If you have been following along with the Intro to Jewish Genealogy series, you should now have a good idea of how to figure out your ancestors’ name and how to find their immigration records. Now, it’s time to dig deeper into their life. There is nothing better than connecting to your ancestor though one of their stories. It is much easier to find a piece of yourself if you have a better understanding of who they were.
Today’s blog post is going to go deeper into Jewish life and how the documents generated can be valuable to your family history research. Not just in Jewish life, but think about all the documents you touch every day. We are leaving a trail for our descends to find out without even realizing it! Your Jewish ancestors did the same thing.
If you know the synagogue that your ancestor attended, you are in luck! Synagogues are full of documents with vital genealogy information. The most relevant documents include naming ceremony records, Bar/Bat Mitzvah records, marriage records, and burial records. If you are researching a synagogue in a small town/city, then ask for their member lists. This will give you a time frame of when your ancestor lived in the area. If they stayed in that particular town for a while, you may be able to trace the growth of their family. One of the lesser known, but no less important, is synagogue newsletters. They are full of Jewish life stories! You may find a personal story of one of your ancestors. At the very least, you will get an idea of the area they lived in and they people they knew.
If you not so lucky to know the synagogue that your ancestors attended, don’t give up just yet. Ask the older members of your family if they remember where relatives attended. If that doesn’t work, do not be afraid to reach out to a synagogue directly. This is especially true if you know the general vicinity of where your ancestor lived.
If you need a little extra help, The Center for Jewish History has a quick guide for finding synagogue records.
Researching Hebrew Schools
The obvious place to look for your ancestors when researching Hebrew schools is the yearbook. Especially during your ancestors’ senior year, a yearbook gives a perfect snapshot of what their school life was like. Much like researching synagogues, Hebrew schools tended to have their own newsletters. Both yearbooks and newsletters are a great place to find a more personal side of you ancestor.
If you are having trouble locating the school your ancestor may have attended there are a few options. Ancestry has a yearbooks database for all schools, not just Hebrew schools. If you select “card catalog” in the search menu, then search “yearbooks” in the title box, you should see “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999”. Click there and then you have multiple ways to search. You can type in your ancestors name and any additional information you have. If that doesn’t work, on the right side of the page, you can browse by state, city, school name, and year.
In case Ancestry doesn’t have what you are looking for, and you know the school that your ancestor attended, reach out to the school directly. Some schools have their own archives and will be more than happy to help you. For schools that don’t have an archive, many will be able to point you in the direction that you will need to go in order to find more about your ancestor. Either way, there is always someone to help you discover more about your ancestor’s school days.
Researching Jewish Newspapers
Newspapers are one of my favorite places to discover the lives of my ancestors. When researching, and I’ve hit a dead end, I turn to newspapers. All aspects of life are represented from birth to death and the same is true for Jewish life.
There are two websites that have an extensive collections of newspapers. I use both Newspapers.com and Genealogybank.com to search for stories. Both are subscription based search engines that you can search either a name, location, or a specific newspaper.
In my research, I was not able to find a Jewish specific database for newspapers. Like other aspects of research, Google seems to be your friend on this one. However, I did come across a project by the German-language newspaper, Aufbau. It’s not very user friendly, and the paper itself is in German, but you are able to search names and see where they appear in the paper. The paper did publish lists of Jewish holocaust survivors from September 1944 to September 27, 1946.
Researching Jewish Societies
If all else fails, reach out to Jewish Societies. These organization are a wealth of information regarding Jewish life. If they don’t have what you are looking for, I can almost guarantee that they will know someone who does! There are several genealogical/historical societies that may be of help, including;
- Federation of East European Family History Societies
- Jewish Genealogical Society of New York
- International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
- American Jewish Historical Society
- Landsmannschaften (Societies of Fellow Immigrants)
When looking for a society, you should also look local. Many small town and counties have their own genealogical/historical societies. If you know where your ancestor lived, and especially if they lived in a predominantly Jewish area, it’s a good chance that they will have something to help you on your journey.