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A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. It describes towns, villages, rivers, mountains, and other geographical features. It usually includes the names of places that existed when the gazetteer was published. The place-names are generally listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.
Gazetteers may also provide information such as:
- Present-day administrative jurisdictions, such as counties, provinces, and districts.
- Religious jurisdictions, such as locations of Jewish congregations and Christian parishes.
- Statistics about the population, often including the population of Jews and other religions.
- Reference to local commerce, major cities in the vicinity, and sometimes historical notes.
You can use a gazetteer to locate where your family lived and determine the jurisdictions where records may have been kept. Gazetteers can help determine the county jurisdictions used in the FamilySearch Catalog.
When learning about a locality for genealogical purposes, you should use both old and modern gazetteers. Old gazetteers have information about older jurisdictions, Jewish communities that no longer exist, and town names as they existed over the years. Some names have changed several times as the boundaries and governments of a country have changed, and the name may be different in family documents from how it is listed today.
On the other hand, modern gazetteers are also important for genealogical work. They can be used to determine how the town name is spelled today, which may be crucial for finding the town on a map. It is necessary to know how the town name is spelled today and where it is located in order to write letters requesting records.
The Family History Library has an outstanding collection of gazetteers from all over the world. These can be categorized into two groups: general gazetteers and Jewish gazetteers. Some examples of both types are given here.
Although many of these gazetteers may have been compiled after your ancestors left these countries, location of towns changed very little during the 18th and 19th centuries. A gazetteer from 1914 will list the same towns that existed there a century earlier. There was often more than one variation of the town name, depending on the language and ethnic group, but the location seldom changed.
Most gazetteers are written for a general audience, not specifically for Jews. Generally, gazetteers list all localities in a country and may give information that pertains to the Jewish population. Because most Jews lived in cities and not rural areas, a general world gazetteer can often be of help. The following is a good general gazetteer:
The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. Ed. Saul B. Cohen. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998. (FHL book 910.3 C723.)
Some of the best gazetteers are for specific states or countries. Country-specific gazetteers described here also list references to Jewish communities and synagogues. Although this section has descriptions of several specific gazetteers, the Family History Library and other libraries have many gazetteers not listed here. For other countries, refer to the FamilySearch Catalog and descriptions of gazetteers found in vWiki research articles, if available, for the countries where your ancestors lived.
Because most Jews trace their origins to Central and Eastern Europe, the references cited in this section are for this area only. Following is a description of gazetteers from the former Austrian, Hungarian, German, and Russian Empires. Poland was part of the Austrian, Prussian (German), and Russian Empires and will be included in the gazetteers mentioned under those headings.
In the late 1800s Austria contained a large portion of eastern Europe, including parts of present-day Poland, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Croatia. Many Jews were displaced from towns and cities in this part of Europe.
The following gazetteer for this region was based on the 1900 Austrian census. The volume for each province is arranged by district and includes an index to German and local place-names. If you do not find the town on the page listed in the index, check the footnotes. Parishes and synagogues are not listed in the main text but are in an appendix located between the main text and the index of each volume. The appendix is arranged alphabetically by district and sub-district. The synagogues and parishes are given in the last column: Standort der röm.-kath., gr.-kath. und isr. Matrikelstellen (location of the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Jewish Place of Registration):
Gemeindelexikon der im Reichsrate vertretenen Königreiche und Länder (=Gazetteer of the crownlands and Territories Represented in the Imperial Council). 14 vols. Vienna: K.K. Statistisches Zentralkommission, 1903–1908. (FHL book 943.6 E5g; film [see below].)
|1187925 Item 2 Vol.1||Niederösterreich (Lower Austria, now part of Austria)|
|1187925 Item 3 Vol 2||Oberösterreich (Upper Austria, now part of Austria)|
|1187925 Item 4 Vol 3||Salzburg (Salzburg, now part of Austria)|
|1187926 Item 1 Vol 4||Steiermark (Styria, now part of Austria and Slovenia)|
|1187926 Item 2 Vol 5||Kärnten (Carinthia, now part of Austria, Italy, and Slovenia)|
|1187926 Item 3 Vol 6||Krain (Carniola, now part of Slovenia)|
|1187926 Item 4 Vol 7||Küstenland (Coastland, now part of Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia)|
|1187926 Item 5 Vol 8||Tirol und Vorarlberg (Tyrol and Vorarlberg, now part of Austria and Italy)|
|1187927 Item 1 Vol 9||Böhmen (Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic)|
|924736 Item 1 Vol10||Mähren (Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic)|
|1187927 Item 2 Vol 11||Schlesien (Silesia, now part of Poland and the Czech Republic)|
|1187928 Item 1 Vol 12||Galizien (Galicia, now part of Poland and Ukraine)|
|1187928 Item 2 Vol 13||Bukovina (Bukovina, now part of Romania and Ukraine)|
|1187928 Item 3 Vol 14||Dalmatien (Dalmatia, now part of Croatia)|
Hungary was a large empire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It included large portions of present-day Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine.
A useful gazetteer of this entire region, which lists places where Jews in each town worshiped, is:
Magyarország Helységnévtára (=Gazetteer of Hungary). 2 vols. János Dvorzák, comp. Budapest: "Havi Füzetek," 1877. (FHL book 943.9 E5d; film 0599564 [Vol. I] and 0973041 [Vol. II]; fiche 6000840.)
Volume I is an alphabetical index of localities. Entries in the index are followed by the name of the old Hungarian county and a set of numbers, which refer to the entry in volume II. The first number is the number of the county; the second is the number of the district; the last is the number of the locality. Town names have spelling variations in parentheses following the Hungarian standard spelling.
Use the numbers from the index to find the entry for your town. Population figures are given according to religion. The following abbreviations are used:
|rk.||Római Katholikus||Roman Catholic|
|gk.||Görög Katholikus||Greek Catholic|
|kg.||Keleti Görög||Greek Orthodox|
|ag.||gostai Augsburg||Evangelical Lutheran|
If the village had a parish church (or synagogue for Jews), the abbreviation for the religion will be in boldface capital letters. The diocese will follow, also in boldface type. If the people attended church or synagogue elsewhere, the abbreviation of the town for the nearest congregation for that religion will be in lower case. The name of the parish or congregation location follows the population figure. If a dash (—) follows the population figure, it means members of that religion belong to no particular congregation.
In the late 1800s many people left the German Empire for other countries. At that time the Empire (including Prussia) was a much larger territory than it is today and included areas now located in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Denmark, and France. As records of these emigrants often refer to towns by their German names, it is helpful to locate the town today in a German gazetteer from that period. An excellent gazetteer based on the 1910 census of the German Empire is:
- Uetrecht, E., comp. Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs- Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (=Meyer’s place and Transpertation Directory of the German Empire). 2 vols. Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, 1912–1913. (FHL book 943 E5mo; film 0496640–0496641; fiche 6000001– 6000029.)
This gazetteer is written in the old Gothic script, and towns are listed alphabetically. It gives the 1871–1918 political jurisdictions and indicates whether the locality had its own parish or synagogue. The following abbreviations are used:
For a more complete list of Meyer's abbreviations see Abbreviation Table for Meyers Orts und Verkehrs Lexikon Des Deutschen Reichs
A multi-volume gazetteer was compiled for the provinces of the former Kingdom of Prussia based on the 1905 census. It includes statistical information about the number of Jews living in these provinces and other valuable information:
- Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen: auf Grund der Materialen der Volkszählung vom 1. Dezember 1905 und anderer amtlicher Quellen (=Parish Dictionary for the Kingdom of Prussia: Based on the Material of the Census of 1 December 1905 and Other Official Sources). 15 vols. Berlin: Verlag des Königlichen Statistischen Landesamts, 1907–1909. (FHL book 943 E5kp; film 1181005–1181006.)
The Russian Empire in the 1800s and early 1900s comprised most of eastern Europe, including areas of high Jewish concentration: Ukraine, Belo-Russia, and Poland. There are many gazetteers for this area and for individual countries that were once part of it. Two general gazetteers for this region are:
- Cc haceëhhx mect poccco mep (Spiski Naselennykh míèst Rosssko Imperi= List of inhabited places of the Russian Empire). Zug, Switz.: Inter Documentation Co., 1976. (FHL fiche 6002224, parts 1–420.) This gazetteer is used as a standard for place names of the Russian Empire in the FamilySearch Catalog. Separate books were published for each province (Gubernia). This does not list the entire Russian Empire and is missing information on the Baltic States and Belarus.
- Russisches geographisches Namenbuch (RGN) (=Russian Geographical Name Book [RGN]). 12 vols. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1964–1988. (FHL book 947 E5r.) Alphabetical listing of places within the Russian Empire, including Belarus and other frontier regions. Written in German and Russian.
Separate gazetteers in the above series exist for Belarus but are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the name of the province (Gubernia). For example there are gazetteers for Minsk (FHL film 1923576 item 1), Vitebsk (FHL film 1923576 item 3), and Mogilev (FHL film 1923576 item 2 from 1908–1910). Another gazetteer for Minsk is dated 1924 (FHL film 2044163 item 1).
As a result of persecution, many Jews left or were displaced from Russian Poland, which included large sections of Ukraine and Belarus. The following gazetteer may be particularly helpful in identifying a place of origin in this region:
- Sulimierski, Filip. Sownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych Krajów Slowiaskich (=Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries). 15 Vol. Warsaw: Wadysaw Walewski, 1880–1902. (FHL book 943.8 E5c; film 0920957–0920972.) Arranged alphabetically with text in Polish. Usually indicates whether a town had a Jewish population and a synagogue.
In addition to the ones mentioned, the Family History Library has many other gazetteers. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has published gazetteers for each country in the world, which are generally excellent reference sources. Check for these books in the FamilySearch Catalog.
Because Jewish historical reference books include alphabetical listings of Jewish communities, they may be used as gazetteers. Information found in these books includes local history, the Holocaust, remarks concerning record-availability, and alternative spellings.
The following books are a guide to Jewish communities in Germany, the former Austria-Hungary Empire, and the Russian Empire. They include place-name spelling variations, modern country jurisdiction, proximity to larger towns (not always in the same jurisdiction), number of Jewish residents prior to 1945, and references to various other sources where a given locality is mentioned:
- Cohen, Chester G. Shtetl Finder – Jewish Communities in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries in the Pale of Settlement of Russia and Poland, and in Lithuania, Latvia, Galicia, and Bukovina, with names of Residents. Los Angeles: CA, Periday Co., 1980. (FHL book 947 F24s.)
- Mokotoff, Gary and Sallyann Amdur Sack. Where Once We Walked–A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust. Teaneck, New Jersey: Avotaynu, Inc., 1991. (FHL book 940. E5 ms.)
- Mokotoff, Gary. WOWW Companion: A guide to the communities surrounding central & eastern towns. Teaneck, New Jersey: Avotaynu, c1995. (FHL book 940 E5mg supp.)
The JewishGen Internet site includes a gazetteer with 350,000 towns in 24 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It is based on the Geographic Names Database (GNDB) compiled by the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency, which was also used extensively in the compilation of Where Once We Walked. It has links to maps showing where various towns are located in Europe. This system searches by the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex (see the glossary), which may help you find a town name even if it is spelled slightly differently from the gazetteer. The web address is:
This same database is available on microfiche in three indexes: alphabetical, in the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, and by grid location:
Gazetteer of Central and Eastern Europe. 21 fiche. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, c1995, 1998. (FHL fiche 6312315, 6310076, 6306695.) These fiche cannot be circulated by the Family History Library.
For those who read Hebrew, a multi-volume work has been compiled that gives a detailed history and description of Jewish communities of Europe, along with maps, photographs of synagogues, and well- known rabbis and community leaders. It is called Pinkas Hakehillot (Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities) and is explained in greater detail in "Encyclopedias and Dictionaries" in this set of Wiki pages.