A Message sent toEURO-JEWISH-D Digest 25/12/1998
Dear New Genealogists,
Although I have written privately to some of you and to the Digest itself to call your attention to "Jewishgen" I think it is necessary to write the group again. I do not mean, of course, to discourage anyone from participating in this Euro-Jewish group. I believe the more places there are on the Internet where one can post genealogical inquiries, the better.
When I first started researching my family history on line, I stumbled across the site for "Jewishgen" : http://www.jewishgen.org/ and became an active member by simply subscribing online, and subsequentlysending inquiries, and answering some of those sent by others.
Jewishgen is large and ever-expanding, well-organized and managed, not-for-profit organization. It is supported by contributions, and devoted to genealogical research for Jews, or for people of Jewish ancestry all over the world. In the five or six years of its existence, it has created many searchable databases.
Several members of Jewishgen are very knowledgeable about Jewish customs and history, and about Yiddish and Hebrew. Some know Polish and Russian as well, and a few know French and Italian. Even their arguments and refutations of statements made by one person or another are amusing to follow. (But usually the list moderator cuts short those "threads" which not germane to genealogy. So I also subscribe to the mail groups American Jewish History, and H-Judaic, because I want to learn more about what happened in history to the Jewish people and what their beliefs and customs are. I also read many "real" history books, especially those concerning 19th and 20th century (France and Russia.)
On its website you can find the answers to "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)" on various subjects. You should copy them and keep them on your desktop or print them out for future reference.
Every day I receive a compilation of many inquiries and responses to the inquiries. Many subscribers give advice, relate their own genealogical experiences, or describe and explain problems people come across in their research. Sometime people write in to express their joy at having found a relative through Jewishgen. Almost all the messages on this list are very interesting and helpful.
For a genealogy beginner the first place to go on Jewishgen is to its "Family Finder." This is searchable database where you can type in any name, and the search engine will often turn up other people researching the same name. You may want to strike up a correspondence with them, sharing and comparing information. You should also enter in your own names and places so that others can find you.
Another remarkable resource is the "Shtetl Finder," where you can type in a town name howsoever you know how to spell it. Using the "Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System" the search engine will find town names with similar spelling or sounds. and give you the largest town nearest your town, and your town's exact location. On that same page, there is now even a gadget that you can click on whisk you to a map showing your town and its environs!
There are many other databases, to which additions of information and lists of names are frequently made. Perhaps the largest of these databases has been created by the Jewish Records Indexing Project -Poland (JRI-PL).
Another useful search method is to rummage in the archive of previous messages sent in by Jewish genealogists. All you have to do is type in whatever surname, first name, town name, or subject word you are curious about, such as "Rosenbaum," "Feldman", "pogroms," "Hebrew Alphabet," "Yiddish," "Burial Practices," "censuses," "Landsmanschaften, and so on. Almost instantly, a list of all the messages sent in since 1993 will pop up containing whatever word you typed in, although sometimes you will find that no one has sent in a message regarding your particular surname or subject. For example,I am the only person on Jewishgen, or anywhere else on the Net, who is researching the name "Belkowsky" (which can be spelled Bielkowski, Bilkowskyi, Belkoffsky, etc.) Still, by reading many of these archived messages, I have learned a lot about genealogical methods and problems and I often use them to write to others when I come across a name of I recognize in my readings.
Other Jewishgen resources are its "Infofiles." These explain in detail how to go about doing one's family history in various countries, using US National or Regional Archives, or by writing to archives abroad. There are also guides for using the microfilms of records made by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) which can be ordered and read at their many "Family History Centers (FHC)," There are many films of church, synagogue, and governmental records, ships' passenger listings, censuses, etc.. When you go to the Infofile list, be sure to read, and perhaps keep on your desktop or print out, Don Leeson's Fable about how he started to research his family history. It is funny and instructive. Every so often I reread it, and it still makes me giggle. I think you can find the Leeson Fable in the Infofile index. Of course, the Mormons haven't microfilmed everywhere in the world, but that is their goal, and the amount of films they do have is astounding. Unfortunately, the records of some places, particularly in Eastern Europe, may have been destroyed or maybe simply mislaid during all the furor of WWII. A few countries which do have records may not give the Mormons access to the records. The Jewishgen "Infofiles" tell you how to read the microfilms and make sense of what is entered in the records.
Jewishgen also provides a list of "Special Interest Groups SIG" to which you can subscribe. These charge a modest yearly membership fee. The fees pay for mailings of bulletins. Sometimes contributions are solicited for for buying genealogical records of a particular town or area. (I have found the Gesher Galicia Group especially serious and well-organized, and have become a member of this Group as well as of the French Jewish genealogical group, "GenAmi.")
If you know the names of the towns from which your families came, you may be able to find Yizkor Books (memorial books compiled by Holocaust survivors of a particular town or area.) These usually contain a list of names of individuals who used to live in the respective towns or they mention the names of local families in the various "chapters" in the book. Almost all of these books are in Hebrew or Yiddish or both, and sometimes they may contain a page or two of English. You may find some published in Russian or even in Polish. However, not every town has a Yizkor book. Yizkor book translations are usually very expensive (about 10 cents a word).
There are little Jewishgen subgroups whose members contribute to the cost of buying and translating all or part of the books pertaining to a particular shtetl of the group members. . These shtetl subgroups sometimes publish a member's own travel experiences while visiting a shtetl, or a reminiscence of member's old aunt or grandparent. All the members share whatever information they may know or come across during their research.
To the beginner...
As you proceed, you will often come across people who had the same names, even full names as did your forebears. It may be hard to figure out which bearer of the same name is your own. Also, you may have to learn to play with letters to determine your original family name (or even your "shtetl") in another form. Family names may be greatly different in pronunciation or spelling from what you have heard or seen written in your documents. Also, as you probably know, for a variety of reasons, many Jews changed surnames.and personal names. Women ancestors in particular are hard to trace, because they assumed their husband's name. Another frustration is that some "shtetls" share the same name. Often these are located in the same general area! There are six or seven Ternifkas, for example, and two Zvenigorodkas!. How to decide which shtetl is the one from which your ancestors came can problematical. But often cleverness, persistence, and inquisitiveness can help you ascertain which shtetl is "yours".
Be forewarned that researching one's family history is painstaking, and often tedious and unfruitful. It cannot all be done on the computer, even the computer has enormously facilitated the doing of research of any kind.
Genealogy requires some money and "leg-work" visiting archives and libraries, as well as your local Family History Center.
Merely sending your family surnames into the electronic ether will almost never result in finding out about your family. When you write to this mail group, or to any other genealogy group, be sure to give as much data about your family as you can. List personal names as well as surnames. Tell when your relatives and their progeny were born or died, even if the year is only a "best guess." If you know where they were from, say so, even if you don't quite know the exact town but only the country or region. If you know the dates your relatives arrrived here or where they went to before coming here, tell that too. If you can, tell where they settled and what business they were in. But do be concise.
Put family surnames in capital letters, and type all the rest of your messages, including your city or town names in lower case.
If you are responding to someone's message put "Re: xxx" in the subject heading. So that mail group readers can recall or understand to what you are referring, begin your response by first stating the message's date, number and author and perhaps quoting the relevant part of the message.
Good luck to all the Newbies in this mail group.
BELKOWSKY of Tel-Aviv, Odessa, Kiev, Moscow, Berdichev; LEVY, WEIL, WILLARD of Mulhouse, Altkirch, Seppois le Bas, Alsace; FELDMAN of "Chelsetz?" (Kulczyce or Kulchitse or Kulcici?), near L'viv; MEEROVNA of Berdichev(?);
RAPPAPORT or RAPOPORT of Jaffa, Palestine, Podvolochisk and Ternopil; SAS, of
Podwolochisk; ROTHSTEIN, LIBERMAN from Kiev and Moscow; ZUSMAN or SUSSMAN of Tel-Aviv and Odessa.