Helping Jewish families find their ancestors
The Toledot association offers a genealogical database
Anyone who can turn their hobby into a daily job must be doing something right. Former molecular biologist turned genealogist Julius Müller did just that.
An interest in tracing his family’s genealogy led Müller to found a Prague-based nonprofit Jewish family history center called Toledot, the Hebrew word for “descendants.” The organization’s goal is to coordinate genealogy projects, develop Jewish genealogy databases, and preserve Jewish heritage for future generations. The center offers research tools for people seeking information about their Moravian and Bohemian ancestors.
“I was doing my own genealogy, and there weren’t a lot of documents online, but there were a lot of threads on online forums with complaints that nothing was online,” Müller said. at the Prague Post. “By doing it for my family, I learned to read and access files; that was my motivation for creating Toledot, to help people overcome the difficulties I had encountered.
Toledot’s core business is digitization. Müller is currently uploading a collection of books from the genealogical organization Jewish Familiants of Bohemia, which contains three generations of descendants from the Czech Republic. There are 170 books from Bohemia and 50 from Moravia. Müller is halfway through the Bohemian project and has received support from the Jewish Museum in Prague, among other organizations.
Müller was driven to found Toledot after looking for his own roots.
“Digitization is a great way to present documents and artifacts to researchers and the general public; it also helps to protect cultural heritage,” said Michal Frankl, deputy director of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Simplify the search
Toledot’s online system allows you to click on a region of the Czech Republic and bring up digitized pages of the Jewish Familiar. Müller also collects archival copies from seven regional archives and about 60 district archives. His goal is to have these resources online so people doing ancestral research can find information and then perhaps be led to visit the area where their ancestors lived.
“Most of the requests come from the United States – it’s a service mainly for foreigners. Their ancestors came from here; most clients have family who left around 1850 for the United States,” he said.
Müller adds that most people moved from western Bohemia because the economy at that time was not prosperous.
“For Americans trying to reconstruct their history, it’s hard. The people who came wanted a new life; now the descendants want to know the history, what the villages looked like. We can meet those needs.
Several times a year, Müller assists people who come to the Czech Republic for a genealogical visit. Recently, he helped the Mandelik family, who came from all over the world. About 35 family members spent two or three weeks touring Italy, London and Prague, tracing their family history.
“The family was from Kolín, so I hired a bus and took them to Kolín,” Müller said. “We visited the cemetery, looked at the records and they even met their Czech cousins.”
This kind of adventure and interaction is what Müller finds so rewarding in his genealogy work. Müller previously spent 15 years as a scientist doing cancer research in Prague. He says he began to consider a career change as his interest in genealogy increased. At first he thought only his family would be interested in his hobby, but as he found more public interest he began to devote more time to tracing family histories.
“Sitting in the archives is one thing, but seeing people is very rewarding. I couldn’t do it without it,” he said. “I sat in my lab with my microscope, but it’s alive. People are enthusiastic and want to learn.
Müller encourages people who want to research their own genealogy to search the Toledot database first. It is important to know the name of the village or town where the family comes from. Then, those interested can contact the local archives; Müller says they are very open to helping people with their research.
“I tell people where to go and what questions to ask,” he said. “But I would like to bring more people into the country… [and] enrich their experience with information on where to go to learn more about their family.
Müller doesn’t think his new career is so different from the old one. He still does research, writes articles and speaks at conferences, he says. He doesn’t foresee another career change in the future, but he wouldn’t mind accomplishing the task he has set for himself.
“If I do my job, people will know where to go for information,” he said. “If the website works perfectly, I’m no longer needed.”
Jewish Family History Center