Thursday, October 15, 2015

Finding Eastern European Records, Part 7 - Other Sources for Documents (and Beyond the Records)

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 seventh in what will be a series of posts describing how to find Eastern European records for your own ancestors; the entire series can be seen here.

This post will concentrate on places to find not only documents beyond those already discussed, but also information about the towns or cities in which you family lived to be able to get a better understanding of their lives in Europe.  If you know of additional sources, please leave them in the comments!

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum located in Jerusalem, is also a resource to learn about those who were killed and the towns in which they lived.  Yad Vashem's searchable database of Pages of Testimony can give insight into your relatives, and potentially help you locate more distant relatives who survived to fill out the pages.  They also have significant repositories of photographs, documents, and other information here.
Yad Vashem Page of Testimony for Dovid Eizik Eizikovic, my great grandfather's first cousin

Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP)

CAHJP is located in Jerusalem as well.  They have huge repositories of information covering hundreds of towns and cities in Europe.  Their data ranges from metrical (birth/marriage/death) and census records to lists of pogrom survivors from various cities and more.  While much of their holdings are indexed on hard-copy catalog cards (so may require an in-person visit), a portion of their holdings is searchable online here.  CAHJP's statement relating to the type of sources they have is available here.

Center for Jewish History & YIVO

New York City's Center for Jewish History (CJH), which houses several establishments including YIVO, is a trove of data.  The CJH houses the Ackman/Ziff Family Genealogy Institute as well, which can be a good resource for those looking for research guidance.  CJH's catalog can be searched here.

YIVO has been collecting information on European Jewry for over a century.  A summary of some of the types of information it houses can be found here.  Especially important is YIVO's collections from dozens of landsmanshaftn,benefits groups generally comprised of immigrants from the same town or vicinity.  Many of these groups helped friends and family who remained in Europe, and information on both the immigrants and those who were left behind can be found in these record sets.  Many of the documents, photographs and books that YIVO holds can help build a picture of life in a particular town, possibly even with mention of one's own family members.

US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)

The USHMM, located in Washington, DC, is another source of information about various towns and their inhabitants.  USHMM not only has access to hundreds of videotaped recollection of town survivors and non-Jewish townspeople who spoke about their recollections of their pre-war towns, but they also have many other sorts of collections.  They have multiple "name source" documents which not only contain names of those in various camps or ghettos but also various types of documents containing Jewish names from the pre-war era.

Region-Specific Museums

Depending on your family's town of origin, there may be region-specific museums that could have information which could be helpful.  Some examples (thanks to Marla Raucher Osborn) include Jewish Heritage Europe, Virtual Shtetl, and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.


While not everything is online, a surprising amount of information has been added to the internet--often not in the typical repositories already discussed.  Search engines such as Google are also a powerful genealogy resource, and searching for ancestral towns and surnames (using a variety of spellings) can sometimes help you to find information about your family.  A number of distant relatives of my own have found their family mentions in my various blog posts, and we've gotten back in touch--and often I have records on their family that I'm more than happy to share.

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