Sunday, September 6, 2015

Finding Eastern European Records, Part 3 (Yizkor Books and KehilaLinks)

I've often been asked how I find so many documents from various parts of Eastern Europe--many of which have appeared in blog posts.  This is the third in a series of posts describing how to find Eastern European records for your own ancestors.  While these posts will generally concentrate on how to find Jewish records in Eastern Europe, many of the strategies will also be applicable to records for other religions.  (Note that in the Russian Empire, most record sets were recorded separately by religion.)  The entire series can be seen here.

Yizkor Books

After the Holocaust destroyed their hometowns, survivors wrote their memories of their towns and those who were killed--their neighbors and families.  Most of these books were published in the 1950s and 1960s, and most are in Yiddish with some Hebrew and English.  While each town's book covers different material, in general they cover the town's history (potentially mentioning family members back generations), often list names of those who were murdered, and sometimes have names of those who survived.
From Sefer Maramaros, a page about the town of Kolodne, giving the history of the town's Jews to the 1700s
In the above image, the town's history is discussed, naming individuals who lived in the town of Kolodne over the years as well as additional details about some of the town's inhabitants (including my own family).  Many family names are mentioned (including my own Rutner family).  This write-up also alludes to census and other records that the author has examined--and therefore are available somewhere for research.

Because of the historical information contained in many Yizkor books, even if your family left Eastern Europe pre-World War II, there may well be information from the time period in which your ancestors lived in town.  In addition, cousins may have remained in Europe and may be listed with victims or survivors.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 650 different Yizkor books from its collection, and they are available online here.

JewishGen has a large Yizkor book project which is working to translate these books both online and in bound versions.  They also make searchable lists of victims (in the necrology database) and other individuals (in the master name index) mentioned in the books.  To see a list of which books have been translated so far (and to see translations) and to help out via translation or monetary donations, see here.


JewishGen's KehilaLinks is a collection of webpages, each covering a village, town, city, or region.  Each KehilaLink page is put together by a volunteer, and some have a significant amount of information, including documents relating to the town, the town's history, and photos.  Others are more minimalist.  And still other towns are waiting for a volunteer to compile a KehilaLinks page (want to volunteer?).

Some KehilaLinks have cemetery photographs posted (with translation), some have census and vital record data (sometimes also in JewishGen databases; other times not), and many have photos of what the town looked like historically and today.  Ideally, a town's page will give you a feeling of the town in which your family lived--and potentially a shared community with those whose ancestors lived there as well.

Coming next: Eastern European records (and information about Eastern Europeans) on Ancestry and FamilySearch.

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