Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't Trust What You Find on the Internet, and Cite All Your Sources

When you do research into your family, you need to cite your sources. Without sources for all the names, dates, etc. that you put into your family tree, your tree doesn't really mean that much. Let me explain why this is the case.

There are millions of people worldwide who are actively researching their family trees. Some people consider it an occasional hobby, and others spend all their waking days looking into their families. No matter which side a researcher finds themselves on, or anywhere in between, the quality of the research done by these people varies greatly. In other words, some people do quality research, back up everything they find, and cite the sources for everything so they can go back and tell you how they determined the year a particular person was born, or what their name was before immigrating to the US, etc. Other people do lower-quality research, don't record where they found anything, and just enter the names and dates they find into a database on their computer, or directly to an online family tree. I would venture to guess that there is little correlation between how much time someone spends on their family tree, and whether people are quality researchers or just name collectors.

So why is it a problem to just collect names and dates and throw them into a database? Well, primarily the problem is that you will make mistakes. I don't mean that quality researchers don't make mistakes and sloppy researchers do make mistakes – I mean everyone makes mistakes. There will always be times when you find a record of a person and you think it is the brother of so-and-so or the father of this-or-that cousin, and it really isn't.

A good researcher will cite the source for the record, and most likely recognize that without more information they cannot conclusively say that the person is who they think it is. The good researcher might not even put the person into their tree, but put them in a folder for unconfirmed relatives until such time that they do find more information. If you don't cite where you found out a piece of information, then when you do find more information, you will have no way to compare your new information with the old information.

For example, if you first calculated the birth year of a person by their age listed on their grave, but later find another record with the birth year on it, how will you know the relative strength of the new record versus the old record in terms of determining the birth year. Will you remember ten years later that you determined the age from a gravestone? What happens if you ended up recording the age of the wrong person? How would you confirm that without knowing your original source? Maybe you recorded the name of the person's niece of nephew that shared the same name. How would you be able to tell?

Imagine a researcher just records names and dates as they find them. They don't double-check anything, and couldn't if they tried since they don't know where their information originated. Using an example where someone recorded a nephew instead of the uncle, let's say that same person finds a tree of the nephew online (which they identify since the spouse is the same). They copy and paste the new information into their tree, except it's under the uncle instead. Now you have a branch of the family which is completely wrong. What does this researcher do next? They post their tree online with no sources. The next person comes along and finds someone who matches in their tree and copies the rest of the tree into their own, propagating the mistake.

There are really two lessons to be learned here.

First, don't trust anything you find on the Internet, without independent confirmation. If you import a tree from a web site, make sure to check it out first.

Second, cite the source for everything you record in your own family tree, so you won't come back years later with a new, different, piece of information and not know which is correct.

How To Cite Sources

When you were in high school or college you probably remember having to format your sources according to a citation style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style or the MLA Handbook. These guides defined where the title of the book or article went, how the author's name was listed, etc. with examples for different types of citations - like newspaper articles, published books, unpublished dissertations, etc.

In the world of genealogy, there are many more types of evidence that one might need to cite in their research, since a scribble on the back of a an old photo, a listing in a commercial online database, the inscription of a gravestone, vital records of all kinds from all countries, etc. can be cited - all for the same person. The bible of genealogical citation is Elizabeth Shown Mill's Evidence Explained. The book contains over a thousand citation models for just about any source you can think of that you will come across in your genealogy research. For example, do you know how to cite this blog entry? According to Evidence Explained (pg. 812) it could be formatted something like this:

Trauring, Philip, "Don't Trust What You Find on the Internet, and Cite All Your Sources," Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More, 27 February 2011 ( : accessed 27 February 2011)

It gives a two more options for different types of blog citations. It also has citation models for tweets, chats, discussion forums, podcasts and other Internet-based content that probably wasn't listed in the MFA Handbook or Chicago Manual of Style the last time you used one of them. I'm pretty sure that even today you won't find a citation model for citing a gravestones in the Chicago Manual of Style. Coming in at over 800+ pages, Evidence Explained is a much bigger book than those other style guides.

There has been an effort by some to try to standardize genealogy citation models around those in Evidence Explained, and indeed some genealogy software programs have offered the ability to use Evidence Explained citation models when citing sources in your program. I think that it's good to have a standard for citations, and I hope all the major genealogy software companies adopt Evidence Explained as their citation model. If there isn't a standard for citations, then sharing citation between programs becomes difficult.

The Debate

While there is no debate in the world of genealogy that there is a need to cite sources, there is a big debate over how to cite sources. Do you really need to follow strict citation standards like those advocated by Evidence Explained? Therein lies the issue debated amongst genealogists, how important is it really to use a citation model? Isn't it just important to convey the information to find the source cited? Do you really need to follow an 800+ page book explaining every possible citation model you could need?

I'm not going to go into this debate in depth. I'm simply going to give my opinion that as long as you convey the correct information in an understandable way, the style is not really important. I think it's great to use a system like Evidence Explained if you can, but if there's a chance you won't enter the source because it takes too long to figure out the right citation model for the source and you think you'll get back to it later (which you won't) then just enter the citation however you want. As genealogy programs add better source citation tools, this won't become as big an issue and it will actually be easier to cite them properly when it is automated.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jewish Genealogy Basics: Ancestral Town (Shtetl) Information

One of the first steps to doing genealogy research is to find the town that each person in your tree was born. For most Jewish researchers, this means tracking back to towns that may no longer exist or have not had any Jewish population for generations. Certainly the Holocaust was the cause of many of these disruptions.

A Jewish ancestral town is sometimes generically referred to as a shtetl, which in Yiddish simply means town. Shtetl is sometimes used more specifically to mean small towns in Europe with large Jewish populations. Finding your ancestral town is a different topic (or rather there are many topics related to finding one's ancestral town), and an important one, but for the purposes of this article I will assume you already know the name of the town from which your family originated.

So you've found the name of the town, now what? I think the first step in doing research on the town your family came from is to find out where the town is, and what it is/was near. This might seem simple, but many of the towns Jews lived in in the past had the borders switch around them amid the wars and dealings of the empires (Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Prussian/German) that ruled them.

There are several resources that can help you find out more about your town. Two important databases on JewishGen are the Communities Database and ShtetlSeeker. These two databases are not the same, and I'll explain the differences.

JewishGen Communities Database

The Communities Database contains information on known Jewish communities across the globe. If your town is in the database, there is a page that contains a lot of basic information on the town, as well as links to other data on the town. The resultant page is largely generated automatically. It will show you which country and region the town existed in during different time periods, as well as which towns are nearby. Knowing which towns were nearby is very important, because while you might only search your town, your relatives might have moved to the town nearby and there might be records in that town for your family that you could miss. It's always worth looking into the nearby towns, searching the JGFF and searching for records in the nearby towns, as you are likely to find you family didn't all live in one town.

The Communities Database does not let you search using an exact match, so it will show you results on all similarly sounding towns. If you're searching for the first time and you don't actually know the modern spelling of the town's name, this can be very useful. If you know the exact current spelling of the name, then you'll just need to scroll through the results until you find the correct name.

For example, if you were to search for 'Kanczuga' you would get results like the following:
JewishGen Communities Database Search Results
There are six results, from several countries. If I had specified Poland as the current country then there would only have been two results. Of course, you may not know which country the town is in currently, so if you are not sure then do a broader search to see all the possibilities. Only one result has the exactly spelling I searched for, which if you know the spelling means it's easy to figure out which one is correct. Also note the other information shown in the results. It gives you the district the town was in during different periods and the number of listings in the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) database.

If you move your mouse over each town name, you'll see a pop-up box giving you basic information on the town:
Mouse-over pop-up details
This can be useful if you're not sure which town is the correct one. When you click on a town name, it will take you to a page summarizing information on that town:
JewishGen Community page for Kanczuga
If you click on the image above it will load it full size and you can see my annotations showing what to look for on the page. The key things you should notice are the alternate names for the town (useful when searching for records in databases that don't know alternate names - like on, the country the town was in during different periods (so that while you know the town is now in Poland, you now know for example to look for 'Austria' as a country in records because it was in the Austrian Empire), a direct link to the JGFF search, a list of nearby towns ordered by distance, and a list of other resources. Some of these pages will also link to the town's ShtetLink page if one exists, although for some reason this Community page does not. ShtetlLinks is discussed below.

JewishGen ShtetlSeeker (Update: as of Aug 2011 this is the JewishGen Gazetteer)

The ShtetlSeeker is a bigger database that contains information on towns everywhere, even if there is no known Jewish community that existed there. It also contains geographical names, such as the names of mountains and streams. Whereas an open search above for 'Kanczuga' returned 6 results, an open search on ShtetlSeeker returns 303 results including Kamchikha, a section of a town, Konchuga, a town, and Kunzhuga, a stream. If the place in the list is also in the Communities Database, it will have a small flower icon next to the name of the place, and you can preview the town info with a mouse-over and click on it for more information like in the Communities Database search itself. In this case only four results have the icon next to them. Why aren't there the same six results from the Community Database before? I have no idea.

The information in the search results is also a bit different in ShtetlSeeker. For example, this is a portion of the Kanczuga results:
Part of ShtetlSeeker search results for Kanczuga
If you take a look (you can click on the image to enlarge it) you can see the flower icon next to Kanczuga, indicating that it is in the Communities Database.

After the name is a column defining the name as a 'populated place', or as a stream, mountain, etc.

Next is a column showing the map coordinates for the location. This is actually a link that will take you to a Resource Map for that location. The Resource Map is a very useful map that shows you what resources (such as records in JRI-Poland, names in JGFF,  etc.) exist on the JewishGen site for everyone in the immediate area. This is very useful, even more so if your town is not in the Communities Database, as you will be able to see what towns with known Jewish communities existed nearby, and you can then see what resources exist for those communities.
Kanczuga-area Resource Map
In the map above, I've selected Kanczuga and it has popped up a bubble showing what resources exist for Kanczuga. If I had selected any of the other little tree icons around the map, it would show me similar information for those. If you look along the top of the image, you can see that you can select what type of resources you want to see on the map, although the default is to show everything.

Going back to the search results page, the next column has links to various mapping web sites, showing you the location on each site. The mapping sites include Expedia, Mapquest, Microsoft Bing Maps and Google Maps.

Next the search results who you the current country the town is in, it's distance from a reference point (usually a large nearby city) and a bullseye button that will take you to a new set of search results that show all towns within a 10 mile radius of the town on whose line you press the button. 

JewishGen ShtetLinks (Update: As of Aug 2011 this is now KehilaLinks)

ShtetLinks is a large collections of town-specific web pages developed by real researchers who know about the town. You can think of them as the hand-made version of the Communities Database. Depending on who worked on the ShtetLink page for your town, it might be a simple one-page site with a few links, or it could be a full-blown web site with multiple sections, photo albums, historical documents, etc. It all depends on how much time and effort were put into the site by the volunteers who put together the pages. Sometimes a page was developed by someone who is no longer involved, and it hasn't been updated in years. In these cases sometimes the administrator of ShtetLinks will post that pages need new administrators to the JewishGen e-mail list.

If you town does not have a site as part of ShtetLinks, you can of course volunteer to create one yourself. This is a great way to give back to the genealogy community.

Virtual Shtetl

JewishGen is not the only organized source for information on Jewish communities. Another site is the Virtual Shtetl, a project of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is currently under construction and planning to open in 2012 in Warsaw. The site contains basic information on over 900 towns, but is meant to be a collaborative effort to collect information on the towns. Users can upload documents on the towns to share with others, and they can 'like' a town, similar to how someone 'likes' a page on Facebook. Users with interest in the same town can communicate anonymously through the site.

As the site is intended to be used both by Polish people, as well as their descendants, it is available in several languages. Some content is not yet translated into all languages, so you might find a town's information only in Polish. Information on towns can include history, synagogue info, cemetery data, places where people were killed in the Holocaust, legends, stories, memories of the town, as well as contemporary information such as transportation, hotels and restaurants.

The Virtual Shtetl is a work in progress, and most of the resources are not yet in English, but by the very nature of its location in Poland and the attempt of the hosting museum to attract many local Poles to the site, it has a lot of potential to be a unique resource on towns in Poland.

Other Sites

There are many many other sites online with information on specific towns, regions and countries. Many people have created their own web sites with information on their ancestral town, or started a Yahoo Group or Rootsweb mailing list for their town. Try searching for your town name and seeing what you find. Use the alternate names from the Community Database in your searches as well, as you never know which version of the name a person used online. Keep in mind that some of these groups and mailing lists may not have a lot of people, or a lots of message traffic in them. That could be good or bad depending on your perspective. As long as there are knowledgeable people on the lists, it doesn't really matter how often people post to it, as long as there is someone who knows how to answer questions posed on the list.

Figure out which region your town was in, as there may be regional sites as well. Kanczuga, the town I used as an example above was in the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before WWI. That means the Gesher Galicia organization is a great place to look for information. Gesher Galicia even has a sub-group for the specific region of Galicia Kanczuga was in, the Kolbuszowa Region, which has its own web site. On Rootsweb there is an Austro-Hungarian-Jewish list, and on JewishGen there is a Gesher Galicia mailing list.

Google, beyond the straight web site search which you should do has two other sites that you can use to research your town. Google Books contains the scanned contents of millions of books from all over the world, and will show you which books mention your town. If the book is out of copyright, you may even be able to download the whole book. If it's still in copyright, you still might be able to search inside the book and find out information, depending on what the publisher allowed Google to do. Google News Archive is a site for searching news sites including some that you will need to pay for if you want to read the whole articles. Again, this is useful just for seeing where your town may have been mentioned.

There are also some web sites with lists of location-specific Jewish genealogy links. Some of those sites include Cyndi's List, Jewish Genealogy Links, and (for some reason the Europe link isn't working right now but here are links for Poland, Belarus and Hungary).

Helping Out

Once you find which sites contain information on your town, see if there's a way that you can help. Do you have photos or documents from that town that your can contribute? Are you a web designer that can improve the look and function of one of the sites?

If there is no site for your town, consider starting one. Starting a group on Yahoo is a good way to organize researchers from the same town, and allows you to share photos, documents, links and other information is a neat organized way (and doesn't require any web design skills).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When you have an address but not a name...

It might seem strange that you could have an address for a relative, but not their name. It's not as strange as you think. Addresses require a level of accuracy that names historically have not had.

For example, I know that my gg-grandparents lived in New York under my gg-grandmother's surname and not my gg-grandfather's surname. That has caused no end to problems in tracking down evidence that they lived in New York at all during the years I know they lived there around the turn of the last century. The fact that they lived under my gg-gradmother's surname indicates perhaps that there were other reasons not to list their real name. Perhaps they did not arrive legally in the country. I don't know the answer to that question yet. I've tried without success to find reference to them in the censuses that happened while they lived in New York, but have never found them under either surname. Searching by name on the commercial databases like works very well these days, so if they were in the census records under either name I should be able to find them, yet I haven't found them yet. It could be that they used even another name, that their name was transcribed incorrectly, or that they're just not in the census records.

This brings up what used to be the way people searched census records, before they were indexed by name. You would find where your ancestor lived, then based on the address figure out the enumeration district that address would be in, then go through all the pages of the census for that enumeration district until you found the address, and then look for your relatives.

Recently I found a document that listed my gg-grandfather's address in 1902 in New York. Now, of course he could have moved there just before listing that address, but it was sufficiently close to 1900 for me to look into that address during the 1900 US Federal Census.

So how do you go about doing that? First, you need to figure out the enumeration district in 1900 for the address. In this case the address is 60 Cannon St. in Manhattan. This address doesn't even exist today, as the streets downtown in New York have changed, but you can get around that fact by looking at old maps of the city.

For New York luckily there is a street atlas from 1899 that has been put online by the New York Public Library. If you go to the link, you'll see thumbnails of the pages in the atlas. You can't search the atlas by street name, but there is an index page that will tell you the page number to look for:

Manhattan Street Atlas from 1899 hosted by the NY Public Library
If you click on the index page and zoom in, you can find Cannon St. and see which pages it shows up on:
Close-up of index page of 1899 NY street atlas

As you can see, numbers 2-104 (even) and 1-105 (odd) are on page 15. Now actually figuring out which thumbnail is page 15 isn't so easy, but if you search for '15' it will come up as one of the options and a little trial-and-error will get you to the correct page:
Page from 1899 NY street atlas showing Cannon St.
Unfortunately the zoom function for this particular site is really not so easy to use. It makes you look at a very small section of the page, and move around by bumping the view left, right, up or down a bit. However, once you zoom in on Cannon St. you can look for #60:
Close-up of 1899 NY atlas page that shows the address we're trying to find
As I mentioned, the zoom function doesn't work so well so you need to look at what you can identify easy, such as the big 328 for the block, and then zoom out so you can see the cross streets:
From this view you can see the block of interest, and the cross streets
Now we know that the cross-streets are Rivington (above the block) and Delancey (below the block). Why is that important? Because the next step is to figure out the enumeration district, and those cross-streets will help.

Now we go to, a veritable swiss-army knife of genealogy tools to go to the page titled 1900-1940 Census ED Finder. 1900-1940 Census ED Finder
As you can see in the image, I've selected 1900 at the top, then New York for the state and Manhattan for the city. I've then added the three streets from the block. If I had just entered Cannon St., the list of districted would have been very long. By adding three streets it should come down to one or two districts. In this case as you can see it has determined two districts, 288 and 291. Why are there two districts for one block? The reason is easy to figure out – Cannon St. on that block must have been the border between two districts. In one district we should find odd number addresses, and in the other we should find even number addresses.

So where do we go to look for the census images for these districts? There are a few options, but I'm going to show how to do it on which is what I use for census images. allows you to search by name, but as I described that didn't help me in this case. If you've used to look at census images, you may not have noticed that it also allows you to browse by enumeration district:
Selecting an enumeration district on
In the above image I've already chosen the 1900 census to search exclusively. On the left side is the search interface that most people use, but on the right side (in the red box I've added) is a panel that allows you to browse by enumeration district. You can see I've selected New York for the state, New York for the County and Manhattan for the township. It then lists all of the enumeration districts, and I can select which one to view.

If you were to select enumeration district 288 first, and scan through the pages to find Cannon St., you would notice that all the addresses are odd numbers. That fits with my guess on the street being the border of an enumeration district. If you skip over to enumeration district 291, you will see that the numbers are all even. Oddly there are a few street numbers from Cannon St. at the beginning of the census file, then it jumps to another street, and then back to Cannon St. later.
60 Cannon St. in the 1910 census
Up until now I've been showing you how to take an address and find the census records for that address. The second lesson I want to teach here at this point is to keep your records organized an to always refer to your notes before jumping into a research project like this. If I had done so I would have noticed that I have another document from 1901 (a Declaration of Intent to Naturalize) that lists a different address. In fact the 1903 Petition was also in an entirely different address, so three addresses in three years. I guess they moved around a lot. If I had not jumped into the research before looking at what other documents I had, I would have saved a lot of time. It still makes for a good example for this blog, however, so I hope it was helpful.

To end the post I should add that the address from 1901 was on the other side of the same block (i.e. the next street over) on the same map page I found for Cannon St., and the address showed up in enumeration district 288, the same one that had the odd street numbers for Cannon St. (this address was even numbered) and unfortunately also came up empty. Considering they lived at different addresses in 1901, 1902 and 1903, I guess it's not too surprising that they lived someplace else in 1900 as well.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's your favorite online family tree site?

Once you've built a family tree, it makes sense that you would want to share it with other family members online. There are a lot of good reasons to share your family tree online, including showing it to family members scattered across the globe, which can help you to get updates on your information from those same relatives.

The idea of making your family tree public on the Internet scares a lot of people, however, and for good reason. There are a lot of privacy issues with sharing information on family members online, including legal issues in some countries with sharing any personal information of living persons.

There are also many different ways to share family trees online. You can output a static web site from your desktop genealogy program, you can upload a GEDCOM file to one of the online family tree sites, or you can build one from scratch online. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these approaches.

The biggest family tree hosting sites are,, and All of them allow some form of free family trees, and all offer subscription services on top of those free options. There are also other sites, like and

I want to start building a chart to compare these sites, from the perspective of hosting a family tree only. Do you use one of the above sites? Do you use another family tree hosting site? Do you build your own site using desktop software? Post in the comments what you like and don't like about the sites you've used for putting up your family tree online.

Based on the input people give in the comments, I will construct a chart showing the features as perceived by users of each site.

I'll start here by saying what I like and don't like about the sites I've tried. probably has the slickest interface of all the sites. It's flash-based and works fairly well. You can start from scratch and build a tree fairly quickly. You can also upload a GEDCOM file, although I haven't done that on Geni myself. You can also download a GEDCOM of your tree (although I believe this is a Pro feature). There is no desktop software that can connect to, but they have created an API to allow such connections, so perhaps in the future there will be support for connecting via desktop software.

Upside or downside depending on your perspective, Geni is really trying to be one big tree. That means it's not really possible to have a private tree that only you and your family members can use. On the other hand, since everyone can find everyone, you can connect to distant cousins very easily. Once you find your cousin, you can merge your trees, but you can never un-merge your trees so you need to be careful. In my experience, I've found more distant cousins using than on any other site. also has some interesting features like Surnames and Projects, which let researchers work together on common topics. supports uploading photos and organizing them in albums. You can tag who is in each photo, and select the faces of each person so someone looking at the photo can see who is who. I don't think there is any kind of limit on how many photos you can upload which is really nice. is big on the social-networking aspect of their site, where you other family members see what you're doing on the site and can post comments on photos and send 'virtual gifts' on birthdays and anniversaries which sounds kind of corny but is actually nice. Of course, in a world where we've gone from sending real cards to people by mail to sending e-cards online, this might be an even further decline to sending 'virtual gifts' instead. I don't know, but I get virtual gifts from relatives that never sent me a card, real or electronic, so I guess there's something to say for that...

One thing which I really do think sets apart is their support. I've had very good experiences with their customer support, and they've been able to fix various problems I've had in building my tree there fairly quickly.'s Pro paid account, gets you the following features:

- Tree matches (i.e. while viewing your tree a small icon will appear in the corner of a person's box showing there is a match with other people on the site)
- Advanced search
- Forest GEDCOM exports (i.e. exporting a GEDCOM of your extended family tree including those people who you did not add yourself)
- No banner ads
- Priority support
- Unlimited virtual gifts

For pricing it seems their Pro account is currently $12.95 per month, $99.95 per year or $149.95 for two years. used to offer a lifetime subscription for $299 but I don't see it now. Perhaps now that they have enough income they don't need to offer that anymore.

A sample family tree works a bit differently than There is a concept of separate trees. People sometimes upload multiple GEDCOMs to the site making separate trees in one account. While this can be good, in practice there seems to be a lot of duplicate trees on the site. has a feature they call Smart Matching which looks for matches between the people in your tree(s) and other trees on their site. It then gives you a list of trees with matching people, and shows you how many matches there are. Recently they added a way to confirm matches between trees, although I'm not certain what that does considering the trees stay separate anyways. I guess it just lets others know that the people are the same. supports many languages, although in my experience, if you live in a country that speaks a different language than yourself, this can be problematic as the site will always try to use the language of the country you're in (which it auto-detects). That's more of a nuisance than a real problem, but a nuisance nonetheless. also supports image uploading, although it is limited on free accounts to 250MB. They have one feature that seems to be unique among all the family tree sites - they can automatically match people in photos to people in your tree using face recognition. Pretty neat.

Speaking of limits on free accounts, however, I forgot to mention the biggest problem with's free accounts - you are limited to 250 people in your tree. You might be able to upload a GEDCOM that has more than 250 people and get it accepted, but then you automatically lock out your account so that you cannot add new people to it. You can, however, get smart matches on the people in your tree. Note that even if you sign up for a Premium account, you are still limited to 2500 people in your tree. You need to sign up for the Premium Plus account to get unlimited people in your trees. also has a free desktop app (Windows only) called Family Tree Builder. There is no limit to how many people you can add to their desktop software. It can also do face recognition on photos, etc. and it can sync a tree to the site. I haven't done this so I don't know how well it works, and if it is a two-way process. If you have used this, I'd love to hear about it. recently added the ability to print out charts, and added a Memory Game that uses photos of your relatives in the game.

A Premium account adds the following features:

- Tree size up to 2500 people (instead of 250 on free accounts)
- Storage 500MB (instead of 250MB on free accounts)
- Enhanced Smart Matching (not sure what the real difference is between regular Smart Matching)
- Priority Support
- Ad-Free
- Power feature: Timeline

Their Premium Plus account is the same as the Premium account, except you get unlimited tree size, unlimited storage and another 'power feature' called Timebook.

On the pricing side, MyHeritage offers their Premium account for $75 per year (or $120 for 2 years or $225 for 5 years) and their Premium Plus account for $119.40 per year (or $191.04 for 2 years or $358.20 for 5 years).

Overall I would say MyHeritage has more features than, but they are less polished.

A sample family tree is more than anything else a site for doing record research. They literally have billions of records on their site, and if you're researching family members in the United States, it is a must-use site. Of course, they offer many other features – everything from family tree building to chart printing to DNA testing, etc. I'm going to focus, however, just on the family tree building aspect of the site.

Of course, one of the best features of's family trees are the tight integration with its research features. When you build a tree in, it will show you if it thinks there are records for people in the tree by placing a small leaf icon next to their names. Moreover, you can use the profiles of people in your trees when doing records searching, automatically filling in information on birth and location, etc. to help narrow down searches quickly. These are nice features to be sure, but not something that can be compared to other sites very well.

Ancestry lets you set up unlimited numbers of trees, each with different permissions, so you could have some trees public and some private, etc. You can invite family members to your trees, and give them different permissions on editing the tree.

I don't host my whole family tree on myself, but what I do use it for is creating small trees for research purposes. For example, if I find a family that I think is related, but I haven't found the link yet, then I create their tree to the best of my knowledge and make it public on hoping someone else will find it in a search and say they are related so I can find the link. I can't do that in, since you only have one tree and I don't yet know how they are related. also has a desktop application that can transfer data to their web site, Family Tree Maker. On Windows, where is has been around for a long time, they come out with new version annually, the current version being Family Tree Maker 2011. On the Mac, they just released a new version after more than a decade out of the market, simply called Family Tree Maker for Mac. It is based on their previous windows release (2010). I don't believe it is possible to sync data in two directions between the desktop app and the web site, so this functionality is limited. You can, however, see hints on documents that might be relevant to a specific person in the tree from within the application, which is nice.

For pricing, I find the comparison a bit awkward since is not primarily a family tree site. It's almost like their free family tree building is a loss-leader to get people to sign up for the rest of the site. I'm not sure what family-tree specific features you gain by subscribing to, except the obvious which is access to their records. For some level of comparison, however, I'll list their subscription pricing. The US Deluxe Membership is $19.95 per month, or $155.40 per year. The World Deluxe Membership, which adds access to Canadian, UK, Ireland and other international records, as well as quicker access to new records, is $29.95 per month, or $299.40 per year.

Interestingly has been beta-testing a new site called which seems to be intended as a direct competitor to and As it's still in beta there is no pricing set up yet, but they do have access to the trees on, so it will not start out without anyone to match to when they launch. Perhaps when this comes out of beta, it will be easier to compare to and

A sample family tree (note the leaves indicating record matches)
Other Sites

As mentioned, there are many other sites out there for building family trees online, including and, both of which look promising. seems to be going after the model of one big tree, while is free and very focused on privacy concerns. I haven't used either of these sites extensively so I won't comment on them now, but if you've used them please comment on them.

So go ahead and tell me the best and worst of all the family tree sites you've used. What categories do you think are fair to compare against all of them? What is truly unique about any of the sites you've used? Feel free to champion the site you use.

If you work for one of the above mentioned sites, I welcome your input as well. Did I make a mistake in describing your site? Are there features I've left out? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ways to Follow This Blog

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Lastly, all of the methods above have a way to share this site with others, such as tweeting about it on Twitter, or sharing our page on Facebook. I would be very grateful if those of you who enjoy this blog could help promote it to others. This blog is still relatively new, and I'm look to build up readership and would appreciate all the help I can get.

Thank you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Using to...

...find a grave. Well yes, you can carry out's namesake function and find graves online, but there is a lot more to the site as well. During the fifteen years or so that I've done genealogy I've come across the site many times, but I have to admit I never really gave it a close look until recently. Once I had taken a look, I was surprised that many people I know who are involved in genealogy had also never really taken a close look at the site.

That's not to say the site is not popular. In fact, according to, a web analytics company, has had more unique users in the past year than FamilySearch - over one million unique users in fact. Of course, neither site is close to's traffic, but that's not really a fair comparison.

Unique visitors over past 13 months to Ancestry, FindAGrave and FamilySearch

There are other explanations than FindAGrave's usefulness for genealogy that explain its popularity. In fact, it was founded for a somewhat different purpose – to help people find the graves of famous people. I suppose the same group of people that always read the obituary section of the newspaper first might also find this kind of site interesting. That said, however, it is immensely useful for genealogists and I'm going to explain a bit about how it works and how it can work for you.

Finding Graves

FindAGrave has information on over 57 million graves in over 300,000 cemeteries in over 170 countries. You start by just going to their search page and trying to search for a specific person, or just by surname, etc. Keep in mind that in most cases, the graves that are added to the database are added manually by real people. That means if no one added the person you're looking for, then they won't be there. There are exceptions to this, as some databases of graves have been added, in particular lists of military graves. If you don't know which cemetery your relative is buried in, and are using FindAGrave to help you locate the grave, try to add as much information as you can to the search – for example, if you know that your relative died in a specific state in the US, then add the Country (US) and State to the search, to make the search more focused.

Adding Graves

What if you search for the grave of a particular relative and you don't find him or her? You can add them. To add a grave, you need to join the site (this is free), add biographical information on the person, and then add them to a cemetery. If (and this is rare) the cemetery is not on FindAGrave, then of course you can also add the cemetery first. The site actually has a few options for adding graves, including using an Excel spreadsheet to upload large numbers of graves in one cemetery at once.

Why, you might be asking, should you add graves to FindAGrave?

Well, first there is obvious purpose for many of creating a permanent memorial online for the person. Once you add a grave to the site, people can add content to the grave's web page, like leaving virtual flowers and leaving notes in memory of the person.

If you know the location of the grave, and other relatives do not, then you are also helping your relatives to locate the grave. When a distant relative searches the next time on the site, they will now find the grave of the person you added.

It might seem odd, but these graves can also bring distant living family members together. If you list the grave of your great-grandparents, there may be many many cousins who also descend from the same people, and will find the memorial you placed online. This offers a way to connect with such cousins.

So let's say you know which cemetery your relative is buried in, but not the specific location within that cemetery? You'll want as specific a location for the grave when adding it to the site, meaning you should try to find out the specific section name/number, row number, plot number, etc. for each grave you add to the site. The quickest way to find out such information may be to simply call up the cemetery and ask. Most currently used cemeteries will have an office and will have the ability to look up the locations of graves. You should have as much information about each person you want to have looked up as possible - including names of spouses, maiden names, date of birth, date of death/burial, etc. as you never know how the grave information is indexed in the office. Also, if the name you are looking up is fairly common, or similar to other names, you will need the additional information to help the office worker to differentiate between different records.

Lessons Learned

When I heard about the recent toppling of graves by New York City sanitation workers when they were cleaning up the first big snowstorm last month I noticed that the cemetery sounded familiar. I checked my records and indeed my great-great-grandparents were buried in that cemetery. A further search on the cemetery showed that even worse, in the month prior over 200 graves had been vandalized in the same cemetery. I immediately called the cemetery, to find out the status of the graves. I didn't know the specific location of the graves, but the person who answered the phone was able to locate them fairly quickly. It turned out, thankfully, that they were buried in a section of the cemetery that was unaffected by either the sanitation workers or the vandalism the prior month. This incident illustrated a few important points to me. First, that even though I have a record in my family tree file where some of my relatives are buried, I don't actually have the exact plot location for most of them. Second, that cemeteries do not stay static, and unfortunately vandalism and other negative actions do occur in them that can mean the damaging or even complete destruction of one's ancestor's gravestone. Lastly, that although I do know the locations of some graves, I don't know what is written on many of them.

I've mentioned in the past that information is only as good as the source, and that while information on a grave is probably accurate in terms of the death date, everything else would probably need to be confirmed elsewhere. Besides the dates of birth and death which are common on most graves, one piece of information that is common on Jewish graves is the name of the father of the deceased. Sometimes this is only written in Hebrew, while the English inscription if it exists only lists the name and dates. Sometimes a Jewish grave, especially of a person that was born in a foreign country, will list the town where the person came from as well. From a genealogists point-of-view, all of this information is very important (although it must also be confirmed with other sources).

Interestingly enough my great-great-grandfather's grave in the Netherlands lists him as being 'from Reisha' which is not exactly true. Reisha (which is the Yiddish name of the town) is the current Polish town of Rzeszow. It was a major Jewish center for the region of Galicia in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. My great-great-grandfather did indeed live in Rzeszow and had a couple of kids there (on either side of the rest of his children which were born in NYC). If you would thus assume that being 'from' Rzeszow meant he was born there, you would be wrong. He was born in the nearby town of Kanczuga and only moved to Rzeszow later. Why was he listed as being from Reisha on his gravestone? Perhaps there was more respect for those from Reisha? Maybe his children and grandchildren who buried him didn't know which town he was from originally? I don't know the answer to that, but in any event if you were to find the grave and assume the town listed was his birth town, you would be mistaken.

Finding Grave Information Online

Sometimes the best way to find information on graves is to look online. Some cemeteries or towns that administer cemeteries have posted information from their records online. Each cemetery obviously has different policies. Some cemeteries, especially famous ones, have had their graves indexed by volunteers and put online without coordination with the cemetery itself (in some cases the cemeteries no longer have active management). Even before calling a cemetery office, I would try to see if the cemetery or the cemetery owner (which could be a town or a religious organization, for example) has a website and if they provide information on the graves in their cemetery online.

As an example, I have relatives buried in Augusta, GA. A search for 'augusta georgia cemetery' on Google shows me a list of cemeteries in Augusta (generated by Google Maps) and then the web site search results which include a Rootsweb site and then the second result which is 'Augusta, GA - Official Website - Cemeteries'. That sounds promising. Clicking on that link brings me to a web site managed by the city of Augusta, and includes a list of the cemeteries in Augusta as well as a link to their 'Graveside Database'. It turns out that Augusta has put information on every grave in their cemeteries online in a database. Now, obviously, you will not always be so lucky as to find such as resource, but my point here is that you might find something similar and it's definitely a great resource to have, especially since you can't expect an office worker on a phone to answer unlimited questions about graves in their cemetery, but you can do as many searches on a web site as you want.

Let's continue with the example. If I search for the name 'Silver' in the database I get a list of 28 graves, all of which are in the Magnolia Cemetery. Looking at the list of graves indeed there are many of my relatives listed. An excerpt is below:
Excerpt of search results from the Augusta, GA cemetery database
So first of all, I now know which cemetery my relatives are buried in. I could have also found this information from other relatives, but now I don't need to ask. Clicking on an individual grave gives me information on the grave. In some cases it is very basic, just what is on the grave itself. It usually lists the name of the funeral home, which if I didn't know much about the person might be an additional avenue to pursue. The detailed page also lists the location of the grave, but in this case the locations are relative, not specific - i.e. 'Buried in the new Jewish section at 15th St.'. That could be a problem if the cemetery is very large.

Some of the listings even show which company the person worked for, list family information (including married names of children and where they lived), as well as other biographical information. Now you might be asking yourself if you find such as site, why bother to add the graves to FindAGrave? First, not everyone looking for these grave many come across this web site. It's possible the information on the web site will be removed at some point, etc. Those are all good reasons to add the information you've found on the web site to FindAGrave, but indeed there are two features of FindAGrave that give even better reasons - photo requests and virtual cemeteries. 

Request a Photo

Once you find a grave on FindAGrave, or add it yourself, there is an amazing feature of the site called Request a Photo. Basically, for any grave that is in the system, you can request that a volunteer go and photograph the grave for you. When you register on the site, you have the option of adding your zip code and volunteering to take pictures of graves for other people. When someone wants a photo, the system e-mails all the people who live within a certain distance from the cemetery, and volunteers can accept the request and then they go to the cemetery, take pictures, then upload the pictures to the memorial page for the grave you selected. If you have relatives that are buried far from you, this is an great feature. Of course, there are many factors that will determine whether or not the graves will be photographed - how many volunteers are available, how busy those volunteers are at the moment, what the weather is like outside when you send the request, etc. but in many cases you will find photos uploaded within days of your request.

Virtual Cemeteries

As you research your family, you will frequently run into cousins that are researching the same line as you. You might share common great-great-grandparents, for example, and are both trying to research back further. You may also want to fill in their section of the tree, if for example, each of you are descendant from a different child of the same great-great-grandparents, they can provide information on their branch, and you can provide information on your branch. One way to connect with these other branches is to set up what FindAGrave calls 'Virtual Cemeteries'. Basically, you can great a cemetery that is based on whatever criteria you decide. This could be 'Descendants of Joe and Jenny Smith' for example, and then you could add all the graves of the descendants that you find on the site, no matter where in the world they are located. If you know of others you can add them to the site first, then add them to this virtual cemetery. You can then share this virtual cemetery, which is really just a list of graves that you determine,  with other relatives that are researching the same family. They can then fill in other graves of people they know about.

To continue my example from above where I searched for and found relatives with the surname Silver in the Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, I added those graves to a virtual cemetery called 'Pinchas and Breindel (Tanenbaum) Silver and descendants'. This contains seven graves and looks like:

A Virtual Cemetery on
If you look closely, you'll notice that everyone in this 'virtual' cemetery are actually in the Magnolia cemetery. That's okay, it's just the beginning. The goal from this point on would be to continue adding other descendants to the virtual cemetery as I find or add them. Other relatives can also help to add to this cemetery.

If you look closely you'll also notice that six out of the seven listings have a list grave icon next o the name. That indicates that the grave has a photo associated with it. In fact, I requested photos of all seven, but one of the graves is not yet engraved because the person passed away too recently. The volunteer looked for the grave, then realized that it has no inscription yet, and instead of uploading a picture was able to indicate that it was impossible to take the picture right now.


Just to give you an idea of what a memorial on the site looks like, here is one of the graves listed in the virtual cemetery:
A memorial page on
Looking at the page, you can see birth and death information. You can see other close relatives that are also on (his parents and his spouse). The same family information and grave location data from the Augusta site is listed, and there are three photos shown.

Note that the bottom photo is just of the entrance to the cemetery. If there is a photo of the cemetery, FindAGrave will show the photo of the cemetery. This is true even if there are no photos of the grave itself, so at least the cemetery photo will be shown.

The top two photos are photos that were uploaded by a volunteer who answer the Request for Photo. you can see the name of the volunteer who uploaded the photos as well.

So go check out,  search for graves of your family, add those which you know about but are not on the site, and if you have the time volunteer to photograph graves as well. Adding grave to the database and photographing graves for others are both great ways to give back to the genealogy community at large.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Genealogy Basics: Historical Newspapers

There is a wealth of genealogical information buried in the stacks of old newspaper stored in various libraries worldwide. Depending on whether you live in the same place as your ancestors, accessing these archives could be exceedingly difficult, and of course physical newspapers don't have a search button. Nowadays, however, there are a number of initiatives to digitally scan and make accessible newspapers large and small from across the world. Some of these efforts are commercial and require payment to use, while some are funded through non-profit organizations or universities and are free to access online. In the past there were efforts to index obituaries, and while obituaries can contain many genealogical clues inside, these new fully searchable newspaper databases can contain much more information.

It's been my observation that if you had family living in a small communities, then these searchable newspapers can be even more useful. Small community newspapers tend to cover a lot more of what is going on with people in the community than larger community papers that cover news on a much smaller percentage of people in the community.

On of the best resources I've found for searching newspapers across the US is It is a commercial service, but they earn their money by constantly adding new content to the site. They currently have over 4500 newspapers online. It costs about $56/year for the service (go to their subscribe page, then try to close the page and it will offer to a 20% discount bringing the annual price from $70 to $56) which I think is quite reasonable. You can also try it out for 30 days for free. In addition to newspapers, they also have some historical books, documents and their own version of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

A newspaper with red box around relevant article
Annotating a PDF

The best part is once you find a newspaper page with something relevant to you, you can simply down the page as a PDF to your computer. What I do when sharing a page with relatives is I open the PDF and use the built-in annotation features of the program I use (I use Preview on the Mac, but Adobe Reader should be able to do the same thing) to create a red box around the part of the page that contains information on my relative. The reason this can be important is that if you're sending a large newspaper page it can be hard sometimes to find the part of the page that contains the information you're trying to relay, especially with older newspapers that can be very dense and hard to read. See an example to the right.

Naming Newspaper Images

Another tip when dealing with organizing these pages is to prefix the file name with the date it was published. I use this technique on many types of documents, but it is particularly useful for newspapers. In the case of one family group, I found about 50 newspaper articles that mention them over a span of 70 years. When I download the newspaper page I name it something like:

19171119 Aug Chron - Pinkey Silver app for citizenship.pdf

First you have the date, formatted as YYYYMMDD which is easily sortable. I then add the newspaper name - in this case the Augusta Chronicle (from Georgia) and then a short summary of what is in the article. Thankfully we're not restricted to something like FILENAME.PDF like in the old days. As you collect newspaper articles from different sources, you can put them all in one directory and see them easily sorted by date of publication, see which papers they came from and who is mentioned in them. It makes finding the article you're looking for much easier later on when you want to send that one relevant article to a relative.

Other Newspaper Sources is not the only game in town. There are other commercial services, some larger genealogy websites like also have newspaper archives included in their databases, but more interesting I think are the smaller initiatives that you need to really search for in small towns and on the state level. For example, as I mentioned in a previous post, there is a project in the state of Georgia called the Digital Library of Georgia run by the university system of Georgia. The site contains digital archives of several local Georgia newspapers, searchable and viewable using the DjVu plug-in. You need to install a DjVu plug-in for your browser in order to use these archives, but once you install it it's fairly easy to use. It's not as easy as being able to view the newspapers online and then download a PDF, however. You can download the DjVu files (which are very small) or convert them to TIFF files (which are absurdly large in this case). If you do have the DjVu plug-in convert the image to a TIFF, keep in mind that it does not use compression. Simply opening the TIFF in an image editor and activating LZW compression for the TIFF will save a lot of space, and won't affect the quality of the image.
Selecting LZW compression for a TIFF

In Preview on the Mac all you do is open the file, select Save As... from the File Menu, select LZW from the Compression menu as shown in the image on the left.

You can also save the image as a JPEG or whatever format you want. I would suggest perhaps converting the image to a JPEG when e-mailing the image to a relative, but you may find it is not as readable asit is as a DjVu or a TIFF image, because the DjVu is highly compressed (much more than JPEG) and when you expand it out to a TIFF you still have all the artifacts left from the DjVU compression. When you then re-compress it as a JPEG you get new compression artifacts, which mix with the DjVu ones.

Another similar newspaper archive effort I've come across is the Northern New York Historical Newspapers project run by the Northern New York Library Network. I'm sure there are many more.

Wikipedia has a List of online newspaper archives which is worth checking out.

Google operates a newspaper archive search where you can many articles, some of whcih you need to pay to read.

The Library of Congress has a project called Chronicling America where you can search historical newspapers between the years 1860 and 1922.

You should also try searching for newspaper archives on your favorite search engine. New ones seem to pop up all the time, so if you don't find one now, try again another time.

Jewish Newspapers Online

For Jewish researchers I will point out a few interesting examples of newspaper and magazine archives I've come across.

There is the Southern Israelite, covering the year between 1929 and 1986, part of the previously mentioned Digital Library of Georgia. Note that while it was published in Georgia, it does cover some other southern states, so if your Jewish family lived down south, you might find some news listed in this paper.

There is also the Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, which includes three different Jewish community newspapers published between 1895 and the present.

The Ohio Memory project has put up The Ohio Jewish Chronicle, covering the years 1922 until 1994.

For Chicago, there is a local Jewish paper called The Sentinel, covering the years 1911 through 1949.

One very interesting project is run at the National Library of Israel, called the Historical Jewish Press. This project currently includes twenty newspapers, some going back to the mid-19th century, including over 400,000 pages. The languages of the papers include Hebrew, French, Hungarian and English. The only English newspaper in the project right now is the Palestine Post, the original name of what is now the Jerusalem Post, and it covers the years 1932-1950 (the years before it changed its name to the Jerusalem Post). The French papers include one from France, but also papers from Morocco and Egypt. The Hebrew papers include ones from Israel, but also papers from Tsarist Russia and one published in Prussia, Poland and Austria.

Please add what you know or what you find to the comments

Please, if you know of other good online newspaper sites, mention them in the comments. You can also share your success stories in the comments.

For an example of how the information in these types of records are not always reliable, read my earlier post People lie, and so do documents which discussed confirming information found in two obituaries which I found through one of these online newspaper archives.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Finding and getting copies of Jewish records in Poland

Many Jewish researchers will find that some members of their family originated in what is now, or once was, Poland. This post is targeted at Jewish researchers, but anyone who has roots in Poland may find (at least parts of) this information useful. 

Poland's Borders

Poland's borders have changed a lot over the years, and what was once Poland might now be in Lithuania, Ukraine or Belarus. In addition, what was once part of Russia, Prussia (part of what became Germany) and Austria may now be in Poland. It's possible that someone lives in many countries without actually ever moving. The following map illustrates the complexity of figuring out what country a relative of your might have lived in:
A History of Polish Borders (from
I have many examples in my own family where relatives had said they were from Russia, when the town they came from is currently in Poland. This is a particularly important point when you find records on your family in the US, such as a passenger manifest from their arrival to the US, or naturalization papers, when they say they were born in Russia. Don't assume that means the current country is in Russia, unless you know the city and can confirm that on a map.

I'm not going to go into how to find where your family comes from in this post (that will in future posts), but rather once you know where and when your relative was born (and that place is or was in Poland) how to find vital records connected to that relative.

Starting with JRI-Poland

So let's begin. You know the name of your relative, and where he was born and when he was born. If you don't know the exact date, that's okay, we'll deal with that a little later in the post. The first place to start your search is JRI-Poland. JRI-Poland is a database of indexes to Jewish records in what is now or once was Poland. The indexes come from a number of sources, but there are two primary sources: JRI-Poland's own JRI-Poland/Polish State Archives Project and LDS Microfilms.

Basically, the LDS church microfilmed over 2 million Jewish records, including from some towns whose records were destroyed in WWII. Even with so many records, however, the LDS films do not cover the majority of records in Poland. Those records and their indexes are preserved on microfilm and accessible in the Family History Library, or from the many Family History Centers around the globe. Of course, the records may be in Polish, Russian or German depending when and where they were created, so it is not so easy to access those records without knowledge of the relevant language.

Initially JRI-Poland worked to index records not in the LDS microfilms, since so many were not even available on those films. They created a joint project with the Polish State Archives where they photocopied the index pages for each archive and then hired local workers in Poland to transcribe each record from whatever language they were in to English (or rather, to latin script). JRI-Poland carried this out by arranging for people to figure out all the towns with records of Jewish people in a particular archive, then raising money from researchers interested in each town. Thus researchers would contribute money to the indexing efforts of the town from where their own family came. As JRI-Poland indexed millions of records this way, they eventually turned back to the LDS microfilms and worked to create computerized indexes in English to those records as well. JRI-Poland has indexed more than four million records so far, from over 500 towns.

To use JRI-Poland, you go to their main page and select Search Database. This takes you to their search page which has a lot of options. I'm not going to go into all the options for searching JRI-Poland in this post, but you should check out some of the neat features like searching in a radius around a specific latitude and longitude, which is helpful if you can't find records of your relatives in the town you think they came from, and want to check surrounding towns. The core of the search interface is really this:
JRI-Poland Search
You can choose which parameters you want to search, but usually this will be Surname and Town. You can, if your surname is rare, try searching with just the Surname to try to figure out the town, but as I mentioned for the purposes of this post I'm assuming you know that already.

In the above example I've used the surname Eisenman and the town Tyszowce. Note that for the Surname I've used 'Sounds Like' as the setting and for Town I've used 'is Exactly'. The reason for using 'Sounds Like' for the surname is that it is very common for there to be multiple spellings for names, even for the same family in the same town. Records from one town were not necessarily all transcribed by the same person, so even the same name in Polish might show up spelled differently depending who was transcribing it. The reason for using 'is Exactly' for the town name is that each town has an exact spelling, which corresponds to the currently used spelling for the town. As you do your research into towns, you should always use the current spelling of the town, and in this case you should figure it out before searching so you don't get listings from many similarly sounding towns which are irrelevant to your search.

Different Kinds of Results

If you were to carry out the above search, you would find two sets of results. This means that the indexes came from two different sources. In some cases you might find many sets of results, since some indexes show the town of birth of people who show up in other towns. For example, if your relative was born in town A and married in town B, and you searched for town A you might also find his marriage record in town B (if they indexed the birth town) which would show up a separate result set. The two result sets from the above search start out as follows:
First result set - indexed from microfilmed records (click to see larger)

Second result set - indexed from photocopies from archives (click to see larger)

As you can see in the captions, one set is from a microfilmed index, and one is from index pages copied from the actual archive in Poland. How do I know this?

Take a look at the first image - the last column is called 'Film' and the number listed is the LDS microfilm number. If you were to search the LDS library on, you would find that there are actually seven microfilms that cost the vital records of Tyszowce from 1826-1890. The first record is from microfilm 766305 and the result shown in the snapshot above are from 766306. Also note that the first two records are children of the same parents, but their last names are spelled differently (and both different than the way I spelled it in the search). This is why you need to use the 'Sounds Like' setting for names on the search.

In the second image, you'll notice there is no 'Film' column. In addition if you look closely in the result set description at the top, there is an extra line compared to the first set, where it says 'records in Fond 785 in Zamosc Archive'. Note that these records are in the archive of Zamosc, a nearby town, and not in Tyszowce itself. 

Ordering Records from Microfilm

So you now have two types of records, ones on microfilm and ones only available directly from the archive. Let's see how you can get these records. Let's start with the microfilmed record. Let's say you want the first record listed. You need to extract the following information on the record:

Surname: Eyzenman
Given Name: Mejlech
Town: Tyszowce
Year: 1840
Type: B (Birth)
Akt: 36
Film: 766305

With the above information anyone with access to LDS microfilms should be able to find the specific record you want. The Family History Library and its associated Centers will not send you copies of records from their microfilm, someone has to actually access the microfilms and copy them. There are a number of ways to get copies, some easier than others, some more or less expensive.

First, you can go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or one of the Family History Centers and try to get the record yourself. Keep in mind that if you're going to one of the regional Centers, you will probably need to order the microfilm in advance, and then return to use the microfilm. If you are interested in copying a large number of records this might make sense, although remember that the records are in Polish, Russian or German and if you're not familiar with the necessary languages it might be difficult to find the records even if you know where to look. If the number of records you want are small, it will almost never be worth going to the do the record retrieval yourself.

Next, you can have someone else go to the Family History Library for you. For other types of records, particularly those in the US, you can sometimes find volunteers to look up records for you. Examples of places to find such volunteers include Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness and photo volunteers on Find A Grave. In this case, however, I think you will need to find either a friend or a professional researcher to help you. There are many professional researchers who live in or around Salt Lake City and who will go to the Family History Library for you and retrieve records for you. Keep in mind that not all researchers will be familiar with records from Poland, so you're better off finding someone who has experience working with Jewish records from Poland. One researcher you can try is Banai Feldstein, from Feldstein Genealogical Services in Salt Lake City. She can retrieve records and e-mail you scans of the copies, and you can pay her via PayPal which is a nice plus. For other researchers that specialize in Jewish records, check out the Researchers Directory on the Jewish Genealogy News web site.

Lastly, there is another option, but only in some cases. Beit Hatfutsot (formerly the Diaspora Museum, and now called the Museum of the Jewish People) in Tel Aviv has a collection of LDS microfilms that cover a good portion, but not all, of the Jewish records in LDS microfilms. You can see the full list of the films they have by browsing the database here. If they have the microfilm, they can make a copy of a record and mail it to you. Their rates are very reasonable, only 5nis in Israel and $2 in the US for copied records, including VAT in Israel and mailing with a per-order charge of 10nis (I guess $4 in the US?). While cheaper than using a professional researcher, you need to wait several weeks and you need to receive the records in the mail, since they do not scan and e-mail records. If you were to browse the database for Tyszowce (the town in my example above) you would see they have five films from Tyszowce, not the full seven listed above. That means that if you find records from one of films not listed in the museum's collection, then you will need to go with one of the above methods. In the first record listed above, which I transcribed the details to, the film number is listed as 766305. If you look at the list on the museum's website they do indeed have that film.

So how do you order from the museum? You go to their order page, where you will fill out your contact information, microfilm record list and payment information. Let's look at the microfilm record section of the order page:
Ordering a microfilmed record from the Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, Israel
Note the list of items I extracted from the record above, and you'll see they match this form exactly. When you enter the microfilm number in the first field it will very smartly verify that they have that film in their collection - it thus will not let you order a record they do not have. That's why in the snapshot above the word Microfilm is in red, because it will not let you order a record for a film that does not exist in their collection, and since I didn't enter a number above, the field doesn't match anything in their collection. If I had entered the number, the Microfilm field title would switch from red to black to show it was found. If you filled in the form with the record above, it would look like:
Filled out record information in the Beit Hatfutsot order page
If you want to order more than one record, then you just click on the 'Add Another Microfilm' button at the bottom and another set of fields will pop up for you to fill in.

So once you fill in your contact info, add the records you want, and add your payment, you just click the Send button at the bottom of the page and then wait a few weeks for the records to arrive.

Ordering Records from Archives

You might remember that there was a second search result, of records in the Zamosc archives. Let's extract the data from the first result:

Surname: Ajzenman
Given Name: Ezra
Town: Tyszowce
Year: 1893
Type: D (Death)
Fond: 785
Akt: 33

You'll notice I've added in the Fond number from the collection title. The Fond is the collection of records that this record is contained in, and the Akt number is location of the actual record within the Fond.

The first thing you need to do to get this record is to find the Zamosc Archive, where it is listed as being located. JRI-Poland keeps a list of archives that you can refer to to find the archive. Oddly they only list the mailing address and e-mail address, and not the web site for each archive, but the e-mail address should be enough. You can try searching online for the full name of the archive (in this case 'Archiwum Państwowe w Zamościu' and seeing if they have a web site (which in most cases they will). In this case the web site shows up as and if you go to the site you'll find they have a little British flag in the corner that takes you to an English version of their site. The fact that there is an English web site is a good sign, as many archives do not bother. The web site will tell you more about the records available, and might tell you the pricing for ordering records. In this case the site is not very complete, so it isn't that useful, but if you browse through the Polish version of the site, you'll find at least one useful piece of information: the archive's bank details. Most archives will require you to transfer money directly into their bank accounts in order to fulfill your order. This is annoying to be sure, but there's not much you can do about it. In my own case, I've sometimes had to pay a larger bank transfer fee than the fees the archive was charging me - certainly something which is frustrating.

So you want to contact the archive. You have their e-mail address. What do you write? Well, first you need to decide if you want to try English, or jump ahead to Polish. Many archives do not have English speakers, so you might not really have a choice. If you send an e-mail in English and get no response, you should try Polish.

Sending a Letter in Polish

How do you send an e-mail in Polish? I suggest trying Google Translate. It's not perfect, but you can check its accuracy in a fairly simple way. I start by writing in English and having it translate to Polish. Then I copy the Polish text and switch the translation direction (click on the little two-way arrow button between the language names) and paste in the Polish text. If the text comes back with more-or-less the same meaning as what I originally wrote, I assume the translation will be understandable to the person receiving the letter. You can always include both the English and the Polish text in your letter if you want.

Let's start with a simple framework:

Dear Sir,

I am interested in getting scanned copies of the following records:

Please inform me how much it will cost to order these records and how I can pay for them.

Thank you,

That gets translated to:

Szanowny Panie,

Jestem zainteresowany w uzyskaniu zeskanowane kopie następujących zapisów:

Proszę o poinformowanie mnie, ile będzie kosztowało aby te dane i jak mogę zapłacić.


If you reverse the translation direction and copy the Polish text back into the translation field, it gives you following text in English:

Dear Sir,

I am interested in obtaining a scanned copy of the following entries:

Please inform me how much will it cost to these data, and how I pay.

Thank you,

Not bad. Probably the text is close enough.

[Tom in the comments below (March 2013) supplied a corrected Polish translation for the above text as:

Szanowny Panie,

Jestem zainteresowany uzyskaniem skanów następujących aktów metrykalnych:

Proszę poinformować mnie, ile będzie kosztować skanowanie tych dokumentów i jak mogę zapłacić.


So if you're going to use the text, you should probably use his.]

Now you need to fill in the information on your record, translating the field names like Surname, Given name, etc.

Using Google Translate, I get the following translations for the field names:

Surname: Ajzenman
Given Name: Ezra
Town: Tyszowce
Year: 1893
Type: D (Death)
Fond: 785
Akt: 33
Nazwisko: Ajzenman
Imię: Ezra
Miasto: Tyszowce
Rok: 1893
Typ: D (Death)
Fond: 785
Akt: 33

Now, considering this is so important to get right I would check this (and of course you can just copy this from this posting, but I'll explain what I do to check for accuracy. FamilySearch has a number of language resources available on their site, including one for Poland called Poland Genealogical Word List. If you check that word list, you'll find that indeed the translation is pretty good. The only mistake, but one that would probably be understood, was to translate 'Town' into what the wordlist says is actually 'City'. I doubt the archive would fail to understand what you meant. According to the wordlist, however, the correct term would be Gmina. Also, you may have noticed that it did not translate the word 'Death' for some reason. There are several words listed for death in the FamilySearch site, but let's go with zejść. So your full letter would look like:

Szanowny Panie,

Jestem zainteresowany w uzyskaniu zeskanowane kopie następujących zapisów:

Nazwisko: Ajzenman
Imię: Ezra
Gmina: Tyszowce
Rok: 1893
Typ: D (zejść)
Fond: 785
Akt: 33

Proszę o poinformowanie mnie, ile będzie kosztowało aby te dane i jak mogę zapłacić.


Of course, sign the letter at the bottom as well. Now send this letter in an e-mail to the archive's e-mail address and wait for a response. In response to a similar e-mail which I actually sent in English, I got the following response the next day in Polish:

Opłata za poszukiwania wynosi 25 zł. Opłata nie jest zwracana w przypadku kwerendy negatywnej.

W przypadku odnalezienia aktów powiadomimy o ich liczbie i dodatkowej opłacie 5 zł od skanu.
Archiwum Państwowe w Zamościu
Narodowy Bank Polski Oddział Okręgowy w Lublinie

47 101013390016612231000000

PL 47 101013390016612231000000 (BIC: NBP LP LPW)

Google Translate renders that in English as:

Search fee is 25 zł. The fee is not refunded in the event of a query in the negative.

If you find an update on the acts of their number and to an additional charge of 5 zł scan.
State Archives in Zamosc
Polish National Bank Branch in Lublin District

47 101013390016612231000000

PL 47 101013390016612231000000 (BIC: NBP LP LPW)

It's not perfect, but it's understandable. The cost of searching is 25zl and scans are 5zl each. It then lists the archive's bank details (which are the same as the page we found earlier). Now you can send 25zl and then 5zl later, but frankly the cost of sending money internationally is expensive, so I would suggest just sending it all at once. 30 zloty is about $11 (US).

Sending Money to Banks in Poland

How do you send money to the bank in Poland? It's not so easy. It would be nice if the archives would start using PayPal or something similar, but I haven't found one yet that does, so you need to figure out how to get money into their accounts.

You can always give the bank account information to someone in your bank and ask them to transfer the money. Many banks actually let you set up an international money transfer online. I've done this from the web interface to my account at Bank of America. It's pretty easy, but it's not cheap at $35 per transfer. That's a lot more than the 30zl fee you're sending the archives.

Another option is an online money transfer company. I'm not going to recommend any of them since far be it from me to recommend someone who will be handling your money, but one such company I found is They let you send money to accounts overseas for only $5 per transfer ($10 if you want to pay with a credit card instead of withdrawing the money from your bank account) but you need to send a minimum of $25. Thus if you were ordering that one record you'd be sending $25, which right now is about 70 zloty. That means you're sending an extra 40 zloty. One way to look at this is that you could spend $46 to send $11 to Poland ($35 bank fee plus $11 to the archive), or $30 to send $25 to Poland ($5 Xoom fee and $25 to the archive). Of course the Xoom option sends more than twice as much money for less overall cost to you. In this case, since you're sending more money I would just ask for more records. Look up what other records the archive has, and ask them to look for other records connected to your family. It's not a perfect situation, but usually you'll probably be order more records and it won't matter as much.

One useful tool I can recommend using before entering the bank information into whatever service you end up using, is's IBAN Decoder. If you look at the bank information given by the archive above, there is a long string of numbers that follow the two-letter code for Poland. There is actually a special way to format that number which you will likely need when entering the bank account information. If you enter the string:

PL 47 101013390016612231000000

it will return:

Your IBAN Number Properly formatted PL47 1010 1339 0016 6122 3100 0000
ISO Country Code PL(Poland)
IBAN Check Digits 47
Bank Code 10101339
Account Number 0016612231000000
Transit Number 10101339

This makes entering the data into whatever fields your bank or other service asks for much easier.

Finding Other Records in Poland

How do you know what archives are actually available for the town you're researching? JRI-Poland has not indexed every record, and doesn't have many records that are not vital records. Many other records exist, such as census records, voter lists, notary records, etc.

There are basically two ways to find out what records exist for a given town. First there is Miriam Weiner's Routes to Roots Foundation. If you click on 'Archive Database' on the left menu and then 'Archive Documents' under Search on the right, you're brought to the search page. If, to continue our example, you search for Tyszowce, you'd find there are 14 record groups. These are spread among archives in Tyszowce, Zamosc and Lublin, as well as one record set at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Record types include Birth, Marriage, Death, Voter Lists, Kahal/Jewish, Tax Lists and Notary Records. Sometimes a single record type (such as Birth) are spread among many different archives. In this instance, birth records for 1826-1875 are in Lublin, for 1876-1897 are in Zamosc, and for the years 1898-1915; 1920-1923; 1925-1926; 1928-1938 are in Tyszowce itself.

Let's say you want to search for Notary Records. Those records are in the Zamosc archives, so you draft a letter similar to the above letter and send it to them, asking how much it costs to search for records. As there is no index, you have no idea how many copies you might receive, so perhaps ask the archive if you can wait to pay until after the search is complete. If not, perhaps send some extra money to cover a few copies and ask them to charge you if the copies exceed what you send only. In the above example, you could ask the archive to search the notary records to use up the extra money you sent.

The second resource you can use to find other records for your town is the Polish State Archives' PRADZIAD database. The search interface is in English (if you click on the British flag) but the results will be in Polish. Google Translate is useful here - you can use the built-in translation feature of the Google Chrome browser, or the ability to translate pages on the fly in Firefox or IE using the Google Toolbar. Thus you can translate the results. You can choose the types of records in the search, but I suggest just doing a full search on the town. If you were to search Tyszowce in this interface, you would find 22 record groups. Many of these overlap with the Routes to Roots list, but some of these are religion-specific and not Jewish, so probably the Routes to Roots list is more comprehensive. While the PRADZIAD list is primarily, birth, marriage and death records, the Routes to Roots list also had voter lists, notary records, etc. However, if you look closely you'll notice that there are some relevant records listed in the PRADZIAD list that are not in the Routes to Roots list, specifically Birth records from 1810-1825, which are not listed in Routes to Roots.

Basically, when looking for records not indexed in JRI-Poland, make sure to search both Routes to Roots and PRADZIAD.


So in conclusion, there are three main categories of records – records in state archives indexed by JRI-Poland, records on LDS microfilm indexed by JRI-Poland, and records in archives not indexed by JRI-Poland (which you can find and then contact the archives to find the specific records). There is a fourth category I haven't discussed, which is LDS microfilms not indexed by JRI-Poland. Hopefully this category will disappear over time. In most cases those records are also in the archives, so you'll still find them by searching the archives.

I hope this summary was useful. If you find any mistakes, please let me know in the comments. If you have recommendation for other ways to get records, please also post to the comments. Also feel free to recommend professional researchers you've used that can help others with the process.