Re: Strategies for viewing and translating microfilm #general

Boris Feldblyum <boris.feldblyum@...>

Expanding on Schelly Dardashti's excellent suggestions, it is
important to remember that reading old records is more about
deciphering chicken-scratch-like handwriting than translating, at
least in the beginning, at the library. While it is good idea to ask
native Russian-speakers to write a name in cursive, it is even better
to photocopy it >from as many old records as possible. Russian
orthography was simplified in 1918, with several letter disappearing
as a result. Although the name Talalai is written today exactly as it
was 100 years ago, other names, e.g. Ratner will have the letter
called "yat'" at the end (old Russian version of silent "e"), etc. It
is also possible that a name might be hyphenated when it did not fit
into a column, e.g. Ta-lalai or R-atner, etc., so the eye must be
trained to recognize variations.

Researching microfilmed records is actually not about research and
analysis, that will come later. It is about scanning a microfilm,
recognizing the name - and hitting the Print button. Even if a record
turns out later to be a false positive, it is still better than not
copying and having regrets later. It is highly unlikely you will have
the time or desire to look for it again. Each microfilm reel contains
a little over 1000 frames, that is 5000-6000 records. Even for a
native Russian speaker it is not easy to process so many records in a
few hours (I can review a microfilm reel in one day, on the average,
leaving the library with blurry eyes and a headache). It is also
important to make the best quality copy of the entire page, not just
one record. The handwriting may be a bit more legible in the adjacent
records thus making the job of translating "your" record easier.

Naidia Woolf, whose advise was just as good, missed that Uman records
which Bill Saslow has ordered, will contain no Polish language.
Indexes, if any, will be in Russian, as Uman is south of Kiev.
Records, to which she referred, are written in Napoleonic format,
common in Russian Poland and modern day southwest Lithuania. There
are two excellent books by Judith Frazin that explain how to read and
understand these records. My own method of quickly finding names in
such records was a part of a presentation at the 2003 IAJGS conference
in Washigton, DC. The notes, if anybody is interested, are still at

Good luck in your search!

Boris Feldblyum

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