Are you researching Chernivtsi? Or are you researching Chernivtsi? #ukraine

Steve Stein

This is a follow-up recommendation to a discussion I initiated several weeks ago on the subject of Chernivtsi in my own family tree that has been resolved to my satisfaction. I am not seeking further discussion on the original topic.


It seems that there are two totally valid, verified Jewish communities, both in Ukraine, named Chernivtsi, that appear on the Jewish Communities Database and have people registered in the JGFF. Prior to Ukrainian independence and prior to JewishGen’s standardizing on Ukrainian names, they had different names. One, the city of Czernovitz, was in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bukovina before World War I, Cernauti in Romania during the inter-war period, and Chernovtsy, Ukraine SSR during and after World War II. The other, the shtetl of Chernevtsy, was in Podolia Guberniya in the Russian Empire prior to WW I and in Ukraine SSR after that.


So what’s the problem? The Family Finder relies on unique place names within a present-day country. In most cases when nonunique place names happen, such as Horodok, Ukraine, JewishGen has disambiguated the towns by appending additional text to the town name it uses, in this case,  “Horodok, (Jagiellonski)” vs. “Horodok, (Podolia)”, both in Ukraine. So it is difficult to select the wrong Horodok for your JGFF entry because both require additional text in order to validate.


Not the case for Chernivtsi. If all you enter is Chernivtsi, you get the Bukovina one; in order to get the smaller Podolia one, you have to enter “Chernivtsi (Kleyn-Tshernevits)” (which, appropriately, means “little Chernovitz”). This is because disambiguating text has not been added to the name of the city.


Though the city had about eight times as many Jews as the shtetl at the turn of the 20th century (17,300 vs. 2,200), the number of JGFF entries is way more lopsided (1,700 vs. 21). I suspect that some of you who SHOULD be researching the shtetl are actually listed for the city. And there are only about twice as many burial society plots in the New York area for the city (e.g. “First Progressive Society of Czernowitz Bucowina”) than for the shtetl (e.g. “Chernowitz Podolier Aid Association”), according to JGSNY’s Burial Societies Database (which I maintain).


This issue has been reported to JewishGen, and is in the process of being resolved, but as yet there is no plan. If you have suggestions, please contact me and I will pass them along. In the meantime, if you are researching Chernivtsi, you may want to double-check your entries to see if you are registered incorrectly. How would you know? The way I determined that I had been mistaken was because the naturalization papers of those relatives that came from “Chernivtsi” said that they were subjects of the Russian Empire. The city of Chernovitz was NEVER part of the Russian Empire (it became part of the Soviet Union during World War II), so if your relatives were Russian, you may want to consider correcting your JGFF entries. Or if your relatives are buried in a landsmanshaft plot, see whether it is a Bukoviner or a Podolier plot.


Please contact me privately if you need clarification.


Steve Stein

Highland Park, NJ USA

Steve Stein

Researcher Igor Holyboroda correctly points out that my statement that the city of Czernovitz was never party of the Russian Empire is technically not correct - that it was under the rule of the Russian Empire for two short periods during World War I. My hypothesis still holds, however, that a former resident of the city would never renounce his or her citizenship in the Russian Empire when applying for US citizenship.

I am interested (privately) if anyone has taken up on my suggestion to investigate whether their ancestry was from the Podolia shtetl rather than the city of Czernovitz.

Steve Stein
Highland Park, NJ