I’m happy to announce a new set of resources in the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy. I recently came across a set of files from the JDC Archives that is organized by town, and has all of the records scanned and online. These are referred to as the Warsaw Office, 1939-1941 Localities collection.
The documents in these files are for the most part correspondence between the Warsaw office of the American Joint Distribution Office and representatives of Jewish groups in over 500 different towns in Poland during the years 1939-1941. Frequently the group in the town was the German-organized Judenrat, although not always. Sometimes the organizations are local support organizations, and sometimes the letters are to individuals.
Some of these files consist of a single letter. Others have over 100 documents. While the letters can open up an important view into the lives of Polish Jews during the first years of the Holocaust, before the deportations to concentration camps, the more exciting feature of this collection are the lists.
Many of the towns have lists of people. These lists can be lists of all the Jews in the town, refugees from other towns, those who received financial assistance, and even those who received flour, matza and even herring. Considering the dearth of information on the lives of Jews during this period, I think these lists are incredibly important.
I did find some minor issues with the list of files which I tried to correct if I could. I’m also sending an e-mail to the JDC to mention them so they can be fixed. A few items on the list had incorrect links. Many of the items list the file language as English, even though essentially none of the files have any English in them. I think this must have been some default setting. Almost every file has documents in Polish, many have in German, and some are in Yiddish. A few files are just in German, but not too many.
These files will show up in over 500 Polish town pages (out of the more than 1400 on this site) in the Holocaust resource category. See the Holocaust category for the town of Żabno:
See that there’s a link to the Yad Vashem Ghetto Encyclopedia (in Hebrew), and a link at the end to the Yad Vashem Names database. In the middle is the link to the JDC Archive page, and you can see a short description on the contents underneath the resource title, as well as the NEW icon next to it showing that it’s been added in the last three months. When you click on the link you’re taken to the JDC Archives page for that collection:When you click on the Look Inside link, you’ll be shown the list of files for that collection:
If you click on one of the files you’re shown a summary for that file:
When you click on the PDF logo, the PDF file of the scanned pages will load in your browser. You can then save that PDF to your computer if you want.
In adding links to these files in the Compendium, I’ve also added 39 new towns. When I started adding Polish towns, I thought my list was fairly complete. As I continued to find new towns that had Jewish communities and add them, I realized I would probably never be 100% complete. That said, however, the list of Polish towns on this site is now over 1400 towns. Each town has links to information that will confirm there was a Jewish community of some kind there. In some cases the community had 50,000 Jews, and in some cases it may have had less than 50. I’m not setting a lower bar on the number of Jews that lived in a community, as my goal is that anyone searching for information on their families in Poland will find their ancestral towns.
In order to confirm that there was a community in a town, I’ve searched for any other evidence I could find, including seeing if there are Pages of Testimony filed in Yad Vashem that show people having been born in the town. Sometimes it was enough to find an article mentioning the Jewish community there. I’ve tried my best to verify each town in the Compendium. Occasionally, it’s not 100% possible to know that the town being mentioned in the JDC files is the town I believe it to be. There are no GPS coordinates in the files. Having worked on these towns for several years now I have a fairly good sense of when a town is correct. If I’m really not sure, I generally leave out the town. As such there are several towns in with files in the JDC archives that I did not yet add. Also, as an aside, some of the towns with files are currently in Ukraine, and thus out of the scope of the Compendium town-level data. To see all the towns, see the original finding aid from the JDC Archives site.
Let me know what you find in the files. Post a comment below, or on the page of the file in the Compendium.
With the new towns, which were predominately from the areas of Poland that had belonged to Germany before WWII, I found myself adding notes pointing that out and wanted the notes to be seen. In August that was the primary use of Notes, but there were other Notes, such as pointing out the previous name of a town, or explaining that the town name was very common in Poland.
Around the same time I turned on notes, Phyllis Kramer, VP of Education at JewishGen, commented on my page on Żmigród requesting that I differentiate between it and Nowy Żmigród. It turns out Nowy Żmigród before 1946 was also known simply as Żmigród. Adding to this confusion, many people find their town in the Compendium by going to the Alphabetical List of Polish Cities, and that list doesn’t show which region a town is in, and can be confusing if there are two towns with the same name.
At the time I added notes for Żmigród and Nowy Żmigród saying simply not to confuse them, but it started me thinking if there was more I could do for those situations where people were likely to get confused.
I spent a considerable amount of time going through all the notes I had created, and making sure if it referenced another town, that that other town had a corresponding note as well. I then added links to notes, so you can immediately link to another town if it is mentioned in a note.
Here’s an example of the former town of Zagórze, which has been part of Sosnowiec since 1975:
You’ll notice the note is shown below the town name and province, and above the map. I’ve circled it in red just to be clear. The note points out that this town no longer exists, that it is now part of Sosnowiec, and provides a link directly to the page about Sosnowiec.
In case you’re wondering, the reason there are separate pages for these towns, even though they no longer exist, is that people may only know their relative came from one of these non-existent towns. Also, many of these now-non-existent towns have very specific genealogy resources online, and having the resources for Podgórze be separate from those of Kraków can be very useful for finding the right information.
Over 300 towns now have notes, many of them with links to other related towns. Thank you to Phyllis Kramer for her simple comment which led me to improve the notes for towns. If you visit a town page in the Compendium and think a clarifying note would be useful, please write a comment on the town page, or send me a message. It’s worth pointing out as well that I recently added another 150 or so towns to the site (in addition to the 200 added in August), so there are now over 1350 towns in the Compendium. These are towns that exist in what is today Poland – there are no pages for towns that are currently in other countries, even if they were once part of Poland. The new towns were added to help facilitate a new feature I will be adding to the site. More on that soon…
If you have other suggestions for improving the site, please send me a message, or add it to the How can this site be improved? page so others can discuss your proposed improvements.
[Update: The PRADZIAD links all changed and are no longer accurate. The JRI-Poland links should be fine. Unfortunately, the PRADZIAD site changes their links every few months, and I don’t have a way to keep them updated. To get the proper PRADZIAD page, follow the link in the first paragraph below, and search for the town using the Polish name.]
The following table shows all collections of Jewish records in the Polish state archives that are for towns currently in Ukraine. Most of these towns were originally part of East Galicia. Each line has a link on the right side that goes to the record collection’s page in the PRADZIAD (Baza danych Program Rejestracji Akt Metrykalnych i Stanu Cywilnego, or Database Program for Registration of Metric and Civil Status Files) database, which is a list of all records in the Polish state archives, organized by town.
In addition, if JRI-Poland has a town listing for the town, I’ve added a link to that as well. Keep in mind that the PRADZIAD link goes to a description of the specific collection of records, while the JRI-Poland is a general link for the town. The JRI-Poland page should tell you if the records have been indexed by JRI-Poland.
As this is a Polish database, the town names are of course in Polish, although I’ve tried to supply the current Ukrainian name for the town. I have not added the Yiddish town names (such as Lemberg for Lwow/Lviv) although I could do that at a later date. I’m not an expert on Ukrainian towns, so it’s possible I made a mistake in assigning Ukrainian town names. If you see a mistake, please let me know.
I also could not find the current names of three of the towns listed – Janowiec, Sakała, and Ułaszkowice. It’s possible Ułaszkowice is simply a typo for Ułaszkowce. If you know the current names of these towns, please let me know.
The table below is sortable by every field, so although it is initially sorted by Polish town name, you can easily sort it by Ukrainian town name. You can also change the number of towns to show at once (it defaults to 20, although you can increase it up to 100). The table is also searchable, which is useful as there are over 500 entries in the list.
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.
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.
When you enter the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, you are presented with a list of 207 countries. Among them, I’ve seeded those countries and their provinces with over 1,200 resources. Collecting those resources was time-consuming to say the least. At some point I decided, however, to go a step further and look into adding resources at the city level. I knew I couldn’t add resources for every city, town and village in the world, but I thought maybe I could do so for one country. I decided on Poland because I knew there were a number of unique city-level resources available. In general, I didn’t add one resource at a time, but rather hundreds at a time. Otherwise there would be no way to get to the 10,000 resources I added. I wanted to take a look at some of the sources I tapped in putting together the collection on this site.
One detail – I’m not making a distinction between cities, towns and villages – for the most part I use those terms interchangeable. Certainly most of the ‘cities’ for Poland are not more than towns, and in many cases tiny villages.
One of the hardest things in putting together the city-level resources for Poland was making sure all the records matched the correct cities. When trying to connect resources from many different sources, it was sometimes hard to make sure that the towns referenced were the same ones. Many towns in Poland use the same, or very similar names. At first, I thought I could use the Province/County information to identify each town, before I realized there was no place that had a good reference of all of them. JewishGen and Virtual Shtetl had the data for the pre-WWI period and/or the interwar period, but not the modern period. I felt it was important to anchor everything based on the modern province/county information, just as I felt it was important to only collect information on towns currently in Poland. There has to be a frame of reference for collecting all this information, and I wanted it to be the current country/province/county data. After I put together a list of towns I intended on collecting information on, I then did something a bit crazy. I found the Wikipedia pages for every town, in both the English and Polish versions. By finding the Wikipedia pages, I was able to add not only the Province (Voivodeship) and County (Powiat) to my database, but the latitude/longitude coordinates as well. Armed with the administrative divisions and the map coordinates, I had enough information to, in almost every case, match up the records I collected to the correct towns.
The Wikipedia entries, in addition to the official government sites for those towns, were added to a new section unique to cities, called General. Unlike almost all resources in the compendium, records in the General section are not specifically Jewish. Rather, they are intended as a kind of anchor point for the rest of the records, to insure we’re talking about the correct town. If you find a resource in the rest of the town section that doesn’t seem to match the town in the General section, then let me know. There are bound to be some mistakes. The General records are there, therefore, to help correct those mistakes.
One thing to note about the official town web sites. In addition to Poland having a province (voivodeship) and a county (powiat), there is also a third smaller district called a Gmina in Polish, sometimes translated as a Municipality or a Commune. In some cases the city itself doesn’t have a web site, rather the city web site is part of the Gmina web site. In cases where the Gmina has the same name as the town (very common), and no specific town site could be found, I linked to the Gmina web site. I did something similar with the Coat of Arms for towns in Poland. When I couldn’t find one for the town, if the town was in a Gmina of the same name, I used the Coat of Arms of the Gmina.
JewishGen provided four major groups of resources to Polish cities – the Community Database, the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF), the Yikzor Book Project, and KehilaLinks. The other major resource groups included links from Virtual Shtetl, the IAJGS Jewish Cemetery Project, JRI-Poland, the Routes to Roots Foundation, Gesher Galicia, Geni, and two large Polish sites documenting Jewish cemeteries in Poland – Kirkuty.xip.pl and Złe miejsca dla ślimaków.
In addition to these major groups, each of which contributed hundreds of resources, there were hundreds of other individual resources collected from a variety of sites including landsmanshaft sites, individual cemetery sites, contemporary Jewish community sites, etc. While I tried not to stray off-course too much in collecting these individual records (I hoped rather that these kinds of records would be contributed by users after launch) I found it hard not to add uniques sites that I found.
Let’s a take a look at the major resource groups to help those who are unfamiliar with some or all of them (in alphabetical order):
Geni – While perhaps better known for their World Family Tree trying to connect everyone on the planet, Geni also offers user-created research projects. These projects can cover anything, but many of them cover specific communities that people want to research. Many research projects have been set up to research former Jewish communities, and those projects are what I’ve linked to in the compendium.
Gesher Galicia – Galicia was a region of the former Austrian Empire, which is now split between Poland and Ukraine. Gesher Galicia is a very active group researching Jewish families from that region, and collecting original records from archives in Poland and Ukraine and making them available in its All Galicia Database. Their town listing is automatically generated from information on each town including the pre-war administrative districts and map coordinates, and lists how many Gesher Galicia members have indicated they are researching each town (in their Gesher Galicia Family Finder).
IAJGS Jewish Cemetery Project – Often overlooked, the IAJGS Jewish Cemetery Project is a massive database trying to list every known Jewish cemetery on the planet. There is a huge amount of information contained in the database, although nothing about specific burials (that’s left to the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry, although there’s no way to link to information in JOWBR for a specific town). If you want to find out if a cemetery exists in your ancestral town and what condition it’s in, this is a good place to start.
JewishGen Communities Database – This is a database of towns worldwide with confirmed Jewish communities. Unlike the much larger JewishGen Gazetteer which has over a million localities in over 54 countries based on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names database, the JewishGen Communities Database is a curated list of roughly 6,000 towns where there is known to be, or have been, a Jewish community. For each town, the database links to other resources on JewishGen, as well as selected resources on other sites. The town pages have other very useful information, such as a list of the closest towns in the database to the current town, as well as alternate names for the town in different languages.
JewishGen Family Finder – The JewishGen Family Finder, or JGFF, is a significant resource for potentially finding other relatives. The idea is simple, you add a list of town/surname pairs to the database. If someone else is researching the same surname from the same town, then they will find you when searching the database, and hopefully contact you. I wrote about how to get started with the JGFF on the JewishGen blog back in 2011 (JewishGen Basics: The JewishGen Family Finder) and I recommend reading that post as an introduction if you haven’t used JGFF before.
JewishGen KehilaLinks – Originally known as ShetLinks (as in links to Shtetls), the KehilaLinks project is, for the most part, a attempt to create pages memorializing former Jewish communities. In some ways you can think of KehilaLink sites as modern version of Yizkor Books. The difference, perhaps, is that while Yizkor Books were published by former residents of their communities, at this point KehilaLink sites are being produced primarily by descendants of the residents of these communities. The amount of information available for each town varies wildly, as they are solely edited by volunteers for each town. If you have additional information to contriubte for your ancestral town, I recommend contacting the coordinator for your town and sending them your information to be added.
JewishGen Yizkor Book Project – An amazing project that seeks to collect information on all Yizkor Books published, extract lists of the dead (necrology lists) from them, and translate them. Yizkor Books were for the most part memorial books published by the survivors of communities destroyed during the Holocaust. These books were published in the decades following the Holocaust, frequently in Yiddish or Hebrew, mainly in the US and Israel where landsmanshaftn for these communities existed. Many of these books contain lists of those who were murdered during the Holocaust, memories about what it was like to live in the communities, photographs of people, etc. They are incredible resource that many people have not been able to leverage in their research due to their scarcity (they were privately published in small quantities for members of the community) and the language barrier, but this project is looking to make these books more readily available online, and to offer translations of some or all of each book online.
JRI-Poland – Formally Jewish Records Indexing – Poland, JRI-Poland is a decades-long effort spearheaded by Stanley Diamond to index and publish Jewish vital records from Poland (and places that were formerly part of Poland). Working with local archives in Poland and elsewhere, JRI-Poland has managed to index over 5 million records from over 550 towns. While the index can provide most of the information in a record, the records on JRI-Poland also give you the information you need to order copies of the records from the local archives. More recently as many of these records have gone online, JRI-Poland has linked directly to the digital copies of the records on Polish archive web sites. JRI-Poland’s town pages generally includes the map coordinates for the town, and sometimes the province. Links to off-site resources can include links to the JewishGen Communities Database and Virtual Shtetl. In addition to that basic information, the town page shows you what records exist in the local archives as well as in LDS microfilms (which sometimes overlap), and gives you information on fundraising for the various indexing projects for that town. To see what is actually indexed, however, you must search in their database.
Kirkuty.xip.pl – A kind of memorial to the pre-war Jewish community of Poland, this web site documents the current state of Jewish cemeteries across Poland. The site is, for the most part, only in Polish. Information is given on the history of the Jewish community in the town, and there are usually photographs of the current state of the cemetery and sometimes links to other related web sites.
Routes to Roots Foundation – The culmination of decades of research by Miriam Weiner, the Routes to Roots database contains information on what vital records and other documents covering Jewish communities exist in archives in Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Latvia, Romania and Russia. Originally published in two books written my Miriam Weiner (Jewish Roots in Poland, and Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova), the information is kept up to date on the web site, and has been expanded over the years to include new records that have been found. When looking to see if any records exist for your ancestral town, this database is a good place to start. It’s worth mentioning that I link to the search results for the town, which might include records from other towns with matching names, so don’t automatically assume that records in these search results are from your town.
Virtual Shtetl – A project of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Virtual Shtetl is a large database of information of current and mostly former Jewish communities in Poland. The database of communities consists of 1971 towns, all either currently in, or formerly in, Poland. Basic information like the pre-WWII province/county and the map coordinates are provided for each community, as well as links to some other sites such as the JewishGen Community Database and JRI-Poland. While each town has different information, information can include information on the Jewish community, cemeteries, synagogues, people, landsmanshaftn, heritage cites, sites where Jews were murdered, etc. Most of the information is in Polish, although some has been translated into English. If you look on the English version of the site it will show you whether is in English, and when it comes to a resource with no translation it will show it to you in Polish.
Złe miejsca dla ślimaków – Roughly translated as ‘Bad place for snails’ this blog documents places near the author’s home in Pulawy, Poland. ‘Near’ seems to be a relative term, as the author has documented hundreds of towns. These places include cemeteries (both Jewish and non-Jewish) and buildings such as former synagogues and yeshivas. The site is completely in Polish, but provides information on the places it documents, and includes photos of each place. When documenting a cemetery, the resource shows up in the Cemeteries section. When documenting a building that was once a synagogue or yeshiva, I’ve placed the resource in the Contemporary section. That may be counterintuitive, but if the Synagogue is currently being used as a bar, then that is the contemporary representation of the former Jewish community in that town. I don’t think there are any examples of a town where there is a contemporary Jewish community and the former synagogue is being used for something not connected to the Jewish community, so it shouldn’t be too confusing.
If you represent another site that has a large number of town-specific information, contact me directly and I can share a spreadsheet that can be filled out to allow records to be added easily to the site. Even if you don’t represent a site, but if you think another existing site is worth adding and are willing to collect the information needed, be in touch. If you’re a site looking to utilize some of the information on this site, such as the province/county data I’ve collected, please also be in touch. My goal is to expand access to this information, and if that means helping other sites to improve, I’m more than happy to help them.
I hope people found this information useful, and that you will share this with your friends (perhaps on Facebook or Twitter?) who may not yet know about the availability of these resources. Let me know what you think in the comments below.