Finding Jewish Records

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Jewish American Research

This article is part of a series.
Overview of Jewish American Research
Jewish Migration to the United States
Holocaust Research
Finding Jewish Records
List of Useful Jewish Research Resources

This article originally appeared in "Jewish American Research" by Gary Mokotoff in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Sources Independent of Time Period

Jewish Historical Societies

A number of Jewish historical societies in the United States and Canada have documented the history of the Jewish presence in their locales. Many have made this information available in book form. A list of Jewish Historical Societies is located at

Jewish Immigrant Aid Societies

For some one hundred years, Jewish immigrants have been assisted by social welfare organizations that helped them settle in the New World. The most comprehensive and oldest is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. The society has case files on each person or family it has helped. The Canadian equivalent is the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society.

Getting Records from the Country of Ancestry

The ancestors of most Jewish Americans came to North America less than 150 years ago. This means that research of periods before the twentieth century invariably leads to research in central and eastern Europe. The collapse of Communism has been a blessing for genealogists with roots in this area. In most countries, archives and records offices previously off-limits to inquiries are now open, and capitalist entrepreneurs offer genealogical services. The Family History Library, previously spurned by Eastern Bloc governments, is now microfilming or negotiating to microfilm documents in most countries. Record collections thought destroyed during World War II have been found in other countries or stored in warehouses. Unrestricted travel now is possible in most countries. Information about access to these repositories can be found at the Internet sites for the Jewish Genealogical Special Interest Groups (see below).

Organized Jewish Genealogy

Jewish genealogy is highly organized. There are more than eighty Jewish Genealogical Societies throughout the world. Since 1982 there has been an annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy that often attracts more than one thousand attendees. There is a strong presence on the Internet, primarily through JewishGen. Special Interest Groups have formed based primarily on country of ancestry. There is a journal of Jewish genealogy: Avotaynu.

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies

There are some sixty Jewish genealogical societies in the United States and Canada. They are in alliance with societies located in fifteen other countries through an umbrella group: the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). A list of societies is available at the organization's Internet site. Societies hold meetings regularly, usually monthly, with a lecture on some topic of interest to Jewish family historians. More significantly, membership provides an opportunity to share information that will enhance research efforts. In recent years, many societies have begun holding beginners' workshops to encourage other Jewish Americans to trace their ancestry. Most societies publish their own newsletter as well.

International Conference on Jewish Genealogy

An annual conference, sponsored by IAJGS, has been held since 1982 in different locations primarily in North America. The location operates in an approximate ten-year cycle with regular (repeat) sites being Jerusalem, London, Los Angeles, New York, Salt Lake City, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. Information about these conferences can be found at the IAJGS Internet site.


The principal presence of Jewish genealogy on the Internet is JewishGen. More than one thousand volunteers provide assistance in developing and maintaining its databases. Principal components of JewishGen include the following:

  • JewishGen Family Finder. A database of ancestral surnames and towns being researched by more than fifty thousand genealogists throughout the world.
  • Family Tree of the Jewish People. A database of more than 2 million persons organized in family trees.
  • Discussion Group Archives. Messages posted since 1993 to the JewishGen Discussion Group, a daily bulletin board read by more than five thousand subscribers.
  • InfoFiles. A comprehensive directory of information resources, organized by both topic and country.
  • JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR). Data from Jewish cemeteries.

Special Interest Groups (SIGs)==

Because most Jews worldwide do not live in the same country as their ancestors did 150 years ago, Special Interest Groups have evolved within organized Jewish genealogy revolving around country/region of ancestry. These groups' success has been made possible because of the Internet. Members are from all over the world, and they communicate through mailing lists. Each group has its own Internet site that usually includes databases of resources for Jewish genealogy in the area, InfoFiles, and links to other sites. Almost all SIGs are subsidiaries of JewishGen, and links to their homepages can be found at the JewishGen homepage.

Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy

This journal is published quarterly and includes articles from an international group of contributing editors. It includes information on the latest resources available to Jewish genealogists in various parts of the world and includes background articles about the history of Jews in particular areas. Since 1991, Avotaynu, Inc., publisher of the journal, has also produced books of interest to Jewish genealogical researchers. It also publishes the Jewish e-zine of Jewish genealogy Nu? What's New? At its website, is a Consolidated Jewish Surnames Index database, which contains nearly 700,000 surnames from forty-two databases containing mostly Jewish surnames.


Coming soon...

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