Monday, April 4, 2011

Behind the Scenes of “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Last Friday’s moving episode of Who Do You Think You Are? delved into the background of Gwyneth Paltrow. While audiences across the country watched Gwyneth discover amazing stories about her father’s rabbinical ancestors in Poland, what they didn’t see is how the show’s researchers got started on that path. Paltrow and the show’s team were able to begin their investigation thanks to information found in the 4.2 million records found on the independent Jewish Records Indexing – Poland, an extensive website, database, and discussion group hosted by JewishGen, an affiliate of the Museum. The show’s researchers found that Paltrow’s roots go back to a long line of rabbis named Paltrowicz from northeastern Poland and the towns of Suwalki, Lomza, and nearby shtetls. JRI-Poland, which the show’s researchers called “invaluable,” had 90 records related to her family.

Viewers of the show have learned through Lisa Kudrow’s dramatic journey that it is very difficult for many Eastern European Jewish families to find records of relatives as connections were often lost because of the Holocaust. While Who Do You Think You Are? employs professional researchers and genealogists, JewishGen makes it possible for anyone to start researching their family for free with the help of experts who offer assistance through special interest discussion groups. These longtime researchers provide up-to-date data to the site making previously unknown information available to all.

To get started, JewishGen recommends that first-time researchers first interview the family members who may have information about the family’s history. Researchers should then register for the JewishGen Family Finder, which registers the family names and ancestral towns that they are researching. If people are researching the same names or ancestral towns they may contact each other. Thousands of people have been reconnected to relatives through the JGFF. Discussion groups are also available and are read and contributed to by researchers around the world. On the discussion group, readers ask questions, provide tips, and focus on specific geographic areas and interests.

Log onto to begin your own journey.

Photo: Ms. Paltrow at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

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