06 May 2011

JDC Archive: Finding gold!

Looking for lost relatives? Try the searchable, online archive of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) launched earlier this week. Even more documents will be added during the summer.

Read about the goldmine of records in an NPR story, which mentions the work of volunteer transcribers and how the past president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York - Linda Cantor - found a relative.

JDC has made a collection of its historic records and photographs from the Holocaust period available online on its Shared Legacy website. During and after WWII, the organization cared for hundreds of thousands of Jews in many places around the world. JDC supported Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler in Kobe, Japan until 1941, and supported Jewish refugees in Yokohama (1918-20), most fleeing Russia. It supplied free parcels to thousands of Jewish individuals and families in the Soviet Union, 1943-45. And that's only scratching the surface.

JDC was also active in Iran until 1978 or so. It supported schools, an old-age home, kindergartens and the Jewish hospital, particularly in the 1950s and earlier. But this current collection focuses on Holocaust records.

The online database has more than 500,000 names; more will be added. There are some 1,500 photos from 14 countries - readers help in tagging the photos is sought.

Among those receiving assistance from the JDC was number 665 on page 2 of a list of beneficiaries of JDC’s free parcel service in the Soviet Union, 1943-1945:

There is a list of more than 6,300 individuals and families who received these packages. An addendum lists name and address changes for those in the main list. This was an interesting find in their new online archives.

When searching for BANK, my maternal great-grandmother's family near Kovno, my first search brought up a list of 270 names -  but only a few were Bank, many others were Band, Blank and others. There is no provision for "exact" searches.

I tried to go through the many pages, clicking on names to see the birthplaces of individuals in various lists, but when I tried to return to the search results there was often an error page ("There are no results matching your query. SEARCH AGAIN"). Whether this is due to high traffic, I don't yet know. I tried several times, sometimes reaching the list, more often not.

A second try brought up the list again. People were listed as going to Uruguay, Australia, the US and many other locations. I haven't yet found any on the list from around Kovno, but I'll keep looking.

For FINK (my maternal grandfather), there were some 135 results with geographical locations of Shanghai, Israel, Brazil, Australia and more. Some were from Galicia - I was looking for Skalat and Suchostaw and have not found those yet, although I did find Grybow, Lemberg (Lviv) and other towns I knew relatives had lived in, according to JRI-Poland.org.

Tracing the Tribe believes this information may be a goldmine for many researchers. Unfortunately, the search engine is far from ideal. Where is Steve Morse and his One Step programs when we need him?

To search properly through these valuable records, there should be provisions for "sounds like," "begins with," "exact," etc. To avoid going through a list of hundreds of names, it would have been good to put the person's birthplace with his or her name in the list of results. Thus, a search could be narrowed down more usefully. There should be a way to search for birthplace or other geographical locations to narrow down results for a more practical search. There is only one search field - last name or first and last name.

To see what JDC has done in its history, click here for a roundup by decades.

This is a very valuable collection of records but somewhat difficult to negotiate because of the current search engine. So grab yourself a cup of something, and settle down for a long search.

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