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The Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto is one of many great sources online helping start your journey into history

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The internet is a wonderful tool for genealogists, retracing their family roots in Europe. This was a contemporary depiction of their numbers, in The Jews of Central Europe (1881)

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Genealogical research can sometimes be a long and difficult road to travel, especially with our Jewish heritage and ancestral families who were born and lived in various countries, without ever moving their homes.

Yes, as many of you are aware, borders in Europe changed continuously, reminding me of the family who suffered the cold winters of Russia, the long lines for food in the Ukraine and the pogroms in Poland without ever leaving their ancestral home.

In order to research ancestors from any of our homelands in Europe, we have to be part historian, part geographer, a student of geo-political states, and have the ability to sift through documents in Russian, German and Polish, with Yiddish and other languages thrown in for good measure.

Depending on the dates that we are looking at to validate our family, or discover new branches and missing links, we need to know where and when their life cycle events occurred so that we can discern and locate the probable repository of the documents we are looking for. Will the birth certificate be located in the town records; the state archives; or in church or synagogue records? Yes, many Jewish records are located in local Catholic church archives and what country were they in at the time of the event. Once these facts are discerned, what language will I have to be proficient in to analyze and inspect these records. Based on the location and date of the event, the record may be located anywhere and in any language.

I don’t want to deter you from doing your research as the results are usually extremely gratifying. Here is an example for the border changes for Poland, and similar information is also available for the homeland you are looking at. The internet is a wonderful tool for genealogists.

In order to better develop your knowledge of which country your ancestors were located in, and the geo-political area their records are located in, I would advise that you start with the basics at one of my favorite sites, www.JewishGen.org, a massive repository of information on the life and times of our ancestors throughout history.

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Jewish Gen is the home of Jewish Genealogy with information on millions of records, with many search tools, extensive informational, educational and historical offerings. The Jewish Communities Database, Yizkor Book translations, InfoFiles, and KehilaLinks, provide critical insights, first-hand accounts, and context about Jewish communal and familial life throughout the world.

Once you define the area and time you are researching, there are many databases available from Jewish Gen which will assist you in the search for your ancestors. Databases include all of the countries in the region along with explanations and information on the origin of Jewish names, Yizkor Books, the Jewish Gen Holocaust Database, an outstanding Gazetteer, and the Family Tree of the Jewish People, just to mention a few.

An example and probably one of the finest genealogical databases available concentrates on the Polish empire with extensive research on all aspects of Jewish records in Poland. This is the award-winning research database is JRI-Poland which not only covers Poland today but Poland through time.

A 1691 French map depicting the old town neighbourhood and castle of Kalminesk Podolsk, surrounded by the winding Smotrych River (Wikipedia Public Domain)

I found information on my mothers’ family in Kalminesk Podolsk, Ukraine in the Poland JRI records that I could not find elsewhere. Indices/extractions to vital records more than 100-years old are searchable on the JRI-Poland online database. JRI-Poland can also direct researchers to detailed information on how to find records less than 100-years old from specific towns now in Poland and in the Lviv, Ternopil or Ivano Frankivsk districts of Ukraine.

Depending on the area you are researching, there are many resources online for you to review and explore your ancestral background and hometown, but keep in mind that borders constantly changed over the last 500 years and you may not be from where you thought you were.

For more assistance, join your local Jewish Genealogical Society. If you do not have a local society, you are always welcome to join us at The Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto.

At this time of Covid19 and probably ongoing, we, and many other societies will probably continue to meet via zoom as we enter a new age of communications and support for our members. Join our mailing list for up to date information on programs and resources from us and around the world of interest to our Jewish genealogical community.

Mel Fishman is the President of The Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto (JGS Toronto).

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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