Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Finding Eastern European Records, Part 2 (JewishGen)

I've often been asked how I find so many documents from various parts of Eastern Europe--many of which have appeared in blog posts.  This is the second in a series of posts describing how to find Eastern European records for your own ancestors.  While these posts will generally concentrate on how to find Jewish records in Eastern Europe, many of the strategies will also be applicable to records for other religions.  (Note that in the Russian Empire, most record sets were recorded separately by religion.)  The entire series can be seen here.

This post will discuss some of what's available on JewishGen; other components will be incorporated into future posts.

Town Locators

A critical component to finding family records in Eastern Europe is having identified a particular town of origin.  JewishGen's Communities Database allows searching using the misspelled or phonetically written versions of a town name which are often passed down orally or found in documentation and discovering the current spelling of that town name.  The results will also show the political situation of that town (noting the country, province and district) during various time periods, reflecting changing governments under which many towns found themselves.
JewishGen's Community Database is easily searchable from its homepage

The Communities Database only lists those towns with significant Jewish populations; if you don't find a match, don't despair just yet.  A more comprehensive database of towns is available via the JewishGen Gazetteer.

Jewish Genealogy Family Finder (JGFF)

The Jewish Genealogy Family Finder (JGFF) allows registered JewishGen users to list their family names and associated towns.  Listing your own family will allow others to reach out to you in the future.  By searching those who have listed names in the past, you may be able to find others who are both your relatives and who have been researching the same family.  Perhaps they have obtained documents and information that you don't have.  Imagine how excited my relatives are when we first get in contact, and I am immediately able to give them their 3rd great grandparents' marriage record.  Perhaps you are related to someone as obsessed as I am who has already done significant legwork.  And even if both of you are still relative beginners, being able to pool your time and funds allows your research to be much more powerful than it would be with each of you working individually.

JewishGen's Indexed Records Databases

Within the past several years, the number of indexed records on JewishGen has exploded, as have the number of records procured which have not yet been indexed.  A full list of databases on JewishGen (which allow for searching of records indexed and put online thus far) is available here.  Results can include family groups found in various types of censuses, vital records (birth/marriage/divorce/death records), various voting and taxation lists and more.  Searching within these databases is available with a (free) JewishGen account.
Search Results--1811 Revision List (Census) from Krasnoye, Belarus

JewishGen Special Interest Groups (SIGs)

JewishGen hosts various Special Interest Groups (SIGs) which focus on various geographic areas and which help to populate and grow the searchable indexes mentioned above.  Each of these SIGs has its own sets of pages which describe various projects underway and completed and often give access to information beyond what is searchable with JewishGen's databases.

Beyond the documents mentioned above and SIG-specific projects mentioned below, each of the SIGs also has a listserv (mailing list).  Old posts are archived and are searchable and could help you to connect to someone who has information on your family; you can also post your own queries and receive feedback and ideas from researchers around the world.  A list of mailing lists that can be joined is here.

Ukraine SIG

Ukraine SIG has, particularly within the past few years, obtained a significant number of new records from towns across Ukraine.  Many record sets are in need of volunteers to coordinate translation and fundraising to cover the cost of document procurement (and translation when volunteers aren't available), while others have been indexed and are searchable.  To see the current documents and projects available for a particular town--as well as the current status of those projects--navigate via the Ukraine SIG page. That page also will show the latest batches of records acquired from various archives and other repositories.  An example of one of these town pages is below, describing the Shpikov Project which is underway.

Ukraine SIG's Page for the Town of Shpikov, Listing Projects Underway

JRI Poland

JRI Poland, through an agreement with the Polish National Archives, is working to index all Polish records that haven't been micofilmed by the LDS.  They are also working to link search results to copies of the original documents.  The number of indexed documents has grown exponentially in recent years, with over 5 million records indexed and over 1.2 million of those records currently linked to images of the original documents (according to their webpage).  Additional information about JRI Poland can be found here.
JRI Poland--Note "View Image" on the far left to see the original document

Gesher Galicia

Gesher Galicia focuses on the former Austro-Hungarian Empire province of Galicia which is now geopolitically split between Ukraine and Poland.  In addition to records of individuals (such as vital records, census records, tax and other records) that are searchable as seen in the screenshot below, this group has also been collecting many Castedral maps which detail towns' land parcels and often who owned individual parcels of land.  A membership in Gesher Galicia has additional benefits as well.
Gesher Galicia Search Results

Litvak SIG

The Litvak SIG, which covers Lithuania, has also been working to collect and index records from the area.  They organize into geographic-oriented groups focusing on different parts of Lithuania, and contributors to those groups get access to indexed records well before those records become searchable via JewishGen.

Other SIGs

There are similar SIGs which cover various countries, regions and even cities; a complete list of SIGs can be seen here.

Support JewishGen

While JewishGen is free, donations are gladly welcomed.  It is a largely volunteer-run organization, and the funds will go towards procuring documents, hiring translators, and keeping the site running.  You can contribute to individual projects or to JewishGen as a whole (which can get you additional benefits beyond the free membership).

Constant Updates

Continually check back at JewishGen and SIG pages which cover areas in which your family lived; new records are being acquired and indexed added regularly.

Coming next:  Yizkor books & KehilaLinks