The Historical Society of Pennsylvania's collections include a large number of resources that relate to the Jewish community in Philadelphia and beyond, dating from the earliest colonists into the twentieth century. Resources include published materials, manuscript collections, newspapers and other periodicals, photographs, and other graphics.
To learn more about the Society's holdings, search our online catalog for "Jewish", "Jew", "Ashkenazic" or "Sephardic". You should also search for family names, synagogue names, town or territory names, or other locations and landmarks that may provide insights into your family history. Keep in mind that some materials may be in Yiddish, German or other languages. Also remember that some foreign words can be Anglicized in different ways; you may want to search for alternate spellings.
Descriptions of all manuscript collections are available in that online catalog, and many collections have finding aids online or at HSP that provide more information. Visitors to HSP's library should also look for names and other terms of interest in our manuscripts card catalog, known as PC1 (and not available online), which serves as a name index for many manuscript items. Collections from the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, which merged with HSP in 2002, are also described in this online manuscript guide.
Note that some genealogy, immigration, and other types of records are now available online. HSP offers visitors to our library free access to AncestryInstitution.com; FamilySearch.org is free for all users. Check out Reading Room Databases to learn more about the tools available to researchers in our library. You can also contact a Reference Librarian for further assistance.
Genealogy and Philadelphia History
HSP has a large number of published resources to help researchers looking into their Jewish roots. For a general overview on genealogy, check out HSP's "Family History & Genealogy" subject guide. You may also want to check out the National Archives' guide, "Genealogy: Ethnic Heritage." Its section on Jewish resources includes a variety of helpful genealogy resources.
Here are a few highlights from HSP's published holdings:
Avotaynu Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy edited by Sack, Sallyann Amdur and Gary Mokotoff. REF CS21 .G85 2003
Chronicles Jewish Genealogical Society of Philadelphia. UPA/Ph F 158.9 .J5 N48
Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names : Their Origins, Structure, Pronunciation, and Migration Beider, Alexander REF CS 3010 .B18 2001
Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames Menk, Lars. REF CS 3010 .M45 2005
Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia Beider, Alexander. REF CS 3010 .B45 2004
Dictionary of Jewish surnames from the Kingdom of Poland Beider, Alexander. REF CS 3010.B419 1996
Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire Beider, Alexander. REF CS 3010.B43 1993
Finding Our Fathers : A Guidebook to Jewish Genealogy Rottenberg, Dan. REF CS 21 .R58 1977
First American Jewish Families : 600 Genealogies, 1654-1977 Stern, Malcolm H. F 929.20973 S839f 1978 FOLIO
From Generation to Generation : How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History Kurzweil, Arthur. CS 21 .K87 1994
Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy Mokotoff, Gary and Warren Blatt. REF CS21 .M65 2000
Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia : A History and Guide, 1881-1930 Boonin, Harry D.UPA/Ph F158.9 .E17 B66 1999
Jewish Personal Names : Their Origin, Derivation, and Diminutive Forms Gorr, Shmuel. REF CS 3010 .G67 1992
Jewish Surnames in Prague : (15th-18th centuries) Beider, Alexander. REF CS 3010 .B44 1994
A Practical Guide to Jewish Cemeteries Menachemson, Nolan. REF BM 712 .M46 2007
Russian-Jewish Given Names : Their Origins and Variants Feldblyum, Boris. REF CS 3010 .F45 1998
Sephardic Genealogy : Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World Malka, Jeffrey S. REF CS 66 .J4 M35 2002
ShtetlFinder : Jewish Communities in the 19th and early 20th Centuries in the Pale of Settlement of Russia and Poland, and in Lithuania, Latvia, Galicia, and Bukovina, and with Names of Residents Cohen, Chester G. REF DS 135 .R9 C58 1980
Some Archival Sources for Ukrainian-Jewish Genealogy Kronik, Aleksander and Sallyann Amdur Sack. REF CS 863 .K76 1997
Where Once We Walked : A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust Mokotoff, Gary and Sallyann Amdur Sack. REF DS 135 .E83 M65 2002
HSP also has resources related to a variety of synagogues, including:
Beth Sholom Congregation, Philadelphia. Book of Remembrance 1950-1951 BM 225 .P5 B4x
Congregation Mikveh Israel, 7th above Arch St., 1782-1861. SPC 222 Microfilm, drawer 293; Birth 1776-1886; Marriage and Death 1776-1843 MFilm XCh 493: 1-2
Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 North Broad St., Births, marriages and deaths, circa 1802-1910 MFilm XCh 593
Frank Synagogue, 5501 Old York Road. Celebrating 100 years. FHC NA 5238 .J4 2001
Freedom of Worship: Meeting Houses, Churches and Synagogues of Early Philadelphia. F158.62 .A1 W5x; Wg* v.19
Har Zion Temple, North 54th St. [Bet ha-keneset Har Tsiyon, 684-709]: A Quarter Century of Service. UPA/Ph BM 225 .P5 H375 1949
HSP has resources related to a variety of Jewish cemeteries, including:
Belvue Cemetery, "H" and Tioga St. MFilm XR 486:2
B'nai Israel Cemetery (see Hebrew Mutual Cemetery)
Chevra Bikier Cholim Cemetery, 1853 Bridge St. c. 1860-1985 MFilm XR 894
German Hebrew Congregation (see Rodeph Shalom Congregation)
Har Jehuda Cemetery, 8400 Lansdowne Ave. Upper Darby MFilm XR 906: 1-8
Hebrew Mutual Cemetery, 1850 Cemetery Lane. MFilm XCh 772
Mikveh Israel Cemetery (Federal St. Cemetery) 1114 Federal St. Gen Z26; Ph 76A; MFilm XCh 493: 1-2
Mount Carmel, Frankford and Cheltenham Av. 1891-1985 MFilm XR 890
Mount Sinai Cemetery, Bridge and Cottage St. 1853-1987 MFilm XR 941:7
Rodeph Shalom Congregation, 615 North Broad St. 1859-1960 MFilm XCh 593
The Jewish Cemetery, 9th and Spruce Streets. F 158.61 .M55 J3x; Ph76A
Manuscript Collections and Photographs
HSP's manuscript collections help to document the experiences of Jewish Americans in Philadelphia and beyond. Highlights from our collections include:
(0.4 linear feet) Mendel Boonin was born in Slutsk, Russia in 1887 and came to the United States from England in 1911, settling in Philadelphia. This collection includes Boonin family letters transcribed from Yiddish to English.
(0.2 linear feet) Emily Solis-Cohen was a religious and secular educator and was active in Jewish and women's organizations in Philadelphia. The collection contains miscellaneous correspondence, clippings, poems, published articles, and memorabilia.
(0.4 linear feet) Faigel Katz Silverman was born in Philadelphia. An actress on stage and radio, she gave recitations for community groups and events. The collection includes correspondence, programs, scripts, sheet music, uncatalogued photos, and a diary related to Silverman's career and the community activities of Mayer Katz.
(3.75 linear feet) This collection consists of genealogical research conducted and compiled by Florence Kohn Abrahams, with a particular focus on genealogies of Jewish families. Families of note include Abrahams, Benjamin, Cohen, Moss, and Davis. Correspondence and compiled research comes from family members in Australia, Montreal and the United States.
(1.6 linear feet) Jacob Solis-Cohen was a member of a prominent Philadelphia Sephardic Jewish family. He was a real estate appraiser with the real estate company Mastbaum Brothers and Fleisher, eventually serving as vice-president of the firm. He became president of Albert M. Greenfield and Company when that firm merged with Mastbaum Brothers and Fleisher in 1929. Solis-Cohen was also active in several Jewish organizations. He served as president of the Jewish Publication Society and of the Mikveh Israel Congregation and was a member of the boards of directors of the Foster Home for Hebrew Orphans and the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the executive council of the American Jewish Historical Society. The collection consists primarily of correspondence relating to genealogical matters and to Solis-Cohen's activities with the Foster Home for Hebrew Orphans and other charitable organizations. Also present are writings, chiefly on historical topics, and scrapbooks documenting Solis-Cohen's personal and business life and the genealogy of the Silva-Solis family and related families.
A related group of photographs, Jacob Solis-Cohen Jr. photographs (collection PG061), contains 36 items, including individual portraits, business and social events and miscellany.
(15.0 linear feet) These records of the Philadelphia edition of Forverts include subscription and financial records, and materials concerning carriers and advertising balances.
A related group of 25 photographs, Jewish Daily Forward photographs (collection PG040), includes portraits of leaders of Jewish labor, community, and fraternal organizations, and group portraits and social events.
(1.2 linear feet) Joseph E. Beck (1904-1981), a native of Racine, Wisconsin, was a social worker who helped Jewish refugees during World War II. Having previously worked for various social agencies in Cleveland, Ohio, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, Beck became the executive director of the Jewish Family Society of Philadelphia in 1934. He headed this organization until 1942 when he accepted the executive directorship of the National Refugee Service, in New York City. He left this organization in 1950 and moved to California, where he continued social work and eventually retired. This small yet vivid collection includes correspondence, family records, photographs, clippings, and 16mm films. The majority of the collection is comprised of Beck's candid and personal writings on a variety of social, political, and cultural topics. Many of these writings were used in Beck's autobiography, a copy of which is also in this collection.
(2.9 linear feet) Joseph Paull was a wholesale butcher, professional strongman, and an influential member of the Jewish community in Philadelphia. He was active in a variety of philanthropic organizations, especially the Uptown Home for the Aged. The collection contains biographical material, correspondence, clippings, and awards.
A related group of photographs, Joseph Paull photographs (collection PG129), includes 265 items, including portraits of Paull, friends and associates, family groups, prison activities, and miscellaneous events and philanthropies.
(265 items) Cahn owned theaters and opera houses in the northeastern United States. This business correspondence concerns theater bookings and cancellations.
(0.6 linear feet) The Labor Educational Centre was opened in 1934 as an educational and cultural center. It was the second such center founded by a number of Jewish left and labor organizations, including the Workmen's Circle-affiliated Arbeiter Ring and related groups. The Centre received subsidies from various Jewish organizations including the Allied Jewish Appeal. The collection includes blueprints and other documentation for the building, correspondence, and general administrative and financial records.
(1 volume) This volume contains the minutes of Northern Chevra Kadisha in Philadelphia.
(4.7 linear feet) Ossip Walinsky was born Joseph Melechinsky in Grodno, Lithuania in a Orthodox Jewish family. Following an arrest for anti-government activities in 1904, he escaped to Germany and then settled in London. In 1912 he immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City, where he became active as a labor organizer. In 1918 he became a manager of the Pocketbook Workers Union, New York, and remained with them until elected president of the International Leather Goods, Handbag, Belt, and Novelty Workers Union in 1951. Walinsky was also a prolific writer and was active in Jewish, Zionist and humanitarian organizations. The collection contains biographical material, correspondence and organizational records from the Pocketbook Workers Union and the International Leather Goods, Handbag, Belt, and Novelty Workers Union, and records from several Jewish organizations. Also included are clippings related to Jewish organizations.
A related group of photographs, Ossip Walinsky photograph collection (collection PG125), contains 112 items, including individual and group portraits from testimonial dinners and labor union meetings and events, and other unidentified groups.
(0.2 linear feet) This Philadelphia women's service group was affiliated with the Knights of Pythias. The collection consists of financial records, including income and expense ledgers, and audit statements.
(2.0 linear feet) Rose I. Bender was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of Joseph and Rachel Magil, Lithuanian immigrants and pioneer Zionists. She was active in Hadassah and a wide variety of other Jewish organizations at both the local and national level. In 1945 she became Executive Director of the Philadelphia Zionist Organization of America. The collection consists of correspondence, clippings, and miscellaneous items relating to Bender's activities in Hadassah, the Zionist Organization of America, Allied Jewish Appeal, and other organizations, including the National Jewish Hospital, American Palestine Music Association, and the Palestine Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. Also included are notes and souvenirs from her work as a delegate at Zionist congresses in Geneva (1939) and Basel (1946).
(0.2 linear feet) Jean Gornish, better known as Shaindele di Chazante, was born in Philadelphia. A liturgical singer, she performed Orthodox music in concert and on the radio. She was the first woman cantor, though she never served in a synagogue. The collection contains correspondence, clippings, posters and publicity and other printed materials.
(13.2 linear feet) The Workmen's Circle, a national Jewish fraternal organization, was founded in 1892 by Russian Jewish immigrants. The first Philadelphia branch was probably chartered in 1904. The organization promoted the development and preservation of Yiddish culture in the United States, and its members were active in the labor movement. The Workmen's Circle was aligned with the Socialist Party for three decades, then increasingly supported liberal democratic policies and Jewish nationalism. The collection contains minutes, correspondence, financial records, and membership records of several organization departments which document the scope and stability of the Philadelphia district programs.
Researchers may also be interested in a related group of 40 photographs, Workmen's Circle photographs (collection PG127), and the Workmen's Circle Choir phonograph recordings (collection D0439).
HSP has microfilm and print copies of various periodicals focused on Jewish communities in Philadelphia, the Northeastern United States, and beyond. Some microfilm newpapers from the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies have been digitized, and are available online for visitors to HSP's library at 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia. Learn more about HSP's Reading Room Databases.
Highlights of HSP's periodicals related to Jewish life include:
American Hebrew : the national weekly of Jewish affairs. Serial, 1921, 1931-1932, 1935-1941. Call number E .5098
Aufbau. Newspaper, 1934-1970. 36 reels. Published biweekly in New York City by the German Jewish Club, 1934-1940. "Nachrichtenblatt des German-Jewish Club." Microfilm, drawer 320
Avotaynu : the international review of Jewish Genealogy. Serial. Call number DS 101.A87
B'nai B'rith Messenger. Newspaper, 1898-1913. 4 reels. Published weekly in Los Angeles, California. Microfilm, drawer 320
Carolina Israelite. Newspaper, 1944-1958. 1 reel. Microfilm, drawer 320
Chronicles = Divre ha-yamim. Quarterly, spring 1985- Balch serial
Fur Worker. Newspaper, 1916-1930. 1 reel. Published semi-monthly in English and Yiddish. Microfilm, drawer 320
Jewish Chronicle. Newspaper, 1921-1943. 11 reels. Published weekly in Newark. Microfilm, drawer 319
Jewish Exponent. Newspaper, 1887-1926, 1928-1955, 1979. 47 reels. Published weekly in Philadelphia. First issue preceded by "Prospectus." Microfilm, drawer 329
Jewish Journal. Newspaper, 1956-1971. 3 reels. Published semimonthly in New Brunswick. Microfilm, drawer 317
Jewish Messenger. Newspaper, 1857-1902. 15 reels. Published weekly in New York. In English, German and Hebrew. Microfilm, drawer 324
Jewish Record. Newspaper, 1926-1950. 15 reels. Published in St. Louis, Missouri in Yiddish and English. Microfilm, drawer 286
Jewish Voice. In Yiddish. Microfilm, drawer 262
Menorah. Periodical, 1896-1907. 8 reels. Published monthly in New York. Official organ of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith. Microfilm, drawer 325
Morgenshtern. Newspaper, 1890. 1 reel. Published weekly in New York City, "A Jewish Labor Weekly devoted to the interests of the downtrodden and oppressed Humanity". In Yiddish. Microfilm, drawer 325
Sephardic Bulletin. 1928-1930. Monthly publication for the Sephardic Community of New York. Balch serial
Sephardic Home News. 1951-, Sephardic Home for the Aged. Balch serial
United Synagogue Recorder. Quarterly, 1920-1929. Balch serial
United Synagogue Review. Biennial, 1943-. Balch serial
Warheit. Newspaper, 1905-1919. 37 reels. Published daily in New York City. Some partial notices in English. In Yiddish. Microfilm, drawer 260
Yiddisher Kaempfer. Volumes 1-9, 1906-1920. In Yiddish. Microfilm, drawer 332
Yiddisher Pok. 1894-1896. Published weekly in New York City. In Yiddish. Microfilm, drawer 333
Other Local Repositories
Researchers may also be interested in consulting the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center (PJAC), which is now part of the Special Collections Research Center at Temple University.