27 March 2007

Finding that ancestral bump in the road

My grandfather told me that his mother was from Skom Bobol near Bialystok. I spent years asking everyone if they'd heard about this place and suspected it might have been absorbed into the big city. No one ever recognized the name.

During a long-ago visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I discovered a resource that finally proved that place had existed, and offered details on other ancestral locations.

The original title of this resource is Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, which translates to The Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries.

The 15 volumes were published between 1880-1902, and it is the resource to go to if you want to locate places in both present and past Poland, such as former Polish provinces of Russia, localities in former Austro-Hungary such as Galicia (now divided between Poland and the Ukraine), Belorussian provinces of the Russian Empire (now in Belarus), significant localities in Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Additionally, information is also available from the provinces of Poznan, West Prussia, East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania.

While Mogilev, Belarus ran to columns and columns, and Skom Bobole was only 3 lines, there were also short items on Vorotinschtina (our agricultural colony outside Mogilev) and my grandfather's Austro-Hungarian (today Ukraine) shtetl of Suchastow.

Now, researchers can sit at home and click on this wonderful resource, online since February 2007.

Pamela Weisberger of Los Angeles gets credit for letting me know about this one. She wrote to me, "What's funny is that I also didn't know this was online - quite new as you can see (February) - but I discovered this in my Google search to respond to a JewishGen query, which shows how one good turn often leads to something good for oneself!" How true!

Entries can be very detailed and provide the history of each place, down to how many Jews lived there, as well as details about crops, houses, synagogues, schools and much more. One can even learn which nobles owned the towns and who (including Jews) had estates in that area.

Two Web sites that have free browsing and image downloading from this resource are the Polish-only The University of Warsaw and The Digital Library of Malopolska.

A special browser plug-in - Djvu - is required to read the pages. The latest Web browsers generally have this tool installed, but if you need to download it, click on Lizardtech.

An example of information is the Kolbuszowa entry: "Kolbuszowa was part of the Ostróg estate, then belonged to the Lubomirski princes, and currently the major estate is the property of Count Zdzis. Tyszkiewicz. In the 17th century there was a famous palace here, beautifully constructed, all of wood with headless nails wrought by the local ironworkers; but in the course of time it deteriorated and was finally torn down on the order of Count Jerzy Tyszkiewicz."

Many Jews worked for the landowners. For suggestions on how to get more specific information, go to Gayle Schlissel Riley's Web site: "The Magnate Landowners Records of Poland."

The resource guide is written in Polish, but two online guides can help to decipher the entries:

The Polish Genealogical Society of America provides an excellent guide to translating these entries and the many abbreviations used, while Polish Roots, provides screen shots of pages and helpful hints, and additional resources.

For entries already translated into English, click here, and for a glossary of unfamiliar English terms used, click here.

Happy hunting!

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