Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Resources and Improved Access

I am always on the lookout for genealogy databases that might open a new avenue for my research.   At the International Jewish Genealogy Conference, I learned today of an upcoming release at the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).    The database offers some unusual sources of information.  During WWI the JDC assisted in transmitting funds between Americans and their family in Poland, Romania, Palestine and Russia.   Their records indicate the flow of funds and the sender and recipient.  I remember my father’s cousin, the one survivor in our family, speaking of my grandfather sending a $10 bill back to Poland and I wonder if he might have sent money back during WWI, a few years after his arrival in the US.

I hadn’t fully appreciated the range of situations that involved the JDC and the records illustrate the variety of their involvement.  Some of these situations include aiding Polish Jews imprisoned in Siberia, financial aid to prominent rabbis and Russian Jews trying to contact their American relatives.  In addition to funds, the JDC also assisted Jews in Eastern Europe who were requesting other forms of assistance from their American relatives.

During the Nazi period refugees and emigrants were assisted across Europe.  The well-known case of the SS St. Louis also became involved with the JDC.  This was the ship that carried over 900 passengers seeking escape from the Nazis.  They sought to land in Cuba and were denied entry.  They ultimately were forced to return to Hamburg as no country would provide safe haven.  Ultimately the JDC got the agreement of Holland, Belgium, England and France to accept the refugees and posted a guarantee of their support.  Needless to say many did not survive the war.

During the war many Polish Jews escaped temporarily to Vilna, Lithuania where the JDC provided aid.  Similarly they aided Jews who escaped to Kobe, Japan and Shanghai.  Many Polish Jews survived the war in Russia and are listed by the JDC Location Service when they were sent back to their home country.  CARE packages were sent to displaced persons after the war and identify the location of relatives who sent them.

The new release will occur in fall 2011 and will be found at JDC.org.archives.

Some records are already available at www.jdc.org/SharedLegacy.  There you will find a Names index that contains individual records associated with WWII and the JDC Emigration Service in Vienna and Munich.  I input several names of survivors and found records on their immigration to the US.  Also in the database was a list of Polish Jews who immigrated to Vilnius trying to stay ahead of the Nazis.

At another session I heard some welcome news on JRI-Poland.  JRI-Poland provides tremendous value for those of us researching family roots in Poland.  They have indexed 4.7 million records many of which are searchable on the Internet.  It used to be possible to order records with a credit card through JRI due to an agreement between JRI and the Polish archives.  Several years ago the then new head of the Polish archives terminated the agreement between the archives and JRI.  Suddenly the process of securing Polish records became very challenging requiring translating Polish and wiring money internationally.   I have ordered records several times through this rather intimidating process and am quite sure it has proven a barrier for many.   A new agreement will soon allow a return to the earlier process of ordering by credit card from JRI as well as the initiation of the indexing that had gone on hold.  At this point most available records through 1905 are indexed, but a backlog of newer records will need to be indexed.

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