Property inventories from the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and then during the Partitions of Poland (until the 1860s) are found in hundreds if not thousands of archival collections scattered around almost all the state archives in the areas of contemporary Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, and Russia. These countries, or only some of their current territories, used to be the part of the Polish-Lithuanian state. A very significant number of inventories is also stored in libraries, archives of scientific institutes, museum archives, diocesan archives as well as monastery archives…
In order to find the property inventories relating to the areas of research interest (villages, towns), first it is necessary to determine the category of the land property, whether it belonged to the royal, the ecclesiastical or the noble domain. Then it is necessary to determine the specific owner or tenant. Depending on the owner or tenant of the area, as well as the purpose of drawing up the document, the property inventories may be kept in the archival collections of individual families, bishoprics, monasteries or central and county, fiscal and court state offices. Unfortunately, in the old Polish administration the division between private and state affairs was not strictly observed. Therefore, a huge number of state documents (e.g. inventories of various royal properties), which theoretically had to be kept in the appropriate state offices, remained in private hands. That is why today many of them can be found in the archival collections of individual families instead of the archival collections of state royal offices.
The biggest collections of property inventories are kept in the following collections: The Archive of Royal Treasury ‘Archiwum Skarbu Koronnego’, The Archive of Camera ‘Archiwum Kameralne’ (The Commission of His Royal Highness in The Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw); The Tribunal of Treasury of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania ‘Trybunał Skarbowy Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego’, The Commission of Treasury of The Grand Duchy of Lithuania ‘Komisja Skarbowa Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego’ in The Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius; The Collection of Aleksander Czolowski in The Stefanyk National Science Library in Lviv, collections of The Library of Ossolineum in Wroclaw, collections of The Library of Princes of Czartoryski in Krakow, collections of Polish Academy of Science, collections of The Kornik Library and many more; collections of court books of county ‘grodzki’ and land ‘ziemski’ courts can be in the state archives in Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, Lublin, Poznan, Torun and Warsaw in Poland, Kyiv and Lviv in Ukraine, Vilnius in Lithuania, Minsk in Belarus, Riga in Latvia, Moscow in Russia and Berlin in Germany; collections of the greatest houses of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – the houses of Branicki, Chodkiewicz, Czartoryski, Lubomirski, Potocki, Radziwill, Sanguszko and many more; archives of every bishopric, monastery and parish which existed prior to the mid-19th century; papers of every noble family which possessed manorial estates prior to the mid-19th century; collections of individual collectors…
This is just an illustrative list which is intended to give a general overview of the issue. In searching for such files a certain type of specialization is definitely very useful. The researcher simply must know the local history where the research is to be conducted and be acquainted with the main collections of central archives (as in regard to Poland, in Warsaw, Krakow and Lviv) and main libraries as well as the archives and libraries which are important to the region being researched. There are tens of thousands of inventories from the 15th/16th to the mid-19th centuries to be found.
Property inventories have been created since the middle of the 17th century in mass quantities, though some of them date back almost to the Middle Ages. They are documents containing census lists from a particular village or city. From the genealogical point of view, the register of population is the most important part of the presented source. However, we must emphasize that it is almost never a complete census. It contains selected categories of the population. These are usually the families which had their own houses and cultivated parcels of farmland or at least a plot for a garden. That makes up the majority of the population. The families are listed by the name and the surname of the main representative or representatives of the family. The feudal world was predominantly patriarchal. Other members of the family infrequently are found in the registers.
On the other hand, the documents provide invaluable information regarding the family’s property, social status, position within rural society, everyday work, the type and number of days required for providing feudal service, rental rates, tributes rates and the other duties. The feudal peasant society was predominantly personal serfdom which meant that change of place of residence by individual families was highly restricted. Taking this fact into consideration, we can assume, with a dose of reserve, that families of the same surname appearing in different years in the same settlement in documents from the feudal period until the beginning of the 19th/middle of the-19th centuries are the sequential generations of the same extended family.
Despite their shortcomings, property inventories remain a valuable historical source for genealogical research. These are the documents that allow genealogical research on peasant and burgher families into the depths of the eighteenth and sometimes even seventeenth centuries. Properly analysed they can provide invaluable data. They allow us to paint a kind of ‘background’ and to see the shadows of our ancestors on this canvas. These are names and surnames from the distant past which provide a snapshot of their daily work and their daily life.
The article was written by Piotr Zelny – a genealogist, a historian, an archivist, a mountain guide and a staff member of the Historical Museum in Sanok; a researcher and a genealogy guide in the PolishOrigins.
© 2021 Copyright Piotr Zelny
Proofreading and valuable suggestions: David Nowicki
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