Genealogical Resources at the American Jewish Historical Society

by Fred Davis and Warren Blatt

This article originally appeared in Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Volume XI, Number 3, Fall 1995.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston has undertaken to identify, categorize and catalog genealogical resources at the American Jewish Historical Society in preparation for the 1996 Summer Seminar on Jewish Genealogy which was held in Boston in July 1996. In expanded form, this article forms part of the book "Resources for Jewish Genealogy in the Boston Area" (Boston: JGSGB, 1996).

The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), founded in 1892, is the world's leading institution for the preservation of original materials on American Jewish life and culture. This society holds more than 40 million manuscripts, 30,000 books and thousands of newspapers, magazines, paintings, photographs and other artifacts that document the growth and accomplishments of American Jewry.

The AJHS headquarters is located at the Center for Jewish History at 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011. Tel.: (212) 294-6160; and has a New England branch on the Hebrew College campus at 160 Herrick Road, Newton Centre, MA 02459. Tel.: (617) 559-8880.

This article highlights some of the most important genealogical holdings at the AJHS.

Purview of the AJHS

At the turn of the century, the purpose of the AJHS was to counter rising anti-Semitism by focusing on prominent and successful Jews. Since that time, the philosophy has grown and matured so that the holdings now constitute a more balanced view of the social, political, economic and cultural life of the Jewish people in the Americas.

The term "American", as used in the AJHS name, includes all of the Americas. Although most of the material relates to the United States, strong collections also exist from Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America. European materials are not a collection focus, but landsmanshaftn records, genealogies and biographical works provide information on previous generations in Europe.

Genealogical Holdings

Much material of unique genealogical value may be found at AJHS. Examples include:

Due to the diversity of the items and the different ways in which they were acquired by the AJHS, gaining access to the information can be difficult. The cataloguing system has been idiosyncratic for many years. There is no published catalog; neither does one card catalog cover all items. Ultimately, researchers must depend on the AJHS staff for assistance. Over the past few years, new leadership has expressed an interest in improving access to the collections.

Currently, AJHS material is organized into several different categories, that do not have a one-to-one correspondence with genealogical research. These are:


Each of the more than 200 institutional manuscript collections consists of papers of a particular organization and is designated with the prefix I at the beginning of the call number. Included are synagogues, national Jewish organizations, local Jewish organizations, landsmanshaftn, immigrant aid societies, military organizations, fraternal organizations and burial societies. A few of the institutional collections have significant interest for the genealogist:


The records of more than two dozen synagogues are in the institutional category, although synagogue records may also be found in such other categories as ephemera (a few), vertical files (many) and library (many). Among the congregations in the institutional collections are those from the following cities: San Francisco, California; Montreal, Canada; Savannah, Georgia; Waukegan, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Dorchester, Lexington, Revere and Springfield, Massachusetts; Brooklyn and New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charleston, South Carolina; and Nashville, Tennessee.

Baron de Hirsch Fund

Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831-96) lived in Munich, Brussels and Paris. A banker and philanthropist, his total benefactions exceeded $100 million, most to Jewish causes. This collection has major importance for genealogical researchers.

The Baron de Hirsch Fund was incorporated in New York State in 1891 to serve Jews migrating to the United States from Eastern Europe. The fund protected immigrants through port work, relief, temporary aid, promotion of suburban industrial enterprises, removal from urban centers through the Industrial Removal Office, land settlement, agricultural training, and trade and general education. In 1894, the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural College opened in Woodbine, New Jersey, the first U.S. school to offer secondary education in agriculture. During the Nazi era, the fund spent large sums on German-Jewish relief. Later, its major activity was the support of the Jewish Agricultural Society to promote the Jewish farm movement.

This major collection currently is being inventoried and re-catalogued; call numbers are likely to change in the process. A finding aid is expected to be completed in time for the 1996 Summer Seminar.

Overall, the collection comprises five subsections: the fund itself, the Jewish Agricultural Society, Woodbine Colony, Woodbine Agricultural School and the Trade School. The Industrial Removal Office is a separate, but related, organization; until recently, it had been included as part of the Baron de Hirsch Fund collections.

Papers of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, stored in 79 boxes under call number I-80, are primarily administrative and include a large number of deeds and property transfer records. Some examples of genealogically useful information found here include: files of student aid recipients, applications to study at Delhi Agricultural College, requests by German-Jewish refuges of the 1930s for financial assistance, a list of Jewish farmers with significant data about each.

The Jewish Agricultural Society was formed by the Baron de Hirsch Fund in 1900 to promote farming among Jews in the United States. The agency settled about 4,900 families on farms, placed nearly 22,000 farm workers in 31 states, and extended almost $15 million in loans to farmers in 41 states. Records span the years 1901-78 and are stored in seven boxes with the current call number I-206. Included is information about Jewish farmers in Clayton, Millville and Vineland, New Jersey; Sullivan and Ulster Counties, New York; Hamilton, Texas; and Janesville, Wisconsin. Loan applications include biographical information.

Woodbine Colony. Woodbine is a town in New Jersey founded by the Baron de Hirsch Fund as a Jewish agricultural colony with an industrial annex. The initial 60 families, most from southern Russia, arrived in 1892, and an agricultural school was established in 1895. In 1903, the colony became the first all-Jewish municipality in the United States. Failure of the colony's original agricultural plans eventually led to the predominance of industry as a means of earning a living. The fund withdrew support during World War II. The Jewish population declined steadily and, by 1958, numbered 315 out of a total population of 2,500. Records from 1890-1993 currently are catalogued under call number I-53 and include histories, reports, correspondence and photographs. Material is not indexed and is arranged chronologically. Among the genealogically relevant highlights are: records of about 250 individual property holders whose names may be located in the finding aid to this collection (boxes 1-9); lists of those employed in the town from 1895-1919 (box 11); records of the Woodbine companies--Bradstone Rubber Company; M.R.D. Hat Company; Woodbine Children's Clothing Co.; Daniel & Blumenthal, Manufacturer of Knee Pants and Children's Suits; M.L. Bayard & Co. (boxes 12-14); information on certain Romanian families, plus lists of farming families and their mortgage data; sports team lists and information on Texas farmers--including descent data (box 16); a small amount of correspondence from individuals seeking to be reunited with family members (box 22).

Woodbine Agricultural School collection spans 1893-1927 and is held under call number I-54. Boxes 3 and 32 contain student records: correspondence about applications, medical exams, admissions, inquiries and lists of graduates from 1893 to 1918. Boxes 9 and 10 involve 63 scholarship students sent to Delhi and the New York State Institute of Applied Agriculture in Farmingdale, New York.

The Baron de Hirsch Trade School in New York records span the period 1890-1935; current call number is I-55. The school trained students in trades such as plumbing, electricity, sign painting, carpentry and woodworking. Boxes 1-9 are graduate records. In Box 1, records are indexed and bound. They record name, class and department, address, age and nationality. Some note how long one was in the United States, means of support, occupation, parent or guardian's name and name of employer.

Class pictures, by class and department, are found in Box 10. Some are labelled with the name below each person shown. Boxes 13, 16-18 are student files and include considerable useful information in such files as applications, graduates by department, students--lists by department, students--bound record book, etc.

Class ratings for the years 1899-1935 are found in Boxes 21-24. Questionnaires sent to alumni of classes in the 1920s that ask for work-related information are in Box 32. Records of workers from 1892-1935 are in Boxes 36-38.

Industrial Removal Office

The Industrial Removal Office (IRO), was a U.S. organization, funded primarily by the Baron de Hirsch Fund, that sought to encourage new immigrants to leave the large population centers on the East Coast and settle in the interior of the country. (Removal, in this case, meaning resettlement.) This collection of more than 100 boxes (call number I-91) includes almost 44,000 records of removal from 1899 to 1922 (Boxes 6-12), as well as correspondence from immigrants and local agents. Anyone who has ever wondered how a relative ended up in places like Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or Topeka, Kansas, might find the answer in this collection. Records from 1904-14 show that Jewish immigrants were removed to 177 U.S. locations as shown in the accompanying box. IRO materials include administrative records and correspondence pertaining to all aspects of the organization. Of specific importance to genealogists are: correspondence with local agents about immigrants sent to specific cities, records listing all persons relocated from New York (with all pertinent details), follow-up records on these individuals, and letters from the relocated immigrants to the IRO on various matters. The unindexed collection is arranged geographically by state. Where information is available, it is often very detailed.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Boston

The Boston HIAS collection is under call number I-96. Individual arrival records of immigrants that arrived in Boston or Providence, Rhode Island, for the period 1882-1929 are arranged alphabetically. In addition, the collection includes incomplete chronological lists of ship arrivals and ships' passenger lists for the years 1904-53. Records are not indexed, but are arranged alphabetically by arrival and case record. (See Avotaynu, "HIAS-Boston", in Vol. II, No. 3, October 1986). A comprehensive description and inventory of the collection are available.

The Boston branch of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society started in 1913, when an earlier local group affiliated with New York's Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society. In 1977, the local Boston office closed and all its functions transferred to New York. All Boston HIAS records are now at AJHS and are stored in 233 numbered boxes. The records fall into three categories: arrival cards, individual case files and passenger lists; almost all are genealogically valuable.

Individual Arrival Records, comprised of approximately 25,000 cards dated 1882-1929, are stored in Boxes 223-233. Each card records either an individual or family record of arrival and most of the following information: ship name or other transport used, age, sex, marital status, destination, financial arrangements, whether or not detained by U.S. immigration officials, relationships, U.S. person responsible for immigrants, etc. Cards are alphabetically arranged by surname.

Individual Case Files are found in two different groups of boxes. Boxes 1-179 cover the period from the 1920s through the early 1960s; Boxes 181-210 primarily hold post-World War II records (to the 1970s) as well as some early records. These boxes have an estimated 12,000 alphabetically arranged, individual files. In most cases, the original last name given is on the file, but researchers must be aware that spelling and name changes are always a possibility. Many name changes occurred during the correspondence period, and file headings may be by original name, other spelling, Anglicized name, or by the name of the U.S. correspondent making the inquiry. Although most records are European, many are from China, India, Israel, Latin America and elsewhere. Each of the individual case files may or may not have any of the following: correspondence, request for immigration, certificate of support by U.S. residents, visa application, certificate of good moral character, certificate of funds transmitted, etc. Many (but not all) cases resulted in admission to the U.S.

Miscellaneous material in Boxes 180 and 211-222 includes a variety of passenger lists, ship arrival schedules, lists of displaced persons, correspondence, HIAS information and administrative files. An inventory lists the files in each box.

New York Court Records

A better title for the collections in this group - all of which are genealogically important - would be "Manhattan Court Records of Cases with Jewish Names". They consist of microfilm and bound photocopies of court records now in the New York City Hall of Records. The first three collections hold material primarily from the pre-1860 period; the fourth, Incorporation Papers, deals with all Jewish-related organizations incorporated in New York City between 1848 and 1920. These four collections are indexed; the index is on cards interfiled in the main card catalog except for the Incorporation Papers card index which is hold in separate drawers. Two additional groups of materials have never been fully processed; these span approximately 1830-1910.

The collections are copies of selected court records from the County of New York, that is, from the Borough of Manhattan in New York City. The history of these copies is somewhat obscure, but apparently in the early 1960s, Professor Leo Hershkovitz of Queens College and the Institute for Early New York History went through older records on file at the New York Hall of Records and extracted those with Jewish-sounding names. The records selected were indexed and copied. AJHS has duplicate copies of the extracted records in two different formats--bound volumes of photocopies and reels of microfilm.

At some later date, AJHS was offered boxes of original court papers pertaining to litigants with Jewish-sounding names; the court was going to dispose of the papers, but AJHS accepted them as part of the historical record. These original documents have never been fully catalogued.

Mayor's Court Selected Briefs, 1674-1860. This collection, record group I-151, holds approximately 6,000 court documents in 23 bound volumes and 13 reels of microfilm. It is arranged chronologically and indexed according to last name of the litigant. The index is interfiled in the main card catalog.

Included are handwritten pleadings and other court papers filed in civil lawsuits in the Mayor's Court of the City of New York, also known at various times as the High Court of Chancery, the New York Inns (of Court) and the Marine Court of New York City. Types of records are summonses, complaints, surety bonds, affidavits, warrants, jury lists and briefs.

Selected Naturalization Certificates, 1816-45. This collection I-152 holds approximately 500 certificates in one bound volume or one reel of microfilm. It consists of an alphabetical set of Declarations of Intent to Become a Citizen or Affidavits of Intention filed with the Court of Common Pleas for the City and County of New York or with the New York Superior Court, 1829-45. Also included are Reports of Aliens made to the Clerk of the Court, 1816-28. The collection is indexed by last name of the declarant and the index is interfiled in the main card catalog.

Selected Insolvent Debtors Cases, 1787-1861. Collection I-153 has approximately 2,000 cases in nine bound volumes or five reels of microfilm. It is arranged alphabetically and indexed by last name of debtor. The index is interfiled in the main card catalog.

These documents were filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York for the City and County of New York in insolvency cases. Most of them are Insolvent Assignments, each of which, as in a modern bankruptcy, involves a discharge of the debtor's debts and an assignment of his assets to be sold or managed for the benefit of his creditors.

Incorporation Papers. Collection I-154 consists of selected incorporation papers, 1848-1920. Approximately 10,000 organizations are represented in 81 bound volumes or 27 reels of microfilm. They are arranged by year of filing, and within each year, by document filing number. They are indexed by cross references to name of organization, general type of organization and European town (if any) to which the organization relates. The index is kept in separate card drawers to the right of the main card catalog.

The collection consists of legal filings made by Jewish-related, not-for-profit organizations incorporated in New York County, including fraternal societies, political clubs, professional associations, synagogues, landsmanshaftn, benevolent organizations, social clubs, burial societies, charities and neighborhood facilities. The filings are very similar to modern corporate filings and include original certificates of incorporation, consolidation or change of corporate name. Each certificate of incorporation includes the name of the organization, the purposes or objectives for which it was formed, the principal office or territory of principal operation, the names and addresses of the initial directors or trustees or officers, and the names of the incorporators.

Original Documents are selected filings in New York County Court cases, circa 1852-1909. Approximately 500 unindexed documents are filed by general type of case in 39 archival containers. These are pleadings and other legal papers filed with the New York Supreme Court for New York County and other courts in lawsuits in which litigants had Jewish-sounding names. In addition, there are approximately 1,000 unindexed, unorganized original documents that are selected filings in New York County Court cases, circa 1837-1910. These are not arranged and are unindexed.

Jewish Childcare Association of New York

This major collection, which includes records of the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society, Hebrew Orphan Asylum of Manhattan, Hebrew Orphan Asylum of Brooklyn, Home for Hebrew Infants, Hebrew Infant Asylum of New York and Hartman Homecrest was described in Avotaynu, Volume XI, Number 1, Spring 1995.

American Jewish Committee Office of War Records

The World War I collection of the American Jewish Committee Office of War Records offers a substantial amount of detailed data on 4,000-5,000 Jewish soldiers who served in the U.S. military during the first World War.

After the war, the American Jewish Committee undertook a project to document the military service of those Jews that had served in the armed forces. Cyrus Adler, chairman of the board of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) at that time, helped plan the community surveys. AJC was able to determine who in the military was Jewish through the records of the various AJC communities and through the records of the Office of Military Chaplains, a section of the War Department. To gather their information, AJC mailed questionnaires that asked such questions as the soldier's rank, date of entering the service, how he entered, branch of service, operations in which he participated and when he was released.

About 250,000 Jewish soldiers served in the U.S. military during World War I, 40,000 of whom volunteered. About 3,500 Jews were killed in action or died of wounds. Jews, who comprised 3 percent of the U.S. population at the time, contributed 5 percent to the death roll of the U.S. Army. The number of Jews wounded was estimated at 12,000.

The collection consists of 21 boxes. War records of Jewish soldiers begin in Box 2 and continue until Box 18. Box 1 holds inter-office correspondence of the AJC, and Boxes 18-21 store letters to the AJC from non-Jews mistakenly sent war records questionnaires who wished to explain that they were not Jewish. Folder #9 in Box 1 includes correspondence from those Jews who admit to being Jewish, but refused to participate in the survey. Records are divided into different headings. Some are filed according to originating city, others by branch of service and rank, some by both. Yet other boxes are filed according to soldiers of a certain rank who were wounded. Each file is in alphabetical order.

Boxes of war records are organized more or less along the lines of the following parameters. To research this material, therefore, it is helpful (but not essential) to know into which of these categories an individual fit:

A finding aid has been prepared.

National Jewish Welfare Board, Bureau of War Records, Papers 1940-69

This collection is just one part of the records of the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB). The JWB, now better known as the Jewish Community Centers Association, has been the central organization of Jewish community centers throughout the United States. The AJHS has other JWB records, some as yet unprocessed, including material from the United Service Organizations (USO) and Young Men's Hebrew Associations (YMHA).

As collection I-52, the Bureau of War Records Papers alone is still a large institutional collection, totalling 672 boxes. These papers relate to the work that the Bureau performed in describing and analyzing the role and contribution of Jews to the U.S. armed forces during World War II.

Included are studies and lists of Jewish casualties, awards and officers, as well as studies of Jewish doctors, dentists, farmers and refugees in the service. Community studies relating to Jews in, and Jewish soldiers from, various U.S. cities are part of the collection as are folders dealing with the role of Jews in the Canadian armed forces and the Korean War. There is a typed outline of the collection and a list of the subject files.

Population studies and studies of distinctive Jewish names may be found here as in the final, unpublished Bureau report. Isidor Kaufman's 1947 book, American Jews in World War II, is based on these papers.

The records of greatest genealogical importance are the many tens of thousands of data cards of individuals in the service. Each card is labeled: wounded, prisoner, award, missing, death (see illustration). They are ordered alphabetically, and some are also indexed geographically.

Other Institutional Collections

Besides the institutional collections described above, which are of clear genealogical importance, AJHS has more than 200 other collections that together document a large part of Jewish life in the United States. There are large holdings of national organizations, such as the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, the American Jewish Congress and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Other holdings may reflect one or another era or grouping of American Jews. The following rather arbitrary selection gives a flavor of these collections that could provide historical background, if not genealogical data. (See box)


These collections are papers of more than 600 individuals, many of them well known, such as Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Samuel Gompers, Rebecca Gratz, Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, Uriah Philips Levy, Molly Picon and Stephen S. Wise. Most of these collections will interest only someone researching a particular individual or family, However, many of these persons were involved in important aspects of American Jewish life, and their papers include correspondence with and mentions of their colleagues.

Personal papers of approximately 20 rabbis include records of marriages, burials and/or circumcisions. There are mohel books from Baltimore, Newport, New York City, Philadelphia, Surinam, Washington, DC, and other places. Curacao marriage records are on microfilm.

More than 50 of the personal collections are genealogies including the following: Abravanel-Mickleshavski, Borison, Capin, Caro, Chimene, Cone, Dan, Davidson, DeLeon-Hendricks, Dellar, Dulken, Ehrenreich, Epstein, Ewenczyk, Feibelman, Fidanque, Geffen, Goldstone, Halberstam, Halfin, Ichenhauser, Jacobs, Josephthal, Kolbin, Konheym, Leeson, Lewisohn, Lipschitz, Lipsey, List, Lopes-Moses, Mauerberger, Mayerberger, Mielziner, Milontaler, Morgenthau, Moses, Moses-Loeb, Moss, Moss-Harris, Nathan, Nones, Oberlander, Oppenheim, Phillips, Rabson, Rankus, Rosenbaum, Rothnagel, Sachs, Samuels, Sawyer, Schwab, Stux, Velleman and Wistenetsky. Approximately another 50 genealogies are not yet catalogued.


The American Jewish Historical Society has the world's second largest collection of Jewish newspapers of the Americas (second only to the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati) the earliest of which date from the 1840s. More than 1,000 titles are held, in English, German, Hebrew, Yiddish and other European languages. Many are local Jewish newspapers and likely have notices of births, marriages, deaths and other personal events. Another useful group of periodicals are those specific to the history of a locality, such as journals of a local Jewish historical society. Unfortunately, many AJHS titles were damaged in a 1994 fire and will be unavailable until microfilmed.

Until recently, periodicals were catalogued on index cards that were divided into two series (pre-1970 and post-1970) and alphabetized within each different language of publication. Neither card series is publicly accessible, but a complete inventory of all periodicals and their availability is expected by late 1996.

In addition, AJHS has created a "19th-Century Periodicals Index", a card index to six 19th-century American Jewish periodicals - Asmonean (New York City, 1849-58), American Israelite (Cincinnati, 1854-1927), Jewish Messenger (New York City, 1857-1902), Occident (Philadelphia, 1843-69), Sinai (Baltimore, 1856-61, Philadelphia 1861-63) and Zeitgeist (1880-82, in German). These periodicals are on microfilm, are part of the AJHS/Brandeis Joint Depository Project, and are kept in the periodicals section of the Goldfarb Library, a separate facility on the Brandeis campus within walking distance of the AJHS building. Articles are indexed by subject, city or town and names of prominent individuals.

Additional microfilmed periodicals owned by AJHS and kept in the Goldfarb Library are Buffalo Jewish Review, 1917-68; Carolina Israelite, 1944-62; Cleveland Yiddish Velt, 1913-52; The Hebrew, San Francisco, 1864-1906; Jewish Advocate, Boston, 1905-continuing; Jewish Ledger, New Orleans, 1895-1927; Jewish Messenger, New York, 1857-1902; Jewish Review & Observer, Cleveland, 1899-1958; Wyoming Jewish Press, 1930-40. Other communities represented in the microfilmed periodicals include Oakland, California; Paterson, New Jersey; Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles, California; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Curacao; Surinam; Aruba; Jerusalem; Czernowitz; Warsaw and Vilna.


The ephemera collections typically consist of on-going publications of approximately 200 Jewish organizations. As these collections are usually not very large - typically one or two cartons, occasionally 5 to 20 cartons, they were classified in this category instead of as institutions. The publications most often include yearbooks, proceedings, reports, catalogs, bulletins, news releases and miscellaneous other publications.

All ephemera collections have call numbers beginning with the prefix "MS" followed by two or three capital letters, followed by the actual catalog number. The capital letter denotes the type of organization as follows: ED=educational, FED=federation, INS=institution, JCC=Jewish community center, MD=medical organization, NAT=national organization, SYN=synagogue and MIS=missionary. The last category incorporates various attempts to proselytize Jews and worse.

Under MS-ED one finds such schools as Baltimore Hebrew Teachers College (bulletins, catalogs and miscellaneous publications - 1 carton); Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Los Angeles (constitution, annual reports and registers, scripts, addresses, periodicals, etc. - 10 cartons).

Under MS-FED are five federations from Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. The MS-INS institutions are Cleveland's Bellefaire, a Jewish orphanage and two New York homes for the aged. The MS-JCC category holds papers from Jewish community centers in New Haven, Connecticut; Fitchburg, Massachusetts; Saint Louis, Missouri; Buffalo, Yonkers and New York, New York; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Examples of MS-NAT organizations are Alpha Epsilon Phi fraternity, the Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith, Canadian Jewish Congress, Hadassah and Junior Hadassah (including yearbooks for 1924-74), Jewish Braille Institute of America, National Council of Jewish Women and Zionist Organization of America.

MS-SYN holds papers from synagogues in Arleta and San Francisco, California; Hampden and Hartford, Connecticut; Honolulu, Hawaii; Chicago, Illinois; Sioux City, Iowa; Baltimore, Maryland; Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts; Detroit and Flint, Michigan; Brooklyn, Monroe, New York City and Rochester, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Newport and Providence, Rhode Island; Arlington, Virginia; Washington, DC, and Westmount, Quebec. While this is a complete list of cities represented in the manuscript collection, synagogue papers also may be found in the institutional, vertical file or library categories.


Vertical files often are small collections (folder size, rather than full cartons) of various types of Jewish organizations. Specifically, these types are landsmanshaftn (approximately 120 files in 9 boxes), synagogues (20 boxes), organizations, Jewish schools (15 boxes), foreign collections (10 boxes--primarily from England), Holocaust and Soviet Jewry. Vertical files are indexed in their own card catalog. School and synagogue files are indexed by name of town.


The AJHS library has more than 30,000 volumes of published material, classified according to the U.S. Library of Congress system, held in closed stacks and on the open shelves in the main reading (reference) room. Some categories of books may be useful to genealogists.

General reference works include Who's Who in American Jewry, Who's Who in World Jewry and the American Jewish Yearbook, as well as Jewish encyclopedias and Jewish historical journals. All of these are kept on open shelves in the main reading room.

More than 200 published genealogies and family histories are in the library collection. As with genealogies in manuscript form, these are listed in the main card catalog under author and title and probably under family name.

Published community histories on specific Jewish American communities constitute an important subset of the library collection. AJHS also owns many, many synagogue histories, yearbooks, organizational histories, etc.

Consolidated Database

As part of its effort to catalog genealogical resources at the AJHS, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston has been working to design and implement an electronic database of important collections that will permit one to access by locality of interest. At a minimum, the database will include organizations and personal papers, genealogically-useful periodicals and ephemera. Vertical files and community history books may be too numerous to include in the database.

Suppose a genealogist wants to know what records exist at the AJHS for Philadelphia. A report from the database will list organizations such as the Jewish Hospital Association of Philadelphia, 1865-1948; the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia, 1854-1906; Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 1899-1984; Congregation Adath Jeshurun, 1912-26 and Congregation Mikveh Israel, 1765-1945. Personal papers such as those of Abraham Cohen, the Nathans Family of Philadelphia, Samuel Family of Philadelphia and Abraham Wolff of Philadelphia will be noted. An indexed periodical named Occident, 1843-69 and, in the ephemera collection, two cartons of registers, addresses, etc. from Dropsie University, one carton of similar items from Gratz College, a carton of annual reports from the Philadelphia Jewish Maternity Association, two cartons of bulletins and miscellaneous publications from Har Zion Temple and four cartons of similar material from the Reform Congregation Kenesth Israel - all will appear. Published materials in the library collection and vertical file material would be additional to all of the above.

Update, April 1999: This database is now available online at JewishGen: AJHS Manuscript Collection Catalog.

To Do Research at the AJHS

Preparation is the key to successful research. Only a small staff manages the collection, and visiting researchers who know what items they wish to use should call or write in advance. Although the most frequently used material is housed in the AJHS building, some large collections are stored off-site and must be ordered at least two weeks in advance.

No charge is levied for on-site research; paid research may be done by library and archival staff - at the discretion of the staff - and is dependent on time available and the likelihood of finding anything. The rate for paid research is $35 per hour, plus postage and copying. Members of the society ($50 per year) receive priority service and a 20 percent discount on all service fees and copy charges. There are separate rates for researching specific collections. Send a letter with specific details to request paid research.

Photocopies may be made for researchers at staff discretion. Copies are made by a member of the staff. Check with the AJHS reference librarian to obtain the current fee schedules for photocopying services. Microfilm items are accessible at Goldfarb Library, a few minutes walk away on the Brandeis campus, through a joint depository arrangement with Brandeis University.

If a researcher wants access to particular items, conferring with AJHS staff in advance can assist in locating materials promptly and efficiently. All of the library and archival material is in closed stacks and can be retrieved only by the staff, who may be busy with other researchers at any given time.

In searching for an individual or a location, check the main card catalog first.  For locations, next check the separate card index for vertical files.  If searching for a European location, also check the separate locality card index to the New York Incorporation Papers.  They include incorporation papers for many landsmanshaftn.

The American Jewish Historical Society is perhaps the most valuable single resource for American Jewish family history research.  The authors hope that genealogists will use, and also support, this fine institution.

Fred Davis is president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater BostonWarren Blatt is Chair of the 15th Summer Seminar on Jewish Genealogy, held in Boston, July 14-19, 1996.  Others who contributed to this project are Nancy Arbeiter, Phyllis Bloom, Brian Ferber, Eugene Hirshberg, Elana Horowitz, David Kohen, Seth Korelitz, Karen Kushner and David Rosen; and for the AJHS: Dr. Michael Feldberg, Holly Snyder and Michelle Feller-Kopman.

American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) Home Page

AJHS Manuscript Collection Catalog

Resources for Jewish Genealogy in Boston