For those embarking on the journey of tracing their eastern European and Jewish family history, a treasure trove of resources awaits, offering specific family data and invaluable genealogical research strategies. A wealth of sources stands ready to guide researchers in locating particular types of records and identifying repositories that house essential historical documents.
One indispensable source for Jewish and eastern European research is the quarterly publication titled “Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy” (Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc.). While the title might imply a focus solely on Jewish genealogy, it is misleading, as Avotaynu also serves as an essential resource for any historical research in eastern Europe. The publication’s 1996 article titles alone offer a glimpse into its wealth of information, covering subjects like “Russian Books of Residents as a Genealogical Resource,” “The Current State of Archival Research in the CIS (former Soviet Union),” “On-Site Research in Germany,” “Archives in Bohemia and Moravia,” “Mandated Family Names in Central Europe,” “Research On-Line or in Person at the Library of Congress,” and “Alternate Surnames in Russian Poland.” Alongside these, the magazine features Jewish-specific topics, including lists of Jewish genealogical societies and interest groups, information on special Jewish resources and collections in eastern Europe and the United States, details about Jewish records filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and those available through the Family History Library, recently discovered lists and censuses, and reviews of significant books in the field.
In addition to feature articles, Avotaynu offers an “Ask the Experts” section, staffed by genuine experts in the field, as well as a query service called “Family Finder.” With over 270 pages of data each year, this publication provides extensive insights into genealogical happenings in eastern Europe, the whereabouts of records, and methods of access, making it an indispensable resource. Its comprehensive research methodologies and sage advice are icing on the cake.
Another exciting and comprehensive source of Jewish and eastern European data is the JewishGen home page, serving as a guide to Jewish genealogical research. The website offers multiple data resources, including the “JewishGen Family Finder” and the “JewishGen ShtetlSeeker.” The “Family Finder” allows researchers to quickly identify others studying individuals with the same surname or from the same place of origin. This extensive database encompasses more than 45,000 entries of 17,000 unique ancestral surnames and 6,500 town names, contributed by thousands of researchers since its inception in 1982. “ShtetlSeeker” is another invaluable tool, using data from the Geographic Names Database to locate potential ancestors’ towns in eastern Europe, even providing a list of towns within a specified distance of given latitude and longitude coordinates, expanding the geographic search area when necessary.
Apart from these powerful tools, the JewishGen website boasts additional features, including the International Jewish Cemetery Project, informative files on various genealogical research aspects, numerous family data files, links to other relevant eastern European sites, and the JewishGen College—a remarkable mentoring program. The JewishGen Mentor Programme offers beginners personal guidance through special mailing lists and email courses on various Jewish genealogy aspects, complementing other JewishGen resources for an enjoyable and productive journey through eastern European ancestral research.
Delving into biographical collections can also yield a wealth of genealogical data for family historians. Among these collections is the Jewish Biographical Archive (Judisches Biographisches Archiv-JBA), available in a microfiche format. This extensive archive presents a diverse array of informative sources, including lexicons, handbooks, yearbooks, who’s-who books, and biographies. Spanning from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the archive gathers global data from 123 works, listing over 150,000 individuals in nearly 300,000 biographical entries. For those seeking Jewish ancestry, the Jewish Biographical Archive is a vital resource to explore.
The “Death Books from Auschwitz,” published in three volumes by K.G. Saur and available from University Publications of America, Inc., provide a somber yet enlightening glimpse into the lives of tens of thousands of Jews who tragically perished at Auschwitz. The volumes offer not only vital background information about the camp but also personal data. The second and third volumes contain an alphabetical list of 68,864 individuals who perished at Auschwitz, along with their birth and death dates, providing valuable details for genealogical research.
The four major sources discussed in this article—Avotaynu, the JewishGen home page, the Jewish Biographical Archive, and the “Death Books from Auschwitz”—usher researchers into a vast and intricate world of information. Complemented with sound research methodology and the wealth of resources available through JewishGen, this comprehensive approach promises years of enriching ancestral exploration. Embarking on the journey of eastern European and Jewish genealogy is an adventure that not only uncovers one’s own heritage but also enriches the broader narrative of human history.