Property Inventories.

Author: Piotr Zelny

Sources for genealogical research on peasant and townspeople families in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between 15th and mid-19th centuries


(This is the first of a five-part article. This part introduces and describes the feudal system in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth.)

Click to enlarge
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1750

Have you ever considered how to conduct your genealogical research when there are no vital books? Have you ever asked yourself about the possibilities of finding your ancestors living prior to the partitions of Poland? Have you ever thought about their conditions of work and everyday life? This article is for everyone who has ever asked themselves these kinds of questions.   

Property inventories apart from commonly known vital records, are one of the basic sources (one of many) for genealogical research on the peasant family. Their genealogical value cannot be overestimated, as they contain registers of feudal obligations which list peasant families living in the particular localities. They occur in mass numbers, which is one of the reasons why they play such a significant role. It is believed that tens of thousands of such sources have survived to this day. The exact number is unknown. The oldest documents of this type, preserved to the present, come from the turn of the 15th and the 16th centuries. The registers of feudal obligations (containing lists of peasants) disappeared from the pages of the property inventories in the 1860s as the result of abolition of the feudal system. Since feudal obligations (serfdom and  others) were abolished, there was no longer any reason to prepare the registers.

Register of subjects and their feudal obligations of the village of Wielowieś from 1772

INTRODUCTION – THE FEUDAL SYSTEM IN THE POLISH-LITHUANIAN COMMONWEALTH

Since 1569 The Kingdom of Poland and The Grand Duchy of Lithuania constituted one united country which was commonly known as The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or the Commonwealth of the Two Nations or simply as Poland. The country covered a vast amount of territory in Central Europe and  included territory now in contemporary Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus and Latvia. The highest authority was the King of Poland who was also the Grand Duke of Lithuania, elected by the nobles ‘szlachta’. The country existed until 1795 when, as a result of the Partitions of Poland, it was dismembered and divided between its neighbours (Russia, Prussia and Austria) and disappeared from the map of Europe.

During that time, the prevailing social-economical-political system in Europe was feudalism. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships that were derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labor. Each European country had its own  specific local system of feudalism. Also, the feudal system itself evolved over the course of centuries. In the Polish-Lithuanian state, feudal society was divided into four basic social classes. These were the nobility, the clergy, the burghers and the peasantry. However, each class was very diverse and divided into smaller social subgroups having their own rights, limitations and obligations. One of the most important rights was the right to possess land. At that time, the overwhelming majority of the members of peasant society had no right to possess land in its own right. A plot of land was allocated to peasant families by the possessor (owner or leaseholder) of the land (and/or of the village). The peasants were serfs and subjects of the landlord. As serfs who occupied a plot of a lord’s land, they were required to work (as serfs) for the landlord on his farms as well as pay him  rent and tributes. As subjects of a particular lord, a serf’s freedom to leave the village (the estate property) belonging to the lord was highly restricted since moving to another village (belonging to another lord) would mean abandoning their current lord and the obligations owed to him. In return, subject peasants were entitled to protection, justice, material support and the right to build a house and cultivate their allotted field in order to maintain their own subsistence. The system existed deep into the 19th century when it was abolished in stages in the territories of the three partitioning powers. The abolition of the feudal system and the emancipation of the peasantry began in 1807 in the Prussian partition of Poland and the process lasted there until 1872; in 1848 in the Austrian partition of Poland; and in 1861 and 1864 in the Russian partition of Poland.

The feudal system recognized three basic categories of land property. These were: royal,  ecclesiastical and noble properties. The lands that were part of the royal domain consisted of court counties, non-court counties (tenements), and economies. Ecclesiastical lands were the property of individual bishoprics, monasteries or parish churches. Noble lands were owned by individual noble families and great magnate houses. The land property (the royal, the ecclesiastical or the noble domains) comprised areas consisting of individual villages and towns or only their parts as well as agricultural and forest areas. They could form huge property areas numbering hundreds of villages and towns and covering many thousands of square kilometres as well as small, one village properties or properties covering only part of a village. The great complexes of properties had their own central administrative management. To make them easier to manage, they were divided into smaller and more convenient economic units (not to be confused with state or church administration units) called properties, estates, states, tenements, counties etc. Each of these units had its own local management office. The local managements supervised the farms located in the villages which belonged to the landlord (the king, the church, or a noble). Peasants living in these villages were subjects of the landlord, hence they were obliged to serve (feudal obligations) on the farms of their lord as well as pay him rent and tributes. The local management offices produced many types of documents. One type, property inventories, which includes registers of feudal obligations, is extremely important for understanding the feudal system of the time. Together with other types of documents property inventories paint a vivid picture of the relationship between landlords and their peasant subjects.

See villages and towns available for search in the Land Records database.

Part 2. WHAT WERE THE PROPERTY INVENTORIES AND WHY THEY WERE CREATED 

38 comments

  1. Amazing details. The only document I have seen thus far that clarifies the ownership of the peasants’ rustical plots. Looking forward to part 2!

  2. Wonderful explanation of the history!! Thank you for publishing. . .I eagerly await the next segment.

  3. Great page. Do you have records covering Krasnystaw and Piaski in Lubelskie region, years 1630-1730?
    Regards
    Zenek

    1. Hi Zenek,
      We don’t have registers of townspeople of these towns from the period of your interest (only from later period) . There are several settlements of the name of Piaski in the vicinity. I’ve assumed that you meant Piaski in the county of Świdnik which used to be called Piaski Wielkie or Piaski Luterskie untill the 19th c. In your particular cause I’d advise you to research books of municipal offices of the both towns. Municipal books of Piaski date back since 1572 while of Krasnystaw since 1586. They are kept in the State Archives in Lublin and Warsaw. The cause need extencive researches, if you wish more explanations or consultation please fill out the research requesth ttps://polishorigins.com/genealogy-request
      Best regards Piotr

      1. Piotr.
        There is no records of townspeople but is there records of farmers? Municipal book’s concerningvKrasnystaw and Piaski Luterskie, are they online?
        Do you anything of the religous quarell in Piaski between catholics and arians in 1600?
        Regards
        Zenek

        1. Zenek,

          The files of the town of Piask are not scanned
          https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/zespol/-/zespol/1899

          The files of the town of Krasnystaw are scanned
          https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/zespol/-/zespol/1889
          The most important documents are testaments and contracts. But to research these books is very tough challenge.

          There are also many different registers of tax payers of the county and the town of Krasnystaw in the county court books (the period of 1649 – 1796). However, some of them might list the tax payers (townspeople) by name while another might provide just general amount of taxes to be payed without the names of the tax payers. So, each register must be checked individually.

          There is register of ‘farmers’ of every village belonging to the king (privet and ecclesiastical settlements are not listed) of the county of Krasnystaw from 1772, there are listed by name only 12 farmer families from one rural district of the town of Krasnystaw and names of municipal officials. There is also register of tax payers of the townspeople listed by name from the years 1814 – 1816.

          The conflict: ‘History of evangelic church in Piaski Luterskie 1563-1649-1849’
          ‘Zarys dziejów zboru ewangelicko-reformowanego w Piaskach Luterskich (Wielkich) koło Lublina 1563-1649-1849’
          https://rcin.org.pl/dlibra/publication/43560/edition/35376/content

          History and description of Piaski in a newspaper from 1912 ‘Opis maisteczka Piask Luterskiemi zwanych’ /’Description of the town of Piask called Luterskie’, (page 4 – 5)
          https://polona.pl/item/ziemia-lubelska-r-7-nr-354-24-grudnia-1912,MTc1MjcyODU/3/#info:metadata

          Piotr

    1. Thank you so much for opening up this field of research. Looking forward to the remaining parts.

  4. Thank you for this series. My grandparents owned land in Ladek prior to immigrating to America in 1902. They passed the land down to siblings and the family owns and lives on the land to this day. I visited family and this land for the first time in 2017. Looking forward to part 2.

  5. So interesting. My aunt told me my grandmother came from Katowice, a castle town. How can I find out anything about this town and where did lay within the partition?

    1. Bernadette,

      Katowice was just on the border of partitions within Prussian territory (blue color). Here: https://forum.polishorigins.com/files/map_polish_territory_in_19_century_437.jpg you can see map of partition form the second half of 19th century (Katowice is in southern part of the blue map, close to the two other partitions’ borders).

      If you provided more information like names, dates and most importantly any documents telling about their life in Poland (specific places and dates) we could check what it is possible to uncover.

      You can fill out the research request form and we will check for you for free if there are any documents available and what can be done: https://polishorigins.com/genealogy-request.

      Best Regards,

  6. I am really pleased to see this series of articles as it’s an aspect of my family’s history about which I know very little and about which I am very curious. My family lived in Jasienica Rosielna (near Krosno) and those still there today are farmers on land they own.

    I look forward to the rest of the series and the possibility of being able to research the property inventories.

    Thank you for this history.

    1. Hi Alaine,
      Thank you very much for your post. There are many different historical sources which can help to reconstruct the history of your family. We describe here just one of them. The village of Jasienica belonged to the magnat family of Załuski from 1728 till 1939. The documents regarded to their properties (villages and towns) are kept in the archives in Krakow and Sanok. Some of them may contain registers of subjects of the particular settlements. If some day you decided to visit Jasienica do not miss the nearby castle in Sanok where you can meet the portrait of Napoleonian general count Józef Załuski the owner of Jasienica and his beautiful sister in low Amelia. I guess that they were very well known to your ancestors living 200 years ago in Jasienica.
      On your wish we can check for you for free if there are any documents available which could help in reconstruction of the history of your family https://polishorigins.com/genealogy-request.
      Best regards
      Piotr (the author)

      1. Hello, Piotr —

        Thanks for your reply. Actually, I have been to Jasienica with one of PolishOrigins’ guides, Lucjan Cichocki, in 2018 at just this time of year. He was very helpful to us in researching church records and finding living cousins whom we visited.

        Based on your series of articles about property and the feudal system, I am curious to know more about the specific history of Count Joźef Załuski and Jasienica and the land that my own family lived on and worked there. Can you tell me whether specific farmers and their land are part of these inventories? Would such a record be useful in tracing the years that my family lived on this land? If so, I might be interested in furthering my research there —

        And can you recommend any English language resources that describe the feudal system in this region?

        Many thanks,
        Alaine

  7. At last an article I can start to understand – Thank You. I’m looking forward to the next one. Both my mother’s paternal (Andrzejewski) & maternal (Kulikowski) lines appear to have come from the area around Lida, near Grodno now in Belarus. Both seem to have been property owners.
    The Andrzejewski property was named “Koluszki or Koluzzi” or similar – apparently near a castle ruin of the same name! Mum said that when her father died in 1942 it was left to her only surviving brother who lost it due to gambling issues. There were several houses on the property one of which was occupied by her eldest married sister & family.
    The Kulikowski property was a passed to their eldest son & apparently later submerged following the creation of a dam in the area.
    I have been lead to believe that both families were reasonably comfortably off (at least pre WW1 & WW2). Mum said that her older sisters remember their parents attending Czarist balls before the Russian Revolution. This does not sound like either family were simple peasants – at least not around latter 1800s+.
    I would like to present an outline list of the ancestors as I know them hoping that this may give a clue as to their way of life…..
    Andrzejewski:
    1. Jakub Andrzejewski – est.mated birth 1760-1780s & unknown – thought to have come from elswhere in Poland.
    2. Kazimierz Jakub Andrzejewski b. abt 1791/92 in Poland m. 1824 in Maciejewicze, gm.Wielke, Eysmonty, Grodno to Anna Glindzicz born 1806 in Glindzicze.
    3. Mieczyslaw Andrzejewski b. 1838 & Kazimiera Dudzinska b. 1851
    4. Jan Mieczyslaw Andrzejewski b. 1877 in Strugi, Lida area or Maciejewicz. Indura. d. 1942.
    and Kazimiera Kulikowska b.May 1882 nr Lida – d. Oct 1948 in Walcz, P
    Poland. [these are my grandparents].
    5. My mother – the 3rd youngest of 11 issue (8 survived childhood) – was born in 1818 in “Kolyszki woj. Lida & died 2012 in NSW, Australia.

    Kulikowski:
    1. Octawian Kulikowski (estimated birth before 1845) & Unknown.
    2. Jan Kulikowski married Paulina Siemaszko in about 1850 in Voupa, Siezmaski, Grodno, GuberniaWilenska, Rosja. (5 issue)
    3. Kazimiera Kulakowska (1882-1948) my Grandmother who married Jan M. Andrzejewski (1877-1942) as above.
    Both family lines have crests if that means anything!

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Thank you very much for your post. The crest is very important in recognizing particular noble families. I guess that your family of Kulikowski is of Dogomir while Andrzejewski of Prus I coat of arms. The PolishOrogins do researches of noble families, too. We check confirmations of nobility (such files referring to the both families are kept in the archive in Vilnius), genealogical files (in Vilnius as well), inventories of the village of Kołyszki (in Vilnius as well), registers of tax payers of possessors, registers of nobles of particular counties, county court books for nobles etc. The files go back to at least the 16th c.
      I’m sure that the most important document is the act of Union of Lublin in 1569. The act of creation of the state described on the pages of this article, that is the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. One of many signatories of this act was Marcin Szaciło Kulikowski of Dogomir coat of arms.
      The story about the lost of the family property due to gambling issues is very popular among noble families. I’m afraid that overwhelming majority of them are only family legends. It was very dangerous telling kids the truth in that time. The truth that it was the communist regime which confiscated with out any reason the family property. Kids could repeat it to someone who should not hear that. It was much saver to the family members talling to the kids that it had been an uncle who lost the family property. Obviously same times it may be truth but I’m alwas suspicious hearing that story.
      Here, you can find information about our genealogical services
      https://polishorigins.com/genealogy/
      Best regards
      Piotr (the author)

      1. Correction,
        Forgive me Jennifer, I did small mistake. It was not the exact act of union but one of the acts accompanying it, the name of that document is ‘Te nobility of Bielsko takes the oath to the Polish crown in the town of Bielsko. May 14, 1569, Bielsk’. The document is an entry in the county court book of Bielski kept in the archive of Minsk in Belarus (sygnature no. 1706). There are listed: ‘ Martinus, Lucas sons of Szacilo, Felix son of Bohdan, Nicolaus son of Bohdan of Culikowa (Kulikowa)’; ‘Petrus, Jacobus sons of Szacilo of Culikowa (Kulikowa)’.

  8. Extraordinary!!! Thank you.
    Please let me know if this should be addressed separate from this posting.

    My family comes from Maly Barow that is close to Dudy, just west of Iwje, and 90km south of Vilnius. Currently in Belarus. Sorry for the directions – hard to find. Family name is Klemanowicz.

    Family story is my oldest known relation came to Maly Barow in 1814 whe Napoleon’s Army passed through. Whether straggler, deserter, camp follower is unknown. He was either 12 or 14 at that time. The surname Klemanowicz or Kleman is unknown in that part of Poland and current Belarus except for my family. No one knows from where my family came.

    Leonard Suligowski somehow connected my family to the herb Brochwicz II and indicated they came from currently western Poland. Unfortunately Mr. Suligowski has passed. Further research found record of a Testamentow of a Klemanowicz in the Bydgoszcz region in the mid-1600s.

    Not sure if the dots can be connected but would like to find out how to pursue.

    Stan Klemanowicz

  9. Hello Stan,
    Thank you.
    Your cause is a real challenge. Having these data I can’t tell you so much. First, I can try to trace the way of deduction of late Leonard Suligowski. I guess that he checked polish books of heraldry and in the heraldry by Kasper Niesiecki issued in 1728-43 then updated and issued for 2nd time in 1839-45, he found the information about family of Kleman of Brochwicz coat of arms who had their properties in the settlement of Stotenfeld in the county of Człuchów. Then, he checked the origins of surnames. The suffix -owicz is the most popular among Polish or polonized surnames occuring in Podlasie, Lithuania, Belarus. So, Kleman (in Poland) + -owicz (in Belarus) = Klemanowicz.
    The issue is that that it is only a clue not a proof. Finding a surname in any heraldry does not prove that the entry refers to the particular family. There are no surname of Klemanowicz on the lists of confirmation of nobility in the province of Vilnius (Barów Mały) in the 19th c. However, it’s also not a proof. They could belong to minor nobility who possessed or leased only small plots of land. The village of Barów Mały did not belong to the family of Klemanowicz but to the family of Besarowicz in 1865 and to Trejkowicz in 1900. So, the family of Klemanowicz in Barów Mały might have been either minor nobles (not confirmed by the court) or peasants. That’s all what I can say, now.
    To pursue the cause I’d need to acquaint myself with documents and information you have got on your family as well as that testament of a Klemanowicz in Bydgoszcz. At first, I’d check the records of Barów Mały, such as vital records (I guess that you’ve already checked them), registers, inventories and other sources.
    BDW, contemporary, the surname occur in northern and west-southern Poland and it is very rear.
    Here, you can find information about our genealogical services
    https://polishorigins.com/genealogy/
    Best regards
    Piotr

    1. Stan,
      To be clear, I do not say that Mr. Suligowski was wrong, contrarily, I consider his way of thinking as very logical. A Kleman of the crest of Brochwicz from western Poland – the county of Człuchów (source: a heraldry) came to Lithuania (Belarus) and according to the local tradition added to his surname a suffix -owicz. In that way, we have Klemanowicz in Lithuania (Belarus). More over there are no such surname as Klemanowicz in Poland nowadays, there is only Kleman, while in Belarus there is only Klemanowicz. It logically indicates that Belarusian Klemanowicz derives from Polish Kleman.

      It may be also worth checking the origin of the surname of Kleman.

    1. Hello Debbie,
      It’s pleasure to speak with you. I know your website, I consider it very helpful and professional.
      Yes, there are inventories of the villages of gmina Bukowsko, from the period of Austrian partition as well as older period of Polish-Lithuanian state. For the period of partitions, there should be inventories for every village from 1772 till 1850’s. For the pre-partition period, the cause is much more complicated. I haven’t checked all the most important sources which are to contain inventories, yet.

      I’m working on the history of the abandoned village of Przybyszów, so I’ve partly collected historical material for that village as well as by accident for nearby villages of the gmina of Bukowsko like Płonna, Wysoczany, Osława, Karlików, Tokarnia, Piotrowa Wola, Kamienne, Sokołowa Wola. All the villages have very detailed inventories (there are also other important sources) from the years 1730’s till 1760’s or 70’s. Some of them have several inventories. So, it’s possible to trace the changes in situation of these settlements. I haven’t seen the inventory of Bukowsko itself but actually I haven’t searched for that.
      When finished my work on Przybyszów, I can send you the text if you wish. In the village live my friend, he’s the only resident of that valley. We are going to place there a signboard with information about people and history of the village.

      Best regards
      Piotr

  10. Hello,
    The information you have provided is very interesting. Do you have any information about who owned the Polish village and farmlands of Bonow Jaworow Poland now Buniv Yaroviv Ukraine? The town dates back to the early 1300’s but I am at a loss to find historical references. I look forward to hearing from you!

    Regards,
    Linda

    1. Hi Linda,
      There are documents of registers of farmlands (there are to be registers of farmers but it must be checked if they survive) of the village of Bonów/Buniv from 1785-89 and 1819-20.
      There should be (it needs to be checked) documentation of the third such register and maps of the village from the years 1844-54 as well as register of subjects and their feudal obligations from 1772-73 and the 1850’s and the map from 1780’s.

      There may be also older inventories/registers of farmers of the village but to find them it would need deeper research.

      As far as I know the village belonged to the royal domain before 1772, the voidevoidship / province of Red Ruthenia, the land of Przemyśl.

      There are many different kinds of historical sources. For example, in researches of the history (here I speak about history, not genealogy) of the particular villages belonging to the royal domain before 1772 (as it was in the cause of your village), historians use mainly tax registers, books of inspections of royal domains, inventories, books of different kind of courts, books of royal chancellery as well as collections of documents. This is the base. It takes some time to find, study and interpret all of these sources but it’s necessary when there are no any study.

      Linda, unfortunately, I can’t provide you the history of your village at this moment because I do not know it. It’s small village, one of many thousands of such villages. I also do not see any study on the history of that place.
      Nevertheless, we are able to conduct the genealogical researches of your family as well as the historical researches of your family village.
      The research request you can find here: https://polishorigins.com/genealogy-request

      Best regards
      Piotr

  11. Piotr,
    Outstanding article! Very interesting.

    A number of years ago I was able to obtain a Cadastral document or “Spis Alfabetyczny” (Alphabetisches Verzeichnifs) for the small Galician village where my grandfather and his ancestors are from. The village is Kossow between Buchach and Chortkow now in Ukraine. The date on the documents is 1828. I was wondering if you believe there are other documents of this sort that might be available. And if so, how might I obtain a copy of them?

    Thanks.

    1. Hi Rolfe,
      There were three cadastres (registers of land) of Galicia. The first one in 1785 – 1789, the second one in 1819 – 1820 and the third one in 1844 – 1854.
      There is documentation of the village of Kosów (it’s your village) situated in the circuit of Tarnopol (since 1816 in the circuit of Czortków – Chortkow) of the first cadastre from the years 1785-89.
      I haven’t found documents regarding your village of the second cadastre (1819-20). They may already not exist.

      The first cadastre consists of several types of documents which give an image of the every particular village, its residents and their property. It’s very valuable historical and genealogical source.

      Judging by the title of the source which you have got “Spis Alfabetyczny” (Alphabetisches Verzeichnifs), it’s one of several documents and maps of the third cadastre from the years 1844-54. However, the date which you’ve provided, 1828, is strange to me. I mean, it’s too early. Do you have cadastre map of your village? The “Spis Alfabetyczny” and the map created one integral part, having both of them you may find the family house or the place where it used to stand in the mid-19th c.

      ‘And if so, how might I obtain a copy of them?’
      You may fill out this form, the research request:
      https://polishorigins.com/genealogy-request
      We’ll obtain the copies of the first cadastre regarding your village for you and check what other kind of documents (registers, inventories etc. from the 18th and the 19th c.) are there and if so, copy and interpret them, too.

      Best regards
      Piotr

  12. Hi i would like to know of any lnformation on Land ownership for my great grandfather his name was Jan Makowski and he had a son Jan Makowski and he was born January 10,1890 in Lomzynska Poland.My grandfathers parents were Jan Makowski and Jozefa Ostrowska.Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated

  13. Hi Piotr,
    I am very much looking forward to the next article on Property Inventories.
    Can you tell me if they exist for the village of Baranowo (near Ostrolecka)
    for any time period after 1733? Thank You very much.
    David Michalak

  14. Is there a record of Wojtysiak or Henke in Lekno Wagrowiec? I’m looking for information on my great grandparents. Thank you for interesting articles!

  15. Hello Piotr,
    Are the property inventories for Adamowitz (Adamowice) and Hohenbirken (Brzezie) in Upper Silesia available online or even available in archives or private hands?
    Brian

    1. Hello Brian,

      We are working on a database of towns and villages for which we know we can have access to the exisiting property inventory sources.
      We will make it available soon.

      Best,

      1. Hello Zenon,

        Great news about your database. Look forward to seeing it. Of most interest to me is the area around Lipusz in northwest Poland, in County Berent/Koscierzyna. The church records prior to 1806 either do not exist, or are in private hands. Property inventories could be very helpful in this case.

        Best regards,

        Ken Wirth

  16. Glad to see information is available and can help in understanding our ancestry history and the lives they had. Also good to find current family if any. Great articles. Thank you.

  17. Looking for any info on Grandfather’s name: Stelmarski, who came from Prussia. I see plenty of Stelmarski and Stelmarska, but no records. My Grandmother was a Franczewska and Franczewski from Smardzewo, Poland.
    Władysława Franczewska was born at Mazowsze in 1895 /act 61 , 02.05.1895 parish Sarbiewo village Smardzewo. Like to learn more about the area.
    Thank you.

  18. Piotr: I very much enjoyed your presentation on land records during this year’s PGSA online conference. I have traced two of my surname lines to villages in eastern Galicia (now Subcarpathia). One to villages called Glinik Charzewski, Zarnowa and Zaborow, near Strzyzow, to the year 1845 or so. The other to a village Gwoznica Gorna in the highlands, not far from Niebylec to 1795. I think that both of these villages may have been connected to noble estates, especially Gwoznica, because of some information that I have uncovered in my research. None of these villages is as yet in your database. How can I discover if there are surviving land records for them and whether they are scanned?
    Thank you for any information that you can provide.

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