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Archival Collections

The breadth and scope of the archival records stored at The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) reflect its history as the oldest ethnic and cultural archive in the United States and its mandate to serve as a global resource for research through the collection, preservation, and dissemination of materials relating to American Jewish history, including the records of heretofore underrepresented individuals, communities, and subject areas. AJHS’s archival holdings include more than 30 million documents, 50,000 books, photographs, visual materials, and artifacts that reflect the history of the Jewish presence in the Americas from 1654 to the present.  

Among the treasures that AJHS holds are the handwritten original of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” which graces the Statue of Liberty; records of the nation’s leading Jewish communal and philanthropic organizations, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the American Jewish Congress, and the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York collections; the collection of Mordechai Sheftall, a Revolutionary War patriot; the archive of Molly Picon, famed motion picture and Yiddish theatre actress; the Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement; the Loeb Portrait Database of American Jewish Portraits with over 400 known portraits of Jews in American prior to 1865; and significant collections in the fields of education, philanthropy, literature, activism, social welfare, sports, business, and the arts.  

Access of all kinds, including digital, is AJHS’s watchword, and the repository seeks to provide comprehensive and equitable access, both in person and virtually, to AJHS holdings to the greatest extent possible. We serve thousands of researchers annually on-site, and countless others worldwide through our digitized finding aids and through the integrated online catalog at the Center for Jewish History. 

Finding Aids

A finding aid is a resource to help users identify archival records that are interesting and helpful for their research. To serve this purpose, a finding aid will often include description of the scope and content of the records; the context and history of the records, keywords about individuals, topics, and organizations referenced in the records, and a detailed inventory of the boxes and files in the collection. All of these sections are clearly marked in the finding aid. 

Do I really need to read finding aids before making an appointment to access collections? 

Finding aids are there to help researchers achieve their research goals more effectively. 

  • Reading the Abstract or the Scope and Content Note in the finding aid will help you understand if a collection is relevant to your topic. 
  • Reading the Collection Organization and Collection Inventory sections in the finding aid will help you narrow down in advance your selection of boxes to request. 
  • This will help make your visit to the Lillian Goldman Reading Room more efficient as, in keeping with its policies, researchers are given one archival box at a time.  
  • If you have questions about some information in a finding aid, please contact 


To browse the AJHS photographic collection, please visit here. 

To search the AJHS museum collection, please visit here.


What if a collection does not have a finding aid? 

  • Not all AJHS collections yet have finding aids available online. If you have further questions about collections which do not yet have finding aids, please contact 


Collections of note include: 

…and numerous other collections which illustrate how the American Jewish Historical Society holds the future of the American Jewish past and present. Start your search of AJHS’s collections here!