Bad places for snails, and the ephemerality of the Internet

When I built the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy over a year ago, one of the crazier decisions I made was to add resources for roughly a thousand towns in Poland. That led to me assembling over 10,000 resources for those towns. Some of those resources came from major sites like Gesher Galicia, JewishGen, Routes to Roots, Virtual Shtetl, etc. but some came from much lesser-known sites.

One of my goals was to find these lesser-known sites, even if they were in Polish or other languages, if I thought they would be useful to people researching their family history. The site with perhaps the funniest name I came across was a Polish blog called Złe miejsca dla ślimaków which translates to Bad places for snails. While it was in Polish and I didn’t fully understand it, what was clear was the writer of the blog traveled around his region of Poland (near his hometown of Pulawy in Southeastern Poland), mostly by bicycle, and photographed many sites. The sites photographed included cemeteries, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as buildings, which could be local castles or churches, but also included former synagogues and other buildings previously used by the Jewish community.

Złe miejsca dla ślimaków page on Lublin cemetery
Złe miejsca dla ślimaków page on Lublin cemetery

The site had photographs of over a hundred and fifty towns that had some Jewish remnants. Many times people online ask if the cemeteries from their ancestral towns in Poland still exist, and if so if it’s possible to read the tombstones there and find their ancestors. Sites like Złe miejsca dla ślimaków are useful because they allow people to see what the cemeteries look like now, and see if there is anything left. The site also showed which buildings were formerly synagogues, so if someone wanted to visit their ancestral town, they would know what the synagogue looked like if they wanted to see it.

Some towns that have pages on Złe miejsca dla ślimaków include Adamów, Bielsk Podlaski, Chełm, Hrubieszów, Lublin, Łęczna, Ożarów, Piotrków Trybunalski, Tyszowce, and Zamość.

So why I am pointing out this particular site? One of the things I noticed as I collected links to sites on the Internet was that many of the links I found went to sites that no longer existed. Sometimes it was simply that the web site changed its domain, and I was able to find the new site. Sometimes the site changed the way it displayed content, and I just needed to find the new link that worked. Sometimes the sites simply ceased to exist.

For example, in the early days of the Internet Geocities was a major host of free web sites, and many genealogy sites were set up there. Yahoo bought GeoCities in 1999 and roughly ten years later announced they were shutting down the site (with its 38 million web pages). When GeoCities shut down, poof went all the sites. Some moved to new locations, some were successfully archived by efforts like ReoCities and Oocities, and some were archived on, but many were simply lost. Those that were archived many times were incomplete.

More recently, and probably because of the many sites that were lost when GeoCities shut down, groups like Archive Team make efforts to archive major sites when they think the sites may go down in the near future (such as when a company seems to be in financial straights, or if they’re announced that a site will go down on a specified date). That only helps if the site is big enough to warrant notice from such a group.

When I created the encyclopedia I did two things to help prevent the loss of genealogical information in the future. I included a feature that allowed me to add a local copy of any resource on the site. This was really only used for individual pages and the occasional PDF file that I wanted to make sure people had access to, and at least at the beginning for sites that still existed, so it was not used very much. For resources that I’ve added a local copy, there is a link next to the main link in parenthesis that simply says ‘local’.

The second thing I did was download full copies of web sites I was afraid might one day disappear. As I came across many sites that looked like they had not been updated in many years, and other sites that for one reason or another seemed important for genealogy researchers that I thought in the future might not stay operational, I started an effort to create local copies of sites — my own personal genealogy site archive. I never knew if it would be useful, and knew it would be constantly out of date (except for those sites that had not been updated in a long time already). After my initial downloads last year, I rarely updated my archive, although I did occasionally come across new sites and add them.

So when I realized recently that Złe miejsca dla ślimaków was down and the over 150 resources I had added to the site were no longer available, I looked into my archive and found a downloaded copy of the site. I then added that to the encyclopedia server, and added the appropriate local links. I haven’t yet removed the original links, in case the site returns at some point in the near future, but eventually I will remove the original links and convert the local link into a ‘Web Site (Archived)’ link instead. So take a look at the Złe miejsca dla ślimaków links if they are present for your town, and next time a link doesn’t work, look for a local link next to it, or contact me to let me know a resource is missing, and maybe I’ll have an archived copy I can add to the encyclopedia for posterity.

For more detailed information about the encyclopedia, see my other posts about it below, or go to About the Encyclopedia for an overview.

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