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The Australian Jewish Genealogical Society (Victoria) is conducting a survey and inventory of all collections of documents of Jewish lives in Victoria. The inventory will be available in JCat, enabling anyone with interest to research and discover Jewish ancestors.

How Do We Help the Jewish People?

The Documentation of Jewish Records Worldwide (DoJR) project is building JCat, the world’s largest, most comprehensive catalogue of documents recording Jewish lives.

JCat helps people discover their Jewish ancestors, learn who came before them, how those ancestors lived, and the ways in which their ancestral past shapes who they are today and will become in the future. Discovery of one’s family history leads to a strengthened, more informed identity, connection to the Jewish people, its history and heritage, and serves as a foundation for the future of Jewishness. Research shows that children who know their family history are strengthened by their awareness and have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront challenges.

An estimated 85% of surviving Jewish records are sitting on shelves and in boxes in facilities such as yours — perhaps unknown to the community searching for documentation to identify and build their family trees — one Jewish life, one Jewish ancestor at a time — to piece together their ancestor’s life stories for themselves and for  future generations.

By participating in the DoJR project, you are helping to bring Jewish history and heritage to not only to your local community but also to the international community with connections to Jewish Victoria.

Why is Australian Data Especially Important?

Researchers around the world know little of Australian Jewish family history data, yet Australia should have a large representation on the family tree of the Jewish people. Australia ranks ninth in Jewish population worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of individuals all over the world have unknown ancestral connections to the Jewish immigrants who sought a new and better life in Australia.

Jews have been present in Australia since the first fleet. While we are privileged to have Jewish history recorded from the very beginning of Australian colonial settlement, there exists a large body of contemporary records of Jewish lives which remains unknown and uncatalogued.

Australia is largely underrepresented, and even missing entirely, from the most-used databases for ancestral research such as those found on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, JewishGen, and MyHeritage. This is not because the relevant records don’t exist; no inventory is available to enable and inspire historians, graduate students, and genealogists to create databases to share with current future generations.

Together we will create that inventory; it is long overdue.

How Is Data Privacy Protection Maintained?

You own your data. It remains under your privacy protection.

What goes into JCat is not the data from your records, but rather descriptive data about the records, i.e., the type of data they hold. In the same way that a library has a card catalogue, JCat is an online catalogue. Like the books on a library’s shelves, your records remain on your shelves or in your boxes and databases; entirely under your control.

For example, a JCat entry will show only that you have a list of past presidents from 1960-2021. It would not mention any names. We don’t have the names. Each organisation decides what information, if any, to disclose to a researcher, who may initiate an inquiry.

Which of Our Records Will You Inventory?

An organisation often has lists of past presidents, other officers, and membership records. Your organisation may have additional, specialised documents; a synagogue, for example, has yahrzeit records.

We will review your record inventory with you to identify anything that might be relevant for family history.

How Much Staff Time and Attention Will the Survey Require?

We wish to spend roughly 30-45 minutes with a member of your organisation to explore what types of record collections you hold that are relevant for family history research and to determine if they are open access or restricted.

Additional time may be spent with our team as they create the descriptive information about each record collection. i.e., the time frame of each collection (from when to when), estimated number of records in a collection, and their formats. On average, a record collection takes about five minutes to describe.

Our team also may be able to work independently, utilising pre-existing inventories and need your staff only to provide access to examine the collection; or may work alongside your staff as circumstances warrant.

What Costs Are Involved?

None. No costs are involved either for your organisation or for the users of JCat.

What Are Examples of Records in Your Inventory That Are Helpful to the Jewish Community?

Our recent survey found eleven large boxes of applications for entry into Australia from 11,000 Jews in about 750 families living in the former Soviet Union. The applications included passports, photographs, birth certificates and other documents of relevance to family history researchers. Using these documents, thousands of Australians today can trace these branches of their family tree.

Not all applications were approved and many applicants eventually went elsewhere — to the US, Israel, and other countries. Some descendants of the 11,000 applicants still live in Russia or in other parts of the world, but records such as these are extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible to obtain from Russia today. Thanks to the survey’s discovery, descendants of applicants who never set foot in Australia will be able to trace branches of their family from a unique and unexpected source. Only because of the entry in JCat will they know to look in Victoria to access data from their Soviet ancestors’ lives.

We also came upon a collection of applications for Jewish gravestone inscriptions at the Melbourne General Cemetery. A traditional Jewish gravestone often is the only record of the Hebrew name of the deceased’s father, thus, moving the family history back one more generation. These invaluable records, dating from 1860 onward are still intact, although the condition of the gravestones themselves has deteriorated with many now smashed and/or completely illegible.

Who is Backing This Project?

The Australian Jewish Genealogical Society (Victoria) (AJGS (Vic)) is conducting this local survey in partnership with the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and the L’Dor V’Dor Foundation (LDVDF), both not-for-profit, international organisations.

About the AJGS (Vic): The AJGS (Vic) is a central resource for members of its local community interested in tracing their Jewish ancestry, and for members of the international community seeking assistance tracing their ancestors who lived in or visited Victoria. AJGS (Vic) is a long-standing member of IAJGS and the first of its 95 societies to conduct a DoJR regional survey to discover and inventory documentation of Jewish lives. The society is proud to be a pioneer in this innovative project essential for our regional Jewish history and heritage so that it may be discovered and understood by both our local community and the Jewish people worldwide connected to the Australian Diaspora.

About the IAJGS: The IAJGS, founded in 1988, is a network of 95 societies (JGSs) worldwide to help individuals discover their Jewish ancestors. Jewish genealogical societies are interest groups that help members connect through family history discovery. They provide education in research techniques and records, mentoring for beginners, research assistance, access to research libraries, and opportunities to volunteer. Many societies undertake programs and workshops with renowned family historians both virtually and in person. The IAJGS convenes the annual international conference on Jewish genealogy in various cities around the world. The Documentation of Jewish Records Worldwide (DoJR) project to build JCat, was founded and incubated by the IAJGS as a strategic initiative.

About the LDVDF:  The LDVDF is a recently formed not-for-profit organisation advancing ancestral discovery for anyone with interest in Jewish family history and heritage. In partnership with the IAJGS, the LDVDF is scaling the DoJR project worldwide. Initial proof of concept surveys conducted in Poland and Ukraine discovered previously unknown collections documenting 116,000 Jewish lives within one month. The LDVDF is pleased to partner with the AJGS (Vic) to conduct the first comprehensive, systematic survey of records in a significant Jewish Diaspora country. With 5,000 record collections added to JCat by the AJGS (Vic) team during the COVID pandemic lockdown, the survey continues. A similar survey also is underway in Venezuela where Jewish records are at serious risk of loss and destruction.