7    Jun 20110 comments

Researching your Polish Family History

According to the U.S. 2000 Census, roughly 9 million people claim Polish descent -- with the largest Polish populations in New York (986,141), Illinois (932,996), Michigan (854,844), Pennsylvania (824,146), and New Jersey (576,473) (http://factfinder.census.gov).

The Polish American immigrant experience is a compelling one -- from around 1608, when Polish immigrants first appear in the Jamestown, Virgina archives to later waves of immigrations leading up until the Cold War and beyond.

While some claim Poles arrived on Viking ships exploring the New World before 1600, to date there hasn't been any evidence to support such claims. Records indicate the first appearance of Poles in America as early as 1608, when they were recruited to the colonies to establish artisan industries. See Wikipedia, Polish American, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_American (describing the history of Polish Americans) (as of May 28, 2011).

Since the first arrival of Polish settlers around 1608, there have been several migrations to the U.S. from Poland. When Poland was partitioned from 1800-1860, came a wave of political dissidents and those displaced from their national homeland. Between 1860 and World War I the second wave came seeking better economic opportunities. Many of this wave were considered the agrarian class or za chlebem (for bread) emigrants. From World War I through the end of the Cold War (the third wave) political dissidents and those seeking economic opportunity arrived. See Polish Americans, http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Pa-Sp/Polish-Americans.html (describing the history of Poland and Polish American migrations) (as of June 6, 2011).

2000 Census showing the U.S. distribution of Polish descendants.


If you have spent time researching your Polish family history, you may have had some difficulty uncovering the origin and pronunciation of your family's surname. Polish surnames developed in a number of ways. It's common for surnames to derive from the town or village the family lived, the father's (or, in some cases, the mother's) first name, the father's occupation, or descriptive surnames, such as character traits.

As Poles emigrated to countries with different languages, it has been common for Polish names to be misspelled or changed, sometimes indirectly by transliteration into another alphabet. For example, English spellings often change w to v and sz to sh. Below is a list of common categories for Polish name origins as well as a simple guide for pronunciation. See Wikipedia, Polish Name, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name#cite_note-3 (describing Polish naming conventions) (as of June 2, 2011).

Polish surnames are based on grammatical features, and may be classified as follows:

- Nominal - derived from a noun
- Adjectival - derived from an adjective. An adjective plus one of the following suffixes, -ski, -cki, and -dzki (feminine forms -ska, -cka, and dzka) are typical of Polish surnames or Polish nobility.
- Cognominal - derived form a person's nickname, based on a person's occupation, physical or character trait.

Examples include:

• Kowal, Kowalski, Kowalczyk, Kowalewski—from kowal (i.e. "blacksmith"); or from Kowale or Kowalewo ("Smithville") in case of Kowalski and Kowalewski.
• Młynarz, Młynarski, Młynarczyk—from młynarz (i.e. "miller"); or from Młynary ("Millersville") in case of Młynarski.
• Nowak, Nowakowski, Nowicki—from nowy ("the new one"); or from Nowakowo or Nowice ("Newmantown") in case of Nowakowski and Nowicki.
• Lis, Lisiewicz, Lisowski—from lis ("fox"); or from Lisowo ("Foxville") in case of Lisowski.
• Kołodziej, Kołodziejska, Kołodziejski — from kołodziej (wheelwright) or koło (Wheel); or from Kołowice ("Wheeltown").
• Kuchar

- Toponymic - derived from a person's village or town name, these names almost always use the adjectival form.


• Andrychowski -lord of Andrychów
• Brodowski—lord of Brodowo
• Ćmielowski - lord of Ćmielów
• Tarnowski—lord of Tarnów
• Ujazdowski - lord of Ujazd
• Wrzesiński - lord of Września
• Zaleski—lord of Zalesie
• Krakowski—dweller of Kraków (Cracow)
• Warszawski—dweller of Warszawa (Warsaw)
• Mazur, Mazurski -from Masuria and Mazovia

- Patronymic - derived from the first name, usually of the father, but in some rare cases the mother.

• Jan, Jachowicz, Janicki, Jankowski, Janowski—derived from Jan (John or Ian), Jankowo or Janowo (Johnstown).
• Adamczewski, Adamczyk, Adamowski, Adamski—derived from Adam; or from Adamczewo / Adamowo (Adamsville).
• Łukasiński, Łukaszewicz—derived from Łukasz (Luke); or from Łukasin (Luketown).

And while the above categories are most common, there are still other possible surname derivations which include the past tense form of verbs. Examples include: Domagała, Przybyła, Napierała, Dopierała, Szukała or Podsiadło, Wcisło, Wlazło, Przybyło. See Wikipedia, Polish Name, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name#cite_note-3 (describing Polish naming conventions) (as of June 2, 2011).

Here we have gathered a list of resources, which include a few genealogy blogs, societies and more to help you in your Polish family research. (This list is by no means complete, so please feel free to add your own suggestions to the comments section below.) Also, be sure to read Schelly's post on Polish family history and resources, Polish ancestors? Some essential resources.

A HANDFUL OF GENEALOGY BLOGS (in no particular order)


Polish Genealogical Society of America

Polish Genealogical Society of California

Polish Genealogical Society of Greater Cleveland

Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast

Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts

Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan

Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota

Polish Genealogical Society of New York State

Polish Genealogical Society of New Zealand

Polish Genealogical Society of Texas

Toledo Polish Genealogy Society


Bydgoskie Towarzystwo Heraldyczno-Genealogiczne
site in Polish and English

Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne
Pomeranian Genealogical Society
includes many online transcribed records; site available in Polish, English, German, and Russian

Suwalskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne
site in Polish and English


Your ancestor or relative may have belonged to an association, lodge, or fraternal society whose membership is based on common interests, religion, or ethnicity. These societies were involved in political, social, and financial activities, including life and burial insurance.

Several sources, such as local histories, biographies, obituaries, tombstones, family records, and artifacts, may give you clues that an ancestor belonged to a fraternal society. Examples of these societies include:

Alliance of Poles of America (1895)

Association of Sons of Poland

Polish National Alliance of the United States of North America

• Have a Polish family research tip or resource to share? Please comment.


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