How to apply for a certificate from Poland?

This page is intended as a set of guidelines on how to write letters to Polish archives (State and Ecclesiastical), Civil Registration Offices and parishes. Basic information about how institutions are organized and what records they have is provided in another section of this guide.

The main problem in dealing with Polish offices or parishes is that their staff is not likely to be able to write any language other than Polish. Furthermore, except for several major archives, it is not very likely that a letter in English or German will be answered at all, and if it were, their reply will certainly be in Polish. Therefore it is strongly recommended to obtain assistance from a translator, especially for the answer from Poland and the certificate itself.

It is possible however to give general guidelines as to how requests should be written in the majority of standard cases. A couple of examples are shown below. They are quite formal so as to standardize their contents and which allows the writer to change it according to their needs. Remember that Polish is an inflexed language. For this reason, if I provided all possible expressions in a more narrative letter, it wouldn't be useful for anybody who doesn't speak Polish.

A sample letter to a Polish Civil Registration Office
Remember that the Registration Offices only have records newer than 100 years. The older ones have been transferred to the State Archives

A sample letter to a Polish State Archive

A sample letter to a Polish Ecclesiastical Archive

A sample letter to a Polish parish

The addresses of the Archives (both State and Ecclesiastical) can be found here. The Civil Registration Office should be addressed as follows:
USC
where Locality stands for the name of the town which is the community seat for our location. Post stands for the Post Office for this town (may be the same). The name of the street and number of house is necessary only for larger cities. Usually there is no doubt where the Civil Registration office is located. The same holds true for the Catholic parishes:
Parish
For larger towns, where more than one church is likely to exist, the exact address should be provided. For Lutheran parishes we replace the word "Rzymskokatolicka" with "Ewangelicka". Don't forget that most of the pre-WWII Lutheran churches now belong to the Catholics. The Orthodox parishes are addressed "Parafia Prawoslawna" and for the Greek Catholics it is "Parafia Greckokatolicka".

As far as the Ecclesiastical archives and parishes are concerned, often no fixed fees for the certificates are established. It is common courtesy however to enclose a donation for the church or archive ($15-30 USD). Please remember that practically only cash is useful for the priest, foreign checks are not negotiable in Poland. Wrap the bill in a piece of thick paper to avoid theft. The pastors are obliged to issue a certificate when a precise date and name are provided but they are not very likely to undertake a more time-consuming search themselves. If this is needed, it is recommended that a professional genealogist be hired. The Ecclesiastical archive staff will do the research requested and issue the certificates. In some archives fixed fees are established, e.g. in Poznan $10 for an hour of research plus $15 for each official certificate. Usually no special permissions are necessary if you want to conduct your own research in a Catholic Archive.

More complicated procedures must be followed in the State Archives and the Civil Registration Offices. If you want to undertake your own research in any of the Polish State Archives, you must first fill-in a form for a permission. This is usually granted with no special problems, although not always feasible within a short time! If you are only requesting research to be conducted by the archive staff, the research fees are about $10 per hour and you will be informed the amount of time spent on your research in the reply you receive from the archive staff. You can also request Xerox copies of documents and records. Copies of genealogical documents cost $20 per A4 sheet, while other documents cost $1 per A4 sheet. The amount due, as well as the archive's account number, is indicated in the archive's reply and the account number should accompany your payment to the archive.

The Civil Registration Offices will only issue certificates if you provide them with specific name and date data. The staff will seldom search for records if the data are less precise and it often depends on the good will and time constraints of the officials. The fee for a certificate is about $10 with no additional charge for the search itself.


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