An Introduction to Jewish Genealogy in Manitoba

by Louis Kessler

Readers Note: This document was originally designed to be given to beginning Genealogists in our society. However, it contains much information that is general enough to be of use to any interested newcomer to the hobby. I hope this provides you with a little "how" on your way to find "who", "when", "where", and "why".


1 - Getting Started
2 - Adding to What You Have
3 - Computerizing
4 - Getting Serious
5 - Making It All Worthwhile

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1 - Getting Started

Gather What You Can

You have probably become interested in your family history because you already know something about your family and want to know more. Start with yourself and your immediate family and see how much you can collectively remember. Go through your house and find photo albums, scrapbooks, or anything else that can help jog your memory.

Learn About Genealogy

Go to the public library and borrow some books on Genealogy. There are many excellent basic books that can answer most of your questions. You will also find books specific to research in Canada, and there are also books specific to Jewish Genealogy. Be sure to check out the book by Arthur Kurzweil: From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Personal History.

What to Collect

It is entirely up to you. Ancestors only? All relatives? Everyone with certain family names? Do you want to follow all your lines back or do only a few or even one line interest you most?

What information will you collect? Names (Surname, Given name, Middle names, Maiden name, Nicknames, Hebrew or Yiddish names, Namesake) Dates (Birth, Marriage, Death, Burial, Bar/Bas Mitzvah, Immigration, other events) Places (Birth, Marriage, Death, Burial, Bar/Bas Mitzvah, Immigration, other events) Addresses, Phone Numbers, Notes (to explain anything that needs explaining) Stories (to bring life to the people) Photos, Personal Documents, Legal Papers, Newspaper Clippings, Obituaries, Maps, Letters, and anything else that is of interest.

Organize Your Information

There are as many ways to organize your Genealogical info as there are ways to organize your desk. From the basic books on Genealogy, find a style you like best. An ancestry (or pedigree) chart, and Family Group sheets are considered as basic equipment. Use looseleaf binders and store your information together in groups of families. Start simple, and add to your system as your requirements grow. Choose a very simple numbering scheme so that you can find information about a person, or cross reference a person very easily. Numbering schemes will drive you crazy, so just do it, and in a year you can change it to what you really like. Same goes for your original organizational system. Do not computerize right away. You will find you will be amassing information so fast at first, that a simple manual method of organization is best. After a while, you will have the basic structure of your family outlined. Then you can computerize and make future work easier.

Document Your Findings

Keep a special binder to document all the research you have done. All of your handwritten notes, photocopies, clippings, and other documentary evidence should go into the binder. Organize the items by place or person that you obtained the item from. The reason for this is so that if you went back to that place or person for further research, you would know what you previously obtained. Number each item, and put references to these sources in your family information. You will be happy you did several years later when you forget where you got something, especially when you run into conflicting information.

Set Some Standards

Use mixed case in your own records for surnames, but use CAPITALS for surnames in correspondence. Give the maiden name (birth surname) for women. Enclose nicknames, or changed names in double quotes, i.e. " ". Dates are best in the form: 24 JUN 1983. Again, the basic books on Genealogy can help you here.

Keep Private Information Private

Be sensitive to others, and do not record anything anyone would not want to be made public. This may include divorces, adoptions, addresses, phone numbers, or even birthdates. If you must record this information, keep it separate so you will not inadvertently publish it or otherwise give it out.

Making Up a Family Tree

Once you have enough names and several generations, be bold and make up a large wall-chart with all the relatives you know of on it. Let others see it and add to it. Then make small copies that you can carry with you or send out to people.

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2 - Adding to What You Have

Contact Your Relatives

Visit them, phone them, and write them. Start with your oldest relatives first. They may remember more than you might think they do. If they pass away before you talk to them, that information will be lost forever. Get everything you can from all the relatives you can before starting to research written records. A single clue or bit of information from a relative may save you hours in locating the records you will be looking for.

Visit the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada

Their offices are at C116 - 123 Doncaster Street in Winnipeg, at the Asper Jewish Community Campus. Irma Penn is their full time archivist. She can help you with their wealth of information. Of specific interest will be: a computerized database of over 40,000 articles from the Jewish Post and Israelite Press dating back to 1910, including over 18,000 genealogical items. An indexed photo file with thousands of photos. Hundreds of taped interviews of our Jewish Pioneers. 15,000 indexed and browsable photos of nearly all the Jewish cemetery stones in Manitoba. A large library of books of historical and genealogical interest. Also check out their list of extensive archival holdings. Their archival holdings include dozens of local Jewish family trees, marriage records, synagogue records, family histories and documents, and other items.

You should consider joining the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. They have a Genealogical Institute, a group of over 30 local Jewish Genealogists who get together from time to time to discuss their endeavors, have workshops, and do special projects. Annual membership is only $36.

Visit the Cemeteries

The four major Jewish Cemeteries in Winnipeg are the Shaarey Zedek, the Hebrew Sick, the B'nay Abraham, and the Rosh Pina. A Jewish tombstone often contains very valuable information for a Genealogist - and usually includes the father's Hebrew name. An index and photos of all the burials in Manitoba is available at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

Other Local Records Available

The Department of Vital Statistics will supply Genealogists with photocopies of official Birth, Marriage, or Death Certificates. These often contain valuable information about an individual's parents or place of origin. However, the cost is steep at $25 a document, so use the service prudently.

The Mormon Family Research Library in the Mormon Church on Dalhousie is our local access to the vast amount of Genealogical Information stored by the Mormons in Salt Lake City. Once you start researching your East-European roots, you will need to check what their records contain.

The Manitoba Genealogical Society in Winnipeg has a large Genealogical library / Resource Centre and has an extensive index of obituaries from Manitoba newspapers.

The Winnipeg Public Library and the Manitoba Legislative Library both have back issues of Winnipeg newspapers and Henderson's directories available.

The Manitoba Archives has a wealth of other archived material. They also have microfilmed ship passenger arrival lists.

Other Resources Worldwide

There are too many to review here. The best Jewish resources are in New York City, Toronto, Washington, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. The National Archives in Ottawa also has extensive records. The best sources of Eastern Europe material is at YIVO in New York City, and at the Mormon Library in Salt Lake City.

There are over 60 different Jewish Genealogical Societies worldwide. The Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada has back issues of the Newsletters from most of them. One of these Societies may be able to be of further help to you.


Every serious Jewish Genealogist must subscribe to Avotaynu, The International Review of Jewish Genealogy. This is a journal published four times a year out of Teaneck, New Jersey.

At about $30 US a year, each issue contains invaluable information on new sources for researching your Jewish roots. The Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada keeps back issues.

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3 - Computerizing

Computer Programs

At some point, the erasing and rewriting will get to you and you will want to produce nice looking family charts and reports. You will be ready to try computerizing your family data. The choice is overwhelming. There are 100's of different computer programs available for Genealogists. They are not too expensive, averaging about $60. Many are shareware - which means try before you buy. Some of the better shareware programs are: Brother's Keeper, Cumberland Family Tree, and Family Scrapbook. Some of the better commercial programs (buy before you try) are: Personal Ancestral File, Reunion, Family Tree Maker, The Master Genealogist, and Ultimate Family Tree.

Sharing Computerized Data

One of the greatest features of computer programs for Genealogy is their ability to share data. Almost all programs have the ability to produce a transportable file called a GEDCOM File. This file can be then read by any other genealogical program.

There is one main collection being made of Jewish GEDCOM Files. It is a collective effort of JewishGen along with the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and Beth Hatefutsoth in Israel. This collection is known as the Family Tree of the Jewish People. It is being made available for online access and on CD-Rom. It already has several hundred thousand names contributed by hundreds of Jewish Genealogists. You will want to send your GEDCOM to be added to this collection. Then other genealogists may find a connection to your family, and will most likely contact you to your mutual benefit. There is no cost to contribute your GEDCOM.

The Internet, Discussion Groups, and E-Mail

With Internet access, you will have access to a multitude of resources to help you with your Jewish Genealogy. Your primary starting address for Jewish Genealogy should be:

http://www.jewishgen.org - the JewishGen Home Page.
The JewishGen website is the result of the work of countless people and has become the central focus for Jewish Genealogical research on the Internet. The site is vast, and it will take you quite awhile before you get a real feeling for what is there. After that, there are many other Internet sources as well. My Jewish Genealogy Links page can help you sort them out.

JewishGen hosts the JewishGen Discussion Group which can be accessed as either a mailing list or Newsgroup. It is through the JewishGen Discussion Group that Jewish Genealogists worldwide send queries and receive answer to requests for family information or general tips on getting further with your Jewish genealogical research. Thousands of Jewish Genealogists actively read and take part in the JewishGen Discussion Group. Traffic averages about 40 messages a day.

E-mail is the killer application of the 1990's and beyond. Writing and sending letters is a chore, but writing an E-mail message is easy and fun. E-mail will allow you to send and receive private messages with anyone on the Internet. Other Internet resources may lead to you someone or someone to you, but then you can continue a private discussion via E-mail.

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4 - Getting Serious

Family Get-togethers

Whenever you will be meeting out-of-town relatives who you seldom see or talk to, make sure you are prepared in advance with your family tree info about their side of the family. At the affair, make some time to talk about the family with these relatives. If the moment is right, take out the family tree, and their eyes will pop out! Go through it with them, and mark any additions or corrections on the tree as you go.

Annual Summer Seminar on Jewish Genealogy

Every year, a major international conference is held for Jewish Genealogists. Many of the most knowledgeable people in Jewish Genealogy are there from all parts of the world. The professional lectures and information and networking with others is a four-day continuous bombardment of wonders. If you can at all make it to any one Genealogical event, make it this one. You won't be sorry.

Visit Salt Lake City, New York, Jerusalem ...

Go where the records are, and spend some time with them - at least a week in any locale. Make sure you do your homework before you go, though. You don't want to waste any time looking up information that you could have found out at home or by mail. And you especially don't want to forget to bring (a copy of) your Genealogical material with you for reference.

Jewish organizations often sponsor group trips to these locales. These organized trips are usually worthwhile since a professional genealogist often accompanies the trip to help at the site, and the professional archivists at the site give you higher priority. Check with the Jewish Heritage Centre or read Avotaynu for information on these type of trips.

Going Back to Your Roots

The ultimate, of course, is to go back to Eastern Europe and research your roots yourself, going right into your ancestral towns, going through the cemeteries, and visiting the archives. This is not something for the fainthearted! You will need to have an interpreter with you if you do not speak the language. It is expensive; food, accommodations, and travel may not be what you are used to, and it could even be dangerous - you will most likely want a guide.

But ... if you can do it, you may reap Genealogical rewards like you have never seen. Find out from others who have gone before you attempt it. If you want to go, plan to go sooner than later. There are still some older people living there, who may remember something.

Hiring a Professional

If you want the easy, but very expensive way - hire a professional. There are several excellent professional Jewish Genealogists who can do the job. Talk to others who have used them first.

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5 - Making It All Worthwhile


Do not let your information go to waste. Send copies to your family. Get them interested.

You can produce a family book if you wish. There are many good Genealogy books to help you do this. Do not wait until all your information is perfect. It will never be perfect!


Donate a copy of your Genealogy or family history to the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. They will ensure that your research will be preserved for all time, and will make it available for others to research.

Pass your hobby on to your children. Get them interested and tell them stories about your past. Let them continue the work you started.


Above all, enjoy Genealogy as a hobby and as a pursuit. There are times you will make very little progress. Do not get frustrated. Just leave it for awhile, and you will get back to it when you get an idea or if some interesting pieces of information come up. There is nothing like the discovery of some unknown or little-known fact that will boost your interest again.

Remember, this is a hobby you can never finish. Every new person you discover in your family will lead to more questions. Figure out where you want to go and work to get there and then go further!

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