Useful databases at AJHS-NEA

HIAS imageAs the American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives (AJHS–NEA) has only recently formed a strategic partnership with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), anyone interested in New England Jewish history or genealogy may want to know about several databases and collections that might be specifically useful for genealogical research. They include the following:

The Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Boston (HIAS). The Boston office of HIAS was chartered in 1904 and operated autonomously from the national office in New York, even after their merger in 1916. HIAS assisted Jewish immigrants coming into the Port of Boston, and those seeking to help family members in Europe, especially during and just after World War II. (See, for example, Lael Dalal’s recent post on the Aghassi family.) Along with immigration assistance, HIAS also ensured that Jewish immigrants had access to religious services and kosher food as well as shelter and social services, and assisted immigrants with finding employment and schools, often on short notice.

The collection consists of arrival cards that have such information as the person’s (or persons’) name, age, ship’s name, date and place of departure, and date of arrival. In some cases there is additional information, such as the name and address of the person they are going to and the amount of money on their person at the time of their arrival. If a family is traveling together, first names and ages of individuals are listed on the card as well. The collection also includes individual case files that very seldom correspond to the arrival cards but often contain a wealth of information. These files include such documents as affidavits vouching that the potential immigrant will have financial assistance on arrival, tracer correspondence in an effort to locate relatives, requests for immigration assistance once relatives were located, and agency notes concerning problems encountered and resolutions, if any. There are a few passenger lists, ship manifests, scrapbooks, and photographs also included in the HIAS collection. The HIAS collection has helped many genealogists over the years, some of whom were unable to find family information elsewhere.

Another database  of interest to genealogists is Jewish Cemeteries of Massachusetts. Created in collaboration with NEHGS  together with the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts and the American Jewish Historical Society, AJHS–NEA has made available a comprehensive database of Jewish cemeteries in Massachusetts. Currently, the database contains the records of thirteen Jewish cemeteries. More records will be added weekly until all 106 JCAM cemeteries are online. The names in this extensive database cover the years 1844 to the present, and, when completed later this year, will offer access to more than 100,000 names of Jewish Americans buried in Massachusetts.

The Boston Jewish Advocate Newspaper database is available onsite only but is a wonderful resource for birth and marriage announcements and obituary notices. The newspaper also chronicles the activities and events of almost a century of the Boston Jewish community.

Although our library is small, it includes reference resources of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, the American Jewish Yearbook (1899–2003), and the American Jewish Quarterly (1899–2010), all of which are great resources for genealogists.

About Judi Garner

Judi has worked for the American Jewish Historical Society New England Archives since 2001 and is responsible for overseeing the daily operations and administration of AJHS-NEA while participating in the development of a long-range vision for the Society as a new member of the NEHGS team. Judi received an A.B. in History from Wellesley College where her focus was on American Jewish History and Women in American History. She also earned a M.S. degree in Library and Information Science from Simmons College, with a concentration in Archival Management. Judi is currently a member of the Society of American Archivists and the New England Archivists.

2 thoughts on “Useful databases at AJHS-NEA

  1. is a look-up available? it may flop, but it’s worth a try to find my Northern Russian, slightly Jewish (per dna testing) great grandfather who lived in Boston in the 1880’s and 1890’s. I say it may be a flop because he might not even know about his Jewish heritage. I know it is either him or a gr., gr., gr. grandmother whom we know almost nothing about, and had no connection with Massachusetts unless it was earlier ancestry. I’m checking on Charles (Karl) J. Wagner, seaman/mariner, b. abt 1856 Congress (Russian occupied) Poland. he arrived first in America in 1878 through the port of New Orleans, disappears until he marries a Scottish seamstress in Boston in 1884. I have the ship’s record, their marriage record, some of his work and medical records, but little else.

  2. Dear Ms. Moore,

    First of all, thank you for your interest. I’m wondering what kinds of records you are looking for specifically? Your relative did not enter the Port of Boston so we would have no records in our Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Collection as that is Boston related only. Do you think your Great grandfather remained in Boston? I did do a search in the Jewish Advocate and the Boston Globe databases but nothing came up under that name (both first name spellings.) You may want to contact the New England Historic Genealogical Society, our partner organization, to see if they can trace any other documentation concerning your Great Grandfather. The Chief Genealogist at the NEHGS is David Lambert and he can be contacted at

    Judi Garner, Director
    AJHS – NEA

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