One of my cousins said that information stored on stone survive longer than on paper. He meant the information which can be found at cemeteries, engraved on tombs, should have survived for thousands of years. Unfortunately, with our cemeteries this is not always the case. We were used to hear that some of our graves were damaged outside our east border during communist time, but now happens that the headstones found in the current Polish borders are destroyed. The tombstones disappear not only because of hooligans pranks, but also it is possible to sell an occupied cemetery plot for the second time with the headstones inscribed on the opposite side.
In Poland in the most cases, cemetery plots are not bought, but leased like an apartment, so every 20 years owners (descendants) have to pay a fee. Fees are quite high and at times can be 10 times more than the average medium salary. In other cases graves can be abolished. In the past there were a few graveyards where some cemetery plots were purchased for forever. These are the most important graveyards in Poland like: Powązki in Warsaw or Cmentarz Rakowicki in Kraków, but even there, tombstones can be destroyed, so the cemetery proprietor can sell these cemetery plots once again. Fortunately, more and more cemeteries are being inventoried. Often results of such inventories are now available on the Internet. Big cities like Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk or Poznan try to utilize one search engine for all their cemeteries. Some results are better than the others. Warsaw probably works the least. Lutheran cemetery, although partly on a city search, is better accessed through the Grobonet system. The Evangelical-Reformed Church, is also available on separate portal. Additionally, the North, South and Military Powązki cemeteries, under management of Municipal Cemeteries Board, have its own search engine.
Grave finders based on cemeteries data in Poland
Grobonet is quite well known for searching graves (but, sometimes does not work, so you need to check each cemetery separately). Owner of this system services over 300 cemeteries in cities and municipalities throughout the country. Unfortunately, not all of these places are available through the Internet. To determine graveyard data is available, you need to enter each voivodship separately, to see which cemeteries have been inventoried. Grobonet helped me solve the mystery of the offspring my 3 x great grandfather Józef Hoffmann (I would have never went to Bobowa village to search it) and gave me a starting point when looking for Henryk Karol Czarnecki (another family puzzle).
A surprisingly large number of entries has another company serving management of cemeteries: PRESSTU.PL Their grave search engine called web-cmentarz has over 10 million graves. Unfortunately, I never found there anyone I had been searching for.
Small number of cemeteries in Poland has another two grave search engines geocmentarz or e-cemeteries. Some cemeteries have been inventoried by local businesses as a single project and has own, unique search engine. So if you are looking for a deceased person in a given area, it is always worth the effort to search the name of the parish and the word “cmentarz” together – maybe search engine for it is available.
Commercial grave finders – not only Polish cemeteries
Due to the overlapping of genealogical research in this area, the most important site for me is genealogiczne.pl. There are more than 57,000 names registered, mainly from the area, which now belongs to Ukraine. In addition, there is a search engine index of all the cemeteries photographed by the owner of this site. Thanks to this site, I found the grave of Wincenta Pietnicka, my 3 x great-grandmother. It offers very small photographs of the graves for free, but if you would like to have a full quality photo, you have to pay a small fee. But. if you are lucky, it may be possible to find some photos you’ve been searching for, in the other “free” search engines.
Warsaw’s most well know graveyard, Powązki, has not yet been fully inventoried, so not all graves are available on the official site. Additional data is provided by Obituaries Warsaw-Obituaries Database. As the name suggests, it primarily offers obituaries that appeared in the Warsaw press, after World War II, but also contains a partial list of people buried in Warsaw. Fees on this portal are slightly higher.
Cmentarium has a different character and is not exactly a grave locater. It contains a huge amount of knowledge on various cemeteries compiled from numerous places. This site is great for determining what you can expect from a graveyard – for example the age of graves and how many. After reading some information on a cemetery for the parish of St. Catherine on Służewiec I went there too optimistically on a search for the grave of Franciszka Wyrzyk nee Lipczyńska. But, on another search, I was successful in locating the tomb of my 2 x great grandfather Charles Geber thanks to the author of the portal.
This is not complete list of all grave lookups in Poland, but this was not my goal. I wrote here about sources which really helped me in my research.
A very special thanks to Bridget Kozak-McLellan who not only helped with translation, but also draw attention to cultural differences and helped me to write in more understandable form.