Ten years of JHC

As the commemorations continue for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival and the 175th anniversary of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), I also want to acknowledge and celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) in 2020.

Formerly known as the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archive, the JHC and NEHGS launched a collaboration in 2010 to enhance Jewish historical and genealogical research and the continued collection and preservation of Jewish history. Five years later, the collaboration was further strengthened when JHC’s archives became permanently deposited at NEHGS. In 2018, the center was named for Justin and Genevieve Wyner in recognition of their longstanding support and advocacy.

The JHC serves as the archival repository for the documentary record of Jewish life in the Greater Boston area and New England communities. The JHC’s extensive holdings include personal papers, organizational records, photographs, reports, and other materials for researching the history of Boston’s Jewish community. Collections include the records of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Rabb Family/Stop & Shop collection.

As the JHC’s Digital Projects Archivist for the past two years, I lead the JHC’s digital initiatives, including digitizing and uploading records to the JHC Digital Archive. To request access to the JHC Digital Archive, follow the steps here. The JHC Digital Archive is located on the Digital Collections website, which also hosts records and books from the Research Library and R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. Stay tuned, as the Digital Collections website is undergoing a redesign by several colleagues and myself!

Over the past ten years, JHC staff, interns, and volunteers have added more than 660,000 browsable and searchable records to JHC’s Digital Archive.

Over the past ten years, JHC staff, interns, and volunteers have added more than 660,000 browsable and searchable records to JHC’s Digital Archive. We especially thank our donors, staff, interns, and volunteers from the last ten years who have help to make this possible! Within the JHC Digital Archive, we arrange the digitized records into what we call “collection buckets.” These buckets represent either a single, large archival collection or a shared theme among several smaller archival collections. Some collection bucket examples include Family & Individual Papers, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of BostonRabbinical, Synagogue and Jewish Education Papers, and The Jewish Times, Boston newspaper.

Currently, JHC’s digitization efforts are focused on scanning and uploading case files to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Boston Port Records (HIAS Boston), thanks to generous funding from the Poorvu family. Our HIAS project intern and I generally upload between 1,500 to 2,500 pages of HIAS records a month to the Digital Archive. Our tasks also include capturing names, places, addresses, and ships that are mentioned in the records, which helps researchers with their keyword searches.

This important collection demonstrates how HIAS Boston assisted immigrants and refugees coming into Boston, and those seeking to help family members in Europe, especially during and just after World War II. The digitized case files contain correspondence, legal documents, and notes about individuals and families working with HIAS to receive assistance. The HIAS Boston collection also contains a few passenger lists, ship manifests, scrapbooks, and photographs. We recently worked with the Database team to create a HIAS database from 12 folders featuring passenger lists, ship arrivals, correspondence, and lists of immigrants who were detained and deported. To learn more about JHC’s HIAS collection, view the HIAS Boston finding aid or visit the HIAS, Boston collection page in the Digital Archive. 

So, here’s to the past ten years and to the future of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center. I’m excited to see what the future holds for JHC’s digital projects! Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see featured records and photographs from the Digital Archives.

Brittany Contratto

About Brittany Contratto

Brittany Contratto was the Digital Projects Archivist for the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society until 2020. She managed the Center’s digital projects, its social media, and its digitization efforts. Brittany received a B.S. in Historic Preservation with a Museum and Archives concentration and minors in Archaeology and Anthropology from Southeast Missouri State University. She earned her M.A. in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University and her M.S. in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives Management from Simmons University.

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