I marvel at the fact that, today, I have access to Orthodox metrical books from Bukovyna, some created 225 years ago. The fact that they were not destroyed by some calamity of war, flood, fire, or carelessly discarded is a miracle in itself. However, for those metrical books that managed to survive, life has not always been kind.
Over time, the original documents may have been exposed to the ravages of heat, cold, water, light, and extremes in humidity. The pages (there was no acid-free paper back then) were flipped through hundreds of times by oily human fingertips, moved from place to place, mixed, handled, removed and replaced. The acidic nature of the paper resulted in accelerated deterioration.
The bindings and covers of the books also decomposed and crumbled, resulting in pages that are out of their original sequence. At some point, the metrical books were stored in boxes that were probably dropped, shaken and spilled more than a few times, resulting in pages that are mixed with those from other villages and parishes.
To complicate matters, some well-intentioned library or archive decided to rebind the out-of-sequence pages. After the pages were rebound into new books, they were renumbered. Over the decades, this renumbering process may have even been repeated. Then, LDS came along to microfilm the mixed-up, out-of-sequence, renumbered pages - but only if they could do so without inflicting further damage to the documents.
For those among us who are fortunate enough to have microfilmed copies of these precious records, the following describes how they were last renumbered by the archivist. This appears to be consistent, at least in the various metrical books that I have viewed.
The Orthodox metrical books from Bukovyna consist of two pages – one left-hand, and one right-hand. Each page is numbered (usually in the top left or top right corner), and the page numbering system follows a uniform pattern. The left-hand page consists of a number, followed by the letters "zb". The right-hand page consists of the corresponding left-hand page number + 1. There are no letters in the right-hand page number.
For example, pages:
28zb (left) and 29 (right) would be followed by
29zb and 30, then
30zb and 31, then
31zb and 32, then
32zb and 33, and so on.
If you are the lucky recipient of a metrical book whose pages remained intact and in their original sequence, you can heave a sigh of relief, as there is no additional work for you to do. However, are you certain that they are in their proper order?
Although I have only examined metrical books from 8 villages in 4 different raions, I have yet to encounter one where the pages remained in order. As a result, I have been obliged to go through a process of reviewing all pages and reorganizing them into their proper order before I can even begin my research. This is a challenging and time-consuming task, but if you do not ensure that the pages are in order, you run the risk of inadvertently including erroneous information in your ancestral research.
Here are a few techniques that I have used to ensure that both pages match:
1. Count the items on both pages. For example: if there are 12 entries on the left-hand page, ensure that there are 12 entries on the right-hand page.
2. Perform a visual alignment verification, using the horizontal lines on both pages as your guide. You can do this with your preferred image viewing software, or by printing both pages.
3. Ensure that the penmanship on both pages is consistent.
4. For birth records, in cases where you already know the name of the child's parents, are they consistent?
5. For death records: (a) all of the indicators in the gender column on the right-hand page should be consistent with all of the first names on the left-hand page; (b) age can also be useful in cases where you already know that the deceased is a child or an adult.
6. For marriage records: (a) in cases where you already know the name of the bride and groom, are they consistent?; (b) age can also be useful in cases where you already know the exact or approximate birth date of the bride or groom.
7. During the process of copying or photographing the microfilmed images, try to include a portion of the preceding or following page for comparison purposes. Once you have ascertained that you have a match between the two, you can always crop out the undesired portion later.
Wishing you success in your genealogical research!