Introduction to AJHS’ Incorporation Papers
In the 1960s, the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) microfilmed the "Jewish" incorporation records in New York County for the period from 1848 to 1920. Dr. Nathan M. Kaganoff, librarian of the AJHS at the time, made selection by examining the original records at the New York County Clerk's Office. The AJHS then indexed these microfilmed documents, by first word as well as by town name, on approximately 10,000 cards. These selected incorporation papers at the AJHS comprise collection I-154. The AJHS is located at The Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011.
Among the incorporation records for the period beginning in 1848 are thousands of files for Jewish organizations, including synagogues, landsmanshaftn, social clubs, benevolent societies, family circles, etc. The listings on our webpage are limited exclusively to the slightly more than 3,000 landsmanshaftn or other Jewish organizations relating to a specific town or country, including cultural, educational, political, occupational, and commercial business associations. (Included in this latter category are approximately 50 real estate firms, such as the Bialystoker Realty Company.)
The New York County Clerk’s Office, Division of Old Records (31 Chambers Street, 7th floor), has the incorporation records for organizations and businesses that incorporated in New York County (Manhattan). However, incorporations from the early 19th century through 1946, which include the period of the AJHS collection, are stored off-site, and it takes one to two weeks for retrieval. At the County Clerk’s Office, these records are indexed in a computer printout that alphabetizes the organizations by the first main word. Unfortunately the initial word may be "Congregation," "Chevra," "Anshe" or some other generic term. If a researcher would like to identify the incorporation records for all organizations that pertain to a specific town in Eastern Europe, such a search is virtually impossible by using the computer printout. Thus the AJHS collection, and by extension this webpage, can provide the necessary information.
The listing on our website at AJHS Incorporation Data is arranged alphabetically by keyword, which is either a town or country contained in the name of the organization. Organizations containing multiple town names are listed separately by keyword for each town. For instance, "Mischkan Israel Ansche Prusin, Seltz and Malch" is listed three times, for Prusin, Seltz and Maltz, respectively. See the chart to determine the precise microfilm reel number for the year and file number you wish to access. The documents appear on the microfilm chronologically according to year and file number within that particular year. In a limited number of cases documents were filmed out of sequence. The County Clerk’s Office has no microfilm of these records, so the microfilm numbers have no research relevance there. As an alternative, you may search the AJHS’ online index of these records by the name of the society or the associated town at https://www.genealogy.cjh.org/familycollections.php [Make sure to search the Collection titled “New York Court Records. Incorporation Papers”].
If you would like to request documents from this collection in advance of your visit, please follow the instructions at https://cjh.org/p/135 and specify the relevant reel number(s) in your request. While you will pick up your microfilm in the Center for Jewish History’s Lillian Goldman Reading Room, the microfilm readers are in a separate room adjacent to reading room. You may reserve a microfilm reader at least one day in advance of your visit at https://microfilm.cjh.org. Unreserved readers are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The microfilm readers offer three options for copying your documents: e-mailing, saving to a flash drive (you must provide your own), or printing (at a charge of $.35 per page). Payment for printouts from microfilm should be made upon return of the microfilm reel(s) in the reading room.Non-visiting researchers can request pdf copies by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please consult the AJHS fee schedule for per page and copy labor fees at https://www.ajhs.org/photographs-media. There is no set number of pages for an incorporation. It can vary from one page to a dozen, depending in part on subsequent filings for mergers.
Be aware that this index stops with the year 1920; there are thousands of additional "Jewish" incorporations in New York County in subsequent years. The files often contain documents more recent than the year of first filing, since mergers and organizational name changes, if reported, are filed with the original records. There was no requirement to file anything after the original incorporation.
Many societies never incorporated, and some were in existence for many decades before they incorporated. If an organization incorporated in one of New York City’s four other counties - Bronx, Kings [Brooklyn], Queens or Richmond [Staten Island] - the file would not be among the New York County records. All incorporations in New York State theoretically are also recorded at the Secretary of State’s Office in Albany. The NYS Department of State’s Corporation and Business Entity searchable database at https://www.dos.ny.gov/corps/index.html indexes all active, and a limited range of inactive, incorporations across the entire state. Some organizations may have fallen through the filing cracks. For example, the Shater Progressive Benevolent Association was organized in New York County in 1909 and is entered in the NYS Department of State searchable database. Yet there is no record of its incorporation at the New York County Clerk's Office in either their computerized listing or the original handwritten index books stored in the basement at 60 Centre Street.
Only occasionally will the dissolution of an organization be documented in the file; most were so disorganized by the time they stopped functioning that no one bothered to report the organization's demise. Nevertheless, the "Jewish" incorporations are an interesting source about the early years of a society. While the basic nature and purpose of the documents are purely administrative, they may contain hidden treasures. Among the names of the initial directors, officers, trustees, or witnesses could be your ancestor, including his or her original signature. The incorporation papers of Congregation Sons of Keidan, dated 3 November 1888, contain an original Hebrew signature of John Bloom, great-grandfather of researcher Jonathan Bloom of North Falmouth, MA. Similarly, the incorporation papers of Congregation Bnai Israel Anshi Regolo Ve’Keidan, dated 6 February 1900, contain an original English signature of Goodman Telzer, great-grandfather of the wife of researcher Gregory Kolojeski of Winter Springs, FL. Click on highlighted words to see the signature pages for each of these societies.