Polish-Jewish Genealogy —
|Illustrated at the left: Index to Jewish births in the town of Sobków, Poland (Kielce gubernia), 1851. LDS microfilm #715,872. Click on image for a larger view.|
Most often, the indexes are "semi-alphabetical" by surname. However, I've seen some indexes alphabetical by first name, some alphabetical by father's first name, some strictly chronological (i.e. in the order that the events were registered), etc. Sometimes there's no index at all; sometimes indexes for several years are combined — there are many many variants — it all depends upon the local town clerk of that period. The most typical index arrangement is what I call "semi-alphabetical", that is, alphabetical by only the first letter of the surname, and thereunder chronological within each initial letter.
The amount of information contained in the index also varies, from town to town and from year to year, depending upon each town's civil registrar. Most often, the index contains only Surname, Given Name, Akt number (document number), and sometimes a Karta number (page number), or alphabetical sequence number. However, occasionally the index will contain additional information, such as the patronymic (father's given name), or age at death. For example, in Lublin, the birth, marriage and death indices for many years contain both the father and mother's name; in Węgrów, there are years when the indices indicate the actual date of marriage; and in Wyszków, the nearby town or village where the event took place is listed. But these are exceptional cases.
Note that most marriage indexes are alphabetical (or semi-alphabetical) by the groom's surname, with the bride's name in a later column. So you have to scan the entire marriage index in order to find brides. The brides can be listed by a variety of names (see Question #6). Sometimes brides are not in the marriage index at all — you need to go through the marriage registrations one by one to find the names of the brides.
4. Why do people's ages vary so much from record to record?
Being a year or two off in age (or even a few more!) is not unusual — people were indifferent to accuracy when it came time to stating their age — they're often only estimates. They're definitely not consistent from record to record (i.e. in the successive birth registrations for one family) — they're just approximations, so you shouldn't take them literally. Again, this seems to be at the discretion of the town clerk — some were more careful than others. In the birth records of some towns which I've indexed, all of the parents' ages were listed as "20", "30", "40" or "50", i.e. all multiples of 10 — obviously approximations.
Many births were registered long after the event ("delayed registrations"), and it was only the word of the registrant and his/her witnesses that determined what was recorded. How often have we heard a grandparent say that his/her mother was never sure of the real birthday... She just said that it was "three days before Purim," etc. This does not lend itself to accurate record-keeping.
5. Why do some of the women's maiden surnames end in “-ów”?
The “-ów” is a Polish grammatical suffix, the genitive plural. Grammatical suffixes are added to Polish words in certain situations, depending upon how they are used in a sentence. In many records, the maiden surname of a married woman is given in the form such as “z Goldbergów”, literally meaning "of the Goldbergs". Since “Goldberg” is the object of the preposition, and is plural, a genitive plural suffix must be added — in this case, “-ów”. Note that if a surname ends in “-cka” or “-ska” (feminine of “-cki” and “-ski”, respectively), then the genitive plural suffix is “-ich”, e.g.: “Sawicki” becomes “z Sawickich”, “Kowalska” becomes “z Kowalskich”.
Also note that some "maiden names" are actually patronymics, the father's given name (i.e. his first name), which were used frequently in Polish civil records. For example, “z Berków” means “of the family of Berek”, i.e. “daughter of Berek”.
If you want to know what the mother's true maiden surname was, it is necessary to find and look at her marriage registration. (Surnames were used in the Kingdom of Poland beginning in 1821; earlier records contain only the patronymic). The age of the mother and father are listed on birth registrations, which allows you to guesstimate the date of their marriage to begin your search. Women were typically first married between the ages of 17 and 22.
In a study of mid-19th-century Polish-Jewish marriage registrations, when one partner was from "out-of-town," it was most often the groom who was the "out-of-towner". The man would travel to the bride's town of residence. The exceptions were usually women from wealthy or prestigious families, and widows remarrying; in these cases usually the woman traveled to the man's town. See “Where the Boys Area: An Analysis of Suwalki Jewish Marriage Records (1826-1854)”, by Nicki Russler and Marlene Silverman, in Landsmen, II:4 (Spring 1992), pages 9-12.
Other suffixes used with names include:
- -owicz <"o'-vich"> = “son of”
- -ówna <"uv'-na"> = “daughter of” ('-ównej', in the genitive)
- -owa <"o'-va"> = “wife of” ('-owej', in the genitive)
Keep in mind that forms such as Goldbergów, Sawickich, Kowalskich, etc. are not surnames, they are declensions of surnames. You need to remove/transform the grammatical suffix to form the singular nominative (subject) form of the surname. In English, an analogy would be the sentence "We're going to the Smiths". In this sentence, "Smiths" is not a surname, it's a form of the surname. You need to remove the grammatical suffix (here, the "s"), in order to form the singular nominative form of the surname, “Smith”.
6. Why do some of the women's surnames vary from record to record?
It's been observed that sometimes a woman's "maiden name" changes from one record to another (for example, in the birth records of her children). There are several possible explanations for this:
- Sometimes her married surname is used; othertimes her maiden surname is used.
- Her patronymic (father's given name) and true maiden surname were used in different records. For example, if her father's given name was Abram; some records might record her as 'Ryfka Abramówna' or 'Ryfka z Abramów' or 'Ryfka Abramowiczów', or 'Ryfka z domu Abram' — all meaning 'Ryfka daughter of Abram' — while other records will record her with her true maiden surname. The former is especially prevalent in records before 1830. It is impossible to distinguish between a genuine patronymic and a patronymic surname without more context from additional records.
- In the earliest records (before surnames were in general use, in the mid-1820s), her father's patronymic (her paternal grandfather's given name) might be used. For example, if Ryfka's father was 'Abram Lewkowicz' (Abram son of Lewek), she might be listed as 'Ryfka Lewkowiczówna'.
- If a woman has been married more than once (i.e. widowed or divorced), sometimes the former spouse's surname is used. [Usually this occurs when a relative of the former spouse (e.g. a child of her previous marriage) is the one reporting the event].
- If the woman's father has a double given name, such as 'Avram Moshe', then when forming her patronymic, sometimes one name is used, sometimes the other is used. Using this example, she might be listed as 'Sara Abramówna' is one record and as 'Sara Moszkówna' in another. Also be aware of the kinnui and calque name relationships.
- The "surname" is actually the husband's given name, i.e. it ends with "-owa" (meaning 'wife of'). Some clerks occassionally used this form instead of the patronymic (father's given name). For example, 'Ryfki Lejbusowey" (genitive case) means 'Ryfka wife of Leybus'. The technical term for this form is an andronym.
- A clerk's error in the original record, or a modern transcription error. This happens more often than we'd like.
7. Why are two dates listed on many records?
There are often two dates listed on civil records in Russian Poland, for example: "Działo się dnia drugiego / czertnastego lipca" = "It happened on the second / fourteenth day of July", or "urodzone w dnia dwudziestym czwartym czerwca / szóstym lipca" = "born on the twenty-fourth of June / sixth of July".
These two dates are the Julian and Gregorian dates, respectively. The Julian calendar was used by the Russians (the Czarist government and the Russian Orthodox Church); and the Gregorian calendar was used by the Poles (and the rest of Europe). The Gregorian calendar is used worldwide today.
The later date is the Gregorian date. During the 1700s, the difference between the two calendars was 11 days. Beginning on March 1, 1800, there was a 12-day gap between the two dates. On March 1, 1900, the difference became 13 days. The date difference will become 14 days on March 1, 2100.
8. I noticed that there are some years for which there were a great many deaths. How do we determine cause of death?
When I've done extracts of records of a town, often there would be an extremely large number of deaths for a particular year, out of proportion to the surrounding years. When looking at the individual registrations, they'll sometimes note "died of cholera" or list some other cause. However, listing the cause of death is a more unusual feature of a death registration — only a few clerks bothered. Not that there was an extensive medical diagnosis in those days — few people had substantive medical knowledge. There were major epidemics of asiatic cholera in 1831, 1848, 1866, 1884 and 1892.
For lists of causes of death of various languages, see the following books:
- Morbus: Why and How Our Ancestors Died: A Genealogist's Dictionary of Terms Found in Vital Records with Descriptions of the Diseases as They Relate to the Health of Our Ancestors, by Rosemary A. Chorzempa. (Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1991). [OCLC #27977265].
This 16-page booklet lists terms in Polish, Latin, Russian and German.
- In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume I: Polish, by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman. (New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2000, Second Edition 2007). [OCLC #164882225].
Pages 260-262 contains a list of terms found in Polish-language death records.
- In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume II: Russian, by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman. (New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002). [OCLC #53064421].
Pages 286-289 contains a list of terms found in Russian-language death records.
9. If a family doesn't show up in the records of a town where you expect them to, how can you determine where else to look?
Perhaps the family moved to or from this town. In marriage registrations, look at where the banns (zapowiedzi = marriage announcements) were made. These are listed near the bottom of the civil marriage registration, and might provide clues. If a family just "disappears", then try searching other nearby towns, in ever-increasing concentric circles. This can be very time-consuming, but it's the only way to do it, and is usually successful. JewishGen's "LDS Microfilm Master" database can be very useful here. See the article by Michael Tobias in the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, I:2 (Spring 1997), pages 9-11.
10. Why are some years missing from the LDS microfilms?
Usually the GSU (Genealogical Society of Utah, the microfilming arm of the LDS Church) microfilmed everything they could in sequence. But sometimes record books were temporarily missing from the archives' shelves, or were in other archives, etc. So there may be gaps. Many books are truly lost (I have seen one margin notation in an 1855 marriage, noting that the record book for 1836 was lost already at that time). Others record books do exist in various locations, but were not microfilmed (such as the Łomża Jewish vital records for 1833-1835, found in a garbage dumpster, now at the Łomża Historical Society, not the Polish State Archives). New material "turns up" from time to time.
LDS microfilming of vital records at the Polish State Archives stopped in 1992. To fill the gap, Jewish Records Indexing - Poland — which is indexing all the Jewish vital records in the LDS microfilms — is also creating indices of 19th century records not microfilmed by the LDS.
See Question 1 for inventories of the holdings of the Polish State Archives.
11. What records exist other than vital records?
Vital records (birth, marriage and death records) are only the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other types of records in Poland, which are all unmicrofilmed. See Miriam Weiner's Jewish Roots in Poland for many examples and illustrations.
Several of the branches of the Polish State Archives have published catalogs of their holdings. For example, the Polish State Archives in Kielce published a 465-page inventory of their holdings in 1993: Archiwum Państwowe w Kielcach i jego Oddziały [State Archives in Kielce and its Branches] (Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN: Warszawa-Łódż, 1993). Only a tiny fraction of the inventory deals with vital records; the bulk of the archives' holdings are other types of records: court, notary, mortgage, agricultural, business, school, and other government administrations. Other PSA branches have also published similar catalogs of their holdings. Pictured at the right is the cover of the Radom Archives' published inventory (1996). These inventories are in Polish.
Books of Residents — Księgi Ludności
One extremely useful source is "Books of Residents" (in Polish, "Księgi Ludności"). For more details, see the articles "Books of Residents (Ksiegi Ludnosci) and other Books of Registration", by Fay Bussgang, in the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, IV:3 (Summer 2000), pages 23-26; and "The Polish Concept of Permanent Place of Residence", by Julian Bussgang, in Avotaynu, XVI:3, (Fall 2000), pages 12-15; as well as Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy (2004), pages 475-477.
The Polish State Archives published an inventory of their holdings of census records and Books of Residents in 2001: "Ewidencja Ludności w Archiwaliach (ELA)" [Registers of Population in Archival Materials], on the CD-ROM "Po mieczu i po kądzieli". The ELA database is now online at the Polish State Archives site at http://baza.archiwa.gov.pl/sezam/ela.php?l=en.
Essays on the various records pertaining to Jews held by each branch of the Polish State Archives can be found in Źródła Archiwalne do Dziejów Żydów w Polsce. (Warszawa: Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych, 2001). 600 pages, in Polish.
12. Was 1826 the first year of registration?
No. In the area that became the Kingdom of Poland (Russian Poland), Jewish civil vital registration started in May 1808, with the beginning of Napoleonic civil registration in the Duchy of Warsaw. In the Kielce-Radom-Lublin-Siedlce regions (former West Galicia, the area taken by Austria in the 3rd Partition, and ceded from Austria to Napoleon's Duchy of Warsaw in 1809), civil registration began in September 1810.
From 1808 until 1825, vital registrations for Jews (and all other religious groups) were recorded in the Roman Catholic civil registers. Beginning in 1826, records were maintained separately for each religious group.
However, Jewish surnames do not appear until October 1821 throughout most of the Kingdom — so before that date you have to research based solely on given names and patronymics, since there were no surnames. This type of research is done by going though all of the civil registration documents for Jews in your town (you're lucky if it's a small town), and finding couples that match your characteristics: e.g. an Aron Moszkowicz (Aron son of Moszek), of a certain age and occupation, married to a Sara Jankielowna (Sara daughter of Jankiel) — that way you've got enough clues to be sure that you've got the right family — even without a surname. I've used this method in many towns, to trace most of my branches back to the mid-1700s. See Lauren Davis' article on "Conjectural Surnames: Analysis to Determine What Surnames Families Acquired", in the Kielce-Radom SIG Journal, II:3 (Summer 1998), pages 3-6.
Just because the earliest civil registrations in the Kingdom of Poland are in 1810, that doesn't mean that your family tree stops there. For example, realize that finding an 1818 marriage means that the bride and groom were born around 1800, their parents were born around 1775, and the grandfathers around 1750. In the marriage records of that period, patronymics are almost always listed for every person mentioned in the record, so you'll learn the grandfathers' given names. Finding an 1810 death registration for an elderly person, if the registration lists full patronymics for the deceased's parents, could potentially give you the name of a person born in the 1600s.
13. Why are there no Jewish vital records in certain towns prior to the 1860s?
There are at least three possible reasons for the lack of records:
- The records were kept in another town.
- There were no Jews living in that town at that time.
- The records were destroyed or lost.
The records may have been recorded in another nearby town.
Some Jewish communities were not large enough to warrant their own Jewish civil registrar — so that community's births, marriages and deaths were recorded in the nearest town with a Jewish civil register. Usually this is a town within 5-15 miles [10-25 km] — try using JewishGen's "LDS Microfilm Master" database to determine what the nearest town with Jewish records might be.
Typically, a town needed to have a population of at least 500 Jews to merit its own Jewish civil registrar, it would appear. Jews who lived in smaller towns and villages would travel to register their vital events in the Jewish civil register of the nearby larger Jewish town. Hence the Jewish register for each town actually encompassed the nearby area, up to a radius of 5 to 15 miles.
There is no definitive list of these "registrations in other towns", but here is a list that I have compiled by experience, for some towns mostly in and near Kielce and Radom gubernias:
- Białobrzegi in Przytyk (1826-at least 1845; Białobrzegi had its own registers starting in 1862)
- Czeladź in Będzin (Czeladź had its own registers by 1929)
- Ćmielów in Opatów
- Dąbrowa Górnicza in Będzin (Dąbrowa Górnicza had its own registers by 1911)
- Drzewica in Opoczno (1840s; Drzewica had its own registers starting by 1872)
- Gielniów in Opoczno (1840s; no known separate registers)
- Iłża in Sienno (1825-1850; Iłża had its own registers staring in 1850)
- Jedlińsk in Radom
- Kielce in Chęciny (pre-1868; Kielce had its own registers starting in 1868)
- Koprzywnica in Klimontów (1826-1856; Koprzywnica had its own registers starting in 1857)
- Kurzelów in Włoszczowa
- Łagów in Opatów
- Łopuszno in Małogoszcz (1826-1867; Łopuszno had its own registers starting in 1874)
- Mrzygłód in Kromołów (1826-1868)
- Odrzywół in Opoczno (1840s; Odrzywół had its own registers by 1935)
- Secemin in Włoszczowa (1870+; Secemin had its own registers 1826-1869)
- Skaryszew in Radom
- Sławków in Olkusz (Sławków had its own registers by 1904)
- Słomniki in Książ Wielki
- Słupia Nowa in Opatów (Słupia had its own registers starting in 1890)
- Sosnowiec in Będzin (Sosnowiec had its own registers by 1901)
- Wąchock in Iłża (1850+)
- Wierzbnik in Iłża (1850+)
- Wyśmierzyce in Przytyk (1826-at least 1845)
- Zawiercie in Kromołów (1826+; Zawiercie began its own registers in 1882)
In the early 19th century there were about 90 towns in the Kingdom of Poland (or about 20% of all towns) which held the privelegia de non tolerandis Judaeis, "the privilege of non-tolerance of Jews", which forbade Jews from settling and residing within town boundaries. The emancipation proclamation of Aleksander Wielopolski in 1862, which removed legal restrictions from the Jews, opened all towns in the Kingdom of Poland to Jewish settlement.
For details, see Arthur Eisenbach, Mobilnosc terytorialna ludnosci Żydowskiej [Territorial mobility of the Jewish Population], in: Spoleczenstwo Królestwa Polskiego [The Society of the Kingdom of Poland], edited by Witold Kula, vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1966). By the same author: Emancypacja Żydów na ziemiach polskich 1785-1870 na tle europejskim, (Warsaw 1988), p. 177. [Translated into English as The Emancipation of the Jews in Poland, 1780-1870, edited by Antony Polonsky. (Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1991)].
For example, in Kielce Gubernia, out of 41 towns and villages, 11 held the privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis in 1862. These were: Bodzentyn (Bodjentin), Brzesko Nowe, Busko-Zdroj (Busk), Daleszyce (Daleshitza), Jędrzejów (Yendzev), Kielce (Keltz), Kurzelów, Miechów (Myekhuv), Skalbmierz, Sławków and Słupia Nowa. Source: Archiwum Glówne Akt Dawnych (AGAD), Komisja Rzadowa Spraw Wewnetrznych (KRSW) [Main Archive of Early Acts, State Commission of Internal Affairs], sygnatura 107, k. 57-79, 103-104 [call number 107, sheets 57-79, 103-104].
The records did exist at one time, but were lost, due to natural and man-made disasters, especially the upheavals of the two World Wars. For example: In Chmielnik, the fire of 1876 destroyed nearly all of the town, including the vital records of all religions. The early records of Janów (near Częstochowa) were destroyed in the Polish insurrection of the early 1860s. The records of Łagów, Kolno, Jedwabne, and many other towns were destroyed during the Second World War, etc.
14. What's this I hear about Jews being recorded in church registers?
This is a misunderstanding. Jews were not recorded in church registers in the Kingdom of Poland.
From the beginning of Napoleonic civil registration in 1808 (see records chart), persons of all religions (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, etc.) registered in the civil register maintained by the Roman Catholic priest. These civil registers were not "church registers" — the Roman Catholic church still maintained their own church parish registers, in Latin. The civil registers were maintained for the government, in Polish, using the Napoleonic civil registration format.
The practice of recording Jewish vital registration events in the collective civil registers continued until the end of 1825. Beginning in 1826, separate civil registers were maintained for each religious group.
What perhaps has led to this confusion is that most often the LDS have catalogued these 1808-1825 registers as "Church Records" instead of more properly as "Civil Registration".
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Polish-Jewish Genealogy —
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