Date: Tue, 24 Jun 1997 10:36:34 -0700 From: Mel Comisarow
Subject: Finding your town First check out Shtetl Seeker: http://www.jewishgen.org/ShtetlSeeker.htm The Shtetl Seeker search engine uses soundex for searching so exact spelling will not be needed to find your town. Shtetl Seeker returns the town coordinates for each successful search. The problem is you must know the modern name of the town. A more thorough way to locate your town is the following: Go to your local library and ask to see the United States Board on Geographic Names (1970) gazetteer. Look in the several volumes of USBGN that cover eastern Europe and the Russian empire. Be flexible with respect to spelling; v can be b, ch can be kh, r can be l, sh can be zh, s can be sh or z, f can be v, g can be h, j can be i, ei can be ay, and all vice versa, vowels are interchangable, etc., etc. Your known town name may be the historical name which is no longer in use. USBGN will likely give under "see also" the modern name. It is common for many different towns in the Russian empire to have the same name so it can be important to have a general idea of the location of your town. The USGBN gazetteer also lists rivers, lakes, mountains and other geographic features. The Web version search engine for USBGN has the URL: http://www.dma.gov/gns/html/index.html Unfortunately, this version of the USBGN gazetteer only has modern names. Another good gazetteer is Where Once We Walked (WOWW). WOWW will give only the modern name of your town. The town name expressed in Yiddish by Jews may or may not be the same the town name used by the indigenous Russian, Ukrainian, Polish or Lithuanian people of the region. Note that WOWW will give the modern town name expressed in the indigenous language, not English. Once you have the coordinates for your town write to Library of Congress Geography and Map Division (LCGMD) Washington, DC 20540-4761 202-707-6277, 202-707-8555 202-707-8531 (fax) and ask for photocopies of the maps of your towns from 1) The Russian maps of 1865 and 1920 (the maps might be the same) 2) The German maps of 1941. The maps are free. LCGMD replies take about 4-8 weeks. The Library of Congress Geography and Map Division (LCGMD) Russian maps have a scale of 1:126,000 (1 cm = 1.26 km/1 inch = 2 mile) and have Cyrillic lettering that will indicate the historical Russian name that may or may not be the same as the Yiddish name that you know. The LCGMD Russian maps have two longitude scales with Pulkova= 0 and Paris, France= 0. The LCGMD German maps have a 1:300,000 scale (1 cm = 3 km/1 inch = 4.7 mile) with a Greenwich = 0 longitude scale and will have the modern town name expressed with German spelling. German s = English z, German ss = English s, German z = English ts, German w = English v, German j = English y, and so on. To convert from Polkova to Greenwich, add 31 degs. 20 mins to the longitude value shown on the map. To convert from Paris to Greenwich, add 2 degs. 20 mins. The 1941 "modern" name may or may not be same as the post-WWII "modern" name. Also note that with the collapse of the Soviet regime in the 1990s some towns with Bolshevized names have reverted to their historical names. A Web source for large scale (1:6,000,000) historical maps of Eastern Europe is Federation of East European Family History Societies, FEEFHS: http://dcn.davis.ca.us/~feefhs/ or http://feefhs.org/maplibrary.html These are good maps for seeing the gubernias (provinces) of the Russian empire. A list of gubernias and their capital cities is given in http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/ru-pale.txt WWII-era aerial reconnaissance photographs -- The US National Archives has WWII-era aerial reconnaissance photographs of Russian villages. In order to order these photos write to: National Archives and Records Administration Cartographic and Architectural Branch 8601 Adelphi Road College Park, MD 20740-6001 USA specifying the modern name and longitude/latitude coordinates of the villages of interest. Also include a map showing the town(s). I suggest using the LCGMD 1941 German maps. The Archive will reply giving their reference number for the photo along with a list of commercial firms who will retrieve the photo from the Archives and make contact copies, enlargements and/or digital scans. The cost is approximately $25 per contact photo including shipping. The Archive has 10 inch X 10 prints, from which negatives and positive prints, enlargements and digital scans can be made. The photos have a scale range of 1:7000 to 1:40,000 (1 cm = 70 meters to 400 meters) and are shot on high resolution film such that with the aid of a 10X loupe, a magnifier available in any camera store, objects as small as a meter can sometimes be seen. Photos that were shot in sequence, presumably a few seconds apart, will have some geographic overlap between the two photos. It is possible that the village of interest could appear in two or more photos with a clearer image in one photo compared to the other(s). It might be worthwhile to also order the adjacent photos to get the clearest image of interest. The Archive village name index not complete and some Archive photos have images of villages that are not indexed. It might be wise to query about several neighboring villages, obtainable for example from the 1941 LCGMD German maps, in the hope that at least one of them is indexed. Inclusion of a map with your query can be critical in this case. Also-- I have corresponded with several Jewgenners who when searching ShtetlSeeker or some other gazetteer find that there are several towns that seem to match the supposed ancestral town. Without some other information, such as the names of neighboring towns or rivers, the researcher is unable to select an ancestral town from the multitown list. I would like to emphasize the importance of locating the naturalization documents for ancestors. I recently received the 1919 Canadian naturalization documents for my grandfather and while most of the documents stated that he was from "Russia", one of the documents listed the birth town, county (uzed) and province (gubernia). Obviously, knowing the county and province of birth is of enormous aid in selecting the town of birth from a list of towns with similar names. I don't know if Canadian naturalization documents from other eras or if naturalization documents from other jurisdications give birth county and province.