How to cope with the dead end?

Probably most of you, engaged in the genealogical research, reached the dead end for any of the ancestral lines – the vital records were lost. What to do in such a case?
I can say, taking into account my own experience, look for the other historical sources from the place of interest. It may not lead to success in every case, but without an attempt, you are not going to know it.
One of my last research cases regarded the parish in Myszyniec. Myszyniec is located in Kurpie region in Poland. The parish was established in 1774, but the vital records were lost during one of the wars and existing records cover the time period just from the beginning of the 20th century. So, for those of you, whose ancestors hailed from Myszyniec and surrounding villages, it seems to be the dead end.
My research case regarded the village called Brzozowy Kąt, belonging to Myszyniec parish in the 19th century. Geneteka showed two records of the family of interest from the beginning of the 20th century and that was all. I tried to find other records.
The State Archive in Płock (quite far away from Myszyniec, for which the most proper archives seem to be located in Pułtusk or in Łomża) keeps the records of Komisja Wojewódzka i Rząd Gubernialny Płocki (Provincial Commission and the Governorate’s Government in Płock) for the time period 1816-1866. And I found the records from Brzozowy Kąt among them. These documents were the lists of households in the village for which the government found inaccuracies in regard to their ownership status in the documents at the beginning of the 1850s. So the list did not include all the households in the village, but two of them regarded the family I was searching. The rest of the documents were the issues for each of those households (similar to the notarial records), where the owners had to prove their right to given property.  I was able to trace the roots of the family back to the end of the 18th century, because the owner of the particular household described in detail who was the first owner of it and the next generations of the family, who inherited the property. The conclusion is: vital records are not everything! Search also other records.

Problem of baby girls registration – Bialystok Jewish records

I have had very interesting research in vital records of Jewish community in Białystok lately. Most of these records have been indexed by jri-poland, but records from 1906 till 1925 available for research in the State Archive in Białystok wait for indexation. I have had to check original records from the pre 1905 period to extract whole information included in records, which was not published on the jri-poland web page as well as the post 1905 period. The main goal has been to identify all the siblings of my customer’s grandfather, who left tsarist Russia after pogrom in Białystok in 1906 and settled in America. As it has been quite easy to find birth records of all the brothers of the customer’s grandfather, I have not found any birth records of his sisters. According to an oral familiar history of my customer and based on a marriage record found in one of today’s Ukraine towns, these sisters existed and for one of them a detailed birth date was provided.

What could be the reason for that?

I have checked and compared the number of baby boys’ births each year and baby girls’ births. Fortunately separate numbering systems were provided for male and female babies. The result has been very interesting and has shed some light on this problem.

Year 1882: 285 boys born registered and only 151 girls;
Year 1883: 274 boys and 149 girls;
Year 1884: 403 boys and 179 girls;
Year 1886: 432 boys and 237 girls;
Year 1888: 509 boys and 286 girls;
Year 1889: 532 boys and 312 girls;
Year 1891: 642 boys and 267 girls.

I think you see the tendency and there is no need to recall data from next available yearly books.

Such a big difference between the number of baby boys’ births and baby girls’ births is shocking and rather does not happen in birth records books of Christian parishes in the Białystok region. Relationship between number of male births and female births is named the masculinization ratio and based on known works on old societies in Poland should be about 1,05 to 1,07 (from 105 to 107 births of baby boys for each 100 births of baby girls). As you see from the numbers above, masculinization ratio is much higher for Jewish community in Białystok. Conclusion can be only one: many baby girls’ births were not registered.

As can be found in different sources, such a disproportion happened not only in Białystok but in other places of tsarist Russia. Professor Eugene M. Avrutin in his work “Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia” wrote:

“In Bessarabia Province, in cities such as Kishiniev, Orgeev, Bendery and Akkerman, the number of male Jewish births was significantly higher than that of Jewish females. Upon inspection of metrical books in this region, one official commented “Since the proportion cannot be explained by mathematical laws, then it is obvious that Jews hide newly born girls from registration, and it is obvious to me in particular that they do this for strategic reasons. In their reports, the Kishiniev police and other authorities have shown that such occurrences happen every year. The police have tried all sorts of measures to curb such infraction.” Imperial officials may have argued that parents did not register the births of Jewish girls for “strategic reasons”, but in reality, the families that failed to record their daughters’ births did so because crown rabbis were usually not present at naming ceremonies (at which time the registration of birth needed to take place).”

Maurice Fishberg in work “Jews, Race and Environment” wrote:

“The only plausible explanation for this apparent excess is that a large number of female births are not reported to the authorities by the midwives and Rabbis, who are expected to register each birth. This finds its explanation in certain features of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The birth of a boy in Jewish family is accompanied by important festivals and ceremonials. It is very dangerous in later life for a boy, who has not been registered at birth: he cannot obtain a passport when he wants to leave his native city; he cannot prove his identity, which is always of vital importance in Russia. All this brings it about that practically all the male births are registered, while a large number of female births are missing from registry books. A female birth among Jews in Russia is easily overlooked, because among the poorer classes no ceremonial is attached to its appearance. The father merely mentions its occurence when visiting Synagogue on Saturday, and the Rabbi confirms the name selected for the newcomer. That this is the true explanation is seen from the fact that in 1893 the ratio of recorded male births among the Jews in Russia was 1459, while in 1901 it was only 1295 to 1000 females, indicating a more complete registration of female births in later years.”

Such phenomenon did not happen everywhere, for example in Warsaw the masculinization ratio was about 1,06 according to Maurice Fisberg.

Białystok was a fast growing city with a huge number of Jews coming from nearly every part of Russian Empire and probably it was not easy to control all the births among such numerous and diversified society.

Anyway, anyone researching his/her Jewish roots in tsarist Russia, has to consider this problem with research of his female ancestors and relatives.

Notarial documents – worth researching?

One of the most underestimated groups of documents in genealogical research are notarial documents. While most of us focus on vital records, cemeteries, census lists, etc., notarial records seem to be something useless, or at least hard to obtain.

It is not true. Most notarial documents, if preserved, are kept by State Archives in Poland and are available for researchers. Of course, to be useful for research, they have to be indexed by surname, if not additionally by place. Imagine research in one yearly book of notarial office documents with about thousand documents written in russian Cyrillic, without knowledge about surnames and places. It is work for months, if not for years!

I am focusing mainly on the 19th century russian partition of Poland, but the same rule works in other parts of Poland.

Still many notarial documents are not indexed, and they have not been touched by genealogists’ hands for years. I saw such yearly books in the State Archive in Elk and Suwalki, which are waiting for the indexing team.

But some notarial documents have been indexed already. I mean notarial documents of Grodno Gubernia kept by the State Archive in Bialystok. The are known under the name “Older notary of Regional Court in Grodno” (Starszy Notariusz Sądu Okręgowego w Grodnie) and contain preserved notarial documents mainly from 1883-1915 period from Bialystok, Sokolka and Bielsk counties. These documents have been indexed by surname and place, so before visiting the State Archive in Białystok, you can check if documents containing your surname of interest are there. They were conducted in Cyrillic russian.

I have had several possibilities of research in these documents and can say that even a simple real estate sale document contains important information from a genealogy point of view. First, you nearly always get the information about the father’s name of the given person participating in the sale act. This information was part of russian transcription of names. Father’s name was part of it!

Second, very often you will get the information about addresses of people participating in the sale act. In many cases, detailed description of parcel, neighbouring parcels and their owners, dimension and buildings will be given.

Sometimes I have found more interesting documents among notarial ones, like wills, which very often give detailed information about the structure of a given family, their members and relationships.

But the most interesting one, I have ever found, was the property division document between members of the family. That 10-pages counting document gave very detailed information about two generations of a given family, who lived in Bialystok in the second half of XIXTh century. What was most important, my customer did not have knowledge about these two generations before.

First page of mentioned notarial document of property division

Summarizing, it is really worth looking at the notarial documents.

If you are interested, my services contain translation of Russian text of the original notarial document into english.

Lutheran cemeteries in Lublin and Chełm areas

I have had an opportunity to tour Lublin and Chełm area in eastern Poland lately. One of the main purposes has been to look for existing lutheran cemeteries in villages, where ancestors of my guests – german colonists settled in the second half of XIXth century. The end of german colonists history in Lublin and Chełm areas was in year 1940, when Nazis resettled them to Poznan area and in reverse resettled Poles from Poznan area incorporated to the third Reich to the abandoned houses of german colonists. At the end of WWII most of them escaped from the incoming Soviet Red Army to Germany and after the war left for Canada and other countries.

Today most of the cemeteries abandoned and deteriorated over passing time nearly disappeared. Only some typical plants, like periwinkle or acacia trees mark the place where the cemetery existed. In this article, I would like to provide information about lutheran cemeteries, where any gravestones remained.

1. Bielany Małe.

German colony in Bielany Duże and neighbouring Bielany Małe was established in 1869. It was not large – 3 families lived in Bielany Duże and 4 in Bielany Małe before WWII.

Remnants of the lutheran cemetery in Bielany Małe can be found at the southern side of the main local road in the bushes.

15 cemetery on the left side

Only one cast-iron cross, parts of base and fence commemorating August Klenke (1851-1904) can be found there.

10 inscription board of August Klenke tombstone

2. Cyców.

Lutheran cemetery in Cyców, where german colony was established in 1880/1881 can be found at Nowa street.  All remaining gravestones were placed near the street forming a lapidarium.

11 cemetery

Following names can be found at existing gravestones:

Sigismunt Gefrejter (1897-1909 ?), Emma Gefrejter (1899 ?-1901), Adolfine Gefrejter (1899?-1903);

Ema? Rolkows…;

Adolf Bartsch (1860-1904);

Matildo Reichwald (1899-1909), Wanda Reichwald (1909-1912), Arthur Fenske (1909-1909), Michael Fenske (1883-1911);

Ema Fenske (1925-1938);

Adolf Klingbeil (1870-1919);

Rozamunda Jetzke (1883-1911);

Adelaide Harke ?


3. Bukowa Wielka.

German colony in Bukowa Wielka was established in 1871. Remnants of lutheran cemetery can be found on a forested hill near Piaski village on eastern side of the road Piaski-Bukowa Wielka.

Only one gravestone of Olga Krause (1905-1930) remained.

13 cemetery (2)
16 Olga Krause gravestone

4. Bukowski Las.

German colony in Bukowski Las was established in 1873/1875. Remnants of the cemetery can be found in a forest on the left side of a road from Rudka Łowiecka to Bukowski Las, just near the first turn right. It is however very hard to find.

We found three gravestones, but it is possible probably to find more under the layer of leaves and forest cover:

Juliana ? Scholl;

Emma Pachal;

Ferdinand Lehmann;

30 Emma Pachal

5. Malinówka.

German colony in Malinówka was established in 1876. 30 german families lived there. Remnants of the cemetery can be found inside the open field in a forest behind a fire brigade building. We have found three gravestones there, two with surname information:


Edward Rossnagel – cantor and teacher in Malinówka (1883-1934). Inscriptions on this gravestone were written in german and polish languages!

23 Edward Rossnagel gravestone

6. Radawczyk.

German colony in Radawczyk was established in 1878. It was a baptist colony. On a southern side of a road from Radawczyk to Radawczyk Drugi, remnants of baptist cemetery can be found in bushes with only one legible gravestone mark, which commemorated Andreas Schmidt.

15. Andreas Schmidt