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Roots in the Ukraine and Moldova
Reviewed by W. F. Hoffman, PGSA Summer 1999 Bulletin
Last year in these pages we twice discussed Miriam Weiner's Jewish
Roots in Poland: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories (Secaucus,
New Jersey: Routes to Roots Foundation, 1997). My first reaction to it
appeared in the August, 1998 issue of Rodziny, and in the Fall
1998 Bulletin Leonard Jakubczak gave it a more thorough review.
Perhaps that was overkill. But it was an event in itself that interest
in Eastern European genealogy has grown so great that publishing such
a detailed, richly illustrated work was feasible.
Miriam Weiner has done it again. I have before me a copy of Jewish
Roots in Ukraine and Moldova: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories,
copublished by the Routes to Roots Foundation and the YIVO Institute for
Jewish Research. It is an incredible book. While I would welcome an objective
analysis from another reviewer, to print in a future issue, I feel members
deserve at least some immediate discussion of its merits.
Before saying anything else, I must point out that I helped Miriam with
certain aspects of the book (by phone and mail), and enjoyed this limited
collaboration very much. So I can not pretend to be unbiased. However,
my contribution was limited to one of the appendixes in this 624?page
book (until I saw the finished product I had no idea what a tiny part
that was of the whole!). By concentrating on the 95% of the book I had
no part in, perhaps I can achieve a reasonable degree of objectivity.
There are two obvious questions PGSA members will raise immediately.
The first is, however glorious the book, does it have any relevance to
Polish genealogy? Years of dealing with surname research, answering questions
on?line and by snail mail, and mailing out thousands of copies of our
publications to members and seeing their names, have convinced me that
many "Poles" have Ukrainian ancestry. Part of the challenge
of research is finding enough information about that part of the world
to make sense of tangled ethnic backgrounds that may involve roots in
Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, even Moldova. Clearly Galician research, for
instance, is relevant to Polish research, and you can't talk about Galicia
without paying a lot of attention to Ukraine! So yes, a good book on Ukraine
can be directly relevant to Polish research.
The other question, of course, is, how useful to our members is a book
on Jewish Ukrainian roots? It is a simple fact that most of our members
are primarily of Christian ancestry; Jews, naturally enough, concentrate
on the societies that specialize in Jewish research and the various factors
that make it unique. So even if this is a breakthrough for Jewish research,
can it also prove useful for non-Jews?
I believe it can, more so than was true of Jewish Roots in Poland.
The biggest section of that book consisted of a list of archival holdings
in Poland for Jewish records; as Mr. Jakubczak's review showed, at times
that list proves indirectly helpful for non-Jewish researchers, at times
it doesn't. This book has a sizable listing of archival holdings of Jewish
documents in Ukraine and Moldova, covering 1,392 towns; but in terms of
percentage it is a much smaller part of the whole. Take it out, and you
still have what amounts to a lavishly illustrated guide book to Ukraine,
with 970 color photos of 190 towns; it also has 121 black and white photos
and 115 document samples (many of which will be familiar to anyone who's
done Ukrainian research), as well as 20 maps in color. Of course the photos
and documents concentrate on material relevant to Jewish research. But
there is so much visual information, as well as text, that it cannot help
but prove valuable to anyone interested in that region especially since
really good books on Ukraine are difficult to come by.
For many, the price may be the determining factor, and at $60, plus $8
shipping and handling ($15 outside the U. S.), this is no small investment.
The printing costs of this book must have been enormous, so the price
is actually very reasonable for what you get-but that's not our concern.
Our concern is whether it's a good buy for our members.
Only you can judge whether you can afford $68 for a beautifully done,
richly illustrated book crammed full of information relevant to research
in Ukraine and Moldova, much of it relevant regardless of religion. If
you have some Jewish ancestry from that region and can afford it, this
is a no-brainer. If you cannot really justify spending that much on a
source for Ukrainian research, you, too, have an easy decision; spend
considerably less and get Brian Lenius's Genealogical Gazetteer of
The hard decision comes for those with roots in Ukraine but no Jewish
ancestry, who are willing to pay that much for a source only if it delivers
the goods. To them I can say only that this is a magnificent book, one
worth serious consideration. If possible, try to find a copy at a library
or conference and look it over; that might help you decide if it's a good
buy for you.
Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova: Pages from the Past and Archival
Inventories, Miriam Weiner, ISBN 0-19656580-1-2, is available for $60
plus $8 p&h (overseas $15) from: The Miriam Weiner Routes to Roots Foundation,
Inc., P. 0. Box 2879, Clifton, NJ 07015-2879; for Visa or Master Card
orders call 1-800-742-5403.