Searching for documents in foreign archives

Poland1939_physical.jpgWe search for documents needed for confirmation of polish citizenship of people who lived in Poland both before and after the war. We also conduct searches of documents in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Searches in Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania are always conducted personally and directly by an experienced genealogist.

Picture on the left: map of Poland from 1939 - people who lived on terrains that were later incorporated to other countries were polish citizens, and if they didnt loose it later, their descendants are still entitled to get Polish passport. We search for documents in local archives in all this area.

Even a few years ago obtaining confirmation of the possession of Polish citizenship was easier than today. Polish authorities and courts accepted as evidence even normal photocopies of documents confirming Polish citizenship of applicants. Moreover, you could request the officials processing your application during the procedure to check if the records of an archive contain any documents concerning a given person.

The procedures and methods of processing applications have been, however, made stricter – and eventually the most important change was implemented on 15 August 2012 – the date of the new Act on Polish Citizenship coming into force. From that moment it is the applicants’ responsibility to present to the authority specific and unquestionable evidence of the fact that the applicant or applicant's ancestors held Polish citizenship. What is more, currently the verification procedure has been significantly tightened.

Everything changed after the new Act on Polish Citizenship came into force. According to the provisions of the Act, it is the applicants’ responsibility to present unquestionable evidence that the applicant or applicant's ancestors held Polish citizenship. What is more, the verification procedure has been tightened.

Handling applications of our clients I noticed that most of them think that the crucial document for the procedure is birth certificate of the ancestor who lived in Poland.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Moreover, please note that persons who left Poland before 1939 are subject to particularly thorough verification. Proving that a given person was born in Poland is not a sufficient proof to confirm that such person held Polish citizenship and his/her descendants or the applicant may obtain Polish passport.

rivne.jpgPhoto on the left: Building of State's Archives of Rivne Oblast (Ukraine).

To receive a positive decision you should find as many documents confirming (even indirectly) possession of Polish citizenship by a given person as possible.

Polish archives contain numerous documents that may be sufficient to obtain positive outcome. It is not, however, possible to make a list of such documents – sometimes documents issued by local military committees may turn out to be useful, and sometimes we use documents issued by a local notary public. In a word, archives may contain hundreds of different types of records and after they are put together they may constitute sufficient evidence to prove that an individual was a Polish citizen.

Document searches are not easy. Numerous factors must be taken into account. Often families do not remember where a father or grandfather was born and lived. Sometimes documents are held in different archives due to organisational changes. Documents are transferred from archives being liquidated or relocated. Knowledge of the family history is sometimes incomplete. In one of the applications handled by me, the applicant's father was born around 1905 and we had no documentation concerning him from later years. The client was sure that his grandfather, his father's father, was killed during border clashes with the Czech army in Zaolzie. Searches in the military archives and the archive from the place of residence of the family brought no results. Only during a review of organisational changes of the local archives it turned out that records from the small village where the applicant's family lived had been transferred to a different archive, where we eventually found full documentation of the family. What was interesting, we discovered that the applicant's grandfather was not killed in the clashes with Czechs, but was only wounded, and died of natural causes just before Wold War II. The fact that we found military documentation of the grandfather led to successful outcome of this procedure. Documents searches in large cities may also prove difficult, and, ironically, well preserved documentation from a given city may make searching for records concerning an individual harder due to the volume of preserved documents in the archive. This is even more difficult when the family is not sure of the correct spelling of the first name or surname of their ancestor.

Another very important issue is obtaining documents of persons who lived in the areas that used to be a part of the Polish territory and currently belong to Latvia, Ukraine or Belarus. Searches in Ukrainian and Belarusian archives are very complicated. We cannot be always sure that records are searched properly. Language barrier is often a problem, as not many officials in Ukraine and Belarus speak English.

Therefore, we conduct searches of documents concerning families of our clients both directly and also in more complex cases, through very experienced and qualified research specialist who is familiar with officials in Ukraine and Belarus, is able to personally visit local archives and check all records required.

To sum up, if you want to obtain Polish passport and do not possess documents sufficient to commence the procedure – there is no reason to give up. Documents, unless they have been destroyed, may be found in local archives. Obviously each case must be considered individually. We apply different approach to searching documents in small towns that are located in the territory of Poland, different one to large cities, and yet another in the areas currently belonging to Ukraine, Lithuania or Belarus. In Poland, the cases requiring documents searches in Warsaw and Łódź archives are most peculiar.

If you do not possess appropriate documents you can still apply for Polish passport. Effectiveness of searches depends of course on the particulars you have on the history of your family. The more details you know about your family the greater the chance to find documents that will help to prove to Polish authorities that the person applying for Polish passport is a citizen of Poland.

Fill in the application form online and even today find out about your chances of obtaining the confirmation of Polish citizenship (Polish citizenship - eligibility)