Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tips for Finding Ancestors on

Yesterday I treated my self to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Boston (JGSGB) talk. Even  tough the meetings take place right next to my house, I don't make it to the meeting as often as I would like. Our local Jewish Genealogy society is truly a great group of people. It's a very active and hardworking group. This summer they hosted the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy which was a great success. The conference inspired me to try to go to more meetings, and so, despite the fact that the Patriots were playing, I decided to skip out for a two hour break and head to the talk.

Logan Kleinwaks, founder and creator of the website was yesterday's guest speaker. I don't know how many of you are familiar with this site. If you are not, and you have ancestors in Central and Eastern Europe, I highly recommend you check it out!

I must admit that I had come across in the past and I didn't have much luck. I remember trying a few searches and not coming up with much which was legible. A lot of the results were in Polish or Russian and I quickly gave up. After going to some of the Polish Government Archives talks at the Jewish Genealogy conference this summer, I've become a bit braver at trying to navigate through documents in foreign languages, and that is the main reason I decided to attend Logan's talk, and boy, am I glad I did!

What is GenealogyIndexer? What makes it different? 

GenealogyIndexer is a free search engine, not unlike google, but specific for genealogy. The search engine scans a huge and ever growing database of Directories (mostly from central Europe), Holocaust Yizkor books, Polish and Russian military records, personal and community histories and some school records. It uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to index and make these records searchable. You can search in English or in Polish, Russian, Hebrew or Cyrillic (with the keyboard provided on the left).

Here are a few tips from the talk which I learned and which already yielded results.

Tip #1
On the home page it says: PLEASE READ in bright yellow! Logan, saved us the trouble and explained what this was all about. I don't think I read this section the first time I visited this page. The instructions are a bit technical about downloading a plug-in, so even if I did glance at them the first time around, I probably skipped it. Well, I have a Mac and turns out, this plug-in is very important for the Mac. I was unable to view most of the images without this plug-in. Installing the plug-in was free and easy and voila! I can now see and browse through Polish Business Directories from the early 1900!

Let's take a search I did for Leon Jampel as an example. One can search by surname, first name, town or any keyword. My paternal grandparent's families are my biggest brick walls since they died in the holocaust. Leon Jampel, was my paternal great-grandfather, and I know almost nothing about him. The only documents I have for Leon  Jampel are two Yad Vashem Testemony Sheets my grandfather filled out for Leon (his dad).

When I typed Leon Jampel into the GenealogyIndexer, a long result list appeared. The search results look a lot like a google search result. Here is a screen shoot of the top part of the search.

 Screen shot of search for Leon Jampel (click to enlarge).

There were a lot of Jampels and a lot of Leons. The search engine found every page in the database that has both Leon and Jampel. The 9th result was the one the looked promising. It highlighted in yellow Jampel Leontogether:

The 9th entry on the search for Leon Jampel. (Click to enlarge).
This result is from the 1935/1936 Lwow, Stanislawow, Tarnopol area Address and Business directory.
If you look closely, this snippet from the directory is all in Polish. Prior to the talk on Sunday, I would have quit at this step. All I can make out is Jampel Leon. The rest is gibberish.  But, I am pretty confident, this is my great-grandfather, since I know he lived in Lvov (Lwow) most of his life and most likely died around 1943. If this is a Business Directory from Lvov in 1935/1936, this must be the listing for my great-grandfather. If so, it's the only document I have ever been able to find for him which was not filled out by my grandfather. It should contain at least an address, if not an occupation. Emboldened by what I learned from the talk, I clicked on the link.

As warned by Logan, without the djvu plug-in, I got a prompt to download the page, which I was unable to open. So, I went ahead and follow tip #1 from the talk and download the plug-in. It was free and took about 7 seconds to download. It opens automatically to the installation window, and so I went ahead and install, which took only a few more seconds. This time, when I clicked on the Directory Link once again this is the image I got: p. 169 from the 1935/1936 Lwow, Stanislawow, Tarnopol Directory (Click to enlarge)
Now, if you zoom in, you can see this is all in Polish. Pretty intimidating! At least is was for me. Luckily, it's pretty obvious we are in the Lvov section not Tarnopol (top of the page) and since it was alphabetical, I could easily see we were in the Js. Finding Jampel was not difficult. Here is a close up, so you do not have to strain your eyes:

Closeup of Lwow Directory, Jampel, Leon.
Tip #2

Use google translator!
There are only two words and a number beyond Leon's name and before the next listing of a Jampoler. The two polish words are: Krawiec and c, Kościuszki . I've looked at enough US City Directories to venture a guess that the number must be a street address, so I'm guessing Kosciuski is a street. Also from my US City Directory experience (and from Logan's talk), I'm guessing the first word, krawiec is an occupation. I when I asked google translator, my suspicion was confirmed.

Screen Shot of Google Translate for the Polish Word Krawiec

Krawiec means tailor. My great-grandfather was a tailor! I have the right guy! On the Yad Vashem testimony, my grandfather wrote that his dad was a tailor. I went back to the testimony to check for the last know address. My grandfather actually filled out the Yad Vashem forms twice. Once in 1955 and then again in 1999. I think he may have forgotten that he had filled them out, so just in-case, in 1999 he did it again. The information he provided was a bit different. In the 1955, he lists a Berka Yuselevitz Street in Lvov (It's written in Hebrew, so I'm not attaching it here). But in 1999, this is what my grandfather wrote as the last know address before the expulsion to the ghetto.

Closeup of Yad Vashem Testemony page for Leon Jampel, filled out by his son Baruch Lavi in 1999.
Translation of the hebrew: Address-before the expulsion, Country- Poland Region-Lvov

Notice the street name is the same as the Kościuszki the one from the Polish directory. My grandfather didn't list a house number, but I'm pretty sure it's the same street. Lvov Jews who survived the initial pogroms after the Nazi invasion were moved to the ghetto on November 8th, 1941. It's very likely that Leon Jampel, would have lived at the Kościuszki address at least from 1935 until 1941. This may have been the address where my grandfather's parents lived for a long time. He may have even grown up on this street and that is why it was easier for him to remember this address in 1999 (when he was 85 years old). The Yuselevitz address may have been the last known address from the ghetto, an address he would have remembered in 1955, only 8 years from the last contact he had with his parents, but that he may have forgotten years later.

Turns out, I did not learn any new details from the Business directory information aside from a house number. But considering I know so little about Leon Jampel, this is truly an emotional find. Finding him on an official document from Poland was a deeply moving experience. It has given me hope that I may find more documents not only for Leon, but for the rest of his family who perished tragically in the holocaust.

Reading these dense documents in Polish is a painstakingly slow process. A process I may not have undertaken, if I had not attended Logan Kleinwaks talk yesterday. Now that I have a better understanding of the site, I am confident I will continue to find more information which will help me piece together my family's story. For the latest updates on follow them on twitter @gindexer.

Here are a few more tips to help you navigate the page:

Tip #3-Don't forget to use the sound-index option and the OCR-adjust option if you not having any luck.
Tip #4- If you have a common last name, narrow down your search.
Tip #5- Read and use the advance search suggestions. These are similar to other advance search options on google or ancestry.
Tip #6- If you need help, use the forum. Ask specific questions. Logan is very approachable and answers a lot of the questions, as do other users.

Best of luck exploring this amazing resource!

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