The Magnate Landowner Records of Eastern Europe

Washington DC Convention 2003

Gayle Schlissel Riley
612 E. Live Oak #A,
San Gabriel, California 91776

626 287-7980



The magnates (Magnacy) were feudal lords who lived on large estates, owned castles, towns, and villages.  They wielded great political influence. Their chief income came from taxes and the produce from lands the peasants (serfs) worked. Some magnates held private armies. 


This talk will illustrate the value of the Magnate Landowner records as an alternate source of genealogical information.


The Landowners consisted of several groups. They were the

Magnate Landowners known as Szlachta (gentry), the Nobility, sometimes land poor but titled. The Catholic Church also became landowners. The church at that point could create Jewish free towns.


Magnate families of Poland were composed of about 18 to 20 families who inter-married to keep the land in the families, if the family produced no male heir they could loose there land.


There are many ways one could find out if their town was owned by a magnate;

“Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego I Innych Krajow Slowianskich” [1] in English known at Geographic Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries also available in a name index for this dictionary. (show two magnates of magnate towns)

The “Sezam” [2] database created by the Polish National Archives, useful but not complete

The Galician 1891 Business Directory available online [3]  

Town web pages and postcards (show postcard)


I have created two databases, one of 340+ towns and the Magnates who owned them and another database containing almost 200 towns and their magnates, available in the resource room, also a (show pages of databases) finding aid listing many magnates with sources of information on each.


Once you have discovered whether your town was governed by a magnate, you can then go to the Avotaynu [4] web (show webpage overhead) page to locate the address of your magnate's records.   


At this point, the great debate begins. Should one write the archives and hope the archivist will know exactly what you are hunting for. This is not going to happen. You must know exactly what record you want along with its corresponding page number. These records do not contain birth, death and marriage records. You should plan to go to the archive of your magnate yourself or hire someone.


Even before travel on your trip of a life time there are many books which can provide you with information which are not birth, death and marriage records but extremely useful.


One of those books which will provide you with an insight into Magnate Landowner records is called, "The Jews in a Polish (overhead) Private Town [5] , by Gershon Hundert a professor at Mc Gill University. This book deals with the Lubomirski family and towns in the Vistula River area. One of the most interesting lists lists cobblers, (shoe makers) and the number of Poles on the list which lack Jewish cobbler’s for the years 1721 and 1788. The Jews were the buyers of the hides that the Poles needed and so there were a lot which resulted in conflicts.


In the May/June issue of Heritage Quest [6] you will find an article I wrote speaking about, "One of the most widely known magnate landowner's the Sieniawski-Czartoryski family.  Their union established one of the largest landowner's families written about of its time. Their archive contains one of the largest collections of 1764/5 Polish censuses of the Jewish population, written about in M.J. Roseman's book, "The Lord's Jews Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the 18th Century." [7] (Overhead) In this book, I found a list concerning the special "Honey Tax" placed on Christians and the "Liquor Tax" on the Jews called "czopowy." The collection mentioned a tax list called "Czynsz" for both the Jews and Christians who lived in their private towns. Orders of "protekcja" dealt with protection of its citizen, so they could travel freely and were free from marauders. There were lists of cloth merchants for Sieniawskis and list of those who hauled freight between their town's and Gdansk. Many different kinds of loans agreements and lists of those who defaulted on their loans and how these problems were settled as well as, loans to rebuild a community when the towns were destroyed, or when the crops failed, were also included.  Its bibliography, indexes and archival sources will help you locate the collections you desire. The book is available from many University libraries and can be purchased though Barnes and Noble, online, in paper back for eighteen dollars.


Another book which got me started on this quest was a Polish book called, "Zydzi w miastach wojewodztwa Sandomierzkiego I Lubelskiego w XVIII wieku. [8] (show list overhead) In English the Jews of Sandomierzc and Lublin counties in the 17th century. In it I found the 1772 census for Tarnobrzeg, which was quite interesting, but the records lacked last names for many of the town’s residents. This book lists census type documents for many other towns in Sandomierzc and Lublin counties (powiats).

In the summer of 2001 I visited the Tarnowski family archives located at the Wawel in Krakow. Months before I visited I wrote and ask many questions concerning the Tarnowski collection. I did not ask for family records, just for physical description of the collection. You may write them in English but expect them to answer in Polish. This archive, also hold the records for the following families Potocki, Sanguszko, Dzieduszycki and the Lobomirski, perhaps other as well.


What to expect? The Tarnowski collection was indexed, in a type written, 900 page book, many others are also indexed. How  difficult are they to use? If you can read a handful of words in Polish, you can manage the index. You will need to fill out user forms to use the records at any Polish archives. (show user forms) At the Wawel there is a staff member who spoke English. Please make sure the archives are not close when you plan to go. Refer to the Avotaynu

web site for addresses.


On my trip I found many types of records. You must also understand that these records were mostly composed of business records. I also found some land deeds, record number 944 dealt with the brewery. The Jews' right to sell liquor was located in record group number 296. Record number 449 dealt with a proclamation signed by the Jews for the year 1853.


Types of documents one would find among the magnates records were;


1. Business records of the estates (overheads)

2. Tax lists i.e. honey tax and tax on sellers of liquor

3. Inventories of people and animals

4. Guild records

5. Court documents

6. Land deeds, plat maps, maps of the magnates' holdings

7. Proclamations

8. Some contain the 1764/5 census (see Ms.Muszynska's book for lists of other censuses available in Sandomierzc and Lublin powiat)

9. The magnates provided protection for its citizens, relief when the crops failed and loans to rebuild.


One document I particular found interesting was a court case (overhead) about two Jews who were required to bring the Torah scrolls into court so they could swear on them, as was formerly done in US courts. The title page requesting the Torah was written in Polish the rest in German, and difficult to read.


The law suit takes place in Tarnobrzeg, in 1811 & 1814 but the defendants were from other towns. Marew Goldhamer, a wine merchant was from Lesko, in Sanoker county and Samuel Gottlieb, from Santoro, Kamkam county, Hungary. Both worked for the Duchy of Warsaw. They were in town to collect grain to make alcohol. Some of the documents presented in this case; were “Documents of Safe Passage” which contained physical description of the men. The whole business of alcohol, generates one the largest taxes items among the Magnate records.


The Magnate Landowner records subject is an exciting, new source of genealogical information, different but so useful. I highly recommend giving it a try.


Additional Source of Information:

The Wawel Archive contains records for the following families Potocki, Sanguszko, Dzieduszycki and Lobomirski.

The archives, for the Czartoryski family is in the Church at 17 St Marka Street, Krakow 31-018.

Data for the Radziwillow and Sapiehow at the head archives 7 Dluga Street Warsaw 00-263. The house, where the leader,  (Mordechai Anilevich) of Warsaw Ghetto rebellion died.

Archeion digest and article, “Konferencja W Lancucie Archiwalia Rodu Potockich”

Brigham Young University Library; Provo, Utah

Mss 1531 1985 Ac901.Ala no. 2014            Special Collection in Polish

Poczet polskich rodow arystokratcznych

Teresa Zielinska Warszawa 1997

Cs879.A2 Z49 1997    in Polish

Library of Congress

Zydowskie Okregi metrykalne I Zydowskie Gminy Wyznaniowe W Galicji Doby Autonomicznej, by Jerzy Michalewicz, Ksiegarnia Akademicka, Krakow 1999, in Polish                                          

Best success using                                                  

Information on some magnate families on the internet;  (htm 1 though 5)

Castles and Palaces of Poland;

Private Armies

History of the Jews in Poland

Scripta Hierosolymitana, Studies in the History of the Jews in Old Poland, in Honor of Jacob Goldberg, edited by Adam Teller 1998


Gayle Schlissel Riley            Copyright 2003


[1], index.htm










5  The Jews in a Private Town, The Case of Opatow in the 18th Century, by Gershon Hundert, John Hopkins University Press 1992 English

6 Heritage Quest May/June 2002 issue The Tarnowski Family Archives at the Wawel by Gayle Schlissel Riley in English

7  The Lords’ Jews Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the 18th Century, by M. J. Roseman Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and the Center for Jewish Studies, Harvard University 1990 ISBN0-916458-18-0 in English






[8] Zydzi w miastach wojewodztwa Sandomierskiego I Lubelskiego w XVIII wieku, by Jadwiga Muszynska, published by Wyzsza Szkola Pedagogiczna im. Jana Kochanowskiego, Kielce 1998 in Polish