We have submitted over 60,000 burial records to the
JewishGen.org Online Worldwide Burial Registry
allowing researchers around the world virtual access to Montreal-area Jewish cemeteries.
This was made possible by the
Baron de Hirsch Cemeteries,
which provided access to their full databases
of cemeteries on de la Savane and at the Back River Memorial Gardens,
along with the efforts of Alan Greenberg.
Starting in 2007, Merle Kastner and others
began photographing gravestones in Montreal-area cemeteries,
and submissions of records with photographs to JOWBR began in 2008.
Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal
The addition of photographs to JOWBR records is a major advance in their utility
as genealogical sources:
With search capabilities in JOWBR,
it is possible to find a record with alternate or incorrect spellings,
at which point, a researcher can extract for themselves the information they need.
Many submissions of photographs to JOWBR were delayed more than five years due to a lack of volunteers.
With the assistance of volunteers like you,
we can get photographs online with much less delay.
- Gravestones provide a source for the information in the cemetery records,
and while etched in stone does not always mean accurate,
they are a primary source.
Death dates and burial dates are often mixed-up in cemetery records;
to the family, the date of death is most important, while to the cemetery,
it is the burial date that is key.
Cemetery records contain errors or omissions in basic information like surname and given names.
- Gravestones provide information that may not have been added to a burial record,
including maiden names, nicknames, birth dates, etc.
Jewish gravestones often provide the Hebrew name of the deceased,
which includes the name of their father, and sometimes their mother:
key genealogical information for supporting or ruling out a relationship.
Jewish gravestones often provide the date of death on the Jewish Calendar,
which, if in conflict with the civil date, usually means that the death occurred after sundown,
which is when the Jewish calendar changes.
- Gravestones often provide information that is ordinarily not associated with a burial record,
including the roles in the family (e.g., grandmother), occupation (e.g., M.D.),
and history (e.g., Holocaust Survivor).
They can memorialize family not buried in the cemetery.
Progress to Date
Merle Kastner photographed and submitted records for several Jewish cemeteries in Quebec,
both in Montreal and around.
She also photographed the 21 sections of Back River Memorial Gardens,
and those records were submitted to JOWBR by Gary Perlman.
Merle Kastner and Gary Perlman photographed
the permitted sections of Eternal Gardens in Beaconsfield.
With smaller cemeteries either photographed or not approved for photographing,
the obvious need for photographs is The Big One,
the Baron de Hirsch cemeteries on de la Savane,
with about 50,000 burials in over 100 sections.
It's a daunting task.
At the end of 2016,
using Merle Kastner's photos from 2007,
Gary Perlman took additional photographs and submitted the first photographed section of
the Baron de Hirsch cemetery on de la Savane:
the Veterans' Field of Remembrance.
In 2017, working independently,
Gary Perlman and Bruce Katkin (visiting from Toronto),
started photographing sections on de la Savane (fortunately, different sections),
and in June of 2017, the first newly photographed sections were added to JOWBR,
representing almost 2500 burials.
Bruce had taken pictures for over 1000 burials
that did not get processed before the deadline for the JOWBR biannual update,
but they should be released for the next update in December of 2017.
With the experience of photographing a
with over 2000 burials,
Gary began photographing additional sections during the summer of 2017,
with the goal of building a backlog
to be processed when Montreal weather would not permit photographing
(about six months of the year).
He focused his attention on sections that had not been photographed by
a commercial enterprise that charges a subscription for access.
While our goal is to provide free access to photos of all Montreal-area Jewish burials,
it makes practical sense to first provide photos that no one has taken.
By the end of the summer of 2017,
Gary expects to have close to 20,000 photos for about 12,000 burials
(many modern burials have both a headstone and a footstone, so there are more pictures than burials).
What Needs To Be Done
Photos for JOWBR have just a few
Photos are taken with higher resolution than needed, with wide margins around the stones,
to allow for editing (i.e., rotating, cropping, brightness correction).
With today's cameras and phones, photo files tend to be around 3-10MB,
but just reducing the JPEG quality setting to 75, which is almost indiscernible,
gets images much closer to the 500KB size requirement,
so this is being done to the unedited photo files.
- Only one JPEG format photo per record
- Under 500KB in size
- Named with only alphanumeric and underscore
(e.g., A1_1345.jpg or 1980_RAPPAPORT_Lena.jpg)
Once the photos are taken, they are renamed using the cemetery section and sequence number,
so you can "walk" with the photographer by following the sequence.
These steps can be done in different amounts, by different people, in different places,
at different times.
- editing: Images are edited to cut out irrelevant information
(and not cut out relevant information).
Special software exists for doing a lot of this kind of editing,
and rates of 2-3 per minute are common.
- associating: Images are associated with records in a database or spreadsheet.
With the ability to recorder records to match the order the photos were taken,
rates of 3-6 per minute are common.
- transcribing: Data from the images is transcribed into the records.
With the photos in the records,
transcription is less important than when the images are unavailable.
Still, it's desirable for the data in the records to be accurate.
With online research databases readily available,
it is possible to spend several minutes with each record,
but anything over a minute might be getting into genealogical research.
In that amount of time, it is possible to look up an obituary
(Montreal obituaries are online after about 2000) and extract the information.
- checking: The records and images should be checked for accuracy.
Any of the above steps might have gone wrong:
the wrong image might be associated with a record, or
the data in the record might not match the information on the image.
What You Can Do
What people can do to contribute to the effort depends in part on
figuring out how to collaborate.
There is a major need for photo editing.
With 20,000 images, at 2-3 per minute,
that's 6,666-10,000 minutes, or 111-167 hours.
In batches of 2-3 hours, that's about 50 assignments.
We can create a zip file of 200 photos that you can download,
edit, and upload to dropbox or some other sharing service,
or upload to a server using FTP.
We can provide instructions about expectations.
Getting a two-hour assignment done in two weeks seems reasonable.
We don't currently have a good way to assign the task of associating photos with records,
but we have some approaches we might pursue.
We might have a way to pop up a form for a record,
so data can be entered/modified,
but a lot of details need to be worked out.
There is a
that allows you to see the data and associated images,
and there is a "Report" button that you can click and report any problems.
You can check records informally,
or you can be given an assignment,
for which, if you like,
you can get confidential feedback on how well you did
(by seeding the data with known errors,
we can get an estimate of your error detection rate,
and along with that, an estimate of how many errors remain).
To volunteer, send an email to: cemetery at jgs-montreal.org.