Using the Collections of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS
By Stephanie Call
Associate Director of Archives and Education
By Stephanie Call
Associate Director of Archives and Education
The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) at New England Historic Genealogical Society is a destination for exploring and preserving the histories of Jewish families and institutions in New England and beyond. The JHC engages historians, genealogists, partner organizations, and the general public in the study of Jewish history, culture, and legacies through its extensive archival collections, educational programs, exhibits, and public events.
Formerly known as the New England archive of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), the JHC formalized a collaboration with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in 2015 with a strengthened mission to enhance Jewish historical and genealogical research and to be a premier site for collection and preservation of Jewish history. In 2018, the center was named for Justin and Genevieve Wyner, in recognition of their longstanding support and advocacy.
The JHC has more than 2 million records in its archives, and more than 600,000 searchable documents in its digital collections—with new records being added daily. It offers educational programs and public events at its Boston home and in the community. Members have full access to the research websites and libraries of both the JHC and NEHGS, and receive invitations to events, subscriptions to publications, and discounts on services and products.
Resources at the Jewish Heritage Center
The JHC 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 are denoted by an “I” or “JHC-I” call number include the collections of synagogues, community service, Zionist, academic and cultural organizations, trade associations and burial societies. 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 JHC holdings are typically small and contain records that were saved by individual members of that synagogue.
Personal papers are denoted by a “P” or “JHC-P” call number 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, and personal financial records, among other materials.
Subject files are miscellaneous items that were accessioned but do not constitute a full collection. Materials may be determined as a subject file if they meet one of the following criteria:
- The material is a secondary source;
- The materials lack background information but may be of historical significance; or
- 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.
Databases that may be of interest to those researching Jewish genealogy and history are:
- Boston, MA: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Immigration Records, 1904-1929
- Charleston, SC: Inscriptions in Old Jewish Cemeteries, 1762-1903
- Chelsea, MA: Marriages by Rabbi Icik Benkovitz, 1922-1956
- Jewish Advocate database (1905-1990) — accessible only in the NEHGS library
- Massachusetts: Jewish Cemeteries of Western Massachusetts, 1647-1999
- Massachusetts: Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, 1875-2012
- Massachusetts: Organized Jewish Group Activity in 19th Century Massachusetts, 1843-1900
- Sharon, MA: Sharon Memorial Park Cemetery, 1945-2013
The JHC has the following publications and collections available on microfilm:
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
With the exception of the Stephen Wise Papers, the originals of the microfilm collections listed here are available at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York. The Stephen Wise Papers are housed at Brandeis University.
- 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
- I-153 New York City Insolvent Debtors
- I-154 New York City Incorporation Papers
- 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-527 Justine Wise Polier Papers
- Stephen Wise Papers
In addition to the databases offered through AmericanAncestors.org and The Jewish Advocate database (in-house only); and The Boston Jewish Times the JHC has the following helpful genealogical resources:
- I-96 Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Boston Port
- P-87 Papers of Aaron Gorovitz
- P-157 Papers of Rabbi Ber Boruchoff
- JHCP-005 Papers of Icik Benkovitz Papers
- The Boston Jewish Times (1945-1992)
Accessing Resources from Home
The JHC’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.
Finding aids can also be accessed via the JHC’s ArchivesSpace repository. This page also includes helpful search tips for using JHC finding aids.
Subject guides provide a listing of essential in print and online resources that can be found in our collections and from other resources. They give contextual background, helpful tips, and more on a research topic.
The JHC has several collections available for research in the Digital Library and Archives. Researchers need to request access to the majority of the JHC collections, with the exception of The Jewish Times newspaper archive.
To request access to the JHC digital archive, create a free guest account by filling out the guest form. You must then email your username to email@example.com. You will receive an email once your account has been approved. You can then return to the Digital Library & Archives and login with your newly created account credentials.
Learn how to get started using the Digital Archives here.
Fees for Photocopy and Digital Imaging Requests
Researchers can request photocopies or digital images of archival materials for a fee. Please contact the JHC reference desk with your request.
NEHGS and JHC members receive 25 free copies per calendar year.
For requests from Guests or from members who have exceeded their 25 free copies:
- PDFs and JPEG images (suitable for research, classroom, presentations): $0.40 per image
- TIFFs (publishing quality): $12.00 per image
- Paper copies: $0.60 per copy
- Plus $10.00 service fee per every 50 copies. Maximum copies provided = 250
- Requests are generally completed within 2-6 weeks from receipt, depending on the nature of the item being copied and the overall volume of requests.
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.
(Research by appointmetnt only)
Saturday and Sunday: Closed
Photocopying and Image Saving
Researchers cannot photocopy archival documents. Staff will demonstrate how to handle materials appropriately and will photocopy documents for the researcher.
Photocopies of non-archival material and printouts (from computer and microfilm printers) cost 25 cents per page, except library catalog printouts, which are free. Copies from the photocopiers and microfilm scanners may also be saved to flash drives at no charge. Flash drives are available for purchase at the library. The JHC 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.
Synagogues may have their own archives. A well-established archive is Temple Israel of Boston. If you do not see a finding aid for a particular synagogue on our website, and they are still active, contact the synagogue directly.
Although the JHC 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 Hospital has its own archive.
Jewish Genealogy Resources
Researchers in the Boston area may also contact the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston
The JHC is often asked if collections contain birth certificates. To obtain a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate, state archives of the state in which the person in question was born, married or died. Although the JHC 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.