Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Adventures of Tracking Down a Marriage Record from Galicia

Last week I wrote about a breakthrough in the Jampel branch of my family research ( Tips for Finding Ancestors on ). As I mentioned, my father's side of my family tree is one of my biggest brick walls, due in large part to the holocaust. This year, my goals is to improve my research skills for Eastern Europe. My hope is to learning more, not only about my father's side of the family, but my mother's and my husband's families as well—all of whom immigrated from different parts of the Russian Empire. 

Last week's discovery, was monumental for me as it is the first independent record I have identified belonging to my father's family—my great-grandfather Leon Jampel. This week, I'd like to share a new document: a marriage registration for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel, whom I believe are Leon's parents. This awe inspiring document has been baffling me since the moment I came across it a few days ago. Hopefully, you, my expert readers will great insight into this galician marriage record!

Research Questions: Is this my great-great-grandparents marriage record?

Marriage Register for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel possibly my great-grandparents (entry 89)From Click to enlarge.Drohobycz PSA AGAD Births 1877-1905 Marriages 1877-81,84-91,93-97,99-1905 Deaths 1852-96,98-1905Lwow Wojewodztwo / Ukraine(records in Fond 300 in AGAD Archive)Located at 49°21’ 23°30’Last updated May 2007


I've known about this particular record since 2009. Years ago, when I first found the Yad Vashem witness testimony form my grandfather filled out for his father Leon Yampel, I learned his parents names were Michael and Rachel.

I also learned that Leon had two last names Speiser and Yampel which in Polish was actually spelled Jampel (pronounced like a Y).
Closeup of Yad Vashem Page of Testimony for Leon Jampel filled out by my grandfather in 1999. Note he reports his fathers name to be Leon (Arieh Leib) Yampel (Speiser). Father's name Michael Yampel (Speiser) and mother Rachel maiden name unknown.

For this testimony I learned Leon was born in a place called Rychcice. This priceless information helped narrow down a search for the Jampel family. I discovered a set of indexed records for the Jampel and Speiser family in Rychcice. Here is the entry for the marriage record:

Index for above document From Click to enlarge.
Note: The above screen shot was taken today. In 2009, when I first did this search, the left hand column (View Image) did not exist.

I remember studying this index along with the other Jampel records and feeling unsure that it belong to my family. The names Mechel and Rachel matched my grandfather's report of Michael and Rachel. Michael, in Hebrew pronounced Micha-el could certainly have been Mechel in Yiddish. The name of the village is also consistent, Rychcice. But two things bothered me about this index record.

1. The year of marriage: 1904. According to my grandfather, his father Leon was born in 1883 or 1888 (Note: both years of birth were reported by my grandfather on the 1955 and 1999 testimonies. I'm not sure which is correct, but I assume his memory was more accurate in 1955 so most likely the correct dob was 1888). How could this be his parents marriage record, if this is for a a marriage which took place in 1904? Leon would have been about 16 years old in 1904. Mechel, the groom was 62 years old in 1904, while Rachel the bride was 40 years old, 7 months and 2 days old in 1904 (I love the detail in this index). They were certainly old enough to be his parents but if they only got married in 1904, it's unlike they were his parents. There were several birth records (not included here) in this village for children of Mechel and Rachel, several of whom were born prior to 1904. The earliest was for a Samuel Seinwel from 1885. There was no record for  a Leon or Leib. These other children suggests that Mechel and Rachel were together since as early as 1885, but were not officially married until 1904.

2. The surnames: If Leon's last name is Jampel, why would his mother's maiden name be Jampel and his father's name Speiser? I had a difficult time making heads or tails of this. If there was a tradition of taking the mother's maiden name in this village, than why does Rachel have her father's last name (Mendel Jampel) and not her mother's Laje (Freilich), and respectively so does Mechel Speiser, son of Selig Speiser and Laje (Freiman). My grandfather himself seemed to think Leon had both names, Mechel and Speiser. But he seemed to feel that so did his grandfather Michael, while he did not know his grandmother's maiden name. If there was a tradition of taking the mother's maiden name, my grandfather was not aware of it.

I remember not being able to resolve these conflicts at the time. There were too many doubts for me to order the original document from Poland. At that early stage of my research, I was not ready to pay for documents, especially ones I would not be able to read and nor be sure it belonged to my relatives. I decided to shelves these indexes to my shoe box. I placed another set of indexes for the Jampel family in the shoe box. These additional indexes suggested that Mechel in question was married and had children with a Chaje Jampel (daughter of Samuel Seinwel and Itte Malke Jampel) who died at childbirth in 1883. He then, went onto have children with Rachel Jampel who could have been a cousin of Chaje. Interestingly, Rachel and Mechel's first child is Samuel Seinwel.


This week, I returned to my shoe box. It's not the first time since 2009 that I re-examine this records. In fact, I return to on a regular basis as they are continuously adding new records. This time, I noticed the little box on the left hand corder which said, view image in blue. When I clicked on the view image link it took me to a scan of an original document from Poland! At the IAJGS2013, I learned that JRI poland together with JewishGen and the Polish Archives in the process of digitalizing their collection but this was the first time, any of my searches on JewishGen have linked me to a scanned image. Seeing this image was a eureka moment for me.

The  view image link above actually does not take you to Mechel and Rachel's marriage record. Even without knowing polish, the names at the top of these records, did not seem to match my family surnames. It seemed to be mis-attached. I went back to the Index and saw that the Akta# was 89. I was not sure what Akta# was but my guess was that it refers to an record entry number since the image I was directed to had entries 85 and 86, I decided I need to scroll forward. Scrolling two pages ahead, brought me to entry 89. And sure enough, the names I was looking for were written in an old, beautiful script.

Closeup of part of the marriage record for Mechel and Rachel.
The form seems to be written in both German and Polish. Since Galicia was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire, many official forms were in German as well as the local language. I'm guessing the handwritten section are in Polish.

Resolving the Conflicts

Thanks to the amazing efforts of many organizations and genealogist, I can now study this original marriage record without out having to pay to obtain it (or travel to Ukraine). Amazingly, all the records in this particular collection have been scanned and include birth and death records for many of Mechel's children from both his marriage. Obtaining these and other records would have cost me quite a bit. Now they are free! Many hurdles remain. After attending the JewishGenealogy conference, I am more confident I can decipher enough of this record to decide if it is worth translating. From all the records, I feel this marriage record is my best place to start. If I can feel confident that this Marriage record belongs to my great-grandparents, than I will be able to piece together much of their family tree from the rest of the records in this collection. In order to do so, I must resolve the two conflicts listed above, the date of marriage and the maiden names. 

History of Jewish Marriages in Galicia

To resolve these conflicts, I had to get a better understanding of the history of Galicia. At the conference, I attended several talks about Galicia. Now that my son's Bar Mitzvah is over, I'm also watch lectures I purposely skipped since they were available on the conference live feed. I've been watching these videos at a feverish pace since they are only available until Nov 15th. (If you have any interest in Jewish Genealogy, and did not have a chance to attend the conference, I highly recommend subscribing the the live stream at: There is still two weeks and the talks are well worth it!)  Yesterday, while listening to Pamela Weisberger from Gesher Galicia's talk about Cadastral Maps, Landowner, School & Voter Records: New Horizons for Genealogist, I learned a tidbit which helped me resolve both my conflicts. Now, I may have learn this piece of information at the conference as well, but yesterday since I've been studying this marriage certificate, the information she clicked fro me.

Hidden deep in Pamela's explanation about the growing online collection of Cadastral maps, was a comment about maiden names in Galicia. Pamela explained that since many of Jewish marriages in Galicia were religious and not civil, they were not recognized by the state. Therefore, the children of these marriages were illegitimate and were registered with their mother's maiden name rather than their father's surname! 

Immediate, I looked into the history of Jewish marriages in Galicia.

In 1776 Empress Maria Theresa among other taxes, levied an expensive tax on registering Jewish marriages. Between 1781-1789, her son, Emperor Joseph II issues a series of Decrees of Tolerance for all religious minorities. This was part of his vision to transform the Jews in Galicia into good taxpaying Austrian. These decrees were filled with contradictions, some hindering and some aiding the Jews. Marriage were to be regulated by the government. Jews who felt marriage was a religious issue, strongly resisted this decree. Like many of these decrees, it remained on the books but was not strictly enforced. Beginning in 1787 Jews were required to chose fixed surnames rather than the earlier patronymic system. They were also required as a congregation to record births, deaths and marriages. In 1810 civil marriages became the only officially recognized marriage in Austria. In attempt to encourage Jews to convert, a marriage certificate could only be purchased after passing a Catholic catechism exam. Most Jews chose to ignore these laws. Jewish marriages preformed by Rabbis continued but were not legally recognized. Children born from these marriage were considered illegitimate. The test requirement was removed only in 1859. Starting in 1877 after the ratification of the Austrian constitution, Jews were given equal legal civil status. Local chief rabbi become responsible for recording birth, death and marriages in a standardized format and transmitting it to the official local registrars rather than keeping them in local Jewish books. (sources:,

While these were the imperial decrees, it may have taken a while for the community to adopt them and therefore even though Mechel and Rachel could have legally gotten married around 1885, this certainly explains why they didn't do so and while all of Mechel's children from both his marriages carried his wife's surname. It's possible Mechel and Rachel chose not to register their marriage since they couldn't afford the cost. Certainly the political turmoil explains why they may have chosen to have their children "out of wedlock". I have found no historically explanation for why they would have chosen to get married in 1904 after having been together since before 1885. It's possible Mechel wanted to be sure his wife inherited his property. He was 62 when he finally legally married Rachel and she was much younger (only 40 years old).

A better grasp of the history of Jewish marriages in Galicia makes me quite certain that this is  the marriage record of my great-grandparents. Neither the date nor the maiden name inconsistency no longer concern me. Now more than ever, I want to translate this record. I've posted a request for help in and hope that a Polish speaking volunteer will help me decipher the document. In the meantime, I am curious what you guys think.

Are Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel from this marriage document my grandparents? What lead them to finally get married in 1904? How do you suggest I continue? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tips for Finding Ancestors on

Yesterday I treated my self to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Boston (JGSGB) talk. Even  tough the meetings take place right next to my house, I don't make it to the meeting as often as I would like. Our local Jewish Genealogy society is truly a great group of people. It's a very active and hardworking group. This summer they hosted the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy which was a great success. The conference inspired me to try to go to more meetings, and so, despite the fact that the Patriots were playing, I decided to skip out for a two hour break and head to the talk.

Logan Kleinwaks, founder and creator of the website was yesterday's guest speaker. I don't know how many of you are familiar with this site. If you are not, and you have ancestors in Central and Eastern Europe, I highly recommend you check it out!

I must admit that I had come across in the past and I didn't have much luck. I remember trying a few searches and not coming up with much which was legible. A lot of the results were in Polish or Russian and I quickly gave up. After going to some of the Polish Government Archives talks at the Jewish Genealogy conference this summer, I've become a bit braver at trying to navigate through documents in foreign languages, and that is the main reason I decided to attend Logan's talk, and boy, am I glad I did!

What is GenealogyIndexer? What makes it different? 

GenealogyIndexer is a free search engine, not unlike google, but specific for genealogy. The search engine scans a huge and ever growing database of Directories (mostly from central Europe), Holocaust Yizkor books, Polish and Russian military records, personal and community histories and some school records. It uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to index and make these records searchable. You can search in English or in Polish, Russian, Hebrew or Cyrillic (with the keyboard provided on the left).

Here are a few tips from the talk which I learned and which already yielded results.

Tip #1
On the home page it says: PLEASE READ in bright yellow! Logan, saved us the trouble and explained what this was all about. I don't think I read this section the first time I visited this page. The instructions are a bit technical about downloading a plug-in, so even if I did glance at them the first time around, I probably skipped it. Well, I have a Mac and turns out, this plug-in is very important for the Mac. I was unable to view most of the images without this plug-in. Installing the plug-in was free and easy and voila! I can now see and browse through Polish Business Directories from the early 1900!

Let's take a search I did for Leon Jampel as an example. One can search by surname, first name, town or any keyword. My paternal grandparent's families are my biggest brick walls since they died in the holocaust. Leon Jampel, was my paternal great-grandfather, and I know almost nothing about him. The only documents I have for Leon  Jampel are two Yad Vashem Testemony Sheets my grandfather filled out for Leon (his dad).

When I typed Leon Jampel into the GenealogyIndexer, a long result list appeared. The search results look a lot like a google search result. Here is a screen shoot of the top part of the search.

 Screen shot of search for Leon Jampel (click to enlarge).

There were a lot of Jampels and a lot of Leons. The search engine found every page in the database that has both Leon and Jampel. The 9th result was the one the looked promising. It highlighted in yellow Jampel Leontogether:

The 9th entry on the search for Leon Jampel. (Click to enlarge).
This result is from the 1935/1936 Lwow, Stanislawow, Tarnopol area Address and Business directory.
If you look closely, this snippet from the directory is all in Polish. Prior to the talk on Sunday, I would have quit at this step. All I can make out is Jampel Leon. The rest is gibberish.  But, I am pretty confident, this is my great-grandfather, since I know he lived in Lvov (Lwow) most of his life and most likely died around 1943. If this is a Business Directory from Lvov in 1935/1936, this must be the listing for my great-grandfather. If so, it's the only document I have ever been able to find for him which was not filled out by my grandfather. It should contain at least an address, if not an occupation. Emboldened by what I learned from the talk, I clicked on the link.

As warned by Logan, without the djvu plug-in, I got a prompt to download the page, which I was unable to open. So, I went ahead and follow tip #1 from the talk and download the plug-in. It was free and took about 7 seconds to download. It opens automatically to the installation window, and so I went ahead and install, which took only a few more seconds. This time, when I clicked on the Directory Link once again this is the image I got: p. 169 from the 1935/1936 Lwow, Stanislawow, Tarnopol Directory (Click to enlarge)
Now, if you zoom in, you can see this is all in Polish. Pretty intimidating! At least is was for me. Luckily, it's pretty obvious we are in the Lvov section not Tarnopol (top of the page) and since it was alphabetical, I could easily see we were in the Js. Finding Jampel was not difficult. Here is a close up, so you do not have to strain your eyes:

Closeup of Lwow Directory, Jampel, Leon.
Tip #2

Use google translator!
There are only two words and a number beyond Leon's name and before the next listing of a Jampoler. The two polish words are: Krawiec and c, Kościuszki . I've looked at enough US City Directories to venture a guess that the number must be a street address, so I'm guessing Kosciuski is a street. Also from my US City Directory experience (and from Logan's talk), I'm guessing the first word, krawiec is an occupation. I when I asked google translator, my suspicion was confirmed.

Screen Shot of Google Translate for the Polish Word Krawiec

Krawiec means tailor. My great-grandfather was a tailor! I have the right guy! On the Yad Vashem testimony, my grandfather wrote that his dad was a tailor. I went back to the testimony to check for the last know address. My grandfather actually filled out the Yad Vashem forms twice. Once in 1955 and then again in 1999. I think he may have forgotten that he had filled them out, so just in-case, in 1999 he did it again. The information he provided was a bit different. In the 1955, he lists a Berka Yuselevitz Street in Lvov (It's written in Hebrew, so I'm not attaching it here). But in 1999, this is what my grandfather wrote as the last know address before the expulsion to the ghetto.

Closeup of Yad Vashem Testemony page for Leon Jampel, filled out by his son Baruch Lavi in 1999.
Translation of the hebrew: Address-before the expulsion, Country- Poland Region-Lvov

Notice the street name is the same as the Kościuszki the one from the Polish directory. My grandfather didn't list a house number, but I'm pretty sure it's the same street. Lvov Jews who survived the initial pogroms after the Nazi invasion were moved to the ghetto on November 8th, 1941. It's very likely that Leon Jampel, would have lived at the Kościuszki address at least from 1935 until 1941. This may have been the address where my grandfather's parents lived for a long time. He may have even grown up on this street and that is why it was easier for him to remember this address in 1999 (when he was 85 years old). The Yuselevitz address may have been the last known address from the ghetto, an address he would have remembered in 1955, only 8 years from the last contact he had with his parents, but that he may have forgotten years later.

Turns out, I did not learn any new details from the Business directory information aside from a house number. But considering I know so little about Leon Jampel, this is truly an emotional find. Finding him on an official document from Poland was a deeply moving experience. It has given me hope that I may find more documents not only for Leon, but for the rest of his family who perished tragically in the holocaust.

Reading these dense documents in Polish is a painstakingly slow process. A process I may not have undertaken, if I had not attended Logan Kleinwaks talk yesterday. Now that I have a better understanding of the site, I am confident I will continue to find more information which will help me piece together my family's story. For the latest updates on follow them on twitter @gindexer.

Here are a few more tips to help you navigate the page:

Tip #3-Don't forget to use the sound-index option and the OCR-adjust option if you not having any luck.
Tip #4- If you have a common last name, narrow down your search.
Tip #5- Read and use the advance search suggestions. These are similar to other advance search options on google or ancestry.
Tip #6- If you need help, use the forum. Ask specific questions. Logan is very approachable and answers a lot of the questions, as do other users.

Best of luck exploring this amazing resource!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Sam Friedberg

Sam and Ruth Friedberg, 1949

This week, we lost a family member, Sam Friedberg. Sam passed away on Tuesday after a brief battle with a very aggressive Lymphoma. He was 86 years old.

Sam's wife Ruth, was my grandmother's first cousin. I had the pleasure of meeting Sam at his home in San Antonio a few years ago. My family and I enjoyed Sam and Ruth's company as they shared family stories and family history with me. Sam, an well respected doctor, took on the hobby of painting during his retirement. I particularly enjoyed the painting he did inspired by my second great-grandparents, which he shared with me during that trip. Sam will be missed! Click here for his obituary.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How Does a Bar Mitzvah Connect to Genealogy?

It's been a much longer break than anticipated but I'm finally back! During my two and a half month absence from the genealogy blogging scene, I dedicated my time almost exclusively to my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah. The event was fast approaching required my full attention to both help my son prepare, as well as pull off a successful celebration which would follow. As much as I missed blogging, my blog, is not only about the past, but also about the present and the future. This right of passage, the Bar Mitzvah, brings together the past, the present and the future. The last few months I focused on the present, making the Bar Mitzvah happen, and now—re-energized and rejuvenated—I am excited to return to blogging!

The Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah in the case of girls) milestone, connect each Jewish young person with their past. I have three sons, so this is our third and last Bar Mitzvah. Each event was completely different, reflecting the personalities of each child. Mirroring our families life, the first was held in Mexico, the second in Israel and the third here in Boston. Since my eldest son's Bar Mitzvah, I've connected this ceremony with genealogy. Thanks to his Bar Mitzvah project of researching his roots, we began an online family tree. This first family tree sparked a deep passion for genealogy in me.

Interestingly, this time around, another connection to family history emerged. Most Jewish children, read the Torah for the first time on their Bar Mitzvah. I'd like to take a pause here and explain. Some people believe that to have a Bar Mitzvah, means reading the Torah. That is actually not true. One does not have a Bar Mitzvah. One becomes a Bar Mitzvah by turning 13 (for boys) or 12 (for girls). In Jewish tradition, this means that a Bar Mitzvah is a person old enough to follow the Mitzvot (commandments). It basically means that as a Bar Mitzvah you have the same rights and responsibilities of a Jewish adult. It is the first time you can be called up to the Torah and take a turn to read from the Torah in temple. You do not have to do it, but you may have this privilege if you would like. Being called up to the Torah or reading from the Torah is always an honor. Doing so for the first time, is a cause for celebration. That is where the tradition comes from. The big parties often held today, are a relatively modern elaboration of this ancient custom.

My son was both excited and nervous about reading the Torah. He had a wonderful teacher who taught him the traditional cantillation (tropes) and helped him master the difficult task of reading without vowels (the Torah scroll has no vowels or punctuation). He studied his Torah portion and prepared a Dvar Torah, the speech which teaches the community something new about the weekly Torah portion. Before we knew which Torah portion he would have to read (it depends on the date of the Bar Mitzvah), he was nervous that he would not be able to relate to his portion and would not know what to say. But then, when he saw his portion, he was thrilled. After reading the first sentence he  exclaimed: "Mom, this portion was written for me!"
My son practicing to read from the actual Torah scroll using a "yad,"
a silver hand to help him find his place. The yad is used to avoid touching the
scroll with one's had which can damage the delicate text.

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12), is one of the most famous chapters of the Bible. it begins with the following sentence: "And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." My son, could completely relate to Abram (Abraham before God changed his name from Abram to Abraham). He too left his land (Mexico), his birthplace and the land of his father and went to a new land, the United States. It made for a great Bar Mitzvah speech!

That one sentence immediately connected my son to his past and his family history. Not only was he born in Mexico, but Mexico was the land of his forefathers for generations. Abraham's story, is the story of the Jewish people and their wanderings in pursuit of a better life and religious freedom. Glowing with pride, I listed to him make this connection to his own family history. I thought not only of our Mexican ancestors, but those from Eastern Europe to immigrated to America and to Israel in search of a better life. Much of my genealogy work is focused on their immigration paths. It was very special to see that even though he did not make a family tree as a Bar Mitzvah project like his brother, he also gained a deep understanding of how the Bar Mitzvah connects him to those who came before him. This insight strengthen his foundation and I am confident it will serve him in the future as he becomes an independent young adult.

Do you have stories to share about rights of passage and their connection to your family history? I'd love to hear them.