1900 his occupation was BLACKSMITH CARRIAGE WORKER in Hartford CT. He was a member of the Lutheran Church and had a Christian burial in 1913 at age 44 he also anglocized his first name from Franz to Frank and he had a cousin immigrate here in 1910 named Joseph Swadeck so I think Frank’s mothers maiden name may have been Swadeck or Joseph’s mother’s maiden name was Ziebarth. Can anyone please help me find birth or church records for hm? Or igration or ship log records? Any and all info will be deeply appreciated. 🙂 Sincerely BRIAN MINO


    • The best thing to do is to gather as much of the information you can on your ancestors and their relatives who immigrated. Then you have a good basis for looking back in the old country. When Joseph Swadek declared his intention to become a United States citizen in 1917, he said he was born in 1877 in Rokietnica, his wife was Stella, and he arrived in New York Feb 1905 on the ship Patricia. The ship manifest for Josef Swiadek said he was going to his brother-in-law Kazimierz Tylkiewicz in Schenectady, NY. When Kazimierz Tylkiewicz died in 1932 on Staten Island, probate awarded his $1,000 estate to his sister Stella Swiadek. Keep following the clues! Good luck!


  5. […] Jankowski and Petronella Musiał, was born in Kaźmierz, Posen. Once part of the German occupied Prussian area of Posen, today Kaźmierz is a village in Szamotuły County, Wielkopolska (Greater Poland). He immigrated […]


  6. […] Jankowski family came from the Posen province in Prussia, the German occupied part of Poland in the nineteenth century. Posen was in the historic region […]


  7. […] My mother’s Skrok, Kasprzyk, Kapuściński, and Witoń ancestors came from the area near Sandomierz in what is now Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship (Holy Cross Province). This was part of the region that was historically known as Małopolska, or Lesser Poland. (This is in contrast to the region called Wielkopolska, or Greater Poland.) […]


  8. […] prior to World War I, Szczepankowo, a village in the Dąbrowa area of Mogilno, had been part of Posen, Prussia. It became part of Poland when the Second Republic of Poland was formed after the war. Szczepankowo […]


  9. Thank you SO MUCH for this information! I have been hitting my head against the wall with my brick wall ancestor, my 2nd great-grandfather, Elias “Eli” Nutick for decades! Finally, quite recently, I found his marriage record where he marries my 2nd great-grandmother Margaret Weis(s) in 1870 in Hamilton County, Ohio (her family has been a dream to research going back quite easily to Klingenmünster, Germany where she was born, whereas his has been a nightmare!) and in it his name is clearly listed as Elias Wetg! The story that was told to me by an older family member in the 1980’s was that when his children went to grade school the non-German speaking teacher in Ohio told them their name was Nutick from then on, because that is what she heard when they said their last name! Prior to the 1900 Census the name is listed as Ottic/Otte/Udig/Utic/Udie, and various other ways! I have no idea how Wetg (Weitg) sounded like Ottic/Otte/Udig/Utic/Udie, the census takers or why the teacher heard it as Nutick. But once I understood his name was originally Wetg (Weigt), I found DNA matches to a Weigt family from Rawitsch, which was at the time part of Prussia but is now in Poland.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Kathleen Atwood said:

    My great grandfather, Stephan Baranowski was born in 1855 in Poznan ( or Posen , oe Germany, or Prussia, or Russia, acc. To US censuses and other US records). He came unmarried in 1881 through Hamburg to New York. His last place of residence was listed as Beestland, Pommern. Acc. To a military casualty list (1840s?) his father Andreas was wounded in the hand and his home was listened as Kotlin. He may have died before 1870. Stephan’s widowed mother Marianna (b.1827) came to the US in 1891, her last place of residence was noted as Kotlin. She apparently had sister name Agnieszka Michalska. On the back of the photo was a studio imprint of Ostrowo. A potential Baranowski relative contacted me and we have very similar names and dates in our families. Her family was from Bydgoszcz, where nearby there are towns Ostrowo and Kotlin. Another family member claims he heard it was Lubuskie or Lubelski and entered it in their family tree as such.. Based on the confused information I’ve offered, can or would anyone help me narrow down the search area to look in, someone more familiar with Poland’s geography?


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