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21 December 2012

The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia

Perhaps the finest center for information regarding any kind of ethnic research with the United States is the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Named for John Balch, who came to America in 1658 from Somerset, England, the first of the family to arrive. Over 250 years after his arrival, Emily Swift Balch (1835-1917) in her will stipulated that in the event that her boys not provide heirs,  the family estate be used to create a library in the city of Philadelphia. Her dream came true when in 1976, the 200th anniversary of the United States, the Balch Institute opened its doors to the public.
With the opening of the institute, people had a high quality place to not only compile the records of our immigrants ancestors, but a place to research and find out more about those who risked so much for us.  In January of 2002 the Balch Institute merged with and became part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (www.hsp.org). The collections of the 2 societies are very important for those with immigrants from all over Europe, and the records of the Jews of Philadelphia from those collections are amazing records. Amongst them are:
  •  Jewish petition cards to bring relatives to the United States, 1923-1935. (FHL Film #1570326 item 3).  When naturalized citizens petitioned to have their families brought to America, they filled out these cards. Not only do the give the name, address, and naturalization date of the petition but then all vital information about those wishing to come over. This can include, names, dates and places of birth, and most incredibly a listing of all places the person has lived before. What a great way to track your family as they travelled through Europe. Many of these also document people who travelled to the US through South America and the Caribbean. The record below is  the petition of Flora Widupsky Ackerman, who wants to bring her parents from Germany.    
  •   Nursery Case Files, 1904-1950 (FHL Film #1571687-1572027). Before 1918, the Young Women;s Union was established to provide a nursery and temporary shelter for those Jewish immigrant families that needed help. In 1918, it was incorporated as the Neighborhood Centre and these 28 rolls of microfilm are the copies of those original records. The information provided includes names, dates of birth, marriages, deaths, occupations and an incredible amount of family relationships. The two documents below show part of the file of the Greenfield family. In the first the information on the family is shown and on the second a list with addresses of the relatives. As these records are from the Census years, this is a wonderful way to verify families.

  •  Jewish immigrant aid societies' records of Jewish arrivals, 1913-1947 (FHL Film #'s 1570140-1570251). These microfilms are an alphabetical listing of the Jewish arrivals into various ports, but mostly the Port of Philadelphia. families are listed together which makes this appear just like a census record. There are over 100,000 people listed in this collection.
These three collections, as well as the others in the Family History Library Catalog generally are from the same time frame, 1880-1940. This enables the researcher to find multiple records of the families and then find them in other records such as the United States Federal Census. The easiest way to locate the records in the collection of the library is to do a keyword search in the catalog for Balch Institute. This search will show all 26 records, Jewish and non-Jewish, available through the Family History Library.

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