West Prussia was inhabited by pagan Slavic tribes before the Teutonic Knights moved in the early 1300’s. The Knights kept the land they conquered and eventually cut off Poland from the sea. This caused a lot of friction between the two groups. The Knights also bought land from Poland rather than just taking it. The Teutonic Knights lost important battles to Poland in 1410 and 1466 and signed over most of West Prussia to Poland and became a subservient state to the Polish King.
Germans had been colonizing eastern Europe for centuries; most church records started between 1650 to 1750, but a few go back to the 16th century. The original land, (often called Polish Prussia), that was to become West Prussia, was predominantly Polish. West Prussia came into existence during the first Partition of Poland in 1772 when Prussia (later known as East Prussia) gained the area called Polish Prussia. Poland disappeared as a nation until 1918. With Brandenburg on the west, West Prussia in the middle, and East Prussia on the east, Prussia became a dominant power. In 1824 West Prussia and East Prussia were combined into one area, but were separated again in 1878. West Prussia was divided into two civil districts, Danzig in the north and Marienwerder in the south. By 1831 70% of the residents of West Prussia (population in 1880: 1,405, 898) spoke German as their primary language. Between 1881 and 1890 emigration from West Prussia to the United States (where most West Prussians settled) increased significantly.
After World War I West Prussia ceased to exist, and Poland reemerged as a nation, the first time since the 18th century. After World War II Prussia was dissolved by the Allied Control Council in 1947. Today all of what was West Prussia (14, 320 square miles), is in north central and northeast Poland.
Then it was called the Polish Corridor. A few eastern counties were joined to East Prussia and a few Western Counties were joined to a de-militarized zone called Grenzmark Posen-WestPreussen. Some of these counties would later be joined to Pomerania. The loss of West Prussia in WWI was a sore spot to Germany and part of the reason the National Socialists were able to come to power. Germany took back West Prussia by force in 1939 only to lose it all and more by 1945
The major source of genealogical information for immigrants from West Prussia is parish records, many of which have been filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Almost 5,000 rolls of microfilm exist for parish registers from 1523 to 1900; over 100 rolls of parish transcripts record events from 1808 to 1876; and about 350 rolls contain civil registers from 1874 to 1900. To use these records effectively, one must know the village of origin of at least one ancestor.
More about the history visit the following:
OW-PREUSSEN-L. A mailing list for those interested in sharing and exchanging information on genealogy and history connected to the former East and West Prussia. This is an English-German multi-lingual list. To subscribe send "subscribe" to
PRUSSIA-ROOTS. A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in Prussia. To subscribe send "subscribe" to
firstname.lastname@example.org (Mail Mode)
email@example.com (Digest Mode)
ELBING. The elbing-l mailing list is for the discussion of history and genealogy concerning the former German and West Prussian city of Elbing, today's Elblag in Poland. time. The list is mostly in German but English is not discouraged. You can subscribe to:
http://de.groups.yahoo.com/group/Schlochau-L (Kreis Schlochau )
http://de.groups.yahoo.com/group/Deutsch-Krone-L (Kreis Deutsch-Krone)
Hoefer Verlag (Publishing) makes a map with German and Polish town names, as well as current roads. Scale 1:200,000
These maps are useful for traveling into Poland and can tell you at a glance if your village still exists.
Archives and Records
There are State Archives in AllensteinBromberg, Danzig, and Elbing; and Dioscese archives at Allenstein, Danzig, Pelplin.
Archives for West Prussia
Addresses for the archives can be found here:
Check out the LDS site for your village
West Prussian Groups
Verein für Familienforschung in Ost- und Westpreußen e. V. (VFFOW) (The Society for Family research in East and West Prussia).
The GGS collection of Germanic Genealogy Books at Concordia University in St. Paul, MN has 52 books specifically on West Prussia genealogy, of those 52 books 7 are in English. They include books by Ed Brandt who has written an authoritative and extensive book on East and West Prussia