All posts by Philip

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

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 Kirkuty 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.

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.