Archival symposium, Warsaw June 7-8, 1999
"Sources for the history of the Jews in Poland,
located in the Polish and Israeli repositories"
Archival information pertaining to the history of the Jews in the
Polish State Archives system, located on computers and the Internet.
dr. Andrzej Biernat, Executive Director, Polish State Archives
The Jewish Records Indexing - Poland project ("JRI-Poland") has been underway since 1997 in accordance with a signed agreement, and in cooperation with an international group of Jewish genealogists, headed by Mr. Stanley Diamond of Montreal. The projects goal is to create an Internet-based searchable database of the indexes for those Jewish vital records (birth, marriage and death) stored in the Polish Archives, which have not been microfilmed by the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints -- The Genealogical Society in Utah (Mormons -- Salt Lake City [LDS]).
Until now, those indexes have not been easily accessible. The Polish State Archives provide photocopies of the index pages, which are then processed by the volunteers working for the project. The finished product supplements the already indexed records (by JRI-Poland) stored in the Mormon repositories. By the end of 1998, this Internet-accessible database, together with comprehensive annotations, included 500,000 surnames from over 100 towns located in present-day Poland and in the former Polish territories.
This impressive database, developed on a small budget but with a great commitment of volunteers and enthusiasts scattered between Canada, United States, Scotland and Poland, has been created thanks to the extraordinary organizational skills of Mr. Stanley Diamond. Through this work, he has expanded his previous genealogical interests connected with the exploration of the genetically-based illness called Beta Thalassemia. My conversations with him helped me realize that Jewish genealogical research is not merely an ordinary hobby for amateur enthusiasts searching for their roots, or retirees looking for something to do with their time (as was the case in many situations that I had been familiar with). For a person of Jewish ancestry, the search for information about his or her roots is also one of the ways of dealing with the Holocaust syndrome, where big families whose members had been frequently in touch with one another before the war may have had only one surviving member, who may have felt lost in the post-war world. Mr. Diamond helped me realize that in Jewish culture the model of family and family relationships was different than, for example, in Polish culture. The relationships in Jewish families were strong and wide-spread. One can say that, for Jews living in the Diaspora, genealogical research is a form of reconstructing family connections that were destroyed by the atrocities. Those connections are so important for any person and his or her homeostasis.
In my opinion, this program in its present form is a great achievement and, with future development, will meet one of the basic human needs -- that of being able to answer the question: "where do we come from?" and will help in the process of reconstructing forgotten family connections. One of the strengths of the project is not only its scope but, first of all, the modern form in which it makes the information available, such as the database, the Internet and the search engines. These devices allow for searches of surnames not only according to their exact modern spelling but also according to their pronunciation (the so-called soundex index).
Translated, August 5, 1999 by Barbara Urbanski-Yeager, Chicago, IL.