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Jewish 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 Galicia.

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.

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