Tag Archives: basics

Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

I get asked by a lot of people how to get started in researching their family. This entire site is dedicated to helping people do just that, but after eight years of writing articles and creating resources like my forms, and the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, it’s still hard for someone completely new to genealogy to know what to do first. My goal here is to guide someone completely new on what to do first, what is useful on my site, as well as what other sites are useful. So if you’re new to genealogy, this will help you get started.

What do you already know?

It seems obvious, but the first thing you need to do is figure out what you know, which will help you figure out what you don’t know. You start this process by asking whoever in your family may know information. Depending on your age, this might be your parents, or grandparents, or whoever are the oldest relatives in the line you are researching. When reaching out to these relatives, you want to not only ask for information, but if they or another relative might have documents that show this information. Always ask if they know of a relative that has already researched the family history. Many families have a cousin that has already done research, and already collected documents and photographs. They may remember a cousin or an uncle that has collected information on the family, and even if that person is not alive now, you may still be able to find information from that relatives’ descendants.

When getting started I always suggest starting with paper forms. There are many great computer programs and web sites for organizing your genealogy, and I do recommend using them but especially when meeting with older relatives, working with a piece of paper is usually easier, and it has the advantage of making it very clear which fields in the form you have not filled in yet (and thus need to ask about/research). On my site you can download several different forms, in English and in Hebrew.

I suggest starting with the Ancestor Form with yourself as the source person at the bottom, and adding in the details on your parents and grandparents. Are you able to fill in all the fields on the form? Do you know where all of your grandparents were born? What their exact birth dates were? Do you have documentation for any of the information, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, ketubahs, passports, etc.?

Once you’ve filled out the form, add Sibling Forms for each of your parents and grandparents, or Family Forms for their parents (which will provide similar information but include the parents, and will show their siblings as children of the parents). As you work your way out further, you’ll see that you probably know less information. That’s okay – this is just the first step in building out your family tree.

When you’ve built out several of these sheets, and you see what information you’re missing, you will have a good idea at least for what information to starting looking for. Continue reading Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

Genealogy Basics: Up, Down and Sideways

Genealogy humor: “Only a Genealogist regards a step backwards as progress”. While amusing, it also points to an interesting issue faced by many people interested in genealogy.

Many people who research their family are very focused on going back as far as they can. Perhaps the thought is that if you go back far enough you’re bound to find someone famous (or infamous) you’re related to, some royal blood, family that lived in a famous town, or lived through famous events in history.

There are actually a few different directions you can research your family. You can, as mentioned, research up your tree. You can also research down your tree, taking your oldest known ancestor in one line and researching all of their children, grandchildren, etc. (not just the line that leads to you). You can also research sideways, researching collateral ancestors, like the siblings and spouses of your known ancestors. Each of these techniques is useful, and indeed you will likely need to try all of them when doing your research if you want to be successful.

Let me give a good example of why researching your non-direct lines is important. Let’s say you’ve tracked back to your great-grandfather who lived in Poland or Russia in the 19th century before moving to the United States in the early part of the 20th century. That fits the profile of a large percentage of American Jews. Now if you’ve been able to find out about the great-grandfather but haven’t been able to get back further than that, we call that a brick-wall.

Maybe you only have information on your great-grandfather from after he arrived in the US, and you haven’t been able to find the name of the town where he was born in Poland.

Maybe you know which town he was from, but it’s a large city and he has a common last name, which makes research nearly impossible.

In this case you’ve researched up your tree to your great-grandfather. The next step is to research down your tree from your great-grandfather to find all of his descendants, your aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Even if your goal wasn’t to document these branches of your family, you need to realize that just like you have certain information on your family and where they came from, your extended family likely has different information, some small piece which might help you in your search. Mapping out all of the descendants of your most-distant-known-ancestor can frequently lead you to additional information about that ancestor.

Section of birth record of my grandfather’s
aunt, showing the birthplace of her father,
my great-great-grandfather – Kanczuga.

In my own family research I was looking for records in the wrong town for many years because that’s where my grandfather said our family was from originally. It was partially true. His siblings had been born in that town, as had some of his father’s siblings. It was, in fact, one of his father’s siblings’ records which led me to the town my gg-grandfather was from originally. If I had only been searching directly up my tree, I would never have discovered this fact, since my great-grandfather’s birth record (which took much longer to find in any case) did not name the town where his father was born. Even though it might seem a waste to look for records on all the siblings of the people whom you are primarily searching for (you can think of this as searching sideways), remember that they share the same parents and grandparents, and thus any information you find will help your search.

An important point is that it turns out that cousins of mine knew the town my gg-grandfather was born in long before I discovered it. Had I been in touch with these distant cousins earlier, it would have saved me a lot of pointless research.

Another way to search sideways is to contact cousins that you may not have figured out quite where they fit in your tree. In the case above, it was actually a cousin whom I knew was related, but wasn’t sure how they were related. If I had in fact pursued the question of how we were related and asked where their branch was from, it would have led me straight to the town from which my branch also originated.

Also, if you find references to relatives in family letters and don’t think it’s worth figuring out who those distant relatives mentioned are, think again. If you’ve hit a brick wall, those distant cousins, or their descendants, may be the ones that can help you knock down that wall.

Those distant relatives may also have photographs of your common ancestors. Another example from my own family concerns family photographs. I received portrait photographs of ancestors of mine, but without labels showing me who they were. After contacting a distant cousin and having him send me family photographs in his possession for me to copy, I found other copies of the same portraits with the names labeled on the back. They were, in fact, my ggg-grandparents, the in-laws of the gg-grandfather mentioned above. Many years later, someone contacted me through the JewishGen Family Finder (read my earlier article on JGFF if you’re not familiar with this amazing resource for Jewish researchers) and he turned out to be a 4th cousin of mine, descended from the same ggg-grandparents. Now, because I had received the portraits, and another cousin had labeled alternate versions of the same pictures, and this cousin from the other side of my family (he was a descendant of the sister of my gg-grandmother) had found me through JGFF, he now had photographs of his ggg-grandparents. This is why it’s so important to seek out your distant cousins, because you never know who has what information (or what photo).

So when searching for your relatives, even your direct ancestors, always remember to look for other descendants, some of which may know much more (sometimes just that one tiny important detail more) about your ancestors than you. Feel free to share your stories on finding information from distant cousins in the comments.

B&F Ancestor Form

Introducing the B&F Forms System

Getting started in researching your family can be difficult. There is a lot to learn, both about how to do the research, but also about the tools needed to organize your research. As you move forward, I always recommend to people to invest in a good genealogy program on their computer, but at the beginning it can sometimes be easier to work on paper.

In this day and age, when I say paper this can also mean the virtual kind – PDF forms. There is no need to actually print out PDF forms, so you can keep them on your computer, share them, etc. without needing to waste real paper.

B&F Ancestor Form
B&F Ancestor Form

I have designed a series of forms I call the B&F Forms System. You can use most of the forms by themselves, but it is a system because the forms complement each other and can be linked together.

For example, you might start with an Ancestor Form (sometimes called a Pedigree Chart) where you fill out information about yourself (the Source Person), your parents and your grandparents. If you know about generations going back further than that, you can start a new Ancestor Form with one of your grandparents as the Source Person. If you want to enter information about the Source Person’s siblings, or the siblings of their parents, you can fill out a Sibling Form. For parents in the Ancestor Form, you can fill out a Family Form which shows information about the parents and up to six children. If you need to add more children, you can add them to a Sibling Form. For each sibling in a Sibling Form, you can create a Family Form and write the number of the Family Form next to the name of each sibling. These are just some of the examples of how the forms interconnect, creating a full system of forms.

I invite you to go check out the forms yourself, try them out, and send me feedback (you can comment on the bottom of the Forms page).

In the future I will update the forms based on user feedback, and I will also be adding some new forms, such as research-specific forms.

As Genealogy Day is coming up this Saturday, if you have been looking for a way (and an excuse) to get started in your family research, now you have some forms that can help get you started.

So go check out the B&F Forms System.

Jewish Genealogy Basics: Mailing Lists

It wasn’t that long ago when collaborating with others doing genealogy research meant going to a local genealogy meeting, or traveling to a regional, national or international conference, or looking up fellow researchers in a printed directory, and sending people letters and documents via postal mail. While meeting other researchers in person is still a great thing, and sending items via postal mail can still occasionally be useful, the Internet has thankfully made finding and collaborating with other researchers easier.

I wrote earlier about finding other researchers who are looking for people with the same surnames in the same towns through the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF). That is the best way to find specific researchers that might be researching the same family members as you, but what about more general questions you might have? What if you don’t actually know which town the family lived in? What if the knowledge you need is not specific to your family, but something specific to a document you found – like interpreting a Polish-language birth certificate, or trying to find a town listed in a a document you’ve found.

While gaining access to many documents online is great for genealogy, and having a way to contact distant archives for free and quickly (via e-mail) is very helpful, the biggest improvement to genealogy in the past decades is really the ability to tap into the group knowledge of all the other researchers out there. There are various way to tap into this knowledge, but I think one of the most useful ways is the variety of topic-specific mailing lists out there. By finding the right mailing list, either a broadly defined group with many people, or a very narrowly defined group with only a handful of people, you can find the right people with the right knowledge to help you with your genealogy research.

JewishGen Lists

JewishGen operates a number of heavily-used mailing lists that are specific to Jewish genealogy. Starting with their main list, the JewishGen Discussion Group, which is a kind of catch-all list for Jewish genealogists where you can ask any questions you might have. If you follow this list you will learn a lot about the problems other people are having and will be able to apply some of their solutions to your own research.

In order to join a mailing list on JewishGen, you should first join JewishGen (which is free) and then go to the mailing list administration page to add lists you’d like to subscribe to to your account.

Besides the main list, they also have a large number of mailing lists that are connected to specific regional Special Interest Groups (SIGs). These include (with descriptions from the JewishGen site):

Austria-Czech SIG A forum for those researching Jewish genealogy in the areas formerly known as Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), plus parts of Austria, especially Vienna, but not Galicia.
Belarus SIG A forum for researchers with Jewish family roots in country now known as Belarus and more specifically from the former Russian Gubernii (provinces) of Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, and Vitebsk.
BIALYGen: Bialystock Region The city of Białystok and nearby towns and villages, currently in Poland, formerly in the Russian Empire’s Grodno Gubernia.
Danzig SIG The Jews of Danzig/Gdańsk, and its precursor communities of Alt Schottland, Langfuhr, Mattenbuden, Weinberg, Danzig in der Breitgasse, and Tiegenhof (Nowy Dwór Gdański).
Early American SIG A forum for those researching Jewish immigrants to the United States before 1880.
French SIG A forum for Jewish genealogical research in France and French colonies, as well as other French-speaking areas such as Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
German Jewish SIG A forum focused on geographic, historic and linguistic Germany, including parts of Switzerland, Poland, and Alsace-Lorraine.
Gesher Galicia SIG A forum for those interested in researching their Jewish roots in the former Austrian province of Galicia (now southern Poland, western Ukraine).
H-SIG Hungarian Jewish Special Interest Group is for those with Jewish roots in the area known as “greater Hungary” including areas that at one time were predominantly Hungarian speaking.
JCR-UK SIG Jewish Communities and Records (JCR-UK): A project to record genealogical and historical information concerning the Jewish communities of the United Kingdom.
Latin America SIG A forum for researchers with Jewish family roots in all countries of Latin America.
Latvia SIG A forum for researchers of Jewish families of Latvian descent.
Litvak SIG Encourages preservation and computerization of primary sources of genealogical data, for the descendants of the Lithuanian Jewish community.
Lodz Area Research Group A forum for those researching the city of Łódź, Poland, and localities within a 40 mile radius – in Congress Poland’s gubernias of Piotrków, Płock, Warszawa, and Kalisz.
Rabbinic Genealogy SIG A forum for those interested in Rabbinic genealogy or researching rabbinic ancestry within any geographic area or time period.
Romania SIG A forum for those with Jewish roots in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Dobruja, Maramures, Moldavia, Transylvania and Wallachia (all within the modern nations of Romania, Moldova, and southwestern Ukraine).
Scandinavia SIG A forum for researchers with Jewish roots in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark – including former Danish colonies and protectorates.
Sephardic SIG A forum for researchers of Sephardic genealogies. English is the preferred language.
South Africa SIG A forum to discuss the genealogy and family history of Jewish communities of South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia (Rhodesia), Swaziland, Mozambique and the former Belgian Congo.
Ukraine SIG A forum for researchers with family origins in the former Russian Empire gubernias now in the Ukraine: Podolia, Volhynia, Kiev, Poltava, Chernigov, Kharkov, Kherson, Taurida and Ekaterinoslav.
Warszawa Research Group A forum for those researching Warszawa (Warszaw), the capital city of Poland.

They also have mailing lists for special projects, like the Yizkor Book Project and DNA Testing, for community research groups including Borislav, Drogobych, Sambor, and Vicinity, Ciechanow, and Courland Area groups, as well as host the mailing list of the JRI-Poland project.

While you might get lucky in the main research group, you will find that if you join one of these more specific groups you will be much more likely to find people researching the same families, or at least familiar with the resources available for researching your family from one of the regions covered. I recommend joining the main JewishGen list and whichever regional groups cover where you think your family originates.


Rootsweb is one of the original online communities for genealogists. There are many free resources available on the site, including the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). They are now owned by Ancestry.com, although the sites are not directly connected.

Rootsweb hosts over 32,000 mailing lists covering many different genealogy topics, including specific regions, surnames, ethnicities, etc. Not all of these mailing lists have active users. You can sign up for a mailing list on Rootsweb and not see a post for months, even years, but there are still some very useful lists on rootsweb, and if you find the one person you need to answer your question, then it doesn’t matter how many message are posted a week. One way to gauge the current traffic of a mailing list is the browse the message archive and see how recently messages have been posted.

There are about 25 specifically Jewish lists on Rootsweb, including:

JEWISH-ROOTS anyone interested in Jewish genealogy.
AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN-JEWISH A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical, cultural or historical interest in Jews with Austro-Hungarian ancestry.
BERDICHEV A mailing list for Jewish genealogy about the past Jewish community of the city of Berdichev, Russia (now Ukraine). See home page for more information.
BOMZE The BOMZE surname and variations (e.g., Bomzer, Bomser) in any place and at any time but primarily Jewish Bomzes originating in Poland.
BRITISH-JEWRY A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in British Jews.
BROWN-JEWISH For the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Brown surname and variations (e.g., Braun, Braumeister) with Jewish origins in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Austria, and Germany.
GERMAN-JEWISH A bilingual English-German mailing list for anyone with a genealogical, cultural or historical interest in people with German-Jewish ancestry
GRODNO A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in Grodno Gubernia, a division of the Russian Empire. While the focus of the list will be on Jewish family history research, other subscribers with an interest in the area are welcome. See home page for more information.
HIBEL Jewish Hibel surname and variations (e.g., Hebel, Hübel, Huebel, Heubel, Hubal) in any place and at any time, but with an emphasis on Galicia/Eastern Europe.
JUDEO-ALSATIAN A multilingual English-French-German mailing list for anyone with a genealogical, cultural or historical interest in the Province of Alsace, nowadays France, related to their Jewish roots. Anything that concerns Jewish-Alsatian traditions, culture, folklore, heritage, or why not old recipes and daily life in ancient times in the Province of Alsace is an appropriate topic.
LITHUANIA-JEWISH A mailing list for anyone trying to trace their Jewish roots back to the 18th century Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Kingdom of Poland Commonwealth before Jews had surnames. Additional information can be found on the Jewish Family History Foundation website.
POL-KRAKOW-RESEARCH-GROUP A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical or historical interest in the Jews of Krakow, Poland.
SZTERN A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding Jewish but non-German branches of the Sztern surname and variations (e.g., Stern, Stein) at any time. Primary focus is on branches which were in BEL (Belarus), UKR (Ukraine), POL (Poland) and/or New York circa the late 1800s/early 1900s.
TESLER A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the originally eastern European Jewish surname Tesler, Tessler, and Teszler in any place and at any time.
Turkish_Jews Sephardic Jewish genealogists with roots in the former Turkish Ottoman Empire including Turkey, Serbia, Greece, and Yugoslavia.
TX-JEWISH A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the genealogy and history of Jewish immigrants and religion in Texas.
TX-ROCKDALE-JEWISH-CEM A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Jewish Cemetery in Rockdale, Milam County, Texas
UKR-CHERNIGOV A mailing list for anyone researching their Jewish roots in the Chernigov Gubernia, a province in Russia from 1802-1929/1932 and since then a province in the Ukraine known as Chernigov Oblast. See home page for more information.
UKR-KREMENETS A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Jews who once lived in the Kremenets District of Ukraine and their descendants. Topics will include updates and discussions about Jewish genealogy in the towns, villages and shtetlach of the Kremenets District.
UKR-ODESSA-GEN Jewish genealogy in Odessa, Ukraine area. See home page for more information.
WINOGRAD A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Winograd surname and variations (e.g., Winagrad, Wynagrad, Wynograd) in any place and at any time but primarily Jewish Winograds originating in Poland or Belarus.
WOLFSHAUT A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Jewish surname Wolfshaut and variations (e.g., Wolfsont, Wolfsout, Wolfshout, Wolfshant, Wolfsant, Wolfsaut, Wolfshont, Wolfset) in any place and at any time.

Most of the above lists, with the exception of British-Jewry, are not particularly high-traffic lists, but many of them have people who are very knowledgeable about their topics who can help you if your research falls into the purview of their topic.

Google Groups (and Usenet)

I’m going to mention Google Groups quickly, because it is after all Google, but truthfully there are not  lot of groups on Google of interest to Jewish genealogists. The primary resource on Google Groups that is useful to Jewish genealogists is access to the newsgroups that are a part of the very old Usenet system, in particular soc.genealogy.jewish.

soc.genealogy.jewish is a way to look back at more than 15 years of Jewish genealogy discussions, and searching it through Google’s interface is a great way to find out about the discussions that have taken place about towns and surnames you are researching. soc.genealogy.jewish is still actively used so you can post new messages there and get responses to your general questions as well.

Google Groups does allow you to set up your own mailing lists, but there are not many Jewish genealogy mailing lists on Google Groups, and I suspect the reason is simply that Yahoo Groups are much easier to set up and manage.

Yahoo Groups

If you decide one day that you want to start your own Jewish genealogy mailing list – perhaps covering your ancestral town or your family, etc. Yahoo Groups is a great way to set up a mailing list quickly. In addition to a mailing list, you also get a file upload area, photo albums, a database and other advanced features. It is also very easy to manage the mailing list, moderate messages, reject messages that are spam, or even to modify messages before they get posted (such as adding a moderator’s message when a discussion veers off-track). Because setting this up is so easy, it really has become the serivce of choice for setting up small discussion groups for many topics.

There are dozens upon dozens of groups of interest to Jewish genealogists on Yahoo. The best thing for you to do is try searching for your ancestral towns, or regions, or surnames, etc. and see if there are groups already set up to discuss your specific areas of interest. The following table is a list of those groups that mention Jewish genealogy, but many likely do not use those specific words, but will show up if you’re searching for them by town name, etc. The following table is not alphabetical, but actually ordered according to whatever metric Yahoo uses to determine the popularity of a group. The more popular groups are at the beginning of the table and the popularity declines are you continue down the table.

SephardicForum The purpose of this forum is to discuss SEPHARDIC/JEWISH GENEALOGY, GENEALOGY TOOLS, HISTORY, CUSTOMS and other issues related to genealogy. We invite those of good will regardless of religious beliefs to visit and participate.
saudades-sefarad Portuguese-Jewish history, culture, genealogy.
J-Pultusk Researching your Jewish ancestors from the Pultusk area, north of Warsaw? Link up with others also looking for family tree connections in Pultusk and surrounding area, now in Poland and once part of the Tsarist Russian Empire.
JFRA Discussion list of the Jewish Family Research Association (JFRA), a Jewish genealogy organization based in Israel.
JewishKeidan For anyone with a connection to or interest in the town of Keidan, Lithuania. For nearly 500 years, Keidan – now called Kedainiai – was home to a proud and vibrant Jewish community.
Chelm This is a forum specifically dedicated to the town of Chelm in Poland.
Ashkenazi-Q Ashkenazi Jewish – yDNA Haplogroup Q1b
Sacz This group is composed of genealogists, who are researching their Jewish roots to the town of Nowy Sacz, Poland. In the past this town has been known as Neu Sandec, Neu Sandez, Nowy Sancz, Tsants, Sants, Tsanz, Sanz, Zanz,etc. See here for more info.
Sephardic Jewish Genealogy The mission of the genealogy group is to research information about Sephardic Jewish Families from France and Canada. This includes the discussion of the Canadian-Anusim Family Tree DNA Project and our test results.
Jebenhausen The Jewish community of Jebenhausen, near Goeppingen in Wuerttemberg (Germany), was founded in 1777 and dissolved in 1900. This list aims at a virtual reunion of descendants of Jebenhausen’s Jewish families, and invites discussions on all issues relevant to the community history, genealogy and related matters.
JewishR1b DNA Researcher group for Jewish people in the R1b haplogroup. The R1b haplogroup is the most common haplogroup in Western Europe, yet it is found in only a small percentage of Ashkenazi Jews (roughly 10%).
Jewish Mendoza Family This is a place for members and descendants of the Sephardi Jewish Mendoza family to share information on their history and genealogy.
Piotrkow History, genealogy and current events of the Jews of Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, and their descendants.
J-Frankfurt Researching your Jewish ancestors from Frankfurt am Main? Link up with others also looking for family tree connections in this ancient German city.
Olkieniki For persons descended from residents of Olkieniki, Lithuania, and others interested in that area. It’s primary focus is on Jewish Genealogy.
botosani-gen This group is concerned with genealogy in the Botosani (Romania) area. The majority of members are of Jewish descent although there is no plan to omit anyone else. Everyone interested in Botosani is welcome.
Zamosc A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical or historical interest in the town of Zamosc, Poland.
Kanczuga For the discussion of Jewish genealogy research of people whose families came from Kanczuga, Poland.
Ziv Jewish Surname Devoted to the Ziv Jewish surname (Sieff, Ziff, Zeev, etc.).
Jewish Mogielnica Project Mogielnica known as “Mogelnitsa, Mogelnitse, Mogelnitza, Mogielnicy” Mogielnica is an urban-rural gmina (administrative district) in Grójec County.
maramaros-sig For anyone interested in researching their Jewish Ancestry in the Maramaros County (Romania/Ukraine) area.
Vistytis, Lithuania This group has been set up with the purpose of collecting and sharing information concerning Vistytis and all those individuals and families who have their origins there or for those who have an interest in the town.
jgs-maryland The Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland
Voliner Jewish Ancestry This group is for those interested in tracing their Jewish family roots in and around the area of northwest Ukraine known as Volhynia Gubernia, which borders Poland and Belarus. Among the major cities in Volhynia are Lutsk and the crossroads city of Kovel.
Sanok This group is composed of genealogists, who are researching their Jewish roots to the town of Sanok, Poland.
Dzialoszyce Association Dedicated to our Polish ancestors from the town of Dzialoszyce, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, and their descendants.
BORSZCZOW Research Group This Jewish genealogy group is dedicated to the town of BORSZCZO’W which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine. See here for more info.
sephardic-list The International Sephardic Discussion Group is an Internet based group of members who discuss issues pertaining to Sephardim, past and present. We do not talk about religion on this list.
Cotopaxi Jewish Agricultural Colony Between 1882 and 1884, as many as 80 Jewish immigrants came to Cotopaxi, Colorado, in an attempt to farm the land there. This is a place for those who are researching the genealogy of the Cotopaxi Colony.
Hostow Galicia Village The site was created to allow those with Ancestral Roots belonging to the village of Hostów ( Hostiv, Gostev, Gostiv Pop 1983-36% Polish in Y1907)and Tarnowica Polna (Ternovytsa, Pop 1798 -90% Polish) located 3 km apart to connect with their ancestral history within Eastern Galicia(Pokucie/Kresy).
Stern Surname Devoted to the Jewish surname STERN. Mostly genealogy, but any information on the surname is welcome.
Miller Surname List dedicated to the genealogy of the Miller/Mueller/etc. [Jewish] surname.
JGS Sacramento The Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento (JGSS)
Plontch (Polaniec) Descendants For descendants of Jews who lived in or near the Jewish Shtetl (town) of Plontch (Polaniec), which was located in Kielce Gubernia, in South-Eastern Poland.
DoroTree User Group
User group for DoroTree, the Jewish genealogical program.
GenShards II The networking and sharing site for members of the Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society.
Feldman Surname A place for those researching the Jewish Feldman surname, particularly into Eastern Europe.
Pinskers The Pinsker Research Group conducts and facilitates genealogical research related to the Jewish Community of Pinsk.
Podhajce Galicia For those researching their Jewish roots from Podhajce, Galicia (now Pidhaytsi, Ukraine).
Plock Research Group This Jewish genealogy group is dedicated to the town of Plock, today called Plotz, in Poland.
Pavoloch (Pavolitch) Ukraine Jewish Research Dedicated to learning more about our
ancestors lives in Pavoloch and connecting with lost family members.
Czortkow This Jewish genealogy group is dedicated to the town of Czortkow which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine.
SHUTER LESSER Families – East End London Isaac and Samuel SHUTER, sons of Michael SHUTER from Lissa, Prussia (now Leszno, Poland) were both married in the Great Synagogue of London in the year 1850.
Justingrad For those people interested in Justingrad (aka: Yustingrad/Ustingrad), Kiev (Kyjiv), Russia (now Ukraine).
Pittsburgh JGS Pittsburgh Jewish Genealogy Society
Kalush Dedicated to the town of Kalusz (Kalush) which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine.
Mielnitsa Dedicated to the town of Mielnitsa which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1(Galicia) then became part of Poland until the end of WW2 and is now in the Ukraine.
Jews of Jaslo Devoted to exchange of information about Jewish residents of pre-1939 Jaslo – a town in southeastern Poland’s district of Podkarpackie (formerly in Galicia).
Yanina For Jewish descendants of families from the Greek city of Janina.
Taubes Surname For the discussion and sharing of information regarding the Taubes surname and variations (e.g. Tobias).
Canadian Jewish Genealogy This group is for all Canadians to talk about Jewish Genealogy.
Don Surname For anyone researching families with the surnames Don or Donn or Dan or Dun or Dunn of Jewish origin.
Markus/Marcus Surname For anyone researching families with the surname Markus or Marcus of Jewish origin.
Stotter Surname A list for all the STOTTERs who wish to find out if and how they are connected.

Other Groups and Lists

There are numerous other mailing lists and discussion groups out there on the Internet, and you should try searching for groups that are connected to your specific research areas such as town names and surnames. For towns, always check the ShtetLinks page for your town to see if they mention other resources like mailing lists. Also search the archives of the larger lists like the main JewishGen list, or a regional list like Gesher Galicia (if your town is from Galicia) to see if other mailing lists have been mentioned for your town or whatever topic you are researching. You can even search all of the JewishGen mailing lists at once.

If I’ve missed a great Jewish genealogy mailing list, please let me know in the comments.


I will be adding mailing lists mentioned in the comments at the end of the posting as people make me aware of them.

Wolinsky Family Circle For descendants of Wolinsky (and variants Wolin, Wolins, Woliyniec, Wolinetz) from the town of Antopol, Russia (now Belarus) and the surrounding area. This group includes descendants of Baruch Wolinsky of Antopol.
Mir, Belarus A mailing list composed of Jewish survivors from Mir, descendents of former residents and descendents of students of the Mir Yeshiva. Link is for the web site, e-mail the moderator for access to the mailing list.

Don’t Trust What You Find on the Internet, and Cite All Your Sources

When you do research into your family, you need to cite your sources. Without sources for all the names, dates, etc. that you put into your family tree, your tree doesn’t really mean that much. Let me explain why this is the case.

There are millions of people worldwide who are actively researching their family trees. Some people consider it an occasional hobby, and others spend all their waking days looking into their families. No matter which side a researcher finds themselves on, or anywhere in between, the quality of the research done by these people varies greatly. In other words, some people do quality research, back up everything they find, and cite the sources for everything so they can go back and tell you how they determined the year a particular person was born, or what their name was before immigrating to the US, etc. Other people do lower-quality research, don’t record where they found anything, and just enter the names and dates they find into a database on their computer, or directly to an online family tree. I would venture to guess that there is little correlation between how much time someone spends on their family tree, and whether people are quality researchers or just name collectors.

So why is it a problem to just collect names and dates and throw them into a database? Well, primarily the problem is that you will make mistakes. I don’t mean that quality researchers don’t make mistakes and sloppy researchers do make mistakes – I mean everyone makes mistakes. There will always be times when you find a record of a person and you think it is the brother of so-and-so or the father of this-or-that cousin, and it really isn’t.

A good researcher will cite the source for the record, and most likely recognize that without more information they cannot conclusively say that the person is who they think it is. The good researcher might not even put the person into their tree, but put them in a folder for unconfirmed relatives until such time that they do find more information. If you don’t cite where you found out a piece of information, then when you do find more information, you will have no way to compare your new information with the old information.

For example, if you first calculated the birth year of a person by their age listed on their grave, but later find another record with the birth year on it, how will you know the relative strength of the new record versus the old record in terms of determining the birth year. Will you remember ten years later that you determined the age from a gravestone? What happens if you ended up recording the age of the wrong person? How would you confirm that without knowing your original source? Maybe you recorded the name of the person’s niece of nephew that shared the same name. How would you be able to tell?

Imagine a researcher just records names and dates as they find them. They don’t double-check anything, and couldn’t if they tried since they don’t know where their information originated. Using an example where someone recorded a nephew instead of the uncle, let’s say that same person finds a tree of the nephew online (which they identify since the spouse is the same). They copy and paste the new information into their tree, except it’s under the uncle instead. Now you have a branch of the family which is completely wrong. What does this researcher do next? They post their tree online with no sources. The next person comes along and finds someone who matches in their tree and copies the rest of the tree into their own, propagating the mistake.

There are really two lessons to be learned here.

First, don’t trust anything you find on the Internet, without independent confirmation. If you import a tree from a web site, make sure to check it out first.

Second, cite the source for everything you record in your own family tree, so you won’t come back years later with a new, different, piece of information and not know which is correct.

How To Cite Sources

When you were in high school or college you probably remember having to format your sources according to a citation style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style or the MLA Handbook. These guides defined where the title of the book or article went, how the author’s name was listed, etc. with examples for different types of citations – like newspaper articles, published books, unpublished dissertations, etc.

In the world of genealogy, there are many more types of evidence that one might need to cite in their research, since a scribble on the back of a an old photo, a listing in a commercial online database, the inscription of a gravestone, vital records of all kinds from all countries, etc. can be cited – all for the same person. The bible of genealogical citation is Elizabeth Shown Mill’s Evidence Explained. The book contains over a thousand citation models for just about any source you can think of that you will come across in your genealogy research. For example, do you know how to cite this blog entry? According to Evidence Explained (pg. 812) it could be formatted something like this:

Trauring, Philip, “Don’t Trust What You Find on the Internet, and Cite All Your Sources,” Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More, 27 February 2011 (http://www.bloodandfrogs.com/2011/02/dont-trust-what-you-find-on-internet.html : accessed 27 February 2011)

It gives a two more options for different types of blog citations. It also has citation models for tweets, chats, discussion forums, podcasts and other Internet-based content that probably wasn’t listed in the MFA Handbook or Chicago Manual of Style the last time you used one of them. I’m pretty sure that even today you won’t find a citation model for citing a gravestones in the Chicago Manual of Style. Coming in at over 800+ pages, Evidence Explained is a much bigger book than those other style guides.

There has been an effort by some to try to standardize genealogy citation models around those in Evidence Explained, and indeed some genealogy software programs have offered the ability to use Evidence Explained citation models when citing sources in your program. I think that it’s good to have a standard for citations, and I hope all the major genealogy software companies adopt Evidence Explained as their citation model. If there isn’t a standard for citations, then sharing citation between programs becomes difficult.

The Debate

While there is no debate in the world of genealogy that there is a need to cite sources, there is a big debate over how to cite sources. Do you really need to follow strict citation standards like those advocated by Evidence Explained? Therein lies the issue debated amongst genealogists, how important is it really to use a citation model? Isn’t it just important to convey the information to find the source cited? Do you really need to follow an 800+ page book explaining every possible citation model you could need?

I’m not going to go into this debate in depth. I’m simply going to give my opinion that as long as you convey the correct information in an understandable way, the style is not really important. I think it’s great to use a system like Evidence Explained if you can, but if there’s a chance you won’t enter the source because it takes too long to figure out the right citation model for the source and you think you’ll get back to it later (which you won’t) then just enter the citation however you want. As genealogy programs add better source citation tools, this won’t become as big an issue and it will actually be easier to cite them properly when it is automated.