A tremendous amount of research went into piecing together my family’s story. Here are tips I learned to help you in your own search.
Your first, and most critical element is interviewing family members.
I taped almost all the conversations, with the participant’s permission, explaining that I wanted to be sure my notes were accurate. I also wanted to be able to review them more thoroughly to see what I had missed or if I wanted more detail.
Some of the interviews and the siblings telling stories at family reunions were also videotaped to pass down to the younger generations. I also hoped to compile a short video of the siblings telling their own stories, so I used a powerful program called Transana as I transcribed the tapes. This enabled me to put time stamps into the transcriptions and make a database of the videos by person and topic.
To help jog memories, use photos and ask for the stories behind the pictures. Similarly, reviewing maps together was helpful in filling in missing pieces.
I also asked about an inherited Kiddush cup, candle sticks, and Havdalah spice box and learned about rituals and traditions from almost a century ago.
It’s essential to make a careful family tree. Ours started as scribbles drawn on a piece of paper, but some on-line programs are both user friendly and prompt you to ask for more details. I preferred RootsMagic for that reason, but there are many options available. Many offer free versions, at least for a limited time, so you can explore what suits your style.
While I used Ancestry and Geni for some research, I do not like nor want my family’s information on public sites nor people having to pay a lot for some information that should be shared. Searching the Jewish records on Ancestry does not require a paid subscription.
I ultimately chose The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding© ("TNG") for my on-line genealogy information display. The driving issue was privacy. As administrator, you can set multiple controls as to who can access specific information. For example, I was careful not to display names or information about any living person. I also liked that I could add photos and maps. The version I used was, however, cumbersome—but mine was TNG 8, from 2011, and the program has had several updates.
Learn to research your family
I highly recommend Jewish Gen’s courses for beginners. I learned to navigate Jewish Gen’s databases, find useful information on Google and, as importantly, how to keep track of the information I gathered. Their website also links to a number of brief videos from the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island.
FamilySearch is a free resource with extensive records, run by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They also have a section of resources that can help you learn how to approach your project.
Jewish research sources:
JewishGen is the place to start. In addition to the extensive databases, there are Special Interest Groups for different countries, where you can search prior discussion archives or pose questions for members. KehilaLinks commemorates specific communities and often is a great source of information. Yizkor books provide information about communities lost in the Holocaust.
USHMM, or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Survivor & Victim Resource Center was another major source of information. Their researchers provided an amazing array of documents about my family members. My biggest frustration with the USHMM is that many of their resources are not available as digitized copies. While that is understandable with texts, it is inexplicable to me that one needs to travel to watch already digitized, on-line testimonies from survivors of the Shoah.
Yad Vashem, in Israel, houses the World Holocaust Remembrance Center and also provides many databases, including written testimonies and a database of righteous.
USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive is a valuable trove of interviews with survivors of genocide. Their indexing allows searches by specific places, which is handy. Again, the major downside is that most of the videos are not available on-line.