Records in the Napoleonic Format

One –at family, even though German by language and religion, did not live in German territory where the records were only kept at the parish level and recorded in fairly easy-to-read columns as required by the state church. They lived in an area which was a protectorate of the Russian Empire where the system of record keeping was introduced by Napoleon in 1807 as a result of his conquest of this territory. He established the Duchy of Warsaw, a protectorate of the French Empire until his defeat in 1815. Then the Congress of Vienna, composed of representatives of many nations, established the Kingdom of Poland in 1815.[i]

In 1808 the Code of Napoleon initiated a civil (not church) registration of births, marriages, deaths, and sometimes even marriage intentions, commonly known as banns. After Napoleon was defeated, the French Duchy of Warsaw came under Imperial Russian administration from 1815 to 1918.[ii] Nevertheless, the civil registration in the Napoleonic format continued throughout the Russian administration.[iii]

Instead of the local parish pastors recording the births and baptisms, marriages, and deaths and burials in their “kirchenbuchs,” the clergy were appointed as civil registrars to keep civil registers. They still wrote down the details of each record, but they did so as employees of the state, not the state church. Catholic clergy were responsible for recording the births, marriages, and deaths of everyone until the mid-1820s.[iv]

(See my note below.) Then Jews, Evangelical Lutherans, and other non-Catholics were allowed to maintain their own civil registers. The church “registers” also used the civil format so that the civil registers were actually duplicates of the original church books.[v] In spite of the armies that crossed and recrossed these lands throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, it is generally the local records[vi] which have survived in the archives of Germany, Poland, and Lithuania and have since been microfilmed. Occasionally, both the local and state copies appear on microfilm. Confirmation records in German were written in columns, a format consistent with the German “kirchenbuchs.” Confirmation records were not required as part of the civil registration in the Napoleonic format.

 Marek Koblanski, accredited genealogist and translator of almost all the records in this volume,  commented about the records and system of recording them:

As far as I know the information was gathered before the marriages took place, as well as after the death and birth took place. In most cases they were first entered on a piece of paper, and then someone, most of the time the local teacher, would come and make the entries in the book (usually the teacher had nice hand writing skills). Then one copy of the entry remained at the parish, where you can find several years or records found in one book, when at the end of each year a copy of the civil transcript was delivered to the civil authorities. The easiest way to distinguish if the records are civil or church is by looking at the records themselves, and see if they are maintained yearly or if the one volume includes several years and sometimes events.[vii] 

 The Extensive Area of the Records

 The clergyman, acting as an official of the state responsible for recording the births, marriages, and deaths, was in charge of more than one parish. For example, the same pastor who recorded all the information for Mariampol, the “mother” parish, also recorded all the information in Wylkowiszki, a “daughter” congregation, as well as in Kalwaria, another “daughter” congregation. With all this required record keeping, plus annually being responsible for a duplicate of each record, plus traveling, one may justifiably wonder how a clergyman ever had time to perform other pastoral duties.


1 [Anonymous] “Civil Registers in Russian-Ruled Poland,” (Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1988), 1.

2 Civil Registers in Russian-Ruled Poland, 1.

3 Civil Registers in Russian-Ruled Poland, 1.

4 Because the civil registers in Wylkowiszki do not start until 1843, the time near the formation of the evangelische (Lutheran) church in Mariampol, one may wonder about locating the civil registers before that time as there is evidence of Spurgats (although not proven from these three families) in this area as early as 1795. If the grandparents of the three Spurgat immigrants were born in the Suwalki Province, records of their births would have been in the civil registers kept by the Catholic Church until 1826. If the grandparents of these Spurgat immigrants were born in East Prussia, one would search for the records there. However, two factors prohibit an exact search. First, the same wars and changes of governments that plagued Suwalki Province also plagued East Prussia. Next, the ravages of World War II and the Communist government for forty-five years after the war resulted in the loss of some records in both places. The Catholic records for Wylkowiszki for this period were destroyed in “wars and fires.” Without a specific location in East Prussia, one would have to examine all the records in all the parishes in the sixteen westernmost counties in East Prussia, many of these without indices. Perhaps future Internet databases might shorten this search.

5  Civil Registers in Russian-Ruled Poland, 1.

6  Consultation with Kahile Mehr.

7 Marek Koblanski.

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About suwalkigermans

I started family research in 1993. My first two books focused on my maternal grandparents. Both families came from Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia, to Big Rapids, Michigan. I left the Spurgats from Wylkowiszki in the Russian Empire as the third book because of the difficult and challenging research it required. After I published the book in 2010, I wondered what to do next. I thought I might try to share some of my research with others and maybe at the same time, by going digital, someone would find me. When you read the comments, you will see that happened. The best part of all this is helping others.
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