Translation guides and English-Polish dictionaries can help you with Polish-language records. NYPL has guides and dictionaries in our print materials, but there are also resources available online.
Surnames developed as a cultural necessity to distinguish one person from another, and follow a descriptive naming pattern which can give you more information about your ancestor. Polish surnames were generally formed by combining a suffix to a root word. Some of the most common suffixes include:
Polish surnames can often be classified with the following categories:
1. Patronymic and Matronymic Surnames: Among the easiest to recognize, these names are created by combining a first name with a suffix.
2. Topographical and Geographical Surnames: Another common category of surname, many of these names developed to mark the place of residence for the original bearers
3. Occupational Surnames: Names in this category reference the bearer's occupation or trade, or may be connected to associated objects.
4. Descriptive and Miscellaneous: Other surnames may have developed to reference a person's physical characteristics, or other verb or noun combinations.
To research your family's surname, there are many excellent Polish names dictionaries and reference works- a sampling of which are included in the further reading section of this page.
Analyzing old records is easier with a little help deciphering historic handwriting. Family Search offers a great series of instructional videos about the print and scripted forms of world languages. This is especially helpful if you are trying to read Russian records in the Cyrillic alphabet.