The Encyclopedia is now the Compendium

B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy

In 1991 two pioneers of Jewish genealogy, Arthur Kurzweil and Miriam Weiner, published the first volume of what was supposed to be a continuing series, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy, Volume 1: Sources in the United States and Canada. I don’t know how long it was in print. I have never read the book, so I cannot even tell you what is inside it, but as it pre-dates the Internet (or at least the public Internet that we all know today), it presumably deals with the archives and resources available in North America that one needed to visit in person to do family research.

I actually own other books that both Arthur Kurzweil and Miriam Weiner have published separately. The fact that Arthur Kurzweil’s From Generation to Generation is still in print after being originally published in 1980 illustrates its importance. Amazon tells me I bought a copy in 2009. I own both of Miriam Weiner’s Jewish Roots books – Jewish Roots in Poland and Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova. I probably bought Jewish Roots in Poland around the same time, as I recall Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova was already out of print and hard to find, and I see I was looking for a copy in 2010. After posting to a local genealogy group here in Israel, a generous person who no longer wanted the book gave me her copy. Weiner’s Jewish Roots books formed the basis of her Routes to Roots archive database. She later added information on Lithuania and Belarus as well, although only online.

It was in fact when I was corresponding with Miriam Weiner about her Routes to Roots archive database, that she mentioned her and Arthur Kurzweil’s book as having the same name as my site.

My first response was, frankly, terror. Putting aside that I had not known about a book by two important Jewish genealogists of whom I have an incredible amount of respect, and that I had used more or less the same name for my site, the thought of changing over 17,000 web pages was more than I could think about. While there is something to be said that the name is fairly generic, and I had always prepended B&F before Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy, after a night’s sleep I realized I could figure out how to change the site and the name, and there was no reason to keep the name if there was even the slightest chance it might cause confusion.

It’s not like I make money from the site, or have any kind of advertising for it. I never sold t-shirts with the logo, or otherwise put the name into print. My goal has always been first and foremost to help people, and I don’t need to keep a specific name to help people.

There are actually a limited number of words in the English language that convey a similar meaning to encyclopedia. At first I thought of almanac, although it connotes a connection to the calendar. Last year I had originally wanted to use the archaic word cyclopedia, of which I own the Century Cyclopedia of Names, but I opted for encyclopedia as clearer, and now it would be too close. While dictionary is sometimes used outside its word-defining purpose, it seemed wrong to me. To me that left only compendium, which is a collection of things, and could cover the large collection of resources I have organized.

Interestingly enough the word compendium is used in the title of a book by another Jewish genealogy pioneer – Malcolm Stern’s 1960 book Americans of Jewish descent; a compendium of genealogy. Then again, his title has similarities to the earlier The Compendium of American Genealogy, First Families of America (1925–1942) by Frederick Adams Virkus. In any case, there are only so many words, and I think this is different enough to be okay.

I managed to find a way to automatically (automagically?) change the URLs of the site (more than 17,000 of them), and I tried my best to change references on the site from Encyclopedia to Compendium. I obviously can’t change links on other sites that link to my site, however, if someone goes to an old link, the site will automatically change it to the new link. If you end up going to a page only to get an error message, let me know.

Please enjoy the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy.

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 Compendium 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 compendium. 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 compendium last year, only 59 had no listings in the JGFF. I know this because I had to add those 59 links to the compendium 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 compendium

I’m happy to announce that I have just added over 200 new Polish towns to the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy. This brings the number of towns in the compendium 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 compendium 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 compendium 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 compendium. 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 compendium 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 compendium. 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 compendium.

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.