Tag Archives: vital records

Rzeszów - 1899

Communities tied to Rzeszów (Reisha), Poland via marriage

You might be wondering how communities could be tied to a town via marriage. I’ve gone through about a dozen years of marriage contracts for the Jewish community of Rzeszów, Poland (in Fond 533 in the Rzeszów Archives) from about 1898 to 1910, and looked for towns that were represented by official stamps used in the documents. Rzeszów was known as Reisha (in Yiddish among the Jewish community), and it was a major community in the Austrian province of Galicia, which was later split between Eastern Poland (where Rzeszów is located) and Western Ukraine. Much of my father’s family lived in the town during this period.

In the wedding files, there are frequently also birth certificates, showing which community one or more of the couple getting married came from originally. Thus if a man from outside of Rzeszow was marrying a woman in Rzeszów, his birth certificate would generally be included in the file. The birth certificates were stamped with a special stamp representing the Jewish community of the town the record was from (to confirm its authenticity), and those stamps are the basis of this post. Keep this in mind when searching for birth certificates from towns that have no records – did the person get married somewhere else? Did you find that marriage record yet? The marriage certificates would generally be stamped as well, but by the officiating rabbi. Over those dozen years there are close to a hundred towns represented, and over 50 rabbis. Obviously many of these towns (and rabbis) repeat. Not surprisingly, the towns that are larger and closer tend to repeat more frequently.

Below you’ll see all the stamps. Click on any image to load the full size image so you can see it better (you’ll need to go Back to get back to the list). For towns in Poland, I’ve linked the town name to the page for that town in the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy. Keep in mind that this list is in no way comprehenive. It is just suggestive of which communities the Jewish community of Rzeszów were most connected to via marriage during those years. It might be possible to do a more scientific study of the records and generate statistics on which communities married which other communities, but that’s for someone else to do. It was also very common in Galicia during this period for Jews to marry religiously without a civil marriage, and these records only show the civil marriages, so these are not the only towns, but the towns in which people married someone in Rzeszów that a civil record exists.
Continue reading Communities tied to Rzeszów (Reisha), Poland via marriage

New records indexed from Vienna, even more on microfilm


For those with family from Vienna, the web site Genteam.at is an indispensable genealogy resource. It’s a volunteer-run site that has indexed over 8 million records from Vienna, including many Jewish records including birth, marriage and death records, obituaries, cemetery records, directories of professionals, membership lists of lodges (including B’nai Brith), conversion records, and more. Access to their database is free, you just need to register for a free account on their site before you can search.

Recently, the site added 482,000 new records, including a 180,000 records from the Jewish community of Vienna – marriage and death records from 1913-1928, and birth records up to 1913. I believe this record addition is what brought them over 8 million records, so congratulations to the whole team of volunteers at Genteam.at, past and present, who have accomplished an amazing task.

The records indexed all conform to the Austrian privacy laws, which is why the records end when they do. Presumably next year they will add birth records through 1914, etc. In two years my grandfather’s birth record from 1915 will presumably be published on the site. For more on my grandfather, see Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet? and Remembering my grandfather.

Keep in mind that while sites like this (located in Austria) cannot publish indexes to these records due to privacy laws, some later records were microfilmed prior to the current privacy laws, and already exist in the Family History Library. It’s unclear to me whether those records can (or will) be indexed online by FamilySearch.org, or whether they too will not provide them online, even if someone can view the records on microfilm in any Family History Center.

Right now, FamilySearch.org has a record set called Austria, Vienna, Jewish Registers of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1784-1911, which has the images online (over 200,000), but is not indexed. That means you can look at the images and try to find the record you want, but there is no way to search it.

If you search their catalog, however, there exists many more Jewish records from Vienna, including:

  • Register of Jewish births, marriages, deaths, and indexes for Wien (Vienna), Niederösterreich, Austria. Includes Leopoldstadt, Ottakring, Hernals, Währing, Fünfhaus and Sechshaus. 1826-1943
  • Circumcisions and Births 1870-1914
  • Jewish converts in Vienna 1782-1868
  • Index to the register books of the Jewish community, 1810-1938
  • Births, marriages and deaths of Austrian Jewish military personnel in Wien, Niederösterreich, Austria. 1914-1918.
  • Reports the exit from the Jewish faith: 18000 defections from Judaism in Vienna, 1868-1914
  • Names of Jewish infants who were forcibly baptized Christians and left with foundling hospitals in Vienna, Austria. The mothers of the infants were primarily servants and manual laborers from Hungary, Slovakia, Bohemia and Moravia. Each entry includes genealogical data. 1868-1914.
  • Genealogies and biographies of the Jewish upper class of Vienna, Austria, 1800-1938.

Eventually, these records will also presumably make it to FamilySearch.org, and eventually they will be indexed as well. Many of these records are clearly the same records making their way onto Genteam.at – it’s even possibly that Genteam.at is working form the FHL microfilms to create their indexes.

The odd thing is that the online record set covers the dates 1784-1911, while the microfilm record set covers 1826-1943. The question is if the microfilm set only goes back to 1826, then how does the online set go back to 1784? Even stranger, if you click through to the wiki page describing the record set, it says the records cover only the years 1850-1896. Perhaps the online records go back further because they include other record sets like the conversion data, which covers the years 1782-1868 – but if that’s the case then why doesn’t the online set go back those extra two years to 1782? It’s very confusing.

In any case, just to be clear, there are many Vienna records available, even if they apparently run counter to the Austrian privacy laws (which seem to ban the release of birth records for 100 years). As proof that these records are accessible via microfilm, I’ll just end with this birth record for my grandfather who recently passed away at the age of 98, which I acquired from the FHL microfilms with the help of a local researcher a few years ago:


A Major Breakthough for Jewish Polish Records

JRI-Poland and the Polish State Archives have announced a new agreement to expand the availability of Jewish records from Poland. An earlier agreement which was in effect between 1997 and 2006 resulted in the indexing of more than 4 million records which make up the bulk of the JRI-Poland database. The cancellation of that agreement in 2006 was a major blow to Jewish genealogy. There have been ongoing discussions since 2007, but the resumption of cooperation did not materialize until now. This announcement, made on Friday, is much more than most expected, and well worth the wait.

The first major component of the announcement is that JRI-Poland will be able to add an additional million records to its database within the next year. That is in addition to the 4 million existing records already in their database that originate from the Polish State Archives.

JRI-Poland Executive Director Stanley Diamond signing the agreement in the
presence of Polish Consul General Andrzej Szydło in Montreal, Quebec.

The second major component is that JRI-Poland will launch a new Order Processing System, which will allow people searching for records on the site to click on a record they want and order it directly on the JRI-Poland site using a credit card. JRI-Poland will handle the credit card processing and the archives in Poland will copy the records. For anyone who has dealt with ordering records from Polish archives directly, this is a major breakthrough.

While my Finding and getting copies of Jewish records in Poland article is still one of the most popular on this site, and was published in print as well, it is my hope that this announcement means that in the future that article will not be needed.

Polish State Archives General Director Władysław Stępniak signing the agreement,
with JRI-Poland representative 
Krzysztof Malczewski (on left) looking on.

The third major component of the announcement is that the Polish State Archives is starting a major effort to digitize all of their records in all 30 Regional Archives, and make them available for free online. As these digital scans come online, JRI-Poland will link directly to the images from their database search results. As the images come online, the new Order Processing System will be phased out.

The announcement is available on the JRI-Poland site (in English) as well as the Polish State Archives site (in Polish).

I’d like to congratulate Stanley Diamond, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of JRI-Poland, as well as the other JRI-Poland board members, staff and volunteers who made this agreement possible.

I look forward to seeing the different elements of this agreement come to fruition, and will let readers of this blog know about things as they happen.

Jewish Databases from Aleppo, Syria

Aleppo Jewish Wedding 1914
Jewish Wedding in Aleppo, Syria in 1914

Record keeping by the government in many of areas where Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews lived simply didn’t exist before the 1920s. With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, the new governments in those areas began to keep records of things like births and marriages, but how does one research family events that occurred earlier? The short answer is, unfortunately, with difficultly. Since the governments did not systemically keep track of events, you must look to the local Jewish communities and their own records, if they exist.

That said, one of the more interesting projects to assist a specific community with family research is the Sephardic Heritage Project, which has indexed a number of important collections of vital records from Aleppo, Syria, including:

  • Aleppo Britot – More than 7500 circumcision records dating from 1868-1945
  • Aleppo Marriage Database – 1354 records – For the  most part, the data covers 1847-1850, 1868-1877, and 1893-1934. However, we included a few records found in 1811and 1855 that were  derived from Ketubot manuscripts.
  • Aleppo Eulogies Database – Deaths in Aleppo, Syria, covering sporadic entries from periods as early as 1716 -1946

This effort has been led by Sarina Roffé, who founded the project in 2004, and had overseen the collection and translation of records in Israel and New York. You can read Sarina’s description of the Aleppo Jewish community in her JewishGen article The Jews of Aleppo.

Note that these databases are all hosted on Jeffrey Malka’s SephardicGen web site. For general information on Sephardi/Mizrachi genealogy, I recommend starting with Jeffrey Malka’s Resource Guide on the Israel Genealogy Research Association web site.

People lie, and so do documents

It’s not uncommon to find records that have intentionally incorrect dates and other information on them. One situation in particular which is common is in passenger manifests for people coming from Europe to the US. Frequently you’ll find someone who lists their age as 17 or 18, when in fact they’re younger but lied to get on the ship to America. Sometimes the age given when coming to America was used in official documents going forward, even if they were wrong. Without a birth certificate or other documentation from the old country, you may forever think someone was older than they really were.

My point with bringing this up is that when you’re doing research it’s very hard to confirm information from a single record, or even multiple records sometimes. A good example of the issues involved is that while you can usually trust a death certificate to have accurate information on a person’s death, it may not be a good idea to trust the birth information listed on it. If the birth information on a death certificate is all you have on that person, go ahead and use that birth information, but always source it properly so you know where the information came from. If you one day track down a birth certificate on the same person and the information is different, then trust the birth certificate over the death certificate.

There are many kinds of records out there, some ‘official’ records like birth and death certificates, and some unofficial like birth announcements and obituaries in newspapers. Obituaries can be a great tool for building your family tree, as they frequently contain lists of surviving children, maiden names, etc. Nowadays many small local newspapers are being scanned and put online, some which you need to pay for and some which are free to use. I was recently searching through a free searchable database of Georgia newspapers, part of the Digital Library of Georgia. Of particular interest to Jewish researchers with family that lived in the southern states in the US, is a publication called the Southern Israelite. It contains issues of this magazine from 1929 through 1986. It started as a local newsletter in Augusta, then moved to Atlanta where it covered all of Georgia and then eventually covered other southern states as well.

In any event, records I found illustrate this point about not trusting records too much. I found an obituary printed on July 8, 1983 about Louis Lesser, who it says died about a week earlier on June 29th. It lists his age as 72.

Obituary printed July 8th

See the obituary as printed on July 8th on the left.

If one had no other records about the death of Louis Lesser, and he was in your family, you would probably enter the information in this obituary into your genealogy program. That’s a perfectly normal thing to do. Make sure of course to properly cite the death infromation as coming from this obituary and where and when the obituary was published. The interesting thing about this is that a second obituary pops up a couple of weeks later, in the July 22 issue of the same magazine. It has different information. I suppose you might assume the first one had mistakes and the second one was the corrected version. See the second obituary, published on July 22 on the right.

Obituary printed July 22nd

Now, what do you see? The age listed is 71, not 72. The date Louis Lesser died is listed is June 30, not June 29. There is also additional family information. So assuming the second version is the corrected version, you would guess Louis Lesser died on the 30th and was 71. What can we confirm here? Well, you could look up the record in the SSDI. The SSDI index doesn’t give the date, only the month, so we can’t confirm the date without ordering the full record, but it does list a birth date of Oct 5, 1910. Again, take this date with a grain of salt, it is only the date used when the person applied for a social security number, but let’s use it to see what the person’s age should be. Clearly, according to this date, he’s 72, and closer to 73 than 71. Thus the age listed is probably wrong in the second record. Not a good sign. Okay, so how can we confirm the date? Well I googled ‘south carolina death certificates’ to see if there was some searchable index and came across the Death Indexes page for South Carolina. If you scan down the list of resources, you’ll see there is a link to cemetery burials by the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina. The site lets you browse the cemeteries, but without knowing which cemetery the person was buried in, this could take a long time. Luckily, they’ve put in a search box to let you search the whole site. Searching the site brings up a page for the Emanu-el Cemetery in Charleston, SC with his burial record. The good news is it lists the same birth date for him, so although neither the SSDI date or this record are necessarily trustworthy records, at least you now have two records showing the same birth date. For the death date, which is the date listed on his grave, it says June 29th. Nothing is 100%, but if the date is on his grave it’s probably correct. Thus it seems the original obituary had the correct information on his age and the day of his death, not the one published later. Not what you might guess from seeing two obituaries in the same paper a couple of weeks apart.

So to review, don’t trust something just because it’s in print, and while make assumptions like a later revised obituary is probably correct might make sense to you, it isn’t always the right assumption. Always try to confirm the information you find through other sources, and site the source for every piece of information in your records.