Polish Magnate Landowner Talk at the IAJGS Conference #galicia

Pamela Weisberger

Dear IAJGS Attendees & Galitzianers:

I want to draw your attention to a first-time talk at this year's
conference. Although sponsored by Gesher Galicia, it's not just for
Galitzianers and it may offer a whole new research perspective to

On Monday, August 5 at 5:15 in the Imperial Ballroom, Natalie Dunai
and I are presenting:

"Polish Magnate Landowner Records: Bringing 'The Lord's Jews to Life"

Magnates were the most powerful and wealthy noblemen in Poland.
Together with the crown and the church, nobility owned all the land
and the many "shtetl Jews" were involved in the running of the estates
of these nobles. They also had to buy the nobles' liquor, patronize
their mills, pay a fee to fish in their streams and submit to their
judiciary. Yet many wealthier Ashkenazi Jews were drawn to the
religiously tolerant atmosphere of Poland in the 17th century and
moved in droves to settle there over the years.

The Jews in Poland enjoyed a beneficial legal and economic statues and
could travel, change residence, sue in court and own homes and
businesses even while, ironically, the relationship between a Jewish
resident of a privately owned town and the magnates was one of
"subject" and "serf." This talk covers the symbiotic nature of the
Magnate-Jewish interrelationship, where Jews sustained the economic
institutions, while magnates furnished an environment for Jews to
conduct religious and commercial activities. Over time, many Jews
prospered under these circumstances, developing successful trading
and manufacturing businesses, running taverns and inns, and more.
Magnate records -- which are records of these relationships -- are
often unstudied, but hold great genealogical and historical value.

We will provide examples of the personal information delineated in the
existing archival records covering the range of the magnate-Jewish
population experience. These records include contracts your ancestors
might have negotiated to run business in these towns and tax records
listing details about their land holdings and occupations, including
liquor sales, occupations (one shetl had many Jewish beekeepers) along
records of court disputes over money-lending, land sales and horse

Although the focus is Galician research, keep in mind that the
boundaries of Poland in the 17th & 18th centuries were extensive...
which means that records may exist for those of you currently doing
German, Lithuanian, Belorussian or Russian research. Poland at that
time was the largest country in Europe running >from the Silesian and
Brandenburg borders to an area one hundred miles east of the Dnieper
and >from the Baltic to one hundred miles of the Black Sea. This means
that magnate records for towns which are today near Kiev or
Medzhybizh also exist. And many German Jews (who probably
converted) coming >from Baden or Bavaria had noble status conferred
upon them by the court in Vienna (often in return for monetary
payment) and they too owned estates in shtetl communities. My
ancestral shtetl of Grzymalow was, for a number of years, owned by
Leopold Anthony Elkan von Elkansburg, a German Jew who bought it
from a bankrupt Polish Countess, probably as part of a consortium of
wealth German Jewish nobles living in Vienna. He "flipped" it (to use a
modern parlance) about 15 years later, when it went back into the
hands of Polish nobility, the Pininski family, who owned it up until WWII.

Natalie and I will provide examples of fascinating records and explain
how to conduct this type of research, which begins with determining
who owned your town over the span of a hundred years, and how to
locate documents, usually categorized by magnate collection or town
name. Many of these records are starting to go online through national
libraries overseas and are also held in record collections in Poland,
Ukraine and Israel. Used in combination with cadastral maps, you can
also locate the exact place where your relatives lived in these towns and
in some cases see their names written on the maps next to their market
stalls. To view GG's collection of maps go to: maps.geshergalicia.org

I'd like to give a special thanks to genealogist Gayle Schlissel Riley
from California, who was one of the first researchers to present a talk
about Polish magnate records at the Toronto IAJGS Conference in 2002.
She had discovered the rich resource of records for her town of
Tarnobzeg held in the Wawel Castle Archive in Krakow and inspired
many who heard her talk to embark on this line of research. Vital
records I discovered on JRI-Poland for my great grandparents, in which
the location of the birth of their children was written as "obsci dwor"
or "on the grounds of the estate" (instead of providing a house number),
coupled with a family lore, spurred me on. Cut to April of 2013 when
fellow GG board member John Diener and I had the pleasure of dining
in Warsaw with Piotr Pininski, the great grandson of Count Leonard
Pininski, who was the last owner of Grzymalow. We were regaled with
stories about the history of the town, the relationships between the
Jews and the nobility, and viewed his family's personal artifacts that
were once on the estate and his family album. While I can't promise you
will locate the descendents of the magnate who owned your town, I can
promise you'll be invigorated by the possibility and will come to
discover more about the lives your ancestors lead.

For those of you who cannot attend, this talk will be offered for sale
as a DVD and is a LIVE event. Gesher Galicia members will have access
to view this talk on our website starting in September.

Pamela Weisberger
Gesher Galicia

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