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Tracks of two visits to Okopowa St. Cemetery

Learning from Okopawa St.

I’ve had a lot to write since visiting the Okopowa St. Jewish Cemetery a few weeks ago, but have too busy to put it all together. After my first visit hours after arriving in Poland that Sunday, I wrote my initial thoughts in Practical suggestions when photographing cemeteries. I visited a second time a few days later on Wednesday and I wanted to share my thoughts on that visit, and what I’ve had time to think about since returning from Poland.

GPS Mapping

The first thing I wanted to discuss is the idea of using GPS to help map the sections of a cemetery. While the Okopowa St. Cemetery has several maps, once you’re on site, they’re only useful in a general sense. It would be amazing if there could be an app that would show you which section you were in on a moving map. In my earlier post I showed an overlap on a satellite image of where I walked on the first day, which was densely packed in Section 1, and then a walkabout around the cemetery.

On the second visit, I photographed more of Section 1, which you can see in this new map:

Tracks of two visits to Okopowa St. Cemetery
Tracks of two visits to Okopowa St. Cemetery

The original path from Sunday is shown in dark blue, and the second path from Wednesday is in light blue. This is a close up showing just the part of Section 1 I visited. There is overlap, and you can see I photographed gravestones to the right of the original area, as well as to the left. All of this is still Section 1 in the cemetery. Continue reading Learning from Okopawa St.

Links to local Jewish newspapers added to the Compendium

I’ve long been an advocate of using newspapers in genealogy research. I’ve had particular success using newspapers in my research, and advocate for others to use them as well, as far back as my Genealogy Basics: Historical Newspapers article in 2011 (not long after starting this blog). Other bloggers such as Kenneth Marks at The Ancestor Hunt have done excellent jobs of collecting some links to Jewish newspaper archives (see his article Historical Jewish American Newspapers Online which is obviously focused on US newspapers). The whole idea of the Compendium, however, is to present users with resources when looking at the page representing the locality they are researching. If you’re researching Międzyrzec Podlaski, you may not know that there is an online digitized newspaper from that town, or if you’re researching family from Morocco, you might not know there are at least five online digitized newspapers available from that country.

To that end, I’ve now added a new category of resources to the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy – Newspapers. This is a work in progress, but to start out I have added links to searchable archives of over 200 newspapers. I have added these to the place of publication of these newspapers, although their reach is sometimes much wider. Links are only to archives of newspapers, not to current newspapers (unless they have an archive of older papers, in which case I point directly to that archive).

In the the case of newspapers published in what is now Poland, I have placed them in the town pages for the town in which they were published. For Warsaw, this is a considerable number, but what I found interesting were the other smaller towns for which there are archives of papers that as a researcher you may not have been aware of, and thus never checked. In Poland this includes newspapers in Białystok, Bielsko Biała, Chełm, Ełk, Kalisz, Kielce, Kraków, Łódź, Międzyrzec Podlaski, Piotrków Trybunalski, Tomaszów Mazowiecki, and Wrocław.

Most of these newspaper archives currently come from the Historical Jewish Press project, which is an amazing effort to digitize and make publicly available historical Jewish newspapers from around the world. One small problem with the site is that it tends to list newspapers by the country they were in when published, and not by their current country. That means many people don’t realize when looking for newspapers from the countries their ancestors lived in, that they’re not listed under Ukraine, but under Austria or Russia, or they’re not listed under Lithuania, but rather under Poland. I have tried my best to link to these newspapers to the countries their place of publication currently resides. This includes newspapers in Austria, Belarus, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Lithuania, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

For the United States, I’ve placed the newspaper links on the pages for the state where the newspaper was published, including California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia. These newspapers are not exlcusively from the Historical Jewish Press project, but include links to sites in many places that have digitized newspapers, including the Chronicling America project from the Library of Congress, and many other local efforts across the United States.

Please note that this is a first stab at adding newspapers, and even though I’ve added over 200 newspaper archives, there are certainly more out there, and I would greatly appreciate it if people could send me information on other newspaper archives available online that can be added. The best way to do this is to go to the page you think it should be added to, and clicking on the Add a Resource link at the bottom of the page. Please be as descriptive as possible, including the years of publication, the language, the frequency of publication (monthly, weekly, daily, etc.), and any official linkage, such as to a political party or other organization.

There are plenty of other newspapers that I’m aware of, but have not yet added, primarily due to language issues. Ohio State offers two great lists of digitized historic Jewish newspapers, in English and Hebrew, that contain many newspapers I have not yet linked to here. That’s because while many newspapers are listed, there are no real descriptions like I have for other papers, and the languages are German, Yiddish and Hebrew in most cases, which means I need to spend more time going through them to collect the necessary information. Two resources specifically in German are Compact Memory which has hundreds of German Jewish newspapers and periodicals, and Jüdische Zeitschriften in NS-Deutschland, which has Jewish newspapers from the WWII period in Germany. As the New York Public Library’s guide to microfilms of Jewish newspapers shows, however, there are even more Jewish newspaper archives out there waiting to be digitized and put online.

So take a look at the countries, states, and towns your family came from, and see if there are newspapers listed. Have you looked at them in your research? Write about your experiences using newspapers in your research in the comments below, and submit newspaper archives not in the Compendium to the site so I can add them.

Rzeszów - 1899

Communities tied to Rzeszów (Reisha), Poland via marriage

You might be wondering how communities could be tied to a town via marriage. I’ve gone through about a dozen years of marriage contracts for the Jewish community of Rzeszów, Poland (in Fond 533 in the Rzeszów Archives) from about 1898 to 1910, and looked for towns that were represented by official stamps used in the documents. Rzeszów was known as Reisha (in Yiddish among the Jewish community), and it was a major community in the Austrian province of Galicia, which was later split between Eastern Poland (where Rzeszów is located) and Western Ukraine. Much of my father’s family lived in the town during this period.

In the wedding files, there are frequently also birth certificates, showing which community one or more of the couple getting married came from originally. Thus if a man from outside of Rzeszow was marrying a woman in Rzeszów, his birth certificate would generally be included in the file. The birth certificates were stamped with a special stamp representing the Jewish community of the town the record was from (to confirm its authenticity), and those stamps are the basis of this post. Keep this in mind when searching for birth certificates from towns that have no records – did the person get married somewhere else? Did you find that marriage record yet? The marriage certificates would generally be stamped as well, but by the officiating rabbi. Over those dozen years there are close to a hundred towns represented, and over 50 rabbis. Obviously many of these towns (and rabbis) repeat. Not surprisingly, the towns that are larger and closer tend to repeat more frequently.

Below you’ll see all the stamps. Click on any image to load the full size image so you can see it better (you’ll need to go Back to get back to the list). For towns in Poland, I’ve linked the town name to the page for that town in the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy. Keep in mind that this list is in no way comprehenive. It is just suggestive of which communities the Jewish community of Rzeszów were most connected to via marriage during those years. It might be possible to do a more scientific study of the records and generate statistics on which communities married which other communities, but that’s for someone else to do. It was also very common in Galicia during this period for Jews to marry religiously without a civil marriage, and these records only show the civil marriages, so these are not the only towns, but the towns in which people married someone in Rzeszów that a civil record exists.
Continue reading Communities tied to Rzeszów (Reisha), Poland via marriage

Practical suggestions when photographing cemeteries

Yesterday I arrived in Warsaw for the 2018 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. After dropping off my bags at the hotel, I headed straight to the Okopowa St. Cemetery to start photographing the gravestones (as part of the Okopowa St. Project). This was the first time I had visited this cemetery in 25 years (you can see some of the photographs I took then in my article on Jewish Gravestone Symbols).

I wanted to share my experience going to photograph this cemetery, and offer advice that will be useful for other participants in the Okopowa St. Project, but also anyone looking to document cemeteries (and indeed the point of the Okopowa St. Project is to develop best-practices to use for other cemetery documentation projects).

My first advice is simply to dress appropriately for trudging through a cemetery. When I mentioned this to someone yesterday, they asked if I meant for purposes of modesty (tziut in Hebrew). That’s not what I mean. It’s possible, particularly in some cemeteries in Israel, that you may be required to dress modestly when entering a cemetery. My primary concern, however, particularly in an old cemetery like the one in Warsaw, where gravestones are falling over and there is a lot of vegetation growing around, and sometimes on, the graves, is that you need good shoes and long pants, as you will be walking on uneven ground and stepping over branches and other obstructions, possible dealing with mud, etc. Wear a hat and use sunscreen. Some good bug spray with DEET is also recommended.

Before going to the cemetery, do some research on what is known about it. Are there maps of the cemetery that will help you navigate the grounds? In the case of the Okopowa St. Cemetery, there are several somewhat-conflicting maps (as shown in my earlier article Okopowa St. Cemetery Maps and Statistics). Bring a map with you if you can. If there is no map, then think about tracking where you go to help create a map. It’s worth showing this image of the cemetery overlaid with the path I walked in the cemetery:

The important thing to notice in this map is the dense area on the bottom right. That shows me walking back and forth along the rows in the first half or so of section 1 in the cemetery. After doing that for some time, I then took a walk around other sections of the cemetery and back to the entrance.

Note that when walking in that section, the lines overlap a lot. That’s because there is no walking in a straight line in that section. Besides trees, some graves are surrounding by fences that block one from walking in some areas, and you end up needing to go back, walk around to the other side, take pictures, then go back around to where you started.

One of the main reasons I elected to use BillionGraves is its ability to link multiple photographs of the same grave. Looking at gravestone photos, I frequently want photos from different angles, or close up photos of the text, etc. Unless the text is very clear and takes up most of the gravestone surface, I like to take at least two photos of each grave – one of the entire gravestone showing the surrounding area, and one close up photo of the text. Here’s a video showing how I do this using the BillionGraves app:

There’s another reason to have multiple photos of a single gravestone, and that’s when the gravestone has text on different surfaces. Let me give an example. It’s not uncommon with Jewish gravestones to have both Hebrew and another language on the stone. Sometimes those texts are on opposite sides of the same stone. In that case you might find a photograph of a gravestone, and not realize there is more text on the opposite side. Here’s an example in the Okopowa St. Cemetery. Below is a photograph of a gravestone on the existing database of burials in the cemetery:

Wolk Polakiewicz gravestone from FDJCP database
Wolf Polakiewicz gravestone from FDJCP database

Now let me start with saying that the FDJCP has done an amazing job building their databases. They take the effort to extract the data from gravestones in the field, instead of doing so from photographs, which is many times difficult. They don’t, however, transcribe the entire text on gravestones, which can sometimes be useful, and certainly gives people a more personal look at their relatives than just the extracted names and dates. Note that in the FDJCP photograph, that there are two sides with text. They took a picture at an angle that allows you to see both sides. Now look at four photos I took of the same gravestone yesterday:

On the left you’ll see a photo of the entire stone. Next you’ll see the close-up photos of the two sides shown in the FDJCP photograph. I think anyone would agree that it is easier to read the text in these photos. The last photo on the right is actually a third side that has text. Considering the FDJCP’s goal is not to do transcriptions, but only to extract the important genealogical details, the fact that they don’t show a side of the gravestone with text may not matter to them, but it could matter to a relative looking for every detail possible.

I don’t fault FDJCP, quite the contrary. They’re doing amazing work with limited resources. This is, however, a good example of how we can all contribute to improving what is available.

I hope people find this useful, both for the Okopowa St. Project and for other cemetery documentation projects. If you’re photographing cemeteries this week, whether this one or others, share what you’ve learned in the comments.

Get ready to photograph – The Okopowa St. Project begins


As the Okopowa St. Project is about to begin, I wanted a way to help coordinate efforts and share experiences. While each section has a discussion group within Flickr, until now I didn’t have a single group that was easy for people to discuss the project. I’ve now set up a Facebook group for that purpose. If you are participating in the project, or even just thinking about it, please join the group and the discussion.

Also, I’m happy to announce that after discussing things with BillionGraves, we’re going to be able to extract the images from BillionGraves and make them available, even if you don’t separately upload them. This means that even if you only photograph using the BillionGraves app, and don’t manually upload the photos to Flickr, we’ll still be able to get them and make them available.

There’s a catch, however, and that’s the reason we did this, which is that BillionGraves doesn’t embed the geocoding in the images, either the ones they upload or the ones they save to the camera roll. The images are also shrunk when uploaded, so those images won’t be full quality. Therefore we still need you to register on the project on the Google Sheet, so we can figure out which sections each photograph goes to. If you can save the images to your camera roll on iPhone (or use the Android Widget feature which allows you to both upload to BillionGraves and save the photo to your camera), and then upload them to Flickr, we will still end up with better quality images for everyone, and it will make the process much easier on the backend.

We’ve also set up a registration page with BillionGraves, that lets them know you’ve come in through this project. If you haven’t signed up with BillionGraves yet, then please do so through this link. If you’ve already registered on BillionGraves, then just go to the page and sign-in through the ‘Login’ link at the bottom.

Okopowa St. Project BillionGraves registration page

Just to be clear, I am very grateful for the assistance BillionGraves is providing us, and their accommodating our needs for this project. We have no financial relationship. I only started speaking to them after the project was announced, when someone assumed I had coordinated this with them and was somehow benefitting from it. I thought to myself that while I have no interest in benefiting from this project, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to coordinate with BillionGraves since we were going to be using their software. They really couldn’t have been any nicer, and I am hopeful we can build on this relationship in the future as we use the knowledge gained in photographing this first cemetery, into starting more projects to do the same in other cemeteries.