- What is the value of the JGSNY's Cemetery Project to me and how can I personally benefit from this information?
- What is a landsmanshaft?
- How many Jewish cemeteries are there in the New York Metropolitan area?
- How many different Jewish burial societies are there in New York?
- Does your database contain the names of the people buried in these societies' plots too?
- If I don’t know what cemetery my relative is buried in, should I start calling up all the Jewish cemeteries?
- My relatives died in Florida but are buried in a New York cemetery. How can I find out where they are buried?
- If someone lived in Brooklyn, where is he or she most likely buried?
- How about the Bronx?
- Beth Israel Memorial Park in suburban Woodbridge, New Jersey has hundreds of landsmanshaft plots containing burials going back to the 1930's and 1940's. Why are these people buried there?
- I know for a fact that my family belonged to a certain landsmanshaft that had its own burial plot, but my relatives aren’t buried there. Where else would they be?
- My bubbe and zayde were buried in the same society but in two different cemeteries. What would be the reason for this?
- How come one society has a variation in its name between two or more cemeteries?
- I looked at my ancestral plot and I can tell by the surnames and the inscriptions on the tombstones that the majority of the people in the plot were not from my ancestral town. How can you explain this?
- How can I find out if a particular society is still in existence?
- If a society is no longer in existence, where can I find out more information about it?
- What kind of landsmanshaft records would I find at YIVO?
- Now that I located my ancestral plot, I would like to visit it when I am in New York. How can I get the most out of my cemetery visit?
- How come the death certificate says my ancestor is buried in the Cypress Hills Cemetery? I finally found the grave in a totally different cemetery!
- The death certificate says that my ancestor was buried in a cemetery in Brooklyn, but according to your cemetery listing, the cemetery is located in Queens.
- Can the JGSNY provide me with further information on any organization, including when it was founded, its history, or the names of its members and officers?
- Is the JGSNY collecting memorabilia about the society?
- Where can I find out about tombstone inscriptions?
- Can you provide me with the translation from Yiddish or Hebrew as to the name of the society?
- Baron Hirsch Cemetery on Staten Island has a deplorable problem with poison ivy. Is there anything that you can do about it?
- Where can I read about landsmanshaftn?
- I don't live in New York City. Can you photograph a tombstone, call a cemetery, look up death indexes, obituaries or records at YIVO, or provide any other genealogical information for me about my deceased relative?
What is the value of the JGSNY's Cemetery Project to me and how can I personally benefit from this information?
Many of you may still not be able to identify your ancestral town using such standard research materials as census, naturalization, passenger ship and vital records. Landsmanshaft plots can provide the key to your ancestral town when all other documentation fails. And, once you locate your ancestral plot, you may discover other relatives as well!
What is a landsmanshaft?
A landsmanshaft is an organization formed by people from the same town, shtetl, or region of Eastern Europe. One of its main purposes was social, to enable immigrants to associate with people they knew in the Old Country and to make them feel more at home in their new environment. The landsmanshaft also provided emotional and financial support to its members in the form of sick benefits, interest-free loans, high holiday services, aid to grieving families following a death, as well as financial aid to those who remained behind in Europe. Many synagogues were created by Jews from one town, e.g. Congregation Anshei ("people of") _______. From the late 19th through most of the 20th centuries, Jews joined landsmanshaftn and anshei synagogues also because these societies provided burial benefits at one or more cemetery plots. This was an alternative to purchasing expensive individual plots. Each landsmanshaft would have a chevra kadisha (burial society) whose responsibility was to purchase and maintain these grave sites.
How many Jewish cemeteries are there in the New York Metropolitan area?
We are aware of 111 Jewish Cemeteries in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester and Putnam Counties and Northern and Central New Jersey. While the majority contain burial societies, not all of them do. For instance, Knollwood Park in Queens and Mt. Ararat Cemetery on Long Island are two notable exceptions.
How many different Jewish burial societies are there in New York?
It is not easy to arrive at a figure, even from our own database, because many organizations had more than one cemetery location. Variations in the spelling of a society's name, particularly between the Yiddish and the English, make it difficult to determine whether or not it is the same society. Over time many societies merged. In 1938, the I.L. Peretz Yiddish Writers’ Guild of the Federal Writers’ Project, Works Projects Administration, estimated that there were some 3,000 landsmanshaftn over the course of the New York Jewish immigrant experience, although we believe there were many more. We can reasonably assume though, that not all of these landsmanshaftn had cemetery plots. In addition to landsmanshaftn, there were synagogues, family circles, fraternal organizations and labor unions that owned burial plots for their members.
Does your database contain the names of the people buried in these societies' plots too?
No, the JGSNY Cemetery Project is collecting only the names and burial locations of the societies themselves. However, there is a totally separate project, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR), whose focus is collecting the actual burial data for entire plots. While we have encouraged our members to participate in this effort, we must stress that this is beyond the focus of the JGSNY Cemetery Project.
If I don’t know what cemetery my relative is buried in, should I start calling up all the Jewish cemeteries?
This is not recommended because of the sheer number of cemeteries in the New York metropolitan area. Narrowing your search to cemeteries with landsmanshaftn plots from your ancestral town might limit the search to a more reasonable number. By far the most efficient and accurate way of finding out where someone is buried is by examining the person's death certificate. For information on where to obtain New York City death records, click here. For information on where to write for death records from all 50 American states, click here. The place of burial (or cremation) is listed on a death certificate. If you don't know where your relative died, talk to other family members who may have known the deceased, check the Social Security Death Index, look for newspaper obituaries, or contact the funeral home that the family used.
My relatives died in Florida but are buried in a New York cemetery. How can I find out where they are buried?
You would need to contact the state in which they died, which in this case would be Florida. The name of the New York cemetery should be on the Florida death certificate. The death certificate is always on file in the state where the person died.
If someone lived in Brooklyn, where is he or she most likely buried?
There is no one specific cemetery where anyone in New York is most likely buried. While they could be buried in Brooklyn’s Washington Cemetery or one of the numerous cemeteries on the Brooklyn-Queens border, he or she could just as soon have been buried elsewhere in Queens, or in Staten Island, Long Island, or New Jersey as well. It all depended on where they or their family purchased a plot or where their society had a plot, which could have been anywhere. Many landsmanshaft societies based in Manhattan or Brooklyn have plots in Queens, Staten Island, Long Island, or New Jersey.
How about the Bronx?
The Bronx has no Jewish cemeteries. It has a large, non-sectarian cemetery called Woodlawn, but it has no Jewish burial societies and there are presumably few Jews buried there. Riverside Cemetery and Cedar Park/Beth El Cemetery across the Hudson River in New Jersey were frequently used by Jews who lived in the Bronx and northern Manhattan (i.e. Washington Heights and Harlem), but there is no hard and fast rule that all people who lived in those areas were buried in New Jersey.
Beth Israel Memorial Park in suburban Woodbridge, New Jersey has hundreds of landsmanshaft plots containing burials going back to the 1930's and 1940's. Why are these people buried there? Isn’t suburbia just a post-war thing?
In its early days Beth Israel Memorial Park had an office in Manhattan for the purpose of selling graves in what would most certainly have been considered the boondocks back then by most New York City Jews.
I know for a fact that my family belonged to a certain landsmanshaft that had its own burial plot, but my relatives aren’t buried there. Where else would they be?
Not everyone from a particular town is buried in the landsmanshaft plot for that town. They could be be buried in a plot affiliated with a synagogue, a lodge or fraternal organization, a labor union, or even in another landsmanshaft plot, i.e. belonging to his/her spouse's town or that of a friend.
For example, YIVO’s landsmanshaftn collection contains membership books for the First Nadworner Sick & Benevolent Association for a 63-year period (beginning in 1900). Out of a total of 486 male members listed in these books, only 205 (42%) were buried in the Nadworna society plots; 280 (58%) were not.
My bubbe and zayde were buried in the same society but in two different cemeteries. What would be the reason for this?
As a burial society started to run out of space in an older cemetery, it purchased another plot in a newer cemetery. Thus a young child or a spouse may be buried in a landsmanshaft plot in one of the older cemeteries, and the deceased's surviving spouse and adult children may be buried in a plot of the same society, but one that is located elsewhere.
How come one society has a variation in its name between two or more cemeteries?
These may or may not be the same society. A society may have been known by its Yiddish name in an older cemetery such as Washington or Mt. Zion and by the English equivalent in a newer cemetery, such as Mt. Hebron or Beth David. The same organizations that began with the word Chevra or Erste in a first-generation cemetery (one used by the earliest immigrants) may be listed on the gates as Congregation or First, respectively, in a second-generation cemetery (meaning one used by the more Americanized offspring of immigrants). Organizations which had Kranken Unt. Verein in their name in a first-generation cemetery became Sick and Benevolent Society in a second-generation cemetery. While you may think these are the same society -- and they may be -- they may indeed be different organizations.
I looked at my ancestral plot and I can tell by the surnames and the inscriptions on the tombstones that the majority of the people in the plot were not from my ancestral town. How can you explain this?
Don't assume that a plot always belonged to only one society over the years. A plot that started out under one society may have been subsequently subdivided into two separate plots for two different societies. Or perhaps one society was taken over by another society altogether. For instance, a plot at Washington Cemetery called Ahavas Achim Bnai Elchanon has the alternate name Anshe Rummishock, meaning a plot for the town of Rumishok (Rumsiskes), Lithania. However, upon inspection of the cemetery’s ledger book for that society, fewer than 10 of the burials in that plot are actually listed for Anshe Rummishock, and all before 1904. This society was taken over by another and already in its earliest days no longer had any connection with people from Rumishok. Check with the cemetery office for clarification on plot ownership.
How can I find out if a particular society is still in existence?
The best way is to call the cemetery in which the plot is located and ask them if they can give you the name, address and phone number for a contact person for that society. If a society is still in existence, then the cemetery would have a contact person for it. Oftentimes, even if a society is no longer functioning, burials still take place in its plot and the cemetery may be able to supply you with the name of a contact person.
If a society is no longer in existence, where can I find out more information about it?
Try the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which has the largest collection of landsmanshaftn records, or the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). Both are located at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. A listing of the AJHS collection can be accessed on-line. Note: The Liquidation Bureau of the New York State Insurance Department periodically turns over to YIVO the records of defunct societies where affairs were concluded by New York State.
What kind of landsmanshaft records would I find at YIVO?
The records are primarily administrative and financial in nature and include minute books, constitutions, by-laws, and expenditure books. However, many of the landsmanshaftn files also contain old membership books, souvenir anniversary booklets and program announcements for fund-raising bazaars and annual balls. The amount and type of material varies from one society to another. Unfortunately, for all too many societies, no records have survived at all. For many societies that do have records, much may be written in Yiddish.
Now that I located my ancestral plot, I would like to visit it when I am in New York. How can I get the most out of my cemetery visit?
When you visit your ancestral plot, be sure to thoroughly examine all the burials in that plot, not just those of your known ancestors. You might find you have relatives buried there that you did not know about. You may even want to record all the burials in that plot not only for your own personal purposes but as a service to other researchers who share the same ancestral town or family surname. Contribute the results to the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR)!
How come the death certificate says my ancestor is buried in the Cypress Hills Cemetery? I finally found the grave in a totally different cemetery!
Cypress Hills Cemetery is a non-sectarian cemetery in Brooklyn organized in 1848 that contains 14 early Jewish burial society plots. The names of these societies are listed in our database. An early death certificate may say that a person was buried in this cemetery, when in actuality they were buried in one of the Jewish cemeteries in the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens, most notably Beth El (New Union Field), Beth Olom, Hungarian Union Field, Machpelah, Mt. Carmel, New Mt. Carmel, Mt. Neboh, or Union Field. Other cemeteries that are in the same general area and would thus also qualify for the Cypress Hills category are Knollwood Park, Maimonides - Brooklyn, Mt. Hope, Mt. Judah, and Salem Fields. You may be compelled to contact all of these cemeteries if your ancestor is not at the Cypress Hills Cemetery itself. For further discussion on this topic, check the JewishGen Discussion Group Archives in April 1999, April/May 2000 and November 2000.
The death certificate says that my ancestor was buried in a cemetery in Brooklyn, but according to your cemetery listing, the cemetery is located in Queens.
There are a number of cemeteries located in Ridgewood, Queens on the Brooklyn-Queens border, such as Union Field. Some cemetery grounds even straddle the county border between Brooklyn and Queens.
Can the JGSNY provide me with further information on any organization, including when it was founded, its history, or the names of its members and officers?
No, we are not collecting this type of information. You will need to examine any extant records at YIVO or AJHS; locate a contact person for the society, or consult your shtetl co-researchers who may have information in their private collections pertaining to the society. Click here for a compilation of all the better known lists of New York landsmanshaften and other Jewish organizations.
Is the JGSNY collecting memorabilia about the society? I found records among my father's papers.
No, but if you have such material, you might want to donate it to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research or the American Jewish Historical Society, both located in the Center for Jewish History. Encourage your ancestral society to donate its records to one of these archives.
Where can I find out about tombstone inscriptions?
Read Warren Blatt's outstanding JewishGen InfoFile on the subject or Judith Langer Caplan’s informative handout, "Tombstone Translation Topics: The Meaning of a Memorial Stone -- or the Matzevah Matters," presented at the 19th Annual Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 8-13, 1999.
Can you provide me with the translation from Yiddish or Hebrew as to the name of the society?
A few basic words used in society names are:
Chevra = Congregation
Erste = First
Kranken Unt. Verein = Sick and Benevolent Society
Brueder = Brothers
Frauen = Ladies
Anshei = the people of
Bnai = Sons of
For translations of other common Hebrew and Yiddish words in landsmanshaftn and burial society names click here.
Baron Hirsch Cemetery on Staten Island has a deplorable problem with poison ivy. Is there anything that you can do about it?
No, this is beyond our domain. For a discussion of this subject, check the JewishGen Discussion Group Archives between October 19 and November 8, 2000.
Where can I read about landsmanshaftn?
From the following sources:
Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York 1880-1939 by Daniel Soyer. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Jewish Hometown Associations and Family Circles in New York: The WPA Yiddish Writers' Group Study, edited with an introduction and afterword by Hannah Kliger. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992.
A Brotherhood of Memory: Jewish Landsmanshaftn in the New World by Michael R. Weisser. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1985.
I don't live in New York City. Can you photograph a tombstone, call a cemetery, look up death indexes, obituaries or records at YIVO, or provide any other genealogical information for me about my deceased relative?
Wish we could! But, you are one of many, many folks on the Internet making the same request. We've tried to give you a leg up with this project. The rest is up to you! We wish you much success!