Vilna Shul Genealogical Project

In 2013, genealogists on the Board of Directors at the Vilna began looking at the Hebrew names on the walls of our historic building, wondering if we could locate their living descendants.  To date, we have located approximately 500 people that descend from approximately one third of the people whose names appear on our plaques. We have had three Descendants’ Days, where we have welcomed multiple generations of families and have helped them uncover their families’ stories. Our research is ongoing and we hope to find more descendants and welcome them “back” to the Vilna community.  To read about Lisa Wangness’ coverage in The Boston Globe, click here. Click here to read Anna Goldenberg’s article in the Jewish Forward.

The Vilner Congregation was founded in 1893, and our historic building was erected in 1919. We receive many inquiries from people all over the country, asking us if any records of their ancestors who initially came to Boston, or originated from Vilna, Lithuania, might be found on our premises. Unfortunately, no records remain from the early days of the shul. The only names we have, the majority of which are in Hebrew, are those on the 1923 Men’s Wall, 1923 Women’s Auxiliary Wall, the 1907 Women’s Auxiliary Plaque and the 1936 Women’s Auxiliary Plaque. We consider these people to be the “founders” of the original congregation.

We thank you for your inquiries. We will check to see if your ancestors’ names appear on these plaques. If not the names do not appear on the name plaques, please keep in mind that these are only snapshots in time. If we cannot find them, it could just mean that by 1923, they may have already moved out of the West End. You may want to check the Federal Censuses and Boston City Directories on  (subscription required-check your local library) or (free) to see if your family lived in the vicinity of the Vilna, which was Ward 8 (appearing at the top right-hand corner of the censuses). There are many websites which can help you with your genealogical pursuits. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston has resources, monthly programs, and help days. 

If you know that your ancestors did go to the Vilna, we want to hear from you! We have spoken to many descendants whose names do not appear on the plaques, but they have self-identified and remember going to the Vilna with their grandparents, or heard stories about the Vilna.  Your stories are important to us as we fulfill our mission of preserving history while engaging future generations in the Greater Boston area.

The Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center Jewish Culture is the last remaining Jewish immigrant-era Jewish synagogue building in downtown Boston and is the oldest Jewish historic landmark in the city. Built in 1919 on the north slope of Beacon Hill, it is no longer a fully functioning synagogue but is now a thriving center of learning, culture, and outreach to the larger Boston community. As we breathe new life into the Vilna, we are ensuring the continuity of our people by welcoming all those who are seeking community and a way to live meaningful lives based on Jewish values and cultural connections.

Happy Hunting, and thank you for your interest in the Vilna Shul! We hope you will visit soon.

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