YouTube: A Genealogical Tool

By Ann Rabinowitz

One of the tools that developed in this the Internet age is YouTube, (, a relative newcomer created in 2005 by three friends, who were former employees of PayPal.  The streaming video content allows easy transmission of materials.  This enables the genealogical researcher to take advantage of this medium with ease.  Not only can the researcher find materials uploaded to the site by others, but he or she can upload their own materials for others to see and share.
There is much that has been put on YouTube that relates to Jewish life. For instance, there is Yiddish music and other areas that touch on topics that researchers should pursue when choosing to enhance their knowledge of their ancestor’s world.

Often, people send me YouTube offerings such as the following one sent in honor of Purim by Zipora Peer in Israel which features the Yiddish song “Fiddle” by Misha Marmar and incorporates photographs and other visual effects. Click here to watch the video.
If one were to look further, now that I have mentioned the holiday of Purim, one can find an enormous amount of material on everyone’s favorite Purim Spiel from Baltimore to Jerusalem, to Skokie and back.  You might find your cousin Barney or your aunt Minnie happily cavorting for the holiday at their synagogue or other venue and quite unaware that their performances would be uploaded to YouTube for international consumption.   

On a more sober note, one can view the following piece which recreates the shtetl of “der heim” in the song “Geven Amol Iz A Shtetl” by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman.  It is accompanied by art and photographs:. Click here to watch the video
There are musical tributes such as the one by Holocaust victim Yiddish poet Mordechaj Gerbertig about his home town of Krakow, Poland.  It intersperses the music with wonderful photographs of the pre-War city.
Click here to watch the video
There are featured singers and performers, impresarios, and others, who you might not otherwise hear unless you visited an archive or library.  On YouTube, you will find them in profusion.  There are many rare performances which you will only be able to see on YouTube as the original media format is not easily available.  One such performance is by Jasha Heifetz performing with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1934. Click here to watch the video.

Documentaries abound on YouTube and cover topics of Jewish life from everywhere in the world.  One such, made in 1939, covers the towns of Kovno, Riga and Lwow and allows one a visual glimpse of ordinary life in those places.  The every day streets scenes will linger in your mind long after you have finished the film clip. Click here to watch the video.

There are also documentaries which cover individual projects or communities such as the one done for the restoration of the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill in Boston, MA.  It provides a wonderful discussion of the Jewish community in Boston. Click here to watch the video.
Tributes to individuals are also available such as the one for Bruno Schulz, 1892-1942, the well-known artist from Drohobycz, Ukraine, who perished in the Holocaust.  While fragments of his work can be found at Yad Vashem (see prior mention on the Blogspot), this piece features a number of his graphic representations of life in Drohobycz. Click here to watch the video.

Switching to the present, one can find a Jewish musical concert in 2007 in Manchester, England, featuring Rabbis Danny Bergson and Mitch Goodman. Click here to watch the video.
Another Manchester event was the opening of the “Jewish Symbolism” exhibit in 2007 which was created by Blake-Ezra Cole and was discussed on Channel M News.  These kinds of things enable those who are interested in Manchester Jewry to keep up-to-date on events there.  One can also find, for instance, information on other exhibits from other Jewish Museums such as the one in Berlin. Click here to watch the video.
All in all, YouTube represents a milestone in enabling delivery of all sorts of material to an international audience on an Internet platform.  The resources one can find there are far-reaching and in many languages and are growing all the time.  The next step, in terms of genealogical significance, will be for genealogists to upload videos of their trips, interviews, photographs and documents to this resource in an organized fashion.  Another avenue of growth will be what one will find when searching for family names on YouTube.  One can only imagine the future possibilities!


  1. You've certainly opened my eyes to YouTube possibilities I never would have thought of, otherwise. Thank you for a great article.

  2. YouTube is a great resource and it allows you to expand your knowledge of what is going on in the world as well as to view things from the past. People regularly send me YouTube pieces to illustrate things they are researching.


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