Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Adventures of Tracking Down a Marriage Record from Galicia

Last week I wrote about a breakthrough in the Jampel branch of my family research ( Tips for Finding Ancestors on ). As I mentioned, my father's side of my family tree is one of my biggest brick walls, due in large part to the holocaust. This year, my goals is to improve my research skills for Eastern Europe. My hope is to learning more, not only about my father's side of the family, but my mother's and my husband's families as well—all of whom immigrated from different parts of the Russian Empire. 

Last week's discovery, was monumental for me as it is the first independent record I have identified belonging to my father's family—my great-grandfather Leon Jampel. This week, I'd like to share a new document: a marriage registration for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel, whom I believe are Leon's parents. This awe inspiring document has been baffling me since the moment I came across it a few days ago. Hopefully, you, my expert readers will great insight into this galician marriage record!

Research Questions: Is this my great-great-grandparents marriage record?

Marriage Register for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel possibly my great-grandparents (entry 89)From Click to enlarge.Drohobycz PSA AGAD Births 1877-1905 Marriages 1877-81,84-91,93-97,99-1905 Deaths 1852-96,98-1905Lwow Wojewodztwo / Ukraine(records in Fond 300 in AGAD Archive)Located at 49°21’ 23°30’Last updated May 2007


I've known about this particular record since 2009. Years ago, when I first found the Yad Vashem witness testimony form my grandfather filled out for his father Leon Yampel, I learned his parents names were Michael and Rachel.

I also learned that Leon had two last names Speiser and Yampel which in Polish was actually spelled Jampel (pronounced like a Y).
Closeup of Yad Vashem Page of Testimony for Leon Jampel filled out by my grandfather in 1999. Note he reports his fathers name to be Leon (Arieh Leib) Yampel (Speiser). Father's name Michael Yampel (Speiser) and mother Rachel maiden name unknown.

For this testimony I learned Leon was born in a place called Rychcice. This priceless information helped narrow down a search for the Jampel family. I discovered a set of indexed records for the Jampel and Speiser family in Rychcice. Here is the entry for the marriage record:

Index for above document From Click to enlarge.
Note: The above screen shot was taken today. In 2009, when I first did this search, the left hand column (View Image) did not exist.

I remember studying this index along with the other Jampel records and feeling unsure that it belong to my family. The names Mechel and Rachel matched my grandfather's report of Michael and Rachel. Michael, in Hebrew pronounced Micha-el could certainly have been Mechel in Yiddish. The name of the village is also consistent, Rychcice. But two things bothered me about this index record.

1. The year of marriage: 1904. According to my grandfather, his father Leon was born in 1883 or 1888 (Note: both years of birth were reported by my grandfather on the 1955 and 1999 testimonies. I'm not sure which is correct, but I assume his memory was more accurate in 1955 so most likely the correct dob was 1888). How could this be his parents marriage record, if this is for a a marriage which took place in 1904? Leon would have been about 16 years old in 1904. Mechel, the groom was 62 years old in 1904, while Rachel the bride was 40 years old, 7 months and 2 days old in 1904 (I love the detail in this index). They were certainly old enough to be his parents but if they only got married in 1904, it's unlike they were his parents. There were several birth records (not included here) in this village for children of Mechel and Rachel, several of whom were born prior to 1904. The earliest was for a Samuel Seinwel from 1885. There was no record for  a Leon or Leib. These other children suggests that Mechel and Rachel were together since as early as 1885, but were not officially married until 1904.

2. The surnames: If Leon's last name is Jampel, why would his mother's maiden name be Jampel and his father's name Speiser? I had a difficult time making heads or tails of this. If there was a tradition of taking the mother's maiden name in this village, than why does Rachel have her father's last name (Mendel Jampel) and not her mother's Laje (Freilich), and respectively so does Mechel Speiser, son of Selig Speiser and Laje (Freiman). My grandfather himself seemed to think Leon had both names, Mechel and Speiser. But he seemed to feel that so did his grandfather Michael, while he did not know his grandmother's maiden name. If there was a tradition of taking the mother's maiden name, my grandfather was not aware of it.

I remember not being able to resolve these conflicts at the time. There were too many doubts for me to order the original document from Poland. At that early stage of my research, I was not ready to pay for documents, especially ones I would not be able to read and nor be sure it belonged to my relatives. I decided to shelves these indexes to my shoe box. I placed another set of indexes for the Jampel family in the shoe box. These additional indexes suggested that Mechel in question was married and had children with a Chaje Jampel (daughter of Samuel Seinwel and Itte Malke Jampel) who died at childbirth in 1883. He then, went onto have children with Rachel Jampel who could have been a cousin of Chaje. Interestingly, Rachel and Mechel's first child is Samuel Seinwel.


This week, I returned to my shoe box. It's not the first time since 2009 that I re-examine this records. In fact, I return to on a regular basis as they are continuously adding new records. This time, I noticed the little box on the left hand corder which said, view image in blue. When I clicked on the view image link it took me to a scan of an original document from Poland! At the IAJGS2013, I learned that JRI poland together with JewishGen and the Polish Archives in the process of digitalizing their collection but this was the first time, any of my searches on JewishGen have linked me to a scanned image. Seeing this image was a eureka moment for me.

The  view image link above actually does not take you to Mechel and Rachel's marriage record. Even without knowing polish, the names at the top of these records, did not seem to match my family surnames. It seemed to be mis-attached. I went back to the Index and saw that the Akta# was 89. I was not sure what Akta# was but my guess was that it refers to an record entry number since the image I was directed to had entries 85 and 86, I decided I need to scroll forward. Scrolling two pages ahead, brought me to entry 89. And sure enough, the names I was looking for were written in an old, beautiful script.

Closeup of part of the marriage record for Mechel and Rachel.
The form seems to be written in both German and Polish. Since Galicia was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire, many official forms were in German as well as the local language. I'm guessing the handwritten section are in Polish.

Resolving the Conflicts

Thanks to the amazing efforts of many organizations and genealogist, I can now study this original marriage record without out having to pay to obtain it (or travel to Ukraine). Amazingly, all the records in this particular collection have been scanned and include birth and death records for many of Mechel's children from both his marriage. Obtaining these and other records would have cost me quite a bit. Now they are free! Many hurdles remain. After attending the JewishGenealogy conference, I am more confident I can decipher enough of this record to decide if it is worth translating. From all the records, I feel this marriage record is my best place to start. If I can feel confident that this Marriage record belongs to my great-grandparents, than I will be able to piece together much of their family tree from the rest of the records in this collection. In order to do so, I must resolve the two conflicts listed above, the date of marriage and the maiden names. 

History of Jewish Marriages in Galicia

To resolve these conflicts, I had to get a better understanding of the history of Galicia. At the conference, I attended several talks about Galicia. Now that my son's Bar Mitzvah is over, I'm also watch lectures I purposely skipped since they were available on the conference live feed. I've been watching these videos at a feverish pace since they are only available until Nov 15th. (If you have any interest in Jewish Genealogy, and did not have a chance to attend the conference, I highly recommend subscribing the the live stream at: There is still two weeks and the talks are well worth it!)  Yesterday, while listening to Pamela Weisberger from Gesher Galicia's talk about Cadastral Maps, Landowner, School & Voter Records: New Horizons for Genealogist, I learned a tidbit which helped me resolve both my conflicts. Now, I may have learn this piece of information at the conference as well, but yesterday since I've been studying this marriage certificate, the information she clicked fro me.

Hidden deep in Pamela's explanation about the growing online collection of Cadastral maps, was a comment about maiden names in Galicia. Pamela explained that since many of Jewish marriages in Galicia were religious and not civil, they were not recognized by the state. Therefore, the children of these marriages were illegitimate and were registered with their mother's maiden name rather than their father's surname! 

Immediate, I looked into the history of Jewish marriages in Galicia.

In 1776 Empress Maria Theresa among other taxes, levied an expensive tax on registering Jewish marriages. Between 1781-1789, her son, Emperor Joseph II issues a series of Decrees of Tolerance for all religious minorities. This was part of his vision to transform the Jews in Galicia into good taxpaying Austrian. These decrees were filled with contradictions, some hindering and some aiding the Jews. Marriage were to be regulated by the government. Jews who felt marriage was a religious issue, strongly resisted this decree. Like many of these decrees, it remained on the books but was not strictly enforced. Beginning in 1787 Jews were required to chose fixed surnames rather than the earlier patronymic system. They were also required as a congregation to record births, deaths and marriages. In 1810 civil marriages became the only officially recognized marriage in Austria. In attempt to encourage Jews to convert, a marriage certificate could only be purchased after passing a Catholic catechism exam. Most Jews chose to ignore these laws. Jewish marriages preformed by Rabbis continued but were not legally recognized. Children born from these marriage were considered illegitimate. The test requirement was removed only in 1859. Starting in 1877 after the ratification of the Austrian constitution, Jews were given equal legal civil status. Local chief rabbi become responsible for recording birth, death and marriages in a standardized format and transmitting it to the official local registrars rather than keeping them in local Jewish books. (sources:,

While these were the imperial decrees, it may have taken a while for the community to adopt them and therefore even though Mechel and Rachel could have legally gotten married around 1885, this certainly explains why they didn't do so and while all of Mechel's children from both his marriages carried his wife's surname. It's possible Mechel and Rachel chose not to register their marriage since they couldn't afford the cost. Certainly the political turmoil explains why they may have chosen to have their children "out of wedlock". I have found no historically explanation for why they would have chosen to get married in 1904 after having been together since before 1885. It's possible Mechel wanted to be sure his wife inherited his property. He was 62 when he finally legally married Rachel and she was much younger (only 40 years old).

A better grasp of the history of Jewish marriages in Galicia makes me quite certain that this is  the marriage record of my great-grandparents. Neither the date nor the maiden name inconsistency no longer concern me. Now more than ever, I want to translate this record. I've posted a request for help in and hope that a Polish speaking volunteer will help me decipher the document. In the meantime, I am curious what you guys think.

Are Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel from this marriage document my grandparents? What lead them to finally get married in 1904? How do you suggest I continue? 


  1. Smadar,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thanks Jana! It's always a treat to make your list! Hope you have a great weekend as well.


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