Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guest Post - Researching Your Jewish Family History and Heritage

Guest Post by Jennifer Alford
Note: This is the first part of a series of articles describing how family researchers can use JewishGen and other tools to discover their Jewish family history and heritage.
In 2008, I suffered a great loss when all three of my remaining grandparents passed away. As I began to reflect on the relationships that I had with them, I realized how little I really knew. I spoke with my parents and became increasingly interested in finding out more.

I began my blog http://jen-gen.blogspot.com in an attempt to share my research with my relatives and friends. As I began to read blogs, listen to podcasts, and research at libraries, I decided to focus on my mom's side of the family. I knew that we were descended from Russian Jews and that my great grandfather, Myer Krueger, had come over around 1900.

I turned to JewishGen.org for more information on the Jewish side of my heritage. Since I was self-taught and was wandering a bit aimlessly through my research, it made sense to me to sign up for the Basic Genealogy Class that was to begin in May.


Once I had signed up for the class, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Message boards are used to publish the daily posts and the lessons for the students of the class. I felt a bit over overwhelmed at first with the many posts that began to flood the board, but found that the moderator, Nancy Collier Holden, was a wonderful guide as we began the class. With close to forty class members, she had her work cut out for her.

Each student was asked to introduce themselves and detail what family line they want to work on. Nancy helped keep us focused on working on one family line and provided suggestions for new resources when we became blocked by a brick wall. I just wish I had the time available like the others in the class! There are class members who have posted upwards of fifty times. I think I only posted about ten times to report my progress.


Overall, the class was a great way to learn the basics of genealogical research and to become familiar with the JewishGen resources on the website. In particular, I wanted to share a few key lessons that I came away with.
  1. Focus on one branch at a time and learn all you can about that family. Document your searches and what you find and do your best to research in a logical progression. It is easy to get excited about new information that you may unearth, and before you know it, you are researching a line of the family that is far from where you were.
  2. Study the history of that time period of the family. Learn about the culture in the country of origin. There are many books and websites that can provide you with valuable insight.
  3. Talk with those relatives! They have a vast resource of memories and may provide new avenues for research. Look through old photographs, family diaries, notes, and letters. You never know what new detail will open doors for you.
  4. There are many free services provided through local libraries and you may not even need to go to the location itself. You may be able to log on remotely through the library.
  5. Ask for help. Talk out your brick walls with your fellow genealogists. They may have great suggestions on where to look next. Write letters to county archives, synagogues, and other connections that your ancestor may have had.
  6. Finally, I recommend this class to anyone who is researching their family history. It's a great way to get focused on what you are trying to achieve as well as a way to refresh your methodology.
As you take the class, I would suggest copying the posts from the message boards to a document or print them out so that you can refer to them later. There is so much information inside the lessons and posts that you may find something new the next time you look at them.

I know that I will be mining those documents for the next few months as I continue my own search for my ancestors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Please post responsibly.