Getting Started with Holocaust Genealogy Research

By Dorot Jewish Division Staff
January 22, 2021
 The destruction of Czenstokov

Photo of Cwi Rozenwajn with a group of partisans from Bendin, page 169 of Churban Czenstochow: The destruction of Czenstokov

"There is no single list of victims and survivors of Nazi persecution. Instead, researching an individual's story during the Holocaust is a process of following trails and piecing together bits of information."  —United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

There are many personal and practical reasons for undertaking genealogical research in connection with the Holocaust. Survivors, emigrants, and their descendants seek information on their families. People who sheltered their neighbors from the Nazis search for information about these neighbors, and vice versa. Individuals look for documentation to support claims for reparations or stolen property. Countless others—biographers, historians, novelists, and translators, to name a few—conduct genealogical research on individuals and communities in the Holocaust.

Family of Moshe Rubin and Shmaryahu Margolis, Ḳehilat Svislots

Families of Moshe Rubin and Shmaryahu Margolis, killed in the Holocaust.  Kehilat Svislots 

Many resources are available to help answer these questions, even without visiting a library (find reopening updates here).

Getting Started

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the task of doing genealogy research, especially in connection with historical traumas. If you are new to genealogy, start with the research guide Genealogy: Getting Started (New York Public Library), which outlines basic steps and practical advice on where to find records and other information. The Library also offers an array of free online genealogy classes, including Getting Started with Jewish Genealogy Research at NYPL on April 7. These resources will help you develop research skills, including learning where to search for particular types of information, and how to collect and organize it. 

A common question in Holocaust genealogy is, "How can I learn what happened to individuals during the Holocaust?" This short guide from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a helpful place to start, in terms of both general research and their collection specifically. The Holocaust Research Genealogy Guide (Family Tree Magazine) also offers a good introduction, with links to major sites. In addition, the Holocaust Research Guide (Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute) guides users to the archival and published materials at the Center for Jewish History, an important research collection.  A webinar on Researching the Holocaust: Genealogical Resources for researching the Victims and the Liberators (Pritzer Military Museum and Library) will also take place on Wednesday, January 27, 12 PM EST.

For a more detailed list of resources, please see our online guide: Holocaust Research, Education, and Remembrance Online: Genealogy.

General and Geographic Sources

Map of the town Rawa Ruska

Map of the town Rawa Ruska, from Sefer zikaron li-kehilat Ravah Ruskah veha-sevivah

The more information you have, the more you can narrow your search, but there are also many avenues for broad searches. now has more than 200 Holocaust-related collections available on its free website (also available with your NYPL Library card on Ancestry Library Edition). Other large collections include the Arolsen Archives International Center on Nazi Persecution; Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. All of these organizations have searchable databases on their site, as well as many other sources.

Do you know where your research subjects lived around the time of World War II? If you are researching Jewish individuals, and you know where they were living, you could start with geographically-specific resources, such as yizkor (Holocaust memorial) books of Jewish communities. First, check JewishGen’s bibliographic database to find out if there is a yizkor book for their town or city. Many yizkor books have been digitized by NYPL and the Yiddish Book Center, and are now keyword-searchable on the Yiddish Book Center’s website (Hebrew alphabet search) and on (Hebrew, Cyrillic, and Latin alphabet search). Yizkor books are also increasingly available in English translation on JewishGen. For those yizkor books that are not translated, ask NYPL’s staff for help to search the index and/or table of contents; JewishGen also has a combined necrology (death list) database for the yizkor books on their site.

Sewing school, from Salonki, ir va-em be-Yisrael

Sewing school, from Saloniki, ir va-em be-Yisrael

You can also search for information about individuals in a specific town or city in Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names. Search by town name to see a list of residents. Each entry links to a page of witness testimony. You can also search by a person’s name and find where they were living. JewishGen also has many databases where you can search by country, or more broadly, by a person’s name, as does the comprehensive genealogy site SephardicGen. Another helpful geographic source is the Wiener Library’s list of genealogy records and resources arranged by country. For a more detailed list, please see the online guide.


Offline Sources

It’s important to note that not all records are online. It’s sometimes tempting to give up searching, or to conclude that there is no information available, if you don’t immediately get results from a quick database search. Don’t give up! Remember that these collections are vast, not standardized, and not always easily discoverable online. Reach out to NYPL for help navigating your research—contact us at


Pictured: "[The grave of Hinde Kharlofsky-Shternberg (of blessed memory), a victim of the Nazis, who died and was buried in Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Near the grave stands her friend, Regina Kshepitsky-Yakubovitsh". 

Personal Perspectives

Sometimes it is difficult to find anything beyond the barest details (if that) of a person’s life, let alone a meaningful biography. One way to counter these absences is to seek out narratives of survivors—if not one’s own relatives, then people from a similar region or generation. Oral histories and testimonies are increasingly available online. These personal stories can illuminate the context of a larger community and bring us closer to the past. By hearing and reading them, we can learn more about history and honor survivors by bearing witness. 

Additional resources

Do you need additional research help? Please contact the Dorot Jewish Division at