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Family History Research

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is the preeminent repository of library and archival materials on the history and culture of East European Jewry and their descendants in the United States and elsewhere. As we are not always able to provide individual responses to the many genealogical inquiries that we receive, we would like to pass along a few pointers to assist you in your research.

If you are able to pay us a visit, this is what we can offer you:

  • The YIVO Library has quite a bit of information regarding specific cities and towns in Eastern Europe, including encyclopedias, gazetteers, and overĀ 750 memorial books (yizker-bikher).
  • The Library also has reference books on the history and geographical distribution of Jewish family names.
  • The Library owns many biographical directories and lexicons. These will be helpful if your ancestor was fairly well known. Other basic genealogical reference books, bibliographies, and newsletters may also be consulted in the YIVO Library.
  • The YIVO Library and Archives have extensive Holocaust-related holdings. (See also separate page on Resources for Studying the Holocaust.)
  • The Archives has a collection of thousands of Eastern European photographs on a videodisc, indexed by town and searchable on a computer.
  • The Archives holds the records of hundreds of landsmanshaftn (Jewish immigrant mutual aid societies based on towns of origin). Ask for the printed guide published by YIVO. (A Guide to YIVO's Landsmanshaftn Archive can also be purchased at the Jewish Book Center of the Workmen's Circle, 45 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016, (212) 889-6800 or 1-800-922-2558.)
  • YIVO can help put your family history into the larger context of Jewish history. We can direct you to sources for specific time periods, which can help you to understand how your family fits into the larger historical picture.

Please note, however:

  • With few exceptions, YIVO does not possess vital records (birth, marriage, and deaths certificates; ship passenger lists; naturalization records; or census data).
  • Unless your relatives were famous in Jewish literature, theater, politics, or religion, YIVO probably does not have specific information on your family.
  • Most materials relevant to Jewish genealogical research are not in English. YIVO's staff can guide your research but is not available to provide translation from Yiddish or other languages.

YIVO is also the home of The Miriam Weiner Genealogy Collection, an important collection of books and other materials relating to genealogical research in Eastern Europe.

For genealogical inquiries please visit the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute web page. Specific requests can be made online, by e-mail, or by phone: 917.606.8217 or 212.294.8318.