JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Ritual Wife registered as unmarried, Lvov about 1910 #general

Pamela Weisberger

MIchael Diamant asks:

"I recently received a Polish birth certificate (translated into
English) which listed the individual as "illegitimate". The space for
the father was left blank. However, the mother's description listed
her as unmarried and the "ritual wife of the known father". My
question is, What is a ritual wife and does that title infer
illegitimacy on her children? The union of the mother and father as
well as the birth of their children took place in Lvov, c1910. Would
I be able to obtain a marriage certificate >from Lvov archives?"

As you may have read before on this list -- and as Mark Halpern
(JRI-Poland) has written extensively about -- many 19th and 20th
century Galician Jews were never married in a civil ceremony, causing
a great deal of confusion for their 21st century genealogist-relatives
who are trying to make sense of vital records and search indexes,
especially when the word "illegitimate" appears.

"Ritual wife," means that a woman and her husband had a religious
ceremony only. In the eyes of the Jewish community they were married,
but in the eyes of the government they were not.

I'm sure the couple had a nice ketubah, now lost to history, proving
that they were man and wife in the contractual and religious sense,
but to the state who registered births, the children were illegitimate
until such time as the parents decided to have a civil marriage. Such
a "delayed marriage" might never have happened, or it might have
happened many years later when the family wanted to obtain passports
or travel papers to emigrate and it would be more convenient to have
the wife and children carry the father/husband's name. Otherwise many
of the children took their mother's name, unless -- in certain special
cases -- the father showed up at the governmental offices and claimed
paternity even without the benefit of a legal marriage. With large
Galician families you'll see a variety of surnames or missing surnames
for the different children. Total confusion.

It is always worth checking online indexes for the couple's names even
if the year seems wrong to you. If the ages of the people are older,
very often it reflects one of these delayed marriages for a couple
already "ritually" married, versus a second marriage for widows or

You also see many middle aged couples in Vienna (>from Galicia and on
their way to America) getting married, with their children standing by
in the records held by the IKG (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien) --
the Jewish community office in Vienna, so you should also check this
database which has indexes for Jewish records held in Vienna: You might be surprised to find relatives there
even if Vienna has never come up in family stories.

No marriage record, however, will be available >from the Polish or
Ukrainian archives if it does not appear either in online indexes or
if there is not a reflection in the birth documents that the couple
ever had a civil marriage. Any records that a rabbi might have kept
for a religious ceremony would not have found its way to the
governmental offices, and, eventually, the archives. (Which is not to
say that every now and then a surprising record book is discovered at
an archive.)

Due to the destruction of most of the Jewish population, synagogues
and Jewish community offices in the Holocaust, most of those record
books did not survive. Every now and then you hear of someone in a
shtetl who "rescued" this type of book, or set of records documenting
Jewish life, and someone touring a shtetl happens upon them, but those
instances are the exception, not the rule.

Pamela Weisberger
President, Gesher Galicia

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