When researching birth, marriage, and death records in the former Austrian province of Galicia, now in Poland and Ukraine, one frequently encounters house numbers. The same house numbers can also be found in Cadastral land records and maps. These house numbers are significant and can be a useful clue for connecting families.
House numbers in the Austrian Empire pre-date the partitions of Poland. They were established by the Austrian Crown primarily in order to be able to identify men for the Austrian Military but were also used in land, vital, and other records. The house numbers essentially functioned as the address of each particular property, much like we have street addresses today. When the Austrians claimed Galicia as part of their partition of Poland, they decided to not only make a survey of the land (Josefinian Land Cadastre) but they also embarked on a system of numbering all houses in every village, town and city.
The system generally follows the pattern that all houses were assigned a sequential number as each house came into existence. If a village already had 340 addresses or house numbers, the next home (not necessarily a new building) would receive number 341. These numbers might be anywhere in the village, with the only important fact being that there was no previous house number for that home had been assigned.
Because Galicia came into this system well after the system was established, the authorities initially went through each village and started to number from #1 to the end of all houses/addresses. Number one might usually be something central in the village like the church or the manor house. The numbering was initially given to each house along a street or square until that street was complete and then the next road, etc. until the whole village was numbered. This would have seemed very similar to our method of numbering today where houses are numbered along a street sequentially one after another. The only real difference at that point was that there were no street names in the address. Streets or roads always had names, but they were not part of the official “address”. After this initial recording was complete in a village, if a house parcel with a house were split (which happened frequently) one half of the split would retain the old house number and the second half would obtain a new house number. This would be the next available number in the sequence. This could result for example in houses along a road being numbered 23, 24, 25, 26, 432, 27, 29, etc. Obviously the 432 was the new piece of property that had been created from a split with either house 26 or 27. In our example, if 40 years later another split took place so that 24 was divided in half. There would be again a new house number with an even higher number. So the street might now be numbered 23, 24, 648, 25, 26, 432, 27, 29, etc. This is why after 100 years or more of Austrian rule the house numbers in a village can start to look almost random.
A family might have many house numbers listed among the various births, deaths and other events in a family. Research Mark Halpern has explained that house numbers on Galician birth or death records indicated the address where the event took place. It could be the house (i.e. address) of a relative, a friend, the midwife, the hospital, or even the doctor’s office. This is the most logical explanation of why births in one family could be shown in the records with many house numbers. This might be particularly true if the family were “landless” or simply renting space in another house, whether or not it was with a relative. In other words, the family might have lived in different places for each birth in the family and the birth taken place in that place of residence for example. Many peasants could only afford to rent the corner of a room in some cases.
Researcher Suzan Wynne has said, “The larger cities had numbered neighborhoods” In fact, the numbering in larger cities was not following random “neighorhoods”, but rather well-defined official “suburbs.” The city was divided into suburbs as well as a central or core area, and each suburb was effectively treated the same as a separate community. So the numbering started in each suburb with number one and progressed sequentially until all houses or residences were numbered. Again, if somehow new splits were created, then new numbers were added for the newly created residences or houses. Vital records and other records almost always have the name of the suburb, usually as an abbreviation, in the column with the house number. The names of suburbs can be found in various official Austrian publications such as the “Gemeindelexikon von Galizien.”
The system of house numbering was not chaotic as might seem to be the case to some researchers, but rather it was a highly defined system that was followed rigidly for hundreds of years. The system was maintained during Interwar Poland after the Austrian period.
The house numbering information above is only part of the story. As well as house numbers that were official addresses, there were also building numbers quite apart from the house numbers. These building numbers are often the numbers on cadastral maps that identify individual buildings, not to be confused with house numbers. One can think of these building numbers in a similar way to our legal descriptions of property today versus the postal address of that property.
The information for this article was contributed by Brian J. Lenius, Selkirk, Canada