The article written by Piotr Zelny – genealogist, historian working in the Historical Museum in Sanok, tourist and genealogy guide in PolishOrigins.
Proofreading: Aleksander Zawilski.
When World War I had drawn to an end and Poland was regaining its sovereignty, the Polish authorities faced a very difficult task of reunifying the country. For over a century, the individual parts of the state remained within the borders of foreign countries. Several generations of people grew up in three different countries, three different political, administrative and economic systems. In addition, the First World War that swept through the country completely changed the picture of reality.
The last census in the Prussian and Austrian partitions took place in December 1910, in the Russian partition in February 1897. Although Austria-Hungary and Germany conducted censuses during the war in 1916 and 1917, and Poland in 1919, they took place only in some parts of the country. The authorities of the reborn Poland, who had to rule over the divided country, had just a rough idea about demography, social and economic conditions of its own state. Without this knowledge, it was impossible to effectively manage such a diverse country.
To remedy this, the government decided to carry out the First General Census in Poland in September 1921. Although it was not the first census in the country, it was the first one which covered all the inhabitants of Poland within its contemporary borders, hence why it was called the first general one. Each subsequent census was to be carried out every ten years. The next census took place in December 1931 (the next ones only after the end of World War II).
Both censuses from the interwar period were conducted by the Central Statistical Office established in 1918. The superior census authorities in the area were the state administration offices, i.e. voivodeship offices (provincial offices), municipal magistrates, county offices and commune offices. They carried out the census through the census commissioners (a census taker). The whole country was divided into census circuits and dozens of thousands of commissioners were called to directly conduct the census in the field.
As a part of the preparations for the censuses, the house numbering system was systematized. Especially during the first census, house numbers of most towns and villages in Poland had been changed. In many settlements of the former Russian partition in the east, the house numbering system was introduced for the first time. The commune and municipal authorities prepared registers of settlements and real estates (houses), which were provided to the census commissioners along with the plan of the circuits, so that they could find everyone.
The first census consisted of ten different questionnaires (a registration sheet). The most important registration sheet from a genealogical point of view is the basic form marked with the letter A. It consisted of three parts containing a description of the household, a list of farm animals and a list of all people present in the dwelling and those temporarily absent. Each person was listed by name and surname along with such information as gender, date of birth (age), place of birth, marital status, ethnicity (mother tongue, current citizenship, religion and nationality), literacy and level of education, physical disabilities such as deafness, blindness, lack of limbs; the main profession at present and at the outbreak of the war in 1914, as well as a secondary profession at present and in 1914. Questions about flats determined their location (ground floor, first floor, attic), the number of rooms in the apartment (in division into rooms and kitchens), while in terms of equipment, the only question was asked about a latrine. The subject of questions relating to the farm, garden and forestry farm concerned the activity of the owner or manager of the farm, and whether the work on the farm was their main or secondary profession, land area (owned or leased), agricultural machines equipment and the application of breeding seeds and fertilizers.
The form B was intended to provide the information about respective settlements. Sheets C1, C2, C3 contained registers of buildings, flats and real estates and lists of their owners. Questionnaire G was designed for orphans. The other forms were aggregated to the above ones.
The second census consisted of eight questionnaires. The form A of the second census had undergone some changes. The question of nationality was omitted and the census of farms was also abandoned, leaving only the question about the total area of land and farmland. The forms B and C described real estates (houses and other buildings). Questionnaire G was designed for registration of school children under the age of 13, born between 1918 – 1931. The remaining sheets were aggregated to the above ones.
After completing the census, the registration sheets from individual circuits were ordered and sent to the higher administrative units such as the county and municipal authority. Subsequently, the whole material from these units was collected in the respective offices of voivodeship (a province). In the end, the whole documentation was delivered to the headquarters of the Central Statistical Office in Warsaw. There, in the following years, the questionnaires were processed and their results published in a statistical form in a series of publications.
As intended, they provided rich information on the condition of the Polish state and the situation and number of its population. The results of the First and Second General Censuses helped to manage the country during the interwar period, while nowadays, they serve as an irreplaceable historical source.
Huge archival material in the form of registration sheets, containing names, addresses and many other invaluable information for genealogists as well as for historians, was stored in the Warsaw archives of the Central Statistical Office. However, after compiling the results into a broader picture of statistics, the entire, rich archival collection of individual questionnaires was destroyed in the years 1929 – 1939. Only statistics have remained, which indeed help in recreating the reality of that time, but do not provide such close insight into the living conditions of individual people as the original registration questionnaires.
Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1919, Nr 85, poz. 464
Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1921, Nr 43, poz. 262
Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1921, Nr 58, poz. 368
Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1923, Nr. 60, poz. 436
Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1931, Nr. 80, poz. 629
Dziennik Ustaw Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej 1931, Nr. 97, poz. 741
„Drugi powszechny spis ludności z dn. 9.XII.1931 r.: Formularze i instrukcje spisowe”, GUS, Warszawa 1932
Edward Szturm de Sztrem (red.), „Pierwszy powszechny spis Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej z dnia 30 września 1921 roku: Formularze i instrukcje spisowe”, GUS, Warszawa 1931
Rajmund Buławski, „Organizacja i technika opracowania pierwszego polskiego spisu powszechnego z 30 września 1921 r.”, [w:] „Pierwsze dziesięciolecie Głównego Urzędu Statystycznego”, T. III, GUS, Warszawa 1930
Jan Berger, „Powszechny Spis Ludności w 1921 r.”, Wiadomości Statystyczne, nr. 12, s. 1 – 11, GUS, Warszawa 2008
Arkadiusz Rzepkowski, „Spisy ludności na ziemiach polskich w latach 1789-1939”, Przegląd Nauk Historycznych 2005, R. IV, nr. 2 (8), s. 101 – 126, Łódź 2005