When I was younger, I remember hearing the phrase ‘Poland is one big Jewish cemetery’. This was a way of relating the fact that 90% of Polish Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Usually it was stated by someone who was explaining why they would never visit Poland. Of course, when I was younger it was quite difficult to visit Poland, being that it was behind the Iron Curtain. I first visited Poland, less than two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, as part of the March of the Living in 1993. We visited a couple of cemeteries during that trip, including the Okopowa St. synagogue in Warsaw. The Okopowa St. cemetery has more than 80,000 gravestones still in existence, and has had money contributed to it from the local government to help preserve it. One wonders if the interest in preserving this particular cemetery is due to an interest in preserving the past, or perhaps an interest in encouraging more Jewish tourism. The lack of funds for other cemeteries in the country would tend to support the tourism theory.Continue reading Jewish cemeteries in Poland
Category Archives: Resources
Updated Immigrant Census Form (1940 added)
For those unaware, this site has a set of genealogy forms that you can fill out on a computer, or print out to be filled out by hand. I find this is a great way to get started with genealogy, and these forms are also helpful for sending out to relatives to be filled out and returned. These forms are designed to work together in useful ways. One form that is particularly useful is the US Immigrant Census Form, which was released all the way back in 2011. This form has fields for the useful genealogy information that you can extract from US Census records during the critical turn-of-the-century period of mass immigration to the US. When the original form was created, the 1940 Census had not yet been released, so it only covered the censuses between 1880 and 1930. This updated form adds a column for 1940.Continue reading Updated Immigrant Census Form (1940 added)
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.
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.
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.
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 reminder about the B&F Forms System
For a long time the most visited page on this site has been my B&F Forms System page. Originally created back in 2011, my B&F Forms System is a series of forms you can use to help you with your genealogy. The forms are designed to be easily fillable either on your computer, or when printed out (and support both Letter-size paper for North American users, and A4 paper for everyone else). The forms have been downloaded tens of thousands of times from this site (and who knows where else they might be available). I have to thank Cyndi’s List and Pinterest (the Ancestor form, for example, is listed on over 2700 boards) for most of the traffic to the forms.
While people who religiously enter their genealogy information into a computer genealogy program, or an online genealogy service, may think these forms are not for them, I think you might find they are quite useful, for a few reasons.
For the basic Ancestor and Family forms, you can send them to relatives to fill in their information and send back to you. For less tech-saavy relatives, you can print them out for them to fill in by hand and send back to you. For more tech-saavy relatives, you can just send them the PDFs and ask them to fill them out and send them back via e-mail.
The Ancestor Location and US Immigrant Census forms help you focus your research and help you determine what information you are missing about your ancestors.
The Ancestor Location form simply has fields for name, birth date, and birth location for 14 ancestors (two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents). By taking the time to fill out the form you can see at a quick glance which of these basic pieces of information you are missing, giving you direction on where to focus your research.
The US Immigrant Census form lets you fill in all the genealogically-significant information from the 1880 to 1940 census years. This information is not the same for each year, for example only two years ask when someone was married, only two years ask how many children a woman had, only years 1900 and on ask when a person immigrated, and only 1920 asked what year a person was naturalized. Filling out all of this information for an individual on this form gives you a lot of information to follow up on in your research.
These forms and the rest of the forms in the series are also great for people just getting started with their research, allowing them to fill in the forms first, and then use the forms to fill in the information in a program or online service. The forms can also be used by genealogy classes and workshops.
Since the forms are the most used resource on this site, I thought it was worth re-visiting them and bringing them to the attention of users of this site that may not have noticed them. So if you haven’t seen the forms before, then go to the B&F Forms System page now and check them out. You can always find them by going to the Forms link in the menu at the top of the page.
Oh, and if you haven’t checked out the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, do that too…