Baruch Even's Blog

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Searching Yad Vashem Holocaust Records
22nd May 2005

The three main resources that I used so far for my genealogical research (besides my own family), are:

The Yizkor books resource is the simplest of them, once you know where your family came from you can look the place name in their list and read the Yizkor book, if there is one. Several pitfalls in this route are, the books are in Hebrew and/or Yiddish, if you speak none of these languages, you can try to see if the book was translated to English by the generous volunteers of JewishGen Yizkor Book Project. Another pitfall is that you need to figure out the name of the town, names changed, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not. There are also versions of the name, my mothers family came from Czernovitz, but while under Romanian rule, the city was known as Cernauti. Similar but not exact. You might need to try and search for name synonyms.

The JewishGen website is vast and large, I'll skip describing working with it for now.

So we get to the Yad Vashem website, it provides a very good search engine which enables you to search in multiple ways and many options. And that is it's problem. I have tried to ask them for data dumps or database access to try and develop a more comprehensive search method but they said they are unable to grant my wish. And never replied to my question if doing this externally through their existing search form is OK with them.

So how do I search for my relatives in the Yad Vashem database?

The first stage is to have all your information in an easy to access form, you want to have the family names, before and after marriage, first names, place of birth and place of death. If you have only part of the data, knowing the name and place of birth is the most useful.

I then search for the family and place of birth, for example: REITSHTEIN in Kurenets. This gives a relatively small list that needs to be read through, and verify the matches. You want to look that the mother and father name match. You often get a few bits of information to add to your notes such as profession and time and place of death.

One thing you want to do when finding a match is to see who submitted the witness page, it might be someone you can try to ask for some more information. It might even be a remote relative of yours. One thing useful in the website is to search for other pages that this submitter submitted. There is even a search button in the witness page to do just that. Use it, you may find relatives that you might not have known to even search for. In my case I found Baruch Reitshtein, and through the submitter search I found Ilana Alperovitz, who was his mother or Baruch and the wife of Gedalya Reitshtein, my grandfather's brother.

This sort of invaluable information is something that unless I knew that my family was married to the Alperovitz'es I wouldn't even be searching for.

The next search that you might want to do is in the Yad Vashem advanced search. There you might search by the first names of the parents of your grandfather. This can yield names that might not have had the maiden name.

Pay attention to where peoples were born, sometimes you will find a person who was born in one place and lived in another, this is a clue for you to search for other peoples from that place as well. You could also try to take a map of the area and search for peoples from places nearby your search place, but that is a tedious task and the yields are not guaranteed. In my case the shtetl Dolginov shows a few REISHTEINs, but according to my grandfather he knew them but they were not part of the family.

The catch in these searches is that you can search for each name and place with the options of Exact, Fuzzy, Soundex and Synonym. This creates a lot of options to search for. I found that Synonym is the most useful (and it is the default), but sometimes you got the name wrong and a soundex or a fuzzy search will help you find the correct name.

Persistence is an important virtue when doing your genealogical excavations, I still sometimes return to the search engines to try some other combination that I probably forgot about, or a lead that I missed. In the course of this article I retried looking for the mother of Gedalya Reitshtein, and found the page of Sara-Elka Mekler who was her mother. I didn't find a page for her husband Avraham Alperovitz, but that could mean that he didn't die in the holocaust. Unfortunately the Yad Vashem website only lists positive information on peoples who died but not on peoples who survived. This is left to be asked of their relatives, if they can still be found.

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