If you're seriously researching your Jewish roots then you probably already know about the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF), but for those who are just getting started or for those who may not know how to fully utilize it, I wanted to point out this critical resource and explain what it can and cannot do.
We are pleased to announce that blogger and family historian Philip Trauring has joined the JewishGen blog.
Many of you already know Philip as the author of the Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More (http://www.bloodandfrogs.com) web site, which looks to teach general genealogical techniques with a focus on applying them to Jewish genealogy. He is also the Gesher Galicia town historian for Kanczuga, and is the founder of a new branch (in formation) of the Israel Genealogical Society in Modi'in.
His first series of articles, “JewishGen Basics,” will describe the various tools and resources on JewishGen (many of them recently updated) and how they can best be used to perform research.
The JGFF is a database on JewishGen, and what it does it simple – it lets you find other researchers searching for the same surnames and towns as you. This is particularly important if you have a very common last name (try researching Cohen without knowing which town your family came from) or if you have a unique surname but don't yet know from which town your family originated.
|The JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) web site entrance|
On the next screen you add the name Silberman and the town Tyszowce, Poland. When you enter a town that is in JewishGen's database, a small icon should show up next to the town name indicating it has been found. You can enter a town that is not in their system, but chances are if you're entering a town where there was a Jewish community, then it's in there and you should double-check your spelling (and that you're using the post-WWII name and country). As with all resources on the JewishGen site, all towns are referred to by their post WWII names and countries. Thus even though the Yiddish spelling of the town name of Tyszowce might be Tishevitz, and the town was once part of the Russian Empire, it is always referred to by the current name and country, so you should enter Tyszowce, Poland.
The JGFF system can also sometimes correct the names you enter, so pay attention once you've added a town name and country. For example, let's say the second town you want to enter is Vienna. By accident you select Vienna, Australia. JGFF will actually correct this entry to Wien, Austria, which is the modern name of the city (used in Austria) and the correct country.
|Adding one surname to two towns in JGFF|
It's also important to recognize what the JGFF cannot do. It doesn't list individual relative names, so there's no way to immediately know when searching if the person who has listed a particular name/town combo is related to you. The JGFF is also reliant on the individuals who make up its members to update their information, and sometimes people change their e-mail addresses and forget to update the JGFF. If that's the case and you try to send them an e-mail, you will not reach them. You will also find that some of the members are deceased, and when a particular member dies, if you know the person, you can tell the people who run the JGFF and they will mark that account as deceased, so the information doesn't go away, but people will know not to try to contact the person.
JGFF has several levels of privacy, so you can show you name, your address, etc. or you can just show your researcher number and make the people send you an e-mail to find out who you are. This sounds great, unless the person who didn't show their name changes their e-mail address or dies, and there is no way to know that they have an account on JGFF to change. In general, I would suggest when setting up your JewishGen account to show your name, so in case someone wants to reach you, they can Google you as well if necessary. This isn't an official policy of JewishGen obviously, just my personal recommendation to make it easier for researchers to contact you. Another reason to include your name is that when presented with many results, researchers will in many cases contact only a small portion of the researchers in their search results, and it may be that they choose to contact the people with names attached to their accounts first, or only contact people with the same last name as they are researching. My point is that you will increase your chances of being contacted by including your name in your listing.
Different people have different strategies on how to use JGFF. You can put up to 100 name/town combos into the system, so you have some flexibility. You can stay minimal and just put the names and towns you know relatives were born into, or you can add many different variations for the names, and you can choose to add towns that may be wrong, but you think your family may have lived. If you find a reference in your research to a town you didn't know about, you can add the name/town combo in case someone comes across the same piece of information, even if you have no real proof that your family lived there. Remember that the JGFF is not a definitive listing of where families lived, it is only a list of where people are researching their families. This is an important distinction.
In the same vein, I recommend putting in as many variations of the last name as you're comfortable with, as it seems some people are very strict with spellings or they may search using 'exact' spelling instead of 'sounds like' and thus like Cohn and Cohen might be the same family, if you wrote Cohen and they searched for Cohn, they wouldn't find anything. In order to take into consideration these types of searchers, I recommend adding variations to the names.
For example, using Silberman as an example again, a common variation is Silverman. In addition, in Poland the name may have been Zylberman. You don't know what piece of information a researcher might have when doing their search. They may know the name was Zylberman in Poland but not know it later changed to Silberman. Thus, putting in surname variations can help insure your entry is found by everyone searching for your family.
|Adding surname variations to JGFF|
As you research your family and find new names and towns, you should be constantly updating your listings on the JGFF. You never know when someone is going to search the JGFF and if you don't post a connection (like you find your great-grandmother's last name and birth town) you may miss someone else searching for the same combination. In my own experience, I added a name and town of a relative that I had known about for a long time but had forgotten to post to the JGFF, and within a couple of months I received an inquiry from someone who turned out to be my fourth cousin, and who lived just two minutes away from me!
In short, if you're researching your Jewish family members, use JGFF and use it often.
Philip Trauring is the author of Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More, a site where you can find out about general genealogy techniques and how to apply them to your Jewish genealogy. Philip can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/bloodandfrogs.