by Jennifer M. Alford | Jun 11, 2013
As you delve deeper in the history of your Jewish ancestors you may find yourself asking about repositories where you can research them. There are many United States archives that contain documents related to the Jews, but not all of them are specific to the group. Many state and national archives contain a plethora of information that could be related to your ancestors. It is always a good idea to start your research locally and then work your way to those archives with more specifically Jewish records. Here I will share some of the best archives to visit to break down your Jewish brick walls.
The American Jewish Archives is located in Cincinnati, Ohio and has an interesting collection of photographs, microfilm, media, and genealogies. The AJA's genealogy guide has links to helpful references and tips on visiting the archives. Whether or not you visit, be sure to examine "First American Jewish Families" by Dr. Malcolm Stern. The archive has over 800 major manuscript collections and 16,000 minor manuscript collections. The holdings of the AJA include manuscripts from many sources such as temple records, district records, cemetery records, individuals papers and diaries (including sermons, correspondence, and articles), and B'nai B'rith records.
I recommend searching their catalog for your ancestors' birthplace (outside the U.S.) or their place of residence within the U.S. to see if any manuscripts might have a connection. If you are not able to research there in person, you can request research assistance for a fee.
Located in New York City, the Center for Jewish History houses multiple organizations. These include the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. All told, the Center houses more than 500,000 volumes and 100 million documents. This is in addition to the thousands of pieces of artwork, textiles, ritual objects, recordings, films and photographs.
The Ackman and Ziff Family Genealogy Institute has collections available both online and offline. Some highlights that are available to search include the American Jewish Committee Office of War Records, Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum Records, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Henry Hochheimer Marriage Record Book, Jewish Immigration Information Bureau Records, New York Court Records, and the Sheftall WPA Index of Names. The YIVO Institute has several historic research focuses. There is a large collection of Yiddish language, literature and culture, and even Yiddish theater and press. Additionally their collection includes European history, the Holocaust and its aftermath, and life in the United States focusing on the migration period of 1880-1960.
The Center for Jewish History is working with the Routes to Roots Foundation to provide a wealth of genealogical resources related to Eastern European countries. Research guides are available for various countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Great Britain, and France. If you are interested in Sephardic research the Center has an excellent collection including European, Asian, North African, and Western Hemisphere books. Books on names and genealogies are also available there. Before making your trip to the Center, take the time to read the research guides for the holdings of the different organizations.
While in New York City a visit to the New York Public Library is a "don't miss!" Part of their holdings includes the Dorot Jewish Division, which has a comprehensive collection of the religious and secular history of the Jewish people. With over a quarter of a million books, microforms, newspapers, periodicals, manuscripts, and more from all over the world it is well worth attention. The library has many genealogical collections related to New York City. Be sure to examine those if your ancestors were there at any time.
Because Philadelphia served as a major immigration port for the Jewish people, many organizations, records, and synagogues were founded there. The Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center was a joint project of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Their collections are housed as part of Temple University Libraries' Special Collections Research Center and can be accessed there. Major subject areas for the collection include benevolent societies, congregations, education, travel, social services, politics, and immigrant-ethnic communities. Be sure to check their catalog and before visiting check for the availability of the documents of interest.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC is home to the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center, an archives, and several other resources for researching the Holocaust or trying to locate survivors or reunite family members.
Though the FamilySearch Library holdings are not exclusively of Jewish origins, it has one of the largest collections of Jewish documents and books to be found in the United States. FamilySearch has been microfilming and scanning for over a hundred years. Their holdings span the globe and have scanned church holdings, government vital records, and more. A search of their catalog for the keyword "Jewish" reveals over six thousand results are available. You can request that a microfilm be sent to your nearest local center. If you are so inclined, a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah will open your eyes to a vast array of resources available to you for your Jewish research. A search for a specific locale can help you determine books that may be quite helpful during your visit to the library.
These are just a few of the Jewish focused archives that could be of use in your research. Talk with your local Jewish genealogical society and determine what local resources are available that you may not have considered previously. State archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, and even local libraries may have holdings that could be of help to you. [Note: You can locate local and Jewish genealogical societies through the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies and the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Society Hall.] Jewish research does not need to be in an archive with exclusively Jewish records, but it certainly can be helpful to research with others who have faced the same challenges.
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