Tag Archives: ancestral town

Jewish Genealogy Basics: Mailing Lists

It wasn’t that long ago when collaborating with others doing genealogy research meant going to a local genealogy meeting, or traveling to a regional, national or international conference, or looking up fellow researchers in a printed directory, and sending people letters and documents via postal mail. While meeting other researchers in person is still a great thing, and sending items via postal mail can still occasionally be useful, the Internet has thankfully made finding and collaborating with other researchers easier.

I wrote earlier about finding other researchers who are looking for people with the same surnames in the same towns through the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF). That is the best way to find specific researchers that might be researching the same family members as you, but what about more general questions you might have? What if you don’t actually know which town the family lived in? What if the knowledge you need is not specific to your family, but something specific to a document you found – like interpreting a Polish-language birth certificate, or trying to find a town listed in a a document you’ve found.

While gaining access to many documents online is great for genealogy, and having a way to contact distant archives for free and quickly (via e-mail) is very helpful, the biggest improvement to genealogy in the past decades is really the ability to tap into the group knowledge of all the other researchers out there. There are various way to tap into this knowledge, but I think one of the most useful ways is the variety of topic-specific mailing lists out there. By finding the right mailing list, either a broadly defined group with many people, or a very narrowly defined group with only a handful of people, you can find the right people with the right knowledge to help you with your genealogy research.

JewishGen Lists

JewishGen operates a number of heavily-used mailing lists that are specific to Jewish genealogy. Starting with their main list, the JewishGen Discussion Group, which is a kind of catch-all list for Jewish genealogists where you can ask any questions you might have. If you follow this list you will learn a lot about the problems other people are having and will be able to apply some of their solutions to your own research.

In order to join a mailing list on JewishGen, you should first join JewishGen (which is free) and then go to the mailing list administration page to add lists you’d like to subscribe to to your account.

Besides the main list, they also have a large number of mailing lists that are connected to specific regional Special Interest Groups (SIGs). These include (with descriptions from the JewishGen site):

Austria-Czech SIG A forum for those researching Jewish genealogy in the areas formerly known as Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), plus parts of Austria, especially Vienna, but not Galicia.
Belarus SIG A forum for researchers with Jewish family roots in country now known as Belarus and more specifically from the former Russian Gubernii (provinces) of Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, and Vitebsk.
BIALYGen: Bialystock Region The city of Białystok and nearby towns and villages, currently in Poland, formerly in the Russian Empire’s Grodno Gubernia.
Danzig SIG The Jews of Danzig/Gdańsk, and its precursor communities of Alt Schottland, Langfuhr, Mattenbuden, Weinberg, Danzig in der Breitgasse, and Tiegenhof (Nowy Dwór Gdański).
Early American SIG A forum for those researching Jewish immigrants to the United States before 1880.
French SIG A forum for Jewish genealogical research in France and French colonies, as well as other French-speaking areas such as Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
German Jewish SIG A forum focused on geographic, historic and linguistic Germany, including parts of Switzerland, Poland, and Alsace-Lorraine.
Gesher Galicia SIG A forum for those interested in researching their Jewish roots in the former Austrian province of Galicia (now southern Poland, western Ukraine).
H-SIG Hungarian Jewish Special Interest Group is for those with Jewish roots in the area known as “greater Hungary” including areas that at one time were predominantly Hungarian speaking.
JCR-UK SIG Jewish Communities and Records (JCR-UK): A project to record genealogical and historical information concerning the Jewish communities of the United Kingdom.
Latin America SIG A forum for researchers with Jewish family roots in all countries of Latin America.
Latvia SIG A forum for researchers of Jewish families of Latvian descent.
Litvak SIG Encourages preservation and computerization of primary sources of genealogical data, for the descendants of the Lithuanian Jewish community.
Lodz Area Research Group A forum for those researching the city of Łódź, Poland, and localities within a 40 mile radius – in Congress Poland’s gubernias of Piotrków, Płock, Warszawa, and Kalisz.
Rabbinic Genealogy SIG A forum for those interested in Rabbinic genealogy or researching rabbinic ancestry within any geographic area or time period.
Romania SIG A forum for those with Jewish roots in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Dobruja, Maramures, Moldavia, Transylvania and Wallachia (all within the modern nations of Romania, Moldova, and southwestern Ukraine).
Scandinavia SIG A forum for researchers with Jewish roots in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark – including former Danish colonies and protectorates.
Sephardic SIG A forum for researchers of Sephardic genealogies. English is the preferred language.
South Africa SIG A forum to discuss the genealogy and family history of Jewish communities of South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia (Rhodesia), Swaziland, Mozambique and the former Belgian Congo.
Ukraine SIG A forum for researchers with family origins in the former Russian Empire gubernias now in the Ukraine: Podolia, Volhynia, Kiev, Poltava, Chernigov, Kharkov, Kherson, Taurida and Ekaterinoslav.
Warszawa Research Group A forum for those researching Warszawa (Warszaw), the capital city of Poland.

They also have mailing lists for special projects, like the Yizkor Book Project and DNA Testing, for community research groups including Borislav, Drogobych, Sambor, and Vicinity, Ciechanow, and Courland Area groups, as well as host the mailing list of the JRI-Poland project.

While you might get lucky in the main research group, you will find that if you join one of these more specific groups you will be much more likely to find people researching the same families, or at least familiar with the resources available for researching your family from one of the regions covered. I recommend joining the main JewishGen list and whichever regional groups cover where you think your family originates.


Rootsweb is one of the original online communities for genealogists. There are many free resources available on the site, including the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). They are now owned by Ancestry.com, although the sites are not directly connected.

Rootsweb hosts over 32,000 mailing lists covering many different genealogy topics, including specific regions, surnames, ethnicities, etc. Not all of these mailing lists have active users. You can sign up for a mailing list on Rootsweb and not see a post for months, even years, but there are still some very useful lists on rootsweb, and if you find the one person you need to answer your question, then it doesn’t matter how many message are posted a week. One way to gauge the current traffic of a mailing list is the browse the message archive and see how recently messages have been posted.

There are about 25 specifically Jewish lists on Rootsweb, including:

JEWISH-ROOTS anyone interested in Jewish genealogy.
AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN-JEWISH A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical, cultural or historical interest in Jews with Austro-Hungarian ancestry.
BERDICHEV A mailing list for Jewish genealogy about the past Jewish community of the city of Berdichev, Russia (now Ukraine). See home page for more information.
BOMZE The BOMZE surname and variations (e.g., Bomzer, Bomser) in any place and at any time but primarily Jewish Bomzes originating in Poland.
BRITISH-JEWRY A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in British Jews.
BROWN-JEWISH For the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Brown surname and variations (e.g., Braun, Braumeister) with Jewish origins in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Austria, and Germany.
GERMAN-JEWISH A bilingual English-German mailing list for anyone with a genealogical, cultural or historical interest in people with German-Jewish ancestry
GRODNO A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in Grodno Gubernia, a division of the Russian Empire. While the focus of the list will be on Jewish family history research, other subscribers with an interest in the area are welcome. See home page for more information.
HIBEL Jewish Hibel surname and variations (e.g., Hebel, Hübel, Huebel, Heubel, Hubal) in any place and at any time, but with an emphasis on Galicia/Eastern Europe.
JUDEO-ALSATIAN A multilingual English-French-German mailing list for anyone with a genealogical, cultural or historical interest in the Province of Alsace, nowadays France, related to their Jewish roots. Anything that concerns Jewish-Alsatian traditions, culture, folklore, heritage, or why not old recipes and daily life in ancient times in the Province of Alsace is an appropriate topic.
LITHUANIA-JEWISH A mailing list for anyone trying to trace their Jewish roots back to the 18th century Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Kingdom of Poland Commonwealth before Jews had surnames. Additional information can be found on the Jewish Family History Foundation website.
POL-KRAKOW-RESEARCH-GROUP A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical or historical interest in the Jews of Krakow, Poland.
SZTERN A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding Jewish but non-German branches of the Sztern surname and variations (e.g., Stern, Stein) at any time. Primary focus is on branches which were in BEL (Belarus), UKR (Ukraine), POL (Poland) and/or New York circa the late 1800s/early 1900s.
TESLER A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the originally eastern European Jewish surname Tesler, Tessler, and Teszler in any place and at any time.
Turkish_Jews Sephardic Jewish genealogists with roots in the former Turkish Ottoman Empire including Turkey, Serbia, Greece, and Yugoslavia.
TX-JEWISH A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the genealogy and history of Jewish immigrants and religion in Texas.
TX-ROCKDALE-JEWISH-CEM A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Jewish Cemetery in Rockdale, Milam County, Texas
UKR-CHERNIGOV A mailing list for anyone researching their Jewish roots in the Chernigov Gubernia, a province in Russia from 1802-1929/1932 and since then a province in the Ukraine known as Chernigov Oblast. See home page for more information.
UKR-KREMENETS A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Jews who once lived in the Kremenets District of Ukraine and their descendants. Topics will include updates and discussions about Jewish genealogy in the towns, villages and shtetlach of the Kremenets District.
UKR-ODESSA-GEN Jewish genealogy in Odessa, Ukraine area. See home page for more information.
WINOGRAD A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Winograd surname and variations (e.g., Winagrad, Wynagrad, Wynograd) in any place and at any time but primarily Jewish Winograds originating in Poland or Belarus.
WOLFSHAUT A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Jewish surname Wolfshaut and variations (e.g., Wolfsont, Wolfsout, Wolfshout, Wolfshant, Wolfsant, Wolfsaut, Wolfshont, Wolfset) in any place and at any time.

Most of the above lists, with the exception of British-Jewry, are not particularly high-traffic lists, but many of them have people who are very knowledgeable about their topics who can help you if your research falls into the purview of their topic.

Google Groups (and Usenet)

I’m going to mention Google Groups quickly, because it is after all Google, but truthfully there are not  lot of groups on Google of interest to Jewish genealogists. The primary resource on Google Groups that is useful to Jewish genealogists is access to the newsgroups that are a part of the very old Usenet system, in particular soc.genealogy.jewish.

soc.genealogy.jewish is a way to look back at more than 15 years of Jewish genealogy discussions, and searching it through Google’s interface is a great way to find out about the discussions that have taken place about towns and surnames you are researching. soc.genealogy.jewish is still actively used so you can post new messages there and get responses to your general questions as well.

Google Groups does allow you to set up your own mailing lists, but there are not many Jewish genealogy mailing lists on Google Groups, and I suspect the reason is simply that Yahoo Groups are much easier to set up and manage.

Yahoo Groups

If you decide one day that you want to start your own Jewish genealogy mailing list – perhaps covering your ancestral town or your family, etc. Yahoo Groups is a great way to set up a mailing list quickly. In addition to a mailing list, you also get a file upload area, photo albums, a database and other advanced features. It is also very easy to manage the mailing list, moderate messages, reject messages that are spam, or even to modify messages before they get posted (such as adding a moderator’s message when a discussion veers off-track). Because setting this up is so easy, it really has become the serivce of choice for setting up small discussion groups for many topics.

There are dozens upon dozens of groups of interest to Jewish genealogists on Yahoo. The best thing for you to do is try searching for your ancestral towns, or regions, or surnames, etc. and see if there are groups already set up to discuss your specific areas of interest. The following table is a list of those groups that mention Jewish genealogy, but many likely do not use those specific words, but will show up if you’re searching for them by town name, etc. The following table is not alphabetical, but actually ordered according to whatever metric Yahoo uses to determine the popularity of a group. The more popular groups are at the beginning of the table and the popularity declines are you continue down the table.

SephardicForum The purpose of this forum is to discuss SEPHARDIC/JEWISH GENEALOGY, GENEALOGY TOOLS, HISTORY, CUSTOMS and other issues related to genealogy. We invite those of good will regardless of religious beliefs to visit and participate.
saudades-sefarad Portuguese-Jewish history, culture, genealogy.
J-Pultusk Researching your Jewish ancestors from the Pultusk area, north of Warsaw? Link up with others also looking for family tree connections in Pultusk and surrounding area, now in Poland and once part of the Tsarist Russian Empire.
JFRA Discussion list of the Jewish Family Research Association (JFRA), a Jewish genealogy organization based in Israel.
JewishKeidan For anyone with a connection to or interest in the town of Keidan, Lithuania. For nearly 500 years, Keidan – now called Kedainiai – was home to a proud and vibrant Jewish community.
Chelm This is a forum specifically dedicated to the town of Chelm in Poland.
Ashkenazi-Q Ashkenazi Jewish – yDNA Haplogroup Q1b
Sacz This group is composed of genealogists, who are researching their Jewish roots to the town of Nowy Sacz, Poland. In the past this town has been known as Neu Sandec, Neu Sandez, Nowy Sancz, Tsants, Sants, Tsanz, Sanz, Zanz,etc. See here for more info.
Sephardic Jewish Genealogy The mission of the genealogy group is to research information about Sephardic Jewish Families from France and Canada. This includes the discussion of the Canadian-Anusim Family Tree DNA Project and our test results.
Jebenhausen The Jewish community of Jebenhausen, near Goeppingen in Wuerttemberg (Germany), was founded in 1777 and dissolved in 1900. This list aims at a virtual reunion of descendants of Jebenhausen’s Jewish families, and invites discussions on all issues relevant to the community history, genealogy and related matters.
JewishR1b DNA Researcher group for Jewish people in the R1b haplogroup. The R1b haplogroup is the most common haplogroup in Western Europe, yet it is found in only a small percentage of Ashkenazi Jews (roughly 10%).
Jewish Mendoza Family This is a place for members and descendants of the Sephardi Jewish Mendoza family to share information on their history and genealogy.
Piotrkow History, genealogy and current events of the Jews of Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, and their descendants.
J-Frankfurt Researching your Jewish ancestors from Frankfurt am Main? Link up with others also looking for family tree connections in this ancient German city.
Olkieniki For persons descended from residents of Olkieniki, Lithuania, and others interested in that area. It’s primary focus is on Jewish Genealogy.
botosani-gen This group is concerned with genealogy in the Botosani (Romania) area. The majority of members are of Jewish descent although there is no plan to omit anyone else. Everyone interested in Botosani is welcome.
Zamosc A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical or historical interest in the town of Zamosc, Poland.
Kanczuga For the discussion of Jewish genealogy research of people whose families came from Kanczuga, Poland.
Ziv Jewish Surname Devoted to the Ziv Jewish surname (Sieff, Ziff, Zeev, etc.).
Jewish Mogielnica Project Mogielnica known as “Mogelnitsa, Mogelnitse, Mogelnitza, Mogielnicy” Mogielnica is an urban-rural gmina (administrative district) in Grójec County.
maramaros-sig For anyone interested in researching their Jewish Ancestry in the Maramaros County (Romania/Ukraine) area.
Vistytis, Lithuania This group has been set up with the purpose of collecting and sharing information concerning Vistytis and all those individuals and families who have their origins there or for those who have an interest in the town.
jgs-maryland The Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland
Voliner Jewish Ancestry This group is for those interested in tracing their Jewish family roots in and around the area of northwest Ukraine known as Volhynia Gubernia, which borders Poland and Belarus. Among the major cities in Volhynia are Lutsk and the crossroads city of Kovel.
Sanok This group is composed of genealogists, who are researching their Jewish roots to the town of Sanok, Poland.
Dzialoszyce Association Dedicated to our Polish ancestors from the town of Dzialoszyce, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, and their descendants.
BORSZCZOW Research Group This Jewish genealogy group is dedicated to the town of BORSZCZO’W which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine. See here for more info.
sephardic-list The International Sephardic Discussion Group is an Internet based group of members who discuss issues pertaining to Sephardim, past and present. We do not talk about religion on this list.
Cotopaxi Jewish Agricultural Colony Between 1882 and 1884, as many as 80 Jewish immigrants came to Cotopaxi, Colorado, in an attempt to farm the land there. This is a place for those who are researching the genealogy of the Cotopaxi Colony.
Hostow Galicia Village The site was created to allow those with Ancestral Roots belonging to the village of Hostów ( Hostiv, Gostev, Gostiv Pop 1983-36% Polish in Y1907)and Tarnowica Polna (Ternovytsa, Pop 1798 -90% Polish) located 3 km apart to connect with their ancestral history within Eastern Galicia(Pokucie/Kresy).
Stern Surname Devoted to the Jewish surname STERN. Mostly genealogy, but any information on the surname is welcome.
Miller Surname List dedicated to the genealogy of the Miller/Mueller/etc. [Jewish] surname.
JGS Sacramento The Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento (JGSS)
Plontch (Polaniec) Descendants For descendants of Jews who lived in or near the Jewish Shtetl (town) of Plontch (Polaniec), which was located in Kielce Gubernia, in South-Eastern Poland.
DoroTree User Group
User group for DoroTree, the Jewish genealogical program.
GenShards II The networking and sharing site for members of the Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society.
Feldman Surname A place for those researching the Jewish Feldman surname, particularly into Eastern Europe.
Pinskers The Pinsker Research Group conducts and facilitates genealogical research related to the Jewish Community of Pinsk.
Podhajce Galicia For those researching their Jewish roots from Podhajce, Galicia (now Pidhaytsi, Ukraine).
Plock Research Group This Jewish genealogy group is dedicated to the town of Plock, today called Plotz, in Poland.
Pavoloch (Pavolitch) Ukraine Jewish Research Dedicated to learning more about our
ancestors lives in Pavoloch and connecting with lost family members.
Czortkow This Jewish genealogy group is dedicated to the town of Czortkow which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine.
SHUTER LESSER Families – East End London Isaac and Samuel SHUTER, sons of Michael SHUTER from Lissa, Prussia (now Leszno, Poland) were both married in the Great Synagogue of London in the year 1850.
Justingrad For those people interested in Justingrad (aka: Yustingrad/Ustingrad), Kiev (Kyjiv), Russia (now Ukraine).
Pittsburgh JGS Pittsburgh Jewish Genealogy Society
Kalush Dedicated to the town of Kalusz (Kalush) which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine.
Mielnitsa Dedicated to the town of Mielnitsa which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine.
Jews of Jaslo Devoted to exchange of information about Jewish residents of pre-1939 Jaslo – a town in southeastern Poland’s district of Podkarpackie (formerly in Galicia).
Yanina For Jewish descendants of families from the Greek city of Janina.
Taubes Surname For the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Taubes surname and variations (e.g. Tobias).
Canadian Jewish Genealogy This group is for all Canadians to talk about Jewish Genealogy.
Don Surname For anyone researching families with the surnames Don or Donn or Dan or Dun or Dunn of Jewish origin.
Markus/Marcus Surname For anyone researching families with the surname Markus or Marcus of Jewish origin.
Stotter Surname A list for all the STOTTERs who wish to find out if and how they are connected.

Other Groups and Lists

There are numerous other mailing lists and discussion groups out there on the Internet, and you should try searching for groups that are connected to your specific research areas such as town names and surnames. For towns, always check the ShtetLinks page for your town to see if they mention other resources like mailing lists. Also search the archives of the larger lists like the main JewishGen list, or a regional list like Gesher Galicia (if your town is from Galicia) to see if other mailing lists have been mentioned for your town or whatever topic you are researching. You can even search all of the JewishGen mailing lists at once.

If I’ve missed a great Jewish genealogy mailing list, please let me know in the comments.


I will be adding mailing lists mentioned in the comments at the end of the posting as people make me aware of them.

Wolinsky Family Circle For descendants of Wolinsky (and variants Wolin, Wolins, Woliyniec, Wolinetz) from the town of Antopol, Russia (now Belarus) and the surrounding area. This group includes descendants of Baruch Wolinsky of Antopol.
Mir, Belarus A mailing list composed of Jewish survivors from Mir, descendents of former residents and descendents of students of the Mir Yeshiva. Link is for the web site, e-mail the moderator for access to the mailing list.

Jewish Genealogy Basics: Ancestral Town (Shtetl) Information

[Update: This article was written in 2011, and I launched the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy in 2016. If you’re researching specifically Polish shtetls, definitely check out the Polish Cities list in the compendium with more than 25,000 resources for over 1400 towns in what is now Poland (this includes towns that were in Germany before WWII and are now part of Poland).]

One of the first steps to doing genealogy research is to find the town that each person in your tree was born. For most Jewish researchers, this means tracking back to towns that may no longer exist or have not had any Jewish population for generations. Certainly the Holocaust was the cause of many of these disruptions.

A Jewish ancestral town is sometimes generically referred to as a shtetl, which in Yiddish simply means town. Shtetl is sometimes used more specifically to mean small towns in Europe with large Jewish populations. Finding your ancestral town is a different topic (or rather there are many topics related to finding one’s ancestral town), and an important one, but for the purposes of this article I will assume you already know the name of the town from which your family originated.

So you’ve found the name of the town, now what? I think the first step in doing research on the town your family came from is to find out where the town is, and what it is/was near. This might seem simple, but many of the towns Jews lived in in the past had the borders switch around them amid the wars and dealings of the empires (Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Prussian/German) that ruled them.

There are several resources that can help you find out more about your town. Two important databases on JewishGen are the Communities Database and ShtetlSeeker. These two databases are not the same, and I’ll explain the differences.

JewishGen Communities Database

The Communities Database contains information on known Jewish communities across the globe. If your town is in the database, there is a page that contains a lot of basic information on the town, as well as links to other data on the town. The resultant page is largely generated automatically. It will show you which country and region the town existed in during different time periods, as well as which towns are nearby. Knowing which towns were nearby is very important, because while you might only search your town, your relatives might have moved to the town nearby and there might be records in that town for your family that you could miss. It’s always worth looking into the nearby towns, searching the JGFF and searching for records in the nearby towns, as you are likely to find you family didn’t all live in one town.

The Communities Database does not let you search using an exact match, so it will show you results on all similarly sounding towns. If you’re searching for the first time and you don’t actually know the modern spelling of the town’s name, this can be very useful. If you know the exact current spelling of the name, then you’ll just need to scroll through the results until you find the correct name.

For example, if you were to search for ‘Kanczuga’ you would get results like the following:

JewishGen Communities Database Search Results

There are six results, from several countries. If I had specified Poland as the current country then there would only have been two results. Of course, you may not know which country the town is in currently, so if you are not sure then do a broader search to see all the possibilities. Only one result has the exactly spelling I searched for, which if you know the spelling means it’s easy to figure out which one is correct. Also note the other information shown in the results. It gives you the district the town was in during different periods and the number of listings in the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) database.

If you move your mouse over each town name, you’ll see a pop-up box giving you basic information on the town:

Mouse-over pop-up details

This can be useful if you’re not sure which town is the correct one. When you click on a town name, it will take you to a page summarizing information on that town:

JewishGen Community page for Kanczuga

If you click on the image above it will load it full size and you can see my annotations showing what to look for on the page. The key things you should notice are the alternate names for the town (useful when searching for records in databases that don’t know alternate names – like on Ancestry.com), the country the town was in during different periods (so that while you know the town is now in Poland, you now know for example to look for ‘Austria’ as a country in records because it was in the Austrian Empire), a direct link to the JGFF search, a list of nearby towns ordered by distance, and a list of other resources. Some of these pages will also link to the town’s ShtetLink page if one exists, although for some reason this Community page does not. ShtetlLinks is discussed below.

JewishGen ShtetlSeeker (Update: as of Aug 2011 this is the JewishGen Gazetteer)

The ShtetlSeeker is a bigger database that contains information on towns everywhere, even if there is no known Jewish community that existed there. It also contains geographical names, such as the names of mountains and streams. Whereas an open search above for ‘Kanczuga’ returned 6 results, an open search on ShtetlSeeker returns 303 results including Kamchikha, a section of a town, Konchuga, a town, and Kunzhuga, a stream. If the place in the list is also in the Communities Database, it will have a small flower icon next to the name of the place, and you can preview the town info with a mouse-over and click on it for more information like in the Communities Database search itself. In this case only four results have the icon next to them. Why aren’t there the same six results from the Community Database before? I have no idea.

The information in the search results is also a bit different in ShtetlSeeker. For example, this is a portion of the Kanczuga results:

Part of ShtetlSeeker search results for Kanczuga

If you take a look (you can click on the image to enlarge it) you can see the flower icon next to Kanczuga, indicating that it is in the Communities Database.

After the name is a column defining the name as a ‘populated place’, or as a stream, mountain, etc.

Next is a column showing the map coordinates for the location. This is actually a link that will take you to a Resource Map for that location. The Resource Map is a very useful map that shows you what resources (such as records in JRI-Poland, names in JGFF,  etc.) exist on the JewishGen site for everyone in the immediate area. This is very useful, even more so if your town is not in the Communities Database, as you will be able to see what towns with known Jewish communities existed nearby, and you can then see what resources exist for those communities.

Kanczuga-area Resource Map

In the map above, I’ve selected Kanczuga and it has popped up a bubble showing what resources exist for Kanczuga. If I had selected any of the other little tree icons around the map, it would show me similar information for those. If you look along the top of the image, you can see that you can select what type of resources you want to see on the map, although the default is to show everything.

Going back to the search results page, the next column has links to various mapping web sites, showing you the location on each site. The mapping sites include Expedia, Mapquest, Microsoft Bing Maps and Google Maps.

Next the search results who you the current country the town is in, it’s distance from a reference point (usually a large nearby city) and a bullseye button that will take you to a new set of search results that show all towns within a 10 mile radius of the town on whose line you press the button. 

JewishGen ShtetLinks (Update: As of Aug 2011 this is now KehilaLinks)

ShtetLinks is a large collections of town-specific web pages developed by real researchers who know about the town. You can think of them as the hand-made version of the Communities Database. Depending on who worked on the ShtetLink page for your town, it might be a simple one-page site with a few links, or it could be a full-blown web site with multiple sections, photo albums, historical documents, etc. It all depends on how much time and effort were put into the site by the volunteers who put together the pages. Sometimes a page was developed by someone who is no longer involved, and it hasn’t been updated in years. In these cases sometimes the administrator of ShtetLinks will post that pages need new administrators to the JewishGen e-mail list.

If you town does not have a site as part of ShtetLinks, you can of course volunteer to create one yourself. This is a great way to give back to the genealogy community.

Virtual Shtetl

JewishGen is not the only organized source for information on Jewish communities. Another site is the Virtual Shtetl, a project of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is currently under construction and planning to open in 2012 in Warsaw. The site contains basic information on over 900 towns, but is meant to be a collaborative effort to collect information on the towns. Users can upload documents on the towns to share with others, and they can ‘like’ a town, similar to how someone ‘likes’ a page on Facebook. Users with interest in the same town can communicate anonymously through the site.

As the site is intended to be used both by Polish people, as well as their descendants, it is available in several languages. Some content is not yet translated into all languages, so you might find a town’s information only in Polish. Information on towns can include history, synagogue info, cemetery data, places where people were killed in the Holocaust, legends, stories, memories of the town, as well as contemporary information such as transportation, hotels and restaurants.

The Virtual Shtetl is a work in progress, and most of the resources are not yet in English, but by the very nature of its location in Poland and the attempt of the hosting museum to attract many local Poles to the site, it has a lot of potential to be a unique resource on towns in Poland.

Other Sites

There are many many other sites online with information on specific towns, regions and countries. Many people have created their own web sites with information on their ancestral town, or started a Yahoo Group or Rootsweb mailing list for their town. Try searching for your town name and seeing what you find. Use the alternate names from the Community Database in your searches as well, as you never know which version of the name a person used online. Keep in mind that some of these groups and mailing lists may not have a lot of people, or a lots of message traffic in them. That could be good or bad depending on your perspective. As long as there are knowledgeable people on the lists, it doesn’t really matter how often people post to it, as long as there is someone who knows how to answer questions posed on the list.

Figure out which region your town was in, as there may be regional sites as well. Kanczuga, the town I used as an example above was in the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WWI. That means the Gesher Galicia organization is a great place to look for information. Gesher Galicia even has a sub-group for the specific region of Galicia Kanczuga was in, the Kolbuszowa Region, which has its own web site. On Rootsweb there is an Austro-Hungarian-Jewish list, and on JewishGen there is a Gesher Galicia mailing list.

Google, beyond the straight web site search which you should do has two other sites that you can use to research your town. Google Books contains the scanned contents of millions of books from all over the world, and will show you which books mention your town. If the book is out of copyright, you may even be able to download the whole book. If it’s still in copyright, you still might be able to search inside the book and find out information, depending on what the publisher allowed Google to do. Google News Archive is a site for searching news sites including some that you will need to pay for if you want to read the whole articles. Again, this is useful just for seeing where your town may have been mentioned.

There are also some web sites with lists of location-specific Jewish genealogy links. Some of those sites include Cyndi’s List, Jewish Genealogy Links, and Genealogylinks.net (for some reason the Europe link isn’t working right now but here are links for Poland, Belarus and Hungary).

Helping Out

Once you find which sites contain information on your town, see if there’s a way that you can help. Do you have photos or documents from that town that your can contribute? Are you a web designer that can improve the look and function of one of the sites?

If there is no site for your town, consider starting one. Starting a group on Yahoo is a good way to organize researchers from the same town, and allows you to share photos, documents, links and other information is a neat organized way (and doesn’t require any web design skills).

Jewish Genealogy Basics: The JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF)

If you’re seriously researching your Jewish roots then you already know about the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF), but for those who are just getting started I wanted to point out this critical resource and explain what it can and cannot do.

The JGFF is part the much larger JewishGen web site, and what it does it simple – it lets you find other researchers searching for the same surnames and towns as you. This is particularly important if you have a very common last name (try researching Cohen without knowing which town your family came from) or if you don’t yet know from which town your family originated.

The JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF)

Let’s say you’re researching the name Cohen. You know your family lived at one point in Lancut. You go to the JGFF web site, log in (with your JewishGen identity) and from the page shown in the screenshot above, you select Enter/Modify. On the next screen you add the name Cohen and the town Lancut, Poland. When you enter a town that is in JewishGen’s database, a small icon should show up next to the town name indicating it has been found. You can enter a town that is not in their system, but chances are if you’re entering a town it’s in there and you should double-check your spelling. As with all resources on the JewishGen site, all towns are referred to by their current names and countries. Thus even though the Yiddish pronunciation of the town name of Lancut would probably be Lantzut, and the town was once part of the Austrian Empire, it is always referred to but the current name and country, so you should enter Lancut, Poland.

It’s also important to recognize what the JGFF cannot do. It doesn’t list individual relative names, so there’s no way to know right away when searching if the person who has listed a particular name/town combo is related to you. The JGFF is also reliant on the individuals who make up its members to update their information, and sometimes people change their e-mail addresses and forget to update the JGFF. If that’s the case and you try to send them an e-mail, you will not reach them obviously. You will also find that some of the members are deceased, and when a particular member dies, if you know the person, you can tell the people who run the JGFF and they will mark that account as deceased, so the information doesn’t go away, but people will know not to contact the person.

JGFF has several levels of privacy, so you can show you name, your address, etc. or you can just show your researcher number and make the people send you an e-mail to find out who you are. This sounds great, unless the person who didn’t show their name changes their e-mail address or dies, and there is no way to know that they have an account on JGFF to change. In general, I would suggest at least showing your name when setting up your listing, so in case someone wants to reach you, they can google you as well if necessary.

Different people have different strategies of how to use JGFF. You can put I think up to 100 name/town combos into the system, so you have some flexibility. You can stay minimal and just put the names and towns you know relatives were born into, or you can add many different variations for the names, and you can choose to add towns that may wrong, but you think your family may have lived. If you find a reference in your research to a town you didn’t know about, you can add the name/town combo in case someone comes across the same piece of information, even if you have no real proof that your family lived there. Remember that the JGFF is not a definitive listing of where families lived, it is only a list of where people are researching their families. This is an important distinction.

In the same vein, I recommend putting in as many variations of the last name as you’re comfortable with, as it seems some people are very strict with spellings or they may search during ‘exact’ spelling instead of ‘sounds like’ and thus like Cohn and Cohen might be the same family, if you wrote Cohen and they searched for Cohn, they wouldn’t find anything.

As you research your family and find new names and towns, you should be constantly updating your listings on the JGFF. You never know when someone is going to search the JGFF and if you don’t post a connection (like you find your great-grandmother’s last name and birth town) you may miss someone else searching for the same combination. In my own experience, I added a name and town of a relative that I had known about for a long time but had not bothered to post to the JGFF, and within a couple of months I received an inquiry from someone who turned out to be my fourth cousin, and who listed just 2 minutes away from me.

In short, if you’re researching your Jewish family members, use JGFF and use it often.