Prussian Genealogy: The Poznan Project
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 (anymore, anyway)! 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.
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.
How to Use the Database
Visitors can enter the last name for the bride or groom and search. However, you can choose to fine-tune your search by entering the 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 sure 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.
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.
Do you have Polish roots?
© 2011 Melanie Palen