Iwona's Sources - State Administrative Files
State Administrative Files in Polish Archives - Sources for Advanced Research
Sometimes I receive requests to search for information beyond that contained in metrical records. These requests deal mainly with military service, education, land ownership, legal affairs, and censuses. I recently looked over the accumulations of various records, and I would like to share my observations.
State administrative records-contrary to popular opinion-can be useful in genealogical research. Studying them is very time-consuming, however, and does not always produce the desired results.
These records are generally divided by territorial units, beginning with the smallest, i. e., the gmina [district, township], then the powiat [county], and finally the gubernia [term for "province" of the Russian Empire]. The contents of these records can vary greatly, both in terms of quantity and time frame. The oldest may date from the 16th century, and the sheer quantity of documents preserved can make your head spin. But that is true mainly for the largest and oldest urban environments. Polish emigration came first and foremost from rural environments-but here, too, you can seek out genealogical curiosities. It must be said, however, that the preserved documents are often incomplete, sometimes even fragmentary (due to wars, fires, floods). And so the effectiveness of such research will depend also on the particular resources for a given locality.
In practice it turns out that every archive possesses at least a few inventories:
1. territorial, for a given district, town, county, and gmina.
2. thematic (population registers, military affairs, court cases, notary records).
But here, too, there are no rules-thematic records may be included in the territorial inventories. For example, a county inventory may consist of anywhere from a few to a few hundred sygnatury [call numbers]. Each sygnatura is a sequential quantity of units (from a few documents to a few hundred-with many gaps in the set). In such an inventory one can look for documents for a given locality. Records for towns or for gubernias may number in the thousands of units. Each entry in the inventory has its own title and a short description.
In offering details on the archival setup, I am only trying to give an approximate outline, and selections of records collected in Polish State Archives.
As a rule I begin my research with the smallest territorial administrative unit, that is, with the gmina. Here you can come upon records of individual villages. As an example of my research I'll use the locality of Zakrzew in Dmenin gmina (with 5,057 inhabitants as of 1890), Radomsk powiat (now Radomsko), Piotrków gubernia.
The inventory for the gmina of Dmenin for 1864 to 1944 is quite sizable and numbers nearly a thousand sygnaturas. Those from the period approximately 1864-1918 are often entitled in Russian (written with Polish letters)-which isn't really much of an improvement!
As a rule I start with the sygnaturas with titles that promise to contain personal documents. There are at least a few dozen of them, and that's just for the period 1890-1915, which was the object of my research in this particular instance.
For example, the signature entitled "Kontrola ruchu ludnosci" [literally "Control over the movement of the populace"] is a fat file with lots of documents. As a rule these are letters written by private individuals to local authorities or vice versa and deal with requests for excerpts from registration records, residency certificates, applications for personal identity papers, requests for entries in the Permanent Population Register, or for receiving passports. Some letters describe the whole family's situation, and even relationships with the neighbors. Here, too, are a great many instructions; for instance, to receive a passport in 1918 one had to present a citizenship certificate (currently there are no such documents!), an excerpt from the Permanent Population Registers, as well as a certificate of gmina affiliation(?).
Here too is a list of persons applying for passports, but for a period of three months! Unfortunately the population registers themselves are not here.
I reach for a list of workers from the year 1915. This set of records is complete and groups indexes with names of workers from all the localities of that gmina. Obviously I look up the names of the persons I'm searching for on the list. There's not a lot of data on individual persons, however; in addition to first and last name, the house number and village name are given. Some people are crossed out with the notation "on the basis of a decree of the obwód [district] commission."
The next file, entitled "Rejestr paszportów" [Passport register] contains a list of all those who came forward with a request for a passport during the years 1903-1904. All that's given is the address of the individual in question, the exact time the passport was received (hour, day, and month) as well as its term of validity.
I check "Doreczanie wezwan i innej korespondencji" [The serving of summonses and other correspondence]- primarily lists of mothers trying to get their sons exempted from military service, requests for financial assistance, and court and district commission summonses. (There is an interesting letter from the owner of the Zakrzew village and manorial farmstead, Stanislaw Dunin Wasowicz, to courts of higher instance).
I find a large number of surnames in the documents in the file entitled "Zebranie wiejskie" [Village meetings]. Here there are minutes from more than a dozen meetings in the gmina during the years 1896 and 1902, signed by all the participants. The signatures take up more space than the minutes! Each signature is a legible first and last name.
Next are records dealing with military service. Benefits for soldiers' families-unfortunately with no index-is just a sequential file of lists and letters. Each of them deals with a single case, and there is an annotation on the benefit granted. Out of curiosity I note that soldiers' families during the years 1917-1918 could get benefits in the following amounts: 24 koronas for a wife with 1 child, 36 for two children, 43 for 3 children, and 58 for a family with 4 children.
There are also forms for those applying for exemption from military service. In addition to basic personal data, they also contain information such as: how many people the family consists of; what their means of support is and where the individual members are employed; whether the soldier is the sole family's sole provider or only contributes to its upkeep to some degree; whether he is indispensable in the home, and why; whether there is a cripple in the home; and information on previous military service, certified by the civil and military police.
Another file, "Zaciag do wojska 1915-1917-raport z przebiegu akcji" [Military conscription 1915-1917; report on the progress of the operation] consists of very detailed reports of emissaries attempting to induce the local community to support conscription into the Polish military. They are interesting in that they contain lists of people in individual localities who were sympathetic to or opposed to this. With each name is given his social position (doctor, wójt, miller, innkeeper, farmer, etc.), the address of his residence, and sometimes quotations of comments made by the person in question.
I found isolated loose lists of surnames of county inhabitants in these records:
1. Volunteers reporting for military service (Szydlowiec, 22 March 1917; Chabieliece, 22 March 1917
2. Szczerców, 29 March 1917)
3. Military personnel assignments (promotions, leaves), 11 May 1917, Piotrków
4. A list of undecorated commissioned and non-commissioned officers
5. Recruits transferred to distant units (Ciechanów, Sosnowiec), 19 May 1917
6. Army section in Radoszyce-a complete list of soldiers with a description of their service record
7. Kreiskommando [county military headquarters] in Noworadomsk; a list of soldiers in service in that district-they came mainly from Galicia (Tarnów, Jaslo, Przemysl)
8. A list of soldiers drawn up by the commissariat in Opoczno, 1 March 1917, Opoczno
9. A list of names of legionnaires from Noworadomsk county, 1917
10. Service records with a list of soldiers serving, 1915-1916
I am convinced that I have not exhausted the store of records dealing with this gmina and county. That work will be spread out over the course of months. I only made note of successive signatures worth attention in the future: a list of non-Catholics, a list of foreigners, of those under arrest, those inspecting remains of the dead, teachers, graves of fallen soldiers, hunters, gun permits, livestock inventories, orphans, household animals for taxation purposes (with the name of the head of the household), craftsmen's guilds, fund-raising, elementary and middle schools, gmina and county financial associations (loans, credit), confraternities, unions, and many other documents.
Also quite impressive is the collection of court records for the gubernia of Piotrków, which is arranged in two fat inventories, alphabetical (by surname) and thematic (by subject matter).
The genealogical value of state administrative documents is beyond question. Though they are not as sure a source as as metrical records, however, and only with great determination and a bit of luck can you seek out the really interesting documents about your ancestors. The records of individual gminas and localities hold many secrets.
Iwona Dakiniewicz, Łódź, Poland email@example.com
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Last Updated on January 15, 2012