How to Research Prussian Polish Roots with the Poznan Project

Map of the area (circa Prussian occupation of Poland.)
Map of the area (circa Prussian occupation of Poland.) | Source

Problems in Researching Poznań/Posen Genealogy

Documentation of Polish families coming to America was poorly taken and shoddy, at best. Genealogical records seldom share the cities or towns in Poland where immigrants lived before making America their new home.

To make matters worse, western Poland belonged to Prussia during the 19th century. Records for families who originated from, what was called the Posen/Poznań Province at the time, were just marked with "Poznań" or "Posen." As "Prussia" no longer exists, names of territories and their borders have changed very much.

Because the capital of the Province of Poznań is the city of Poznań, you might assume that "Poznań" in your family's records refer to the city, especially since there is no such thing as the Province of Poznań (any more)! This can cause a fruitless search into families originating from the city of Poznań.

As you can see, researching your Polish roots, especially if your family came from Prussia, requires a bit of knowledge of Polish history.

Looking for a groom with the last name of Przybyl who was married in Wągrowiec.
Looking for a groom with the last name of Przybyl who was married in Wągrowiec.

What is the Poznan Project?

Since "Posen" or "Poznań" on genealogical records could mean that your family may have originated from anywhere within the now defunct Province of Posen (which is a huge area), a number of people have started working to bring marriage records to the Internet.

The Poznan Project Database
, which is free to use, allows you to search for marriage records dating from 1800 to 1899. These records, which are continually being collected from parishes within the province, are uploaded by volunteers who spend countless hours on the project.

The aim is to help researchers find exactly where in Poland their family is from.

Search results
Search results
Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is a photo copy of the original, handwritten marriage records of Michael and Margaretha Przybyl. (Married in 1865)The column on the right shows the witnesses at each of the marriages listed.
This is a photo copy of the original, handwritten marriage records of Michael and Margaretha Przybyl. (Married in 1865)
This is a photocopy of the original, handwritten marriage records of Michael and Margaretha Przybyl. (Married in 1865)
The column on the right shows the witnesses at each of the marriages listed.
The column on the right shows the witnesses at each of the marriages listed.

How to Use the Database

Visitors can enter a last name for the bride or groom and search. However, you can choose to fine tune your search by entering a first name. What's really nice about the search feature on the Poznan Project site is that it'll show results with similar names in case you're not quite search how to spell a name.

Users can also enter a religion if they wish and even enter a time frame when they believe the couple may have been married.

Another great feature that allows users to narrow down results is the "region" drop down menu. If you have a hunch that your family may have been from a specific region, you can select one before running the search. This is also handy if you've found ancestors on the Poznan Project and you want to find other possible relatives.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Close-up of Michael & Margaretha's graveGraves of Shebel (bottom right) and Przybyl (top)
Close-up of Michael & Margaretha's grave
Close-up of Michael & Margaretha's grave | Source
Graves of Shebel (bottom right) and Przybyl (top)
Graves of Shebel (bottom right) and Przybyl (top) | Source

Location of Czeszewo in relation to the city of Poznań

show route and directions
A markerCzeszewo, Wągrowiec -
Czeszewo, Poland
[get directions]

B markerPoznań, Poland -
Poznań, Poland
[get directions]

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How the Poznan Project Helped Us

My last name is Shebel (pronounced like "she" + "bull") however, this wasn't always our last name. When our family came to America, the last name was changed.

When I first started doing research on our family history, I was told that there was a possibility that our last name had once been "Przybyl" but I was given a number of different spellings and some people just said it was always "Shebel."

I'd found some census records showing that my great-great grandfather, Michael Shebel came to America from Posen, Poland with his wife, Margaretha and that they were buried in the St. Stanislaus Kostka (Polish cemetery) in Michigan City, Indiana. However, I couldn't find his grave.

I, like many, assumed that Posen referred to the city of Poznań so I was at a dead end. Then someone on a genealogy board told me about the Poznan Project. I entered "Shebel" and nothing came up. I talked with a number of people trying to figure out Polish last names, starting with the letter "P" sounded like "Shebel" and we came up with Przybyl.

I did a search for this guess and Michael and Margaretha Przybyl came up. They had the exact wedding year I'd found in my research. The couple was wed in what is now the parish of Czeszewo in Gmina Gołańcz, Wągrowiec, Wielkopolska, Poland and not simply "Posen."

I sent for a copy of the original marriage records and received them about a month later.

Heading back to the cemetery with my dad, we searched for the grave of Michael and Margaretha Shebel. We found a number of other Shebels buried in the cemetery. After looking at every last grave in the cemetery we headed toward the Shebel graves we'd seen before.

Then, we saw a tall, worn stone that said "Przybyl" just aside the other Shebel graves... and it bore the names Michael and Margaretha. We'd missed it before as we had viewed it from the front and not from the back where "Przybyl" was written.

Without help from the Poznan Project we would have never seen the Przybyl marriage records and we may have never found Michael Przybyl's grave.

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Comments 13 comments

caseymel profile image

caseymel 3 years ago from Indiana

I just put my maiden name (Tylicki) into the site and found a bunch of results. It will be fun to research and try to put them into my family tree!


Bob Miks 3 years ago

I was surprised to find this website and to read your story about the Przybyl family from Czeszewo. My 2Xgreat-grandfather, Lawrence Przybyla, was also from Czeszewo! They immigrated to Posen, Michigan in 1868. I have been researching the names from Czeszewo for many years. My relatives have always wondered if other Przybyl's had also immigrated. We must be related. I would be interested in sharing our findings. Please contact me at rjmiks4@cox.net.


Mark Lapa 3 years ago

Great story! Having trouble finding my Polish roots with last name Lapa!


Jeannette Chipka 4 years ago

Melbel ~~ you will not find the parents names on the marriage documents from the church if they are over age 21 only if they are younger will the parents be listed. But, you can search the film or films for the area they are from ! Most likely the parents are from the same area as the groom and bride ~~ so you get a film for the date the parents would be married or you get the film of the birth of the groom and bride and work BACKWARDS you will find the parents marriage and then the parents baptism (birth) records.


Jeannette CHipka 4 years ago

I wanted to add ~~ just getting the marriage record sent to you is a good idea, but a better idea is to order the film. You not only get the marriage record, but other clues - as I said you can find baptism records which are actually the birth records as they did not have "birth certificates". You can then find what village they were actually from because the bride and groom were sometimes from neighboring villages. the death records also are a great find because these records are actually the church records which recorded baptism, marriage and death records. Only ordering the marriage record is "the tip of the iceburg" so I would encourage all to order the films and have them sent to your local library. The money you spend on the films and time searching is well worth it! Your search will lead back to "more films" and more information going back more generations yet.

I also made contact with a searcher on the internet who actually sent me pictures from Poland of the church my greatgrandparents were married and the church is kept as it was then. A beautiful wooden church.


Jeannette Chipka 4 years ago

I used the Poznan Project and of course contributed $$ because of the great results. No one knew where my great grandparents were from - Yeah Poznan - I found their marriage record but did not order it - instead I ordered the film from LDS library and had it sent to my local library. From there I found the church records and the little village they were from. My maternal greatgrandmother was a twin and married in a double ceremony in a little church in Dobrzyna Poland. Finding this film and their marriage record led me to her BIRTH RECORD and my greatgrandfathers birth record - I have since found their siblings and traced back THEIR parents marriage and BIRTH records. Oh gosh ! this site is a Godsend. I ordered all the films I needed and more. Since then I also searched my paternal great grandparents and found yet more. I have entered over 400 names in my FTM from this project and so very grateful for all who made this project possible. My greatgrandparents had 18 children and in 15 years of searching I could only find 15 of them. Recently I was allowed in a Catholic church to view all their old records and found the remaining 3 who died in childhood. This is certainly an expensive hobby but well worth the rewards. Many thanks to Lukasz Bielecki and his team of the Poznan Project. BTW, the films also have death records besides baptism and marriage records to they are really a great source!


chaazums 4 years ago

My great grandfather emigrated from Poznan, Prussia...of course, like many others, we have a name change issue...his name was Valentine Buchkowski and he had a brother named Jozef Buczek...both death certificates list father and mother as unknown...they arrived in America in 1872 timeframe


Jeannette Chipka 4 years ago

I have used the Poznan Project since it came out. I found my greatgrandparents birth records (grandma was a twin) they had a double wedding ceremony. That led to someone on the web who had pictures of the church that was still standing - they married in 1875. I have expanded my line by the thousands by this project and am forever grateful to Lukacz and his team. If you find the marriage record, you can then go back and find birth and tons of people related. My mother was one of 12 and grandfather one of 18 so you can see how huge our family is. Pieces and parts that's all genealogy is.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

This is a great resource. Though my ancestors were from Prussia, they did not come from that area, so I can't really use it. But voting this Up and Useful anyway.


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 4 years ago from West Virginia

Oh I am going to need this for my genealogy I have here. I have a great-great-great grandma that was from Prussia and can't find anything on her line. Bloemker is the name. I am also going to link this on my Breakfast With Grandpa hub about the Rank line in which she is part of.


melbel profile image

melbel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan Author

@ktrapp Yeah, who knew he would come to the States and change his name from Przybyl to Shebel and live as a Shebel and then have Przybyl put on his gravestone. Now I'm trying to figure out what relation Jacobus Przybyl was to Michael (brother? father? cousin?) so that I can trace it further. I'm not finding his parents or Margaretha's parents listed on the marriage documents.

@cardisa This sounds strange, but I know that there is a genetic test you can take which gives you some dots on a world map where people have similarities in DNA. It's a way to trace things to a region. It would be interesting, but kind of scary at the same time getting a test like that done. You could also try ancestry.com, I've found a LOT of information there. I don't know how well documented people were in Jamaica over the course of history.

I know that it does have a little bit to do with religion, though. For example, my dad's family was Catholic and the Catholic church has been keeping records of people for hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, I did also find, through Jewish records, that the Przybyls who remained in Poland were held in Dachau during WWII. That's a topic for another hub perhaps.


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 4 years ago from Jamaica

I have no idea where my name originated. I don't think I have polish roots but I know that I have Indian ancestry, definitely African and I have Caucasian persons in my family. I was told the the white part of me is Irish but I really am not sure. I think my people just make things up as they go along to silence us from asking too many questions but I would really like to trace my name.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois

What a great family story. It must have been so satisfying when you finally found the Przbyl gravestone that you were looking for, thanks to the Poznan Project.

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