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Introduction to Polish Genealogy: Language Help

Strategies and resources to research your Polish family history.

Language Help

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.

SŁOWNIK JĘZYKA POLSKIEGO -- Polish language dictionary (online)

Wielki słownik języka polskiego - Polish dictionary (online) 

Surname Mapping

Surname map

Retrieved from Surname Map of Poland

Online mapping tools can give you more information about the distribution of your ancestor's surname:

Further Reading

Name Changes

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:

  • -ski, -cki, -zki and the feminine versions -ski, -cka, -zka
  • -szyk, -czak
  • -ek, -ik, -yk
  • -arz, -erz, -acz

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. 

  • Ex: Jan Piotric= John Peter’s son

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

  • Ex: Jan de Dębina= John of the Oaks

3. Occupational Surnames: Names in this category reference the bearer's occupation or trade, or may be connected to associated objects.

  • Ex: Jan Sołtys= John the Administrator

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.  

Translation Guides and Dictionaries

Genealogical Word Lists

Family Search offers genealogical word lists in world languages, which is especially helpful to translate common words in genealogical records:

Handwriting Help

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.