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Exploring the Jewish Archives

Updated: Apr 5, 2018

By Kate Dietrick, Assistant Archivist -

Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives

In late February I happily welcomed the Minnesota Jewish Genealogical Society to Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota. As the archivist for the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, I knew that materials in this collection would prove most helpful to MNJGS members. Our mission is to collect, preserve, and make available historical records documenting the Jewish communities throughout the Upper Midwest region. This makes us a rich source for people in their search for information on their families.

The collections that we have include a wealth of materials from individuals about early Jewish settlement in the Upper Midwest, dating back to the 1850s. Family correspondence, club and association papers, photographs, scrapbooks, and oral histories help bring to life community members long past. We also collect organizational records –from local synagogues to social welfare organizations and women’s organizations to religious groups.

If your family history has ties to Minnesota, North or South Dakota, you may be able to find information in the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives. A great place to start is to check out our Genealogy Research page that will help guide you in your research. But here are a few highlights:

How do I find what I need?

Search the archival database and book database of the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives– you can search by family name (Goldenberg or Sara); organization or synagogue (Mount Zion or Hillel);  or subject (Soviet Jewry or Zionism). Certainly start with family names to see if you can find anything (photos, oral histories, etc.) directly related to your family, but don’t stop there. Know that they were involved in Hadassah or attended Temple Israel? Check if we have records during the dates they were active – perhaps once we pull those folders you may find mention of your family.

What else might be at the University that might be helpful?

Elmer L. Andersen Library is home to various collections that might prove helpful in your research. Here are a few:

  • Immigration History Research Center Archives houses sources documenting a broad range of immigrant and refugee experiences of first and second generation immigrants who came to the United States from central, eastern, and southern Europe, and more.

  • University Archives is the official home for the University’s historical documents, photographs, publications and more. Did a family member attend the U? Check to see if materials exist documenting their time on campus.

  • The John R. Borchert Map Library is housed in Wilson Library, but a large collection of maps have been digitized online that may prove helpful in your research — general Minnesota maps, plat maps, transportation maps, city maps and more.

Great, I want to visit! How do I do that?

Plan your visit! First figure out what collections you are most interested in viewing. Then, check out our website which lists our hours and location. Then, email or call to set up your appointment. Planning ahead of time is not required but is strongly desirable, for two reasons: first, the reading room has limited space for researchers and we want to make sure you get a table, and second, all of our materials are stored in underground caverns—it takes time to retrieve boxes that are requested, and staffing is limited.

While doing genealogy work, it is tempting to only focus on going back as far as you can and getting stories from “the old country” or simply just collecting names for the family tree. But don’t forget to look into the stories closer to home – you might be surprised at the stories you will find. We look forward to seeing you in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota.

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