A Virtual Recreation of a Vanished Province
Pamela A. Weisberger, President & Research Coordinator, Gesher Galicia
Jay Osborn – Gesher Galicia Map Room Coordinator – www.geshergalicia.org
Galicia, a former province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ceased to exist in 1918, but the cadastral maps created by the crown land’s cartographers provide an incomparable portrait of this historical region. In 2007, the international research group, Gesher Galicia (“The Bridge to Galicia”) initiated the Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project, resulting in several online platforms where mapping intersects with visual and metrical records to create a unique research portal.
The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, spanning what is now Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine, was the largest province of the Empire. In 1773, Galicia had 2.6 million inhabitants in 280 cities and market towns, 5500 villages, plus hamlets, groups of houses and manorial farms. Roughly 75 percent of these communities had Jewish residents in sizable numbers. The complex relationships between magnates, peasants, and Jews dissolved – as did Galicia –in the war-torn turmoil of the early 20th century. The Shoah decimated the Jewish population and the majority of Poles were repatriated to their homeland during – and after – WWII, but the footprints of these former Galitzianers are found in the huge collections of cadastral maps and documents scattered among archives, libraries, and repositories in every country which lays claim to a piece of this almost mythical province.
In the spring of 2007, Gesher Galicia began obtaining images of cadastral maps and landowner records from historical and regional archives in Lviv, Ternopil, Kraków, Przemyśl, and Rzeszów. The Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project was established to introduce historians, genealogists, and Holocaust researchers to the valuable, but underutilized, information found in cadastral maps and to encourage new research based on the merging of cartographic images and data with a wide variety of “companion” records.
The project objectives were:
- to survey and document archival property records and maps for towns in Galicia
- to digitally photograph or scan cadastral maps for this region
- to digitize and/or index landowner records as companion pieces to the maps
- to create online portals to display high-resolution maps and provide search engines for researching records
- to annotate maps by merging data from records, personal testimonies, newspapers, and ephemera to create a multi-dimensional portrait of a town, showing its evolution in a cartographic timeline
As of 2013, the re-named Galician Archival Records Project has catalogued the archival holdings of cadastral maps and records for over 150 towns and included over 1700 record sets in the searchable inventory. The record types have expanded to include voter, tax, magnate, tabula, governmental, and school records. Gesher Galicia targets for review, acquisition and/or indexing any document with information tied to a resident, house, parcel or building number
The All Galicia Database (AGD), launched in 2011, now has more than 200,000 records from over 75 Galician data sources, including: birth, death, marriage, and divorce records; directories; school, voter, tax, and landowner records. These diverse community records cover all the ethnic/religious groups: Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Germans, Catholics and Greek Catholic. The LeafSeek.com search application developed for this heterogeneous database handles multiple datasets of different types and allows researchers to sort and find inter-connections in data.
Gesher Galicia’s online Map Room currently displays more than 35 digitized and assembled historical cadastral maps, with a backlog of several times that number to be processed. Researchers continue to work in archives, libraries, and other repositories in Ukraine and Poland, gathering more map images and data. Free (usually open-source) and low-cost software tools have been used to digitally “stitch” map images together, both within and between the numerous sheets typical of cadastral maps from the several Empire surveys, so that researchers can seamlessly navigate full town geographies in a browser window. Experimental maps have been developed to trial true geo-referencing, overlays of historical and contemporary maps, and interactive locators for buildings by name or number. Current development is focused on integration of the digitized maps with the non-graphical records data in the AGD. Because the current map assembly work is done manually and the present map trials use a variety of disconnected tools, Gesher Galicia is considering a transition to true GIS software for future work and partnerships with other organizations for data and techniques.
Gesher Galicia’s long-term goal is to bring these vanished communities to life by integrating and visualizing the cultural layers of Galicia, as evidenced in cadastral maps, genealogical records and historical documents, in an innovative online portal.