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Internet Aids Genealogists Searching for Jewish Roots

August 5, 1996
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JewishGen, an Internet site providing genealogical information, has attracted multitudes of users and expanded exponentially since it was established more than two years ago, said its president, Susan King of Houston.

Sitting at computers in their own homes and offices, users of the service can gain access to a cornucopia of resources for Jewish family tree research.

They can search an array of information files and databases, such as the Jewish Genealogical Family Finder, an index of surnames and ancestral towns being researched by more than 2,500 people worldwide.

Users can also join discussion groups on special interests or get short letters and documents translated for free with the aid of a pool of translators with knowledge of 16 languages.

“We’re getting about 3,300 or 3,500 hits per day, and there are probably double that number of people who are reading us on the newsgroup format,” King says.

“In the last six months, we’ve been visited by users from more than 50 countries.”

Registered as a non-profit corporation, JewishGen is free to users and accepts donations through its “JewishGenerosity” program.

Accessible from any Internet provider, its award-winning Web site is located at the electronic address <>.

Also accessible via JewishGen is REIPP — the Russian-Era Indexing of Poland Project.

A massive volunteer effort, this computerized index contains citations for about 100,000 Polish-Jewish births, marriages and deaths, most from about 1868 to 1900.

For its two prime organizers, Steven Zedeck of Nashua, N.H., and Michael Tobias of Glasgow, Scotland, REIPP was only a pipedream until a few years ago.

Now, they say they expect the index to contain some 2 million listings within a few years.

Another independent project connected to JewishGen is ShtetLinks, which offers detailed information about an increasing number of once-thriving Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and former Soviet territories.

According to organizers, the goal is to acquire enough information on each locality to establish “virtual shtetlach” in cyberspace.

Meanwhile, volunteers for another related project are working to establish on- line volumes about Jewish ancestral towns that will include materials translated from the original Hebrew or Yiddish.

King and the members of JewishGen’s board of directors were apparently caught by surprise when they found that in recent months the majority of users are based in Israel.

“We’re shocked by this,” says King. “We’re just seeing this now and it’s blowing us away. The only explanation I can suggest is that we were featured in the Israeli press recently, which may account for the high numbers from Israel.”

The next largest groups of users, in descending order, live in Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia.

For King, the power of the Internet can help bring people together from around the world.

“In my vision, the most important function of JewishGen is to bring Holocaust survivors together while there is still time,” she says.

“Through this medium, we’re able to help people make contact with family members that they thought had died. The power of being able to bring people together this quickly, in real time, is unbelievable. The only way we can make this happen is to get as many people involved as quickly as possible.”

JewishGen also has the power to link isolated Jewish communities to the rest of the Diaspora, says King.

“Last week, I received a message from a Jewish fellow in Argentina, and it said, `We in Argentina don’t have access to Jews very much, so thank you to JewishGen for making us better Jews.’

“When I read it, I just sat there and cried. We’re giving people a connection to the Jewish world and their Jewish heritage that they haven’t had for 50 years or more. It’s an amazing feeling.”

JewishGen is also accessible through a mailing list <>, a newsgroup <soc.genealogy.jewish>, and on Fidonet at <JEWISHGEN>.

Other non-commercial Web sites of interest to Jewish genealogists include one established by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Rochester <http://> and a Web page maintained by the Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies <>.

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