All posts by Philip

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 Archive.org, 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.

When was the last time you updated your JGFF listings?

Over two hundred new Polish towns added to the encyclopedia

New Polish cemetery resources

A year on from introducing the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy

How you can help

About those 10,000 Polish resources

A bit about how the encyclopedia came to be (and where it's going)

Introducing the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy

1,000,000 database records passed at IGRA

I’m proud to announce that the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) has recently passed a million records in its All Israel Database. IGRA has been working on building this database for five and half years, and it’s an incredible accomplishment to have reached a million records in that time. We’re proud to make these records available to researchers across the globe (you just need to register for free on the site).

While I am currently the elected President of IGRA, I completely credit this accomplishment to our database volunteers who have worked hard and consistently for years to reach this stage. Under the leadership of Rosie Feldman, and with the help of Daniel Horowitz and Carol Hoffman, a team of dozens of volunteers have helped scan and index over three hundred data sources adding up to more than one million records.

Some recent databases that have been added, or added to, include Petach Tikva Marriages and Divorce 1928-1931, Jerusalem Marriages 1931-1940, British Mandate Marriage and Divorce Certificates, Teacher’s Union Members 1941, Israeli Name Changes 1954, Operation On Eagle’s Wings Immigrants 1949 (from Yemen), Israel Telephone Directory 1963, and Tombstones of the Jewish Cemetery of Salonica, Greece.

Archivist Award 2016
Archivist Award
These databases come from our close collaboration with more than thirty archives, both in Israel and abroad. Some of the archives we work with include the Israel State Archives, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Tel Aviv Municipal Archives, the Petach Tivka History Archives, and the Jerusalem Municipal Archives. Our work was recognized by the Association of Israeli Archivists last year when they presented us with an award in appreciation for our work with their member archives.

IGRA’s All Israel Database is the only major online genealogy database that is completely bi-lingual, being searchable in both Hebrew and English. IGRA works very hard to insure that databases that originate in Hebrew are searchable in English, and databases that originate in English are searchable in Hebrew. Our bi-lingual database has been made possible with the help of Brooke Schreier Ganz and her LeafSeek platform. Brooke may be better known these days as the head of Reclaim the Records, or her board role at Gesher Galicia, but she is also critical to our success here at IGRA and we are very grateful to all her hard work.

Indexing a million records is no easy task, and part of the problem is just coordinating all the work, and making sure the work assigned to people gets completed. To that end, we have been looking for many years for an online tool, similar to those used by Ancestry and FamilySearch for their volunteer indexing efforts. Recently we worked with Banai Feldstein, to insure our requirements were considered as she developed her Crowd-Sourced Indexing (CSI) tool. While other groups are currently using her great indexing tool as well, a quick look at the rankings of top indexers using her platform show they are all indexing IGRA records. Many thanks to Banai for developing the tool that helped push us past the million record mark earlier, and which will enable us to get the next million that much faster.

So thank you again to everyone who has made this milestone possible. If you want to help get the next million records online, please sign up at Crowd-Sourced Indexing, and check out the data we’re currently indexing. As of this writing we’re currently indexing the 1963 Telephone Directory in English, as well as a 1939 Petah Tikva Voters List and a 1936 Tel Aviv Voters List in Hebrew. Check back often as we have many other projects in the queue that get posted as soon as we complete what’s online (see the list of 30 completed indexing projects on the site).

Lastly, if you’re going to be at the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy next month in Orlando, be sure to stop by the Share Fair on Sunday, July 23 between 12:30pm and 4pm (Swan Foyer), or the Israel Research BOF meeting on Monday, July 24 between 3:30pm and 4:45pm (Pelican 2), to meet IGRA volunteers and find out more about the work we do and the databases we are working on.

A year on from introducing the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy

The B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy just passed 13,000 resources. As I added a bit over a hundred new resources last night, I realized that I had launched the encyclopedia just about a year ago. Today I looked up the first article I posted to introduce the encyclopedia, Introducing the B&F Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy, and I saw it was posted exactly a year ago today.

For those unfamiliar with the encyclopedia, it is a guide to Jewish genealogy resources online, covering over 200 countries, over 80 regions (in Canada, Poland, UK and US), and in Poland roughly 1,000 towns. At launch, the resources for those 1,000 Polish towns added up to over 10,000 resources, while the country and region-level resources added up to about 1,200 resources. As of last night, we passed 13,000 total resources, so an increase of nearly 2,000 resources since last year. For more information on the encyclopedia and how it works, see About the Encyclopedia.

There’s still a lot that can be added to the encyclopedia. Adding the city-level resources to more countries is a huge task. Historical regions is another area where I want to expand into, grouping together resources for former territories such as Galicia, Courland, and the Pale of Settlement. Another area I want to expand into is non-geographic topics, such as names, rabbinical genealogy, Sephardi genealogy, etc. Available time is my scarcest resource, however. The same month I launched the encyclopedia I was elected President of the Israel Genealogy Research Association, and I started a new job as well. Add to that four children under the age of ten, and it’s amazing I’ve managed to update the site at all.

Overall though, I’m proud of what I managed to put together and what I’ve been able to add over the past year. It’s a great starting point for those looking for Jewish genealogy resources, and makes it easy to see at a glance what is available for the area from which one’s family originated. I use it myself whenever I am researching a particular location, and thousands of others are using it every month.

If you have suggestions for new resources, please send them to me. The best way to do so is to go to the topic you want to add a resource to, and click on the Add a Resource link at the bottom of the page. If you have a suggestion for ways to improve the site, please post a comment on the Improve the Site page.

Lastly, if you’re reading this now, go to the main page and click on some random countries and see what Jewish genealogy resource are available. Visit sites you’ve never seen before. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create new resources for areas that you know about, so you can share your knowledge with other researchers around the world.