I enjoyed the Exit Ramp on genealogy by Karen Galatz, “Filling in some of my back pages” (Dec. 5, 2019). As someone who once spent a lot of time tracing my own family history, I fear that the column may discourage some readers from conducting their own searches. Having had many successes as well as some of the challenges mentioned in the column, I would like to share a few things with readers.
All records were not destroyed in the Holocaust. Many records survived, and many have been and are in the process of being digitized. An excellent example of this is Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (JRI-PL) at jri-poland.org. JRI-PL has created indexes and extractions of more than 5 million Jewish birth, marriage, and death records dating back over 100 years. Old records exist for many other countries as well. I have obtained marriage and birth records dating back over 110 years, as well as the name, family tree, and approximate year of birth of 1800 for my great-great-grandfather, from the national archives in Latvia.
The JewishGen website is a gold mine of information about how and where to conduct a search. Over 1,000 volunteers help to gather and organize collections of records, cemeteries, book translations, and publications, and create web pages dedicated to many of the old shtetls of our ancestors. It also connects many thousands of people who share information with each other about towns and family histories.
As I did my research and read about the history of Jews in Europe, I learned that while our ancestors lived in various places even for extended periods of time, where they lived is not the same as where they were from. Having been forced to move again and again over the centuries, they may have been born in one place and lived in another, but they were never from those places. For centuries they dreamed of and longed for their true home. I imagine they would be amazed and delighted to know that their descendants live in or are free to travel at any time to Israel. We should all know that delight.