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Jewish Genealogy Search Strategies
Those doing research on Jewish families should first follow the genealogy strategies and methods for the area where the family was from. Wiki pages and other research aids can help you learn about records and formulate strategies. In addition to general sources, which list all of the population including Jews, there are many books, indexes, and other resources that have been created for Jewish research in particular. This is not a comprehensive listing of Jewish records available at the Family History Library but does list examples of the major types of records available.
The following basic steps for genealogical research will help get you started:
Step 1. Identify What You Know about Your Family
Begin your research at home. Look for names, dates, and places in certificates, letters, obituaries, diaries, and similar sources. Ask relatives for any information they may have. Record the information you find on pedigree charts and family group record forms.
Step 2. Decide What You Want to Learn
Choose an ancestor to research for whom you know at least a name, the town where he or she lived, and an approximate date of birth. The more you know about your ancestor, the more successful you will be with further research.
It is best to begin by verifying the information you already have. Then you can decide what else you want to learn about that ancestor. You may want to ask an experienced researcher or a librarian to help you choose a goal.
Step 3. Select a Record to Search
Effective researchers first find background informa-tion. Then they survey compiled sources and finally they search original records. Jewish For Further Reading has a list of genealogy how-to books, both general and geographically specific, that give information about tracing Jewish ancestors.
Background Information Sources. You must have some geographical and historical information. This will help you focus your research in the correct place and time period.
- Find the place of residence. Use maps, gazetteers, histories, and other place-finding aids to learn about each place where your ancestor lived. Identify governmental and ecclesiastical jurisdictions, local Jewish congregations, cities, counties, and other geographical features.
- Review local history. Jewish history and the history of the area your ancestor lived in affected the records about the Jews. See "Jewish Gazetteers" and "Jewish History" for more information. If there is a set of Wiki pages for the country or state where your ancestor lived, see "Gazetteers" and "History" in that place's pages.
- Learn about the jurisdictions of the places where your ancestors lived. You will need to know about civil and often church boundaries. See "Jewish Gazetteers" for more information.
- Use language helps. Jewish records may be in Yiddish, Hebrew, or in the language of the country of residence. Some church records for Jews may be in Latin. See "Language and Languages."
Compiled Records. Surveying research already done by others can save time and reveal valuable information. Check compiled sources such as:
- Private collections of family histories and genealogies deposited in historical and genealogical societies and other libraries
- Printed family histories and genealogies
- Family histories, genealogies, and abstracts or transcripts of records on the Internet
- Compiled records of the Family History Library
- FamilySearch™ International Genealogical Index (IGI)
- FamilySearch™ Ancestral File
- Vital Records Index British Isles and Vital Records Index North America. See "Genealogy" for details about these sources. Similar indexes for other countries are in production.
- Pedigree Resource File
Original Records. After surveying previous research, you can begin searching original documents, which are often handwritten and copied on microfilm or microfiche. Original documents provide first-hand information recorded at or near the time of an event by a reliable witness. To do thorough research, you should search:
- Jurisdictions that may have kept records about your ancestor.
- Records of Jewish communities.
Most researchers begin with civil registration, census records, church records, or probate records.
Step 4. Use the Internet
Many individuals and organizations have made family history information available on the Internet. This is particularly true of records pertaining to the Jews. Internet sites often refer to information others have placed on the Internet. These sites, also called home pages or web sites, are connected with other sites to create the World Wide Web (WWW). Each site on the Internet has an address that enables you to go directly to that site. The most popular starting sites for genealogists include:
For Jewish research, the most helpful sites are:
You can use search engines to search a broad range of Internet sites that contain certain keywords. For example, if you want to find Jewish cemetery records for a certain place, type in "Jewish" and "cemetery" and "Berlin" in a search engine, which will present a list of sites that contain these words. Different search engines search in different ways, so you may want to try more than one.
Many books about using the Internet are available at libraries and bookstores. Some list Internet sites of interest to genealogists. A resource guide called Family History and the Internet has been produced by the Family History Department. This and other guides listed in this set of Wiki pages can be purchased from:
- Distribution Center
1999 West 1700 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84104-4233
- LDS Distribution Centre
399 Garretts Green Lane
Birmingham B33 0UH
You can also order Family History Department resources through the Internet at:
Step 5. Find and Search the Record
Suggestions for Obtaining Records. You may be able to get the records you need in the following ways:
- Family History Library. The Library is open to the public and charges no fees for using the records. For more information, click here, or write to:
- Family History Library
35 North West Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3400
- Family History Centers. The Family History Library can loan copies of most records on microfilm to thousands of Family History Centers worldwide. There is a small duplication and postage fee for this service. To find a center near you, click here.
- Local Archives and Libraries. Although the Family History Library has many records on microfilm or microfiche, others are available only at local or national archives and libraries. See "Archives and Libraries" for more information.
- Libraries and Interlibrary Loan. Public, academic, and other research libraries may have some published sources for Jewish research. Many provide interlibrary loan services that allow you to borrow records from other libraries.
- Look-Up Exchange. There are lists of people on the Internet who will search various types of records for certain areas free of charge. You can locate these lists through Internet sites such as:
- Jewish Genealogical Societies. Many Jewish genealogical societies will do local research for you. A list of these societies can be found at:
- Professional Researchers. You can hire a researcher, many of whom specialize in Jewish research. Others specialize in research in various countries or states. Lists of qualified professional researchers for various geographical areas are available from the Family History Library. Archives or family history societies may also provide lists of people who can do research for you. Jewish and other genealogical periodicals usually contain names and addresses of people or companies that do research for hire. Researchers can also be found on genealogy Internet sites.
- Photocopies. The Family History Library and some other libraries offer limited photoduplication services for a small fee. Books protected by copyright cannot be copied in their entirety. However, a few pages can usually be copied for personal research (you must specify the exact pages you need). The library does not copy large portions of a microfilm. To get a copy of a major portion of a film, write to the archive where the original material is stored for permission and then contact the library with your request.
To contact libraries or professional researchers or any other family historian, write a brief, specific letter. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped, long envelope when writing within your own country. When writing to a foreign country, enclose three international reply coupons (available from your post office). You will usually need to pay in advance for photocopy or search services.
Suggestions for Searching Records. Follow these principles as you search records for your ancestor:
- Search for one generation at a time. Do not try to connect your family to others who have the same surname if they lived more than a generation earlier than your proven ancestor.
- Search for your ancestor’s entire family. Records may contain clues for identifying other family members. Search other record types and in other localities to find a missing family member.
- Search each source thoroughly. A small piece of information in a record may provide the clue needed to continue your research.
- Search several years before and after the date you think an event occurred. Dates in some sources may not be accurate.
- Do not make assumptions. Your ancestor may not have been born in the place or the year that your records indicate. And the name you knew him or her by may not be the legal name recorded in official government documents.
- Use indexes. Although not every record has been indexed, many have been. Look for an index that includes the time period, event, and place you need. Many indexes include only some of the people mentioned in the record. Make sure you check the original records after using an index.
- Be aware that most Jews did not have surnames prior to 1800. Before surnames were adopted, Jews used a patronymic naming system.
- Watch for spelling variations. Spelling was not standardized until the late 1800s, and names were often written phonetically. Also, if a family moved to a new country with a new language, they often changed the spelling of their name to phonetically conform to that country’s language.
Step 6. Use the Information
Evaluate the Information You Find. Decide if the information you find is complete and accurate. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who provided the information? Did that person witness the event?
- Was the information recorded near the time of the event or later?
- Is the information logical and consistent with other sources about the family?
- Does it suggest other places, events, time periods, or records to search?
Record Your Searches and Findings. Copy the information you find and keep notes about each record you search. Note where and by whom the records were made, even those that provide no information.
Share Your Information with Others. Your family history can become a source of enjoyment and education for yourself and your family. You may want to compile your family history and share it with family members or other people.
The Family Tree of the Jewish People is an Internet site where you can contribute your own genealogy as well as search the database of Jewish genealogies that have been submitted by others. This resource is available at:
Information can also be submitted to the Pedigree Resource File at: