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Using Family History Databases to Trace Your Roots
by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Senior Reference Librarian – Collections, Center for Jewish History

In honor of Jewish Heritage Month, I am embarking on a small series of posts that expand on different ways of exploring and digging deeper into the collections here at the Center. This post discusses the Family History Databases currently available on the Center for Jewish History’s website

In addition to more than half a million books, approximately 100-million archival items can be referenced in the Lillian Goldman Reading Room. Many of the collections have been digitized in the The Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory and are available to anyone with an Internet connection. Although the efforts are ongoing, many additional collections can be referenced only in person. Simply due to the massive volume of material, archival finding aids cannot include every detail. This is true within our facility and throughout archives around the world.

One of the things that make our facility special is our volunteers. From the museum docents who offer free tours twice a week, to people who index the Family History Library microfilms that are available through the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute for JewishGen (jewishgen.org), to a myriad of volunteers who help the partner organizations, our volunteers make a valuable contribution. From the Yiddish-speaking volunteers for YIVO who have a passion to preserve the history of Yiddish theater, to the German exiles who can easily read Alte Deutsche Handschrift (Old German Script) and volunteer with LBI to help young scholars with otherwise inaccessible material, to the retired librarian who helps in the stacks of AJHS, the volunteers are part of our community. 

Over time, volunteers have indexed many collections, often selecting the most useful parts of the most helpful collections to aid other researchers. These were time-intensive efforts to cultivate old documents and ledgers into user-friendly databases that allow anyone to search for a relative, landsmanschaft or organization with the click of a mouse, rather than with hours spent looking at collections at the Center. 

The family history databases are available via the Center Website – click here. They are sometimes limited in scope. For example, the database for the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York only indexes “Index of Children, 1860-1900,” a ledger located in Box 38 (formally housed in box 73). If you look at the finding aid for the collection, you will see that Series I: HOA Administrative Records Subseries D: Children’s records has 35 boxes of material. Thus far, only the Index of Children, 1860-1900, is searchable via this database. 

The family history databases include:

American Jewish Committee, Office of War. Records, 1918-1921

11 linear ft. ID: I-9

During World War I, the American Jewish Committee, one of the major Jewish communal organizations, attempted to document Jewish participation in the armed services by sending out questionnaires to soldiers believed to be Jewish. The collection includes the completed questionnaires and correspondence regarding the project.

Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Records, 1878-1969

7.60 linear ft. Ref. # I-230

Established in 1878, the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum changed its name to the Jewish Youth Services of Brooklyn in 1954. The agency merged with the Jewish Child Care Association in 1960. Records encompass histories of the asylum, constitution and by-laws, certificates of incorporation, Board of Trustee meeting minutes, information on the cornerstone laying, correspondence, annual reports, plaques and awards, publications, scrapbooks, and admission and discharge ledgers (1879-1953). Information concerning the Women’s Auxiliary and Alumni Society also forms part of the collection.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (Boston). Microfilm, 1870-1977

Ref. # I-96

Consists of individual case files of refugees assisted by HIAS primarily in immigration and naturalization services. Included in many files are biographical data, correspondence between HIAS and American and foreign governmental agencies, and miscellaneous supporting documents. These files are arranged alphabetically in two groups. The first group contains cases from 1930 to 1965; the second group covers primarily the 1960’s to 1977. The collection also contains individual arrival records, arranged alphabetically, from 1882 to 1929.

Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York. Records, n.d., 1855-1985

73.5 linear ft. and 1 map folder Ref. # I-42

The collection contains correspondence, meeting minutes, student ledgers, admission and discharge records, and applications for admission to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of the City of New York, as well as souvenir journals of the Seligman Solomon Society. This database indexes names recorded in a ledger titled “Index of Children, 1860-1900.” The ledger is located in Box 73. The page numbers shown in the database table are listed in the ledger, however; they may or may not correspond to other ledgers located in the collection.

Henry Hochheimer Marriage Record Book, 1850-1900

This collection contains a listing of 930 marriages performed from 1850-1900 by the Rev. Dr. Henry Hochheimer, rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (Stadt Schul), 1849-59, and Oheb Israel Synagogue (Eden Street Congregation), 1859-92, emeritus, 1893-98. In it are listed 901 marriages performed in Baltimore and others in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Delaware, and Washington, D.C.

Industrial Removal Office. Records, n.d., 1899-1922

72.3 linear ft. and 1 oversized folder ID: I-91

The Industrial Removal Office was created as part of the Jewish Agricultural Society to assimilate immigrants into American Society, both economically and culturally. It worked to employ all Jewish immigrants. The collection contains administrative and financial records, immigrants’ removal records, and correspondence.

Jewish Immigration Information Bureau, Galveston Immigration Plan. Records, n.d., 1901-1920

6.25 linear ft. ID: I-90

The Jewish Immigrant Information Bureau (JIIB), organized primarily by the Industrial Removal Office, operated at the Port of Galveston, Texas from 1907 to 1914. The bulk of the material of the Galveston Immigration Plan records is correspondence between members of the Bureau, national Jewish organizations, and international Jewish organizations.

Michaelson Family Papers, 1892-2000

0.75 linear foot. ID: P-808

The Michaelson family papers include early family correspondence, documents, and ephemera; genealogical research conducted by Ms. Appleby, Anna’s granddaughter; copies of New York City marriage certificates kept by Louis B. Michaelson, Rabbi, between 1906-1907; and Anna Michaelson’s copies of original birth records that she kept as midwife in the Lower East Side in New York City between 1892-1916. The collection is valuable for researchers interested in the Lower East Side between 1890-1920, Russian immigration to the United States, acculturation of immigrant families to America, midwives, the Jewish communities in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Trenton, New Jersey, the Boys Institute in the Lower East Side, and the National Committee for Relief of Sufferers by Russian Massacres. In addition, this collection is rich in genealogy material, for researchers interested in the Michaelson family, births in the Lower East Side between 1892-1916, and marriages in New York City between 1907-1909. The collection contains correspondence, a family tree, birth certificates, memo pads, marriage certificates, meeting minutes, photographs, and a prescription pad.

The collection is predominantly in English, with some Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish.

New York Court Records. I-151, I-152, I-153 and I-154

I-151: 13 reels of microfilm; I-152: 1 reel of microfilm; I-153: 5 reels of microfilm; I-154: 46 reels of microfilm

Collection I-151, Selected Briefs, consists of handwritten pleadings and other court papers filed in civil lawsuits in the Mayor’s Court of the City of New York, also known at various times as the High Court of Chancery, the New York Inns (of Court) and the Marine Court of New York City. The handwriting is often difficult to decipher. The court papers include summons, complaints, surety bonds, affidavits, warrants, jury lists, and briefs.

Collection I-152, Naturalization Certificates, consists of an alphabetical set of Declarations of Intention or Affidavits of Intention filed with the Court of Common Pleas for the City and County of New York or with the New York Superior Court from 1829-1845 and Reports of Aliens made to the Clerk of the Court from 1816-1828. The only genealogically relevant information contained in the later Declarations and Affidavits is the identification of the particular “foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty” to which further allegiance is renounced, for example, the “Grand Duke of Hesse Cappell: or the Authorities of the Free City of Frankfurt.” This reference will identify the prior citizenship and, by implication, the place of birth or prior residence of such person. The majority of the declarants came from various Germanic states, other central European countries such as Switzerland or Roumiana, or from England. The very small number of earlier Reports of Aliens from the period 1816-1828 specifically list name, sex, place of birth, age, nation and allegiance, place from whence migrated, occupation and place of actual or intended settlement.

Collection I-153, Insolvent Debtors Cases, consists of documents filed with Supreme Court of the State of New York for the City and County of New York in insolvency cases. The bulk of the documents consist of Insolvent Assignments each of which, like a modern bankruptcy, involves a discharge of the debtor’s debts and an assignment of his assets to be sold or managed for the benefit of his creditors. The documents sometimes contain a reference to a legal notice published in a newspaper or schedule of creditors. A small number contain an inventory of the debtor’s assets.

Collection I-154, Incorporation Papers, consists of legal filings made by Jewish-related not-for-profit organizations incorporated in New York County. Please refer to the collection’s separate database under New York Court Records. Selected Incorporation Papers. The names in this database are from the following miscellaneous filings: List of Peddlers, 1843-1844 lists 12 names; Marriage licenses for 1830, 1838, 1849-1850 lists 7 names.

The collections are in English.

New York Court Records. Selected Incorporation Papers, 1848-1920

46 reels of microfilm. ID: I-154

This collection consists of legal filings made by approximately 10,000 Jewish-related not-for-profit organizations incorporated in New York County. The organizations include fraternal societies, political clubs, professional associations, synagogues, landsmanschaften, benevolent organizations, social clubs, burial societies, charities, and neighborhood facilities. The filings are very similar to modern corporate filings and include original certificates of incorporation, consolidation or change of corporate name. Each certificate of incorporation includes the name of the organization, the purposes or objects for which it was formed, the principal office or territory of principal operation (for example, the “Borough of Manhattan”), the names and addresses of the initial directors or trustees or officers, and the names of the incoporators.

This collection is in English.

There was a similar initiative concerning the extensive YIVO Landsmanshaftn holdings. There is a list of over 1380 organizations (click here) and a list of Burial Society Plot Maps in YIVO’s Landsmanshaftn Collections.

Above image: c/o Leo Baeck Institute

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