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The Center for Jewish History

by Rachel Fisher

Editor’s Note: Rachel Fisher is Director of the Genealogy Institute of the Center for Jewish History, located in New York City. (See the end of the article for address and contact information.) In this article, she describes the resources of the Center, especially those relevant to Galician genealogy. Readers living near, or visiting, New York City may find a visit to the Center worthwhile.

The Center for Jewish History opened officially in October of 2000. It embodies a partnership of five major institutions of Jewish scholarship, history and art: the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The Center serves the world- wide academic and general communities with combined holdings of approximately 100 million archival documents, a half million books, and thousands of photographs, artifacts, paintings and textiles—the largest repository documenting the Jewish experience outside of Israel.

The Center and its partners created a family history department, the Genealogy Institute, to assist family historians in identifying and accessing relevant materials in the libraries and archives; to educate the public about Jewish family history research; and to create programming on family history and its connections to the broader sweep of Jewish history.

The genealogical resources at the Center are too vast to list here in entirety. To learn what is available for genealogists, one can consult the collection of Genealogy Institute fact sheets, available on the Center’s website at www.cjh.org/family. Fact sheets list the major genealogical resources at the Center and provide answers to common questions about genealogical research, such as “How do I find my ancestral town?” On the website, you will also find a virtual exhibit of genealogical resources at the Center, a complete list of the Genealogy Institute reference collection and electronic resources, and answers to Frequently Asked Questions about genealogical research at the Center.


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To learn what resources are available at the Center, a researcher can also consult the catalogs of the partner organizations, a combination of online and printed catalogs. Online catalogs and finding aids, including the full catalogs of the American Sephardi Federation and the Leo Baeck Institute, and a partial catalog of the YIVO Library, can be found at www.cjh.org (click on “Academic Resources and Archives”). Offline catalogs, such as the Guide to the YIVO Archives and the American Jewish Historical Society card catalogs, can be consulted at the Center. If you are unable to travel to the Center, write to the Genealogy Institute at gi@cjh.org and someone will check the printed catalogs for you.

The Center is home to some expected and some unexpected resources for those with ancestors from Galicia. Many researchers with roots in Galicia are no doubt familiar with the holdings of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, founded in Vilna in 1925. YIVO is devoted to the history, society, and culture of Ashkenazic Jewry, and the influence of that culture as it has developed in the Americas. In addition to its well-known landsmanshaftn collec- tions, the YIVO Archives is home to record groups with information about Galician communities, such as:

  • Record Group 13. Ostrowo Jewish Community Council, 1824-1919: Collection includes materials on communal leaders, marriage registers, and birth records.
  • Record Group 14. Krotoszyn Jewish Commu- nity Council, 1824-1919: Partial community archives mainly concerning communal administration. Includes some marriage and death re- cords.

Other archival collections at YIVO include materials from Galician towns, such as the Territorial Photographic Collection, with photos from over 65 countries, including Poland and Ukraine; the AJC Landsmanshaftn Department Collection, including correspondence with landsmanshaftn in the U.S. regarding aid to hometowns in Europe; the Gershom Bader Collection, including source materials for his Hebrew lexicon of Jewish writers in Galicia (the published work is mentioned below); and the Joseph Tenenbaum Collection, including notes for his memoir of Galicia (the published work is mentioned below).

Of course, many of these records are handwritten in Yiddish and other non-English languages, and some may be fragile and not suitable for photocopying. The records are now preserved in optimal conditions in the stack space at the Center for Jewish History.

The YIVO Library is justly famous for its collection of yizkor books. But the library collection reaches well beyond yizkor books. Of course, there are many scholarly works—even some in English—with contextual information that is relevant to genealogists. These can be identified with the YIVO Library catalog on the Center’s website. A few examples of other books with relevance to researchers with roots in Galicia:

  • Bader, Gershom. Medinah ve-Hakhameha. Vienna: Appel and Co., 1934. An illustrated encyclopedia of noted Jewish personalities who contributed to Galicia’s progress during its existence. In Hebrew.
  • Hodl, Klaus. Vom Shtel and die Lower East Side: Galizische Juden in New York. Wien: Bohlau, 1991. A history of Galician Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York. In German.
  • Sharvit, Uri. Chassidic Tunes from Galicia. Jerusalem: Renanot, Bar Ilan University, 1995. An overview and analysis of Hasidic music from Galicia.
  • Wunder, Meir. Meore Galitsyah: Entsiklopedyah le-Hokhame Galitsyah. Yerushalayim: Makhon le-Hantsahat Yahadut Galitsyah, 1978. An encyclopedia of Galician rabbis and scholars, including genealogical tables. In Hebrew, with a table of contents in English.

Perhaps a less expected resource for those with roots in Galicia is the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI). LBI was founded in 1955 to document the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry, a remarkable legacy that the Nazis sought to destroy. Its archives and library offer the most comprehensive collection of documents, memoirs, photographs and books dealing with the life and history of Jews in German-speaking lands from earliest times until the present. The materials are mostly in German, with some in Hebrew, and many in English. In the LBI archives, one finds the Przemysl Jewish Community Collection, consisting of 13 photos of the synagogue. The LBI library is home to memoirs and other books written by immigrants from Galicia, such as:

  • Miller, Saul. Dobromil: Life in a Galician Shtetl, 1890-1907. A memoir in a series of letters written by Saul Miller to his youngest son.
  • Tenenbaum, Joseph. Galitsiye, Meyn Alte Heym. Buenos Aires: Union Central Israelita Polaca el al Argentina, 1952. A Yiddish memoir of life in Galicia by an immigrant to Argentina.
  • Many scholarly works in German on the Jews of Galicia can also be found in LBI, such as Darstellung der Gesetzlichen Verfassung der Galizischen Judenschaft, by Michael Stoeger (Lemberg: Kuhn und Millikowski, 1833).

Even the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), whose mission is to foster awareness and appreciation of the American Jewish experience and serve as a national scholarly resource for research through the collection, preservation and dissemination of materials relating to American Jewish history, possesses the Bader and Tenenbaum books mentioned above. AJHS also has a copy of a 1916 report by the American Jewish Committee, entitled The Jews in the Eastern War Zone, which provides the context for what Galician ancestors may have experienced during WWI.

All are welcome to visit the Center for Jewish History to use its electronic resources, libraries, and archives, and to visit the exhibits of the partner organizations, including the Yeshiva University Museum. Those who cannot visit are invited to use the online resources, which can be found at www.cjh.org. For genealogy, click on “family history.” If you identify resources that may be relevant to your research, you must visit the Center to do the research. You can also contact the relevant partner organization to learn whether it is possible to obtain copies from afar. For assistance with researching the printed catalogs, please e-mail the Genealogy Institute with the pertinent information and they will be happy to consult the catalogs for you.

Center for Jewish History
Genealogy Institute
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 294-8324

For the contact information for each partner organization, see the CJH website, www.cjh.org.


Gesher Galicia is a non-profit organization carrying out Jewish genealogical and historical research on Galicia, formerly a province of Austria-Hungary and today divided between southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. The research work includes the indexing of archival vital records and census books, Holocaust-period records, Josephine and Franciscan cadastral surveys, lists of Jewish taxpayers, and records of Galician medical students and doctors - all added to our searchable online database. In addition, we reproduce regional and cadastral maps for our online Map Room. We conduct educational research and publish a quarterly research journal, the Galitzianer. Gesher Galicia is also organized for the purpose of maintaining networking and online discussion groups and to promote and support Jewish heritage preservation work in the areas of the former Galicia.

You can search our free All Galicia Database, Map Room, and archival inventories, and read about member benefits starting at $50 per year. You can also join online.

Our general contact address: info@geshergalicia.org