Sunday, September 23, 2012

Immigrants to the British Mandate (Record Group 11)

So far at this blog we've presented specific documents, and occasionally small collections of carefully chosen documents. Today we'd like to talk about an entire collection which we've recently put online: RG (record group) 11, the immigration department of the Mandatory Government between 1920-1947. From the official description of the collection:

The Immigration Department, which began operating in 1920, dealt among other things with registration and change of names and naturalisation applications and processes. In addition to files with correspondence on these issues, this Record Group contains about 50,000 files of naturalisation applications. These files contain photographs and forms with personal details from 1934 –1948, mostly submitted by Jews who came to Palestine legally. However, there are also some files of persons born in the country who applied for Palestinian citizenship.
For the most part, the files are family files, that is, they contain the application forms and photographs of the entire family, indexed by the name of the head of the family (generally the father).
Valuable genealogical material is also to be found in other files of the Record Group which deal with the issuing of passports, visas, laissez-passer documents and the registrations of tourists and immigrants arriving in Palestine. The material in this Record Group is not complete as the offices of the Immigration Department were subject to attack by the Jewish underground organisations, and many files were destroyed during these attacks. Moreover, British officials destroyed or took with them an unspecified amount of material in the final days of the Mandate.

Translation: people who applied for citizenship in Mandatory Palestine are likely to be in those files, along with their family members, locals who vouched for them, and various other charcaters who pop up. There are many tens of thousands of names, along with photographs, and lots of biographical information. And there's information about immigrants, information about the places they're coming from, information about how they began to fit in once they got here ... a wealth of interesting stuff.

Sadly, while the collection is now online, and most of it is in English (the language used by the British authorites), it is not yet easily accessable. The current interface of the ISA's main website was designed in the late 18th century, and if you know Hebrew it's a bit clunky and archaic; if you don't know Hebrew it's, well, more clunky and archaic. This will be fixed, hopefully, by 2015, but it would be cruel to promise anything sooner. Still, here's the list of the files, and if you use the חיפוש באוספי הארכיון button, the search engine will accept queries in Latin characters and will give reasonable results for this collection.

For reasons of privacy protection, files from less than 70 years ago are not yet online. But if you think about the history you'll understand why most people had either arrived by 1940, or they never arrived.


  1. Yaacov,

    I tried searching in English, but I got no results. I tried two surnames of relatives who made aliyah during the mandate, Trauring and Adler, and received no results. I also tried Cohen (the name I try whenever I want to see if a search of a Jewish database is working) and also received no results. Any advice on how to get the search working for these records would be appreciated.

    Philip Trauring

    1. I think I found the problem. If I search for a surname and get no results, then go back to the search field by going back in the browser, I continue to get no results. My first search was the most rare name, so it got no results. Instead I need to reload the search page, and then search again, and then I get results for the other names.

    2. So the bottom line, Philip, is that you've figured it out, correct?

      As I said, we've got little to be proud of with the current interface, but rather than tweak it from horrible to very bad, we're hoping to migrate from horrible to very good. That, however, will take time, especially as it isn't even our tip priority: those would be the the parts here which are all wrong, which is even worse than horrible.

    3. Bottom line, yes, I got it to work. I understand completely. We have the same issue on where we are creating databases faster than we're able to build the interface to access them.

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