historic mating patterns in poland

in case you have noticed, one of the ongoing projects around here is to compile any and all evidence (good evidence) for the historic mating patterns (going back as far as possible) for … heh … EVERYbody on earth! (^_^) should only take, oh, the rest of my days here on the planet. (~_^)

tonight: poland.

below are some notes taken from Marriage Strategies in Poland: Social and Spatial Differences (16th-18th Centuries) [opens pdf]. first, a few summary points:

– during this time period (1500s-1700s), marriages in the upper classes in the city of gdańsk on the baltic coast were arranged and clan relationships were taken into consideration by those making the arrangements. a lot of these people would’ve been immigrants from germany.

– in the city of warsaw in central poland between 1740-1779, most marriages occurred in the local community. since this is a city, however, some amount of the individuals (or their families) were probably immigrants from the countryside. dunno how many. ca. 3% of marriages were mixed catholic-protestant.

– in the town of toruń in north-central poland, marriages from outside the town were rare as well as was migration into the town.

– between 1641 and 1800 in the small town of brzeżany, which today is located in the ukraine, marriages were very local and migration into the town was rare. most marriages were between members of the same faith (catholic or greek orthodox).

– the peasants of upper silesia, which is in the center of poland, were usually stuck in feudal relationships, so their marriages were “territorially endogamic” — so probably biologically endogamic as well — and in many areas of upper silesia they became even more so during the time period (1500s-1700s).

so, most marriages in the 1500s-1700s in poland were local, but the populations themselves in towns and rural areas would’ve been more local than in larger urban areas.

here are some exerpts from the article:

gdańsk – city
“As Maria Bogucka points out, a marriage was in most cases the result of negotiations carried out by the relatives and friends rather than the most interested parties. The selection of the partner was based on the following principles: an equal social position, economic benefits and the advantages resulting from uniting the families. Beauty, individual preferences or feelings did not play an important role. It was not only economic matters, but also familial bonds, sentiments of the members of the older generation as well as the political and economic competition among clans that influenced the decision about a marriage, even if it was against the feelings of the prospective partners. Only among the poorest members of the society could one choose a partner more freely and often according to individual feelings.”

warsaw – city – 1740-1779
“Mixed marriages entered into in the parish of St. Cross were more frequent in the seventeen forties and fifties (3.0-3.1% of all marriages), with a decreasing tendency in the following decades…. [I]n the last fifteen years of the 18th century over 80% of the bridegrooms lived (were born?) in the parish of the future bride. It means that the marriages were made up within the local community.”

toruń – town
“Low mobility constitutes a very characteristic feature of the analysed population of Toruń. Marriages with either of the spouses coming from outside the town were rare. Migration from the country was also very small. With time, it resulted in an increase in the number of marriages between distant relatives. It could be the cause of genetic impoverishment of successive generations and in consequence a significantly lower resistance to diseases.”

brzeżany in the red russia province – very small town – 1641 – 1800
“The bride and bridegroom mostly came from the territory of the Roman Catholic parish of Brzeżany, some of them from an unknown location, and the rest from very distant places. According to the available public marriage registers (both Roman and Greek Catholic) 67.8% of men and 74.2% of women came from the Brzeżany parish, 20.2% of men and 21.5% of women from an unknown location, and 12% of men and 4.3% of women from outside the parish.

“The bride and the bridegroom usually came from the same place, where they also lived after the wedding, i.e. those living in a town also came from that town, those from a suburb lived in the same suburb, and of course those from a certain village lived in that village. Newcomers from other places were a minority. The migration from the country to the town in the analysed parish was very small.

“Marriage was generally contracted by people of the same religious persuasion. Of all the marriages between 1641 and 1800 that took place in the parish church, 96.3% were contracted by Roman Catholics, 3.5% by Greek Catholic men and Roman Catholic women, and 0.2% by Roman Catholic men and Greek Catholic women. In Greek Catholic parish marriage registers 99.9% of marriages were contracted by members of the Greek Catholic Church.”

upper silesia – peasants
“Marriage played a key role in the process of creation and functioning of peasant households. For the marriage of feudally dependent country folk a permission of the feudal landlord was required. The lack of such permission could result in a fine for the bride and the bridegroom along with the priest who celebrated the wedding….”

“In Silesia, if a marriage resulted in leaving the village and an extinction of the feudal relationship, a special contribution had to be paid to the landowner….

In parishes included in the studies almost all marriages could be described as territorially endogamic. Since the end of the 17th century we can observe a slight decrease in the number of marriages between partners form different parishes. For example, in Krapkowice parish at the end of the 17th century almost one third of men and one fifth of women came from outside the parish. But in the first half of the 18th century the number dropped to 19% and 10%, whereas in the second half to 25% and 13% respectively. In Krzanowo parish 43% were couples coming from the parish, 36% from the neighbouring territories, and one fifth from more distant places. In Ziemięciny at the turn of the 17th century over 80% of the newly married couples came from the parish, but at the end of the 18th century only about 60%.”

if we go back to my previous post on poland for a sec, since we now know that polish peasants of this time period were generally marrying very endogamously, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that:

“[W]e find Galeski referring to the ‘strong ties of kinship among the families which make up the community.’ This is reinforced by the frequent intra-village marriages and results in the fact that ‘there are usually only a few family names in the village community. The village consists of several interrelated large families (or clans). For this reason, a village is sometimes defined as a family neighbour group….’

late medieval/early modern polish rural society, then, was clannish.

keep in mind that, according to roman catholic canon law during this time period, individuals closer than third cousins should not have been allowed to marry. who knows what enforcement was like, though. i think the same or a similar rule probably applied in the greek orthodox church at the time, but i don’t know for sure — there was probably some sort of ban on cousin marriage in any case. the german protestants in gdańsk? not sure. many protestant churches okay-ed cousin marriage after the reformation, but some did not. don’t know what the protestant churches in northern poland thought about cousin marriage at this time. further research is required. (~_^)

szopeno, who has shared a lot of great info about marriage and the family in historic poland over the last couple of days (thanks, szopeno!), suggests two things that might’ve served to decrease inbreeding in poland during this time period: wars and zbiegostwo.

wrt wars, szopeno means that soldiers passing through regions would’ve left some of their genes behind in the population. absolutely! and, unfortunately, there certainly weren’t a shortage of wars in poland during these centuries. the only thing about wars, though, is that — not surprisingly — they tend to make people close ranks. for example, inbreeding (close cousin marriages) in italy increased following both world wars, so it’s hard to know what the total effects of a war(s) on a gene pool might be.

zbiegostwo refers to the practice of polish pesants voting againt cr*ppy feudal conditions with their feet, i.e. literally fleeing whatever situation they found themselves in. here’s a google translation from the encyklopedia wiem entry for zbiegostwo chłopów (“peasant flight” [maybe]):

“From the fifteenth century took on a mass scale, reaching the largest scale in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the continual growth in size of serfdom and limiting personal freedom of the peasants.”

where did these people go? did they wind up in other (hopefully better) feudal positions? they don’t seem to appear much in the marriage records of toruń or brzeżany or upper silesia (see above). maybe they wound up in big cities like warsaw. then the question is, how successful at mating and leaving progeny behind were the lower classes in late medieval/early modern urban center in poland? presumably not very, but i really don’t know. open question.

SOME of them are believed to have joined up with the cossacks! now there’s an alternative lifestyle for you. (~_^) no idea how many fleeing peasants wound up doing that.


previously: traditional family systems in medieval and modern poland

(note: comments do not require an email. my favorite polish thing! great. now i’m hungry.)



  1. However, this is an important remark

    “Unfortunately, the sources used in this study do not make it possible to estimate the real size of migration into Warsaw at the end of the 18th century. In the analysed group of newly married couples coming from the Varsovian parish there were both those who were born there and those who had only recently come to the capital.

    E.g. the number overestimate the inbreeding.


  2. @szopeno – “E.g. the number overestimate the inbreeding.”

    yes, absolutely. i did take that into account in the post saying:

    “late medieval/early modern polish rural society, then, was clannish.

    hard to tell about the urban areas. like you say, the influx of migrants to the cities (esp. warsaw) could very well have led to a lot of outbreeding. on the other hand, migrants often group themselves together into neighborhoods or enclaves, so it is conceivable that migrants in the cities still wound up marrying people from where they were from.

    i’m inclined to believe that all this migration led to greater outbreeding, but it would be nice to have some data (marriage records + background info on the individuals, i.e. where they were from originally).

    there certainly seems to have been a HUGE influx of migrants to warsaw in the 1700s. if wikipedia is correct, the population went from ca. 30,000 in 1700 to 120,000 in 1792. wow!


  3. @szopeno – “E.g. the number overestimate the inbreeding.”

    you may have missed this since you just arrived on the blog recently: keep in mind that what we’re talking about here is the evolution of social behaviors (such as altruism), so we’re talking about changes that are taking place over the course of many generations, not just overnight.

    you can’t take an inbred population and then outbreed them for one generation (or vice versa) and expect great changes since the “genes for altruism” (or whatever social behavior you’re talking about) will still be there and will not have been selected away** yet.

    the question is: how many generations of inbreeding or outbreeding does it take to make great changes in a population’s repertoire of social behaviors? hard to say. some of it depends on the selection pressures (e.g. environment) in which a population finds itself. and the rest of it — well, i don’t think anybody really knows, basically. (~_^)

    see this post for more details.

    (**that’s not the right way to phrase it, but i’ll leave it at that for now.)


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