10 March 2013

Ukraine SIG: Getting Personal

The Ukraine SIG and its website leave something to be desired. But, that's the point. The website is an exciting work in progress and continued progress depends on volunteers who want more.
About 20 months ago, JewishGen Ukraine Special Interest Group decided to remake itself. While some other SIGs were actively scouring eastern European archives and Family History Library films for records, the Ukraine SIG had been quiet. Enter Ron Doctor who became Coordinator of the Ukraine SIG. 

Based on Ron's experience with finding and acquiring records for Kremenets (see the Indexed Concordance of Personal Names and Town Names) and surrounding villages in Ukraine, he and the Ukraine SIG's Board saw opportunity that had been missed during previous years. Previously, the SIG had been gubernia (province) oriented. The group decided to focus on town-based research and to reconstruct the SIG to support the way Ukraine SIG members researched their roots. Board member positions were now to be geared toward project initiation and management. The SIG was restructured so that its primary focus would be increasing access to records: identifying record sets, indexing, acquiring, transliterating and translating, as needed.

In August of 2011, Ukraine SIG announced an ambitious program to revitalize the group.   
Our objective is to connect you to information that will further your Jewish family history research in Ukraine. We are active in seeking out records, translating them,  processing them and making them available to you. ["Introduction to Ukraine SIG"]
During a presentation at the 2011 International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference, Ron Doctor set a two-year goal of revitalizing  the Ukraine SIG. Later that August he posted messages on the JewishGen Ukraine SIG Discussion Group outlining the SIG's vision. [1] The vision included:
  • developing a new research plan identifying projects that could be accomplished in the long and short-term;
  • emphasizing volunteer support for projects;
  • identifying existing, new or reconsidered sources for records;
  • extracting data from existing kehilalinks webpages, Yizkor books and other JewishGen datasets to be added to the All-Ukraine database; and
  • improving communication with Ukraine SIG researchers.
Ariel Parkansky the SIG's webmaster redesigned the Ukraine SIG webpage with this vision in mind. It has a complex but user-friendly structure. The site serves as a gateway to known information of genealogical interest regarding specific Ukraine SIG communities. Actual datasets are either located on JewishGen or on outside websites. The intent is to encourage content placement on kehilalink sites and other existing databases on JewishGen. Records will be indexed and surnames included on JewishGen's All-Ukraine database.

You may enter Ukraine SIG via JewishGen. Click on the Research tab and then on Special Interest Groups.

JewishGen Home Page

Scroll down the SIG page and click on Ukraine SIG. Alternatively, one may reach the same page by entering its URL: http://www.jewishgen.org/ukraine .

JewishGen Ukraine SIG Home Page
The Ukraine SIG home page provides several options for starting your journey. The first thing to note is the geographic area covered by Ukraine SIG. It does not look much like today's Ukraine (or yesterday's for that matter).

Map of Ukraine, The World Fact Book, Digital image, Central Intelligence Agency (http://ww.cia.gov : accessed 30 December 2009).

The last couple of hundred years have brought many changes in political boundaries in Eastern Europe. This affects where we may find archived records today.  JewishGen divided the Eastern European map into areas related to the political and administrative boundaries from about 1792 (when the Polish Commonwealth was disassembled by Prussia, Russia and Austria) through about the end of the first World War. They combined this with a nod to current political boundaries. For example, Gesher Galicia covers the province of Galicia (now part of southern Poland and western Ukraine) that was once under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Bessarabia SIG is mostly today's Moldova, but also takes a small chunk out of today's Ukraine. 

JewishGen's Ukraine SIG includes Russian Empire gubernias now in Ukraine: Podolia, Volhynia, Kiev, Poltava, Chernigov, Kharkov, Kherson, Taurida and Ekaterinoslav. (If you need help determining which JewishGen SIG includes your community, please read my previous post on JewishGen SIGS.) The map on the Ukraine SIG home page shows the locations of these Russian Empire gubernias.

Getting Started

The best place to begin ones exploration of the Ukraine SIG website is with the tabs across the top. The Get Started tab is a must. The drop down menu includes the opportunity to learn about the SIG and its mission (Get started with UKR-SIG), the website (Get started with this website) and the pages of the site most critical to successful use of its services (Most visited). 

Note the section on the home page called What's New. Here one will find the most recent information regarding new databases and general news about the SIG.

Leaving Home

The Ukraine SIG site includes several avenues of access to information of interest. For example, one may select the tab on the home page for Towns & Districts or one may start at the gubernia level (e.g., select Volhynia gubernia on the map on the home page).

The next page will show the districts (uyezds) within the selected gubernia and larger communities. One may either select the desired district by clicking on the map, or selecting its name from the list under Districts. Or, if one wishes to go immediately to one of the towns listed, one may select that. In this case, I've selected Novograd-Volynskiy District.

Note also the letters T, K, P and/or D located to the right of some of the town names. This gives one an indication of the information currently available for the town. T indicates the community has someone who has volunteered to be the Town Leader - the point of contact for data acquisition. K indicates that there is already a kehilalinks webpage for the town (or that one is in progress). P means there are projects in progress for the town and D, that there are documents available.

Also note the sections Articles and Related Links on the gubernia page. These are links to more general information about the province and may include information that had been on the previous gubernia-oriented Ukraine SIG webpage. 

Selecting a district (in this case, Novograd-Volynskiy) will take one to the district page. Hovering ones mouse over the town name will identify the town's location on the map.

Clicking on the town name will take one to the town page where one may see who, if anyone, is leading the effort to collect and display town information. In this case, there is a town leader, but no kehilalinks page on JewishGen for Novograd Volynskiy.  

Some of the geographical and political/administrative information is similar to what one will find on the Community Page on JewishGen. The Ukraine SIG town page provides additional information on ongoing projects, known datasets and collections, and other informational links.

Clicking on the information symbol next to items under Document and Dataset Collections provides a short summary of what's provided. 

Clicking on the magnifying glass links one to catalog information about the collection.  

If one clicks on the book symbol one will be taken to online images or datasets. The goal is to link to images or indexed data sets on JewishGen or other websites. In this case, the image for Novograd Volynskiy is one of a few select pages that had been on the old Ukraine SIG webpage. It is not so much a collection, but a small group of records likely collected for one or just a few families.
This is disappointing. On a few other town pages, such as Odessa, one will be more fortunate. There are links to more comprehensive community-oriented online collections. There are directories and other databases already online. However, do not dispair. On the Novograd Volynskiy page look under Projects and click on the magnifying glass next to the CAHJP project.[2]

Under Tasks, note that the SIG has identified and translated 49 catalog cards of records held at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. The next step is setting priorities for record acquisition and translation. For those of us with interest in this community and this district, it's time to get involved.

Get Specific

The walk through the new Ukraine SIG website, as described above, starts at the larger geographical and administrative subdivisions and moves to the smaller ones until reaching the community level. But, of course, one need not go through all this clicking if one knows ones objective at the start.

On the Ukraine SIG home page there are two search boxes.
One may enter a town name, district, province or any other search term of interest in the UKR-SIG Site box and see all references on the Ukraine SIG site for that search parameter. In this case I entered "Novograd" and the result provided 145 hits.

Or, one may enter a community name in the Town Search box and find the direct link to the the Town Page. Again, I entered "Novograd" and got two results since there are, apparently, two communities within the Ukraine SIG site with phonetically similar names: Novograd and Novogrod.
Clicking on the magnifying glass icon will take one to the Novograd/od of ones choice. 

In addition, if one wants to see projects or documents and collections available on the Ukraine SIG website, one need only go to the Research tab on the Home page. Click on either Master Index of Projects or Master Index of Documents. From there one may enter search parameters or, if one would like to see all projects or all documents/collections, leave the search parameters set to "all" and click search. Results will be listed in a table. Click on any column heading to sort the list. 

Make Yourself Useful

I confess, I'm a genealogy wonk. I love the InfoFiles section of JewishGen and my favorite place on the Ukraine SIG website (since acquisition of datasets of interest to me are still pending) is under the Research tab on the Ukraine SIG home page. On the drop down menu, click on InfoSheets.

There are esoteric but useful topics for Russian translators such as "Abbreviations used in Russian Documents" and "Terminology for Russian Administrative Divisions." In addition, there are articles on how Ukraine SIG standardizes town names and distinguishes between collections and projects.

Most useful to those of us whose skills are not up to translating are instructions for creating fund-raising projects and detailed tutorials of how to index additional data from passenger manifests, Yizkor books and kehilalinks webpages.

Dressed for Success

I spoke with Ron Doctor a few weeks ago as background for my planned walk through the new Ukraine SIG website. [3] I wanted to know, 18 months into a two-year plan, where the SIG is on its road to revitalization. He felt that the revitalization part of the job is done. There is a new culture in Ukraine SIG. There is excitement and many volunteers (more than 300), many of whom are assigned and actively working on projects. The website has been redesigned and is being frequently improved to meet the needs of researchers. About 150 projects are in various states of completion. The Ukraine SIG Discussion Group has been revitalized, as well. Subscribers have risen from 2,400 to 3,013.  

Right now there are two main challenges: 1) recruiting volunteers who are willing to take responsibility as project managers and handle the backlog of data sets that are nearly ready for submission to JewishGen, and 2) finding people who can handle information in Cyrillic and Hebrew alphabets and translation. Not enough of the projects are completed and ready to go online.

The SIG has instituted a skills survey to build a bank of skilled and willing volunteers and to encourage contributions of skills, records and funding. In the Ukraine SIG, volunteer interest guides project priorities. The concept being that researchers are more likely to contribute on projects they view as likely to provide direct benefit to their research. 

Keeping it personal: a recipe for success.

1. Doctor, Ron, "Revitalizing JewishGen Ukraine SIG Part 2 of 3," JewishGen Ukraine SIG Discussion Group, message posted 27 August 2011, JewishGen (http://www.jewishgen.org : accessed 9 March 2013).
2. For explanation of how Ukraine SIG defines Collections and Projects, see "Document Collections vs. Projects" in the InfoSheets sections. 
3. I started researching this post with no formal affiliation with Ukraine SIG except that of interested researcher and owner of a kehilalinks site within the SIGs geographical boundaries. At the end of our interview, Ron (ever the persuasive recruiter) asked me to head up the volunteer recruiting and management effort for the SIG. Darn it! I am now Volunteers Director of Ukraine SIG.


  1. Congratulations! That didn't take long, and it sounds like fun.

  2. Yes, this is already a great boon to Eastern European Jewish research.

  3. New Ukraine SIG website is very impressive and very useful to me (as an academic researcher). I feel quite addicted to it :)

  4. Tom: Thanks for your comment. Yes, indeed, one might easily spend hours on the website. It's an impressive accomplishment and will only become more so as additional content is added.

  5. Hi, Emily. I followed a link from Polish Jewish Roots on Facebook and found this. Where are your Garbers from? I have a gg grandmother Devorah Garber from Volhynia.

  6. Hi, Lara. My Garbers are also from Volhynia Gubernia: mostly Labun. Check out my Towns/Surnames tab.


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