The Magnate Landowner Records
of Eastern Europe by Gayle Schlissel Riley Email:

[Following is a summary for the talk Gayle gave to PGS-California on March 24.
Also see the Heritage Quest article and Gayle’s website above for additional information. Ed.]

The magnates (Magnacy) were feudal lords who lived on large estates, owned castles, towns, and villages. They wielded great political influence. Their chief income came from taxes and the produce from lands the peasants (serfs) worked.

This article will illustrate the value of the Magnate Landowner records as an alternate source of genealogical information.

The Landowners consisted of several groups. They were the Magnate Landowners known as Szlachta (gentry), the Nobility, sometimes land poor but titled. The Catholic Church also became landowners.

Magnate families of Poland were composed of about 18 to 20 families who inter-married to keep the land in the families. If the family produced no male heir they could lose their land.

    There are many ways one could find out if their town was owned by a magnate:
  • Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Kraków Słowianskich [1] in English known as Geographic Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries.
  • The “Sezam” database created by the Polish National Archives, can be searched by Magnate Landowner name. Then you will see the scope of the collection of most Polish Magnates, the size and some listing of records. The Polish National Archives web site is useful for searching for records of your town. Some of the site is in English. When searching for Jewish records look for the word “mojzeszowe” or Moses, not Zydowski/Jewish.
  • The Galician 1891 Business Directory available online
  • Town web pages and postcards

I have created several databases, which can be found online or in my finding aid including Galician, Russian, Ukrainian and Hungarian lists. A copy can be found in the Resource Room.

Once you have discovered whether your town was governed by a magnate, you can then go to the Avotaynu web page to locate the address of your magnate's records.

At this point, the great debate begins. Should one write the archives and hope the archivist will know exactly what you are hunting for? This is not going to happen. You must know exactly what record you want along with its corresponding page number. These records do not contain birth, death and marriage records. You should plan to go to the archive of your magnate yourself or hire someone.

One of those books which will provide you with an insight into Magnate Landowner records is called, The Jews in a Polish Private Town [2] , by Gershon Hundert a professor at McGill University. This book deals with the Lubomirski family and towns in the Vistula River area. One of the most interesting lists is a cobbler’s list, (shoe makers) and the number of Poles on the list which lack Jewish cobblers for the years 1721 and 1788. The Jews were the buyers of the hides that the Poles needed and so there were a lot of conflicts.

In the May/June issue of Heritage Quest [3] , you will find an article I wrote speaking about one of the most widely known magnate landowners, the Sieniawski-Czartoryski family. Their union established one of the largest landowner's families written about of its time. Their archive contains one of the largest collections of 1764/5 Polish censuses of the Jewish population, written about in M.J. Roseman's book, The Lord's Jews Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the 18th Century [4] . Its bibliography, indexes and archival sources will help you locate the collections you desire. The book is available from many University libraries and can be purchased online through Barnes and Noble, in paperback for eighteen dollars.

Another book which got me started on this quest was a Polish book called, Zydzi w miastach wojewodztwa Sandomierzkiego I Lubelskiego w XVIII wieku [5] . In English The Jews of Sandomierz and Lublin counties in the 17th century. In it I found the 1772 census for Tarnobrzeg, which was quite interesting, but the records lacked last names for many of the town’s residents. This book lists census type documents for many other towns in Sandomierz and Lublin counties (powiats).

In the summer of 2001, I visited the Tarnowski family archives located at the Wawel Castle in Kraków. Months before I visited I wrote and asked many questions concerning the Tarnowski collection. I did not ask for family records, just for physical description of the collection. You may write them in English but expect them to answer in Polish.

What to expect? The Tarnowski collection was indexed, in a typewritten, 900 page book; many others are also indexed. How difficult are they to use? If you can read a handful of words in Polish, you can manage the index. You will need to fill out user forms to use the records at any Polish archives. At the Wawel, there was a staff member who spoke English. Please make sure the archives are not closed when you plan to go. Refer to the Avotaynu website for addresses.

On my trip I found many types of records. You must also understand that these records were mostly composed of business records. I also found some land deeds, record number 944 dealt with the brewery. The Jews' right to sell liquor was located in record group number 296. Record number 449 dealt with a proclamation signed by the Jews for the year 1853.

    Types of documents one would find among the magnates records were:
  1. Business records of the estates
  2. Tax lists, i.e., honey tax and tax on sellers of liquor
  3. Inventories of people and animals
  4. Guild records
  5. Court documents
  6. Land deeds, plat maps, maps of the magnates' holdings
  7. Proclamations
  8. Some contain the 1764/5 census (see Ms. Muszynska's book for lists of other censuses available in Sandomierz and Lublin powiats)
  9. The magnates provided protection for their citizens, relief when the crops failed and loans to rebuild.

One document I particular found interesting was a court case about two Jews who were required to bring the Torah scrolls into court so they could swear on them, as was formerly done in US courts. The title page requesting the Torah was written in Polish, the rest in German, and difficult to read.

The law suit takes place in Tarnobrzeg, in 1811 & 1814 but the defendants were from other towns. Marew Goldhamer, a wine merchant was from Lesko, in Sanoker county and Samuel Gottlieb, from Santoro, Kamkam county, Hungary. Both worked for the Duchy of Warsaw. They were in town to collect grain to make alcohol. Some of the documents presented in this case were “Documents of Safe Passage” which contained physical description of the men. The whole business of alcohol generates one of the largest taxed items among the Magnate records.

The Magnate Landowner records’ subject is an exciting new source of genealogical information, different, but so useful. I highly recommend giving it a try.

    End Notes:
  • ↑ [1], index.htm and
  • ↑ [2] The Jews in a Private Town, The Case of Opatow in the 18th Century, by Gershon Hundert, John Hopkins University Press 1992 English
  • ↑ [3] Heritage Quest May/June 2002 issue The Tarnowski Family Archives at the Wawel by Gayle Schlissel Riley in English
  • ↑ [4] The Lords’ Jews Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the 18th Century, by M. J. Roseman Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and the Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University 1990 ISBN0-916458-18-0 in English
  • ↑ [5] Zydzi w miastach wojewodztwa Sandomierskiego I Lubelskiego w XVIII wieku, by Jadwiga Muszynska, published by Wyzsza Szkola Pedagogiczna im. Jana Kochanowskiego, Kielce 1998 in Polish

    Additional Source of Information:
  • The Wawel Archive contains records for the following families: Potocki, Sanguszko, Dzieduszycki and Lubomirski.
  • The archives, for the Czartoryski family is in the Church at 17 St Marka Street, Kraków 31-018.
  • Data for the Radziwillow and Sapiehow at the head archives, 7 Dluga Street, Warsaw 00-263.
  • Poczet polskich rodow arystokratcznych
  • Teresa Zielinska, Warszawa 1997, Cs879.A2 Z49, 1997, in Polish.
  • Patricia Kennedy Grimsted’s books on Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine have archives holdings and magnate listings.
  • Krzystof Slusarek “Drobna Szlachta w Galiciji”
  • Hungary “Csaladnevmutato a Magyar Orszagos Leveltarban Orzott Csaladi leveltarak es Gyujtemenyek Irataihoz.
  • Avotaynu Online Database Lists Nobility Archives, Edward Luft, Vol. XIV, Number 4, Winter 2003 and Using Polish Magnate records, Vol. XIX, Number 3, Fall 2003.
  • Description of the County of Poznan Geographic History Stats (Opisanie Jeoraficzno-Historyczno-Statstycfzne*) Vol.1 there are two volumes. I was not able to find vol.2 in the USA.
  • From the CHAJP archives website in the territory of Belarus and the Ukraine, as well as private archives of Polish noble families, such as Landskorunskij, Lubomirskij, Potockij, Radziwil, Sapeha, Tarlo, Treter, Zamojskij; files from central government organs (14th-20th centuries), central and local military administrations, such as the Office of the Military Ministry and the Supreme Commander’s Staff of the Russian Army; from regional and city administrations, from private papers of higher Tsarist officials, as well as from Soviet government institutions; files from the German Foreign Office on Russian Jewry (1879-1920).
  • * [My search of the internet found two books 1) Plater L., Opisanie jeograficzne-historyczno-statystyczne województwa poznańskiego. Paryż 1841, s.99, and 2) L. Plater, Opisanie historyczno-statystyczne Wielkiego Księstwa Poznańskiego, wyd. J. N. Bobrowicz, Lipsk 1846, Ed.]