Monday, May 31, 2010

Archive Day!

Archive day! The day for which I'd spent months preparing. I had already perused some files on our brief visit the prior week, but this was my day to dig in.

We first stopped by the PSA Archives which handles records over 100 years old so I could order some records. I also discovered that they had made a CD for me of the records I had requested earlier, something they had previously told me could not be done in that time frame. Then we drove to the USC, the archive for records of the past 100 years. Here I was to run in and pick up the records which were to be waiting for me. Nothing is ever that simple. I learned that the person with whom I had been working was out until later in the week. As that was not workable in light of our departure date, I pressed to see if she had perhaps left the records she had pulled for someone else to prepare. After some digging they did find them and soon I was out of there with the death records of my great-grandparents and several birth and marriage records. Then it was back to the PSA.

At the PSA I had them pull the records from WWII which listed out various executions, persons sent to concentration camps and those who returned after the war. The records contained only Polish names which was a reminder that the Poles also suffered greatly under the Nazis.

It had occurred to me that while I have obtained a translated version of the Radom Book of Residents through Jewishgen, there were earlier versions that I had not seen. A Book of Residents lists out the residents within a family with notations as to births, deaths and often marriages. It is a very good way to learn about family groupings and related families. I learned that the earliest Book of Residents was from 1840 and that an index by surname was available. Under each surname was listed the given names in the family grouping. From the number provided they were able to pull the books that pertained to the surnames in which I was interested. I soon made a very special discovery, the family of my great-great grandparents with listings of children of whom I had been unaware.

My second discovery of the day was a typed listing from the late 1800s of all of the synagogue members with names recorded in both Polish and Russian. There was my great-grandfather’s name. Earlier I had found a listing of contributions to the synagogue where his name was listed in handwritten Cyrillic Russian, but a typed list in both languages was far easier to decipher. I also noted an unusual record that had names and marks beside each name as if someone were keeping score. I learned that it represented a vote on who would serve on the governing body of the synagogue. Another list of both Polish and Jewish names noted the required contribution of each individual to a new hospital in 1813. As the names were patronymics (no surnames except the father's name with an ending), I had the opportunity to use the cross-reference I had discovered earlier. You may recall that this listed the patronymics of the Jews in 1823 and then the surnames they were required to take in that year. All of these discoveries made for a very successful research trip.

After we departed the Archives, we met up with Jakub, a staff person at a local arts and culture center in Radom. I had connected with Jakub on-line and asked for photos of former Jewish areas in Radom. Jakub presented me with a CD with photos of Jewish locations assembled by students in the area. I hope to add it to the Radom Shtetlink site in addition to some of my research discoveries. He had secured the key to the Jewish cemetery and we drove to where it is located. There we found about 340 tombstones of which only 40 are intact. A small building listed the names of each neighboring region and the number of Jews who had resided in each. With a flourish Jakub pulled back a curtain and there was the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead which I then recited, grateful for the visual aid. The cemetery had been destroyed by the Nazis with many of the stones used for paving streets. Tombstones were located and fragments went on the wall of the cemetery. Complete tombstones stood upright in the cemetery, no longer associated with their original grave, but there to commemorate the former Jewish community and its inhabitants. The cemetery area was quite large which provided some sense of the size of the cemetery in earlier days.

We then drove to where the old synagogue had been located. It is now a plaza with a commemorative sculpture at one end. The base of the sculpture is composed of stones from the old synagogue. The base of the original pillars stand at one end and the footprint of the synagogue is reflected in the plaza.

I had shared with Jakub that I recorded the addresses of family based on the 1930 and 1932 Business directories. We then began a scavenger hunt trying to find each one and photograph it. Some buildings no longer existed or had been replaced with new ones, but some looked as if they could have been the original building. One of the most important family sites was eerily around the corner from where I had been spending my time. The Archives stand at Rynek 1, my great-uncle lived at Rynek 9. I imagined him peering my way as I researched our family. Our visit to Radom was well worth it in terms of research, but also in terms of the personal connections we made with many of the Polish people.

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