If you are searching for your Jewish ancestors, here are some essential resources. There were Jewish communities around the world in every country, so one must look for religious records in addition to civil records.
The first step is tracking down where your family came from. Your family might have come from Belarus:
or from anywhere in the Pale of Settlement:
or from North Africa, Spain/Portugal, the Middle East or Asia. Jews from Eastern Europe (who used Yiddish) are generally termed Ashkenazi. Those originally from the Mediterranean area, who may have used Ladino, are called Sephardim, while others used other dialects and languages and are identified as Mizrahi. Different sources are available for each, in many different languages.
The very first place to go to is JewishGen, the home of Jewish genealogy on the internet. The resources available here make it essential for everyone searching Jewish ancestry.
There are many Infofiles on a wide range of topics, arranged by geography and topic. These make for very good reading before you even begin your quest and are highly recommended by experienced genealogists.
The JewishGen FAQs are also essential reading for beginners.
The JewishGenFamily Finder, one of the most popular JewishGen sites, is a great connector. Researchers list their family names and towns of origins with contact details. Those searching for the same names and places can contact the submitters for more details. Many miraculous connections have been made through the Family Finder.
ViewMate is helpful in obtaining help in deciphering and translating documents, photo inscriptions, and other items. An item is uploaded, a notice about it is posted on one of the appropriate discussion lists and volunteers chime in very quickly with the results.
The general discussion list has many readers around the world and very helpful individuals, and there are many special interest group lists are where experts reside.
Special interest groups, called SIGs, have been organized by volunteers on geographical and topical lines. This is where you'll find your geographical experts to help you locate those who know specific communities and available records, archives, translators, many resources and more. Each SIG also has a specialized discussion list.
Many SIGs have participated in transliteration and translation projects with records available online. Some, like Belarus SIG and many others, extract information from Mormon microfilms, translate them and place them online at the SIG site.
In addition to JewishGen, there are other sites, which are collections of links, sites and articles, which are also of major use.
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies maintains a list of its world-wide member societies. Joining a society can help you in many ways. In addition to monthly meetings, reference libraries, you'll find people ready to help you find information you may need.
Some societies also work on various projects such as cemetery transcriptions which help researchers around the world. One society in Israel has transliterated and translated 85,000 burials in two major cemeteries, which has enabled researchers around the world, who do not know Hebrew, to find their relatives' resting places.
Always remember to check MyHeritage's search engine for your names of interest.
I am always happy to hear from readers who may have questions, comments or suggestions. I look forward to reading your messages.
ONLINE JEWISH RESOURCES
The first stop for Jewish genealogists, with a wide array of resources.
Publishers of essential Jewish genealogy works, various online resources and a link to an e-newsletter, Nu? What's Nu?, publisher of Avotaynu: The International Journal of Jewish Genealogy.
Tracing the Tribe - The Jewish Genealogy Blog
The only dedicated Jewish genealogy blog, frequently updated with news, resources, publications, events - in short, everything you need to know about Jewish genealogy as it happens.
Harry Stein's Sephardim.com
Particularly useful for a major index of many specialized books, showing where mentions of specific names may be found; Sephardic customs, links, and a specialized discussion list of some 2,000 world-wide membesr.
One of the best, most complete set of Sephardic genealogy links, organized by topic and geography, by the award-winning author of "Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World" (Avotaynu, 2002).
Compilations of links, articles and much more by the dedicated Ted Margulis.
Online searchable index of Pages of Testimony submitted for Holocaust victims.
A museum with a genealogy center, information on towns, name meanings and more.
If your ancestors come from Germany, there are many resources available as you gather information from locating your ancestral town to investigating what records are available, including church records, and immigration records as your ancestors moved around.
Recommended guidelines are always to work back from what you know. Utilize information from passenger arrival and citizenship records, among others, to determine your family's original name and towns.
Once you discover the original family name and place, you will be able to discover much more information. And don't forget about the specialized discussion groups where you can post questions and receive help from experts.
Links include maps and geography, dictionaries, online databases, archive information and much more. And don't forget to use MyHeritage's search engine for more information.
I look forward to reading your questions and comments. Let me know if you need more information.
GERMAN RESOURCE GUIDE
GERMANY'S CHANGING BORDERS
An excellent map
DISCUSSION GROUPS AND FORUMS
German genealogy forums and discussion lists
Excellent beginners FAQ
ONLINE GERMAN GENEALOGY HANDBOOK
German genealogy online handbook
Guide for linguistically-challenged researchers who need to write to Germany, Austria, or parts of Switzerland to request records.
GOTHIC HANDWRITING GUIDE
Good guide to Gothic letters and handwriting in early German records.
JEWISH GERMAN GENEALOGY
Many Infofiles, links and the GerSIG discussion group.
YAD VASHEM online databases
Are your ancestors from Poland?
If so, there are many online resources to help you discover information. These range from assistance in locating ancestral towns to investigating what vital or religious records are available.
You'll need to know something about Polish history and changing borders, and there are sites to help on these topics. You'll also need to determine your ancestral towns.
Your Polish ancestors may be listed on immigration records as Polish, German, Ruthenian or other designations. They may also be listed according to religion, and may have been Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox or Jewish.
As always, recommended genealogy guidelines are always to work back from what you know. Use immigration and citizenship records to learn where where your ancestors were born and lived.
Once you have that original name and place, there is much more to discover. And do use MyHeritage's amazing search engine to look for your names of interest in more than 1,000 databases.
I look forward to hearing from you, so please post your questions and comments.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
This site offers excellent articles on getting started, how to find the name of your ancestral town, border changes and other issues, a history of Poland, what sorts of records are available and where for various religions and a good article on meanings of Polish names. There are also numerous link collections for Internet sites, Polish libraries, online databases, discussion groups, books, maps, Polish genealogical societies, Polish archives and much more. A good first stop.
LOCATING PLACES OF ORIGIN IN POLAND
Poland's place names and boundaries have changed numerous times in the past 200 years. This article explains how place names have changed over time and gives tips on locating your ancestor's town of origin. State boundary changes are also discussed.
POLISH GENEALOGY FAQ
A wonderful guide to genealogy research in Poland by Lukasz Bielecki, Poznan, Poland.
CYNDI'S LIST - POLISH RESOURCES
Cyndi's List offers many specialized sites, from general resource, history and culture, how-to resources, language and handwriting, libraries and repositories, mailing lists, newsgroups, maps and gazetteers, military, newspapers, people and families, professional researchers, volunteers, publications and software, surname lists, records, religion and societies and groups.
This is the place for everything on Jewish genealogy, including Polish Jewish genealogy, with excellent Infofiles, extensive resources including ShtetlSeeker, which will help you find the correct name and location for a place you can't spell, millions of records through Jewish Records Indexing - Poland, and much more.
POLISH JEWISH GENEALOGY SOCIETY OF NEW YORK STATE
This site offers many links and resources including links to other PGS societies.
GENEALOGY.ABOUT.COM - POLAND
This site offers an extensive compendium on Polish resources, including maps and geography.
ROOTSWEB - POLAND
Finding Parish Addresses
Links and suggestions to help you find the name of the parish to which a specific town in Poland belongs.
Obtaining Polish Records
Addresses and information for obtaining records from Poland including civil records, church records, Jewish records, emigration records, Polish archives and military records.
The former territories of Galicia (a crown land of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy) are now shared between southern Poland and western Ukraine. This is an excellent outline for record sources and contact info for Galician genealogy. Good resources and links, but it hasn't been updated since 2004, although other links listed on the page have been updated. For Jewish Galicia, JewishGen is the source, particularly the Gesher Galicia SIG.
A brief history of Poland from its Slav origins through post-war Poland. Has a good section on Krakow.
MORMON FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY CATALOG - POLAND
Comprehensive listing of microfilmed Polish records available through international Family History Centers.
POLISH LETTER WRITING GUIDE
A useful PDF file that will help you write a letter to Poland to obtain family information.
WORLD VITAL RECORDS - POLAND
Poland Genealogy Search
A look at Poland in a nutshell, and a search engine that currently searches 120 websites related to doing genealogy in Poland.