05 February 2013

JewishGen Special Interest Groups

Most of us with Eastern European Jewish ancestry grew up with the supposed truism: everything was destroyed during World War II. There are no Jewish communities or records. You're interested in family history? Forgetaboutit! 

But, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 changed all that. Suddenly archives and archivists, especially in the formerly satellite nations, were more open to sharing. Jewish Records Indexing - Poland (started in 1995) and Miriam Weiner's Eastern European Archival Database should have dispelled any notion that there were no records. With these efforts and the efforts of the Family History Library we seem to be entering a new golden age for Eastern European Jewish genealogy and the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are at the forefront of finding records and making them available and accessible.   

Hail to the SIGs

Special Interest Groups within JewishGen seem to be working at a frenzied pace. Not a week seems to go by without one of them announcing acquisition, or translation, or indexing, or posting of new and exciting records for researchers. This is a relatively new and welcome phenomenon.*

The 26 Special Interest Groups that may be found on JewishGen are either geographically or topically oriented groups either part of or hosted by JewishGen. They may be broadly focused (such JRI-Poland and its interest in records from within the boundaries of 19th and 20th century Poland) or narrowly focused on a particular calling (Yiddish Theatre and Vaudeville Research Group). Some, like JRI-Poland, Bessarabia SIG and Gesher Galicia specialize in areas that cross-cut current national boundaries. In the case of the Ukraine SIG, it has, for the most part, been relegated those areas of the current Ukraine that are not included in for former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. JewishGen divvied up the SIG geographical areas to ensure that the boundaries of the SIGs do not overlap. All of them are geared to support the individual researcher's area of interest.

Most of these groups also host mailing lists or discussion forums to which one may subscribe. Access to these lists or forums is free, but one must register (for free) with JewishGen. This link to the mailing list requires JewishGen registration.

Getting There

To see all SIGs accessible from JewishGen.org, start at the Home Page, hover over the Research tab and click on Special Interest Groups.

You will come to a page that lists all the SIGs accessible from JewishGen. If you know which SIG you wish to access, click the name. If you are unsure of which SIG would include the area with your village of interest, look in the lower right part of this page. You may use this search feature to go your village's Community Page. In this case I've entered the name of one of my ancestral villages: Yurovshchina.

The appropriate SIG for the village entered will be identified at the bottom of the community page.

Next up, we'll examine one emerging Special Interest Group: Ukraine SIG and talk with one of its leaders, Ron Doctor.

* JRI-Poland started in 1995 and now has 4.5 million records indexed from the geographical area within 19th and 20th century Poland. Starting much more recently with its indexing projects, Gesher Galicia already has about 200,000 records indexed online. As of 2012, the All Lithuania Database of Litvak SIG has more than 1,200,000 records indexed. These three are all independent organizations hosted by JewishGen.

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