If you’d like more information on your family tree, these are the places where you should begin.
Jewish genealogy is special because of our unique heritage and identity that separates us from our non-Jewish neighbors. Jewish communities worldwide have their own languages, cemeteries, historical vital records, newspapers, publishing houses, and social networks. In the world of family research, this translates into invaluable, specialized online resources, much of which is available free of charge (or for a small fee).
In my work as a professional genealogist, I’m often approached by those who wish to begin researching their families on their own. There are easily hundreds of Jewish-focused resources on the internet, many of them location and era-specific. However, when someone asks me where they should start, these are the Jewish online resources I suggest (aside from Ancestry and FamilySearch):
1) JewishGen (free; paywalls for more detailed searching within some databases)
“The Global Home for Jewish Genealogy”
Boasts access to 30+ million record indexes. Offers unique search tools and opportunities for researchers to connect with others who share similar interests.
These are my favorite collections hosted by JewishGen:
“Contains information about 6,000 Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Gives each community’s name in various languages, as well as political jurisdictions during different time periods. Includes maps, Jewish population figures, and links to JewishGen resources for that community.”
Research Special Interest Group (SIG), focused on families from areas encompassing modern-day Lithuania, Latvia, southern Belarus, and eastern Poland. Some record indexes contain hyperlinks to images of original Lithuanian/Russian records on FamilySearch.
Research Special Interest Group (SIG), focused on families from areas encompassing modern-day Poland and parts of Ukraine. Some record indexes contain hyperlinks to images of original records found at various State Archives in Poland.
2) JewishData (paid; $18 for 90 days access)
Founded by Rabbi Avraham Laber in 2004, JewishData’s collection includes images of thousands of monuments from hundreds of complete Jewish cemeteries around the world, along with a listing and linked image of every monument. Includes cemeteries in major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.
3) Arolsen Archives, formerly known as the International Tracing Service (free)
“An international center on Nazi persecution with the world’s most comprehensive archive on the victims and survivors of National Socialism. The collection has information on about 17.5 million people and belongs to the UNESCO’s Memory of the World. It contains documents on the various victim groups targeted by the Nazi regime and is an important source of knowledge, especially for younger generations.
“The Arolsen Archives answer inquiries about some 20,000 victims of Nazi persecution every year. For decades, clarifying fates and searching for missing persons were the central tasks of the institution, which was founded by the Allies in 1948 as the ‘International Tracing Service’.”
Search the online collections and send a detailed inquiry to the archives. They will conduct a thorough search of records that are not available online, free of charge, and email scans of any relevant documents.
4) Historical Jewish Press, hosted by National Library of Israel/Tel Aviv University (free)
This site contains a collection of 365 Jewish newspapers published in various countries, languages, and time periods (1783-2014). Full-text search is available for all content published over the course of each newspaper’s publication, as well as images of the original papers.
5) The Ancestor Hunt: Historical Newspaper Links – Jewish American Newspapers (free)
This list includes only those newspapers that are available online. Other Jewish newspapers in the US are available on microfilm and in original form at local libraries and archives, but this is one of the best resources for finding them online.