Silesian Genealogy 101

This page serves as an introduction to (Prussian) Silesian genealogy.

It deals not only with the basics of genealogy in Silesia, but also the most important sources, archives and all those little tools that will make your search easier. In addition, I will talk about important secondary sources (newspapers, land records etc.) and the remaining files of various institutions of the former German Reich (town administration, courts, etc.). Translations of certain terms will be provided in parentheses (with DE and PL to differentiate between German and Polish terms). These terms can be used as search terms to help your search. This page presumes a certain basic genealogical knowledge in the reader (Where do I start? How to use Familysearch and Ancestry?).

Please note: Should a link leading to szukajwarchiwach result in an error message, then it is recommended to open the link again.

I will continually update this page as new resources or information become available and as I develop new methodologies or materials. Last update: 29 August 2021

Diese Seite ist auch auf Deutsch verfügbar.

Ta strona jest również dostępna w języku polskim.

 

Introduction: What is Silesia?

The region of Silesia (DE Schlesien) was once part of Austria and consisted of a hodgepodge of different principalities, counties and free estates, which were also divided into smaller, county-like administrative units – so-called Weichbilder.

It was only during the War of the Austrian Succession in 1742 that large parts of Silesia fell to Prussia, which from then on was unofficially called Prussian Silesia (DE Preußisch Schlesien). Only the regions around Teschen (Cieszyń) and Troppau (Opava), from then on popularly known as Austrian Silesia (DE Österreich-Schlesien) remained with Austria.

However, it was only as a result of territorial reforms and the incorporation of northern Upper Lusatia into Silesia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that Silesia adopted the customary division into rural districts (DE Landkreis, usually shortened to Kreis), which remained so until the end of the First World War in 1918, except for the establishment of the Neurode district in 1854, the division of the Beuthen district into the districts of Beuthen, Zabrze, Kattowitz and Tarnowitz in 1873, and the spin-offs of various towns into separate urban districts (DE Stadtkreis).

To clear up misunderstandings and remain consistent: Generally, genealogists use the 1918 district classification.

Major changes occurred as a result of the First World War. For example, the “Hultschiner Ländchen” around Hultschin (Hlučín) was ceded to Czechoslovakia and parts of the districts of Guhrau, Groß Wartenberg and Namslau to Poland. In Upper Silesia, there was a plebiscite on remaining with Germany, which resulted in the cession of the districts of Kattowitz and Pleß, as well as large parts of the districts of Rybnik, Lublinitz, Bytom, Tarnowitz and Hindenburg to Poland. The remaining areas of these divided districts now formed their own districts or were absorbed by other districts. In 1932/1933 there were further changes, whereby several districts were dissolved and absorbed by other districts. In 1938, the district of Fraustadt (Wschówa) was also reassigned to Silesia.

Starting from the early 1900s, a number of place names of Slavic origin were changed to German ones (Zabrze was renamed to Hindenburg, for example). This activity found its culmination in the second half of the 1930s, when the Nazis systematically renamed places to eradicate Slavic influences. This also has to be taken into account when doing genealogy.

Today, the former territories of Prussian Silesia largely correspond to the Polish voivodeships of Silesia (Śląskie), Opole and Lower Silesia (Dolnośląskie). Other parts are located in the voivodeships of Lubusz and Greater Poland (Wielkopolska), as well as in the German federal state of Saxony (Sachsen) and in the Czech Republic.

Records

Christoph-www

Your go-to place for all Silesian genealogy should be christoph-www.de (featuring an own page for Breslau/Wrocław). On the page, simply scroll down and click on the letters. This page primarily lists all churchbooks and civil registers that are known to still exist, and provides links to freely accessible records. Place-specific databases (DE Ortsfamilienbücher, OFBs) and indexes are listed as well. There are some things that you should know:

  • “KB” stands for Kirchenbücher, or churchbooks.
  • If the place you are looking for is not mentioned, then it most certainly did not have an own church or register office and you need to check first which ones were in charge of that place (see subchapter “Search for places”).
  • If “Mormonenfilm” is mentioned anywhere, then it means that the LDS Church has taken pictures of records for that place. You can search for those digitalised records here.
  • If “Standesamt I Berlin” or “Landesarchiv Berlin” is mentioned anywhere, then it means that the civil records for that place are most likely available in this collection on Ancestry ($) and can be searched (according to German data protection laws – 110 years for births, 80 years for marriages, 30 years for deaths).
  • If “Evangelisches Landesarchiv Berlin” (ELAB) or “Evangelisches Zentralarchiv Berlin” (EZAB) is mentioned anywhere, then these records are most likely online on Archion.de ($). You can check for yourself whether or not the records are online – online records are shaded green.
  • Until ca. 1758, BMD events of Evangelical (Lutheran) people in Silesia were also recorded in Catholic churchbooks, so don’t fret if there are no early churchbooks available for your place.
  • The website does not claim to be complete. Especially more recent Catholic churchbooks are often still stored at the local Catholic parish offices. However, the page is constantly updated as new information becomes available. If you have any information not known to the author of the page, let them know.
  • The information on what civil registers are still stored at the local register offices (DE Standesamt | PL Urząd stanu cywilnego (USC)) comes from a decade-old book. Especially marriage and death registers have since been transferred to state archives – Poland recently changed its data protection laws to 100 years for births and 80 years for marriage and death records. The registers said to be held centrally by the state archive in Warsaw (DE Staatsarchiv Warschau) have since been returned to the local state archives.

Kirchenbucharchiv.de

Kirchenbucharchiv.de is an alternative to christoph-www. While the site is not quite as up-to-date as christoph-www, it does provide direct links to relevant holdings at Familysearch as well as information on church records still extant in 1938 from the book Erich Randt, Die älteren Personenstandsregister Schlesiens, Görlitz 1938.

Boosting your search speed through indexes

Genealogists new to the game often make the mistake of not searching indexes first. This slows down your research and risks searching in vain in the wrong place. Therefore, a search in indexed records is recommended. As you can see in this map, there are already indexes, local databases (OFBs) and regional databases, as well as Ancestry records for many places in Silesia. You should search the following places:

  • Geneteka: geneteka.genealodzy.pl is a user-submitted index website for all of Poland. In Silesia, the main focus lies on indexing marriage records. You can either search a certain region by clicking on the map or all regions at once by clicking on the magnifying glass. Caution: usually, the German letters äöüß are indexed as ae oe ue ss. Make sure to search for both variants because the search algorithm does not know that these letter pairs are equivalents. By clicking on SKAN to the right of the search results, you will be forwarded to the source record, which is not always online or available without restrictions, however.
  • Familysearch: Familysearch has in recent years indexed more and more of the freely-available portion of churchbooks from Silesia it has digitalised. The churchbook indexes can be searched in this collection. Just note that not all churchbooks that are available from home have been indexed.
  • Compgen / genealogy.net: Compgen.de is the website of the German association for digital genealogy. It not only offers local genealogical databases (DE Ortsfamilienbücher/OFBs) and WWI loss lists, but also a database of user-submitted family trees (GEDBAS), which you should submit your GEDCOM to if you want to connect to German genealogists, as well as indexed city directories. For Silesia, an index of birth registers of the register offices Breslau I-IV is available. You can search all databases at once here.
  • Poznan Project / Posen-Projekt: The Poznan Project indexes marriages that took place in the province of Posen in the years 1800-1899. Since the database also accepts indexes from places in Silesia bordering Posen province, searching this database may turn out to be useful if your ancestors hail from northern Silesia.
  • BaSIA: Similarly to Poznan Project, BaSIA is primarily concerned with Posen province. However, as you can see here, the website also indexes records from various places in Silesia. The website is not limited to BMD records, but indexes all kinds of records available online in the Polish state archives.
  • Ancestry ($): Ancestry has made civil registers for more than 450 Silesian places, which are now stored at the state archive in Berlin (DE Landesarchiv Berlin) available and fully searchable in its collection “Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945”. However, most of the registers are duplicates (DE Nebenregister) of the main register (DE Hauptregister), and in many cases, only a few years are available, with records being available only for the 1938-1945 period. The register offices whose records are available in this collection are also marked in light green in the map above.
  • Schlesische Provinzialblätter: The Schlesische Provinzialblätter used to be a monthly newspaper for the Silesian elites. It was published from 1785 to 1849. If there are any noblemen, Lutheran clerics, higher officials, or rich merchants among your ancestors, then searching the database above, which contains birth, marriage, and death notices from the newspaper, might be useful to you. For the actual entries in the newspaper, you have to search manually (almost every single issue contains a register of contents and names). BMD events are recorded in the “Historische Chronik” section, of which there was one every month.
  • Other newspapers: You can also search other newspapers that have been scanned with Optical Character Recognition (OCR). See the chapter on newspapers below.

Holdings of the Polish state archives

Szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl (formerly szukajwarchiwach.pl)

Szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl is the Polish state archives’ website. The state archives list all their holdings on this website and offer digitalised records as well. More than 35 million Scans are online, mostly churchbooks and civil registers. It is recommended to search for place names – both in German and in Polish – as well as the surnames you are interested in. That way, you can check if there are any files for the surnames or places you are interested in. You can limit the search results e.g. to certain archives or files with scans. It is also extremely important to enter the Polish place names in the declension of the locative case (e.g. “Wrocławiu” instead of “Wrocław”), as the search engine cannot do this by itself and a large portion of the file names are written in the locative case.

Generally speaking, records have a tree structure: a collection (PL zespół), e.g. “Wrocław district court”, will contain series (PL serie), e.g. “last wills”, which in turn will contain the actual files, referred to as units (PL jednostki), e.g. “last will of John Doe”. In the top right corner, you can switch the language of the user interface to English.

If a unit contains digital copies, here called “scans” (“skany”), then this is indicated in brackets after “scans”.  However, the best way to navigate a collection is via the tabs “Series” and “List of units”. Clicking on a series with existing scans opens a list with thumbnails. Clicking on these will then open the full image, which can be enlarged/reduced and downloaded as desired. You can also download an entire unit at once, which can speed up browsing.

The new website also allows you to download an entire unit at once, which can speed up your search.

Please mind that church and civil records on this site are not indexed! You need to search them manually, picture by picture. Typing in surnames in the search field will not lead to any churchbook pages or similar.

Archeion.net

Archeion.net is the website of Wrocław state archive and holds some digitalised records from that archive. The archive is currently in the process of transferring its materials to szukajwarchiwach, and many things online on Archeion can already be viewed there. Generally speaking, this site only contains civil registers for Lower Silesia starting from 1889 (earlier years are found on familysearch.org) and Evangelical churchbooks for Wrocław. Some of the records published on Archeion are in the .djvu format, which is a bit tricky to open.

There are two ways of viewing .djvu files on Archeion:

  • Download and install this plugin for the old Microsoft Internet Explorer (not Microsoft Edge!). Start Internet Explorer, navigate to the .djvu file you want to view on Archeion. You can only open files with a preview picture at the centre of the screen which you need to click on in order to open the file. The link will have a .djvu at its end. Approve the activation prompt for the plugin, if needed. You should now be able to see and navigate the pictures.
  • Download and install DjVuLibre. Get the .djvu Link to the file you want to open and copy it. Open DjVuLibre, go to File > Open address... and insert the link. This should open the DJVU file.

It is currenly not possible to view .djvu files on Archeion via other browsers (Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari...) or on other devices than a computer (tablets, mobile phones).

Please mind that church and civil records on this site are not indexed either! You need to search them manually, picture by picture. Typing in surnames in the search field will not lead to any churchbook pages or similar.

Archives

State archives

State archives (PL Archiwum Państwowe (AP)) store mainly civil registers that no longer fall under data protection rules, churchbook duplicates and files of the Prussian administration, and can be written to in Polish, German, or even English. The following archives are relevant for Silesia:

  • State archive Wrocław (Breslau)
    • Branch archive Bolesławiec (Bunzlau)
    • Branch archive Jelenia Góra (Hirschberg)
    • Branch archive Kamieniec Zabkowicki (Kamenz)
    • Branch archive Legnica (Liegnitz)
  • State archive Zielona Góra (Grünberg)
  • State archive Katowice (Kattowitz)
    • Branch archive Gliwice (Gleiwitz)
    • Branch archive Pszczyna (Pless)
    • Branch archive Ratibor (Racibórz)
    • Branch archive Cieszyn (Teschen)
  • State archive Opole (Oppeln)
  • State archive Częstochowa (Tschenstochau)
  • On the border to Posen, the Leszno (Lissa) and Kalisz (Kalisch) archives are of interest as well

Diocesan archives

Diocesan archives (PL archiwum (archi)diecezjalne) store mainly Catholic churchbook originals. Polish Diocesan archives should be addressed in (formal) Polish.

Mind that the area around Leobschütz (Głubczyce) historically belonged to the Diocese of Olmütz  in Austria-Hungary (now Olomouc in Czech Republic). The duplicates of the Olomouc churchbooks are held by the state archive of Troppau (Opava) and are online there.

Civil register offices

Civil register offices (DE Standesamt | PL urząd stanu cywilnego (USC)) store those civil registers to which data protection laws still apply. Normally, the register office is located at the municipality (“gmina”) to which the place hosting the historical register office belongs nowadays. Polish register offices should be addressed in (formal) Polish.

Parish archives

Many parishes (PL parafia) still store (Catholic) churchbooks to this day, especially from the 20th century. Polish parishes should be addressed in (formal) Polish. Writing by snail mail may be more successful. A donation to the church can also be helpful.

Special case Waldenburg district: Evangelical parish office in Wałbrzych

For most places located in the former district of Waldenburg, churchbooks are nowadays kept at the Evangelical parish office in Wałbrzych. You can learn more about these churchbooks and hire Andreas Richter to search them for you here.

Primary sources

Civil registers

Civil registers were introduced in Prussia on 1 October 1874 and are usually stored by state archives and register offices, in accordance with the data protection laws. You can differentiate between five important types:

  • Births (DE Geburten / Geburtsregister | PL księgi urodzeń)
  • Marriages (DE Heiraten / Eheregister | PL księgi małżeństw)
  • Deaths (DE Tote / Sterberegister | PL księgi zgonów)
  • Banns registers / supplementary registers (DE Aufgebotsregister, Belegakten | PL alegata, akta zbiorowe): In banns registers, civil weddings were registered before taking place. Banns registers contain all documents necessary for marriage (birth/baptism certificates of non-locals, residence registration certificates, servants’ ID cards, certificates of good standing, death and marriage records of previous partners, letter of parental consent or parents’ death certificates if a person was underage). The supplementary registers for births and deaths contain documents such as written notices of birth/death, letters ordering the correction of the records, and medical certificates of death. HOWEVER, these types of registers have rarely, if ever survived in Silesia. The further east you go, the better are your chances that at least the banns registers have survived.
  • Indexes (DE Index | PL indeks, skorodwidz): Historically, paper indexes of civil registers were not a common thing. However, especially in the area covered by the state archive of Katowice, indexes have been created in the decades after WWII.

Mind that BMD civil records also had identical copies: the original is called “Hauptregister”, the duplicate is called “Nebenregister”. Ancestry generally has duplicates, while the originals are held by state archives in Poland. You can recognise duplicates by what is written at the end of the record: If it says: “Die Übereinstimmung mit dem Hauptregister beglaubigt” somewhere, you are looking at a duplicate record, and the signature of the reporting person, the witnesses and the engaged couple will not be their own. It is always better to have the original record. Why? Because while corrections, name changes and divorces were usually also routinely entered into the duplicate register, notes such as the births or marriages of a couple’s children, as well as the death or marriage of a newborn or newly-married person were often only recorded in the original register.

Churchbooks

Churchbooks are the single most important source for the time before October 1874. Catholic are mostly stored by Diocesan archives and (for younger books) at the local parishes, while Evangelical churchbooks (if they have survived) are mostly found at state archives. Military churchbooks for Evangelical soldiers and churchbooks attached to specific units usually survived at the GStA PK archive in Berlin, while Catholic military churchbooks have survived at the Archiv des katholischen Militärbischofs der Bundeswehr, also located in Berlin. The former are often online on Ancestry ($) in this collection or on Familysearch, while the latter have been published on Matricula-Online. Civil churchbooks can commonly be found on Familysearch.

The Diocesan Archiv of Opole has also decided to digitalise its churchbooks, which had previously been filmed by Familysearch, and put them online on an own website, with a later transfer to szukajwarchiwach.

In order to access these churchbooks, you need to click on one of the two links at the bottom of the website ("Kopie wzorcowe" / "Kopie użytkowe") (Please note that the site is currently offline, most likely due to data protection concerns. Please remain patient until the Diocesan Archives re-enables the site). That should open up a list of signatures. You can then browse these folders. Sadly, there is no viewer yet - you have to click through the pictures one by one. For greater comfort, it is recommended to use the browser plugin DownThemAll! which allows you to download an entire folder at once for easier viewing. The churchbooks associated with the signatures are listed here. However, this list only gives the Polish place names and does not name the Familysearch microfilm numbers contained in the folders. Therefore, it is easier to use these tables which give both the German place name and the microfilm number:

  • Table ordered by German place names
  • Table ordered by Polish place names

Note that not all microfilms have been digitalised yet, which is why not all churchbooks from Opole Diocese are online yet.

Returning to the subject of churchbooks, the three main types of churchbooks are baptisms (DE Taufen | PL chrzty), weddings (DE Heiraten | PL śluby, małżeństw), and burials (DE Tote, Beerdigungen | PL zgony). Additionally, you can find banns registers (DE Aufgebote), lists of children being confirmed (DE Firmlinge, Konfirmanden), as well as lists of all parishioners (DE Seelenlisten, Kommunikanten). Family books (DE Familienbücher) which order all BMD events by family were generally not kept, only a few parishes had them (e.g. the Evangelical parish of Pleß / Pszczyna)

In many places, churchbooks have only survived starting from 1765/1766. In addition to original churchbooks, which cover the entire period until WWII, there are also churchbook duplicates, which are identical to the churchbook originals (with the exception of notes in the margins added later). Creating duplicates was mandatory for the period of 1794 to end of September 1874, but in many places, duplicates were only created for 1800-1874 or even shorter periods.

NB: People generally got married at the bride’s place of living. Until about 1758, BMD events of Evangelical (Lutheran) people in Silesia were also recorded in Catholic churchbooks.

Denominations

Mind that there is a difference between mainstream protestant (DE evangelisch) and Lutheran, or Old Lutheran (DE lutherisch, altlutherisch) denominations. Each had its own churches, although the Old Lutherans were a very small minority and were far more spread out. In addition, Silesia had a few Baptist and Christian Catholic (DE christkatholisch) communities for which next to no records survive. In Hussinetz, Reinerz, Groß Friedrichsthabor, Friedrichsgrätz and Petersgrätz, you will also find reformed (DE reformiert) communities of Bohemian origin; they were exilees whose names and surnames often switched between Czech and German variants. Other reformed Silesians often had Swiss roots.

Military churchbooks

The Prussian military had separate churchbooks for BMD events of people employed by the military. While these BMD events were also commonly included in the civil churchbooks, military churchbooks can provide additional information and be a useful resource for areas where other records are sparse.

Military churchbooks usually exist both for specific towns and their garrisons (DE Garnison) and for specific units, usually at the regimental level (DE Regiment). While garrison churchbooks mostly recorded the BMD events of military people who were part of the garrison or who happened to be in that town when the BMD event took place, the regimental churchbooks only recorded the BMD events of people attached to these regiments. Regimental churchbooks were abolished in 1868, when military parishes were established in all places where troops were stationed.

NB 1: Regiments were often stationed in multiple garrison towns at the same time, and the towns they were stationed in changed quite often in some cases. Further, soldiers were often transfered between the different towns. In order to cope with the inconsistent nature of regiments and the geographical distance between the garrison towns, each regiment had separate churchbooks for each garrison town. Further, BMD events were usually recorded not only in the churchbooks of the town where they took place, but also in the churchbooks of all the other towns where the regiment was stationed. For example, the baptism of a child born in Ostrowo was not only recorded there, but also in Posen, Lüben and Militsch, as the father belonged to the Ulanenregiment 1, which was stationed in those towns. Of course, it is always best to get the record from the place of birth first. At the same time, some regiments did not have churchbooks at all, and the BMD events were recorded by civil parishes instead.

NB 2.1: All Old Prussian infantry regiments had specific Cantons (DE Kantone), usually consisting of 2-4 districts, from which all their recruits were sourced. Specific professions, Old Prussian districts (Bolkenhain-Landeshut, Bunzlau-Löwenberg, Hirschberg, Jauer, Schweidnitz, Reichenbach) and towns (Breslau, Reichenstein, Silberberg, Tarnowitz) were exempted from recruitment. This only changed in 1813, when the Old Prussian army was reformed and the Kantonsystem was replaced with universal conscription. In the New Prussian army, infantry and Landwehr regiments were replenished from the so-called Ersatzbezirke (recruitment districts) instead, which changed over the years. Volunteers, by contrast, went to the closest regiment. As a result, if you are stuck at a brick wall or really want to make sure that you have tapped all the sources, you might want to consider looking at the military churchbooks of the infantry or Landwehr regiment that used your area to replenish its troop numbers – even if the regiment was very far away. For example, if you are looking for people from Steinau, Wohlau and Militsch districts, you can look at the churchbooks of the Old Prussian Infantry Regiment no. 43.

NB 2.2: The recruitment districts of the new Prussian army are only indicative of where recruits ended up. Army units no longer insisted on sourcing recruits only from “their” districts. In the new Prussian army, it was not only the place of living that mattered, but also some other characteristics:

  • Profession: sons of farmers or blacksmiths were drafted into the cavalry since they could ride; sons of miners joined the pioneers.
  • Physique: tall men joined guard regiments; strong men joined the cuirassiers or the artillery.
  • Demand: depending on demand, recruits were moved to different units.
  • Language: starting from 1872, recruits from the district of the Landwehr regiment no. 50 were increasingly made to join the Upper Silesian infantry regiment no. 22 in order to Germanise the predominantly Polish-speaking recruits from that regiment’s district.

NB 2.3: Based on old books, I have compiled a table showing the Cantons and recruitment districts for a few years, which should make finding the needed churchbooks easier. Some notes on this:

  • In order to get to the churchbooks you need on Familysearch, type in the name of the regiment as “author” on the catalog search page (example: “Infanterie Regiment” with a space) or by searching for the place in which the regiment was stationed. You can find the units’ garrisons in the sources mentioned in the table or by reading the articles on this website. Don’t forget that some of the churchbooks are also online on Ancestry ($) and Matricula.
  • Some districts (e.g. Kattowitz, Rybnik, Tarnowitz, Zabrze) were formed only later and do not appear in some of the columns as a result. Others were exempted from the draft during the times of the Old Prussian army.
  • Since the borders of the districts moved from time to time, it is recommended to read up on the districts on the German Wikipedia. The Wikipedia articles generally contain information on redrawings of district borders.
  • Landwehr regiments were only activated in wartime (a skeleton crew was maintained in peacetime for administrative purposes). Therefore, one normally has to look for the regular regiment that the Landwehr regiment was subordinated to, since people did their military service in the regular regiments. Normally, the Landwehr regiment’s number is the same as the one of the regular grenadier or infantry regiment it belonged to.
  • I do not know what role the Landwehrinspektion Breslau that appears in the 1914 column plays and how recruits assigned it were distributed to regular regiments.
  • If you know any sources that would allow me to extend the table, please contact me.

NB 2.4: The Cantons and recruitment districts are depicted more comprehensively in this book by Klaus Liwowski: Schlesische Militärkirchenbücher (AGOFF Schriftenreihe, Quellen und Darstellungen zur Personengeschichte des östlichen Europa, vol. 4, Herne, 2018, 430 pages, €52).

Secondary sources

City Directories

City directories (DE Adressbücher) were mostly created on a district level, and were published starting from 1850, but often only much later. This page gives you a good overview of where you can find city directories physically and online. You may be able to find more city directories online in this collection on Ancestry ($) (choose Poland to the right to see what places are available or to go through them manually). Some city directories have also been indexed on genealogy.net. City directories often start off with the district capital in the first section, followed by all other places in the district. Some city directories for big cities also have a chapter listing inhabitants by street and house number, which may help you find relatives living in the same building.

Newspapers, local histories, parish histories, school histories

Newspapers, local histories, parish histories, and school histories are another interesting secondary source and often contain information interesting to genealogists, although never to the same extent as the local gossip columns and detailed obituaries found in American newspapers. BMD events were sometimes reported in local newspapers of the 1800s, but obituaries only really took off in the early 1900s. A list of newspapers and local histories (mostly limited to works available online) that I compiled can be found here.

Most of the listed newspapers and books are hosted by Polish digital libraries and are digitally searchable thanks to Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The digital libraries relevant for Silesia are:

Out of these libraries, the first two have the largest digital offerings. The websites are usually available in Polish and in English, sometimes also in German. Apart from said publication types, they also contain pictures and maps. There are three important parametres one can use to search or limit one’s search (click on “Advanced Search” / “Filter”):

  • Title
  • Search in content
  • Group (object) title – search in the title of the publication that the periodical has been assigned to

NB: OCR has not been applied to all publications and is also extremely erroneous, which is why a manual search might be more successful. For pictures and maps, you need to keep in mind that their titles are often in Polish.

Sadly, despite the broad offering, by far not all Silesian newspapers are digitally available. In case you are interested in a particular newspaper, you can search the periodicals catalogue of the university library of Wrocław to see whether the library possesses issues of the newspaper in question and which years are available. The numbers on the file cards correspond to the file units in the library.

Land records and cadastres

Land register files (DE Grundakten | PL akta gruntowe) and cadastres (DE Kataster | PL księga katastralna) have survived for many places in Silesia and are sometimes the only surviving type of record. Not only do they allow genealogists to determine when a certain plot of land was bought or sold, but they also may contain genealogically relevant documents such as “deeds of conveyance, sale, and gift, swap contracts, contracts of inheritance and contracts for the partition of an inheritance, certificates of inheritance and last wills” and even death records (see here, p. 9, for further types of documents to be found in the land register files).

A simple search for the German or Polish name of the place on szukajwarchiwach should turn up results. However, these records are never online and are often not indexed in detail, so it is usually impossible to find out which land register files are relevant to your search without heading to the state archive and searching the files yourself. Given that each village had hundreds of these files, state archives are rarely ready perform extensive searches for whatever file you are looking for. Further, the existence of land records for certain places cannot always be assessed properly, as these files are often stored as bundles of files in the records of the local district court (DE Amtsgericht | PL sąd obwodowy) – see the subchapter “Files of the Prussian administration”.

For the search process, it is important to note the differences in inventorisation between the different state archives.

  • While the state archives of Opole and Zielona Góra order the land register files by the names of the last owners, which makes the search easier, the state archives of Wrocław and Katowice (and their branch archives) only record the place name or the place name and the mortgage number (DE Hypothekennummer) / folio number (DE Grundbuchblatt) for each parcel of land. Thus, especially in the latter two archives, genealogists are forced to first research the land registers (DE Grundbuch | PL księga gruntowe) and then order the matching land register file based on the number. While the land register records all changes to the ownership and mortgages of a certain parcel of land, the land register files contain all the accompanying documents, as outlined above.
  • The state archive of Katowice (including its branch archives) seems to have separated its land records from some of the file units of the former district courts. For a list of these separate file units, see the subchapter “Land records at Katowice state archive”.

Examples of land register files:

Cadastres, by contrast, are not especially relevant for genealogy. Cadastres were administrated on a district level by the land registry offices (DE Katasteramt | PL urząd katastralny), whose records can be found in the Polish state archives. The primary function of the land registry offices was the measuring and mapping of the parcels of land. The resulting cadastral maps (DE Katasterkarte, Liegenschaftskarte, Flurkarte | PL mapa ewidencyjna, mapa katastralna) are not necessarily helpful for genealogists, but can be used as historical maps. The question of whether the records of the land register offices can be used for any other research purposes requires further investigation. As an example of cadastral maps, I have uploaded some cadastral maps from Buschewitz in the district of Trebnitz here.

Urbaria

Urbaria (DE Urbar, Urbarium | PL urbarz) are a type of register of inhabitants that were created especially in the 1700s, but even as early as the 16th century. These records are spread over many different file units at the state archives and it is not always easy to find them. Generally speaking, urbaria do not contain much information. For the most part, they only contain peoples’ names and dues. However, they can be used e.g. for the mapping of surname occurences in various places. Urbaria were often drafted on the level of the individual dominions that made up Silesia. As a result, one has to keep historical divisions of Silesia in mind when looking for these kinds of records for a specific place. For Upper Silesia, urbaria can mostly be found in the file unit 82/8/0 in the state archive of Wrocław. I am not aware of any similarly centralised file unit for Lower Silesia.

Urbaria online:

Literature:

  • Stefan Guzy (ed.): Das Urbar der Herrschaft Cosel 1578 (AGOFF Schriftenreihe, Quellen und Darstellungen zur Personengeschichte des östlichen Europa, vol. 1, Herne, 2010, 239 pages, €28.50).

Caroline cadastre

The Caroline cadastre (DE Karolinisches SteuerkatasterPL Kataster Karoliński) was created from 1722 to 1726 by order of Emperor Charles VI in order to replace the old tax cadastre and modernise the tax system. Similarly to urbaria, the Caroline cadastre lists the inhabitants of all Silesian villages. The surviving cadastres are stored at the state archive of Wrocław, file unit 82/164/0. The cadastre for the southern part of Leobschütz district, by contrast, is found in the Czech state archive of Troppau (CZ Opava), file unit 1191 (Karolínský katastr). This latter file unit is also available digitally on digi.archives.cz.

In order to convey how much information one can find in the Caroline cadastre, here’s a translated quote from the house cadastre of Groß Strehlitz (Strzelce Opolskie):

“Samuel Halama [on the ring road]. The lower floor consists of a bare-walled room and cellar, in which cattle is kept. The upper floor consists of a wooden room and is in a general state of disrepair. 1 thaler.” – Archiv ostdeutscher Familienforscher, vol. 25, p. 191.

Records regarding the abolition of serfdom

Serfdom was only slowly abolished in Prussia over the course of the 1800s. Before that, farmers often had to give tithes to their local lords, or perform services such as threshing. The General Commission for Silesia (DE Generalkommission für Schlesien | PL Komisja Generalna dla Śląska) was in charge of making the change and allocating land to the newly-freed farmers. This was usually done in the form of recesses (DE Rezess, Recess (old spelling), Ablösung | PL recesy) which also dealt with the land charges (DE Reallasten) . Similarly, the forest and grazing rights had to be settled (DE Hutungsablösung, Hutungsteilung). Again, these records are basically lists of inhabitants. However, they not only contain the names of the male inhabitants, but also their house numbers, which might ease the search for land records. In the case of families lacking adult men (i. e. communities of heirs), these lists gave not only the names of the widows, but also the minors in her charge (and sometimes even their birth dates). Please see here for an example of such files in relation to Buschewitz in the district of Trebnitz.

The Commission was based in Wrocław, and its records are nowadays stored at the state archive in Wrocław, file unit 82/192/0The only exception are the records for the districts of Glogau (Głogów), Freystadt (Kozuchów), Grünberg (Zielona Góra) and Sagan (Żagań), which are partially also stored at the state archive in Zielona Góra, file unit 89/950/0. Further recesses for the districts of Guhrau (Góra), Groß Wartenberg (Syców), Ohlau (Oława), Strehlen (Strzelin) and Trebnitz (Trzebnica) can be found in the file units 82/591/0 to 82/595/0, but without a proper description of the contents on szukajwarchiwach. Further, the file units for the administrative district offices (DE Landratsamt | PL Starostwo Powiatowe) of Jauer (Jawor), Militsch (Milicz) and Neumarkt (Środa Śląska) contain additional recesses for the respective districts of the same name.

The Commission was dissolved on 3 June 1919. Its successor was the Provincial Agricultural Office in Breslau (DE Landeskulturamt Breslau | PL Krajowy Urząd Kultury Rolnej we Wrocławiu). Therefore, some relevant files can also be found in the records of the Provincial Agricultural Office at the state archive in Wrocław, file unit 82/193/0.

Residence registration cards

Residence registration cards (DE Meldekarten, Melderegister | PL karta meldunkowe) from Silesia have barely, if ever survived WWII. Personally, I know only of the residence registration cards of Legnica (Liegnitz), stored by the state archive in Legnica and the GStA PK in Berlin, as well as the cards of Racibórz (Ratibor), stored by the state archive in Racibórz. Residence registration cards contain information such as the names and dates and places of birth of each member of the household, their address(es), as well as their moving dates (including new addresses).

Last wills

Last wills (DE Testament) can usually found in state archives’ holdings of district court files (DE Amtsgericht | PL sąd obwodowy) – see the subchapter “Files of the Prussian administration”. Last wills usually mention the names and places of living of the heirs, as well as their alloted inheritances. Searching szukajwarchiwach for the surname you are looking for may yield results, although not all district court holdings have been inventorised to a degree where each last will is listed separately. Further, many state archives still have the files of local notaries in their holdings (PL akta notariusza), but I do not know whether these files contain further wills.

Guild files

Historically, guilds (DE Gilde, Zunft, Innung, Mittel | PL cech) played a huge importants for all crafts. You will often find that your craftsmen ancestors were Lehrlinge (apprentices), Gesellen (journeymen) or Meister (masters) of their profession. Not much is known about the genealogical value of guild files, but they do exist for some Silesian towns, as a search for “cech” on szukajwarchiwach indicates.

Censuses

Censuses were conducted in Prussia, but the questionnaires were all destroyed following statistical evaluation. As such, there are no actual censuses for Silesia.

Other lists of inhabitants

The town records for some Silesian towns sometimes contain voter lists, lists of new or leaving inhabitants, lists of watchmen, lists of brewers, and the like.

Tax records / class tax rolls

Tax records (DE Steuerliste) were typically destroyed. The only known exception for which tax records have survived to a larger extent with digital access is Breslau / Wrocław. For this city, class tax rolls (DE Klassensteuerrolle) for the period 1881-1906 have survived (the tax rolls until 1944/1945 were thrown away in the 1970s). They are a formidable source for Breslau, as they listed both place and date of birth of the taxpayer, in earlier years also the names and ages of all other members of the household. Find out how to search these lists here (German). Generally speaking, you need to find out the address of your person in a city directory closest to the tax year (tax lists were created towards the end of the year, the year before the tax was collected), match it with the tax district (DE Steuerbezirk) listed in a table of streets in one of the subchapters of the city directory, and then look up the tax lists for your tax district, find the address and your person.

For a handful of other places in Silesia, the class tax rolls have survived as well, but without digital access, as a simple search for “Steuerrolle” or “Klassensteuerrolle” on szukajwarchiwach shows.

Church accounts

Church accounts (DE Kirchenrechnungen) are a rather unnoticed and not widely published alternative source. These have mostly only survived for Catholic churches and are nowadays found in parish offices and diocesan archives. Evangelical church accounts have in rare cases survived in town records (see below). In many places, church accounts are sadly seen as not being of archival value and are not kept.

The genealogical value of these records varies strongly. For example, one can sometimes find lists of donors in the files. People who paid their dues were recorded in special lists (DE Hebeliste). Especially in the 20th century, there were also separate cemetery/graveyard accounts (DE Friedhofsrechnungen) in which the proceeds from burial services rendered were recorded. Cemetery/graveyard accounts can be seen as an alternative source for death records, as they often mention the name of the deceased and the date of burial.

Lastenausgleichsarchiv / Ostdokumentation

The federal archive of Bayreuth has three relevant file units in its holdings.

  • Lastenausgleichsarchiv (restitution archive): People who fled or were displaced to West Germany (FRG) could file for restitution for all their lost property after 1952 (East Germany (GDR) did not have such a process). They were then granted a certain sum of money so as to make up for their lost lives’ work. The applications, which contain personal information on the applicants, fellow members of the aggrieved party, names of witnesses, as well as household inventories, are stored in the “Lastenausgleichsarchiv” file unit. Even if you end up not having access to these files for data protection reasons, you can still infer from the metadata where a person went after the War. See the subpoint “German Federal Archives” for more information on how to search these files.
  • Ostdokumentation: Following WWII, the FRG strived to document the events of the Nazi reign and the last moments of WWII. The Ostdokumentation contains eyewitness testimonies, hand-drawn maps of places showing where which family lived before the escape and expulsion of the German population, lists of inhabitants (DE Seelenliste) of the eastern provinces, etc. The finding aid for the lists of inhabitants can be found here.
  • Another important source is the so-called Heimatortskartei (HOK), a card file in which the Church’s Search Service recorded refugees’ and expellees’ post-war addresses. The Church’s Search Service has since ceased its activity and handed over its records to the federal archive of Bayreuth. The finding aid for the HOK Passau, which was in charge of Silesia, can be found here (only Upper Silesia). One example of how detailed the records are is the HOK for Danzig and West Prussia, which can be viewed here by clicking on one of the camera symbols once you have signed in.

Mind that due to data protection laws, access to these files may not always be easy. Waiting times may be long.

Records relating to the escape and expulsion of the German populace 1945-1947

In the final phases of the War, large parts of the ethnic German population fled Silesia in fear of the advancing Soviet Army. Refugees and people expelled later were usually registered in their new places of living. Therefore, records detailing their escape are, if anything, found in the local town or municipal archives of the places they first settled in. Another source for this type of information is local histories written after the War (see above).

After the War, many Silesians with German roots were expelled from their homeland via Mariental camp (Helmstedt district, Lower Saxony). Every transport of expellees was recorded in lists that contained expellees’ names, professions, dates of birth, religious denominations and the last place of living. These transport lists are now being stored at the State Archive of Lower Saxony, Wolfenbüttel branch (file number NLA WO, 128 Neu Fb. 3 Nr. 255-312).

From the Polish side, the expulsion was conducted by the so-called National Repatriation Authorities (PL Państwowy Urząd Repatriacyjny (PUR)). For each transport, expellees were recorded in lists by these agencies. However, these lists do not survive for each and every district. Searching for “resettlement” (DE Umsiedlung | PL wysiedlanie) may yield results as well. Also, it may be useful to stop limiting the search results to collections.

Post-war addresses can also be found in the homeland newspapers (DE Heimatblatt) published by expellee associations for certain places and districts after the War. These homeland newspapers usually also contain subscribers’ family news, as well as reports of escape and expulsion. Further, the Lastenausgleich and Heimatortskartei provide additional possibilities to research post-war addresses (see the previous subchapter).

German Federal Archives

The German Federal Archives (DE Bundesarchiv) play a special role in the former eastern territories, as they store not the only personal files of various National Socialist organisations (Nazi Party (NSDAP), SA, SS, Organisation Todt), court files, and the personal files of the cental immigration authority, but also Lastenausgleich files (see subpoint “Lastenausgleichsarchiv / Ostdokumentation” for an explanation). The personal files of the National Socialist Organisations can contain Aryan certificates with family trees attached, which is an incredibly valuable resource for genealogists (this is usually limited to SS files, though). In what follows, the search strategy for the German Federal Archives will be explained.

The search engine Invenio forms the centrepiece of any research in the German Federal Archives. Sadly, the search engine is quite buggy – if you only get errors, try again some other time. First, click on “Suche ohne Anmeldung”, then on “Suche” at the top, followed by a click on “Namenssuche” in the line below. This will open the search mask. Depending on the type of files, there are different search strategies. However, using the surname, name and/or birthdate (DE Name, Vorname, Geburtsdatum; dates in DD MM YYYY format) works for all files.

  • Personal files of the National Socialist organisations: Knowing the place of birth (DE Geburtsort) is often helpful.
  • Lastenausgleich: There are three parameters that you can select from the dropdown menu to the right of “Zusatzfelder durchsuchen” that are helpful: “Kreis” (district) and “Gemeinde” (municipality)  refer to the place of living before the War, “Produzierendes Amt” (producing authority) refers to the place where the application for Lastenausgleich was filed after the war. That way, you can restrict the post-War place of living to a place close to the producing authority. Mind that only the name of the person filing the application (or the main victim) seems to have been recorded in the system. Therefore, you might have to use the names of other family members to find the right file.

Please note: Place and district names have to be precise – use “Hindenburg O.S.” instead of only “Hindenburg” or “Hindenburg O. S.” with a space, “Sorau (Lausitz)” instead of only “Sorau”. Also, you should try both the old place names and the new place names introduced in the 1930s in some areas. Nothing is known about the degree of completeness of Invenio. However, it can be assumed that more files will be registered in the system over time.

Due to data protection concerns, Invenio only lists members of few National Socialist organisations. Invenio mainly concentrates on recording the personal correspondence with these organisations. The actual membership card files are seemingly not indexed in Invenio. Therefore, if you are looking for the personal records of people from the collections of the National Socialist organisations, you ought to inquire directly with the federal archives, even if the person in question is not listed in Invenio. For a search request, you need the full vital info of the person (date and place of birth and death). In some cases, one also has to prove that one has a legitimate interest.

Other sources

Of course, the resources listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. The Polish state archives feature tons of other useful resources, it may just be hard to find them. Typing in the place name on szukajwarchiwach or translating the name of the type of record you are looking for into German and Polish and entering it on that site often helps you discover more.

Finding places, maps, pictures and graves

Finding places and determining the responsible register offices and parishes

Kartenmeister

Kartenmeister.com is a database of places that even records the smallest places in Silesia. It also lists the Catholic and Evangelical churches and register offices in charge of each place. Mind that place names with prefixes like “Alt” or “Neu” should be written with a space in between (“Alt Tarnowitz”, not “Alt-Tarnowitz” or “Alttarnowitz”). You can also register the names you are looking for by clicking on the button on the site for each place and see if there are any other researchers interested in that place. Mind that places with Slavic names often had new names imposed upon them by the Nazis in the 1930s.

AGOFF, GOV, Meyer’s Gazetteer

It also possible to check AGOFF, GOV or Meyer’s Gazetteer in case you don’t find anything on Kartenmeister.

Historical maps

Arcanum.com offers a 19th-century map superimposed over a modern map, based on the “Messtischblätter”, which are maps scaled 1:25,000. If you require a map for a different point in time, check landkartenarchiv.de.

Maps of villages and towns

See subchapter “Lastenausgleichsarchiv / Ostdokumentation”.

Pictures

Historical pictures of places can be found on fotopolska.eu and on polska-org.pl.

Graves

Unfortunately, not many graves from pre-WWII times remain in Poland. Catholic cemeteries fared much better than Protestant cemeteries, which were often subject to vandalism and general abandonment. However, with nobody left to pay for the maintenance of the grave sites, even Catholic burial plots eventually had to be vacated.

There are three websites that are useful for finding pictures of graves, but coverage is very low:

Files of the Prussian administration

The Prussian administration created and collected a lot of invaluable primary and secondary sources of the years. Of special interest are town records (PL akta miasto, akta gminy), district courts (DE Amtsgericht | PL sąd obwodowy), regional courts (DE Landgericht | PL sąd krajowe), administrative district offices (DE Landratsamt | PL starostwo powiatowe), and land registry offices (DE Katasteramt | PL urząd katastralny). Using these search terms, you can look up many of these repositories on szukajwarchiwach.

Administrative district offices were in charge of matters pertaining to e.g. citizenship, land registry offices of the land registers and division of land (but not the land records themselves, which were maintained by the district courts). Below, you will find more information on town records and district courts.

Town records

Town records (PL akta miasto, akta gminy) contain all what is left of a place’s civil administration. While a large part of the files pertains to orders of the local government, invoicing and accounting, there are nonetheless treasures to be found in these files. Among other things, town records may contain

  • Voters’ lists
  • Church accounts (the invoicing for burials is especially relevant)
  • Guild records
  • Lists of new persons in town
  • Lists of people moving away
  • Lists of Jews who were granted citizen’s rights
  • Lists of members of certain associations
  • Lists of members of the guard
  • Police files

Additionally, any other files found in a certain place may be bundled up with the town records if they were not identified early. For example, the town records of Brieg / Brzeg contain banns registers and churchbook indexes from Brieg, as well as urbaria and land records from the entire district of Brieg.

So far, only three Silesian towns have had a large percentage of their records published on szukajwarchiwach. You can find records for other places by typing in “akta miasto” or “akta gminy” in conjunction with the Polish place name into the search field on szukajwarchiwach.

District courts

District courts (DE Amtsgericht | PL sąd obwodowy) are extremely relevant for genealogy since they were in charge of some of the most important resources for Silesian genealogy. On the one hand, district courts stored churchbook duplicates, on the other hand, these courts were in charge of the land records. In addition, district courts set up and stored last wills. If you have an illegitimate ancestor, the so-called “Pflegschaftsakten” held by the district courts may give you the name of the father (it was not common practice to give the name of the assumed father in church records, and it was never given in civil records unless the father legitimised the child as his).

District courts were located in almost every medium-sized town. However, it seems that the courts were increasingly centralised at district level over the years. You can check Meyer’s Gazetteer to see which district court was in charge of your place (abbreviation for Amtsgericht used by the Gazetteer: AG).

The following is a list of all district courts for which records are known to survive. The numbers in brackets give the total amount of archival material available (in linear metres) and can be used to estimate how badly a given place was affected by the War (not applicable to records in the area covered by Katowice state archive, see next chapter). By clicking on the links, you can then also see on the right to what extent these records have been inventorised by the state archives. Often, district court holdings have not been inventorised in full, meaning that the future may hold many surprises for us – and that you may need to check the files in person in order to see what has and what has not survived. One problem in the area covered by Wrocław state archive is that most of the district court file units were damaged during the 1997 Oder flood and are pending restoration and can therefore not be accessed at the moment.

Land records at Katowice state archive

The state archive of Katowice (including its branch archives) has in some cases separated the land records from the district court file unites they were in and created new file units. Sometimes, the file units were named after the district, sometimes after the district court.

General advice

Finding help

If you need personal help, there are two good places for that:

Finding relatives

Create outreach and make it easier for other genealogists to find you.

DNA genealogy

DNA genealogy is not very common in Germany and Poland yet, which is why a comparably large percentage of DNA matches usually comes from the United States. Using DNA genealogy, you can normally confirm relationships that lie around five generations back. If you have done a DNA test, make sure to download the DNA data from your test provider and upload it on MyHeritage and GEDmatch (MyHeritage in particular is more popular in Europe). That way, you will multiply the amount of potential DNA matches.

If you have Silesian ancestors, it is also recommended to request membership in the “Silesia Ancestor Group” in the “Ancestor Projects” section on GEDmatch. That way, you can compare your DNA data directly with other people of confirmed Silesian ancestry.

Common mistakes

Just a few common mistakes Silesian genealogists seem to make very often:

  • Overreliance on Ancestry: Ancestry has only limited resources for Silesia, in terms of both time and regions covered. For the most part, Silesian genealogy is about searching civil registers and churchbooks manually. Therefore, one shouldn’t just give up if the easiest way does not deliver any usable results.
  • Using the search function on szukajwarchiwach or Familysearch to search BMD records for names: szukajwarchiwach usually does not index BMD records for names, while Familysearch’s registers are only indexed to a very limited extent. This seems to frustrate genealogists who are not aware of these limitations.
  • Not keeping data protection limits in mind: many genealogists seem to get stuck in the very beginning because they expect to find recent records still covered by data protection laws online. For recent records, one usually has to write to the competent authorities. Only after clearing the data protection limit hurdle, one can search more independently.

Supporting Silesian genealogy

Everyone can do their part to support Silesian genealogy and give back to the community.

Genealogical associations of Silesia