We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. Do You agree?

The Jewish Family in Warsaw in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century in Light of Wills

Head: Anna Dybała-Pacholak, M.A.

Contact: a.dybala@student.uw.edu.pl

The academic goal of the project The Jewish Family in Warsaw in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century in Light of Wills is to examine the direction and significance of ties within the Jewish family in Warsaw in the first half of the nineteenth century. It will be examined which type of ties prevailed: familial, neighborly, communal or intercultural. Social and economic ties within the Jewish family have been neglected in previous literature. This is not due to the marginal significance of the issue, but to the difficulties posed by the lack of Jewish memoirs from the territory of the Congress Kingdom, as well as to methodological complexities in researching this issue from a historical perspective. Above all, the project will help us learn what ties prevailed in Jewish families in Warsaw in the first half of the 19th century. It will be particularly important to present indigent families, which have not been studied due to the lack of other sources. Additionally, thanks to the project, it will be possible to answer other research questions, such as: How were relatives and close relatives treated? How often and with what gifts were they presented? How were converts treated, were they completely excluded from the Jewish community through ostracism of family ties, or was this not the rule? To whom were estates ceded more often while preparing wills? What was the role of women and men in testamentary plans? Did the shape of the last will and the instructions it contained depend on the faction of Judaism to which the testator belonged?

Until today, research on the Jewish community has been dominated by the use of acts of state administration or Jewish self-government. Researchers have so far been reluctant to use a demanding source such as notarial records. The solution to my project’s task is possible primarily through an analysis of wills preserved in the files of Warsaw notaries. It will be examined whether and to what extent religious precepts proclaimed by rabbis and tzaddikim translate into the reality of life for the Jewish community in Warsaw. Matters relating to the transfer of property will be examined as material evidence of family ties or expressions of affection. The project will be carried out through the development of research questions using sources already found in the files of Warsaw notaries. These are primarily Jewish wills, which will serve as the primary source. Another archival search will be conducted and more types of sources will be acquired, especially at The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and at The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem. Library and digital repository searches will make it possible to collect literature necessary for research. During the planned research stays in foreign centers, the collected research material will be consulted with significant researchers in Jewish Studies. Additional sources will be included in the research analysis, such as residency inventories, intermarriages, press, memoirs, and documents from the Archiwum Akt Dawnych in Warsaw, e.g. Acts pertaining to the Jewish community in Warsaw in the Mazowieckie Province; Civil Status Records of the Jewish Community in Warsaw, located in the State Archives in Warsaw.

During the project, selected wills (found in the Warsaw notary’s office) will be compiled and included in the dissertation. Furthermore, an inventory will be made of the main source corpus of notarial records with precise bibliographical data in order to provide researchers with easy access to these hard-to-find materials.

In a broad context, the project’s results will contribute to the dissemination of information found in the demanding and underused source material that is the notary public. They will encourage other researchers to reach for this type of source. The project will enrich the image of Polish diverse culture, especially its Jewish part. It will contribute to an increase in knowledge about the Jewish family devoid of stereotypes.  The project will present research results on the international scientific scene, which will strengthen the contribution of Polish researchers to world science. Undoubtedly, the notarial records will provide information about the internal problems of the Jewish family, which are difficult to investigate in any other way.


The research was financed by the National Center for Science (PRELUDIUM Grant).