Genealogy in the Archives

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by Kevin Schlottmann, Levy Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History


Excerpt from Genealogy of the Benda family (AR 10226), Leo Baeck Institute

Genealogists doing research at the Center for Jewish History can access plenty of resources, from the wealth of information available at the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute to the electronic research guides and the Ask-A-Genealogist chat function.  But one research avenue that is often overlooked is the wealth of existing genealogical work found in archival collections.

As a processing archivist, I try to keep the many potential users of the materials in mind as I write the description of a given collection. Thus, whenever there is significant genealogical material, I make sure to include in the finding aid (the detailed description of the collection) the family names and the term “genealogical tables.” If the collection is focused on one family, I will often also distill the key information and place it in a biographical note, like this (from LBI’s Nathan and Ida Hess Family Collection, AR 25426): 

Nathan Hess (1867-1942) was the son of Henriette (Jette) née Kuehn (1836-1906) and Lazarus Baer (Louis) Hess (1830-1901). Nathan’s siblings were Julius Hess (1860-1939, married to Alice Herfeld), Bertha Hess (1861-1921), Bernhard Hess (born 1863, married to Frieda Herfeld), Herman Hess (born 1864, married to Helene Hirschfeld), Rosalie (Rosa) Hess (1865-1888), Isidor Hess (1869-1918, married to Lina Gehring), Thekla Hess (born 1871), and Frieda Hess (born 1874).

Nathan Hess was married to Ida née Hirschlaff Hess (1869-1942), who was born in Guben, Germany. They had three children: Louis (Ludwig) Hess (1904-1993, married to Tina Van Tinteren), Hildegard Hess (1906-2002), and Arnulf Hess (1908-1990, married to Hannah Neumann). Their half-sister by Nathan Hess, Rosalie Bogner née Huber, was born in 1892 to Therese Huber. 

A researcher interested in seeing whether there is existing information in the Center’s archival holdings might begin by searching the digital collections for a family name plus the term “genealogical tables.” The first result for the Hess family is the finding aid for the “Nathan and Ida Hess Family Collection,” as seen in the screenshot below. As part of the Leo Baeck Institute’s DigiBaeck effort, this collection will soon be digitized and accessible online, allowing the genealogist to examine the family tree from home.

There are many other ways that the archival materials can be searched for genealogical research, from filtering search results by format (choosing “Genealogical Tables”) to searching for combinations of family names that are known to be related (for example, searching for “Hess” and “Herfeld,” as in the excerpt above).  Ask the staff at the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute, either in person or via email or chat, for more advanced ways to search.  

Screenshot of a search for “genealogical tables” and “Hess.”

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