It was a tough journey for actress Lisa Kudrow. On tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Lisa returned to the place where members of her family – her great-grandmother included – had been murdered in the Holocaust. But she ends on a high note: a reconnection to an ancestor Lisa and her father had believed was long dead.
Here’s how and where Lisa’s difficult discoveries happened.
- Parents’ home, Los Angeles, CA – Lisa starts the way any family historian would – by talking to her family, recounting how she heard about her great-grandmother’s murder. The story prompts Lisa’s father to recount a visit he had from a Polish cousin, who informed him and his mother about what happened to the family in the Holocaust. Lisa learns the name of her great-grandmother, Mary, the village or shtetl name, Ilya/Ilja, the cousin’s name, Yuri, and that Yuri had later died.
- Zonal State Archives in Molodechno, Minsk, Belarus – Lisa travels to Belarus to learn more about where her great-grandmother is buried and to find out about Yuri. She’s surprised that documents survived World War II, including one that list victims of the Ilya massacre, her great-grandmother included.
- Ilya, Belarus – Lisa visits a villager, Maria, who witnessed the massacre. Maria gives a first-hand account of the massacre and tells how she tried to help a young girl hide. The attempt was tragically unsuccessful.
- Central Ilya, Belarus – A translated document gives Lisa painful details about the mass burial of 900 Jews in Ilya. Lisa walks the path that her great-grandmother took to her final destination – an open grave where today a memorial to the massacre’s victims stands. Back in her hotel room, Lisa turns to Ancestry.com for information on Yuri. She finds a Boleslaw from Gdynia, Poland, who was on the same ship that Yuri was said to have arrived on. Are they the same person?
- Gdynia State Archives, Poland - Lisa sees Boleslaw’s registration card, learns his wife’s name and his son’s name – she’s sure now that he’s Yuri. She searches the phonebook for family’s last name, and discovers Boleslaw is still alive. She nervously picks up the phone and introduces herself to the family.
- Boleslaw’s home, Gdynia, Poland – Lisa share photos with Boleslaw, his son and grandson. They discuss Boleslaw’s meeting with Lisa’s father and how Boleslaw escaped the fate of the rest of the family. Lisa’s final act in Poland is to call her father and tell him the news.
Throughout her journey, Lisa learns that records do exist for Jews in Eastern Europe and elsewhere and that the steps a person takes to research American Jewish genealogy starts with records created in America. It’s the clues in those records – the hometowns, the names, the immigration details – coupled with a knowledge of history that help Lisa find answers back in Belarus.
Key resources for searching Jewish family history are available at Ancestry.com – all are key to American genealogy and are the first stops in researching:
Also visit the Jewish Family History collection at Ancestry.com www.ancestry.com/jewishfamilyhistory.
After you’ve learned everything you can from the documents available to you locally, turn to European archives (the Miriam Weiner Eastern European Archival Database can help you determine what’s where). Then try Expert Connect to find an expert who can help you determine the best way to retrieve it.
If you missed Lisa Kudrow on Who Do You Think You Are? you can catch the episode online here. Or watch a preview of next week’s episode, when Matthew Broderick discovers his family’s involvement in America’s military history.
About Heather Erickson
Heather Erickson is Head of Global Communications for Ancestry.com and has been with the company since 2009.