7 Resources for Researching Your Jewish Heritage

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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! Continuing on the same vein as my last post, I’m going to talk today about different resources you can use if you are trying to research your Jewish heritage. Recently, someone asked me how to go about finding records of their Jewish ancestors in Europe. They admitted that they’d had some difficulty going back past a certain point (due to records being destroyed during WWII) and asked if I had any tips.

I’ll be honest – Jewish genealogy (especially Ashkenazi and Sephardic genealogy) is not something I’m too familiar with. That said, I am a librarian (so I’ve learned how to research stuff over the years) and I know of a few people who are better versed in Jewish genealogy. So this post will be a list of resources for people just starting out in researching their Jewish heritage – especially if their ancestors came from Europe.

  1. JewishGen – This website is a non-profit affiliate of The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. It is powered by Ancestry.com and has dozens of databases dealing with Jewish genealogy from Europe and the Middle East. As stated on their website, their mission is: ‘is to preserve our collective Jewish family history, and heritage, for future generations, by allowing anyone with Jewish ancestry to research their roots, and connect with relatives.‘ If you have Jewish ancestors who lived in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, this is a great place to start. They even have self-paced online classes geared toward researching your Jewish heritage.
  2. Avotaynu, Inc – Avotaynu is a name that you will see pop up repeatedly as you start to research your Jewish ancestors. They are one of the premier publishers for materials dealing with Jewish heritage and they run one of the more well-known journals on Jewish genealogy. They have a plethora of books and other materials for both new researchers and veteran researchers. While their site is mostly geared toward selling their books (they are a publisher, after all), they also have a few free resources. One is the surname index. If you have surnames in your family tree that are supposedly Jewish, you can put them into the search and see what pops up. This index also has links to a variety of other databases. For example, I put ‘FIELDEN’ (a supposedly Jewish variation of my maiden name) in and it pulled up about 150 results. Each of these results is connected to at least one database.
  3. San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society – I live in southern California. So I figured I’d post a link to one of the local Jewish genealogical societies we have down here. You’ll generally find a Jewish genealogical society in most major city areas (New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, etc). SDJGS is just one example. Their website has several great references for people just starting their research. They also have links to a variety of genealogical webinars, some of which are free. If you join the SDJGS, you can also access their library collection of Jewish genealogical materials as well. (This policy will vary for each genealogical society.)
  4. JRI Poland – You know what I love to do just as much as I love researching family history? Indexing historical records. I’ve personally seen the impact that indexed records have had on a person who has been trying to break through a brick wall in their family tree. I can also say that doing family history research is much easier nowadays because of indexing. In light of that, I want to mention JRI Poland. If you have Jewish ancestors who lived in Poland, this site is a MUST for research. As most Jewish researchers eventually find out, many Jewish records were destroyed during the various conflicts in Eastern Europe, including World War II. This ends up being a major brick wall for those researchers. However, in the case of Poland, many of the Jewish records were saved/preserved. These records are currently being indexed (so people can more easily access them) and many are available at JRI Poland. According to their website, about 5 million records have been indexed or fully extracted thus far and more are added every few months.
  5. Israel Genealogy Research Association (Blog List) – So the Israel Genealogy Research Association is an amazing genealogy resource for those researching their Jewish heritage. But one of their pages is what I want to focus on. It is their ‘Blogs of Interest to Jewish Genealogists’. This is a whole long list of Jewish genealogy blogs. Most are in English, but some are in Hebrew. Some are run by professional genealogists, others are run by people researching their own lines and wanting to share what they’ve found.
  6. RootsTech’s Series on Jewish Genealogy – RootsTech is one of the top genealogy conferences in the United States. At the end of February/ beginning of March, tons of people go to Salt Lake City to get their genealogy fix on. The rest of year, RootsTech offers a variety of posts on different genealogical topics. In particular, they have a three-part series about Jewish genealogy that is great for beginners. (The link goes to part one.)
  7. Yad Vashem – Yad Vashem is another great resource for people looking to research their Jewish heritage. Especially if they have family members who were affected by the Holocaust (whether they were killed or survived). While Yad Vashem has lots of great resources, the link I put here goes to their names database for those who were killed in the Holocaust. The database is in beta mode, but it is still a valuable resource.

So there are 7 resources for researching your Jewish genealogy. There are plenty more, like here (FamilySearch’s wiki page on Jewish genealogy), here (another list of Jewish genealogical resources) and here (International Society of Jewish Genealogical Societies).

Questions? Comments?

Questions or comments about this post? Know of any other great resources for people researching their Jewish heritage? Let me know in the comments down below! And if you like what you’ve been seeing here on Tenacious Genealogy – please subscribe to our email list. Not only will you stay up to date with the latest blog posts, but you’ll also get access to freebies such as ’10 Tips for Starting Your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber only’ items!

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