A Beginner's Primer in
U.S. Jewish Genealogical Research

by Nancy Levin Arbeiter, CGRS

Copyright 1998 Nancy Levin Arbeiter and Avotaynu, Inc.
(See end of article for procedure to request for permission to reproduce)

Genealogy research, Jewish or non-Jewish, starts with today and with what is known. It then becomes the process of collecting and evaluating data and using that data to identify an ancestral town and build a genealogical skeleton of a family. This article covers these areas briefly and reviews some basic genealogical resources that are relevant to individuals who immigrated to the United States at the turn of this century. Non-U.S. researchers should apply the organizational concepts and evaluation tools to resources that are relevant to their own projects and countries.

Additional resources that are not covered here and that can be extremely valuable are generally discussed in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Revised Edition, edited by Loretto Szucs and Sandra Luebking (hereinafter The Source). These resources include deeds; court, business, and military records; and various kinds of directories, etc. The Source also has chapters on census records, vital records, urban research, 20th-century research, and an overview of Jewish genealogical research.

Another useful book is Val Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. This general reference book focuses primarily on non-Jewish research, but can provide valuable insight into proper abstracting and transcribing, as well as how to evaluate evidence. Its information about deeds, probate records, and other early research resources may be especially valuable for genealogists researching German-Jewish families and others who immigrated to the U.S. in the early to mid-19th century.

Planning Ahead
Before starting, get organized and plan ahead. Buy a notebook for all your lists, comments, ideas, and notes. (Scraps of paper will inevitably get lost.)

Create a research log. Each time you write to request a document, speak with someone, read something, review records, etc., write it in the log. The log becomes the master list of all the research that you complete; you will refer back to it often, especially as the project grows. Because the log will help you remember research efforts and the results, it will prevent later duplicating of efforts. Each log notation should include the exact source researched, who was being researched, where the research was done, when the research was completed, what you found, and why you looked. For example, did you search for all H. Greensteins; for a Harry Greenstein; or for a Harry, Harris, and Harold Greenstein? Did you search only for Wineburg, or also for Wineberg, Weinberg, and Weinburg?

Plan to keep track of all sources right from the beginning. This is extremely important. Every time you write a date, a name, an age, an address, a quote, or any other item or "fact" onto a piece of paper or into your genealogical computer database, footnote it, and cite the exact source. The goal is for you and anyone else to be able to look at your "fact" and know exactly where the "fact" came from. (Was the birth data from a vital record? If yes, which one, and what was the registration number? From a census record? If yes, which one, and on which microfilm reel, page, and line did you find it? Or did your Aunt Sadie verbally give you the birth data? If yes, when did you speak with Aunt Sadie, and was it by telephone or during a face-to-face interview?) Any "fact" that does not have an exact source citation attached to it is automatically suspect.

About Nancy Lewin Arbeiter
Nancy Levin Arbeiter, CGRS, is a full-time professional genealogist specializing in Jewish family history research. She is certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists as a Certified Genealogical Record Specialist. In addition to her private practice, Nancy is the Director of Genealogical Research at the American Jewish Historical Society. She has previously written for Avotaynu, has spoken widely on Jewish genealogy, and has taught the beginners' workshops at past Jewish genealogical seminars. Nancy served on the Executive Board of the JGS of Greater Boston, 1991-98. Articles about her work have appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate.
Each source citation should provide the exact title of the resource; relevant document numbers (i.e., certificate, petition, family, dwelling numbers, etc.); key dates; microfilm publication and reel numbers; volume, page, and line numbers, etc. Richard Lackey's Cite Your Sources: A Manual for Documenting Family Histories and Genealogical Records and the more recent book by Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian, offer standard methods of citation.

Try not to begin your research with a family line that has a common surname (i.e., Cohen, Levin, Goldstein). If you must start with a common surname, try to obtain as much beginning information as possible about these family members. This may make it easier for you to identify your family. (Numerous individuals named Harry Cohen lived in Manhattan in 1920 and worked as tailors. There may, however, have been only one Harry Cohen who lived in Manhattan in 1920; worked as a tailor; and had a wife named Bessie and children named Anna, Ida, and Milton.)

Do not limit your research to direct ancestors only (i.e., father, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandfathers, great- grandmothers). Plan also to research indirect relatives, such as aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, and cousins. Their documents often supply information about your own direct line and may lead to missing data. (I learned my grandfather's place of birth when I researched his brother.)

Do not limit your research to one exact surname spelling, and don't discard a family if the surname isn't spelled exactly the way you spell your surname. Check alternative spellings and be creative. When researching the surname Kaplan, also check Caplan. If you seek individuals with the surname Abramowitz, also look for Abramovitz and Abramovitch. When researching Winer, be sure to check Viner as well. If you are researching the full name Abraham Samuels and cannot locate the individual, transpose the names and look for a Samuel Abrahams. Remember also that our immigrant ancestors had heavy accents, and many of the people who were responsible for recording information simply could not spell. They wrote what they heard. (If I had checked only the surname Goldweitz in the 1920 census index, I would have missed the households of Rose Goldwhites and Sam Goldwitz, both of whom were part of the extended Goldweitz family.)

Plan to collect every available document and scrap of information about each relative. One never knows which document is going to be a gold mine of information. The more documents found about an individual, the more you will learn about him or her. Take this example. I spent months trying to find the birthplaces of two individuals who immigrated to the U.S. in about 1850 and were married shortly after arriving. The birth records of eight of their U.S.-born children simply noted that the parents were born in Prussia. For some unknown reason, when the ninth child was born, the parents gave the midwife the exact names of their own villages of birth in Prussia. She, in turn, recorded the village names on the birth record. Had I not looked for all the children's birth records, I might still be looking for the parents' birthplaces.

Alternatively, I spent 18 months tracking an Alsatian Jew who settled in Philadelphia about 1850 and died there in 1884. My goals were to identify his place of birth and to learn about him and his life. His obituary, obtained initially from my client, strongly suggested that at one time this man had been quite wealthy, but that he had died a sad and broken man.

I searched through many resources that together portrayed him as a successful jeweler. These resources included among others deeds; census, vital, and probate records; and city directory listings. Not until I discovered that he filed for bankruptcy in the 1870s and then read the 470 pages of bankruptcy papers did I understand the deterioration of his life.

Among numerous items, these records mentioned his deaf-mute son, another son who had died of tuberculosis in Denver, and a lawsuit brought against him by his third son's father-in-law, which had caused him to file for bankruptcy. It was clear then that events had changed his life drastically and probably caused him to die a broken man.

The bankruptcy records also noted that during the court proceedings, this man asked if he could leave the country for a short time to go back to France. Passports were not required in the U.S. at this time, but, on the principle of following of all possible leads, I checked passport application records from the 1870s. Indeed, he had obtained a passport, and that application included the name of the tiny Alsatian village in which he was born in 1825. Just think what I would have been missed had I only searched for vital records and census records.

Do not limit your research to family members only. If you are working with a relatively uncommon surname, look at and keep track of the records belonging to all people with the same surname. (Do not just search for Israel, Samuel, and Max Gass in the index to naturalizations in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, 1906-24; look at all individuals with the Gass surname. Do not just search for David and Harry Altshuler in the index to the 1900 Massachusetts federal census; search for all households using the Altshuler surname.) People who may not initially appear to be related may later prove to be part of your family.

Do not forget that immigrants tended to move in groups and that relatives and close friends often did things together. Look at the neighbors listed on a census return; look at the naturalization records physically located immediately before and after your relatives' papers. Look through a passenger arrival manifest for other people from the same town as your ancestor, or those going to the same place. Often, one of the neighbors, another petitioner, or another passenger was a relative.

If financially possible, photocopy all documents found. (Except for legal proof, certified copies are not necessary.) You may wish to refer back to a document one day, and it is cheaper to spend 25 cents on a photocopy today than spend five hours tomorrow trying to find it again. Moreover, what you transcribe as a "3" one day, can easily become an "8" on a later day. Finally, you may miss something in the initial transcription, but you may never know it without a photocopy for later reference.

Attend as many genealogical seminars as possible, both those for specifically Jewish genealogy and those for researchers of all heritages: the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and National Genealogical Society (NGS) conferences. Some of the best speakers that I have heard were at the FGS and NGS conferences. Granted that you may not hear about how to research Jewish revision lists in Lithuania, but you might hear some terrific speakers talk about research methodologies and "how to's," subjects such as the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, U.S. bankruptcy records, and writing your family history narrative. You never know where these talks can lead you!

Get involved with your local Jewish genealogical societies (JGSs) and special interest groups (SIGs); read and take advantage of the holdings on JewishGen http://www.JewishGen.org. And, of course, subscribe to Avotaynu.

Beginning Your Research
Once you have done your planning and organizing, you are ready to start collecting your data. Because genealogy research begins with today and with what is known, the first step is to write down everything that you remember and know about your family members. This includes names, dates, places, family traditions, stories, etc. Don't embellish or make assumptions--just write what you know, and don't be afraid if it is not much. It does not take much to begin.

Find out what other people in your family know. Try to interview all living relatives, especially those of the older generations, such as aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, etc. Do not worry if you don't get exact answers. Questions should include:

After you have obtained some preliminary information, you are ready to start searching for documents and resources that will help you learn more about your forebears. What documents and resources do you look for and where do you find them?
Look for the documents and resources that are easily available and that may identify your ancestral towns, name your immigrant ancestors, tell you about where and when they arrived here, where they settled after arriving, etc. Seek the document trail that all people leave behind, and try to find the documents and resources that will provide the most useful and the most accurate information. Remember to keep in mind, however, that not all documents or resources have equal value.

Primary and Secondary Resources
A primary resource is usually the best source of data. It is a specific document or resource created at the time of an event and for a specific purpose. Examples are vital records (created at the time of a birth, marriage, or death in order to record the event), federal census records (created every ten years so that the federal government can count and learn about the U.S. population), petitions for naturalization (created during the process of becoming a U.S. citizen), immigration passenger arrival manifests (created when an individual boarded a boat at a non- U.S. port and used by the U.S. port authorities to determine who would or would not be admitted into the United States), World War I draft registrations (created when an individual registered for the draft), and deeds (created when parties bought and sold property).
A secondary resource is a document or resource which is created after an event or for an alternative purpose, but which may be used for genealogical purposes. Examples are city directories (created by publishing companies for marketing purposes), obituaries (often a paid insert to a newspaper and published after a person died; could be written by a relative or newspaper writer), computer online vital record indexes (created by individuals interested in people who lived in a certain town), compiled genealogies (created by a person who was interested in a specific surname or a specific family line), a book of will extracts (created by people who were interested in specific wills from a specific courthouse in a specific time period).
These secondary resources can be valuable and, in some instances, may be the only source of information. Whenever possible, however, the data within them should only be used as clues towards future avenues of research. Secondary resources alone are rife with human error, inconsistencies, and poorly documented information.

Primary and Secondary Evidence
Try to locate as many primary sources as possible, but remember that not all data in a primary resource is factual. While some of the data in a primary resource is probably fact, some may be fiction--some inadvertent and some intentional. The goal is to identify and extract the factual data and use the possibly fictional data to help you locate other primary records.
Data that is probably fact can be called primary evidence. The data that could be fiction can be called secondary evidence. To determine what is primary evidence and what is secondary evidence, ask the following questions of each document located:
The more you know about how and why a document was created, the better able you are to assess what data in a primary resource is probably fact and what could be fiction.

Example 1: Death Record
Look at a death record as an example:
Why created? A death record was created to record the date and place of death of an individual and the cause of death.
What information? A death record usually includes the deceased's name, date and place of death, and the cause of death. It may also include details such as deceased's age, place of birth, parental data, place of burial, and the name of the undertaker.
When created? The information for the death record was usually obtained shortly after the death occurred. The death could have been recorded and the death record actually created on the same day as the death or a day or so later. Death records often have a filing date or recording date listed on them.
Who provided information? The deceased's name as well as date, place, and cause of death could have been provided by the doctor who took care of the deceased and witnessed the death or by a coroner, a police officer, etc. This person may be legally responsible for ensuring that the date, place, and cause of death are properly recorded. Alternatively, the details on the deceased, his or her parental information, place of burial, and undertaker data could have been provided immediately after death by a distressed relative, a friend, or simply hospital records. The source of this information is often listed on a death record and may be identified as the "informant."
Who created the document? The actual death record may have been created by a paid employee in the vital registry office who had no relationship to the deceased and was simply doing his or her job. They might have created the record early in the morning or just before they were leaving for lunch.
Based on the above, what is probably primary evidence (fact) in a death record and what may be secondary evidence (i.e., could be fiction)? Date, place, and cause of death are likely accurate. People may have been legally responsible for providing this data, and it should be considered primary evidence. A death record is a person's "best source" for this death information. (Remember, however, that simple human error always is possible. A vital registry clerk rushing to finish may have recorded an incorrect date.) Alternatively, all other data on the death record should be considered secondary evidence. It is hearsay information that may have been provided by an emotionally distraught and bereaved relative, by hospital records, or by an acquaintance. This information may be useful so long as one remembers that the data is really just a set of clues and not facts.
A death record may say that the person was buried in a specific cemetery by a particular undertaker, but until you find the actual grave itself, you don't know that the person was truly buried there. A death record may report that the deceased was 85 years old at the time of death, but until you find his or her actual birth record, you do not know this for a fact.

Example 2: Petition of Naturalization
Why created? A petition for naturalization, also known as a person's final papers, was created when a person applied to become a U.S. citizen. The document was required by the U.S. government and was generated during the citizenship process. In general, an immigrant could file a petition after living five years in the United States.
What information? A petition for naturalization supplies the name that the petitioner used at the time of application, the date of filing, and the court in which the petition was filed. Depending on the court, the petition may also provide sketchy details about the petitioner, such as his age, a (generalized) place of birth, occupation, (generalized) residence, port of embarkation, port or city of arrival in the U.S., approximate date of arrival in the U.S. and the date and court in which the petitioner filed his declaration of intention to become a citizen. The petition may also include the name of a witness or two (who are already citizens) and possibly their occupations or residences. Finally, the petition may include the signature or mark of the petitioner, the witnesses, and the court clerk.
When created? The petition for naturalization was probably created when the petitioner was physically at the courthouse.
Who provided information? The date of the filing of the petition for naturalization and the name of the court in which the petition was filed were probably provided by the court clerk or possibly even pre- printed on the blank petition forms. Alternatively, the information about the petitioner was probably provided by the petitioner himself. English was probably not his native language, and he may or may not have had a heavy accent. He was not required to, and probably did not, have any documentary proof with him attesting to his legal name, date and place of birth, immigration data, etc. He may have had a copy of his declaration of intention with him at the time of the petition filing.
Who created the document? The petition itself was probably pre- printed by the court and filled in by the court clerk. The court clerk may have been legally responsible for the proper recording of the document and its filing.
So, based on the above, what is fact and what is fiction? The date that the petition for naturalization was filed and the court in which it was filed are probably factually correct. A court clerk may have been legally required to record these accurately. This information should be considered primary evidence, and the petition for naturalization is a person's best source for locating it. Alternatively, all of the data about the petitioner should be considered secondary evidence. It is hearsay. The petitioner was not required to provide any documentary proof about his origins or immigration to the United States. He could have approximated his age, forgotten his exact date of arrival in the U.S. and made one up, Anglicized his true legal name, or plain and simply lied.
Just because the petition says that your grandfather Chaim arrived at the port of Philadelphia on 3 January 1896, doesn't mean that he actually arrived on that date; until you have a copy of the passenger arrival manifest in hand, you don't know exactly when and where he arrived in the U.S. Just because the petition says that your great- grandfather was born in Vilna, Russia, doesn't mean that he was truly born in the city of Vilna. Until you have a copy of his birth certificate in hand, you don't know exactly where he was born. Your great-grandfather could have generalized his birth place and actually have been born in a small shtetl located 10 miles away from the large city of Vilna.
Finally, even if the petitioner provided accurate information, it is possible that because of the petitioner's accent or pronunciation-- especially of town names spelled with 20 letters, half of them silent-- that the court clerk inadvertently recorded names of places or other items incorrectly. Human error can always come into play.
The following are brief reviews of some primary and secondary resources that can be very helpful in doing genealogy research. These are U.S. population census records, city directory listings, passenger arrival manifests, naturalization papers, vital records, and obituary listings. Cemetery and probate research are also summarized. Researchers should also review the many specialized books and chapters that cover these specific areas and more. Many relevant, in-depth articles about genealogical resources have been published in Avotaynu. Peruse back issues and/or use the Avotaynu CD-ROM to locate and then review them. A select bibliography appears at the end of this article. Books mentioned in the following reviews are listed in the bibliography.

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Census record

U.S. Population Census Returns
One of the best sets of documents with which to begin research are the U.S. population census returns, also known as census schedules. Taken by the U.S. government every ten years since 1790, those up to and including the 1920 census are currently open to the public, although most of the 1890 population census was destroyed in a fire. Census returns can help establish where a family or individual lived at a specific time, the type of residence in which they were living, and with whom they were living. They may also suggest other key primary resources, such as those that might give you the possible name of an ancestral village, or others that might help you identify names of some of your forebears.
Population censuses were completed by census takers who were paid for their work. Many were not educated or well qualified for the job. To complete the census, the census takers, also known as enumerators, went door-to-door, asked people a list of pre-set questions, and re-corded the answers on the census returns. The people who answered the door and provided the answers might have spoken English with a heavy accent or might not have been able to speak English at all. If no one was at the home when the census taker arrived, he or she had the choice of returning another day or simply asking a neighbor for the information. A census taker was not required to list who supplied information about a household, and whoever provided the information was not required to provide any proof of the answers.1
Depending on the census year, census returns can provide you with the address of a household on a specific date, the names and ages of people living in a household at a certain time, their relationships to the head of the household, place(s) of birth, country and perhaps name of province (in 1920), year(s) of immigration, naturalization status and year(s) of naturalization, occupations, number of years married, number of children born to a female, and number of children living at the time of the census.
This data can lead to a host of other primary resources, including vital records, passenger arrival manifests, and naturalization records. Because of the usefulness of this information and because you can use a census to find a household's whereabouts at a specific point in time, try to locate every census record available for all family members. One never knows who or what will turn up--such as great-grandparents you never realized had come to the U.S. or that, contrary to family tradition, your family had lived in Eaton County, Michigan, before they moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Remember, however, that while the census itself is a primary resource, the information it provides about households and household members is only hearsay and should be used only as clues about individuals and future avenues of research.
Finding a family in the census is usually a two-step process. First, use the available indexes and then search in the census. The 1900 and 1920 census have been indexed on a statewide basis via a soundex index. In this indexing system, a surname is coded according to the way it sounds. Examples are Goldberg (soundex code G431), Levin (soundex code L150), and Rappaport (soundex code R116). Surnames that are different but begin with the same letter and contain like-sounding consonants may have the same soundex code and will be co-mingled in the index. The following surnames all have the soundex code of M625: Marksohn, Morrison, Marconi; the following surnames all have the soundex code of G431: Goldberg, Goldfinger, Goldfarb.
Within each soundex code, families are alphabetized by the first name of the head of the household. So, for example, in the soundex code of M625, you could first find a soundex card for a head of household named Abraham Marksohn; the index card immediately following could be for a head of household named Arthur Morrison. The next index card after that could be for a Bernard Morrison; and the fourth index card could be for a Charles Marksohn, etc.
To use the soundex, one must either know (or have some idea) what first name the head of household used at the time of the census or go through the whole soundex code in order to find the desired family. Keep in mind that people changed their first names. The man that you knew as Grandpa Harrison Goldberg might have initially used the name Hyman, then Harry, then Harold, and finally Harrison. Which was the name he was using at the time of the census? Rather than focus on the Harrison Goldbergs, you might be more successful if you searched through all first names that begin with the letter H.
When searching for individuals from Eastern Europe whose surnames began with the letter W, be sure to also check soundex codes beginning with the letter V. People from Eastern Europe pronounced W as a V. A census taker who heard the V sound might not have written the family name with a W. Examples are Winer and Viner.
Note also that the soundex system used by the U.S. census drops the letter W except at the start of a name. This means that people who are researching a name like Rabinowitz can not really be sure how the name would be spelled on the census and need to check two soundex codes, one for Rabinovitz (soundex code R151) and one for Rabinowitz (soundex code R153). Once you have found the relevant soundex index card, you can use information listed on it to locate the exact page on which your relative's census return will be found.
The 1910 census was only partially indexed; the 21 states that have soundex or Miracode (similar to soundex) indexing are: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Census finding aids exist for some cities that do not have a 1910 census index, including such major cities as Boston and New York. These findings aids, such as the National Archives microfiche publication M1283, are usually based on people's addresses. To use them, the researcher must know the family address at the time the census was taken. Locate street addresses via city directories, a 1909-11 vital record, a naturalization record, or other primary and secondary resources that provide residences or addresses. Because turn-of-the- century Jewish immigrants tended to move often, try to have 1909, 1910, and 1911 addresses available before you begin using the finding aids.
Once you have an address, the finding aid will point to the set of pages on which that address should be found in the census. Scroll through the microfilmed census pages to find the address; then look through the address listings
to find the household of interest.
Censuses and their indexes have been microfilmed and are readily available at the National Archives, state and city libraries, and LDS (Mormon) Family History Centers.

City Directories
City directories are secondary resources that can help researchers locate individuals in the 1880 and 1910 population censuses. They may also provide other types of valuable secondary data. Privately printed and published from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s, these directories were designed to provide information about specific cities and their residents. The information was collected by paid canvassers who went door-to-door identifying the names of the household members and other data. The directories were sold primarily as marketing tools. They were not meant to be retained but were updated annually or semi- annually.
City directories usually include an alphabetical list of the adult male residents and female heads of family in a city, their occupations, work and residential addresses. Directories may also include a number of other items that vary, depending on year and city, such as street locations and wards, street maps, removals to (the city or town to which the resident moved), death dates, deceased husband's name, wives' names listed in parentheses beside the husbands' names, advertisements, vital records listings, reverse listings (listings by street), business and occupation lists (jewelers, junk dealers, glass fitters, etc.).
Although they are secondary resources, city directories are extremely valuable research tools and can be used as more than just census finding aids. Use them to identify all individuals with the same surname in the same town or at the same street address and possibly find additional relatives whom you never knew; track families' movements from year to year, noting where they lived and when; track individuals' occupations from year to year, noting when they changed jobs; track families' surnames from year to year, noting when they might have changed their surname; find death dates to locate death certificates; determine approximately when individuals first arrived in a town, how long they stayed, and where they went; and use individuals' arrival dates in a town to help find a passenger arrival manifest.
City directories also have shortcomings. They are prone to errors, such as incorrectly spelled surnames and missing people. The information may have been accurate on the day it was collected, but could have been obsolete before the directory was even published.
Produced cheaply and now in poor condition, city directories are difficult to find. Many original copies are held at the U.S. Library of Congress (where only microfilmed copies are available to researchers); others are in local libraries and archives. City directories have been widely microfilmed, copied onto microfiche, and are available through the LDS Family History Library.

U.S. Naturalization Papers
19th Century Naturalization The 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. population censuses each included a question about naturalization. If a person in the household was not a citizen, the census taker should have written "AL" (meaning alien) in the appropriate column. If a person in the household had filed his "first papers" for citizenship, the census taker should have written "PA" (meaning preliminary application) in the appropriate column. Finally, if an individual had comp-leted the naturalization process and had become a U.S. citizen by the time of the census, then the census taker should have written "NA" (meaning naturalized) in the appropriate column. The absence of any such notations should not be taken to definitely mean that none of the above had actually occurred; the presence of the notations, however, is good evidence that events had transpired.
These clues can lead to a person's naturalization papers, a catch-all phrase that refers to paperwork that was generated and filed during the naturalization process. These papers can be extremely valuable genealogically. Depending on when an individual immigrated and when he or she became naturalized, these documents may reveal an original surname, a possible place of birth, a date and port of arrival, and a specific passenger arrival manifest.
Considered primary genealogical resources, naturalization papers include the declaration of intention (sometimes called "first papers" and filed at the court), the petition for naturalization (sometimes called the "final papers" and filed at the court), the order of the court granting or denying citizenship (not a separate piece of paper, usually listed in the court records and noted on the petition for naturalization), and the certificate of naturalization (given to the citizen after they became naturalized; may provide the date of admission, the court, and the petition number).
Immigrants who legally arrived in the U.S. after June 29, 1906, and who were (supposedly) listed on a manifest should also have a certificate of arrival filed with their petition for naturalization or declaration of intention. Given the five-year U.S. residency requirement for naturalizations of males arriving in the U.S. at age 21 and older, the certificates of arrival will most commonly be found with petitions for naturalization which are dated after June 29, 1911.2
Generated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), certificates of arrival were used to prove that the immigrant had legally arrived in the U.S. They provide the name of the ship on which the immigrant traveled to the U.S., the exact date and port of arrival, and the name that the immigrant used on the ship. This information should not be taken as fact, but instead should be used to help you locate the actual passenger arrival manifest. There are times that you may find the wrong certificate of arrival attached to an individual's set of naturalization papers. (see "Certificates of Arrival and the Accuracy of Arrival Information Found in U.S. Naturalization Records," by Marian Smith, INS Historian (Avotaynu Vol. XIV, No. 2, Summer 1998).
In general, an adult male had to file a declaration of intention and be in the U.S. for five years before he could file a petition for naturalization. There were numerous exemptions, however, for members of the military, spouses, and children. For a detailed, chronological list of naturalization laws, information about pre-printed forms, and a more in-depth overview of the naturalization processes, read John J. Newman's American Naturalization Processes and Procedures 1790- 1985.
The amount of information on the declaration of intention and petition for naturalization depends on when and where the documents were generated. Naturalization documents created before September 27, 1906, were not standardized and could have minimal information. (A court in Connecticut might request different information from a petitioner than a court in New Jersey requested.) A pre-September 27, 1906, declaration of intention might only provide you with the name of the court, the date of the filing, and the declarant's Anglicized name and country of birth. A pre-September 27, 1906, petition for naturalization could provide you with the name of the court; the date that the petition was filed; the petitioner's Anglicized name and address, occupation, country of allegiance, approximate date of birth, approximate date and port of entry (the date is often inaccurate); and witnesses' names, addresses, and signatures.
After September 26, 1906, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen was regulated by the INS. Pre-printed naturalization forms--blank declarations of intention and petitions for naturalization--were issued to the courts. Each form required specific information from the declarants and petitioners. The pre-printed forms were periodically changed and the information supplied therein also changed.
Depending on the year, the post-September 26, 1906, declaration of intention will provide you with the name of the court, the date that the declaration was filed, and data about the declarant: Anglicized name, occupation, approximate age, approximate date and place of birth (could be town, district, nearest large town, and/or guberniya [province], approximate date and port of arrival, embarkation data, vessel name, physical description, name of spouse, spousal birth data, marriage date and place, children's birth data, and a photograph.
Depending on the year, the post-September 26, 1906, petition for naturalization will provide you with all of the above, plus the name of the court in which the petition was filed, the date of the filing, witnesses' names and addresses, dates the petitioner was away from the United States, dates and ports of arrival, naturalization certificate number, and for those petitions filed 1 July 1929 and later, spousal naturalization data, including the date and place of the spouse's naturalization and naturalization certificate number. A certificate of arrival might be filed with the petition.
Information provided by the court itself (name of court, date of filing, date of admission, naturalization certificate number, etc.) should be considered factual. In general, personal information provided by the declarant or petitioner should be considered secondary evidence and used as clues toward further genealogical research. (Use the date and port of arrival data to try to find the petitioner's actual passenger arrival manifest. Use the spouse's naturalization data to find his or her naturalization papers. Use the children's birth data to help you find their actual birth records. Look up the name of the petitioner's birth town in Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust and try to identify the town's exact location. While you can't be sure that the town is the petitioner's exact place of birth, it will at least provide you with a geographic area in which to begin your overseas research.) As always, be prepared for spelling inaccuracies on these documents.
Not everyone filed for citizenship. Minor children under the age of 21 were naturalized through their parents, and few women filed their own naturalization papers before September 22, 1922. Until this date, an adult woman's citizenship status depended on her husband's status. If an alien woman married an alien man before September 22, 1922, and he became a citizen before that date, she automatically became a citizen at the same time. If a U.S.-born woman married an alien man between March 2, 1907 and September 22, 1922, she lost her American citizenship.3 If an alien woman married a U.S. citizen before September 22, 1922, she became a citizen the day she married him. For more information about women and naturalization, please read Marian Smith's article, "`Any woman who is now or may hereafter be marriedþ' Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, vol. 30, no. 2 (Summer 1998). This article is available online at http://www.nara.gov/publications/ prologue/natural1.html.
Prior to September 27, 1906, an alien could become naturalized at any "court of record," that is, any court that had a seal and a clerk. This would include federal courts as well as state, county, city, police, and civil courts. On and after September 27, 1906, an alien could become naturalized at any "court of record" that had a seal, clerk, and jurisdiction over actions in law and equity in which amounts in controversy were unlimited. This would include federal courts and those courts that didn't have financial limitations. (According to Marian Smith, INS Historian, this change only eliminated a few courts. The federal, state, county, and some city courts continued to operate. Most police and other small courts were eliminated.)4 There is a directory that was published and updated by the Department of Justice that provides the names of courts that could naturalize people after September 26, 1906. This is the Directory of Courts Having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings, United States Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service. The October 15, 1963, version of the directory provides you with the names of the courts, their court numbers, and whether they were still naturalizing as of 1963. It does not provide you with the date that the court stopped naturalizing.5 The 1963 book is available through the LDS Family History Library; it is also available at some large libraries. Naturalization papers that were generated before September 27, 1906, can be difficult to find. James C. Neagles's Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records could give you a clue where to look. Many naturalization records been microfilmed by the LDS Family History Library. Some original non-federal records can be found at state and city archives; while others are still in the specific court's archives. The National Archives branches should have copies of the federal naturalizations in their branch jurisdictions; they may also have copies of naturalization papers generated in the non-federal courts. (The National Archives, Northeast Region, in Waltham, Massachusetts, has dexigraph copies of petitions for naturalization that were filed in New England courts between 1790 and September 26, 1906.)
A copy of any naturalization record that occurred in any court (federal or non-federal) from September 27, 1906, through 1956 is on file at the INS in Washington, DC. The INS has one comprehensive index to these files. Neither the index nor the files themselves are open to the public, but you can write to the INS to obtain a copy of the naturalization records if you wish. (Copies of naturalization records dating after 1956 were filed by the INS all over the country.)6
Copies of the petitions for naturalization and declarations of intention that were filed in federal courts in the post-September 26, 1906, time period should be also be on file in original or microfilm form at the regional branches of the National Archives. Each regional branch will have their own separate indexes to their specific holdings. Some of these indexes have been microfilmed and are available at the LDS Family History Library. Copies of naturalizations that occurred in non- federal courts in this later time period could also be located in state archives and or through the LDS Family History Library.
During her talk, "Immigration & Naturalization Service Records for Genealogical Research" at the FGS Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August 1998, Marian Smith mentioned a little-known but important index to World War I soldier naturalizations. This index can help you find that elusive set of naturalization papers that might have been generated after the 1918 law was passed which facilitated the naturalization of members of the U.S. Armed Forces. In hard copy only, it is called the "Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers, 1918." It is on file at the Civil Reference Branch of the National Archives in Washington, DC, and is in Record Group 85, Entry 29. The index listing will refer you to a certificate and court number. You can match the court numbers with those listed in the above-mentioned Directory of Courts Having Jurisdiction in Naturalization Proceedings.7

Customs Lists and
Immigration Passenger Arrival Manifests
In addition to providing naturalization data, the 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. population censuses also supply approximate immigration dates. These dates can lead to passenger arrival manifests, primary resources that supply an ancestor's exact date of arrival in the United States. Depending on the time frame, these arrival records may provide a host of other key (but secondary) genealogical evidence.
Manifests are written records of individuals embarking from foreign ports and arriving at U.S. ports of entry. They were originally created to deter overcrowding on ships. The federally maintained manifests dating from circa 1820-91 are today referred to as customs lists (possibly because they were the responsibility of the Customs Collector at the Customs House in each port).8 Some states and cities also kept their own parallel sets of passenger list records which, for research purposes, have been used in the place of missing customs lists.
Passenger manifests dating after circa 1891 are today referred to as immigration passenger arrival manifests (possibly because they were the responsibility of the U.S. Immigration Service.)9 They provide more passenger information than the earlier customs (or state and city) lists. As immigration in the 1890s and 1900s became more restrictive, additional immigration laws were passed that resulted in more questions being asked of each arriving passenger. When a new immigration law was passed requiring additional information from arriving passengers, new and expanded immigration passenger arrival manifest forms were created and disseminated to the U.S. ports of entry.
Customs lists and immigration passenger arrival manifests from steamships that arrived at U.S. ports before about 1893 provide minimal information: the name of the steamship; dates and ports of arrival and (possibly) embarkation; passenger's name, country of origin, general destination (often just "U.S."), (possibly) pieces of luggage and place on the ship (lower berth, between deck); and little else. Though nice to have, these records are not very helpful genealogically. Because of the lack of information on them, you can even have a difficult time deciding whether or not you have located the correct individual. (Three unmarried men named Avram Lewin, aged 32-35, all born in Russia, immigrated through the port of Boston between 1886-87. All listed the U.S. as their destination. Which one was your relative?)
In 1893, a new immigration law was passed. It caused the creation of a new manifest that provided slightly expanded information on each immigrant passenger, including the name and address of the person that the immigrant was following to America. This information can be helpful genealogically. You can use it to identify your relatives and people who were traveling together. It can also help you determine whom a relative might have followed to America or why they settled in a specific city.
This "1893 law-based" manifest was in use until about 1903, when a new law was passed and new manifest forms were issued. Note, however, that you will probably not find all your relatives who immigrated to the U.S. between 1893-1903 listed on the 1893 law-based manifest. Depending on the port, instead you may find some of them listed on the less- informative customs, state, or city lists. The reasons vary. Not all ports began using the 1893 law-based manifests right away. Some may have used them but lost them when they were destroyed by a port disaster, such as the June 1897 Ellis Island fire which destroyed manifests that had been generated between 1892-97 at the port of New York.10 The National Archives uses various types of microfilmed customs, state, or city lists to cover a port's missing records.
Manifests based on immigration laws from 1906 onward contain considerably more information on each passenger. Depending on the year, these manifests can provide you with the name of the steamship and its embarkation and arrival data. Provided also are personal details about each passenger: name; age; country of origin; place of birth (sometimes exact town, sometimes province); previous residence; occupation; nearest relative in the old country; where he/she lived (sometimes including street name and number); if ever before in the U.S. and if so, when; whether a passenger was planning to join a relative and if so, their name, address, and relationship; who paid for the passage; and visa number (after 1924). Among other things, you can use this information to identify a relative who might still have been alive and living in the old country as of a specific date. You can also learn if this was the passenger's first trip to the United States or if he or she had might have made an earlier visit (thus leading you to search for another earlier manifest).
Customs lists and immigration passenger arrival manifests are your best source for an individual's immigration data: name of vessel, exact date and place of embarkation, exact date and place of arrival. Until visas were required in 1924, there is no way of knowing if an immigrant had travel documents with them that could prove any of the personal information they supplied to the steamship authorities when they boarded a ship. For this reason, the personal information on the lists and manifests should be considered secondary evidence and used as clues towards additional research avenues.
Customs lists, immigration passenger arrival manifests, and various sets of indexes (some soundex, some more or less alphabetical) have been microfilmed and are available at the National Archives, various state and local libraries, and through the LDS Family History Library. Additional printed indexes have been completed, some of which are listed in the bibliography at the end of this article. For those years that are not indexed, use finding aids such as the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals.
When perusing indexes, remember that a passenger emigrating from Eastern Europe won't be listed on the manifest under an Anglicized name. He or she might be listed on the manifest under their Yiddish name, Hebrew name, or some variation thereof. Their surnames might or might not be spelled as you know them to be, and you may not find the surnames spelled consistently between family member's manifests. (I found a man listed on his 1911 passenger arrival manifest as Schloime Szerezky; his son and daughter were listed on their 1913 passenger arrival manifest as Meyer and Beile Schezerewski; and another son was listed on his 1927 passenger arrival manifest as Jacob Tsurecki. Alternatively, for another project, I found members of one family listed on the manifests as Goldvitz while other relatives were listed as Goldvisz. Though the spelling difference in this example isn't as drastic as the first example, the small ending change did cause the two surnames to be indexed under different soundex codes.)
Much has been written on passenger arrival manifests. For additional detailed and in-depth background information, see John Colletta's They Came in Ships; Michael Tepper's American Passenger Arrival Records: A Guide to the Records of Immigrants Arriving at American Ports by Sail and Steam; and the article written by Marian Smith, "Interpreting U.S. Immigration Manifest Annotations," (Avotaynu, Vol. XII, No. 1, Spring 1996).

Vital Records
To determine the names and approximate birth dates of U.S.-born children on a census return or on a set of naturalization papers, or to track older ancestors who married or died in the U.S., look for their vital records.
Vital records are primary resources that record the birth, marriage, or death of an individual. They provide the exact dates of an event, as well as background information (secondary evidence) on the child, bride and groom, and deceased. Some states, such as Massachusetts, required the recording of births, marriages, and deaths by the mid-1800s. Other states did not require vital registration until the early 1900s. Vital records were variously recorded at the town, county, or state level.
Depending on the state and the date when it was completed, a birth record might provide the child's name, date and place of birth, and parental data, such as parents' names, ages, and residences. In general, parental data probably was provided by the parents themselves and should be considered hearsay and secondary evidence.
A marriage record may provide the names of bride and groom, date and place of marriage, ages, occupations, residences, places of birth, and names of the parents of the bride and groom. New York City vital records also provide witnesses' names and the signatures of the bride and groom. All information about the bride and groom and their parents was probably provided by the bride and groom and should be considered hearsay and secondary evidence.
When the bride or groom was not born in the U.S., be especially wary of their parental data and the tendency to Anglicize names. It is highly unlikely that the bride's father--who may never have immigrated to the U.S.-- really was called Philip or Jon or Morris, but it is likely that the bride's father had a Yiddish name that immigrants to America often Anglicized into Philip (such as Pesach), or Jon (such as Jonah), or Morris (such as Moishe).
Finally, a death record can provide the name of the deceased; the date, place and cause of death; place and date of burial; undertaker; and details on the deceased such as age, place of birth, occupation, social security number, and parental data. Remember, however, that all burial data and background information about the deceased must be considered hearsay and secondary evidence. When the deceased was foreign born, be especially careful not to take at face value the names of the parents.
Vital records are accessible through state vital registries, and city and county offices. Public access depends on each state, but in general, those created between the late 1800s and the early 1900s usually are open to the public. Later records may be closed, except to direct descendants, or may be partially closed (the cause of death may be blackened out).
Many vital records have been microfilmed and are available from the LDS Family History Library or at local libraries and archives such as the New England Historic and Genealogical Society in Boston, Massachusetts. Vital records research easily leads to obituary, probate, and cemetery research, three research areas that are briefly summarized below.

Obituary Research
After locating a death record, try to find an obituary. Although they are secondary resources, obituaries often supply additional details, such as place of birth, organizations in which the deceased had been involved, stories, burial location, next of kin, etc. Because the data was provided by someone other than the deceased--possibly even a newspaper writer who did not know the deceased personally--use the information with caution. Use it for the human interest information it may supply or for clues to avenues of further research.
Obituaries usually are found in religious newspapers or in newspapers from small or medium-size towns. Obituaries for your relatives probably did not appear in the New York Times or other major newspapers, unless the relatives were prominent and/or wealthy. Some libraries and archives have obituary files, and some newspapers (such as the New York Times) have printed (or online) obituary indexes.

Probate Research
A death record can also lead to probate records research. Probate records are primary resources that may provide primary and secondary evidence on next-of-kin, heirs, addresses before emigration, deeds, property, and a host of other items. Sometimes probate packages include death certificates--a valuable find if the individual died in a state that does not allow easy access to vital records.
For individuals seeking lost family, wills and administration papers can be keys to locating surviving relatives. For people who immigrated before the institution of vital records, or for whom vital records cannot be found, wills and other probate records may also be the only source of establishing relationships and identifying the names of married daughters.
Probate records usually are kept at the county level and are open to the public. Most have been indexed within a time period. Some indexes are arranged by name of the deceased; some indexes to older records also include a reverse index that indicates the name of an individual mentioned in the will. Many sets of probate records and indexes have been microfilmed and are easily available from the LDS Family History Library. Try to obtain photocopies of the originals at the local probate or surrogate's courts; sometimes unanticipated additional papers are discovered this way. (Much to my surprise, I found that a great-great-grandmother had a will probated in Manhattan in 1929. The document provided the names and addresses of two nephews in Charlottenburg, Germany, and listed her 15 grandchildren with their addresses. Each was to receive $25.00. Many of these grandchildren are still alive and--much to their amusement when I told them about the will--do not remember getting their bequest.)

Cemetery Research
Vital records research, obituary research, and probate records research all may lead to cemetery research. Determining where an individual was buried may reveal additional information about that person. For example, he or she might be buried in a cemetery associated with a town, a lodge, a synagogue, or an occupation. Alternatively, the burial place may be a landsmanshaftn cemetery, one affiliated with a group of people who came from the same town in Central or Eastern Europe. Finding the gravestone within the cemetery may lead to other relatives buried nearby.
A gravestone's inscription may include the deceased's English and Hebrew name, the deceased's father's Hebrew name, the date of death according to the Gregorian and/or Hebrew calendars, the deceased's age or date of birth, an endearment such as "beloved mother, brother, father, sister, uncle" (which can help determine if the deceased had children), an inscribed drawing (such as pitcher or two hands indicating Levite or Kohen status), information about the death ("suddenly," "for his country," etc.) and/or a picture of the deceased.
Although extremely useful and sometimes the only source of an individual's Hebrew or Yiddish name (which can help you locate a passenger manifest record), a gravestone inscription should be considered hearsay and secondary evidence. Although usually created with the best of intentions, errors may have come from two different sources: first, the data was provided by someone other than the deceased; second errors could have been made by the stone carver and never corrected.
For example, my grandmother Josephine's gravestone inscription was provided by my father. While visiting the cemetery with my father, my grandmother's sister noted that the inscription gave my grandmother's Hebrew name as Zissa. She subsequently asked where the name came from. My father stated that he did not know his American-born mother's Hebrew name, so he had asked the rabbi, who provided the name Zissa. My great-aunt replied, "But her Hebrew name wasn't Zissa. It was Zissel." My father asked, "Why didn't you tell me before?" And my great-aunt said with a smile, "You didn't ask me!"
Cemetery listings and grave locations can be learned through death registrations, probate records, cemetery associations (such as the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, also known as JCAM), and through online databases such as the IAJGS cemetery project.

1. Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds., The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1997), 104-07.
2. Marian Smith, historian for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, telephone call with N. Arbeiter, 8 Oct 1998.
3. M. Smith, e-mail to N. Arbeiter, 8 Oct 1998.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. M. Smith, telephone call; M. Smith, e-mail.
8. M. Smith, e-mail to N. Arbeiter, 9 Oct 1998.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.

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