Catholic Church Records in New and Updated Genealogical Collections

Findmypast announces the new catholic church records in their Catholic Heritage Archive this week. This new partnership with British and American Archdioceses will be a monumental help to those searching their early Catholic roots. Also this week, records from Italy and the Netherlands at FamilySearch.

By JakobLazarus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Catholic Church Records in the Catholic Heritage Archive

Findmypast announced their new Catholic Heritage Archive this past week. They are releasing over 3 million exclusive records including sacramental registers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1757 to 1916 as well as for the British Archdioceses of Westminster and Birmingham from 1657 forward. This builds on last year’s publication of more than 10 million Irish Catholic parish registers.

The Catholic Church holds some of the oldest and best preserved genealogical records and in the past, have been difficult to access.

In collaboration with various Archdioceses of the Catholic Church, Findmypast is helping to bring these records online in one unified collection for the first time ever. Exclusively available on Findmypast, images of original documents will be completely free to view in many cases. Fully searchable transcripts will also be included, providing family historians from the around the world with easy access to these once closely guarded records.

Click “Play Now” below to listen to Sunny Morton’s brief interview with Findmypast about the announcement: [display_podcast]

The next phase of the Catholic Heritage Archive will include records from the archdioceses of New York and Baltimore as well as additional records from Philadelphia. There are over 30 million records in just these three dioceses. The digitization of the whole archive is a monumental undertaking and, when complete, will contain hundreds of millions of records for the USA alone.

Catholic Heritage Archive Holdings for This Week:

United States – Pennsylvania – Philadelphia – Baptisms

The Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms at Findmypast are the first of these record releases from an agreement made with the Roman Catholic Church to digitize their records. These baptismal records will include a name, their parent’s names, and residence at the time of the event.

Additional information may include place of birth, sponsors, minister who performed the ceremony, and notice of marriage. Catholic priests were charged with noting all vital events of their parishioners. If, for instance, a parishioner married outside her home parish, the priest who performed the marriage would contact her priest to confirm she was baptized and to share the details of her marriage, hence the marriage notice in the baptism register.

United States – Pennsylvania – Philadelphia – Marriages

You can now view a transcript and an image of your ancestor’s marriage register from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in this collection titled Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Marriages from Findmypast.

Information contained in these records include the couple’s names, marriage date and location, and you may find dates and locations of the couples’ baptisms.

All Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish records are from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, covering Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County.

England – Westminster – Roman Catholic Census

Another Catholic records resource from Findmypast includes the Westminster Roman Catholic Census 1893. As well as the typical information you would expect from a census (occupation, address, birth year, etc.), notes detailing the local priest’s opinion on your ancestor’s faith and dedication to the church let you find out if your ancestor was a good or bad Catholic. Scandalous!

England – Birmingham & Westminster – Roman Catholic Church & Parish Records

Four separate collections, also in the Catholic Heritage Archive at Findmypast, include Roman Catholic baptismal, burial, marriage, and congregational records for locales in England. The records released this week are for the areas covering the Birmingham and Westminster archdioceses. The amount of information in each of these record sets will vary on the age of the record, legibility, and the amount of information recorded by the parish priest. You will find both a transcription and a digital image of the record.

England Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms

England Roman Catholic Parish Burials

England Roman Catholic Parish Marriages

England Roman Catholic Parish Congregational Records

United States – Pennsylvania – Vital Records

Provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Findmypast brings you a large collection of vital records. The first is titled Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Births & Baptisms. These records include images from a variety of sources spanning years from the late 1600s to the mid 1900s.

It is important to note this may not be the only place to find births or baptisms—and there may be records included that are not births or baptisms in this material from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Deaths & Burials collection will include records that may contain the following information: decedent’s name, date of death and burial, parish and diocese, and could include additional information such as military service, age, and birth date.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Marriages collection is also a helpful group of records and include marriage records ranging from the early 1600s to the late 1900s. You can view a transcript and the original image.

United States – Pennsylvania – Congregational Records

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Congregational Records is a unique collection that may give you insight into your ancestor and the church they attended. Not only will images include lists of past ministers, but you may find additional lists of those persons baptized and confirmed. Some of these records may also be used as a source to discover the names of your ancestor’s parents and spouses.

United States – Pennsylvania – WWII Records

WWII cards

Screenshot from Findmypast of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, WWII Casualty Cards.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Word War II Casualty Cards collection is a group of records created by the Army so if something happened to a local soldier, the newspaper wouldn’t have to scramble for information. These records are particularly relevant in light of the fire at the National Archives and Records Administration in the 1970s when most World War II personnel files were destroyed.

 

Netherlands – Miscellaneous Records

We have brought you many collections from Findmypast, which require a subscription. However, these next few collections are brought to you by FamilySearch and are free to access.

Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records collection has been updated this week at FamilySearch. These records include many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records. These records cover events like birth, marriage, death, burial, emigration and immigration, military enrollment, and more. These indexes were originally collected, combined and published by OpenArchives. For the entire index collection and more information visit www.openarch.nl.

Italy – Trapani, Civil Registration

FamilySearch brings you updates to the Italy, Trapani, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1906-1928 collection. This collection consists of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the State Archive of Trapani. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality. This collection of civil registrations records covers the years 1906-1928 and may also include:

  • Residency records
  • Marriage banns
  • Indexes
  • Marriage supplements
  • Miscellaneous records

Learn More about Institutional Records Research

Catholic church recordsFrom schools and orphanages to prisons, hospitals, asylums, workhouses, and more, there’s a good chance one or more of your ancestors might be found on record in one of the many types of institutions. In this Premium eLearning video, Institutional Records Research Methods, Lisa Louise Cooke presents methods for finding your ancestors in institutional records, from establishing a workflow and investigating clues found in the census and other records to resources and strategies for digging up the records. This 40-minute video includes a downloadable handout and is available right now to all Premium eLearning members. Click here to sign up!

 

New Online! English Genealogy Records and More

English genealogy records abound in this week’s roundup of new family history records online. Find England BMD, parish records, newspapers, and more. Also: an important addition to the British Newspaper Archive’s Irish newspaper collection,  over 1,000 years of Chinese documents and records, German vital records, parish records for Italy and Sweden, and new US collections for VA, OH and NY.
headed to England for genealogy records

English Genealogy Records Now Online

Ancestry.com subscribers can now search these English genealogy record collections:

          • Bedfordshire Petty Sessions 1854-1915 This collection includes details of over 100,000 individuals involved in petty session hearings in Befordshire. Details for each individual may include name, role in the case, date of the hearing, location of the court, and even the fines or punishments given to the defendant(s).
          • Bedfordshire Valuation Records 1838-1929 These records deal solely with the value of properties in Bedfordshire county. The volumes name the proprietor or tenant, describe or name the property and give an annual rental value. It will also sometimes give an acreage for the property.
          • Bedfordshire Land Tax Records 1797-1832 Details found within this collection include may include year of residence, name of occupier, name of owner, and parish of residence.
          • Shropshire Extracted Church of England Parish Records, 1538-1812. This collection of indexes is taken from various published versions of parish and probate records from Shropshire, England dating from the early 1500s (with some non-parish records earlier) to the late 1800s. “The records include baptisms/christenings, burials, marriages, tombstone inscriptions, obituaries, tax lists, wills, and other miscellaneous types of records,” states the collection description. “Also included are some records from non-conformist churches.”

At FamilySearch.org, you can now search a free collection of Staffordshire Church Records. In partnership with Findmypast’s expansion of Staffordshire records, this collection provides church records from 1538-1944. Nearly 5 million indexed records and over 278,000 images are included.

Over at Findmypast, subscribers can now search extensive new collections for Buckinghamshire. (The original records are held at the Buckinghamshire Archives.) New databases include:
          • Buckinghamshire Baptism Index 870,000 transcripts created from original records held at the Buckinghamshire Archives. You will also discover your ancestor’s birthplace, the date of the baptism, their father’s occupation and residence.
          • Buckinghamshire Banns Index Explore 101,000 records created from original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. “Each transcript will reveal the name of your ancestor’s intended spouse, the couple’s residence, the dates the announcements were read and their intended date of marriage.”
          • Buckinghamshire Marriage Index Over 485,000 transcripts “will reveal the couple’s birth years, marital status, occupation, date of marriage, place of marriage, residence, occupation, father’s names, father’s occupations and the names of any witnesses.”
          • Buckinghamshire Burial Index More than 662,000 transcripts are included, created from original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. “Each record will reveal your ancestor’s birth year, age at death, burial date, and residence. An archive reference is also included, allowing you to locate a copy of the original document.”

British and Irish Newspapers Now Online

Over 2.3 million new articles and 7 brand new titles have been added to the British Newspaper Archive’s collection of historic newspapers this month. New titles now available to search include:

  • Tenby Observer
  • Brechin Herald
  • Milngavie and Bearsden Herald
  • Alcester Chronicle
  • Abergavenny Chronicle
  • Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press
  • Eastern Daily Press and the Colchester Gazette

Click here to explore these and other historic British Newspapers.

More than 5,000 pages from the Leitrim Advertiser have been added to Irish newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive. From the description: “The paper was originally published in Mohill, Leitrim and known in later years and The Leitrim and Longford Advertiser.” The earliest issue dates back to 1886, through 1916. With this addition, the British Newspaper Archive now has a newspaper for every county in Ireland!

German Births and Deaths: Bischofswerda

Ancestry.com has added new collections for Bischofswerda births (1876-1902) and deaths (1876-1951). Bischofswerda is located about 22 miles east of Dresden at the edge of Upper Lusatia in the German state of Saxony. To local residents, it is also known as “Schiebock” and known for its large historic market square and town hall.

Italian civil registration: Padova

FamilySearch has published 42,000 newly indexed records and images in its free collection, Civil Registration Records: Padova 1621 – 1914. From the collection description: “Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the State Archive of Padova. Includes supplemental documents, residency records, ten-year indexes, and marriage banns. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.”

Swedish Household Examination Books

Also at FamilySearch are 1 million indexed records and images for Swedish Household Examination Books 1880-1920. According to the collection, “Each year until 1894 the Parish Priest would visit each home in the parish and test each individual’s knowledge of the catechisms. In addition, they would collect birth, death, and marriage dates as well as where families had moved to or from and when, etc. The priest would then come back each year and update or edit the information from the previous year and note any changes in the population of the home.” (These are also online at MyHeritage.com.) Click here to read a great article for getting started on your Swedish genealogy.

Chinese Records at the Library of Congress

An exciting announcement from the Library of Congress this week! “The contents of the Asian Division’s Pre-1958 Chinese Collection, totaling more than 42,000 items, are now fully searchable through the Library’s online catalog in both Chinese characters and Romanized script. This rich and diverse collection has served researchers and general audiences for nearly 90 years; until now, however, bibliographic records for these materials were only available through a card catalog.”

United States

New York. The Vassar College Digital Newspaper Archive is now available online. Provided by the Vassar College Libraries, this archive provides access to newspapers published by Vassar College students. Earliest issues date back to 1872, and cover a wide range of topics and events on and off campus. This collection currently contains over 85,000 pages.

Ohio. New at Ancestry this week are Ohio Soldier Grave Registrations, 1804-1958. This database contains grave registration cards for soldiers from Ohio who served in the armed forces, mainly from the time of the War of 1812 up through the 1950s. Records may contain an individual’s name, date and place of birth, date and cause of death, location of burial, next of kin, military service information, and more.

Also in Ohio, Kent State University has completed the digital Daily Kent Stater Archive. It contains 90 years of Kent State student publications, dated from Feb 1926 to Dec 2016. According to the press release, “it covers several historic events as well as some great memories for the Kent State alumnae.” Check out the introductory video!
Virginia. Two million pages of the Newport News Daily Press are now searchable on Newspapers.com, with issues dating back to 1898.

 

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House Photo Identification – How to Find Who Lived at an Address

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 28

Original air date: 10/8/20
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 28

In this episode we’re going to take many of the things we’ve learned in past episode of Elevenses with Lisa and apply them to one of your genealogical problems. My goal isn’t to find the answer myself, but rather to provide a toolbox of strategies that you can use to experience the joy of the discovery yourself when researching a home or location, as well as in a wide variety of other genealogical situations! Keep reading for notes that accompany this episode.

Cynthia Owens is a regular viewer and participant in the Live chat each week during Elevenses with Lisa. She emailed this photo and wrote “This picture was with my mother’s belongings…photo of a house in Omak, Okanogan, Washington with only an address written on it. 308 S. Main, Omak, WA. I have hundreds of photo’s (B & W) that have no information on them and a lot of people who I don’t know.  I have a gold mine and no idea how to mine it.”

Cynthia's photo of a house

The house photo in Cynthia’s family collection.

Cynthia said that so far she has found the names of the last two owners in county records and some directories. She also determined that the house was built in 1928. She writes, “I have a lot of family on both sides of my parents who could have owned it.”

Formulate Your Research Question

The research question in this case boils down to: Who owned the home at 308 S. Main, Omak, WA in the 1930s?

Compile Known Family Names

We start by compiling a list of family surnames that we will be on the lookout for. These are families who are known to have lived in Washington state during that time frame.

Cynthia’s mother’s family names:

  • Woodhead
  • Patience

Cynthia’s father’s family names:

  • Tucker
  • Stubbs
  • Tonks

Answer the Question Does the house still exist today?

To answer this question, we turn to the free Google Earth Pro software. By simply searching the for the address and using Street View we are able to determine that yes, it is. Google Earth also allows us to obtain a high-quality image.

The house in Google Earth's Street View today

The house in Google Earth’s Street View today.

Google for Land Records

I conducted a simple Google search: Okanogan County Land Records

The results:

 

Locating Land Records

Special Guest: Kathy Nielsen, Librarian
Kathy Nielsen is a reference librarian and an educator.   She has a masters degree in History and in Library Science.  Kathy is currently a popular genealogy speaker on  California’s Monterey Peninsula.  She incorporates her skills as an historian, a storyteller and a librarian in her search for her family’s history. Kathy Nielsen stopped by to offer suggestions on obtaining land records. Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 on House History featuring Kathy Nielsen.

The FamilySearch Wiki

Visit the free FamilySearch Wiki here. Search for the county in the wiki and then click on Land Records.

County Auditors Department

  • Where land records are located.
  • You can do a title search.
  • The records may not be online.
  • Email or call and inquire what the options are to access the records or have a search done.
  • Access varies by county.

Follow the chain of ownership back in time:
Grantee = the person who bought the property
Grantor = the person who sold the property.

Real Estate Websites

  • Trulia.com
  • Zillow.com

These sites don’t provide owner names but do show you recent transactions.
Result: The house was sold in 1997. It went on the market briefly in 2013.

Assessor’s Office (Tax Records)

These are typically only available to the current owner.

More Places to Look for Real Estate Related Information

City Directories

City directories are usually published yearly. Look also for Reverse Directories that allow you to look up the address in order to find who lived there. Kathy suggests contacting the local public library staff to inquire about City Directories and other records. Many libraries are currently staffing online reference chat.

State Libraries

Kathy recommends expanding out from the local area library to nearby communities, and the state. The Washington State Library is also currently answering questions. They have a genealogy department and city directories.

WorldCat.org

WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. The online catalog that itemizes the collections of 17,900 libraries in 123 countries and territories.

National Register of Historic Places

According to the website: “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resource.” Click here to learn more about and search their digital database.

Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (Washington State)

From the website: “On this site you will find information on historic buildings, the archaeology of Washington State, how to navigate our regulatory processes and how to nominate properties to the State and National Register of Historic Places.”

Neighbors

Contacting and talking to neighbors is often one of the quickest and easiest ways to gain information. The 411.com website offers a free reverse address lookup. The results will give you the name of the current owner and residents, and even plot nearby neighbors (with names) on a map.  

Researching the Home from Home

If you’re unable to research in person, make significant headway with these online resources.

Historical Societies

Google to find the official website of the historical society located in the area where the house is located. These sites may include searchable databases and information on how to contact them for resources and lookups. 
Result: The Okanogan County Historical Society features a searchable database.

Facebook

Search Facebook for the name of the county historical society in the area where the house is located. Facebook pages often include more up to date information than the official website.

Old Maps

Depending on the town and area, you may be able to find an old map from the approximate time frame that includes details on homes. Two excellent free resources are:

  • Davidrumsey.com
  • Historical maps in the Layers panel of Google Earth Pro

Search at Genealogy Records Websites

Searching for various combinations of the address, town and surnames from the family tree may lead you to an answer. Here are a few examples of searches run at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. (Your results may vary depending on the date you are searching):

Keyword: (address) 308 Main St, Omak (exact)
Results: 25 (These were not all exact)

Residence: (town) Omak (exact) and Keyword: (address) 308 Main St. (exact)
Results: 5

Search each surname in Okanogan County at Ancestry.
Results for Cynthia’s mother’s family names:
Woodhead (Paul Woodhead married in Okanogan in 1941)
Patience (No results)

Cynthia’s father’s family names:
Stubbs (results from the 1970s)
Tonks (None)
Tucker (8 results)

FamilySearch.org

Run the same at the free FamilySearch.org genealogy website. Search each surname with Omak (exact) & 1920-1940 (restricted to) U.S. On the day I searched, the only surname from the list with results was Tucker. Cynthia’s next step would be to compare the results to her known family tree.

Search the Census Specifically

You can search the census by using the search fields and using variations of names, town, county and specific address. If you don’t find the specific address that way, brown the records of the town, looking for addresses written in the left margin. At Ancestry, look for the link to a map of the location found in a census.
Results: 1930 Census: 104 West First St., Omak (Jess Tucker)

Use Google Earth to determine if the addresses found are the same today. Plot each finding on the map using placemarks.
Result: 1930 Census Address: 104 West First Street, Omak = not there today

A search in the 1940 for Jess Tucker found him still living with his mother. She was recorded as “Frances Write” living at 504 Main St., Omak, close to the house in question. When searching the census be sure to look at the pages on either side of the results page. In this case Jess is found on the next page living at “no number” as a renter at his mother’s home.

1940 Census Enumeration District Maps

Ancestry has a collection of 1940 Enumeration District Maps from the National Archives (where they can also be found here along with additional helpful search strategies.) Enumeration districts are geographic areas that were designed to allow an enumerator (the census taker) to visit every house in the district within a two-week time period. A month was allowed in more wide-spread rural areas. These maps vary in the amount of detail provided. They may or may not indicate house numbers.

Go the Ancestry Card Catalog and search for the 1940 Census Enumeration District Maps collection. In the search fields for this collection, enter the enumeration district number which can be found in the upper corner of the 1940 census page.

State Census

State Censuses were often conducted every ten years in years ending with “5” which makes them a great supplement to the U.S. Federal Census. They also sometimes include information not gathered at the federal level. Therefore, an important question to ask is “was a State Census taken in this approximate time period?”

Here’s a State Census list from the National Archives.
Results for Washington state: No state census taken after 1898.

Card Catalog Include Useful Unique Sources

Not all useful records will surface with a straight-forward search. Dig into the Card Catalog of your favorite genealogy records website to find unique and useful collections that may include addresses.

Example: Search the Ancestry card catalog for Okanogan County, WA
Found:  Washington, Postmaster Indexes, Prior to 1965
Strategy: Browse the alphabetically organized Okanogan cards for each family name.

Another unique record type that often includes address are Draft Cards. Search by location then surname. Also try Keyword searches. Not all cards include complete addresses but many do.

The Future is Bright

Here’s a summary of the wide variety of genealogical research strategies we’ve covered in this episode:

  • FamilySearch Wiki (by county)
  • FamilySearch Card Catalog (by location)
  • County Auditor’s Dept. for land records
  • com for most recent purchase
  • City Directories (including reverse)
  • Local, County, and State libraries)
  • org
  • National Register of Historic Places
  • Neighbors
  • Historical Society (website and Facebook)
  • Old maps
  • Search Genealogy sites by address & surname
  • Census / State Census
  • Unique Records (Draft cards, Postmaster Index)
  • Plot in Google Earth for perspective
  • Census Enumeration District Maps

Resources

Premium Video & Handout: Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases(This video features using Google Photos.) Also watch  Google Earth for Genealogy  and download the handout.
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please Leave a Comment or Question

I really want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this episode? Do you have a question? Please leave a comment on the video page at YouTube or call and leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and I just may answer it on the show!

If you enjoyed this show and learned something new, will you please share it with your friends? Thank you for your support!

Jewish Genealogy Research

Each area of genealogy research comes with a unique set of challenges. Jewish genealogy is no exception, but thankfully there are fantastic websites and online resources available to help. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, these resources may prove very helpful for researching Eastern European branches of your family tree. Many provide detailed maps and information about towns that have long since vanished. 
 
In this week’s Elevenses with Lisa episode professional genealogist Ellen Shindelman Kowitt (Director of JewishGen’s USA Research Division and National Vice Chair of a DAR Specialty Research Jewish Task Force) joins us to share:
  • unique features that JewishGen.org has to offer
  • the best regional websites
  • what you need to do before you dig into these websites


You can watch here, or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel where you can also view the live chat by signing into YouTube with a free Google account. 

Episode 57 Show Notes

Interview Transcript

Lisa Louise Cooke: When I think of Jewish genealogy, immediately my mind goes to JewishGen.org, and I was hoping you could start us off with an overview of that. I know that you’re involved with them and boy, do they have a lot to offer!

Ellen Kowitt: JewishGen is really the premier main source for Jewish records on the internet today.

It’s run as a non-profit and it’s actually a part of a museum on the lower side of Manhattan called the Museum of Jewish Living Heritage. It’s run by a professional executive director, Abraham Grohl, but then there are thousands of volunteers that participate as research division directors, who help to identify records, index records, and translate records because language is a big issue in Jewish genealogy.

They’ve developed some really great data sets that can be searched for free by anyone. There is no charge to search JewishGen. Similar to FamilySearch, they ask that you register for a username and a password, but they don’t sell your name and it’s not going to go anywhere past accessing that website.

JewishGen

They have different tools they have developed that are unique to searching Jewish records.

I think there are a lot of entry points into JewishGen. For a novice, particularly beginners who have not done a lot of research anywhere on the internet, it can be a little overwhelming. They have a unified search, which combines the data sets from hundreds of records into one search function, because you can search each of these data sets separately. But if you’re just browsing and curious, and just want to throw your names in, the unified search is a great place to start.

Something that is really exciting about it is that they’ve had these special algorithms developed that are unique to Jewish names and Jewish languages. I’ll mention the Jewish languages in a minute, but it’s similar to the National Archives in the United States, which developed what we call the Soundex, which is an alpha-numeric code assigned to your name. It helps you navigate other spellings to your name that are similar, but maybe your family didn’t spell it that way, but it could be found in a record that way. The American Soundex doesn’t always work on Jewish or mostly Eastern-European names, so these special Soundexes were developed on JewishGen that are now used throughout the Jewish genealogy world on other databases as well. One is called the Daitch–Mokotoff. Another is called the Beider-Morse, but JewishGen doesn’t call them that. When you go in, it’s blind to you.

You’ll put your name or your town name into the search engine and there is a form with fields that you can populate. It doesn’t matter if you’re spelling the names of your given name, your surname, or your town name correctly, because you’re going to be able to pick a couple of different ways to search in a drop-down menu.

The first one will be called “Sounds Like,” the second is “Phonetically Like,” and then it goes into “Starts With,” “Is Exactly,” “Fuzzy Match,” “Fuzzier Match,” and “Fuzziest Match.” My recommendation is always search on “Sounds Like” and “Phonetically Like” because those are Daitch–Mokotoff and Beider-Morse Jewish algorithms for Jewish names and places. So that’s really, really helpful.

Many times people coming to Jewish genealogy are just hung up on names, where they come from, and figuring out an immigrant’s place of origin. Because, think about it: nobody spoke English in the Russian Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is where a majority of Jews came from after 1880. So, they’re speaking languages like German and Russian, Lithuanian and Polish, and even Yiddish, which is linguistically more like German although it is written with Hebrew letters.

These immigrants come to American ports and there could be an immigrant from another part of the world with a different kind of accent, like an Irishman. So, an Irishman in America listening to a Yiddish speaker from Russia – of course they’re going to butcher spelling the names. It’s just par for the course.

People can’t get hung up on the spellings of Jewish names, particularly the surnames and the towns of origin where they are emigrating from. Of course, those towns are important to narrow down and understand where they were, because that’s where you’re going to look for the records.

JewishGen’s Communities Database

That’s a second point about JewishGen that’s so helpful. They have a Communities Database, and that lists over 6,000 places where Jews mostly lived in the largest populations around Eastern Europe. In many of those places, Jews don’t live there anymore, but they will outline for you in different time periods where the records are or where they were.

We always refer to Jews coming from Russia because we see that on passenger manifests or census records. But a lot of times when you see Russia as a place of origin for a Jewish family, if they came before 1917, that was Russian Empire. The Russian Empire doesn’t exist anymore, and what was the Russian Empire pre-1975 is not Russia-proper today.

There are a lot of countries where your family could have come from, including Poland, because part of Poland was in the Russian Empire. Your family might actually be from Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, or Ukraine, or even some places in the south that don’t exist anymore. There used to be an area referred to as Bessarabia, and another one, Bukovina. These don’t exist anymore. Even Prussia, when you talk about the German Jews who came over, and this is true for non-Jews, too. There is no Prussian Empire anymore, and what was the Prussian Empire is now largely Poland, parts of Russia, and Germany of course. But it’s misleading that if your family spoke German and said that were Prussian, that they were German the way we think of Germany today. A lot of Jews came from Prussia, so that’s why I mention it.

Those are the key things about JewishGen. It helps with you the name complications and determining what other spellings there might be in records. It also helps you with locating these towns and what the administrative districts today would be.

How to Get Started in Jewish Genealogy Research

If you’re researching a Jewish family, it’s no different than any other American family, if you’re starting in America. You start with the civil records, the vital records, the census records, and the passenger manifests. None of these American records are divided by faith or ethnic group. So, a Jewish person, or if you’re researching a Jewish branch, should be starting the same way as any other American research. Start with yourself, work backwards, go through and exhaust all of the American records that you can, which will help you determine what those original names and place they came from are. That’s where JewishGen really helps you. It’s kind of like a 102 class. You have to do the American 101 records, and then when you’ve exhausted all of that, you jump to the Jewish records, which are largely available through JewishGen.

JewishGen Networking

And the big point about JewishGen is the networking, because there’s this huge discussion group. They are now on Facebook with a group.

They have something called the JewishGen Family Finder, where you can register the names you’re looking for and/or the towns. Likewise, you can search to see whom else is researching the same names and towns that you are.

Through the messaging on JewishGen, you can get in touch with them and say, “Hey this is my story. Can I see your tree?” or “Do you have any family photos?” or “Have you had any success finding records for the little town in the middle of Ukraine?” Or even, “Have you hired a researcher that was helpful in pushing your research back in this particular archive in Lithuania?” It’s a fantastic way to find people researching the same obscure, small areas of the world that you are.

Lisa Louise Cooke – That’s an amazing resource, and you’re so right that we still have to follow the basic genealogy methodology. We still need to go through those records here. It’s tempting – I know people will say, “Well I know they were Jewish” so they’ll want to jump into that, and yet you miss so many clues that would probably come in super handy once you get over to JewishGen and you’re ready for that.

Ellen Kowitt: Absolutely…I find people who come to Jewish genealogy as beginners have not done that. I’m often backtracking and teaching American research before I ever get to a single Jewish record. I think that it’s really important that people take a look at (American records).

If they’re not in the United States and they’re listening, Canadian records or British records, wherever you might be starting from. You need to start in the country where your person that you’re researching is located, with those records first.

JewishGen Research Divisions

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great point. I know for my own Sporowskis who were German-East Prussians, really they’re out of Belarus. I’m pretty sure that even though my great-grandfather later was going to the Lutheran church in America, I think they were a Jewish family back in Belarus. JewishGen has been one of the few places to find information about some of these locations that have changed names and boundaries. It’s just an amazing resource in that way.

Ellen Kowitt: Belarus is a good example. JewishGen has maybe over 20 research divisions. I happen to be the director for what’s called the USA Research Division, and just to define that, it’s not census records and passenger manifests. It’s looking at records held at Jewish repositories that are in the US, like the American Jewish Archives or the Southern Jewish Historical Society.

There are research divisions geographically all throughout Eastern Europe and there is one for Belarus called the Belarus Research Division. If you click on their link from JewishGen’s drop-down menu, they have their own website and they give a lot of maps, from now and then, of what Belarus was, and lists of towns divided by province, or what was gubernia. There are ways to connect with people and search what their records are.

Here’s a little tip I have about Research Divisions and any project on JewishGen. If you don’t find what you’re looking for and you really think it might be there, or you’re spelling it wrong and it’s not showing up in the Soundex, contact whoever the person is on that record set or who the Research Division director is, or who the town leader is.

In Ukraine, there are hundreds of town leaders for these little towns and what we find is that the town leaders and the Research Division leaders often know or are holding onto records that are not online. If you’re not finding something, it’s free to send an email! Just inquire and say, “Do you know anything else about Grodno, Belarus in 1854? Or the name Cohen?” or whatever it is, and you just never know what these folks have because I have found there are a lot of offline lists that the experts know about.

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s very good insider information. It’s true, as you go into your genealogy research you get more and more daring and send that email. All they can do is just not be available. But it sounds like those folks are more than happy to help. What a wonderful idea.

Regional Jewish Genealogy Resources

Lisa Louise Cooke: We were talking about specific regions and I’m sure there are all kinds of different things here, but what other types of websites might be out there for regional Jewish genealogy?

Ellen Kowitt: It’s a little confusing. There is kind of a hierarchy. It’s not coordinated by any organizing body, but there are three independently run Jewish database sites. When I say the names, sometimes people say, “Oh that’s part of JewishGen.” They’re not. They are run independently. The three are:

  • JRI-Poland which stands for Jewish Records Indexing Poland,
  • Gesher Galicia, and I’ll define that for you.
  • And what we used to call LitvakSIG, and SIG stands for Special Interest Group.

All three of these groups kind of have roots in JewishGen and then for different organizing reasons all wanted to organize as independent non-profits. But they share their data. Now, do they share all of their data? Do they share their data at the same time? Are they sharing it in the same place? The answers really vary. This is why, I always say, if you’re brand new, check out Unified Search on JewishGen.

Ancestry actually has some of LitvakSIG, some of JRI-Poland, and some of JewishGen’s records. Just recently LitvakSIG released some of their records to MyHeritage. So, there is some overlap back and forth on the data sets. But if you’re from these three particular geographic regions, I would not only be looking on Ancestry, FamilySearch, and JewishGen. I would always go to their original databases on each of their original websites.

LitvakSIG

LitvakSIG really stands for Lithuania, but Lithuania today is really different than the geographic borders of Lithuania a hundred years ago. When you look at modern-day Lithuania on a map, if your family is coming from a part of Latvia or Belarus or an area of Russia that surrounds that area, you might want to look there. I have this corner of southwestern Lithuania that part of my family came from, but it has also been Prussian, it has been Suwalki, Poland, and it’s right near Belarus, but yet I found records in Lithuania in LitvakSIG. I have also found them in Suwalki from JRI-Poland. So, loosely when you define your location, consider what’s geographically around the modern-day borders. But LitvakSIG is predominantly Lithuania and a lot of Jews came from Vilnius and Kaunus and all these places up there.

JRI-Poland

The second one is JRI-Poland. They are fantastic in their records acquisition. They’ve had partnerships with the Polish state archives. They give locations of microfilm that are for Polish municipalities at the FamilySearch digital collection. They have tons of volunteers who have worked there for 30 years. It’s extremely extensive.

For listeners who don’t know, the Polish State Archives has largely gone online, so a lot of vital records are digitized and you can go right to the record. Now, it may be in Polish or Russian, but you can get to those records for free, just like you can on FamilySearch sometimes.

JRI-Poland is just a powerhouse for getting access, using their indexes first to locate if there are records for your family in a town, using the Soundexes that are the Jewish Soundexes, and then getting to the original record. I just love JRI-Poland.

And be loose on those borders because it’s going to include Suwalki and those areas north on the Lithuanian-Russian border. Even the Belarus border and that Prussian border on the other side. For JRI-Poland, ‘cast a broad net’ is areas that were ever considered Poland, even on the southern side, too.

Gesher Galicia

The third one is called Gesher Galicia, also run independently, and also shares data with JewishGen. Galicia does not exist anymore. It was a designation for an area that today you would think of on a map as western Ukraine and eastern Poland, and a lot of Jews lived in Galicia. Unique to that area is that it was Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point, so the records are in German, not so much in Russian or in Polish.

But Gesher Galicia has got a fantastic search engine on their database, and they are another powerhouse that is just continuing with their volunteer army of adding so many great data sets.

They’re really good, too, at allowing you to list what towns you’re researching if you join, and I think they have a small membership fee. In fact, each of them have a membership fee that they’ve added on, and I think that just gives you access to records maybe a little bit sooner.

These three are often lumped in with JewishGen but are really organized as separate organizations and they acquire records and index them in a different way.

Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great overview and it reminds us, like with all genealogy, that when you see partners working together and they end up with records on multiple sites, I find myself wanting to look at those records, even if they’re the same, on every site. You never know what the nuances are. You never know if their image is clear. There are so many different possible variations.

Jewish Records at Ancestry.com

Ellen Kowitt: There are! I have taken a deep dive on Ancestry’s records of JewishGen. They started an arrangement awhile back, I think in 2008, and JewishGen gave them a bunch of records in return for Ancestry housing their servers. So a great business arrangement for a little non-profit like JewishGen, but confusing for people like researchers that only use Ancestry and never look any further. 

Certainly if you’re finding things on Ancestry (Jewish Records at Ancestry) that are JewishGen, you want to go to JewishGen and search also because JewishGen has not updated all the records that they sent to Ancestry ten or more years ago. There are unique records that were never sent to Ancestry, and you pick up those Jewish Soundex search capacities on JewishGen.

Now, Ancestry’s search has definitely advanced in recent years but it’s not the Beider-Morse the Daitch–Mokotoff Jewish algorithms for searching Jewish names. If you can’t find somebody on the JewishGen collection at Ancestry, go to JewishGen and try running the search there.

Holocaust Research

Lisa Louise Cooke: Another area I can think of as a roadblock area for folks in their research is around the Holocaust. What kinds of resources do we have to conduct research when it comes to the Holocaust?

Ellen Kowitt: I started doing this about 25 years ago and it used to be that either the records were not released by some of the archives in Russia or in the East, or they weren’t in English, or they weren’t indexed. You would put in these requests and it would take literally years for certain repositories to answer a basic inquiry with “Yes” or “No” if they have a card on your family.

I think there was a lot of mythology build around ‘you can’t document the Holocaust and what happened to people’ and what we’re finding all these years is later is that there are so many records. Plenty of people are documenting their families. We are continuing to find more resources available online, even from repositories that are traditionally not in English.

It’s hard to say where to start, because the story of the Holocaust has also evolved. It used to be we learned in school, if we even learned at all about the story of the Holocaust, that it was the story of the concentration camps and the Jews being gassed, and that’s certainly true. But there are so many other elements of the Holocaust like the story of the 1 ½ million Jews killed in Ukraine before anyone ever was killed at Auschwitz. We call this “the Holocaust by bullets” (and the story and most of what was the Soviet Union at that time), was the Jews were rounded up and, this is gruesome, but they were executed and left in mass graves that are unmarked, largely, throughout what was the Soviet Union.

Even Jews who knew their family was tied up in those kinds of stories thought there was no way to figure out what happened to their family or the town. But we do have records. The Russians kept records. It turns out the Germans kept records. A lot of this has become available online that you can search in English.

It really depends, for a family that knows they have a Holocaust story, where they were, what country they originated in, if you know the story that they went to a camp, or if they were in a small town where there was a mass grave. You’re going to be looking at very different resources.

I would say, if you only had to look at one and you wanted to just start this process, Yad Vashem’s website in Israel, in English, would be the place to do a general top-level search. The reason is because Yad Vashem is like the US version of the (United States) Holocaust (Memorial) Museum in DC, and they have resources too, but the one in Israel is called Yad Vashem and it has a larger collection.

They have also collected these pages of testimony from survivors who talk about their family members and where they last saw them, or if they know the exact story about what happened to them or their whereabouts throughout the war. Thousands of these pages have been submitted and they’re searchable. You can see the original pages that people submit and you can even get in contact with the people submitting them. It’s a great networking opportunity for people looking to connect. Yad Vashem has these great success stories, less and less because the survivors are aging out, where they connected people who still had living relatives in Argentina, Australia, or in Europe, and they’re just fantastic renewal stories.

But yes, complicated topic. It is possible to learn what happened to a community, hopefully to an individual. Records are at Bad Arolsen, the Arolsen archives in Germany, in addition to Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Museum.

JewishGen does have a Holocaust collection worth searching, although it’s smaller than these other larger repositories. There are all kinds of things on the internet – webinars, speakers, and even books that have been published on how to track down victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

And non-Jewish, too. I recently was looking into someone who came from a Ukrainian Orthodox family and they were shipped out of Ukraine to what would be now the Czech Republic, and they were in a work camp. Sometimes these repositories you think of as Jewish record repositories for Jews in the Holocaust also tell the story of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I so appreciate your vast knowledge on this. I know you teach people about genealogy, Jewish genealogy – tell us a little bit about you got started in genealogy and then into it professionally.

Ellen Kowitt: I guess like everybody out there, I just have that gene. Even from a young age, I was the one who just gobbled up the stories at the holiday tables and remembered the names and connected the relationships and just kept track of it in my head, long before I realized that was not normal, it was unusual and not everyone does that.

There is a woman, Sallyann Sack, who writes a lot of books on Jewish genealogy and she’s one of the publishers of Avotanyu, which is both a journal on Jewish genealogy and also a publishing company on books about Jewish genealogy. In my twenties, I happened to go to a lecture she gave at a synagogue in Washington DC, 25 or more years ago. She said “Hey we have this club! It’s a Jewish genealogy society and we’re doing a beginners workshop. Do you want to come?” I went and there was no looking back. I just got the bug. I started interviewing relatives like we all are taught, to talk to the oldest people first and the records can wait.

It just went from there. I got super involved as a volunteer. I actually think volunteering is a great way when you’re a beginner to learn about record sets. I have seen probate records, naturalizations, and Jewish records that I would never have found in my own family by helping index through a project with a local society. That was fascinating to me.

Then one day a friend insisted on paying me money to do some research on his mother, and I actually liked it. I thought, wow, if I can make a few extra dollars to pay for my genealogy obsession – and these websites can be expensive, the conferences cost money – but if I can make money and help to pay for my obsession, then I’m going to be a professional. So, that’s how I fell into that and it’s grown from there.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I think those of us who caught the bug when we were young are really fortunate because we got opportunities and I think had a focus on talking to and recording some of those stories. I know that’s probably people’s biggest regret, when they didn’t think about it back when they had an opportunity to interview some of the older relatives. I know in my case I just treasure the few interviews that I did do and I still have.

Ellen Kowitt: Me too.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I really appreciate you sharing all these wonderful resources. And of course, folks can visit you at your website at EllenKowitt.com, and I know that you do lecturing and all kinds of professional work on genealogy, and the wonderful article, Find Your Jewish Roots Online, in the May/June 2021 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Ellen, it’s been a delight to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us here on the show.

Ellen Kowitt: Thank you so much for having me, I enjoyed it!

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