“Remote” research in Polish State Archives – practical hints

If you are tracing your family roots, and you are of Polish descent, there will come a time when you will have to contact a Polish Archive (Archiwum Panstwowe). It is really a very simple process, though you will need to have patience.

Most major cities and towns have a Civil Registration Office, and you will mail your request directly to this office. You write to Urzad Stanu Cywilnego, the town name, and Poland. What is important, these Offices keep records only up to 100 hundred years back, e.g. in 2008 there will be records up to 1908. If you want to look for older records you have to turn into State Archives.

These offices will be able to search for Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate and Death Certificates. You should expect to wait for approximately one month for a reply. Don’t be surprised when you receive a letter from the archive, and it is written in Polish.  All of their communications with you will be in Polish. A Polish / English, English / Polish dictionary is very helpful, but it won’t always make sense when you do a word for word translation. Finding someone who can translate Polish for you will make your understanding simpler. You can also find many translators on-line, who for a fee, will tell you exactly what your letter says.

Included in your letter to the archive, should be the full names of any persons you are asking a search for, and any dates you may have (birth, death, marriage). You should also include any variations of spelling that you know of, for the last names. It is important to include your relationship to the person whom you have asked to have researched. You must sign your letter to the archive , because the letter with your signature is considered an official document, allowing the archive to view personal / private information. It is also a good idea to retain a copy of your letter to the archive, so you will remember exactly when you mailed it, and what you have asked for. After you mail your letter, all you can do is wait.

The initial reply from the archive will be a standard letter, stating that they can begin a search for you, as soon as you deposit a stated amount of money (Polish zloty) into a bank account. They will give the account number. I have found that they do not accept personal checks or certified checks, and that they were not willing to give any indication as to how to make your deposit. I visited Poland and developed a friendship with a man there who has been a great help in both of these areas, translating and paying the search fee after I send it to him. The second part of the initial reply will state the hourly rate (again zloty) and the cost for photo copies.

Polish State Archives - initial response (click to enlarge)

Polish State Archives – initial response (click to enlarge)

The letter will include the address of the archive, its phone # and e mail address, and a line with these phrases:
Wasze pismo z dn. – Znak – Nasz znak – Data. These phrases translate to: Your letter dated – Reference # – Our reference # – Date.

Most of the time only the date and the “Our reference # ” will be filled in. It is very important to keep the reference number, and use it with any further communication with the archive, as it can make the process run more smoothly.

After you have deposited the search fee into the bank account, the archive should begin its search. You will not hear from them until they have either found your requested information, or they have determined that they do not have the information. There is no set time table for their reply. You can only wait.

Should the archive find documents that you have requested, they will again expect payment to be deposited into the bank account before they will mail you the copies of the document. In the envelope with your copies will be a cover letter, in Polish, stating exactly what the documents are.



Polish State Archives – second letter (click to enlarge)

You must remember that in Poland’s history, the country has many times been under foreign rule, that being Prussia, Russia and Austria, depending on where your relatives lived, so the documents that you receive will most likely be written in German, Russian or Latin. The cover letter will only tell you what the document is, not exactly what is written on the document. So it is worth while to find someone who can translate German, Russian or Latin for you, in order to know the full account of what is written on the document.

Another organization to contact to perform a family search is the National Archive in Warsaw. Its address is:
Naczelnik Wydziahu Wspolpracy z Zagranica
Archiwow Panstwowych
ul. Dluga 6
Skrytka Pocztowa 1005
00-950 Warszawa, Poland
If they can not perform a search for you for what ever reason, they will direct you to the correct archive to write to.

I have found that the time and effort are well worth it when that letter arrives, and I am holding copies of my relatives’ lives in my hands. Just look below.


State Archives – Birth Record 1877


State Archives – Marriage Certificate 1903


Author: James Cybulski

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