Geography mystery: Did any part of Polish Russia became German between 1880 and 1900? Specifically where? #poland #germany

Rob Lederer (personal gmail)

My ggg-grandparents Sol HYMAN and Pauline LICHTENSTEIN came to US from Polish Russia / Russian Poland in 1840s.  i'm trying to narrow down where they came from specifically.

Their and their families' US census records are consistent through 1880.  In 1900 and 1910 the country of origin became Germany.  Nowhere I've looked have I been able to find territory that changed hands from Russia to Germany (Prussia) in those years.  Anyone know what may have happened?

Thank you,

Jill Whitehead

Hi Rob,

Families that lived in the borderlands of Poland and East Prussia (Konigsberg now Kaliningrad), specially in the Suwalki Lomza gubernas, often said they came from Germany on their British records when they emigrated. This was seen as being "posher" than saying you came from Russian Poland, but these gubernias had been part of East Prussia between the late 18th century and up to 1807 (Different parts of Poland were split between the three European powers of Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary in the late 18th century on three separate occasions). In actual fact they were not German between 1807 (when Napoleon took over briefly until 1815) and WW1, when the Germans did overrun the area from 1914 onwards.

When I went to the ancestral area in 2000, we were taken to the former border between Poland and East Prussia. Even today the landscape is quite different in terms of types of housing and fields layout, and the roads and railways run north to south rather than east to west because of the former Polish-Prussian border.

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK

Christine De Angelis


The National Genealogical Society's (now virtual) 2020 conference will feature "Austria, Poland, Russia, or Prussia?  Making Sense of Central and East European Historical Geography" presented by Joseph B. Everett.  For me, this is a must attend.  The syllabus for this talk is four pages and pretty substantial.  The 'On Demand' sessions will not release until July, but you are still able to register.

Chris D.


My paternal grandfather (Schneider) left Chrzandow, Poland in 1914 on a Polish passport. That part of Poland had multiple border changes so he told us he was originally Austrian. Part of that area was in the Austrian Empire in the 1800s.
Barbara (Schneider) Cohen

Do you have the Polish passport? I would be very surprised to see a
Polish passport issued in 1914. Before the end of WWI, Poland was
divided up between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire. 
The area around Gdansk/Danzig was under Prussia & Germany.
Poland was not a political entity, as a country, until after the First
World War!

My father's Polish passport, which I have, from 1920, and was issued to
him by the Polish Embassy in Paris, where he was living at the time.

Avivah R. Z. Pinski ,  near Philadelphia, USA

I believe the area west of Poznan was Germany for a while. In that area of Europe the borders changed frequently.


If I were you, I would read up on the town Königsberg, presently Russia, once Prussia etc. Its location is quetched in between north-east Poland and south-west Lithuania. It has changed country owners more times than characters in its name, see:

Anna Doggart

My grandfather whose family came from Minsk, now Belarus, was put as a Pole on a letter to British Home office applying to come to live and work in Britain in 1931. As far as we were concerned, he was Russian. He was born in 1876 we think in Minsk. He lived for a short time in Orsha, also now Belarus but at that time, like Minsk, part of the Russian Empire. He spoke Russian. His sons when they applied to come to Britain recorded themselves as Russian. My grandfather left Minsk in late 1918 or early 1919. We think maybe the Poles were there around that time and he got papers from them? Once he had left, he like other emigres would have lost his Russian citizenship under Lenin’s decree that all those who left would no longer be Russian and so he would be stateless and presumably unable to apply to come to Britain as a Russian. Of course he only left under duress as he was told that he was I on a death list and frightened of pogroms. He took his wife and children to Bad Kreuznach in Germany, hoping to return home when things settled down but that was impossible so he went to Berlin. By 1930 he was applying From Berlin to come to Britain. The Kew records office provided us with copies of his letters to and from the Home office. He gained permission for himself, his wife and one son in 1932. His other 4 children were left behind in Germany. We’d love to understand why he wrote himself down as a Pole so like you we want to know if and when Minsk was ruled by Poles and if they did issue identification papers to Minsk residents and if so, why. By the way his other 4 children all managed to get out during 1930s and survived.
Thanks Anna Doggart

Jill Whitehead

Hi Anna

Belarus used to be part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Pale of Settlement until the wars of the 20th century, when it frequently changed hands  It became part of Russia in 1922, and then after WW2 part of the USSR in 1945 (known as White Russia), and then Belarus on the break up of the USSR. The (London) Times Atlas of European History published by Harper Collins has detailed maps of the different transitions.

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK

Judith Singer

In the 18th century, most of our "Russian" Jewish ancestors lived in what is commonly referred to as Poland but was formally known as the Commonwealth of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This Commonwealth, grown weak for many reasons including internal divisiveness, was split by agreement among the three surrounding empires, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, in a series of three partitions occurring from 1774 to 1795. In the 1795 partition, most of what is now Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire and one area which included Suwalki was allocated to Prussia. It was named "New East Prussia". You can read more about its history in Wikipedia at That article also includes a map of the area.

In the 1807 Treaty of Tilsit, Austria ceded the eastern portion of New East Prussia to Russia, so it was under Austrian rule only for about twelve years. Nevertheless, the self-identification of Jewish residents as Austrian or German remained strong for many decades thereafter. Some of the discussions of Suwalki in JewishGen's Yizkor book for Suwalki refer to this, specifically at  and

The members of one branch of my family were originally from this area. On emigrating to the United States, they identified themselves on their ship manifests, censuses, marriage documents, etc. variously as originating in Russia, Poland, Germany, or Lithuania, the changes depending in part on the changing of national boundaries but sometimes for no reason that I have been able to determine. 


The passport was lost when a cousin passed away. But the 1914 ship manifest says Galicia-Austrian-Hebrew, born in Poland. When he brought over children in 1920, that ship manifest said Polish. Eventually he became a IS citizen and the US passport (which I have) said Austrian by birth but from Poland.
Barbara Cohen, Chicago