Resources for Jewish Genealogical Research
Copyright ©1998, 2001
Steven Fischbach - All Rights Reserved
Tracing Jewish ancestors from Posen Province is a challenge for many reasons. First, the region changed hands several times since the mid 18th century: from Polish sovereignty, to Prussian, to Napoleonic France, back to Prussian (eventually German), and then back to Polish sovereignty at the end of World War I. By the end of World War II, hardly any Jews remained. As a result of these changes in sovereignty, records of interest to genealogists are found in several countries: Poland, Germany, Israel, and the United States. And, since these changes in sovereignty usually came about through armed conflict, many records no longer exist. This web-page is meant as a road map for researchers, listing books, libraries, archives and various on-line resources to help researchers find more about their Posen Jewish roots. Over time it will change as I learn of new resources available to researchers.
The author wishes to thank Edward David Luft for his editorial assistance and for providing key information for this article. Please send any comments, suggestions, criticisms, additions or corrections to the author: email@example.com.
All genealogists need to have a grasp of the history of the region that they are researching. Jewish migration to Posen started as early as the 11th century AD (and perhaps earlier), as Jews fled persecution by Crusaders in Germany. Later periods of migration followed anti-Semitic outbursts in Germany in the 12th through 15th centuries. During this time Poland was a haven for Jews, as the Polish crown granted Jews powers of self-government unheard of elsewhere in Europe (even in later years). Starting with the Statute of Kalisz in 1264, the power to settle disputes between Jews (both civil and criminal) was granted to Jewish elders. Poland was also one of the first countries to develop a parliamentary system of government, and a separate Jewish legislature, known as the Va'ad Arba or Council of Four Lands, was founded in 1581. The "four lands" were Great Poland (includes the Posen region), Little Poland, Podolia, and Galicia. The Va'ad Arba lasted until 1764, when it was dissolved by the Polish national parliament (Sejm). Alongside the Va'ad Arba was the Supreme Rabbinic Tribunal, which met while the Va'ad Arba was in session. The Rabbinic Tribunal heard appeals of disputes from the regional Rabbinic Tribunals.
For a more detailed history of early Jewish migration into Posen
(and Poland generally) up through the 18th Century, follow this link:
A brief sketch of Jewish history in Poland between 1800 and World War
II can be found by following this link.
A brief sketch of the history of Poland since the late 18th century
that includes maps of the various partitions of Poland can be found by
following this link:
In addition to the on-line resources, the following books are highly suggested (Note: all call numbers listed in this article are Library of Congress call numbers):
Hagen, William W.
Germans, Poles, and Jews : The Nationality Conflict in the Prussian East, 1772-1914
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1980.
CALL NUMBER: DK4185 .P85 H33
Social Justice and Social Policy in the Jewish Tradition: The Satisfaction of Basic Human Needs in Poznan in the 17th and 18th Centuries
Doctoral Thesis, Brandeis University, 1977 (available at Brandeis University Library)
CALL NUMBER: HN40 .J4 N8 1977a
Zarchin, Michael Moses, 1893-
Jews in the Province of Posen; Studies in the Communal Records of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Philadelphia, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1939.
CALL NUMBER: DS135 .P62 P665
MORE SUGGESTED READING (in German):
Die Abwanderung der Juden aus der Provinz Posen: Denkschrift im Auftrage des Verbandes der Deutschen Juden, gefertigt von seinem ersten Schriftführer.
Berlin : Der Verband, 1909.
CALL NUMBER: [+] DS135 .G4 P6
Heppner, Aaron, 1865-? and and Herzberg, Isaak
Aus Vergangenheit und Geganwart der Juden und der jüd. Gemeinden in den Posener Landen, nach gedruckten und ungedruckten Quellen.
Koschmin, 1909 [i.e. 1904-29]
CALL NUMBER: DS135 .P62 P64
(more information about this book is provided below)
Kemlein, Sophia, 1960-
Die Posener Juden 1815-1848: Entwicklungsprozesse einer polnischen Judenheit unter preussischer Herrschaft.
Hamburg : Dölling und Galitz, 1997.
CALL NUMBER: DS135.P62 P635 1997
Des rauhen Winters ungeachtet-- : die Auswanderung Posener Juden nach Amerika im 19. Jahrhundert .
Hamburg : Dölling und Galitz, 1997.
CALL NUMBER: DS135.P62 P6356 1997
There are a number of excellent on-line resources to help you locate your ancestral towns in Posen. The finest resource is ShtetlSeeker, put together under the auspices of JewishGen, the mother of all Jewish Genealogy sites (more on JewishGen later). ShtetlSeeker permits you to search the towns in Central and Eastern Europe, using exact spelling or the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex system. You can also get a list all of the towns within a certain distance of given latitude / longitude coordinates. (You may find these coordinates using the "town" search). Usually you can find the town even if you only know the German name for the town you are looking for. When doing the search, select "Poland" as the area you want ShtetlSeeker to search. You will get a list of towns with map coordinates. If you click on the results, you will get a small map of the area where your town is located (courtesy of Mapquest). Follow this link to go to ShtetlSeeker. http://www.jewishgen.org/ShtetlSeeker/.
To find both the German and Polish names of the town you are searching,
follow this link to Anna Sluszkiewicz's Index of German-Polish and
Polish-German names of the localities in Poland & Russia:
If you only know the name of the Kreis (similar to county) where
your ancestors came from, ShtetlSeeker can take you to the town that the
Kreis was named for. Follow this link for a map of Posen showing
the borders of each Kreis and the town (in both Polish and German)
where the Kreis administration was located:
A more detailed explanation of what a Kreis is can be found by
following this link:
You can find a large-scale map of Posen Province c. 1900 showing
language distribution by locality by following this link:
As of January 1, 1999, Poland reduced the number of provinces from 49
to 16. Most of the former Prussian province of Posen is now located
in the Polish province of Wielkopolska. However, the northern third
of Posen Province, centered on Bydgoszcz (called Bromberg during Prussian
rule) is now located in the Polish province of Kujawsko-Pomorskie.
A map showing the former 49 Polish provinces and the current 16 provinces
can be found by following this link:
Each Jewish community had its own corporate body known as the "Kehillah" or "Kahal". Michael Zarchin authored a study of the records of several Posen Kehillot: Jews in the Province of Posen: Studies in the Communal Records of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (see Suggested Reading, above). The Kehillah was governed by a board of Kesherim, usually consisting of five members, plus those members designated as the parnasim (town administrators), neemanim, (fiscal officers) and gabbaim (supervisors of the community's charity). Zarchin, p. 9-10, 15. Individual Kehillahs formed a provincial Va'ad which had general jurisdiction over taxation and other matters affecting Jewish communities in the Province. The provincial Va'ad appointed representatives to the national Va'ad Arba. Kehillah records, to the extent they still survive, can be useful resources for genealogists. Of particular use are records of the Kehillah's Chevra Kaddishah or burial society. Polish court records, on the other hand, would be of little use since Jews had their own judicial system while the Va'ad Arba was in existence.
In smaller Jewish communities, the town's synagogue performed the functions of a Kehillah organization. In larger communities, the synagogue functioned solely as a house of worship. Many synagogues caught fire during the 18th century; some were not rebuilt. Most, but not all of the synagogues in existence prior to World War II, were destroyed by the Nazi's, as were the Jewish cemeteries that dotted Posen's landscape. To learn about those synagogues and cemeteries consult:
Gruber, Samuel, and Myers, Phyllis
Survey of Historic Jewish Monuments in Poland: a Report to the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad
[New York]: Jewish Heritage Council, World Monuments Fund, 1995.
CALL NUMBER: [+] DS135.P6 G683 1995
Report also available on-line: http://www.preservationcommission.org/plrep.html.
The Cemetery Project of the International Association of Jewish
Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has a detailed report on the condition of
Jewish cemeteries in Poland, arranged by town (using Polish not German name).
Follow this link:
An excellent resource for information on Jewish communities in specific towns was written in German at the turn of the 20th century: Aus Vergangenheit und Geganwart der Juden und der jüd. Gemeinden in den Posener Landen, nach gedruckten und ungedruckten Quellen. The book has two parts: a history of Jews in Posen (about 300 pages) and a history of specific Jewish Communities in Posen (about 700 pages). A total of 130 communities are profiled (from Adelnau to Zydowo). Most of the profiles run no more than 5 pages, although there are several that are much longer than that (such as the one for Posen city). A typical profile goes something like this: when Jews first came to the town (or received permission to settle there), the terms that the Jewish community had to abide to for the privilege of establishing a community, some demographic information (number of households and total population in given years), names of the communities' Rabbis and officers of the congregation (or the founders of the congregation), and names of prominent Jews in the community.
Heppner, Aaron, 1865- and Herzberg, Isaak
Aus Vergangenheit und Geganwart der Juden und der jüd. Gemeinden in den Posener
Landen, nach gedruckten und ungedruckten Quellen.
Koschmin, 1909 [i.e. 1904-29]
CALL NUMBER: DS135 .P62 P64
Also available on 17 microfiches, catalogue no. J-23-112/1, from:
InterDocumentation Company bv
P. O. Box 11205, 2301 EE Leiden
One of the greatest 19th Century Torah scholars was Rabbi Akiva Eger, Chief rabbi in Posen (also known as the Gaon of Posen). An English language biography of Rabbi Eger contains many drawings and photos of Jewish life in 19th and early 20th century Posen, including Posen Synagogues: The Alte Betschule on Dominikanska Strasse, the Alte Betschule on Wroniecka Strasse, and Die Neue Betschule opened in 1907, looted in 1940, and now a swimming pool.
Sinason, Jacob H.
The Gaon of Posen : a portrait of Rabbi Akiva Guens-Eger.
London : J.H. Sinason ; Gateshead : Trade distribution, J. Lehmann, 1989.
CALL NUMBER: BM755 .E35 S5 1989
JewishGen®, Inc. is the primary internet source connecting researchers of Jewish genealogy worldwide. This is the single best on-line resource for anyone interested in Jewish genealogy. Its most popular components are the JewishGen Discussion Group, the JewishGen Family Finder (a database of over 300,000 surnames and towns), the comprehensive directory of InfoFiles (on specific topics or places), and a variety of databases like the ShtetlSeeker and the "All Poland Database". JewishGen Inc. is staffed primarily by volunteers. JewishGen is a 501(c)(3) United States tax exempt, non-profit corporation that deserves your financial support.
JewishGen Home Page:
JewishGen Family Finder:
After starting at the home page, go first to the JewishGen Family Finder.
There you can search for the names and e-mail addresses of other people
who are researching the same surnames and/or the same towns as you. And
don't forget to add your name and the surnames you are researching to the
JewishGen Family Finder.
JewishGen maintains a number of useful databases. Some of these, such
as ShtetlSeeker have already been mentioned. The JewishGen Discussion Group
postings are archived in a separate searchable database. This is another
way to find people who are researching the same surnames or locations you
Jewish Records Indexing - Poland:
One of the databases that is not very developed for research in Posen
(but is quite developed for towns in eastern Poland) is the Jewish Records
Indexing - Poland database. The database contains searchable
indices of 19th century Jewish vital records from current and former
territories of Poland. More than two million records from 300 Polish towns
are indexed and available. More records are added every month.
Other Web Sites / Links to More Resources:
Lukasz Bieleckiís "Genealogy and Poland: A Guide" is an excellent
introduction to genealogical research in Poland. This site contains several
links relating specifically to Posen mentioned earlier in this article.
Louis Kessler's Jewish Genealogy Links
Adalbert Goertz's Regional German FAQs - Posen
There are several discussion forums (electronic mailing lists) that cover issues of interest to Jewish genealogical research in Posen. Go to the website listed for each forum to subscribe to the ListServ.
JewishGen Discussion Group (all areas)
JewishGen operates a discussion forum that covers all geographic areas. There is a lot of activity on this list and it is not uncommon for the list to generate 25-40 messages a day.
JewishGen German-Jewish SIG
JewishGen also operates several specialty discussion forums, usually defined by geography. There are many fewer postings on the specialty lists (usually under 10 per day). The list covering Posen is the German-Jewish SIG (or GerSIG), which only started in the Summer of 1998.
For a listing of other JewishGen Special Interest Groups follow this
Posen-L Mailing List
This is a mailing list of genealogists of all researchers interested in Posen. It does not exclusively deal with Jewish genealogical research. This list usually has less than 10 messages per day. The list has been in existence since July, 1998. The Posen-L website has a list of towns, in Posen. There are also profiles of researchers, a list of surnames that the researchers are searching, and links to maps and other websites.
A key resource is Edward David Luft's The Naturalized Jews of the Grand Duchy of Posen in 1834 and 1835. The book contains a list of Posen Jews who had limited citizenship rights conferred upon them, i.e., were "naturalized," in 1834 and 1835. The book lists alphabetically by surname each person, the person's town of residence, the person's occupation and date of naturalization. Most Posen Jews were not eligible for "naturalization," and Luft estimates that only 5.5% of Posen's Jews were naturalized. Luft's book also contains an English translation of the Prussian decree that legislated the repressive conditions that Jews were subjected to. For example, even "naturalized" Jews could not vote in Prussian elections or hold elective office outside the Jewish community. Moreover, to be "naturalized," a Jew had to possess significant assets (either owning a farm large enough to support the family, or a plot in the city (debt-free) worth 2,000 Reichthaler, or having 5,000 Reichthaler in savings) or receive a waiver of the asset requirement for a "patriotic endeavor for the state." Jews who did not possess such assets were subject to deportation unless they could prove they were permanent residents of Posen province since June 1, 1815. An allegation by a Jew that he had lived in the Province since before June 1, 1815 was almost never challenged until after 1835, and then very rarely.
Luft, Edward David [compiler]
The Naturalized Jews of the Grand Duchy of Posen in 1834 and 1835.
(Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1987).
CALL NUMBER: DS135 .P62 P636 1987
Society of Biblical Literature, P. O. Box 2243, Williston VT 05495-2243 USA
Phone: U.S. domestic toll free: 877-725-3334
Mention the ISBN: 1-555-40137-6.
The price is $34.95 + $3.50 per order (NOT per copy!) in the USA or $6 per order abroad.
Edward David Luft has also authored or co-authored numerous articles relating to Jewish genealogical research in Posen in the periodicals Avotaynu and Stammbaum (see below).
There are separate reference guides to the holdings of Polish and German archives of interest to Jewish genealogists. Typically, these guides explain what kind of information is found in particular archives or libraries.
Weiner, Miriam (in cooperation with the Polish State Archives)
Jewish Roots in Poland: Pages From the Past and Archival Inventories
Secaucus, NJ: Miriam Weiner Routes to Roots Foundation; New York, NY
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1997. [CS877.J4 W45 1997]
Ordering information: http://www.routestoroots.com
Ellman-Krüger, Angelika G. (with Luft, Edward David)
Library Resources for German-Jewish Genealogy
Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 1998.
Ordering Information: http://www.avotaynu.com. [Table of Contents].
Stammbaum was a publication affiliated with the Leo Baeck Institute, to further German-Jewish genealogy. It was an English-language publication that supports research and publication of reliable family histories. 31 issues were published 1992-2007. Copies of all issues are now available online at: http://www.lbi.org/publications/periodicals/stammbaum.
Avotaynu: the International Review of Jewish Genealogy, is published quarterly by Avotaynu, Inc. Avotaynu also publishes books on Jewish genealogy. A one-year subscription costs $38 ($46 outside of North America). Back Issues available on CD-ROM or by web subscription. Country/topic index of past issues can be found at: http://www.avotaynu.com/indexsum.htm.
The Polish State Archives contain birth, marriage and death records of Jews only for the period after 1874, when vital record collection moved away from communal religious authorities to civil authorities. The Germans destroyed the earlier documents or took them to Berlin during World War II. However, some earlier Jewish records (mostly census records known as Judentabellen) survived, and may be found at the Archiwum Glowne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records). Judentabellen records may also be available at District State Archive offices.
The State Archives have regional offices that house records from the
towns within each region. Follow this link to access information on Polish
For a listing of holdings in the Polish State Archives of vital records by
town for the Posen region click on the link below. In addition to finding
out which archive holds the records for the town you are researching, this
link also lists each film made by the Church of Latter-day Saints for that
town. The site includes references to Jewish records, as well as Lutheran,
Catholic and Civil Records. Note that vital records created after January
1, 1874 are found in Civil records, and before then in the various
To do research at the State Archives in Poznan, you need to get advance permission from the head of the Polish archives in Warsaw (fax number further below) and then plan on spending 2 or 3+ days in the archives in Posen. Write to:
Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Panstwowych
ul. Dluga 6
You can write in English. Warsaw will forward your inquiry to the District State Archive office in Poznan. Costs of official research (meaning when the research is done by staff of the archive)
1. Initial cost is 30 USD (not charged for in person research)
2. For each hour work for researching - 15 USD
3. for each copy 10 USD.
Even when you do research at the Polish State Archives in person, copies of any documents requested are usually forwarded to the Warsaw office and then sent to the researcher.
The AGAD (Central Archives of Historical Records) is located across the street from the Naczelna Dyrekcja. The telephone number from the USA is 011-48-22-831-54-91 or 92 or 93. There are additional telephone numbers. There are 6 different departments. Departments I (records to 1795) [ask for extension 424 or 443] and II (records between 1795-1918) [ask for extension 442 or 432] would have the records most interesting to most readers. Maps are in department IV, extension 449 or 458. Callers should speak Polish, German, or French. Non-Polish speakers should be prepared to hold while a French or German speaker is located. The archive's Director is Dr. Hubert Wajs. Visitors may request and receive archival records and maps Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and may use the reading room with respect to already-delivered files the same days from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The AGAD's mailing address is:
Archiwum Glówne Akt Dawnych
ul. Dluga 7
The Centrum Judaicum is housed in the newly-renovated Oranienburgerstrasse synagogue in former East Berlin. Many Posen Jews migrated to Berlin, and the Centrum's archives contain recently microfiched records of burials at the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee for the period 1880-1980, or 115,000 burials. From 1880 until 1956, over 90% of Jewish burials in Berlin were at Weissensee. The Centrum also has microfiched card indices from Schönhauser Allee cemetery which contains about 22,500 graves, from 1827-1976. Another major collection at the archives of Centrum Judaicum is the Gesamtarchiv der Deutschen Juden. It's available on microfilm and even CD-ROM in the reading room. Peter Landé compiled the list of the surviving records from the Gesamtarchiv der Deutschen Juden in an article entitled "The Complete Archives of the German Jews," Avotaynu, Volume 9, No. 1, Spring 1993, pp. 28-32. That article indicates the years involved for each entry and the number of items but not the subject matter of each item. In addition, the Centrum's collection includes documents from Jewish communities throughout Germany, including the Posen region.
One should write ahead and obtain permission to do research in the Centrum's archives. Write to:
Frau Barbara Welker
Oranienburger Straße 28 - 30
Telefon 030/28401 - 250
Fax: 49 30 282 1176
For more information about Jewish cemeteries in Berlin and throughout
Germany you may also want to check the IAJGS Cemetery Project list of
cemeteries in Germany:
Follow this link for a list of addresses of various archives
(federal, state, local, church, military, etc.) in Germany.
The Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center
Beth Hatefutsoth (Museum of the Jewish Diaspora)
Register your family tree in Israel or search through their database (search orders can be placed on-line). For more information, contact:
Ms. Diana Sommer,
Director, the Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center, Beth Hatefutsoth
Fax: 972 3 646 2134
Tel: 972 3 646 2061/2
Church of Latter Day Saints - Family History Centers
The Mormon Church has microfilmed millions of vital records around the
world. Microfilms can be ordered at your local Family History Center. For
a list of Jewish vital records from Poland in the LDS records follow this
For the address of your nearest Family History Center follow this link:
Brandeis University Library, Waltham, Massachusetts
The Brandeis Library has one of the largest collection of Judaica books
as well as a searchable on-line catalogue. All of the book with call numbers
in this article are available at this library, and can be obtained by inter-library
loan, unless the book does not circulate (e.g. a reference book). Follow
this link to search their catalogue:
Leo Baeck Institute, New York City
The Leo Baeck Institute is a research, study and lecture center, a museum, library, and archives devoted to the history of German-speaking Jewry from early times until its tragic destruction by the Nazis. Founded in 1955, it is named after the leading liberal Jewish religious thinker of his time, Rabbi Leo Baeck, Chief Rabbi in Berlin, who was the spiritual leader of German Jewry during the Nazi period. Library holdings include a unique collection of 1,050 memoirs written from 1790 to 1945 which offer rare insights into the lives of German Jews from all walks of life. Supplementing these materials is an important collection of more than 12,500 photographs. Holdings of particular interest to genealogists include family papers, family trees, community histories, and business and public records. Unfortunately, their catalog is not on line. Write to:
Almost every regional or local museum in the Poznań region has in its collection materials (not many) concerning the history of the local Jewish community, including photos. At least two regional museums have larger collections.
There is a Jewish Museum in Leszno (called Lissa during Prussian rule). The Leszno Jewish Museum is a subdivision of the Leszno Regional Museum and was the former chapel at the Jewish cemetery. The director, Pan Dariusz Czwojdrak, maintains a list of all 1847-1939 registered deaths and interments in the cemetery and also has information from the Wollheim Stiftung and the Sachs Stiftung; also, the records of the Bet Hamidrash, the destroyed mikwe and the slaughterhouse, and the factories of Philipp Hanach and Aron Wolf Goldschmidt. The director also maintains some records and notes of Jews from the surrounding towns. Pan Czwojdrak speaks no English and little German.
Pan Dariusz Czwojdrak
ul. Estkowskiego 6
Telephone: 011-48-65-520-98-12 (from the USA)
The Regional Museum in the town of Pila (called Schneidemühl during Prussian rule) contains an exhibit about the history of Pila's Jewish community. There are some photos, documents about Jewish culture, and even the original Torah scroll. Address:
Pan Marek Fijalkowski
Muzeum Okregowe w Pile
Zaprasza do Muzeum Stanislawa Staszica
(ul Browarna 18)
RSE ZG Pila
The following link takes you to a site that translates text and web
pages from English to German and vice versa.
Not knowing German, I do not know how good the site is.
Translating from German to English, it appears to work reasonably well,
but it has its limitations.
Follow this link for information on a German-English translation
Have letters you compose in English (to archives, libraries, etc.)
translated into German by native speakers, instead of a computer program.
Follow this link for a list of German genealogy related abbreviations
translated into English.
Follow these links to see the alphabet written out in old German script (called "Sütterlin"). These may be helpful in deciphering handwritten documents in German.
Follow this link to get copies of sample letters written in German
to the Registrar's office requesting copies of vital records.
Follow these links to on-line telephone directories (includes residential, business, fax and e-mail listings):
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