Saturday, December 8, 2018

Letter from Bergen Belsen

My great-uncle, Izzy Joshowitz, was my grandmother's older brother.  He was born in what was then Czechoslovakia (and is now Ukraine) and came to America when he was 7 years old.  During World War Two, he was an officer in the Army Air Corps.  As the war ended, he was sent to Bergen Belsen, where he met some cousins (who he had never before met in person, as they were born in Europe after he left to America) who had survived.

Recently, his daughter Randi went through some old boxes in her mother's attic, and she found the following letter:
Letter from Bergen Belsen

Sunday, December 2, 2018

An Incredible Resource for Russian Empire Records/Discussion: j-roots

If you have ancestors who lived in what was the Russian Empire, you must know about j-roots.  Check out the below guest post that talks about this resource and how English speakers can best interact with it.

The following is a guest post from Dmitry Pruss.  Dmitry Pruss lives in Salt Lake City. A native of Moscow, Russia, he holds a Ph.D. degree in Molecular Biology and works in the field of human genetics. Since 2006, his projects included solving heritable disease riddles by combining DNA testing with the classic kind of a gumshoe genealogy. Dmitry is a volunteer moderator of the Onomastics section of the Jewish Roots portal, and a contributing editor of Avotaynu magazine.

Did your great grand uncle attend college in Odessa or St Petersburg? Did you great grand aunt take apprenticeship exams for a pharmacist or a midwife ? Was their cousin sent to Siberia for anti-government agitation - or perhaps a petty crime? Or maybe an ancestor's signature graced a shul petition, or a plea to the authorities asking for a fire or famine relief?
The old country Jews interacted with the Czar's oppressive government in a myriad ways, always having to prove who they were, where they hailed from, who were their kin. Along the way, they left priceless breadcrumbs of genealogy information. It is still there in Eastern Europe's archives. The vital records may have been lost as the local archives went up in flames during WWII (note from Lara: Many do still exist though, as you can see in many of my blog posts), but the authorities hoarded up so much paperwork in their quest to suffocate the Jews, that the tales of your family are still preserved in as unlikely places as Moscow where millions of police file cards catalog all the brushes of the Jews with the system, or the Kremlin of the ancient capital of Siberia, overflowing with correspondence about prisoners and exiles.

Over a nearly decade of its existence, Jewish Roots portal ( has become the leading force in Russian Jewish genealogy research. It is busy uncovering and digitizing new genealogy sources in the archives of the former Russian Empire, and building a valuable help base of advice on genealogy searches, both for the online investigators and for those doing their research on the ground, in the archives, libraries, and cemeteries.
Just one example from j-roots