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.