Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Landsmanshaftn Collections at the Center for Jewish History, New York City

For those of you with more than a passing interest in a particular landsmanshaftn (mutual aid societies established by many of our ancestors to assist their fellow Jews from the same hometown who came to live in such countries as the U.S.), you should consider visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room, found within the Center for Jewish History (CJH), which is located within the YIVO building in New York City. Whether it be AJHS's collection entitled "Landsmanshaftn and other town and country-related organizations incorporated in New York County, 1848-1920" which can be found at http://www.jgsny.org/landsmanshaft/ajhs.htm), or YIVO's catalogued landsmanshaftn collection (found at http://www.jgsny.org/landsmanshaft/yivo.htm), you might be surprised by some of the material you may find.

First, search the tables on these pages (there are also some other worthwhile collections to peruse at http://www.jgsny.org/ to see if the European town you're interested in, or the landsmanshaft itself, is listed. If so, and if it is possible for you to go there yourself, visit the Reading Room between most any Monday through Thursday and the friendly and helpful staff will help you find what you need.

When I visited the Reading Room a few weeks ago in search of historical information about the society to which I belong to, i.e. the United Zembrover Society, I was pleased to find plenty of interesting material, and you might too for your own town or society of interest. Of course, there might also be very little there for you even if a folder for your society exists, but you never know until you check.

The AJHS (The American Jewish Historical Society) has many incorporation papers on microfilm, and you are permitted to copy by yourself any of the pages of interest you find for a quarter per page.

As to incorporation papers, you will probably find the date the society was incorporated, the names of the officers and their official positions (and even their home addresses); the "purpose" of their society being formed, and more.

On YIVO's landsmanshaftn papers, you may find hard copies of many papers, ledgers, photographs, names and addresses of members, and even souvenir journals. Sometimes, of course, papers or journals may be solely or mostly in Yiddish, but not always. What also is of interest are the maps they sometimes have of the society's burial plots. They may also have copies of contracts made between a society and a cemetery for a purchased plot that the society wished to use to bury their members when the time came. The helpful staff that works within the Reading Room will charge you thirty-five cents per page to copy the materials they hold, but they will do the copying for you.

So why not check out at least the two aforementioned webpages when you can? By doing so, and then perusing either the microfilm or society's papers, you may learn when a society was formed, who the officers were, maybe when a particular cemetery plot was purchased (on how much space for how much money), or when the society gate was erected, etc. You may also find other interesting items within these collections, but you'll have to check what each folder or microfilm contains.

If you don't live in the NYC area but discover that records are available for your society, you may want to contact the Center for Jewish History by e-mail or phone and ask them what you're options are for getting copies of these materials. The URL for the Lillian Goldman Reading Room is http://www.cjh.org/collections/readingroom.php.

Best of luck!

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