Does the Center have books and documents that might provide me with information about my family?
The Center for Jewish History is home to over 500 thousand books and 100 million archival documents. Our collections include family histories, memoirs, correspondence and personal papers (of both well-known and lesser-known individuals), as well as records of communal, cultural, political and professional organizations. Among these sources are many documents that can provide information about individuals and families.
The Center also provides access to ship passenger manifests, U.S. census records, U.S. vital records, and most U.S. naturalization records and European vital records through our electronic resources and our microfilm loan program.
How can staff members and volunteers at the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute help me?
Staff members and volunteers will be happy to guide you to appropriate resources both in the Center partner's collections and online. We will assist you in identifying the best sources to use as you continue your research into your family history.
How can I use Center resources to find the history and meaning of my family name?
The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute provides several reference works on Jewish names. Most Ashkenazi families adopted surnames between 1780 and 1850, while Sephardic families and families living in Frankfurt and Prague used surnames much earlier. Some Jewish surnames were designated according to patronymics, matronymics, occupations, physical characteristics or places of origin. Others were based on words borrowed from the Bible or Jewish literature.
How can I find out where my ancestors were from?
What information should I try to learn about my ancestral towns?
The Center's sources on Jewish communities worldwide include encyclopedias, yizkor books, landsmanshaft records, newspapers, memoirs, and records of communal, cultural, political and professional organizations.
You might interview relatives and conduct supplementary research to obtain additional information about your ancestral town, such as:
- What types of industry or trade were practiced there?
- What languages were spoken?
- Was it near any larger cities, rivers, forests or borders?
To learn about how to find information on ancestors who immigrated to countries other than the United States, see the fact sheet on the appropriate country. Consulting the fact sheet will help you to determine whether the country's census, naturalization or immigration records are available. Special Interest Groups focused on particular countries are also excellent sources of information.
Can I find my family tree on the Internet?
Most people will not find completed family trees on the Internet. However, you can check certain websites and make connections with other researchers who may be able to provide you with information about branches of your family.
Family Tree of the Jewish People: This database consists of family trees that individual researchers have chosen to share with others. (There is no guarantee that you will find information on branches of your family, but it is worth a search.) To search this database, you must be registered with JewishGen. For security and privacy reasons, the birthdates of living people are omitted from the family trees, and the names of the family tree submitters remain confidential. However, you may contact the person who submitted the family tree by sending a private message using the link provided by the website.
JewishGen Family Finder: Click here to access a database of genealogists and the surnames and towns that they are researching. You can run an "exact spelling" or "soundex" search of a specific family name or town. The results will provide the names and contact information of genealogists researching the same families or geographical areas. (You will obtain the most useful and comprehensive results if you search both the family name and the name of the town where your ancestors lived. However, if the town is too small or the name too unusual, you should also try conducting surname-only searches.) You must be registered with JewishGen to search this database.
WorldConnect Project: Many genealogists have posted their family trees on this website. You may find a family tree that intersects with your own family history.
MyHeritage family trees: This collection includes family trees submitted by MyHeritage members. You can download Family Tree Builder, MyHeritage free genealogy software for putting together your family tree, or search MyHeritage.com for your ancestors on Ancestor Search database. Currently, there are over 400,000,000 records submitted by MyHeritage members.
Personal Web Pages: Some families have posted their family trees on personal websites. To search for these, simply enter the surname you are researching into a search engine such as Google or Bing.
Commercial Web Sites: The Center currently subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, which includes family tree databases. Other electronic resources, such as Genealogy.com, also have family trees.
How can I obtain records from countries other than the United States?
Please consult the fact sheet about the resources available on the appropriate country of origin. Reference books like the Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy and Jeffrey S. Malka's Sephardic Genealogy-which are both available at the Genealogy Institute—also provide information on how to obtain foreign records.
Many international records have been made available on microfilm by the Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The Genealogy Institute maintains a microfilm loan agreement with the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. According to this agreement, researchers can order records through the Center's Genealogy Institute and study the microfilms at the Center.
To learn which records are available, consult the online Family History Library catalog. Please keep in mind that these microfilms are copies of original records that were mostly handwritten in languages other than English.