Tips to Reading Records from the Polish State Archives

I have spent hundreds (thousands?) of hours reading a variety of scanned records from the Polish State Archives and want to simply share some ‘tips and tricks’ on how to read certain things on the records that may not be obvious…


False, Recte, and Vel

The most common, puzzling piece of reading names is the usage of the Latin terms recte, vel, and false between two surnames. For example:

Conscription record for Chaim Adler recte Kristinopol
Conscription record for Szaya Cytryn vel Psachie
Conscription record for Juda Leiman false Moster
Conscription record for Feiwel Donerstag false Pfifan

The use of recte and false terms refer, in general, to whether or not the child’s parents’ marriage was registered with the local municipality (in almost all cases, the parents were religiously married; this term pertains to whether or not the marriage was registered):

  • recte – the marriage was registered (Latin: true, correct, etc..)
  • false –  the marriage was not registered (Latin: false, incorrect, etc..)

As for the term vel, this generally is interpreted as an alias (Latin: or)

Quite often in records the order in which the names are listed can provide insight into which surname comes from the mother and which comes from the father. Most often the format is [father’s surname] recte/false [mother’s surname] but this is not a firm rule! I have seen numerous instances where the exact opposite turns out to be true.

Related to this is the fact that many children whose parents’ marriage was considered illegitimate would only use their mother’s surname in legal documents. Then later on the parents’ marriage would be registered and hence new children would use their father’s surname. It gets worse when the father or mother already uses recte/false for his/her names. Here’s a common scenario:

Father: Joseph Komito
Mother: Malka Goldberg

1st child (marriage is not registered):
Chaim Goldberg
Chaim Komito f Goldberg (more common)
Chaim Goldberg f Komito (less common)

2nd child (marriage is registered):
Abraham Komito
Abraham Komito r Goldberg (more common)
Abraham Goldberg r Komito (less common)

Two First Names

If a child has two first names, it is not often obvious where the first names stop and the surname begins. For example, consider a child whose name is Joseph Chaim, son of Schya Abraham. His name would be “Joseph Chaim Abraham”. To make this clear, the record will often say “Joseph Chaim 2ga Abraham” or “Joseph Chaim 2im Abraham”, where the 2ga or 2im signifies two first (given) names.

Moses Hersch 2im Klaüsner false Feder

Numbers and Dates

“Fractional” Dates

If a date is written as a “fraction”, it is usually day / month. Like this:

A “fractional” date: September 27

Numbers that look weird

Some numbers do not look the way we write them. For example:



These are common abbreviations for religious affiliation:



Roman Catholic


Marital Status

These are common abbreviations for marital status:






baker (“piekarz”)
writer (“pisarz”)
furrier (“kuśmierz”)
butcher (“rzeznik”)
teacher (“belfer”)
tailor (“krawiec”)





crosses (red rectangles added)

There are some mysteries that I still cannot solve. If you are an expert and know the answer to one or more, please contact me.