Using the Collections of the Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS

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Introduction

The Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society is a resource for exploring and preserving the histories of Jewish families and institutions in New England and beyond. The Center, with the American Jewish Historical Society—New England Archives as its cornerstone, engages historians, genealogists, youth, and the general public in programming and research to advance the study of the history, culture, and institutional legacies of Jewish families in New England and beyond by educating, inspiring, and connecting people through scholarship, collections, and expertise while serving as an archival and educational resource for other Jewish organizations and institutions. Founded in 1892, the American Jewish Historical Society is the oldest ethnic historical society in the United States, with its national organization located in New York City.

The Jewish Heritage Center is located on the 5th floor of the New England Historic Genealogical Society at 99-101 Newbury Street in Boston.

Resources at the Jewish Heritage Center

Archival Collections

The American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives holds the records of synagogues, Jewish businesses, organizations, families and individuals in and/or from the Greater Boston and New England region. The collections contain photographs, genealogies, artifacts, microfilms, correspondence, ledgers, diaries and other records of intrinsic historic value that highlight the rich history of New England Jewish communities. The majority of collections are cataloged as Institutional Records or Personal Papers, although we also have a variety of Subject Files.

Institutional Records

Institutional records are denoted by an “I-call number” identification and include the collections of synagogues, community service organizations, trade associations, Zionist organizations, burial societies, and academic and cultural organizations. Institutional records often, but not always, contain financial records and ledgers, membership ledgers, correspondence of rabbis, administrators or other staff members, publicity, publications, newspaper clippings, by-laws, constitutions, artifacts, and meeting minutes.

A note regarding synagogue collections: Most synagogues did not save their records. The synagogue collections within the AJHS-NEA holdings are typically small and contain records that were saved by individual members of that synagogue.

Personal Papers

Personal papers are denoted by a “P-call number” identification and include the collections of families and individuals. Family papers may include diaries, correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, business or organizational records (depending on family or personal involvement), school records, artifacts, ephemera, clothing, personal financial records, among other materials.

Subject Files

Subject files are miscellaneous items accessioned or collected by AJHS over a period of time. Materials may be determined as a subject file if they meet one of the following criteria:

  1. The material is a secondary source;
  2. The materials lack background information, but may be of historical significance; or
  3. The provenance- or origin- of the material is unclear.

Examples include: unpublished family histories, copies of news articles written by the donor, and “orphaned” brochures, photographs or ephemera.

Select a link below for information pertaining to our subject file collections.

Subject Files, Collection I
Subject Files, Collection II

Databases

Researchers visiting the Jewish Heritage Center have access to all databases subscribed to by NEHGS. For a list of these databases, please review “Using the NEHGS Library.”

Databases that may be of particular interest to those researching Jewish genealogy and history:

Microfilm

Publications:

American Jewish Quarterly, 1893-1982
American Jewish History, 1979-1991
Boston Jewish Advocate, 1905-1999
Boston Jewish Chronicle, 1891-1893
Farm Folk Mexico City, 1934-1938
Idisher Fihrer Boston, 1913-1916, 1925-1926 (incomplete)
Index to Americana in European Jewish Periodicals-Jacob Rader Marcus
The Jewish Farmer, 1910-1959

Collections (originals available at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York):

I-13 Records of the People’s Relief Committee
I-37 Mount Sinai Hospital
I-66 Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
I-71 Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation Papers
I-80 Baron de Hirsch Fund
I-112 Curacao Jewish community collection, 1683-1976
I-151 New York City Mayors Court; You can also access these records via a searchable database on the Center for Jewish History’s website
I-153 New York City Insolvent Debtors; You can also access these records via a searchable database on the Center for Jewish History’s website
I-154 New York City Incorporation Papers; >; You can also access these records via a searchable database on the Center for Jewish History’s website
P-2 Emma Lazarus Collection
P-12 Sheftall Family Papers
P-41 Haym Solomon Papers
P-42 Eliezer Drucker Papers
P-62 Gomez Family Papers
P-63 Leon David Crestohl Papers
P-130 Hays Family Papers
P-134 Stephen Wise Papers
P-527 Justine Wise Polier Papers

Genealogical Resources

Genealogical Resources at the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives
Live broadcast: Janary 29, 2015
Presented by: Judi Garner and Stephanie Call
Level: Beginner - Intermediate Running Time: 54:04
Description: The American Jewish Historical Society – New England Archives collects, preserves and makes available for research the documented history of the Greater Boston and New England Jewish Communities. Accessible to NEHGS members, these collections include some important genealogical resources. Learn more about AJHS-NEA and its partnership with NEHGS, its collections, and what available resources are important to the family historian.

In addition to the resources offered through NEHGS, the Jewish Heritage Center also has the following collections and databases for genealogical research:

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was founded in New York City in the 1880s by the Russian Jewish community of New York in response to the influx of Russian Jewish immigrants fleeing the pograms in the Pale of Settlement in Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1889, a shelter which was used to house many of the immigrants adopted the name “Hebrew Sheltering House Association.” This organization merged with HIAS in 1909 and by 1914, had branches operating in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. 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 ensured that Jewish immigrants had access to holiday and religious services and kosher food; provided shelter and social services; and assisted immigrants with finding employment and schools, often on short notice.

The HIAS collection has two sections of records that are of interest to genealogists: the individual case files, and the arrival cards.

Individual case files may include correspondence, photographs, affidavits, vital records, and names of other family members, among other records. There can be multiple case files for one individual or very little documentation included at all. Some folders are empty.

Arrival cards do not match the individual case files. In other words, if AJHS-NEA does not have a case file for your family member, it is possible an arrival card exists (and vice versa.) Arrival cards include names, ages, spouse and children’s names, travel information, country of original, and date of arrival. Not all Jewish immigrants who entered the United States through the Port of Boston will have a HIAS record; these records are not all inclusive.

This in-house ProQuest database includes birth, death and marriage announcements, and covers the years 1905-1990. Newspaper articles are text searchable using Optical Character Recognition (OCR.)

Accessing Resources from Home

Finding Aids

Once a collection is processed (or, organized) the archivist writes a finding aid, which may be considered a map to the collection. Finding aids provide logistical information, such as whether the collection is located in New York or Boston, and the call number. Finding aids also give a brief overview of the collection, including the subject matter, relevant names associated with the collection, and the contents and date of the materials located in each folder and box.

finding aid 1Example of an AJHS-NEA finding aid with identifying information (left) and box list (right).

All of AJHS-NEA’s finding aids are online and fully-searchable. A list of our collections can be found on our website. If there is a link available for the collection, that collection has been processed. No available link means the collection is unprocessed. Researchers may still be able to access the collection in some cases; contact us for more information.

Digital Collections of AJHS-NEA

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AJHS-NEA has been digitizing their collections since 2007, and currently has over 550,000 images available for researchers to view online and over 2 million images digitized. The digital collections are available to any researcher and can be accessed from any computer, tablet or smartphone with internet access.

To request access to the digital archive, please fill out this form or email reference@ajhsboston.org. You will need to create an account with OCLC’s WorldCat.org; this is a free service and will allow remote access to the images in the digital collections.

Organization of the Digital Collections

Larger collections (the Jewish Community Relations Council, YMHA-Hecht House, Wyner Family Papers) have their own online collection, or “bucket.” Smaller collections are grouped in online collection buckets with a common theme: family and individual papers; collections of the Jewish Heritage Center of the North Shore; rabbinical, synagogue and Jewish education records; or community and social service organizational records.

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Using the Digital Collections

Users can search using a finding aid for a collection (a traditional search) or search through one or multiple collections using a full-text search. Most of the documents in the digital archive are text-searchable.

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Traditional search using the finding aid for Temple Shalom in the Jewish Heritage Center of the North Shore collection, box 01, folder 01:

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An example of the results page:

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Keyword search for “Soviet Jewry” across collections search results page:

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Example of the image viewport:

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Visiting the Jewish Heritage Center

We strongly encourage researchers to make an appointment. Many collections are stored off-site and require retrieval time; we also have different hours from the NEHGS library.

Hours

(Research by appointmetnt only)
Monday-Thursday: 9AM-5PM
Friday: 9AM-2PM
Saturday and Sunday: Closed

Contact

Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
617-226-1245
reference@ajhsboston.org

Photocopying and Scanning

Researchers cannot photocopy archival documents. Staff will demonstrate how to handle materials appropriately and will photocopy documents for the researcher. Photocopies and printouts (from computer and microfilm printers) cost 25 cents per page. For copies of secondary source material, copy cards for use with the photocopiers are available from a vending machine in the seventh-floor reading room. Copies from the photocopiers and microfilm scanners may also be saved to flash drives. Flash drives are available for purchase at the NEHGS library. AJHS-NEA allows photography without flash.

Food and Drink

We do not allow food or drink in the reading room. There is a break room on the 1st floor with vending machines available to researchers.

Other Resources

Synagogue Archives

Synagogues known to have their own archives include Temple Israel of Boston and Temple Emanuel of Newton. There may be others; it is always helpful to contact the Synagogue in question directly for more information about their records.

Beth Israel Deaconess Archives

Although AJHS-NEA holds the personal and family papers of many people who helped found Beth Israel Hospital or served on the hospital’s Board, Beth Israel Deaconess also has an archive.

Jewish Genealogy Resources

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies has a number of member genealogical societies listed on their website.

Vital Records

AJHS-NEA is often asked if collections contain birth certificates. To obtain a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate, contact the state archives in which the person in question was born, married, or died. Although AJHS-NEA may have copies of such records, including ketubahs, it is very unlikely and would only be the case if the family or person’s papers were donated to the archive and included in such documents.

Our website also contains an extensive list of other resources pertaining to researching Jewish history, genealogy, or culture.