One of the challenges of Polish family history research is shifting borders. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was repeatedly divided and taken over by the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian Empires in 1772, 1793, and 1795. For an easy to understand overview, see Those Infamous Border Changes: A Crash Course in Polish History by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz in her blog From Shepherds and Shoemakers.
Although the latitude and longitude do not change, the answer to “where” our ancestors were born can depend on when you ask. As a general rule, birth places are identified as they were at the time of the birth. Therefore, our Polish immigrant ancestors often reported being born in Russia, Prussia, or Austria (Galicia).
Second Polish Republic
After the Great War (World War I), the country of Poland was recreated and became the Second Republic of Poland.
While the places themselves did not change, the governmental and administrative boundaries changed. So someone who had been born in the Prussian, Russian or Austrian partition in the 1800s could tell an American census worker in 1920 that they had been born in Poland. When asked for more detail, they might name the former administrative division or the current one; either would be correct.
My mother’s parents and most of their relations had been born near Sandomierz and Opatów in the Russian Radom province in the 1800s. After World War I, these areas became part of the Kielce Voivodeship. In Polish, it was the województwo kieleckie. This Kielce Voivodeship covered the northern counties of the historic province of Małopolska (Lesser Poland), including the cities of Radom, Częstochowa, and Sosnowiec.
When my grandfather, his sister, his mother, and their families returned to Poland in 1920 and 1921, they lived in Sosnowiec and Dąbrowa (Górnicza) in the industrialized area of Będzin and Katowice called the Dąbrowa Basin (Zagłębie Dąbrowskie). While Sosnowiec is almost 120 miles away from Sandomierz, it is only 20 miles from the Oświęcim district where Michał Mastykarz lived with his family.
My uncle Tadeusz Skrok and his cousins Wacław and Stefania Kiec were born in Sosnowiec in the Kielce Province in the 1920s. After World War II, Sosnowiec was part of Katowice Voivodeship, and since 1999, the city of Sosnowiec has been in the Silesian Voivodeship of Poland. So, depending on the timeframe, the place of their birth could be called Sosnowiec in Małopolska (Lesser Poland), Kieleckie (Kielce), Katowice, or Śląsk (Silesia).
Historic Regions of Poland
I live in the state of Rhode Island in the northeastern United States. Rhode Island was one of the original New England colonies, and this region today is called New England.
The historical regions of Poland have similar designations. These names were often used to identify provinces, but the provincial borders may not exactly match the historically recognized regions.
So if you ever have trouble identifying the exact places where in Poland your ancestors were from because of the different names listed in different records, know that you are not alone!
- Szczepankiewicz, Julie Roberts, “Those Infamous Border Changes: A Crash Course in Polish History,” From Shepherds and Shoemakers, https://fromshepherdsandshoemakers.com/2017/01/15/those-infamous-border-changes-a-crash-course-in-polish-history (accessed April 13, 2020).
- Wikipedia contributors, “Partitions of Poland,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Partitions_of_Poland&oldid=949577207 (accessed April 13, 2020).
- By Halibutt – Own work Corresponding maps available online: http://wlaczpolske.pl/pliczki/2030 Map. Archived from the original on 18 July 2016., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40646
- By User:Poeticbent: two maps overlaid to delineate recovered territories of the Commonwealth following World War I. Rzeczpospolita_Rozbiory_3.png: Halibutt Derivative work: Sneecs (talk) File:Poland administrative division 1922 literki.png – File:Partitions of Poland.png File:Rzeczpospolita_Rozbiory_3.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56666858
- By XrysD – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61258124
- By Winnetou14 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38172209