How to find the Family Nest: the Town or Village where your Family comes from

I receive lots of email from people who are trying to find the location of the town or village in Poland where their ancestors came from. Sometimes people know the name of the settlement but it is misspelled, sometimes the name is correct but they do not know how to find the right search engine or website on the internet.

If you are not sure whether the spelling of the settlement is correct please post the message in our Polish Culture Forum so that we can help. It would also be very useful if you know the area of Poland where your ancestors came from, since some of the websites are easier to maneuver if you know the province but it is not necessary.

Let me first explain the administrative division of Poland. From the end of XVIII century until 1918, Poland ceased to exist as an independent country, therefore Poles who were coming to America were registered as citizens of Russia, Prussia, or Austria. Generally the west and southwestern part of Poland belonged to Prussia, south and southeastern to Austria and the rest (central and east) to Russia. The Polish capital, Warsaw, was controlled by Russia, Krakow was under Austrian rule, and Silesia and Poznan (Posen) belonged to Prussia.

After WW I, Poland was finally recognized as an independent country, but the Polish boundaries changed again after WW II. Poland's borders were shifted towards the West as we lost lots of territory in the East to the Soviet Union, but gained some lands that had belonged to Germany. The administrative divisions also changed, even more often. Just after WW II, Poland was divided into 17 provinces (Woivodeship), between 1975 and 1998 there were 49, and since January 1999 there are 16 provinces. Each province (Polish "wojewodztwo") consist of several counties (Polish "powiat") and powiats are divided into even smaller units called "gmina" in Polish.

It is sometimes useful to know the province where the town or village are located because some of the websites find the settlements basing on this division.

The best websites for finding villages in Poland:
  • - called also Shetlseeker - a town search from JewishGen. It helps in finding the towns in almost all countries of Eastern and Central Europe and also in Armenia. Because this site uses a "Soundex" system, you can enter the spelling of the town as you know it, and the search engine will return all possibities, even if they are not spelled exactly as you have entered the name. You can limit your search to one country, or search all 31 countries in this database. You can then look at a map for each of the possibilities.

  • Town Locator from PolandGenWeb - extremely useful source of information - many important links. Among them a link to Former German Town Names and their Present Polish Names.

  • this is a great site with an excellent interactive map of Poland. Unfortunately, it is only in Polish, but I have prepared an explanation on how to read it. Read the instructions here

  • - This site by Tina Ellis has an index of provinces as they existed between 1975 and 1998, with information on which towns and villages were in each province. You can find a city even if you do not know the province by using the search box. This site will help you to figure out where the church records for your family might be kept.

Check all genealogy articles

If you are looking for your Polish roots you should learn some Polish. I recommend a book written by Alexander M. Schenker, entitled:
Beginning Polish

Below is a link to a book about history of Polish immigration in America: Polish Immigrants, 1890-1920 (Blue Earth Books: Coming to America) by Rosemary Wallner, John Radzilowski

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, January 2001 (article #25), revised in November 2003
updated by Nancy Maciolek Blake September 2005

Content copyright by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn. All rights reserved.

Here are links to the other articles in this series:

Find Your Ancestors: Search by Surname and Province

Origin of Surnames in Poland

Origin of Jewish Surnames in Poland

How to use to find a location in Poland

How to find your Ancestors, Final Remarks

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