Determining if ancestor is Russian or Polish?

+3 votes
I have an odd question. Researching my family I noticed on the 1920 US Census, my great-grandmother's (9 y/o at the time) mother and father were born in "Russian Poland" and the census taker put down that their native tongue was Russian. The last name is not totally determinable (either orchoski/ordoski or variation of) - but does end in "ski".

Her mother's name was Anna - but it appears on the census her husband was not the father of my great grandmother. He is listed from Bohemia, and spoke Polish. Also on the census, the mother (great grandmothers mom) list her mother tongue as Russian.

I'm just confused. Speaking Russian would lead me to believe they were Russians, but the name sounds Polish. Just curious as to which is more likely. Thanks!
in Genealogy Help by Joe Haertle G2G Rookie (220 points)
Thank you both - I think you both answered my question. She was most likely ethnically Polish, which make sense as they immigrated to Milwaukee which has strong Polish roots. Very interesting history lesson I just received!

3 Answers

+5 votes

There was a Polish-Soviet War 14 February 1919 – 18 October 1920 and the border line changed sometimes. Both is possible that they were polish or russian people. Or they belong to one nation and lived in the other one.

Do you have more about the location where they lived?

by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
Hi, thank you for your answer. My great-grandmother was born in the US in 1911, and her mother immigrated in 1907 (from Russian Poland, as was her father), so before the Soviet Union and WWI. There is no city listed, however I'll try to find out more. Just was curious as to whether it made sense that she would've spoke Russian, but has a Polish surname? Or did the census taker make a clerical error as to what they spoke?

Maybe that is an explanation:

On July 8, 1869, the Russian language of instruction was introduced in the University and all schools of the Kingdom of Poland, and at the same time the financial administration in all parts was placed under the authority of the Russian Ministry of Finance. Finally, Russian court forms and Russian judges were introduced (1870).

+5 votes

After the January Uprising of 1863 the Russian government imposed Russian as the official language in Russian Poland (including as language of instruction in schools) in an effort to stamp out Polish nationalism. Thus, by the early 1910s even ethnic Poles might have learned to speak in Russian. My great-grandmother was an ethnic German born 1870 near Bialystok in what since 1919 has been Poland; the record of her marriage (to a German) is in Russian, as are the birth records of her children born in the 1890s near Bialystok. The area was ethnically mixed, and I have been told that (as the daughter of a shopkeeper) she learned to speak Russian, Polish, and Yiddish in addition to German.

by Living Geschwind G2G6 Mach 8 (83.9k points)
+1 vote
There were a lot of Russian-Lithuanians in the early 1900s Census records of Plymouth, Pa.  I found a Lithuanian  History timeline which helped me to understand why some relatives thought my grandmother’s brother was Russian and I’d always been told we were Lithuanian.

The most helpful records I Have found were the Naturalization Packets of my grandparents.  These gave the names of everyone in the family, their birth dates and places. has some naturalization records.

Polish and Lithuanian names were unbelievably butchered in the census and Ellis island records. I have one family with the surnames Klim, Klem, Klimkevich by the time they died.  They had started out as Klimkevicius and Klimkeviciute(female).    looking  at the first names in the family group sometimes helps.
by Anne X G2G6 Mach 2 (29.3k points)
edited by Anne X

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