When was the last time you updated your JGFF listings?

I’ve written before about the importance of using the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF). I’ve even written about it on the JewishGen blog, see: JewishGen Basics: The JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF). The basic concept is that users add surname/town pairs to the database, and other users search for their surnames and towns, and can contact the other people researching the same names and towns. It can’t be understated how important the JGFF is for Jewish genealogy research, as a central point of connection for families that have become split up over the past century and more.

So it should come as no surprise that I made an effort to add links to JGFF on the towns in the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy. When I launched it last year, the roughly one thousand Polish towns had links to their search results in the JGFF. I spent a lot of time verifying the links and making sure I only added links to towns that had listings. That, however, was a mistake.

The reason it was a mistake to only link to JGFF when there were listings, was that it could never be up to date, and if your family was from a town that had no results, you wouldn’t be aware of that fact. So now I link to all towns in the encyclopedia. If you’re researching a town your family came from, and you click on the JGFF link and get no results, make sure to add your family!

Of the roughly thousand initial towns added to the encyclopedia last year, only 59 had no listings in the JGFF. I know this because I had to add those 59 links to the encyclopedia recently. Those towns were:

If you see towns where your family came from, then I strongly recommend adding your family to the JGFF listings for those towns. Keep in mind that you need to be logged in to JewishGen for the JGFF links to work. If you try to use them without being logged in, then you will be prompted to log in. If you need help figuring out how to enter your family and town information into JGFF, see my article on the JewishGen blog.

I don’t know exactly how many of the more than two hundreds Polish towns I added yesterday had listings in JGFF since I linked to all of them, but I would say that based on spot checks as I added them that roughly half of them had entries. Even so, keep in mind that even in the original towns there may only be a few entries. The 59 towns above were only the ones that had no entries, but there are many more that only have a handful of entries. Go add your surnames and ancestral towns to JGFF today (and as I explain in my original article – don’t do it anonymously).

Over two hundred new Polish towns added to the encyclopedia

I’m happy to announce that I have just added over 200 new Polish towns to the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy. This brings the number of towns in the encyclopedia to over 1200, and I think it is the largest database of Polish towns with former Jewish communities, or a connection to former Jewish communities, online. Many of these towns are towns that before 1945 were part of Germany (primarily Prussia), so while the encyclopedia only (currently) lists towns within the borders of Poland, many people who had family in Germany may find their ancestral towns listed. I should point out if you search for the old German name of a town it should show up (i.e. if you search for the German town name Woldenberg, it will give you a link to the Polish town name Dobiegniew).

It’s been over a year since I launched the encyclopedia with resources for roughly a thousand towns in Poland (in addition to resources on over 200 countries and 80 provinces). Time is a good thing, as it allowed me to forget how hard it was to add towns to the encyclopedia. Once I got started, however, I needed to see it through to completion.

A look at Dobiegniew, one of the more than 200 new towns added
A look at Dobiegniew, one of the more than 200 new towns added

I’ve known since I launched that I did not have all the Polish towns where Jews lived, but I worked very hard to confirm the identity of each town I added, and that was painstaking work. When I add resources I spend a lot of time confirming that they are connected to the correct town, something that is not so easy when dozens of towns in Poland can have the exact same name. What that meant was complicated efforts to cross-reference all the resources between many sites, checking geographic coordinates if they existed for a resource, comparing alternate names for the town, and whenever possible checking the province and county of the town.

Checking the province and county proved especially difficult since many sites did not use the current province and counties if they had them listed at all. Poland has changed their regional designations many times in the last century, which means if you’re referencing old documents, then they could give the wrong information. Luckily, geographic coordinates don’t change, so for resources that included them, that allowed synchronization of resources. The end result is that all the towns in the encyclopedia are firmly identified, and their current province and county are identified on their town page.

I wrote recently about adding new cemetery resources, including pages from Lo Tishkach, an organization that is collecting information on Jewish cemeteries in Europe. When I added the Lo Tishkach resources, I analyzed the pages that did not have towns in the encyclopedia. I removed the towns that only had associated mass graves as they were probably not indicative of a Jewish community having existed there. Looking at just the towns that had a Jewish cemetery left me with over 200 towns that I did not have in the encyclopedia.

Clearly, not all of these towns had Jewish communities either. Many Jewish cemeteries were built outside of the communities they served. While I’m sure a handful of the towns I’ve added only had a Jewish cemetery there, and not a living community, I’ve added them since the names of these towns still come up in research. Where I’m fairly certain that the town only had a cemetery, I’ve made note of that. Occasionally, if I only had a single cemetery reference to a town, and I was sure it was used by a different town with a Jewish community, I simply added that link to the town with the existing community.

It’s not surprising that sites like the IAJGS Jewish Cemetery Project and kiruty had many links to these towns, as they are similarly focused on cemeteries. Where I was pleasantly surprised, however, was when I started collecting resources from other sites to connect to these towns. Virtual Shtetl had over 150 of the towns in its database, JRI-Poland lists records for over 50 of the towns, and Routes to Roots had information on over 70 of the towns. I also discovered that while none of the towns existed in the JewishGen Communities database, many of the towns had listings in the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) database.

As a side note, I’ve changed how I link to the JGFF, so where before I only linked to JGFF if there were listings for the town, I now always link to it. If you have family from a town, and you see no links, add your family. I’ll be writing more about this in another post soon.

When I said above that I made note of some towns only having a Jewish cemetery, those notes actually show up on the page. I actually added notes about many of the towns when I added them last year, but never displayed the notes on the town pages. Many of these new towns came from the border areas that before WWII were part of Germany, and as I added notes to point this out, I made sure to turn on the notes on all the town pages. If the town has a note, you’ll see it displayed below the province/county information, and above the map.

It’s clear that there are more towns to add, and in time I hope to do so. In this batch I came up with about ten towns that I was able to identify but not easily cross reference due to not being able to find certain information on them. I will continue to look for the information I need to add those towns. I’m also always happy to receive suggestions for new towns to add, although I can’t promise to add them as I have many requirements I need to satisfy before adding them, but they will get added to my queue for future consideration.

So take a look at the expanded alphabetical List of Polish Cities, and check out the towns where your family lived. If you know of resources I’m missing, please submit them to be added. If you find resources you were previously unaware of, write a comment here and let me know how the site has helped you with your research.

New Polish cemetery resources

Recently I added links to Lo Tishkach, the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, for all the Polish towns in the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy. Lo Tishkach is an initiative to collect information on all Jewish cemeteries, as well as mass graves, within Europe. There is a lot of overlap between the information in Lo Tishkach and the IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project, although the IAJGS efforts covers a lot more than just Europe. Lo Tishkach, on the other hand, is not just interested in cataloging the cemeteries, but wants to help push for the restoration and renovation of the cemeteries it is cataloging. To that end, they look to catalog cemeteries across Europe and lobby for standardized legislation in different European countries (or within the European Union) to manage the preservation of Jewish cemeteries, particularly in places where Jews no longer live.

Started by the Conference of European Rabbis in 2006, Lo Tishkach is now run out of offices in the United Kingdom and Belgium, and operates as a non-profit foundation. The foundation runs education activities with European students, as well as utilizing the same students to help catalog the cemeteries. There are well over a thousand cemeteries and mass graves documented by Lo Tishkach in Poland.

In addition to the Lo Tishkach pages, which give general information about all known Jewish cemeteries, I’ve also added links to the pages of the Foundation for Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland, which photographs and transcribes the tombstones within the cemeteries for which it has information. Starting with the Okopowa cemetery in Warsaw (for which it has information and photographs for over 80,000 tombstones), the foundation now has information on over 90 cemeteries in Poland, which are now linked to their respective town pages in the encyclopedia. When you go to the page for a specific town, you can browse through the listings, or search for a specific name.

While adding large collections like Lo Tishkach (over 1000 cemeteries) and FDJCP (over 85,000 tombstones in over 90 cemeteries) is helpful, I also like to find smaller sites that are focused on single communities. Sometimes these sites are the work of individuals, but still contain an impressive amount of information. A few focused sites added as well include An Inventory of Przemyśl’s Jewish Cemetery, Lomza Virtual Jewish Cemeteries, and The Jewish Cemetery in Lubaczow, Poland.

I’ve also taken the opportunity to change how some of the resources show up in the encyclopedia. Adding the Lo Tishkach resources presented a problem, which was that as many as half if not more of all the towns had more than one cemetery or mass grave with its own resource link. If I added it as I had before, it would have wasted a lot of space on town pages. Therefore, like the fact that a Web Site with associated Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and other social media accounts show up in the same entry on a town page, multiple pages from the same collection of information now also will show up in the same listing. In this case, when you see a town page with Lo Tishkach resources, they will all show up together. I’ve updated the listings of the Kirkuty cemetery resources as well, to follow this pattern.

Speaking of which, it’s worth pointing out that these new cemetery resources join over 600 links to Kirkuty (a Polish site with current photos of cemeteries in Poland), over 700 links to the IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project, and over 150 links to the recently mentioned Złe miejsca dla ślimaków.

I hope people find these new resources helpful. In addition to these there are also new resources at the Country level for countries like Spain and Portugal, as well as others spread around the site. If you visit a country, province or city page and know of resources not listed, please submit them so they can be added.