Sunday, October 13, 2013

AGAD Archives Adventures

Back in the earlier days of JRI-Poland, there was an arrangement whereby you could find records and order them directly from the Polish State Archives (PSA), including the AGAD archives, which is located in Warsaw but holds the records for east Galicia - my prime area of interest. They charged fifteen dollars for the first record and ten dollars for each additional record in the same order and the records came by mail.

Seven years ago, under new PSA management, the arrangement came apart and both the indexing and the ordering system were shut down.

When I began working full-time on genealogy five and a half years ago, I decoded that I wanted to acquire many more Pikholz and Pikholz-related records, not just the one-or-two per family that I had ordered until then. I looked into ordering directly from AGAD and found that they insisted on being paid by bank transfer. The cost of that bank transfer was high and made small orders very expensive.

So I decided to put together larger orders, including my own and those for other people, thus diluting the bank charges. I started with a fixed charge per record - ignoring the fact that AGAD charged double for records of two pages - and hoped to get enough interest from other people to cover not only the bank charges and my mailing costs, but part of the cost of my own records. That worked well enough that I later dropped the price and dropped it even further for larger orders.

This project, while enabling me to order my own records almost at will, required alot of work and aggravation, both vis a vis AGAD and vis a vis the people who wanted the records - many of whom made errors, paid me late or became general nudniks. A few stiffed me entirely, but since I never knew what AGAD would actually deliver, I could not ask for payment in advance. AGAD itself usually sent a few incorrect records that led to a few weeks of additional correspondence and delays.

And there was always significant, time consuming correspondence with people who did not understand that "records from east Galicia" did not include Lublin, Krakow, Kielce and who-knows-where-else.

This was not, I must emphasize, designed as a commercial endeavor. I only took other peoples' orders if I was ordering anyway - whether for myself or for research customers.

Eventually, AGAD began delivering scanned records online - a savings in postage, but requiring more work to sort them out.

About a year ago, everything changed as many of the records were placed online and people could download them free. It is not a simple process, as the link does not always the target the correect image, but it's usually off by no more than fifteen-twenty pages, so with a bit of patience, it's not hard to work with. Nonetheless, even today, I am approached by strangers asking me to help find their records because AGAD's links are imprecise.

Today's story is about a specific record of mine that I had ordered last year.  A search for the births to the couple Josef Pikholz and Lea Schwager turned up these six records:

My interest was in the last three, all in the same book. I had the others from previous orders. Taube and Chana Chaje are in consecutive akts in the same year, so they are twins. Mordko Hersch was born three years later. (Smaller towns often had several years bound into a single book.) This last record shows again why we should order as many records as possible, for only in his birth record, do we see that the mother is called Feige Lea, rather than just Lea.

In the meantime, the records became available online, so there was no need to order them - nor would they have provided them if I had. Following is the record for Mordko Hersch. It is the second one on the page. (I cropped the image to exclude the two additional records at the bottom of the page.)
 And here we see the parents' names enlarged. As you can see, the father is Josef Pikholz, as
expected, but the mother is not Feige Lea Schwager, but Henie Menczer - someone else entirely. Clearly what happened was that they has stitched the correct left page with an incorrect right page.  I leafed a few pages in each direction, but did not see the correct mother.

This error was not anything I had seen before, but their online scanned project was new and probably done without quality control. Beyond that, however, the left side of the next page was correct and since that was the other side of my right side, it was clear that they had the pages in hand and in order. (Friday, I heard from Mark Halpern of JRI-Poland and he explained that the scans online were not made from the books, but from microfilms, so the problem is in the microfilms.)

Another record - this one from Skalat - that I wanted about the same time came through like this: I wanted the second record on the page and it had the mother's side completely covered.

So I wrote to them about both records. several times. Eventually they gave me a better copy of the one here on the left, but they insisted that the Mordko Hersch record was correct. I pointed out to them that the index was different, but they insisted that they were not responsible for the index.

In the meantime, I was copying JRI-Poland's management about this, largely because I was concerned that other people were seeing incorrect records but didn't realize it.

In Boston, I brought up the subject publicly at a JRI-Poland volunteers meeting and another person in attendance told me that she had the same problem with one of her Skole records. The mother's data was from some other record.

After Boston, I tried two more times and on the second, copied Stanley Diamond of JRI-Poland. I had marked this on my calendar for follow up in three weeks, but Stanley said I should let him know if I didn't get results in one week.

And so it was that I received both records correctly. Or more precisely, I received the "covered" record uncovered as well as the right side of the Mordko Hersch record. I stitched the two sides together myself. I also alerted the woman with the Skole record and I assume she is pursuing it.

Today, I looked at the search results once again and they have made a change.

They added a column for the page number. The "view image" link still goes to the incorrectly stitched record. And they show two page numbers: 375, where the correct left side is, and 386 where the incorrect right side is. So those page numbers in fact match the faulty image.

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Housekeeping notes
I plan to place an order for AGAD record in two-three weeks, including the new ones I wrote about here a few weeks ago. No one else has joined my order yet, but several people have asked about other archives.

I received my copy on the Summer AVOTAYNU this week, which includes  an article of mine called GETTING IT WRONG. When I have a few minutes, I'll put it on my website.

The same issue opens with articles by Randy Schoenberg and my some-kind-of-cousin Adam Brown on Online Collaborative Genealogy and in particular, They presented the same subject in Boston. The next AVOTAYNU will have my response, plus something from the editor. This is really important.

I was in Haifa this week and took photographs of five Pikholz graves that I had not gotten before. Those are now online. Two others I didn't get to.

We received new DNA results this week. One is a Kwoczka cousin who matches most of the Pikholz from both Skalat and Rozdol. Another is from a Skalat Pikholz (from Grzmaylow, actually) who had not told me that he finally sent in his test. A third is a Pikholz descendant from Brezdowicz (near Rozdol) who had not even mentioned ordering a test.

Two webinars on DNA next week. I hope I'll learn something.

1 comment:

  1. And I want to thank you for your service of ordering records. I took you up on the offer to order records a few times and was always satisfied.