Experiences and Case Studies

All Celebrities

Back to current celebrities

Lisa Kudrow

The study of Lisa Kudrow’s family tree at once makes for a compelling story yet leaves us pondering the horrors of the Holocaust. Of course, many millions of Jews were systematically murdered during this terrible time, and directly impacted the families who wisely chose to leave Eastern Europe before the outbreak of World War II. Jews migrated out to all parts of the world, and many, like Lisa’s family, ended up in New York. This third episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” tells the story of Lisa’s Jewish grandmother and the family she left behind, and it will be one with which millions of families worldwide can relate.

Researching Jewish families can be a very challenging experience for a number of reasons. The key is in knowing the specific town, village or shtetl that an immigrant originated. Fortunately, Lisa Kudrow’s father, Lee, knew the precise community from which his mother emigrated. Grunia “Gertrude” Farberman was born and reared in Ilya, which is now found in modern day Belarus.

Once a place of origin has been determined, it is then necessary to determine whether records survive for Jewish families. Some locations will have very little surviving documentation while others may have records going back to the early 1800s. Synagogue records were greatly affected during World War II, as illustrated in Ilya, where Lisa Kudrow discovered that the local Synagogue was burned down. This destruction of records makes piecing together her Jewish ancestry very difficult beyond the traditions that survive in her family. However, even in places such as Ilya, where the entire Jewish community was wiped out, there are still other resources that can be utilized. Lisa travelled to the Zonal State Archives in Minsk, Belarus and found that her great-grandmother, Mary, was recorded in a list of victims of the Ilya massacre.

Perhaps the most compelling part of this episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” was Lisa’s search for Yuri Barudin, a relative of the family. Yuri visited the family of Lisa Kudrow shortly after the end of the war. She was able to find him in a passenger manifest, aboard the SS Batory. The manifest below records one of his visits in 1947. As Lisa discovered on the show, Yuri had adopted a more Polish-sounding name – Boleslaw. She was not initially sure that this was the correct man, but his surname and the name of the ship were correct. The ship had sailed to New York from the port of Gdynia. Further investigation of records specific to Gdynia in Poland showed uncovered a man named Boleslaw Barudin who of course did indeed turn out to be Lisa’s relative.

So where do you start if you want to research your Jewish heritage and ancestry and you don’t have a location of origin in Europe? First, it is important that all members of the extended family are questioned about what they know of the family’s origins. Then, it is important to document the family as far as possible in the records of the country to which they emigrated. In Lisa Kudrow’s case, her Jewish ancestors settled in New York City, and so some of the answers to her ancestry lie in the records of that city. Indeed, it is important to realize that the records in the country of immigration can often provide more answers about one’s ancestry than the records that remain in Eastern Europe.

Key documents to find include vital records (that will often provide parent names or places of origin), immigration records (passenger manifests and naturalization records) as well as tombstone inscriptions. Ancestry.comhas an excellent collection of immigration records. Hopefully, these records will provide the origins of the family, but occasionally they will provide a place name that simply does not exist any more. This is particularly true of locations that have fallen within the boundaries of different nations. For example, many places in modern Poland may have fallen in the boundaries of either Germany or Russia at various times in history. Further, place names in areas such as the modern day Ukraine may not have a standard Latin-based version, since Cyrillic characters are used in former Soviet states. The "Jewish Gen Communities Database" is a great resource for solving this kind of a problem.

Then, once a place of origin has been established, you will need to search for records specific to that location. Many records will be housed at an archive, such as the Zonal State Archives in Minsk, Belarus. Fortunately, many records have also been microfilmed and are available for viewing at the Family History Library. However, be aware that the records may not necessarily be in Hebrew. Some records relating to Jews will be in the language of the country in which the family was residing. So you may need to polish up on your Russian language skills!

Also, note that your Jewish ancestors may be recorded under a variant of the name that you are not expecting. On many occasions Jewish names were recorded using a variant in a different language. A similar theme is found when Jewish families immigrated and took a similar sounding name in their new country of residence, or in some cases, something entirely different. This emphasizes the care that needs to be taken when studying your Jewish heritage and origins.

Research Manager on Project:

Neil Holden

Project Hours:

324 Hours

Neil grew up in Sussex, England, before moving to Utah in 2001. He has a long-term interest in migrations of people throughout the world, particularly within the nations and colonies of the former British Empire. His studies of the social history and geography of Great Britain complement his professional experience. He has been a lead researcher for episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?, including those focusing on the heritage of Lionel Richie and Rashida Jones, and he has authored or edited several family histories. 


Neil has a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah, and he is currently pursuing graduate-level study in the field of genealogy and paleography. His areas of expertise include research in England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Australia, Canada (English), the Caribbean and South Africa. He is comfortable tracing British and Irish immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries as they traveled all over the world.