*mitzvah: (Yid.) A good deed
One of the single greatest resources I have come across is the website, JewishGen.org. This site which is powered by a battalion of volunteers and a few staff members. Recently I was fortunate to meet Avraham Groll while attending the NGS conference, and it was only then that I learned that there are only three paid staff members. It's a real tribute to the power of the collective efforts of volunteers. As I stood at the booth with Avraham I began to realize how little people know about the website and it's wonderful resources. Soon I was telling others about the great things to discover and was mistaken as part of the booth! I laughed it off, but then I realized that I had a great opportunity here on IDG to share this great site.
For those of you who are not familiar with the site, I strongly recommend that you check out the Get Started page. The First Timer page has a few short videos that serve as an introduction to the many facets of JewishGen. It also gives some helpful steps to follow in your research. I highly recommend that you take the Basic Genealogy Course if you have the time. I actually was asked to write a guest blog post about it a few years ago. The class costs $80, but if you make a $100 donation to the JewishGen General Fund (which is tax deductible) there is no additional charge to enroll. Other great sections in “Getting Started” include their FAQs, InfoFiles, and Tools.
Of course the most valuable part of the JewishGen website are the databases. First is the Family Finder (JGFF) which includes the surnames and locations associated with those family members. I have listed a number of my ancestors and their ancestral towns. It's also possible to put in a more general listing which can cover a whole country. For example, the surname Kriger in Belarus. Contact information for those researching similar names is provided and most of the people are quite helpful even if there is no known connection. Another avenue to make connections is through the Family Trees of the Jewish People (FTJP) which includes a database of members' uploaded GED files.
An invaluable resource is the Town Finder tool. Last year I had learned the name of my great grandfather's birthplace, but was unsure of it's location. By using the spelling found on the original document and the time period and country I was able to determine the current day city.
There are many other databases that can be searched through this site including the Holocaust Database, Burial Registry (JOWBR), Yizkor Books (memorials of those lost in the Holocaust), KehilaLinks (specific pages for towns including pictures, maps, personal recollections, and research data). There are specific country databases that can be searched as well.
If you are looking for a more interactive experience, there are discussion groups, email lists, and special interest groups which you can join. My favorite is the ViewMate section where you can post photos and documents to request help in translating. Each time I find a new crack in my brick walls I hurry to JewishGen to see what can be revealed there. As the days pass, volunteers continue to index, translate, and transcribe documents so that new information can be unearthed for the Jewish people throughout the world. This wonderful effort by so many has created opportunities for JewishGen to grow despite its small staff. Take a moment to peruse the site and if you can, make a donation to help preserve the records of those who have passed on.
© 2012 Jennifer Alford