Question of the Month – from the Polish Genealogical Society of CT and the Northeast

Question:  I have had limited success in finding family members in passenger lists and naturalization records?? to learn where they were born in Europe. I have read in several places that church records are a good source to unearth this type of geographical information. Can you comment, please?

Answer:  Sacramental records of Polish-American parishes can be an excellent source of this type of information but not always. The presence or completeness of geographical information is totally and wholly dependent on the record keeping practices and attitude of the priests who made the entries in the registers.

Some priests attached great importance in documenting the European origins of their parishioners and if you are lucky you can learn the village, parish, county and province of birth of an ancestor. On the other end of the spectrum you will learn zero as the priest left this part of the register blank.

Keep in mind that in a given register there may be a mix of geographical data. One priest may have recorded villages but his successor did not think this information was important and ceased providing this type of information. It is important to check the entire register to see if and where the geographical data appear.

The greatest chance to discover geography is usually in marriage records. Birth records also may contain the European birthplaces of parents of children baptized in the US. The least geography is usually recorded in death records. Even if the geography is entered it will not always be of the same quality. Some priests only listed the province of birth, some disappointingly listed only the partition.

Our Society did a survey of geographical information in parish records many years ago. In Connecticut the Polish Roman Catholic parishes with partial or nearly complete geography in the early parish registers included Derby, New Haven, New Britain (Sacred Heart only), Meriden, Hartford, Union City, Southington, Terryville and Middletown. Three parishes were not surveyed as the priests refused access to the registers.

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