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Family History Resources

Jewish Family History Resources

If you’re curious about your family history, you’re certainly in the right place! The Rabbi Richard B. Safran Library can help you start your research, inspire you to keep looking, and even help you share your story. Download a “one-sheet” of book recommendations, or find our catalog of resources.

To start, there is no better guide than the classic, From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History by Arthur Kurzweil. Miriam Weiner is another well-known author and researcher.  We have her Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy as well as Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova and Jewish Roots in Poland. For something directed at a younger audience, we have the official Ellis Island handbook, Do People Grow on Family Trees? by Ira Wolfman. And if the potential of DNA testing interests you, you might want to check out Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People, by Harry Ostrer. 

Just researching your name can prove fascinating, and we have several titles to help with that as well. A personal favorite is Benzion Kaganoff’s Dictionary of Jewish Names and Their History. Although there is a dictionary included, a significant part of the book includes stories of the origins of Jewish names which are quite interesting. Jewish Personal Names, by Shmuel Gorr, and Alexander Beider’s Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire are also useful.

David Laskin’s The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century is one of the best examples of what can be found with persistent research. This is a wonderfully written account of a history that is quite common among American Jewish families. Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman is another well-written quest for a family story based on letters discovered by the author.  This one is more of a mystery than David Laskin’s book, as the reader is kept wondering what happened to the girl throughout the book. Like Family and several other titles, the focus is on victims of the Holocaust, but Wildman’s book stands out by revealing the picture through the eyes of the survivors in this country.  Other adult family histories in our collection include Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, and Alan Weisman’s An Echo in My Blood: The Search for My Family’s Past.

Sharing Your Stories
If you are ready to share your stories, particularly with the younger generation, we have several examples in our picture book collection that are worth checking out.  Two favorites by Patricia Polacco – The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing Cup – are both beautiful family histories in their own way, traced through heirlooms passed down through generations. Grandma Esther Remembers, by Ann Morris, and Under the Sabbath Lamp, by Michael Herman, are also excellent family stories. 

Finally, remember that there are resources within our congregation that might be of help. Irv Adler shared his family history presentation in June on Genealogy and the Holocaust – Tracing Family: Lost and FoundOur librarian, Betsy Gephart, has written numerous family history books for her daughters and would be happy to help you get started in that area.

Of course, our very own public library is known throughout the world for its Family History collection.  Little-known within the collection, but extremely valuable, is their significant collection of Yizkor, or Memorial Books.  Below are links to their resources, as well as other Jewish Family History Resources that may be useful.

Irv Adler Offers Insights Into Holocaust Records

Over the past few years, Temple member Irv Adler has presented several programs on Genealogy and the Holocaust in Fort Wayne and beyond to share his worldwide search through Holocaust records to find out more information about his grandmother and family. Watch his presentation on “Families Lost & Found: Tracing My Viennese Roots After the Holocaust” to IPFW’s Campus Ministry on November 16, 2017.

As part of this personal historical journey, Irv traveled to Vienna to place a Stone of Remembrance in front of the home where his grandmother Clara Bader Nichtern lived before she was murdered in 1942 by the Nazis at the Maly Trostinets death camp outside of Minsk. His research continues today.

Join Northeast Indiana Jewish Genealogy Society

The Northeast Indiana Jewish Genealogy Society offers many programs throughout the year. 

The NEIJGS became the Temple’s newest Rifkin Campus Partner in mid-2018, shortly after the organization’s incorporation.

NEIJGS holds quarterly, public programs to discuss and promote Jewish genealogy, as well as several more intimate events just for members. Their purpose is to present educational programs relevant to Jewish genealogy, to support members in their pursuit of their family histories, to collaborate with other organizations on areas of Jewish genealogical interests, and to protect, preserve and share Jewish genealogical records from the region of Northeast Indiana.

Find out about the Fort Wayne Jewish Families Project, which includes a database including yahrzeit plaques from Congregation Achduth Vesholom and the former Congregation B’nai Jacob.

Our Library Collection

Our collection of Jewish books in the Rabbi Richard B. Safran Library has thousands of titles, including many family history resources. We are located in the Madge Rothschild Resource Center at the Rifkin Campus at 5200, 5200 Old Mill Road.

In addition, the PFW Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in partnership with the Helmke Library and the Temple, now has a list of Jewish and Holocaust-themed resources (books, videos, and other materials) available for checkout through IUCAT and IPFW’s Helmke Library. The Genealogy Center also has Yizkor Books and other resources.

Books on Yiddish and Family Stories

Interested in Yiddish? We have Basic Yiddish by Rebecca Margolis, as well as Talk Dirty Yiddish by Ilene Schneider, both recommended by Dr. Lee Roberts, who taught our recent Yiddish class.

If you’re also interested in the history of the language, you may want to check out Yiddish: A Nation of Words by Miriam Weinstein, a National Book Award winner recommended by the URJ. 

Looking at “Genealogy and the Holocaust”? These titles may be of interest:

  • Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland, currently on the National Jewish Book Club list.  
  • The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
  • The War Within These Walls, a National Jewish Book Award winner by Aline Sax
  • Paper Love by Sarah Wildman. This non-fiction title tracks the author’s search for her grandfather’s girlfriend, left behind in Berlin in 1938. 
  • A new addition of the “bible” of Jewish genealogy, From Generation to Generation by Arthur Kurzweil.
  • The Family by David Laskin, currently on the National Jewish Book Club list,