All posts by Philip

Changes at the Polish State Archives

There are changes afoot at the Polish State Archives (PSA). Most of the databases of archival records hosted at the main archives site, which included ELA (population registers), SEZAM (combined search of PRADZIAD and ELA) and IZA (search of archival inventories) are gone, and they will not be returning. The only database remaining there, the PRADZIAD database of vital records, may not be there too much longer either.

Instead, you are expected to use the szukajwarchiwach.pl (search the archives) site. There are many advantages to this new search engine, although there are some disadvantages as well.

On the plus side, if the archival files have been scanned, you can in most cases see that and access the scans directly on the site. This is very convenient. Not all archives share their scans with the site for some reason, however. Archives that come to mind with their own pages hosting their scans include AGAD, Przemyśl, and the Bydgoszcz and Toruń archives which jointly have files on the Genealogia w Archiwach site. So if you’re searching the szukajwarchiwach.pl site for records in one of these archives, don’t trust the indication of if scans exist for the records, but rather try to find the files on the above archive sites.

Another plus is that there are many more options for advanced searches, although figuring everything out is complicated. You can reproduce the same search as on PRADZIAD, but you need to figure out what to configure. I don’t know yet if it’s possible to set up the same searches as on IZA and ELA, as its a bit of a learning curve with the new system.

My main criticism of the new search interface, besides the steep learning curve, is how it displays its results. The old databases displayed search results in a simple tabular format, while the new search interface gets too fancy for its own good, making it harder to see at a glance what records are available.

PRADZIAD vs. szukajwarchiwach search results
PRADZIAD vs. szukajwarchiwach search showing same number of Jewish vital record sets

If you take a close look at the comparison image above (you can click on it to load a larger version) you’ll notice that while the SA results show a bit more information, the PRADZIAD results are organized alphabetically by town, and allow you to click on any column title to sort the results by that column. The SA results also show two results from the same town, which might lead you to think those are the only ones from that town, but when in fact there are four results. On the plus side, both systems return the exact same number of results, 3303, which means at least the data is currently in sync.

All in all I’m hopeful that the focus on a single database will benefit everyone by giving the PSA a single place to focus on the technology. The old databases had an annoying problem whereby you could not reliably offer a link to a results page, since every time they updated their database (several times a year) the links would change. As far as I can tell that is not a problem with the new system. I wish the Polish State Archives the best of luck, and hope they’ll work out the kinks as soon as possible. If you have experience using szukajwarchiwach.pl and want to share your tips on finding specific types of records, please share them in the comments.

Watch my FB Live video explaining how to use the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy

Tonight I broadcast an overview of the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy on Facebook, which you can view below (or on Facebook itself). The B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy has over 25,000 Jewish genealogy resources covering over 200 countries. Find out more about it in this video:

Learn about the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy

Learn about the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy with over 25,000 resources for Jewish genealogy. Philip Trauring will show how the site works, what's available on it, and answer questions live.

Posted by Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Let me know what you think of the video. If you’re interested in me doing other videos, let me know in the comments.

More newspapers, Landsmanshaft cemetery sections, and convenience

This is a short update to describe some recent additions to the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy.

First, following up my earlier addition of hundreds of newspaper archives, I’ve started to add more newspapers from other sites. Dan Oren, as promised, the Lubliner Togblat has been added, so brush up on your Yiddish.

Second, I’ve added links from the Cemetery Project of the Museum of Family History. The Musuem is a web site put together by Steven Lasky that has lots of great information. The Cemetery Project includes lists of surnames from different Landsmanshaft cemetery sections from the NY/NJ area, including information on the entrance gates to sections that have them (that usually have information on the people who ran the Landsmanshaft), as well as many Holocaust memorials put up by those societies.

In order to conserve space, I have put all the Musuem links into a single entry in the Diaspora section of the Polish town pages. If there are pages for the town for all three categories (Surnames, Society Gates, and Holocaust Memorial), then it would look something like this:

Musuem of Family History

You can see the links for all three pages for the town.

I’ve written about Landsmanshaftn cemetery sections before, such as in Learning about Landsmanshaftn and More on Landsmanshaftn, and for those who are not sure where their family came from before the US, figuring out if they were buried in a Landsmanshaft cemetery section can be an important clue.

Keep in mind they may have ended up in a section because their spouse was from that town, or because an ancestor further back was from that town, but in any case, it’s still very useful and the surname lists and lists of sections associated with each town on this site are very useful.

Lastly, you may have noticed the ‘New’ icons in the above screenshots. This is a new feature of the site that will show you if a link was added or updated in the last three months. I actually added this awhile back but there was a bug that didn’t always display it. It is now working, however, so if you go to any page on the site and see that icon, you know the resource was added to this site recently. This is convenient if you want to revisit the town page every few months, and see quickly if something new has been added.

Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

I get asked by a lot of people how to get started in researching their family. This entire site is dedicated to helping people do just that, but after eight years of writing articles and creating resources like my forms, and the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, it’s still hard for someone completely new to genealogy to know what to do first. My goal here is to guide someone completely new on what to do first, what is useful on my site, as well as what other sites are useful. So if you’re new to genealogy, this will help you get started.

What do you already know?

It seems obvious, but the first thing you need to do is figure out what you know, which will help you figure out what you don’t know. You start this process by asking whoever in your family may know information. Depending on your age, this might be your parents, or grandparents, or whoever are the oldest relatives in the line you are researching. When reaching out to these relatives, you want to not only ask for information, but if they or another relative might have documents that show this information. Always ask if they know of a relative that has already researched the family history. Many families have a cousin that has already done research, and already collected documents and photographs. They may remember a cousin or an uncle that has collected information on the family, and even if that person is not alive now, you may still be able to find information from that relatives’ descendants.

When getting started I always suggest starting with paper forms. There are many great computer programs and web sites for organizing your genealogy, and I do recommend using them but especially when meeting with older relatives, working with a piece of paper is usually easier, and it has the advantage of making it very clear which fields in the form you have not filled in yet (and thus need to ask about/research). On my site you can download several different forms, in English and in Hebrew.

I suggest starting with the Ancestor Form with yourself as the source person at the bottom, and adding in the details on your parents and grandparents. Are you able to fill in all the fields on the form? Do you know where all of your grandparents were born? What their exact birth dates were? Do you have documentation for any of the information, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, ketubahs, passports, etc.?

Once you’ve filled out the form, add Sibling Forms for each of your parents and grandparents, or Family Forms for their parents (which will provide similar information but include the parents, and will show their siblings as children of the parents). As you work your way out further, you’ll see that you probably know less information. That’s okay – this is just the first step in building out your family tree.

When you’ve built out several of these sheets, and you see what information you’re missing, you will have a good idea at least for what information to starting looking for. Continue reading Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

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.