Tag Archives: jewish

Routes to Roots, improved

I’m going to start with a digression. I’m not sure if you can digress before you have a main topic, but here we go.

In the past, when one did research into their Jewish relatives from Eastern Europe, the assumption was sometimes that there were no records that survived the Holocaust. This is not just a baseless assumption – I’ve personally been told many times by archivists in Eastern European countries that “All Jewish records were destroyed in the war.” When receiving such responses I sometimes wonder which of the following possibilities is the actual case:

  • The Jewish records were, actually, destroyed (it did happen sometimes).
  • The archivist knows exactly what records exists, but doesn’t care to tell you about them.
  • The archivist doesn’t differentiate between Jews and non-Jews, and even though records were kept separately in the past, does not index them separately and thus is just saying there are no separate Jewish records (or a previous archivist did this, probably during the communist period, and this archivist doesn’t know the difference).
  • The archivist is ignorant of what Jewish records exist.
Really only the first two possibilities are likely. It’s not likely that different collections would or even could be mixed together (certainly an archivist would realize the documents come from different collections), and it’s not likely an archivist would not know of the contents of their archive. Obviously sometimes it’s true, the records were destroyed, and the archivist is telling you what happened. Sometimes, however, archivists seem disinclined to lift a finger to help you, for whatever reason it might be (laziness? antisemitism?) which you can decide on your own.

So how do you know what records exist for the town you’re researching? For records in (or in what once was) Poland, you can try searching JRI-Poland to see if they have indexed records for your town. There is actually a list of towns on the JRI-Poland web site, and if you follow the link to the town page you can find out many of the records that have been indexed for that town. Some records may not be listed, however, so it’s always a good idea to contact the town administrator and ask if there are other records as well (which might cost money).


One of the most important sites for Jewish genealogists is The Miriam Weiner Routes to Roots Foundation (RTR) site. Miriam Weiner has worked to inventory the Jewish holdings of archives across Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova (and some in Romania). This information was originally published in two books covering Poland, and Ukraine and Moldova, which are now largely out of date, but the information is updated and expanded on the web site. Whenever new Jewish records from specific towns are located, they are added to this database.

In other words, if you want to see if birth records exist from your ancestral town, you search for the town, and can see what records are known to exist for that town. The records that exist may be in the local archive, might be in an archive in a country that used to be the same country as where your town is (such as the L’viv, Ukraine archives for records of towns in Poland), or could be in archives like CAHJP in Jerusalem.

For example, see the records available for Kanczuga, Poland (9 records groups), Odessa, Ukraine (16 records groups), and Krakow, Poland (30 record groups – including one from CAHJP).

I’m happy to see that the site has been improved, and it is now easier to get to the search interface.

In addition to the archival catalog, RTR has recently started added it’s own name databases.

1929 Pulawy Taxpayer List

When name databases exist for a town, there will be a link at the top of the town archival holdings page. The following name databases were added as the first batch last month:

I’ve linked directly to the database search pages for each database.

This is an interesting development for RTR, and it will be interesting to see how these new databases develop. Hopefully they will add a single search interface for all the name databases in the future.

It’s always exciting to see new databases made available for Jewish genealogy. The previously mentioned JewishGen Memorial Plaques Database and four new databases in IGRA’s All Israel Database, as well as eight new databases added to Gesher Galicia’s All Galicia Database (I hope to post about this in the future), and these new databases from RTR all contribute greatly to Jewish genealogy. Certainly an exciting time to be involved in Jewish genealogy.

Four New Israel Databases

It’s common for new Jewish genealogy databases to be released shortly before the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which this year is taking place in my hometown of Boston. I already mentioned the 30,000 records in the new JewishGen Memorial Plaque Database.

To add to those records, the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) has released four new databases, totaling nearly 16,000 new records. The new databases include:
  • Graduates of Gymnasia Herzilia 1918-48
  • List of Names in the Register of Adult Jews in Petah Tikva 1936
  • Marriage certificates Jezreel Valley 1931-41
  • Voter List Tel Aviv 1922
From the IGRA presentation:

That brings the total number of records added to IGRA databases since its launch last year to 168,112 records in 140 different databases. To see all of IGRA’s databases, go to their All Israel Database. You need to be logged into their site to search the databases, but signing up is free. Congratulations to the whole IGRA volunteer team that put these databases together.

New Memorial Plaque Database

In the the run up to next week’s IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Boston, expect various groups to be releasing new databases to help Jewish genealogists. One new database that was just released is JewishGen’s Memorial Plaque Database. Organized by Nolan Altman, the database is an attempt to gather all the information on memorial plaques found in synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Many synagogues plague a plaque on their wall for each member who dies, to record their yahrzeit date (the day a family member says kaddish for them). These plaques contain very important information for Jewish genealogists, including the person’s name (in the US usually in English and Hebrew), and in most cases the name of the father of the deceased (at least in Hebrew).

When synagogues close, these plaques with their unique information are frequently thrown out, although sometimes are put up in other synagogues or institutes. Collecting the information from these plaques now is a great effort, and something whose time has come. There has been discussion for years about collecting this information from various people involved in Jewish genealogy, so kudos to JewishGen for taking up the gauntlet and getting the project started.

Section of a memorial wall from Lowell, MA

For the launch of the database, there are nearly 30,000 names listed. These come from the US, Israel and Canada. About half of the names collected so far come from the Boston area, whose local Jewish genealogy group made an effort to collect the names in the run up to the conference, and collected 16,000 names from 30 different institutions.

If you’re interested in photographing and indexing the memorial plaques in your local synagogue, you can do so and contribute the data to this effort. Synagogues who want to contribute this information to the database can add information about their synagogue to the memorial plaque web site, in order to get traffic from those people searching for family members.

My only concern with the database right now is that the images they provide are not big enough to read the information directly from the photographs. Many times relatives are grouped together in these memorial walls, and it would be useful to see the images in higher resolution so one could read all the plaques and see who is located nearby on the wall. Hopefully this can be remedied in the future.

For more information, go to the web site, or contact the project coordinator, Nolan Altman.

Jewish names, red herrings, and name changes

The study of one’s family history includes a large amount of dealing with names. Surnames. Given names. Maiden names. Married names. Nicknames. Name changes. While many of the articles I’ve written in the 2+ years of this blog have dealt with names in some fashion, here’s a look at the articles that focused specifically on them:

Religious marriages, civil marriages and surnames from mothers
January 9, 2011

A look at the introduction of surnames in the Jewish community two centuries ago in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the government bureaucracy which forced many Jews to take the names of their mothers instead of their fathers, forever confusing their descendants researching their family history. A look at a specific case in my own family where birth certificates show the truth of what happened.

Name Changes at Ellis Island
May 10, 2011

A look at names changes in NYC and the reasons behind them, as well as the myth and history of name changes at Ellis Island (or in my family’s case, Castle Garden). A look at a very interesting book documenting names changes in New York, and a interesting story of a family that lived and had children under the wrong name for years, before changing it later.

Animals and Name Pairs in Jewish Given Names
May 17, 2011

This article is a brief look at two common historic Jewish naming patterns, and how they intersect. The first naming pattern is the use of animal names from Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The second pattern is giving two related names to a child.

This article also looks at the historical role of the shem kodesh (Jewish religious name) and the kinui (secular name) among Jews.

Variations in Jewish Given Names
June 17, 2011

A look at how given names of the same person can change over time, particularly if they moved between countries. This article has a great table of Jewish given names that shows the names in English, Hebrew, Transliterated Hebrew (i.e. Hebrew in Latin letters), Tranliterated Yiddish, and Polish.

This article also lists and reviews a number of important books on Jewish given names, and provides information on the Given Names Data Bases (GNDBs) at JewishGen.

Pursuing Genealogical Red Herrings
March 21, 2013

Plane crashes, bigamy and global law firms – this article has it all! Seriously though, this article takes a look at how sometimes you can spend years pursuing a lead that turns out to have been a typo. Examples include a newspaper article that detailed a plane crash in Guatemala, a Rhode Island state census that shows a man with the same name, birth year and birth country as my gg-grandfather who is married to a different woman, and a global law firm that somehow seems to spell their own name wrong on occasion. In all three examples, a family whose name was Traurig was erroneously printed or displayed as the much more rare name Trauring, leading to endless pursuits of families that it turned out were not related at all.

How surnames change – research into one name over two centuries
April 15, 2013

Whereas the above article looked at three cases where a family named Traurig was erroneously listed as Trauring, this article looks at four families whose surnames started out as Traurig, but actually changed their names to four different surnames – Trauring (two families), Vesely and Smutny (one family), and Al Yagon (one family).

The article looks at families that started out with the name Traurig, and changed their names in Poland, in Australia, and in Israel.

What does New Zealand have against Justice?
May 2, 2013

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the different rules that some countries have restricting what parents can name their children, with a special look at the most-rejected name in New Zealand: Justice (which happens to have been the 512th most popular male name, and 529th most popular girls name, in the US in 2011).

Popularity of girls names in the US
June 6, 2013 (on lexigenealogy.com)

What girls names have been the most popular in the past century? What makes a name popular? What causes an old name to come into fashion again? Where did the name Aaliya come from? Layla? Why did Savannah come back after 50 years off the most popular name list?

Racism and Commonality as Reasons for Name Changes
June 9, 2013

A look at the reasons given for changing names in New York City, as recorded in a book that transcribed name change petitions filed between 1848 and 1899. On two ends of the spectrum, some people changed their names because they were too common, and some changed them because they were too ethnic (specifically too Jewish). A focused look at the most commonly changed names in the book – Smith, Levy and Cohen.

I hope you like these articles. Let me know what you think. Is there anything else you’d be interested to hear about Jewish name, or names in general, let me know and I’ll see about adding a new article to this list in the future.

International Jewish Genealogy Conference in Boston

Once a year the the IAJGS partners with a local Jewish genealogy society to have the International Jewish Genealogy Conference. Last year it was in Paris. The year before it was in Washington, DC (where I spoke about Utilizing Belgian Archives for Jewish Research). This year, in partnership with the JGS of Greater Boston, it will be in my hometown, Boston.

The conference is taking place at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, and will be from August 4-9. This is same place that the conference was held the last time the conference was held in Boston back in 1996. The hotel is in an amazing location for those who have never been to Boston. There are tons of things to do and see within walking distance of the hotel, from the historic district in Boston (Freedom Trail), to the first public park in America (Boston Common), to the shopping district (Newbury Street).
There is a special conference rate at the hotel, available for up to two weeks before the conference in case you want to show up early and tour. To get the conference rate, you can book through the conference web site, until July 11.
For those who have never been to the annual conference before, IAJGS has put together a video on what you can expect:

If you’ve never been to one of the annual conferences, I highly recommend it. You’re sure to learn a lot, meet lots of people, and make connections with people and groups that are researching the same places and families you are researching.

Registration is now open, with an early registration discount available through April 30, 2013. One other date worth mentioning is that all additions to the conference Family Finder must be submitted by July 1, 2013. The Family Finder is a directory of family names and ancestral towns that are being researched by attendees at the conference. The top five names and towns can be displayed on your conference badge, and up to eight names will be put into the Family Finder book that is distributed at the conference.