GENERAL GENEALOGY RESOURCES
Many genealogical resources are designed to be used by people from all over the world and therefore cover global localities. Some research areas have no clear borders, such Holocaust, Sephardi, and Genetic Genealogy.
In this section, you will find general information on these subjects. Simply click on the arrow to discover how these rich resources can help you discover more about your family history.
JewishGen is affiliated with The Museum of Jewish Heritage – a living memorial to the Holocaust – and is one of the most comprehensive resources available online for Jewish genealogical research.
Jewishgen is predominantly run by volunteers and relies on donations. It is free to use although you must register as a researcher. Registered users are encouraged to donate to allow the site to continue to update their data. They currently have over 20 million indexed records in their database and continually to work to add more to their collections.
Using the JewishGen family finder can help you to connect with other people around the world researching the same family lines, geographical areas or subjects of interest.
JewishGen supports a number of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) filled with people who may be able to assist you in your search. There are SIGS on geographical areas and lost communities. They also support projects like KehilaLinks, who are working to build profiles of the thousands of Shtetls (small Jewish villages) that dotted the European countryside prior to WW2. Information and stories of life in these small, close knit communities can help shed light on the lives your ancestors may have led.
JewishGen has a number of tools to help you navigate the complicated changes of national borders, town, village and regional names, surname adoption and family name tracking. They have information sheets and resources covering the full gamut of Jewish genealogical research and work tirelessly to maintain their resources.
All in all Jewishgen is an invaluable resource for international research into Jewish family lines.
Familysearch has one of the most extensive collections of genealogical records and family trees available for free on the internet.
Familysearch is owned and operated by The Mormon church (also known as the church of the Latter Day Saints). They established the Genealogical Society of Utah in 1894 and dedicated themselves to “preserving the records of the family of mankind”.
In 1938 The society started using microfilm to record records from the U.S. and Europe. Today these films represent the largest single collection of genealogical data in the world and the church run dedicated Family History Centres around the world giving everyone access to these microfilms. As technology has improved these films have been indexed and are slowly being digitized.
Today these records can be accessed online for free through familysearch.org
A large source of genealogical data are the subscription websites designed to help you build and research your family tree. The major players are Ancestry and My Heritage (which also owns Geni). All these sites have a variety of subscription offers, starting with free sign up with limited access through to premium packages worth several hundred dollars a year, which give you access to deep wells of information and online support.
My Heritage (incorporating Geni) is based in Israel. It is free to join, with various subscription options available, which gives users access to extended services. They also have a stand-alone research subscription, which gives you access to indexed and digitized records such as census and immigration data.
Some of the data available on MyHeritage is freely available from other sources, however, the advantage of all these subscription sites is their search engines, which are designed to help you hone in on your ancestor more accurately. You can also attach the documents you find directly to the relevant ancestors on your tree within their systems and/ or download digital copies of the documents to keep in your personal archives.
Like Familysearch, Ancestry grew out of the Mormon records. While there are some free services on Ancestry its real power can only be harnessed with a paid subscription. Ancestry has exclusive deals with several data holders, which means they are sometimes the only place one can access particular data. However, in many cases their datasets are available from other free (or cheaper) sources.
Thankfully it’s not essential to sign up to a paid Ancestry subscription as the website can usually be accessed for free through your local public library. Check with your local library to see if they have an Ancestry library subscription available. You will need to set up an account with a username and password (this is free to do). If you find a record at the library that you want to keep you simply email it home then log in to your account when you get home and download your discoveries.
Some genealogists have concerns about placing family tree data online on sites such as Ancestry and My Heritage. These are valid concerns regarding data privacy and access that users of these resources should be aware of. It is important to understand how these sites work and how to adjust your Privacy Settings so your data is secure.
If you have any questions or queries about using these resources come along to one of our monthly workshops and one of our members will be happy to show you how to get the most out of them.
Avotaynu is a print and online journal for Jewish genealogy. They publish articles designed to stimulate discussion between genealogists and historians as well as push the development of new areas of study such as DNA, social media and online technologies as it pertains to Jewish genealogy. Avotaynu print edition ceased publication in 2020. Avotaynu Online continues to publish and in time most articles may be available online. Genealaogy@AJHS holds a full collection of Avotaynu in our library.
YIVO centre for Jewish history is a New York based organisation dedicated to fostering knowledge of the ongoing story of Jewish life, with a focus on the history and culture of East European Jewry. They have a particular dedication to the continuation of Yiddish culture and language.
Jewish Virtual Library is a general interest site with information on a wide range of subjects that will be of interest to family historians as they try to place their ancestors in their historical context.
Many Jewish Genealogical Societies around the world publish their own journals. AJGS publishes Kosher Koala on a quarterly basis. Our society also subscribes to several international journals and members can access these during our regular monthly workshops.
For Genealogical research Google is definitely your friend! This incredibly powerful search engine can be utilised several ways o maximise your chances of finding new and valuable information.
There are several guides on how to get the best out of Google (Just pop GENEALOGY + GOOGLE into the search bar and you’ll get a list) but there are a few simple places to start.
If the ancestor you’re researching has an unusual name it’s as simple as Googling that name! To google a first name/surname combination accurately put the name sequence in quotation marks: i.e. “Firstname Surname” This will prioritise the exact word combination.
Think laterally… Google “Firstname Surname” + [using this + symbol will connect the search terms] Town name (check Jewishgen for changes to town and locality names over time).
Google is also a great place to find information on the history of localities and resident cultures.
A note of caution: While it is an invaluable resource the internet also contains inaccurate sources and information. Be a little sceptical if you have trouble verifying the information you find. Try to verify heresy with corroboration from a reliable source.
Genetic genealogy is a recent addition to the genealogical landscape. Your genes are, of course, passed down from generation to generation. While the human genome was only mapped in the recent past there are several distinct characteristics passed down genetically that can be tested for to determine your relationship to other people.
Jewish Genetic Genealogy is a specific field of research and so far studies have shown that many populations of Jews have distinct genetic markers that link them to specific geographic districts and to the Middle East. Researchers have also discovered particular genetic markers for Cohenim and Levits (the priestly class) and Sephardi communities across Andalusia and North Africa.Genetic testing can be used to confirm a relationship between two specific individuals, such as in paternity testing, or it can be used to infer the ethnic makeup of an individual through testing for certain markers prevalent in particular populations.
Several organisations exist to facilitate this testing including Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23 and me. There are a wide range of tests you can purchase and the process is very simple. On purchasing a test you are sent a testing kit – usually two vials with sterile scrapers inside. You simply scrape some cells from inside your cheek, seal them in the sterile vials and post them back to the lab. In a few weeks you will receive a report outlining your genetic heritage (as far as can be gleaned). Many of the sites maintain a database of other contributors and you have the option to consent to matching. Matches are generally tenuous, particularly if you elect for the cheaper testing regimes, and further research is usually required to ascertain the nature and distance of the relationships.
Genetic genealogy is still in its infancy. Ethical considerations also exist around privacy and future use of the information. It’s important to read the fine print for any testing regime.
The Holocaust is internationally recognised as an act of genocide perpetrated against the Jewish People during WWII. It was characterised by state sponsored discrimination, dispossession, and eventually, the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime of Germany, and their collaborators in the localities they invaded. Other communities such as the Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals and the disabled were also targeted.
Almost two-thirds of European Jewry were killed in the Nazi’s Final Solution to their “Jewish Problem”
In an effort to ensure the lives of these people are remembered several institutions have arisen to collect, collate, and share the surprisingly vast amount of information available on the victims of the Holocaust. Thanks to the diligent work and scholarship of hundreds of people, these organisation have worked tirelessly to try and name as many of the estimated 6 million people who perished as possible.
Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is committed to four pillars of remembrance: commemoration, documentation, research and education.
The Nazi regime was meticulous in their recording of the atrocities they committed against the Jewish people. Yada Vashem has the largest collection of documentary evidence of this event with more than 125 million pages of documentary evidence, films, and 420,000 photographs, as well as more than 100,000 survivor testimonies.
All this evidence can help family historians trace family members who may have been victims. Since it’s establishment Yad Vashem has been indexing the names of victims as detailed in their over 2 million ages of testimony in an attempt to name all the victims. These names are contained in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names. This critically important databse contains Pages of Testimony and transcripts of lists of victims gleaned from the extensive collection of documents left behind by the Nazi Regime.
USHMM – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the main repository in the US for Holocaust records. For genealogical research there are a series of databases in the section: Resources on Survivors and Victims.
USHMM is the repository of the digital archive of ITS, the International Tracing Service – a collection of more than 200 million digital images of documentation on millions of victims of Nazism—people arrested, deported, killed, put to forced labor and slave labor, or displaced from their homes and unable to return at the end of the war.
The ITS collection is part of the Arolsen Archive, held in he German town of Bad Arolsen, holds information on about 17.5 million victims of Nazi persecution. It is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World. The archive holds records of survivors as well as victims.
The term Sephardi or Sepharad applies to Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin (Jews from other areas in the Middle East, such as Iran and Iraq, are referred to as Mizrahi Jews). These are Jews whose family’s were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1642, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella signed a decree ordering Jewish residents of their empire to leave, convert to catholacism or die. Many stayed and practiced their Judaism covertly, but hundreds of thousands migrated. Some went to North Africa, moving to communities in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. Other accepted an invitation to resettle in the heart of Ottoman Empire. Over time, descendents of these refugees gradually migrated back to Europe from the East.
Today Sephardi communities are found throughout the world, including here in Australia.
Sephardi Genealogy can be challenging as in many jurisdictions it’s difficult, if not impossible, to access civil records. In some cases the giverning authority no longer exists – as is the case of communities from the Ottoman Empire, which collapsed after World War I, having existed for over 500 years.
Bevis Marks is a Sephardi Synagogue established in London in 1701. Genealogy@AJHS holds indexes of Bevis Marks records including circumcisions, marriages and death records.
Genie Milgrom, author of My 15 Grandmothers, has created an excellent website – Sephardic Ancestry: A Resource Website for Researching Sephardic Jewish Lineages to guide others in locating records and other documents in Spain. For those who have found the joys of the Routes to Roots guide to Eastern European repositories and their holdings, the concept will be familiar. Now those with Spanish roots have a town by town guide to what can be found. To facilitate requests for further information, phone numbers, email addresses and website addresses are listed for each of the archives.