This article originally appeared in the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, Volume I, Number 2 (Spring 1997), pages 21-27.
The article "The Power of Extracts" in the inaugural issue of the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal introduced the process and value of vital record extractions. It is now time to convince you that this is not just a tool available to an elite group of experienced professionals. Anybody can perform extractions given a bit of patience and motivation.
In February 1995, I paid my first visit to a Mormon Family History Center. I was completely unprepared for Polish-language document research. Sheer determination caused me to bully my way through the records of my ancestral town of Radom. In May 1995, after pointing me toward Checiny to find my Manela ancestors (whom I'd erroneously believed had come from Radom), Warren Blatt sent me his vital record extracts for Checiny 1810-1819. He explained that it was very difficult to use the 1810-1825 microfilms, in which Jews were intermixed in the Roman Catholic civil register, and often had no surnames. His extract document had isolated the Jewish records, and assigned conjectural surnames to many of the families therein.
I was amazed at the work he had done. I wanted the remainder of the Checiny pre-1826 Jewish records extracted from the microfilms of the Roman Catholic civil records as well, to aid in my research. Understand that in my mind, at that time, this meant that I wanted Warren to complete the project he had started. Unfortunately, Warren was completely immersed in his work as chairman of the 1996 Summer Seminar, and additionally, Checiny was no longer at the top of his personal research priority list. He had every intention of returning to complete the project . . . eventually. However, "eventually" was not good enough for my needs: I was writing a family history book, and needed the 1820-1825 data for my own family research. I came to a frightening realization: I had no choice but to attempt to extract the Jewish records from those years myself. I was, at the time, a six-month-old genealogy infant.
And so I embarked on this monumental adventure, which, I can honestly say, in retrospect, completely shaped my genealogy "career". It was a formidable task. Checiny had a fairly large Jewish population. The handwriting of the Checiny clerks was particularly horrible. Additionally, I did not have the luxury of determining my own extract style, or deciding to proceed slowly and only extract the very basic items from the records. I was completing an existing project, which had been started by a genealogist with very high standards and many years of experience behind him. I had to complete the project in the same detailed style that Warren had begun it.
Fortunately, I had Warren looking over my shoulder, correcting my errors, and offering advice as I struggled along. He constantly pushed me to my technical limits, and beyond. At one point, early on, he mentioned that he noticed that I had not extracted the town names for the 1824 and 1825 marriages (the only two years I had completed at that time). Geography is not my strength, I told him, wondering if indeed I had any strength at all in this venture. The towns are just so hard for me, too hard, I admitted. Warren patiently explained to me that the towns are one of the most crucial bits of information buried in the marriage registrations. They identify prior towns that our ancestors came from, origins of out-of-town brides and grooms. Insurmountable as it seemed, I added towns to my list of extract information for marriages, double checking my work with Where Once We Walked to verify that I had indeed copied a name of a legitimate location.
As time progressed, I made a startling discovery. This enormously frustrating project had become much easier. At the most exasperating moments early in the extraction, my only wish was to be done. Warren had told me that he actually enjoyed extracting, a concept that I found to be ludicrous. And yet, the longer I struggled, the less I struggled. It was an adventure, a journey, and I learned to love it.
I became familiar with the residents of Checiny, and could recognize their surnames, if they had any, and the names of most of the nearby towns from which spouses were imported. When surnames were not present, I often recognized particular groupings of given names that identified specific families. I began to relax and enjoy the challenge and discovery of the project, and gained the confidence to personalize the work I'd done apart from Warren's portion of the extracts.
Once the extractions were complete, I performed a variety of analysis on the data: conjectural surnames for many families that had none, multiple surnames for a number of families, mortality study, occupation distribution, and correlation of birth and death records. I was able to see my ancestors not as isolated Jews, but as part of a larger community. I could find the origins of naming anomalies that would otherwise have prevented me from tracing certain branches of the family.
I made many exciting discoveries about my family, and about life in the Checiny region. After my initial intimidation about undertaking such a project, I found that I now wanted to extract more towns, to discover the hidden secrets of my past.
A comprehensive extraction project, extracting records for all Jews of a town, differs from extracting information just for your known relatives only in volume. It is simply a set of individual record extractions. It is not necessary to have a working knowledge of the Polish or Russian languages. Resources are available to help you conquer the language barrier. Realize that the standard vocabulary used in vital records is a rather limited collection of words. Arm yourself with the following materials:
Familiarize yourself with the format of the records and the look of the language. Since Napoleanic format is a paragraph style essay, you need to be able to identify the components. See figure 1 (courtesy of Warren Blatt) for an example of a birth registration and its translation.
Transcription in Polish:
Dzialo sie miescie Checinach dnia / drugiego / czternastego Lipca Tysiac osmset piedziesiatego szóstego roku o godzinie osmej rano. Stawil sie Starozakonny Zysman Mydlo lat szescdziesiat szesc majacy szpitalnik w miescie Checinach zamieszkaly w obecnosci swiadków Starozakonnych Iry Maki szkolnika i Jcyka Mydlo szpitalnego po lat siedemdziesiat majacy w Checinach zamieszkalych i okazal nam dziecie plci meskiej tu w Checinach urodzone w dnia / dwudziestym czwartym Czerwca / Szóstym Lipca roku biecacego o godzinie Jedenastej rano z Malzonki jego Libe z Wolfów lat czterdziesci piec liczazy któremu nadane zostalo imiê Alter Chiel Mydlo. Poczem akt ten stawajacym odczytany i przez nich podpisanym zostal.
/ znacy / Zysman Mydlo (Yiddish signature)
It happened in the city of Checiny on the / second / fourteenth day of July in the year eighteen fifty-six, at eight o'clock in the morning. Appeared before me the Jew Zysman Mydlo, aged sixty-six, szpitalnik, living in the city of Checiny; in the presence of the witnesses, the Jews Ira Maka, szkolnik, and Jcyk Mydlo, szpitalnik, aged seventy years, both living in Checiny. And he showed to us a male child, born here in Checiny on the twenty-fourth of June / sixth of July / of the current year at eleven o'clock in the morning of his wife Libe daughter of Wolf, aged forty-five years, to whom the name was given Alter Chiel Mydlo. Afterwards, this document was read to those present and was signed by us.
/ it means / Zysman Mydlo (Yiddish signature)
Some extracts contain just name and parents. Others are more comprehensive. Consider the following, in approximate order of importance:
Record number: Always include the record number ("akta") and year for every entry. This enables other researchers to go back to the original document.
Names and Parents: Include all given names, surnames and patronymics.
Town: This item is crucial for marriages. Often one partner was from elsewhere; in order to trace the ancestors of that partner, you need to know in what town to look. Sometimes towns other than the town where the event was registered are identified on birth and death records. Reasons for this include families that recently moved to the town may identify their town of origin, visitors to the town experiencing life cycle events, and most commonly municipalities whose jurisdiction covers more than a single town.
You can generate a town list geo-centered at your town of extraction to help identify correct town names. Sometimes the handwriting on the records is difficult, and the surrounding town names may look very unfamiliar. This list will help in the extraction of location names from the records. Use either the Where Once We Walked Companion or the JewishGen ShtetlSeeker. Where Once We Walked Companion is a book available through Avotaynu, and includes detailed instructions on how to create such a list from the data supplied in the book and in Where Once We Walked. Those with Internet access may prefer to use the JewishGen ShtetlSeeker database: <http://www.jewishgen.org/Communities>, which can generate a list of all towns within a radius of up to 30 miles around your point of interest.
Also, be sure to write down the type of locality: whether it is identified in the records as a city (in Polish: miasta), town (miescie) or village (wies). Additionally, note any jurisdicational information given, such as the locality's district (powiat) or county (gmina). This can help identify the correct locality.
Place names are often given in the locative case in these documents. Example: "in Checiny" = "Checinach". For details, see Fay Bussgang's article "How to Pronounce Your Polish Town and Family Names and Recognize Their Most Common Grammatical Transformations", in Mass-Pocha (JGS of Greater Boston), V:3 (Fall 1996), pp. 7-10; or Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, I:3 (Summer 1997), pp. 3-6.
Age: Age is crucial for a death record, and interesting for marriage and parents on a birth record. It can be an important factor in analysis of pre-surname records, in matching pre-surname families with surnames from a later period of data. While ages were usually inexact as reported, they give a general range of years for birth of the person, which may help pinpoint a specific connection.
Occupation: This is an interesting characteristic of our ancestors. Occupation is enormously helpful in assigning conjectural surnames to pre-surname records. An unusual occupation can narrow down the possibilities tremendously, or eliminate candidates from contention. For example,
if other factors, such as age, are in the general range of similarity, while it is a definite mismatch with
Chaim, son of Joel, goldsmith
Marya, daughter of Herszel
matches easily with
Chaim Maka, goldsmith
Chaim Gutman, butcher
Keep occupations in the original Polish; it's easier, plus we don't know exactly what they meant in the context of 19th century Jewish life, so to translate them literally can introduce unintentional errors. The occupation definitions that appeared in the previous issue of this journal (Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, Volume I, Number 1, pages 31-32) provide a sufficient companion tool for extracted occupations.
Marital Status: Marital status is very helpful in tracing multiple spouses, and narrowing down death dates, searching for marriage records, etc. Note whether a person is a bachelor (kawaler), maiden (panna) or widowed (wdowa).
Survivors on death records: The detail varies from town to town and clerk to clerk. Some towns list only the spouse. Other towns list surviving children (sometimes with ages, spouses, and towns of residence), siblings, etc. Be aware that children identified on a survivor list of a death registration may not all be from the same marriage. Consequently, you do not automatically know both parents of the surviving children. Likewise, if it is the death record of a woman, do not assume that you implicitly know the children's surname without further evidence. Additionally, do not assume that a survivor list is necessarily complete.
Witnesses: In the earlier records (before 1820), witnesses were often members of the family, with relationship explicitly noted. Even once "standard witnesses" were used (you will see the same two names from record to record, year to year), sometimes the witnesses were still relatives: a death reported by the grandfather or uncle, the brother of the bride witnessing a marriage. Note all witnesses whose relationship to the principal party is stated. It might be the only link to that branch of the family.
Date of event: This is not to be confused with date of registration. Some events are registered on a delayed basis, perhaps several years or more. Sometimes there is a clause explaining the reason for the delay. Hence, a birth registered in 1855 is not guaranteed to have occurred in 1855.
House number: Records in the Roman Catholic registry period (1810-1825) include this information. It can be helpful in grouping families that lived together, although if the number does not refer to a single home, but a cluster of flats for example, the validity of this tool diminishes.
Ideally, we'd like to collectively extract all towns with records available. Realistically, we have to set our priorities. Consider the following factors:
There are three basic eras to consider:
If you are planning to extract the Jews from the Roman Catholic civil register, start by extracting a few years of the Jewish register beginning in 1826. This will give you a feel for the surnames and families of the town. It also eliminates the need to determine which are the Jewish records.
Once you complete a portion of that, you can begin to extract Jews from the Roman Catholic civil registry (1810-1825). There are several clues to use in helping identify which records are for Jews. Consult the index, if there is one. Look for Jewish given names. Many surnames of Jews were also surnames used by Christians, so that is not an enormous help. A few given names crossed the religion boundaries (Josef, Jakob, Szymon); for those you will need to examine other names within the record itself in order to reach a decision. A handful of Jews had distinctly non-Jewish given names, such as Luka and Brigida. Again, the total set of names on a record should be the determining factor.
The presence of Yiddish signatures confirms a Jewish record; but do not erroneously assume that absence of Yiddish signatures eliminates the possibility of a Jewish record. Often, records explicitly identify Jews as "Starozakonny". Sometimes in the margin or on the index you will see the notation "Star." or "Zyd". These both indicate Jews.
When using the index as a starting point, go back through the records looking for "Zyd" or "Star." in the margins, or the presence of Yiddish signatures, to double check your work. Some records just donít make it into the index. The ideal procedure would be to read every record, seeking clues that would pinpoint the religion of the family.
Some towns have few, if any, Jewish records for the years 1813-1816. However, it is still necessary to comb the records carefully even if, on the surface, it appears that no Jews registered. One or two Jewish records may be embedded in the register.
Figure 2 contains examples of birth, marriage and death extracts. Note that the year will appear only once, before the set of birth, marriage or death extracts for a given year, not for each individual record extracted.
Copyright ©1997, 1998 by the Kielce-Radom SIG and Lauren B. Eisenberg Davis.