In the the run up to next week’s IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Boston, expect various groups to be releasing new databases to help Jewish genealogists. One new database that was just released is JewishGen’s Memorial Plaque Database. Organized by Nolan Altman, the database is an attempt to gather all the information on memorial plaques found in synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Many synagogues plague a plaque on their wall for each member who dies, to record their yahrzeit date (the day a family member says kaddish for them). These plaques contain very important information for Jewish genealogists, including the person’s name (in the US usually in English and Hebrew), and in most cases the name of the father of the deceased (at least in Hebrew).
When synagogues close, these plaques with their unique information are frequently thrown out, although sometimes are put up in other synagogues or institutes. Collecting the information from these plaques now is a great effort, and something whose time has come. There has been discussion for years about collecting this information from various people involved in Jewish genealogy, so kudos to JewishGen for taking up the gauntlet and getting the project started.
|Section of a memorial wall from Lowell, MA
For the launch of the database, there are nearly 30,000 names listed. These come from the US, Israel and Canada. About half of the names collected so far come from the Boston area, whose local Jewish genealogy group made an effort to collect the names in the run up to the conference, and collected 16,000 names from 30 different institutions.
If you’re interested in photographing and indexing the memorial plaques in your local synagogue, you can do so and contribute the data to this effort. Synagogues who want to contribute this information to the database can add information about their synagogue to the memorial plaque web site, in order to get traffic from those people searching for family members.
My only concern with the database right now is that the images they provide are not big enough to read the information directly from the photographs. Many times relatives are grouped together in these memorial walls, and it would be useful to see the images in higher resolution so one could read all the plaques and see who is located nearby on the wall. Hopefully this can be remedied in the future.
For more information, go to the web site, or contact the project coordinator, Nolan Altman.
JewishGen has changed the name of two of its major site features, in both cases removing the word Shtetl, although for slightly different reasons.
First, they have changed the name of the JewishGen ShtetlSeeker, their large database of place names (as opposed to the smaller more focused JewishGen Communities Database), to the JewishGen Gazetteer.
This change reflect the fact that the database covers much more than Shtetls, which are generally considered small towns or villages with large Jewish populations. The Gazetteer contains 1.8 million place names (compared to about 6,000 in the Communities database). A gazetteer is a geographical index or dictionary, and more properly reflects the fact that the database covers all the cities, towns, administrative districts, etc. as well as mountains, rivers, and other geographical landmarks, in the areas covered by the database.
The new JewishGen Gazetteer also covers more places, including the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland), Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Kyrgyzstan and Yemen.
Lastly the Gazetteer also gains some new functionality, including search using the more advanced Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching (in addition to exact, starts with, contains and Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex searches). names shown in non-Latin characters, and names are now listed in the order of relevance.
Second, JewishGen has changed the name of ShtetLinks to KehilaLinks.
While the site name has changed, it will take time to propagate the changed name throughout all the pages that make up KehilaLinks (since they are created by many different people). The name change reflects two issues, that the database contains larger cities which are not traditionally considered Shtetls (a similar reason to the change of the ShtetlSeeker site) and that in countries outside of Europe, particularly in Sephardi communities and even towns in North America or Israel, the term Shtetl was not used. Thus, the name was switched from Shtetl to Kehila, the Hebrew word for community (which can apply to Jewish communities all over the world).
If you’re not familiar with one or both of these features of JewishGen, I recommend checking them out thoroughly. They are both immensely useful for genealogy, particularly Jewish genealogy. I wrote about both of these features previously (under their former names) in my article Jewish Genealogy Basics: Ancestral Town (Shtetl) Information. Give it a read to find out more about these JewishGen features and how to use them.
Please check out my latest guest article on the JewishGen Blog:
JewishGen Basics: JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR)
In the article I cover how to use JOWBR to find graves all over the world (there are over 1.5 million records in JOWBR), as well as other Jewish cemetery resources including JewishData.com, CemeteryScribes.com, MountOfOlives.co.il, DeathIndexes.com and many more.