Anyone who has Ashkenazic Jewish ancestry—or even ancestry from Eastern Europe in general—should be familiar with JewishGen. While an account is required, registration is free (although they do gladly accept donations). JewishGen is truly the go-to site for Jewish genealogy.
For those new to JewishGen, JewishGen has a huge “getting started” section which helps its users understand some of the nuances of Jewish genealogy and JewishGen’s site. Within that same section are links to many on-line classes—some free, others available with a small fee.
JewishGen also allows you to register the towns and surnames in which you are interested—and to see if other researchers have registered common interests. Their Jewish Genealogy Family Finder (JGFF) contains over 575,000 entries with more being added regularly. You can also see family trees that users have uploaded through the Family Tree of the Jewish People (FTJP). (As with any user-supplied tree, don’t just copy the information but verify information on them and use them to connect with potential relatives.)
Towns in Eastern Europe have had many names, particularly those who have shifted countries multiple times due to changing borders. JewishGen has its Town Finder right on the front page which will look for potential matches to town names you’ve found on documents. If the Town Finder doesn’t locate the correct town, the JewishGen Gazeteer has even more town information to help you locate your ancestral hometown. Once you locate your town, you can see if it has a KehilaLinks page; these pages are created by volunteers to consolidate information about a particular town.
Another way to find out more information about an ancestral town is through its Yizkor book. These books were written after the Holocaust by survivors to memorialize their hometowns. Each Yizkor book is different, but each tends to cover a town’s history, its people and often has a list of those killed in the Holocaust. JewishGen is working to get these books translated (most are in Yiddish, and some are in Hebrew) to English; those either completed or in progress thus far can be seen here.
JewishGen has many Special Interest Groups (SIGs) which bring together individuals researching the same part of the world. The SIGs are generally arranged by country or region of origin. Each SIG has a mailing list where you can ask questions specifically associated with that SIG’s area of concentration. In addition to signing up for future mailings from the SIG, you can also look at what others have posted over the past 20 years—and potentially locate others researching your family or your family’s hometown.
Most researchers are familiar with cemetery databases like FindAGrave and BillionGraves. And while both of those sites have many Jewish gravesites registered, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) has full indexes of many Jewish cemeteries across the world—many with photos. Some entries have translated father’s names and other information off the original gravestone.
JewishGen’s ViewMate service allows users to upload documents written in foreign languages and have them translated by other users. This site is particularly useful if you have documents in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German and Hungarian. You can also look at documents previously uploaded to ViewMate to see if there is any overlap with your own family research.
With all of those features, we haven’t even touched the most powerful aspect—JewishGen’s databases. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post which will discuss what is available and how it can significantly further your research.