Regardless of our station in life, we all have a noble heritage. The fact that we are here today to even ponder our beginnings means that our ancestors were successful in bringing later generations into existence. We can feel proud of that accomplishment - the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying. This fosters respect and appreciation for the lives of our ancestors, the trials and tribulations they faced, the obstacles they overcame, and the sacrifices they made that eventually brought us into being. Events that happened in their lives, such as an expulsion that brought together a set of grandparents, or immigration to the country that you ended growing up in, all affect the way in which we live our lives...
A Lesson in Genealogy
Rarely do people know much about their great-grandparents and those before them. When it comes to our genealogy, information abounds, and attempting to research our family tree to fill in the blanks may be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are genealogy research tools that can help you simplify the process and make it attainable. We have produced a five-part plan to help you get started on the journey through the unique series of people and events that make up your past.
Step 1: Identify what you know about your family.
In this first step, you will need to recall as much information as you can about your family and record it on (click to download) Pedigree Charts, and Family Group Sheets, which are for each couple and their children. Make sure to add places and dates, or estimates if you don’t know them precisely. After that, gather more information from your relatives, such as vital records, journals, letters, photos, deeds, wills, etc., and add it to the Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets. Use a journal to write down notes about your family history, such as education, military service, migration, participation in the community, and so on.
Step 2: Decide what you want to know. Now it’s time to really get down to business. If you already have an ancestor that interests you, or a burning question about your great-great-great grandmother's birthday, go with that. If you don’t, you will need to select one ancestor to start your search with, someone that you already have some information on, especially a surname and where and when he or she lived. To make the choice of which ancestor is going to be the lucky one, look at entries on the Pedigree Chart (linked to above) with one of the following problems:
● Missing Information - names, dates, places.
● Incomplete Information - parts of names, dates, places missing.
● Unverified Information - information that cannot be traced back to a credible source.
● Conflicting Information - information from two sources that don’t agree.
Once you select a person, you need to pose a specific research question, such as who were the person's parents, or when did he/she get married/die? Select only one question as your objective, and by focusing on it, you are more likely to succeed. Use a (click to download) Research Log to keep track of records you want to search and information that you find.
Step 3: Select records to search. It is helpful to identify record categories to search records in an organized way.
● Compiled Records
● Original Records
● Background Information - sources about geographical, historical, or cultural information
● Finding Aids - these help you find locations of records
Compiled Records are records that others have already put together about your family. This includes genealogies, biographies, family newsletters, local histories, and so on.
Original Records are records created at times of important events in your ancestor’s life. This would be vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates), cemetery records, census records, probate records, military records, taxation records, etc. Start with choosing a type of record to search, for example cemetery records, that would have the information you are looking for. Then select the specific records to search, and record the authors, titles, time periods etc. in your Research Log (linked to above).
Step 4: Obtain and search the records. Some places to obtain and search records would be libraries, archives, and government offices. Use Finding Aids (library catalogs, name indexes, websites) to search for where certain records can be found. Look out for name changes which may have happened upon arrival to new countries, spelling variations, and dates. Events may have happened at different dates than you think. Make copies of documents and records in your Research Log, even if no new information was found. This saves you from possibly searching through the same records again.
Step 5. Use the information. Now it’s time to evaluate the information you acquired during the process. Did you find what you were looking for? Is the information complete? Does the information conflict with other information you have? Is the source of the information credible? Add the new information to your Family Group Records, and record the sources. Then, share the results with your family and relatives; someone may have something to add. You can repeat the process by choosing another record, research objective, or ancestor to research. Last but not least, smile wide. You have accomplished something amazing! Researching Jewish ancestry has certain challenges due to our precarious and fraught history. Below we will list some clickable Finding Aids to help in you research records of your Jewish ancestry.
● JewishGen - This is a free website with databases, a family finder, articles, societies, projects, and discussion groups.
● FamilySearch - This is the largest genealogical organization in the world, and have a Jewish Genealogy database linking generations of Jewish families called the Knowles Collection.
● Yad Vashem - They have a Shoah Name database which has names and biographical information on four and a half million Jews who perished in the holocaust as well as WWII records, pictures, and personal testimony.
● Avotaynu - The most prolific publisher of Jewish genealogical books and articles, they also have a list of helpful websites and a consolidated Jewish surname index.
● IAJGS - They have lists of Jewish genealogical societies from around the world with a link to their each sites.
● Routes to Roots - Specializes in Jewish records in archives of Eastern Europe.
The Rewards are Amazing!
There's a whole escape room (that we know) of dedicated to a genealogical success story of just one genealogist! Play to relive his exhilaration - but try to uncover the mystery of your own family! Movies, TV shows and books are dedicated to the process and rewards of genealogy. Being able to relate to family members across time greatly enhances your perception of your place in history and your role as a member of your nation. Good luck discovering!