Finding your roots

April 3, 2014 by  
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A genealogist has visit the Canberra branch of the Australian Jewish Historical Society and passed on tips on how to find seemingly long-lost data.

Judith Wimborne reports:

: Adele Rosalky, Pamela Weisberger, Victor Isaacs, Vernon Kronenberg, Margaret Beadman, Judith Wimborne at the 30th Anniversary Presentation

: Adele Rosalky, Pamela Weisberger, Victor Isaacs, Vernon Kronenberg, Margaret Beadman, Judith Wimborne at the 30th Anniversary Presentation

There are many reasons why people become interested in researching their family history and many ways to go about it. There are times when we are confronted by a brick wall, because we think no records have survived and we don’t know where to look next.

This month the Australian Jewish Historical Society, ACT Branch, celebrated its 30th Anniversary. We were delighted to have a very stimulating and informative presentation by Pamela Weisberger, First Vice President of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles. She has an extensive knowledge of research methods and sources. Her talk was generously illustrated with pictures and video clips of the places she has visited.

I was especially pleased to hear her say that the records we think no longer exist, may in fact be held in a place other than the town or shtetl of our ancestors. There may still be hope of collecting information long thought to be lost.

Pamela has a special interest in Galicia, a former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of eastern Poland and south western Ukraine. She is the President of “Gesher Galicia”, which translates as “The Bridge to Galicia”. The organization conducts genealogical and historical research on that area. Their website has extensive free searchable databases:  www.geshergalicia.org

There is also a subscription based quarterly journal.

While researching her family’s village of Grzymalow, present day Ukraine, she met a fellow researcher with the same ancestral village. Last year they took a trip to Austria, Poland and Ukraine to explore their mutual heritage and to see what resources exist for others researching the area.

They found many records of their village had been stored in the State Archives of Vienna, because this had been the seat of government for the area.

Many Galician Jews had only a religious marriage because they would not enter a church. This meant the marriage was not recognized by the State, therefore their children were counted as illegitimate by the State. In order to  legitimize the children, a marriage certificate was required. This was often obtained years later and records of this are held in the State Archives.

A very useful hint for researchers:  look for records in larger nearby towns or cities.

Another very useful resource is a cadastral map of the town. This is a schematic view of the town showing each building or property, often with the owner’s name written on it.  This may be the only way to find  the location of the cemetery, if it no longer exists. Sometimes all or part of this cemetery may have houses built on it, but it could be located on a cadastral map.

An interesting sidelight came with the discovery that the land on which Grzymalow was built, had been owned by a Polish Magnate landowner, Count Leonard Pininski. Pamela was able to make contact with his great grandson, Piotr Pininski.  A visit was arranged and a wonderful evening was spent with him. He told them of the local history and the mutually advantageous relationship between the Jews and the nobles. He showed them family photo albums with photographs  of street views and of the synagogue. This was especially important as the building is now just a shell, but must have been an imposing building.

On 19 April, 2013 they represented Gesher Galicia at the opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. Built on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, it is a Post Modern building which, when completed later this year, will have multimedia exhibitions that will illustrate a thousand years of Poland’s Jewish history.

In Krakow they visited the Jewish Community Centre – a Jewish cultural and educational centre, created in 2008 as a result of an initiative of HRH the Prince of Wales. It is located in the Kazimierz district of Krakow. www.jcckrakow.org/en/

At Przemysl  Archives they met with researchers to explore landowner recordsand cadastral maps for Galician towns before travelling on to the Lviv Historical Archive.  Here they were able to see a variety of documents that she described as being “like mini census records”. They gave details of whole families, with description of the homes  of “people who suffered during the war” – an account of the damage done to their homes and sometimes including reconstruction architectural drawings.

There was also a successful visit to the State Archives of Tarnopol, where they were able to request digitization of documents that will now be searchable on the All Galicia Database.

Among sites to consider when researching your family  Pamela mentioned :

Routes to Roots Foundation: www.rtrfoundation.org/

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research: www.yivoinstitute.org/

JRI. (Jewish Records Indexing): www.jri-poland.org/

GenTeam (Databases for genealogists from records of Vienna): www.genteam.at/

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