Photo Credit: Museum of Jewish Heritage
Susan Roubicek visited the new Jewish Genealogy Research Center at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – a Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan and sat down with JewishGen genealogist Jordan Auslander.

JewishGen, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1987 by Susan King, a world-renown professional forensic and genetic genealogist and family legacy historian. Started as a Fidonet bulletin board, users dialed into the connection via telephones in order to access the bulletin board. At that time, there were 150 users.

“Susan King sought to leverage what was then an emerging technology – online bulletin boards, and apply it to genealogical research. At that time, if you were interested in genealogy, you could join a genealogy society and attend meetings, where you would compare names and share information. Susan engaged the new technology to expand these opportunities to share and make connections. Databases and networking opportunities expanded, and in the early 1990s, JewishGen launched a website and a discussion group that’s a precursor to what we have today,” said Avraham Groll, Executive Director of JewishGen at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.


Today, JewishGen is the global home for Jewish genealogy, offering unique search tools and opportunities for researchers to connect with others who share similar interests. Avraham Groll said, “today, you can search JewishGen’s discussion groups going back thirty years, a searchable archive of over 500,000 messages. The resource is completely community driven. And, you can search listings for over 651,000 names researched by genealogists on the Family Finder, which allows researchers to connect with others who share their same research interests.”

In 2002, JewishGen was acquired by The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and which today operates as the Jewish genealogy research division of the Museum. “The mission of JewishGen,” Groll explained,”is to preserve Jewish family history and heritage for future generations. It fulfills this mission in three primary ways: 1. The website provides access to more than 30 million records including vital records, census data, a Holocaust database, and burial registries. To enhance research, we have a number of search tools to help improve results, such as a Soundex system, which accounts for spelling variations. 2. The website provides historical and contextual information about how our ancestors lived, through resources like the JewishGen Communities Database, an encyclopedia of Jewish communities, and the translation of Memorial (Yizkor) books into English – a major, multi-year project. These Yizkor books, written in the immediate decades after the Holocaust predominately by survivors, include histories of Jewish settlement in towns, biographical sketches of Rabbis and famous personalities, details about daily life, education, holiday observance and celebrations, culture, and more. They capture the values which the inhabitants of these towns held most dear. These meticulously translated Yizkor books generally offer first-hand-testimony of the communities during the Holocaust. The translations are freely available on our website, and more than 140 books, also translated and are also available in hardcover via the JewishGen Press. 3. JewishGen offers educational and networking resources, such as online classes (24 courses offered throughout the year), the Family Finder, and the JewishGen Discussion Group and Jewish Genealogy Portal (on Facebook), which allow people to connect with researchers around the world in order to ask questions, share research advice, describe success, stay informed of news around the Jewish Genealogical community, and more.”

JewishGen is offered as a free resource. Its database features important collections of historical records pertaining to Jewish communities across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America. Currently, Intensive expansion efforts are bringing many more records, tools, and resources to its collections. such as new programs like holiday companion publications, a fellowship program to train the next generation of Jewish genealogical leaders, and a neshama study/volunteer trip to Poland for those “out of school.” Additionally, over the past year, more than 2.7 million records have been added to their database, JewishGen has entered into two major significant partnerships, “Generations” the new Jewish genealogy themed TV show in partnership with JLTV and the Museum of Jewish Heritage

“There are nearly 90K subscribers combined for the Discussion Group and the Jewish Genealogy Portal. JewishGen is fueled by passionate volunteers throughout the world who bring a variety of perspectives, but all share the same mission. There are hundreds of volunteers in the United States, Canada, Israel, England, Australia, France, Austria, Germany, and other countries as well. While coming from different backgrounds and perspectives, they recognize JewishGen’s contributions to the Jewish people, and unite in support of its critical mission,” Avraham Groll told The Jewish Press.

And now, JewishGen has created a physical space where people can come, speak to JewishGen specialists, and learn about the tools they can use to perform research on their own. To this end, The Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York City, and JewishGen, an affiliate of The Museum announced the establishment of the Peter and Mary Kalikow Jewish Genealogy Research Center within The Museum, a first of its kind initiative.

Mr. Groll told The Jewish Press about the new initiative and the value it brings to the Jewish community. “With the opening of the Peter and Mary Kalikow Jewish Genealogy Research Center in October 2023, Museum visitors can access the resources of JewishGen when they visit the Museum. They can connect with experts who can provide research advice, and explore publications, testimonies, a multitude of subscription databases (available free at the Center), and insight into how to begin or continue a search. The center houses six computer stations and features a library with more than 175 JewishGen Press publications, including Yizkor books, family memoirs and Holocaust histories.

About the Yizkor Books: Mr. Groll said, “Yizkor Books (Memorial Books) were traditionally written to memorialize the names of departed family and victims during holiday services in the synagogue (a practice that still exists in many synagogues today). Over the centuries, as a result of countless persecutions and horrific atrocities committed against the Jews, Yizkor Books (Sifre Zikaron in Hebrew) were expanded to include more historical information, such as biographical sketches of famous personalities and descriptions of daily town life.”

“Following the Holocaust, the idea of remembrance and learning took on an urgent and crucial importance. Survivors of the Holocaust sought out other surviving residents of their former towns to memorialize and document the names and way of life of those who were ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis. These remembrances were documented in Yizkor Books, hundreds of which were published in the first decades after the Holocaust. Most of these books were published privately, or through landsmanshaftn (social organizations comprising members originating from the same European town or region) that still existed, and were often distributed free of charge. Sadly, the languages used to document these crucial histories and links to our past, Yiddish and Hebrew, are no longer commonly understood by a significant percentage of Jews today. It is our hope that the translation of these books into English (and other languages) will assist the countless Jewish family researchers who are so desperately seeking to forge a connection with their heritage,” continued Mr. Groll.

The October 15, 2023 soft-launch of the Kalikow Center coincided with the opening of the museum’s groundbreaking new exhibition, Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark.

Peter and Mary Kalikow, longtime supporters of the Museum of Jewish Heritage and JewishGen generously funded the Center in order to help preserve our family histories and heritage for future generations. Key people involved include Jack Kliger, CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, Avraham Groll, Executive Director of JewishGen, Karen Franklin, Consulting Director of the Kalikow Center. Karen is managing the day-to-day and is setting it up, overseeing genealogists, and planning for the future and how to best meet the needs of those accessing the Center.

In a statement, Jack Kliger, President and CEO of The Museum of Jewish Heritage said, “JewishGen has enabled countless people to lkearn more about their Jewish ancestry, and we are extremely grateful to launch this initiative to serve as an invaluable resource to anyone wishing to learn more about their relatives and their heritage. We are proud to name this center after Peter and Mary Kalikow, who have been longtime supporters of the Museum.”

Also in a statement, Peter Kalikow, First Vice Chairman of The Museum of Jewish Heritage, said, “It is imperative that JewishGen and this newly established Jewish Genealogy Center serve as a resource for future generations of Jews seeking to trace and embrace their ancestry. For several generations, Jews around the world really had no idea that these records even existed, and they are now available through JewishGen and the Kalikow Center.”

Karen Franklin, the Consulting Director and also a genealogist, told The Jewish Press, “The Peter and Mary Kalikow Jewish Genealogy Center is a welcoming space in the Museum of Jewish Heritage featuring JewishGen and other online resources to assist visitors in learning about their family histories. The mission of the Center is to engage, inspire, and provide tools for exploration of Jewish history and heritage. The Center is the only genealogy research center in a Holocaust Museum in the world.”

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