A bit about how the compenidum came to be (and where it’s going)

I want to explain a bit about how the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy was put together, and what some of the issues I still have in getting to to where I want it. First, my name is Philip Trauring, since 2010 the author of the Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More blog, of which this compendium is a part. I’ve been researching my own genealogy for over twenty years, and have volunteered for various Jewish genealogy organizations during that time, including the Israel Genealogical Society (where I founded the Modi’in branch), the Israel Genealogy Research Association (where I am currently President), and Gesher Galicia. For more information on me, see my slightly longer personal introduction from my blog.

For years I’ve helped people with their genealogy who messaged me via the Contact page on this blog, and via the blog’s Facebook page (facebook.com/jewishgenealogy). Sometimes helping someone simply consisted of pointing them to the right resource online, one they were not aware of. One person can’t be an expert on every genealogy resource, however, and that would frequently mean searching online for the proper resource, or contacting someone else who I knew had experience researching family from a certain area. I’ve even found experienced genealogists who simply didn’t know a relevant resource was available (genteam.at comes to mind for those researching family from Austria – many people don’t seem to know about this amazing resource with over 14 million records in their database). With that in mind I wanted to create a way for all researchers to find the resources that are available, and if they know of others not in the database, to share what they know. Compiling the initial database of resources to launch with the compendium was certainly a learning experience for me, and I discovered many interesting resources I wasn’t previously aware of, which I’ve been able to incorporate into the compendium. With a little help from people using this compendium, I think we can grow the number of resources many times over.

Like many things, if I had know how much time it would take to get this put together, I probably would never have started working on it. When I came up with the idea of putting together resources for Jewish genealogy in different countries, I thought it would be easy. I put together a list of countries based on the US State Department list, and created the first couple of pages on my site. I started collecting resources for Afghanistan and Albania. After working on just those two countries I realized there was no way I could put together the pages manually. First, it was too much work, and second, there would be no easy way to update the pages.

Wordpress allows you to create custom fields for pages, and I thus set out to put the data into those custom fields and then pull that data into a template for each country. The first step was collecting the data for each country (topics) and then collecting all the information online I could find for that country (resources). I ended up with 207 countries and 73 sub-regions (States in the US, Provinces in Canada, and I don’t know what you call the parts of the United Kingdom). Once I had a stable set of topics (280) I set out to add resources in my seven categories. At some point I gave up trying to add every possible resource for every country and region. Perfection they say is the enemy of good, and I wanted the compendium to see the light of day. I ended up with over 1200 resources that I personally added. I imagine it can grow significantly with the help of everyone who uses this site.

Keep in mind that I left many resources out, and much of them on purpose. For one, I left the United States virtually empty of resources. Initially I only added resources for a single state to test, although after building most of the site I did go back and add a few resources per state to get things started. Other obvious countries are also short on resources. It will be up to the users of this site to help contribute resources to fill out what is missing.

There was a lot of thought that went into how to display all the resources available, and there have been many iterations in how I’ve displayed the resources. For example, initially websites and their social network accounts were considered separate records. The problem was that a single site with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. could take up many lines in the resource listing. Add to that multiple languages, and a single site could have as many as ten different links, and thus ten lines in the listing. That was not ideal, so I worked very hard to insure that for those kinds of resources, everything would be combined into a single listing. This approach is not without compromise. When a resource has multiple languages and multiple social media accounts, it can be difficult to know which language a social media account is in, as one example. In general social media accounts are the same language as the primary record, but not in all cases.

Another issue is what to do when a resource covers more than one topic. Sometimes an article will discuss two or three countries – should the resource be listed only once in one of those countries? Should it be listed more than once so it shows up in each country? There’s no easy way using my current tools to link to a single resource from multiple topics.

On a related note, some resources can easily fit within multiple sections within a topic. In those cases I’ve just picked the one I felt was most relevant. If the site has genealogical data, in general the category will be Genealogy. If the resource is related to a cemetery, it’s in Cemeteries, even if there is genealogical data. It’s definitely subjective, so it’s worth checking out all resources for a topic to see what exactly is available from each one.

I’ve only started to work on the addition of Cities to the compendium, and have only done so with cities in Poland. This added 16 Provinces and roughly 1000 Cities. Adding resources for every city in the world would probably be a full time job for several people. Adding just the resources for the thousand or so Polish cities I’ve added so far (and I plan to add more cities) took months of work. Short of getting a significant grant to add cities in other countries, that aspect of the compendium will stay Poland-only for the foreseeable future. As it stands now, there are over 10,000 resources already linked to those thousand cities, so I can’t even imagine how big the site would be if Cities were added to all countries. One other related point, when I say Cities I don’t differentiate between cities, towns and villages. Indeed most of those 1000 ‘Cities’ are probably just villages, or towns. Very few are indeed cities in the traditional sense.

Another type of topic I’ve toyed with adding is Historical Region. Some regions don’t map easily to an existing country, or had its Jewish peak when under the administration of different countries. Some examples that come to mind are Galicia (now partly in Poland and Ukraine), Courland, Danzig, and the Pale of Settlement. Each of these regions have considerable genealogical resources dedicated to them, and might therefore best have their own topics. Additionally, would Cities be added to the current Country, or the Historical Region? A complicated issue. For the moment, I’ve put Historical Regions on hold while I get current regions working.

I’m not sure what the best way is to keep the site updated. At launch I offer two methods for suggesting updates. Users can comment on a Topic to suggest a new resource or an update. There is also a link on the bottom of every Topic that directs users to a form where they can enter updates (this is preferred since it insures that all the relevant information is added). It would be nice to come up with a more collaborative method of doing updates, but I don’t currently have a good way to collaborate beyond what I’ve provided.

I have a field for each topic I call the Description, but which is currently being used to provide a translation of sources that are written in languages other than English. Ideally I’d like to expand the use of that field, or more likely a second field, to provide short descriptions of each resource, but I did not have time to do that before launch. I’ve also considered writing introductions for each topic, but that will need to wait until I have more time. For the time being I’m hoping users of the site will add their own comments on the resources to the resource pages.

When doing my research into resources for various countries, many times I ran into dead links, or links to sites that no longer exist. In some cases I’ve linked to a copy of those sites on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, although those backups unfortunately don’t always contain the complete site. Sometimes when coming across a site that looked like it hadn’t been updated in a long time, or otherwise looked like it might disappear in the future, I’ve made my own local copy of the resource. In those cases there is a link to the local copy of the resource next to the main link.

I would also like to move beyond geographic topics, as not everything is so easily categorized geographically. Certainly a compendium on Jewish genealogy should have topics about Jewish names, rabbinic genealogy, etc. Those will come, but not until I feel the geographic resources have been fully fleshed out.

So that’s a bit about how the compendium came to be, and some of the technical issues I’m still dealing with in getting it to where I want it to be. Please let me know what you think about the compendium in the comments, and feel free to post suggestions on the Improve the Site page.

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