Monthly Archives: May 2011

World Memory Project: USHMM and Ancestry.com Team Up

The US Holocaust Memory Museum (USHMM) has teamed up with Ancestry.com to digitize and index the millions of documents from the USHHM’s archives. This partnership is leveraging the indexing software that Ancestry.com build for its existing community project, the World Archives Project. Basically, this software allows people to register on Ancestry.com (this is free) and select a document in the queue, view a document, and then transcribe it so it will become searchable. The software knows the structure of the document you are transcribing and helps you through the process. Usually the way this kind of system works is that more than one person ends up transcribing each document, and then if there are any differences between the multiple transcriptions, an expert reviewer will check the transcription and correct any mistakes. This redundant system allows non-expert transcribers to help in a massive indexing projects like this one.

I wrote awhile back about the concept of giving back to genealogy through indexing projects like this one. In that article I explained how the process works at FamilySearch.org, whose indexing program is very similar. If you have been researching family members that were killed in the Holocaust then this is a great way to give back to the community. The millions of records being indexed from the USHMM archive will increase our knowledge about millions of people whose lives are recorded in these documents. Many of these documents will hold the key to families discovering what happened to their relatives during the war.

At the beginning, the project has started out indexing the following ten document collections:

  • USHMM Ain, France, Selected Holocaust Records
  • USHMM Czech Republic, Jews Deported to Terezin and Poland
  • USHMM Czech Republic, Selected Jewish Holocaust Records, 1939-1941
  • USHMM Eure-et-Loir, France, Selected Holocaust Records
  • USHMM Munich, Germany, Displaced Jewish Orphans at the Ulm Children’s Home, 1945-1948
  • USHMM Palestine, Illegal Immigration from Nazi-Occupied Europe, 1938-1946
  • USHMM Poland, Jewish Holocaust Survivors Registered in Warsaw, 1945-1946
  • USHMM Poland, Jewish Prisoners of War in Lublin, 1939-1941
  • USHMM Poland, Jews Displaced from Biała Podlaska to Mie̜dzyrzecz Podlaski, 1942
  • USHMM Romania, Family Questionnaires for Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Victims, 1945

The languages vary per collection, but the system is designed to allow even those without knowledge of the specific language to help transcribe the documents. Of course, if you do know one of the languages from these collections, that can only help. As the Palestine collection was generated by the British Mandate government, that collection is largely in English.

The project expects the first documents to be made available by this summer or early fall. As more document collections are completed they will be added to the web site. Like other collections that are indexed by the public (through the World Archives Project), these collections will be free to search, even though it is being hosted by Ancestry.com.

To get an idea of how indexing a document works, you can view a video guide the project has posted for one of the Polish collections:



The video should give you a good idea of how the process works.

[Update: Ancestry seems to have removed the video from their site and made it private on Youtube. I don’t know why this is case, but you can go to their written explanation of the same data collection to see pictures of the records and what information is extracted from them.]

One important note, especially since I am a Mac user myself, is that the Ancestry.com software being used for this project does not support the Mac. You can only currently join this project if you are running Windows. Hopefully Ancestry.com will remedy this problem in the near future.

It seems this week has had two intertwined themes running through it, the Holocaust and the digitization of archives. This project certainly borrows from both themes and it is great that there is a way for everyone to help in bringing these very important archival materials online.

Project HEART: Database of Stolen Holocaust-Era Assets

Continuing this week’s Holocaust focus, the NY Times has reported in an article Property Lost in Holocaust Is Cataloged Online about a project initiated by the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental organization in Israel headed by Natan Sharansky, to catalog assets belonging to Jews that were killed during the Holocaust.

The project, titled Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, or Project HEART, has a website that includes a database of assets that they have collected from various resources across Europe. The database contains over 650,000 records currently, and is expected to grow to over a million records in the future.

This project is intended to help heirs of Jews murdered during the Holocaust to claim property, whether real estate, art, bank accounts, insurance policies, etc. that has sat unclaimed until now due in many cases to people not knowing that these assets existed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu introduces the project in a short video on Youtube:

I’ve discussed in the past some of the ways one can research family members that were killed during the Holocaust, including searching Yad Vashem’s Shoah Names Database and utilizing Yizkor Books. If you know of relatives killed during the Holocaust you should search through Project HEART’s database and see if perhaps they left behind something which I’m sure they would rather a family member claim then be left in the possession of some bank or insurance company in Europe.

Update: The Forward yesterday published a look at  the political implications of the Project HEART initiative.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency Archives Go Online

 

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), a news agency that has been covering news of the Jewish community worldwide since 1917 has released a searchable archive, dubbed the JTA Jewish News Archive, of their news releases going back to 1923. This archive is free to use.

The archive is really an amazing snapshot of the modern history of the Jewish community in the United States and worldwide. The archive can be browsed by date or topic, or searched.

A look at the earliest date in the archive, January 2, 1923, shows 9 stories covering mostly not-so-nice topics including restrictions on Jewish admission to universities in Hungary and Romania, a false blood libel in Poland (the police search house-to-house and found the alleged victim alive), the banning of a Jewish sports club in Poland, banning of private synagogues in the Ukraine, a note of two Jewish leaders elected to the Council of People’s Commissaries of Soviet Russia, announced Jewish immigration to Palestine (802 in November 1922), a new pogrom in Kishineff, and a dinner honoring the fifth anniversary of Colonel Ronald Storrs as Governor of Jerusalem.

It should be noted that the JTA covered the Holocaust as no other news wire at the time. It was more willing to detail what was going on in Europe than the mainstream news wires. It also covered in detail the plight of Soviet Jewry and the Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement in the US.

With such weighty topics it is perhaps easy to overlook the fact that the JTA archives also cover the day-to-day details of what was going on in Jewish communities over the years. I’ve discussed the use of historical newspapers to research one’s family before (it’s a good article, read it), including pointing to several local Jewish community newspapers that have archives online, but many towns either didn’t have local Jewish papers, those papers were not archived, or those archives are not yet available online. The JTA archive fills in part of that gap for people who want to understand what the communities their families lived in were like over the years. These articles will not, of course, have the birth announcements and obituaries of everyone in every community like the local papers, although obituaries of famous Jews are present.

A random sampling of towns shows I searched shows wide coverage, with 145 articles on Savannah, GA, 46 articles mentioning Palo Alto, CA, 46 articles mentioning Knoxville, TN, 22 articles mentioning Tarrytown, NY, and and 180 articles that mention Brookline, MA.

The coverage of communities outside the US is also extensive, with articles on what was going on in communities across Europe as well as detailed coverage of life in Israel even before it was the modern State of Israel. As a sampling, there are over 9000 articles that mention Paris, 10,000 that mention London, 1000 articles that mention Baghdad, 500 that mention Antwerp, 900 that mention Cologne, 1000 that mention Krakow, etc.

As an interesting experiment I searched for the organization whose archive was put online earlier this week, the JDC, and there are over 7000 articles that mention the JDC in the JTA archives. If you wanted a better understanding of what the JDC has done over the years, searching this new JTA archive will give you a detailed look at all the different programs the JDC carried out.

In summary, the JTA Jewish News Archive is a welcome addition to the online resources available to the Jewish researcher, or anyone interested in Jewish history over the past century.