Iwona's Sources - Gród Registers
Genealogical research is based in large part on the typical records of church registers. The oldest come from the first half of the 15th century.
Roman Catholic parishes were obligated to keep books of baptisms and marriages beginning in the year 1563, that is, from the time of the Council of Trent—although older ones do exist, such as, for instance, 1548 marriage registers in the parish of St. Mary’s in Kraków. While few parishes can currently show records that old, there are other registers that make it possible to continue research back before when parishes started keeping registers. They are the Księgi Grodzkie and Księgi Ziemskie. Here I will focus mainly on the Księgi Grodzkie.
It is very difficult to translate these terms well in English. Księgi, of course, just means "books"; that’s not so hard. But grodzkie books were the books kept by record holders affiliated with a gród (plural grody), and ziemskie books were their counterparts in a ziemia—and those terms do not correspond well to anything familiar to English-speakers. We must take a moment to explain what they were.
A gród was a term for an old-style reinforced military encampment or stronghold, somewhat like a "fort" in the American West. They started as bases for soldiers who would guard and protect an area from invaders and bandits. As time passed, civilians began to set up homes and businesses near the grody, because it was safer to live near them. This caused towns to develop in the area. As the population grew, civil institutions were set up, based in the grody.
The ones that interest us are the courts of law. While comparisons with American history obviously cannot be taken too far, this whole thing happened much the way towns developed in places such as Fort Worth, Texas, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. And just as courts of law began to be established in those places, so too with the grody. The courts did not deal only with people living in the immediate vicinity of the grody, however, but in the whole surrounding area.
The ziemie were regional administrative districts. At one time administration in Poland was usually based either in connection with a ziemia or a gród. But as time passed and more of the land was settled, population patterns shifted, and the ziemie and grody no longer fit the needs of the populace. The województwa (provinces) and powiaty (counties) were better suited for that purpose, and gradually assumed the functions once served by the grody and ziemie.
The oldest gród registers come from the 14th century. They were kept by clerks in the law offices that served the gród courts. Such an office was open every day, recording entries that dealt with a variety of matters, especially those connected with property. Among them were: inventories of estates and landed properties, grants, bequests of pensions and wills, bills of sale and purchase, payment of debts, securities for debts, obligations and the discharge of obligations, powers of attorney, bilateral agreements, serfs’ obligations, grants of freedom from serfdom, charters of towns and guilds, data on taxes, and civil charges. The wills are an especially valuable source of information on our oldest ancestors.
Entries in the gród registers dealt with all levels of society: the nobility, the middle class, the peasants, the clergy, and Jews. These books are of considerable size, quite heavy, and often are bound in leather and ornamented with embossed titles, along with the coats of the arms of the starostas. The gród registers were written in Latin, but beginning in the 16th century the Polish language appears sporadically. The Polish language returned to the gród records only during the time of Stanisław August Poniatowski.
Among the gród registers these different kinds should be distinguished:
Księgi radzieckie — from the word rada, "council", they were kept by the clerk of the town council (headed by the mayor), which carried out judicial and administrative functions. The entries dealt with matters not under dispute, primarily affecting property, wills, criminal cases, lists of townsmen, inspection of houses, and the records of councils.
Księgi ławnicze — from the word ława, "bench", a group of people in the municipal administration (headed by the wójt). [Translator’s note: in modern Polish ława often deals with jurors, but in an older context can refer to officials much like aldermen in American cities]. The entries dealt with matters under dispute, inscriptions of measures of justice.
The closing of gród registers came with the beginning of the partition period (except for the Austrian partition, where entries continued to be made for some years).
Only a few of these gród registers have been compiled and published in modern times. Most of them are fat volumes without lists of surnames, and thus demand very tedious and lengthy investigation.
I wish I could have made photocopies of these records, so that I could show you samples. But only scholars doing research are allowed to make copies of records this old; one must get special permission even to look at them. This is understandable in view of the records’ age and condition. So we shall have to make do without illustrations.
Surnames Appearing in 1599 Sandomierz Gród Registers
While studying the Sandomierz gród registers, I noted specific surnames that appeared repeatedly, and lists of them appear below. Please note, I have retained the spelling as given, even though in some cases it is archaic and not correct by modern standards.
Surnames Appearing in Sandomierz Gród Registers, 1613–1624
Iwona Dakiniewicz, Łódź, Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
[with translation assistance from William F. Hoffman]
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Last Updated on January 15, 2012