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Conceptualizing a new system always requires assumptions, guidelines, and constraints to which the new system must conform.  The purpose of the assumptions made here was that the project work be manageable yet reasonable;  such assumptions are always compromises between the desired ultimate and the reasonably accomplishable.

The following assumptions, guidelines, and constraints were defined:

  1. Jewish given names occurred in logical, linked sets.
  2. Only "legal" names as given in Rabbinical sources are included as primary.
  3. Different names existed in each European or foreign country.
  4. Uniform geographic name distributions existed within each European or foreign country.
  5. Names used remained unchanged during the period 1795-1925.
  6. Normal and massive migrations occurred within and from Europe.
  7. Emigration forces were "Push" (persecution), and "Pull" (better life).
  8. New vernacular names were adopted in foreign countries.
  9. Foreign names were statistically linked to the European names.
  10. Legal names were primary;  Yiddish/secular names were secondary.

Results of the Assumptions:

  1. The first assumption dictated the development of an organized non-onomastic method of finding how Jewish names were linked together.
  2. The second forced the use of the Hilchot Gitin books.
  3. The third required the development of separate databases for each European region, recognizing that each had a different set of given names and frequencies for individual names.
  4. Under the fourth assumption, the density of name use within a given country was uniform;  local choices of names in different sub-regions were mixed, eliminating the possibility that a researcher might be able to concentrate his efforts in one shtetl or another in a given country, using differential name frequencies in the database.
  5. Under the fifth assumption, the frequency of name choices was constant during the project period.

In system modeling theory, the fourth and fifth assumptions are known as "perfect mixing" assumptions.  They placed direct constraints on the intra-region location and time detail that could be presented to the researcher, but they greatly simplified the work of setting up the databases and reduced their sizes.

The statistical linkage assumption between foreign and European names has been shown to be a good one, and makes it possible for a researcher to seek foreign ancestors if he knows European names, and the reverse.

The only existing formal, legal system of Jewish given names has been developed over the centuries by a small group of rabbinic experts for the purpose of precise and accurate specification of the parties to a Jewish divorce (Get).  This type of Jewish legal contract is more demanding than any other type, since it can have serious consequences in the lives of the parties involved as well as on the Jewish status of their future offspring.  Thus, this empirically-determined data set is the only viable source available for determining a set of legal Jewish given names. Fortunately, the rabbis were very exacting in their work and established an extensive set of rules to follow in determining the names and their spelling, and also in specifying the existence of primary Jewish names (Hebrew names) and secondary vernacular (Yiddish and secular) names which are properly linked to the Primary names, as well as other tertiary vernacular names related to the first group of vernacular names, but which are not qualified to be used in writing the legal names in a Get.

It is this set of legal names which was adopted for use as the framework for the Given Names Data Bases -- the primary and secondary names. The GNDBs include in the second field of the record the legal (primary Hebrew and secondary vernacular) names.  Other fields contain alternative secondary names and additional linked tertiary vernacular names, obtained from archival documents and other sources. But any of these many names may be found in archival documents.

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Central and Eastern Europe were always in a state of turmoil and competition, and many boundary changes occurred over time.  This led to difficulty in defining constant regions within these two parts of Europe. Guidelines were set up to define separate regions in Europe for the Given Names Databases.  These guidelines made it possible to handle the seemingly intractable problem of frequent boundary changes within the project's time frame.  This project defines Western, Central, and Eastern European divisions, each with several regions or "countries".

Throughout history there have been continuing intrigues, power struggles, and outright wars over the possession of different regions within Europe.  These factors have led to constantly changing boundaries between empires, kingdoms, duchies, and countries;  to the persecution of minorities;  and to natural and major migrations among its various regions.

The time period 1795-1925 was chosen with several factors in mind:  many national boundaries were fixed by the final 1795 Partition of Poland and remained relatively stable for a significant period;  by 1925, the massive exodus from Eastern Europe to foreign countries had tapered off;  good European census records are available extending back to somewhat before 1800 for most countries, and even before, in some;  the quality of immigration and census records in many foreign countries improved noticeably in the late nineteenth century;  and most Jewish genealogists research families for whom the progenitors were born within this time span.

The choice of the geographical divisions of Europe was more difficult because of boundary and population changes.  Boundary changes occurred during the period 1795-1925 on the average of every 15 years, although frequently they were small.  Population changes were generally gradual, with bursts of inter-region migration during periods of persecution and murder.  However, most of the massive migrations of Jews from one country to another were much larger in earlier centuries (e.g., during the twelfth century Crusades).  An important exception, of course, was the enormous emigration beginning in 1881 from Eastern Europe to Western European and foreign countries.  To provide guidelines for choosing European regions, we defined the following characteristics as desirable for the final geographical regions:  Jewish populations with relatively constant characteristics; easily recognizable regions; easily accessible and good-quality records; and significant sizes of Jewish population.

The following factors negatively affected our ability to define the regions:  population changes due to migrations;  archival record location changes with time depending on history;  destruction of archival records; country boundary changes with time;  and province boundaries changes with time.

We adopted a mixture of regions which are meaningful for Jewish genealogists, are subjects of on-going research in Special Interest Groups, existed as national entities for significant sub-periods, and are national groupings with common traits.  The constraints mentioned previously frequently required going to the level of gubernias and districts in order to achieve definitions of stable regions.  While this approach is admittedly imperfect, it does make it possible to use archival materials for given names data with minimal error.

Ukraine is an example of a country in which one part (northeastern Ukraine) is culturally and Yiddish-linguistically close to her northern neighbor Belarus (Litvish Yiddish), while a small western part is similarly close to her western neighbor Eastern Galicia (Polish-Galician Yiddish); the political region of Ukraine does not match the regional distribution of Yiddish dialects around Ukraine.  In such cases, it is recommended to researchers of problematic politically-defined Ukraine regions to search in both of the adjacent countries' GNDBs.

The major regions of Europe defined for evaluation in this project are the groupings of former gubernias as defined above.  The names used are the names of the countries that most closely cover the region defined.  In some cases, some of these "countries" did not exist as separate entities for extended portions of the Project period, for example, Poland.  The resulting list of countries is as follows:

WESTERN EUROPEAN REGIONS:  BeNeLux countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), France, Portugal, Spain

CENTRAL EUROPEAN REGIONS:  Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Galicia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Yugoslavia

EASTERN EUROPEAN REGIONS:  Albania, Baltics (Estonia, Latvia), Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Russia (non-Pale), Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine

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The countries defined for the GNDB Project fall in two groups, those inside and those outside Europe.  Outside ("foreign") countries are those to which European Jews emigrated during the project period.

From the list of European regions defined in the previous section and a world list of foreign countries, we used the following criteria in selecting both European and Foreign Project Country candidates:  Jewish Population Size; and Availability of Given Names Source Data.

The following additional criteria were used to choose the final European Project Regions from the European candidates defined above:  Distribution of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Secular Given Names;  Driving Forces Causing Emigration ("Push" and/or "Pull");  and Was Country an Emigration/Immigration Source or Pass-Through Facilitator?

And the following added criteria were used to select the Foreign Project Countries from the foreign candidates defined above:  Number of Immigrating European Jews;  Interest Level of Local Jewish Genealogists;  and Number of Local Jewish Genealogists.

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