General questions about Prussia/German Poland

+6 votes
Context: I have ancestors from Posen/Poznan, born in the 19th century. They were Catholic.

1. What language would they most likely have spoken? Polish or German?

2. Culturally, would they have had more in common with Polish people or German people?

3. What nationality would they have considered themselves?


in Genealogy Help by Gwendolyn Madewell G2G2 (2.2k points)

7 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer


1. In the 19th century Polish lands were under foreign partition - Poznan was occupied by Prussia. Polish citizens where subjected to the process of germanization (f.e. children were forced to learn in german language) but they organized "secret learning" (Tajne komplety)  where polish language, history and literature was taught.

So if your ancestors where Polish - probably they speak Polish and German.

2. If they where Polish citizens they most likely have had more common with Polish culture than German and also they considered themselves as Polish people. I don`t know if you know but till year 1795 Poznań was polish city. After losing their sovereignty Polish people many times tries to reclaim freedom by the uprisings(1806, 1830, 1863). Also between 1807–1815 Księstwo Warszawskie (Duchy of Warsaw) was created after Napoleon`s french army defeated Prussia but Poland fully regained independence after the first world war in 1918. So as you can see Polish people had more common with their own people than German people.

Best regards from Poland.


selected by Tomasz Boroń
This is very helpful. Thank you so much.
Thank you for this information.  It is a valuable history lesson and helps me to finally figure out why my Polish ancestors put they are from Pozan or Austria, Poland or if they put down on the US census they speak German.

The US Federal Census of 1910 shows my great grandfather, Stanley Pudlo as being from Austria-German and his wife Mary speaking German.  He imigrated to the US in 1888 at the age of 25 and she a couple years later.

My Polish ancestry is at a dead end with my great grandfather and great grandmother above.  I don't have a premium subscription to Ancestry so am unable to search oversea records for my ancestors.

Reading information/comments on these boards has helped me understand tremendously about my Polish ancestors!
Hello Rebecca,

I`m glad that I could help.

If you want to learn more about the Polish history you may read a Norman Davies book called God's Playground : A History of Poland.

Best regards.

If your ancestors are from Poznan or Greaterpoland in general, you should try this engins: ; , both of them can be operated in English.

+13 votes
  1. I don't have any older data than 1858 but in that year about 65% of citizens of Posen were German speaking. About half of those spoke only German, the other half could also speak Polish.
  2. I think the difference would have been more between city dwellers and people in the country side. A close look at all these bilingual living situations in Central Europe does show a considerable degree of intermarrying so that the difference within a city would not have been that pronounced. Things got generally more heated towards the end of the 19th century with over all strengthening of nationalist sentiments.
  3. Language would have determined what they considered themselves, although even there are exceptions: I have a situation in Prague where the father was an active member of an organization working for the interests of the German population there and the son was one of the leaders of the nationalist (Czech) movement even though he was from a German family.
by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (549k points)
Thanks so much!
+8 votes
My family came from a location further south in Poland (Biecz and Lipinki), however they were Roman Catholic and definitely considered themselves to be Polish.   I suspect German speaking residents of Poznan would have been Lutheran Protestants.
by Bob Hanrahan G2G6 (8.2k points)
51% catholic, 33% protestant, 16% jewish. Quite a few Germans must have been catholic.
Good info, thanks!
My family is from the northern Posen/Poznan area and are entirely German speaking and solidly Lutheran. Their naming patterns are all solidly German and when they immigrated to the US, they went to communities of Germans mostly from the same part of Posen / Poznan.  Most were farmers until the generation before immigration when they tended to develop trades and went to the cities and were not happy . Often they went back to farming for a while when they came to the United States before finding neighborhoods in Toledo, Ohio that were heavily German.  Even then they tended to go to church and socialize with other Lutheran Germans from the Posen and Pommerania area.
+8 votes
Have a hunt for any existing headstones.  My ancestors were from Kunitz and were German speaking Lutherans.  Their headstone still exists and it was written in German.  If you can't find a direct ancestor, search for their children's headstones.
by anonymous G2G6 (6.4k points)
Good idea, I'll look into that.
+7 votes
I'd say it could go either way for Catholics in the Posen/Poznan area. My ancestors in that area were German as far as we have traced them but some were Catholic, some Lutheran (the two kept intermarrying despite the religious difference). On the Catholic side, apparently my immigrant ancestors told descendants that they had to know Polish in order to study their religion. I also noticed that descendants of my g-g-grandmother's sister listed Polish as their native language in the US census although my g-g-grandmother's census listings gave German.
by Karla Huebner G2G6 Mach 1 (10.7k points)
Same situation with my family. One brother and his family identified as Polish on the censuses, the other as German.
+3 votes
Certainly an interesting question from my research. I have been going through both church and state registries looking for birth, marriage and death certificates in Posnan and further west and have found that most of these records written in German which for me is great as I can read and translate these. However, go just a little further east of Posnan and the records are either in Russian or Polish as far as I can make depending on the time period. Interestingly, if you go further south and east to Katowice, the records are in German. I know my grandfather who was born in Katowice of Catholic background spoke both German and Polish.
by Roland Schmidt-Bellach G2G Crew (470 points)
+2 votes
1. Most likely Polish.

2. Also with Polish people.

3. Also Polish as about nationality.

I see it from scans (records) at http://basia when I am searching my ancestry from Wielkopolska. Polish man married Polish woman. There I found only one non-Polish surname maybe from my ancestors, Salamon, maybe Jew? And von Sowinska - but that "von" added, I think, in order to germanize Polish people in that area. When Polish people remain Rzymsko katolicy (Rome catholics), they speak Polish language and marriage between themselves.
by Edvardas Balika G2G1 (1.3k points)

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