Sunday, December 29, 2019

Prenumeraten & Rutners

Back in the day, when people wanted to publish Jewish scholarly books, they'd often need to get funding in advance in order to pay for printing costs.  To do this, they got people to "subscribe" to their book--basically those people would pre-pay for a copy of the book, and in exchange, their names would be published in the eventual release of the book.  These "prenumeraten lists" could contain your ancestors!

I was able to use "Sefer HaPrenumerantn," a kind of index to those listed in prenumeraten for about 800 books, to find references to books sponsored by people from Kolodne.  And look who's listed in one of those books.  (More information on how to use this book below.)

In the prenumeraten of the book אמרי שהם by משה בן דן שהם, there were a few Kolodne men who had sponsored the book.  And I'm related to at least three of them:
  • Shmuel Moshe Rutner.  This could well be my great-great grandfather!   However, there were two men by this name living in Kolodne, so it could also have been his second cousin.
  • Chaim Mordechai Rutner.  This could have been my great-great grandfather Shmuel Moshe Rutner's brother--so my great-great-great uncle.  But again, there were two men with this name in town, so it also could have been my second cousin four times removed
  • Yaakov Feintuch.  There was only one man by this name in town.  His wife, Yocheved Rutner Feintuch, was my second cousin four times removed.  
While it's frustrating that I can't know which Shmuel Moshe/Chaim Mordechai it was who helped sponsor this book, it's still cool to show that my relatives valued learning enough to pay toward this book's publication.

So how do you see if any of your relatives are listed in books' prenumeraten?  Well, first read this good overview by JewishGen.  Realize that Sefer HaPrenumerantn is now available online here, so you don't have to hunt for it in obscure libraries.

Once you have a list of books in which your town appears, you need to look for the prenumeraten in each book.  I was a little puzzled about where to go from here, but Elli Fischer pointed me to, which had every single book I was looking for.  (Fun fact:  Elli and I were in playgroup together back in the day!)

Good luck prenumeraten hunting!

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  1. According to the Jewishgen article you referenced: "check Where Once We Walked [WOWW], to see if your ancestral town appears in Sefer HaPrenumerantn. Look up your town in WOWW"

    Is WOWW on line anywhere? If not, I suppose the Center for Jewish History has a copy, and I'm in NYC, so I could visit. But still, if it's on-line....

    1. WOWW has been replaced by the JewishGen Communities Database ( as the JGCDB was originally based on WOWW and has grown significantly since then.

      If you're looking for towns in Poland specifically, you can also look at my Polish Cities list ( which has about 400 additional towns in Poland compared to JewishGen.

    2. WOWW has an "HSL" designation next to shtetls that are listed in the prenumeraten book. I don't see anything equivalent in JewishGen. So it does not appear that JewishGen replaces WOWW for the purpose of determining which shtetls are listed in prenumeraten. But if there is a way to use it for that purpose, please do let me know what it is.

      I went to CJH in NYC and looked up my ancestral shtetls in WOWW. The following had the HSL designation: Byeshenkovichi, Akmene, Laizuva. The following did not: Chashniki, Lyepeyel. (Based on knowledge accumulated since then, I need to look up Plonsk.) I was then able to use the prenumeraten book to look up which books were sold to the HSL shtetls. But I have not yet taken the step of looking into those books to find out if any of my ancestors were among those who pre-ordered them.

  2. Oy! Four different books entitled Zichron Yehoshua (one of these is in 7 parts!) and one of them contains 12 subscribers from Dashiv. But most are written in Rashi script, which I last used in about 1984! This will definitely take some time. But thanks for the information!

  3. There are an additional two lists published as supplements to Kagan's book, which were released by Shlomo Katzav in Israel in 1986 and 1992. I've only seen them in the National Library in Jerusalem, and they're labeled volume 2 and 3 (i.e. Kagan's is volume 1). I'm not sure in what format these were printed. I've seen reference to them being re-printed with Kagan's book together, but I've never seen that. The ones in the NLI are essentially manuscripts.