There are a number of documents relating to identity in Poland - marriage certificates, birth certificates, passports, identity cards and so on. For everything to do with identity the paper trail starts with a Polish birth certificate.
Therefore if you want to apply for confirmation of Polish citizenship the first thing you need to do as a foreigner is get a Polish birth certificate. However there is a problem if you have changed your name by Deed Poll because the Polish authorities won't recognise it.
What is a Deed Poll?
In the UK changing your name is frighteningly easy. You just write a declaration on a piece of paper that from this day on you want to be known as X. You get a friend to sign it. Done. You can then send this off to your bank, the DVLA, the passport office and so on and go about getting your new name updated on their records. I was shocked at how easy the process was and a little concerned that it could be used by people to get a passport in somebody else's name or for dubious purposes.
I guess this illustrates the main difference between UK and Polish bureaucracy - in the UK things can be done with ease and often via post/internet and the price we pay for that is identity theft. In Poland everything is more difficult, requires permission and must be done in person. Nobody here has ever heard of "identity theft".
I changed my name via Deed Poll a few years ago when I decided to revert my surname back to my Grandfather's original surname (he had changed it to a more English sounding one when he came to the UK after WW2).
UK Birth Certificates
In the UK the process is simple. You start life known as X. This is what is on your birth certificate and it is never changed. You change your name later on to Y but your birth certificate with X on is still valid.
Your true birth certificate is permanently held by the registry office where you were born. Your parents were issued a duplicate when you were born. If you lose it you can buy a new one for £7.
Result: Your passport now says your name is Y but your birth certificate says your name is X. This is a problem in Poland because your documents don't match.
Polish Birth Certificates
Your true birth certificate is held by the Urząd Stanu Ciwilnego. Your parents were issued a "short summary" of this birth certificate. If you change your name it is done by getting a 'decision' from the USC. They then ammend your original birth certificate (there is a space for notations on it). They issue you with a new "short summary" birth certificate with your new name.
Result: Your passport now says your name is Y and your birth certificate now also says your name is Y. Your documents match.
Applying for a Polish Birth Certifcate as a person born outside Poland
As I have described above, your UK birth certificate does not match the name in your passport so the USC consider this as two different people. They won't accept your Deed Poll because it was only validated by a witness and not by a notary or registry office. This is the exact problem I had. I spent a long time meeting with the director of my local USC who confessed that he didn't know what to do and would have to research it. One month and a couple of phone calls to him later he told me to contact the Polish Consulate in London to get from them a document in Polish to say that my name had been changed in accordance with British law.
Polish Consulate London
I put in a few phone calls to the Polish Consulate in London. I eventually got hold of the legal department who told me that what I needed was an "apostille" from the British Foreign Commonwealth Office's legalisation office. I would then need to get that translated into Polish along with my UK birth certificate and then my local USC would accept it.
Getting an Apostille from the FCO
After a quick read on the FCO website I found their document legalisation service. The process costs £33 which covers the £27 fee and £6 for recorded delivery return of documents (to a UK address or abroad). You can do the application either in person of by post. Current backlog for postal applications at time of writing is 1 week. Your Deed Poll first needs to be certified by a UK solicitor or notary. Most high street solicitors will do this for a fee of about £5.
I hope this blog post has been helpful. I am in the middle of getting my Apostille right now (as of 20th Aug 2008). I will update this post if I find out anything new or have any problems. Please leave a comment if this information has been of use, it's nice to know if I am helping or not.