[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 25 April 2014.]
As the American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives (AJHS–NEA) has only recently formed a strategic partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), anyone interested in New England Jewish history or genealogy may want to know about several databases and collections that might be specifically useful for genealogical research. They include the following:
The Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Boston (HIAS). The Boston office of HIAS was chartered in 1904 and operated autonomously from the national office in New York, even after their merger in 1916. HIAS assisted Jewish immigrants coming into the Port of Boston, and those seeking to help family members in Europe, especially during and just after World War II. (See, for example, Lael Dalal’s recent post on the Aghassi family.) Along with immigration assistance, HIAS also ensured that Jewish immigrants had access to religious services and kosher food as well as shelter and social services, and assisted immigrants with finding employment and schools, often on short notice.
The collection consists of arrival cards that have such information as the person’s (or persons’) name, age, ship’s name, date and place of departure, and date of arrival. In some cases there is additional information, such as the name and address of the person they are going to and the amount of money on their person at the time of their arrival. If a family is traveling together, first names and ages of individuals are listed on the card as well. The collection also includes individual case files that very seldom correspond to the arrival cards but often contain a wealth of information. These files include such documents as affidavits vouching that the potential immigrant will have financial assistance on arrival, tracer correspondence in an effort to locate relatives, requests for immigration assistance once relatives were located, and agency notes concerning problems encountered and resolutions, if any. There are a few passenger lists, ship manifests, scrapbooks, and photographs also included in the HIAS collection. The HIAS collection has helped many genealogists over the years, some of whom were unable to find family information elsewhere.
Another database of interest to genealogists is Jewish Cemeteries of Massachusetts. Created in collaboration with NEHGS together with the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts and the American Jewish Historical Society, AJHS–NEA has made available a comprehensive database of Jewish cemeteries in Massachusetts. Currently, the database contains the records of thirteen Jewish cemeteries. More records will be added weekly until all 106 JCAM cemeteries are online. The names in this extensive database cover the years 1844 to the present, and, when completed later this year, will offer access to more than 100,000 names of Jewish Americans buried in Massachusetts.
The Boston Jewish Advocate Newspaper database is available onsite only but is a wonderful resource for birth and marriage announcements and obituary notices. The newspaper also chronicles the activities and events of almost a century of the Boston Jewish community.
Although our library is small, it includes reference resources of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, the American Jewish Yearbook (1899–2003), and the American Jewish Quarterly (1899–2010), all of which are great resources for genealogists.