Tips on finding archival records from Eastern Europe

If you want to dig up information about your roots in Eastern Europe, patience may be your most useful tool.

Dana Kurtz, president of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, says it can take up to six months to receive replies to queries from archives in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and other countries.

"Be prepared to wait," she advises. "Most of the archives aren't indexed or catalogued. They don't even know what they have."

Addresses and price lists for specific archives are available through the Jewish Genealogical Society, which can be reached at (415) 921-6761 or through its World Wide Web site,

For a speedy turnaround of archival records, Kurtz suggests writing to the archives' staffs in their native language, as most such facilities do not employ English-speaking personnel. Queries should be as simple as possible, Kurtz said, and should cite specific events, dates, time periods, towns and individuals' names.

Because records were transported from place to place after World War II, Kurtz also suggests researching the political history of the town of interest. Since records concerning one country are often now located in another, research can help track where archives have ended up.

To look for records closer to home, Kurtz suggests visiting any local library and consulting the "Red Book," which describes how to find vital records in any state.

Other local resources include the Sutro Library in San Francisco, the Mormon Family History Libraries in Oakland and Santa Clara, and the National Archives in San Bruno.