Every family history researcher doing a genealogical search yearns to time travel back to the “old world”. If the genealogical researcher is doing an ancestor search in Poland, genealogical research in Eastern Europe or is a family history researcher looking at the Pale of Settlement, it is possible to go home to the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s—now!
Genealogists can take a trip back in time with the newest online addition at the Institute for Jewish Research (YIVO): The YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland.
This new web portal provides the family history researcher with access to thousands of digitized documents, manuscripts, photographs, artworks, films, and audio recordings relating to the Jewish community in Poland before World War II.
According to YIVO, the new YIVO site has been conceived as an educational experience and a research tool, and was developed to serve a broad audience of both the general public and scholars.
For family history researchers who may be doing a genealogical search in Poland or the Pale of Settlement, this YIVO site covers the time period from the Statute of Kalisz in 1264 (the first privilege granted to Jews by a Polish ruler) to the period of the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, the 123 years during which partitioned Poland was divided up by Russia, Prussia and Austria, and the period of the Republic of Poland between the two world wars.
As those who specialize in Jewish genealogy know, Poland was once the home of the largest Jewish community in the world. It was a great center of Jewish political, cultural, and religious life. YIVO’s Polish Jewish Archive is the only substantial American collection, and one of very few worldwide, which was saved from the destruction of World War II.
The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research was founded in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania), in 1925. In 1940, this treasure for the family history researcher relocated to New York City. It has been there since. YIVO’s mission is to study the thousand-year history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe and Russia in all its aspects: language, history, religion, folkways and material culture. This has long been one of the most important places for the family history researcher who is doing a genealogical research in Poland or people doing an ancestor search in Russia or those doing Jewish genealogical research.
For the family history researcher, YIVO is surprisingly abundant in its full extended collection.
Some highlights of the full YIVO collection are:
- Online exhibitions with information and photographs from the collections
- 385,000 books and periodicals in twelve major languages in the YIVO Library
- Unique Vilna Collection of 40,000 volumes with 25,000 rabbinical works from as early as the 16th century
- 24 million documents, photographs, recordings, posters, films, videotapes, and items of ephemera
- The world’s largest collection of East European Jewish sound recordings
- Over 200,000 photographs
- 400+ videos and films
- 50,000 posters documenting Jewish life from the 1900s to the present
- Thousands of handwritten eyewitness accounts by Holocaust survivors and displaced persons
- Community records and documents from the Warsaw, Lodz and Vilna ghettos
- Over 750 memorial books from Jewish communities in Poland and neighboring countries
- Records of early immigrant relief and rescue organizations
- Autobiographies of hundreds of American Jewish immigrants
- The Bund Archives
- A Library that traces the Jewish Labor Movement from its inception in Vilna in 1897
- The world’s most extensive Yiddish music and theater collection
The new easy-to-use The YIVO Digital Archive on Jewish Life in Poland website is just part of it all. This always curious family history researcher tried it and found it quite easy to use.
Since my paternal grandparents were from Galicia, I decided to see what I could find using the new website. As I do when I go anywhere, I checked for all the relevant last names in my family history searches. With this website, I just entered them in the search bar. As it turned out, there were instantly several Littman entries which I had never before seen. All that in under 10 seconds! Online genealogy has come a long way in such a short time. It is far from the days of schlepping everywhere and sitting for hours in dark rooms over microfiche. Now we can sit in our homes (sometimes in dark rooms) and stare at screens. Much more convenient!
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