Written by Gary Mokotoff for Ancestry
You have come to this site to find out how to begin tracing your Jewish ancestry, or for help furthering the Jewish research you have already started. You have come to the right place. Ancestry is the number one online source for family history information with billions of historical records, some oriented specifically toward Jewish family history research.
Many people think that Jewish genealogical research is different than other genealogical research. For the most part it is not. All genealogical research, whether Jewish or otherwise, starts with documenting what you know and then with family members or others who might have information about the family.
Record What You Know
First, start by recording everything you know-names, dates, and places of yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and so on. A helpful way to record this information is by starting a free family tree on Ancestry2020欧洲杯在线网址. By entering what you already know into a family tree, you keep all your information organized in a centralized place.
Talk with Family
You may be surprised what you can learn simply by talking with your family. When speaking with them, do not ask the general question, "What do you know about our family’s history?" The response will invariably be, "Nothing!" Ask specific questions, like names, places, and dates. The following examples are taken from real interviews:
Life events can jog memories.
"When did your grandfather die?"
"I don’t know."
"Was he alive when you were born?"
"Did he attend your bar mitzvah?"
2020欧洲杯在线网址 "Yes, in fact he died a year after my bar mitzvah."
Photographs can jog memories.
"When were your grandparents married?"
"I don’t know."
"Do you have any photographs of them?"
"Yes, in fact I have the photo album created in 1951 for their 50th wedding anniversary celebration."
Search for Records to Fill in the Gaps
2020欧洲杯在线网址Once you’ve recorded what you know and gotten as much information from your family as possible, it’s time to fill in the gaps by finding records about your ancestors’ lives. Interestingly, you are rarely looking for Jewish records, because historically there is nothing in the Jewish religion or culture that requires keeping records of life events. Synagogues did not keep records of births (there are no christenings) or deaths, and there is nothing comparable to marriage banns.
When you do Jewish research you are looking for government records. If your great-grandfather was born in New York City, his birth record is in the New York City archives. If your great-grandfather was born in Minsk, Belarus, his birth record is in the Minsk archives. Some people believe all Jewish records were destroyed in the Holocaust. While it is true that most things Jewish were destroyed during this period, the records you are looking for are government records, not Jewish records. For the most part, government records have survived.
Research Issues Peculiar to Jewish Genealogy
There are some unique aspects of Jewish culture and religion that can help you trace your family history, such as Jewish naming patterns and tombstone inscriptions.
Jewish Naming Patterns
Every Jew has a religious given name as well as a secular name. The religious name is used in baby namings, religious services, and on tombstones. Ashkenazic Jews-the Jews who originated in Central and Eastern Europe-invariably give their children the religious name of a deceased relative. Sephardic Jews-whose origins are primarily the Mediterranean rim and the Middle East-name their children in the following manner: the first son is named after the father’s father; first daughter-mother’s mother; second son-mother’s father; second daughter-father’s mother. These rules are often the first clue as to the names of ancestors for whom there is yet no documentation.
"What is the name of your grandmother?"
"I don’t know. She died before I was born."
"Who are you named after?"
2020欧洲杯在线网址 "My grandmother."
Two Jewish genealogists who suspect they are related but have not found records as proof often will compare given names in the two families. If there are given names common to both families, it suggests common ancestry.
If a Jewish tombstone has a Hebrew inscription, it includes the religious name of the deceased and his/her father’s given name. It is a quick way to go back one more generation. Assimilated Jews tended not to have Hebrew inscriptions on their tombstones. As a generalization these inscriptions do not appear on tombstones of Jews who came from Germany in the 19th century, Jews who are members of the Reform movement, or more recent burials where the Hebrew name of the decedent has been lost to the family.
If the decedent was the immigrant ancestor, the Hebrew name is a clue to the Yiddish name used when the person lived in Eastern Europe. The tombstone inscription shows that Harry was Hirsch, Morris was Moshe (Moses), Rose was Frusha, Ida was Chaya. The problem of knowing the European given name is so critical to locating information about an ancestor on passenger lists or in European records that our Jewish Family History Collection homepage has a search for "Jewish Name Variations."
Additional Jewish Resources
2020欧洲杯在线网址There is much help available in your quest to find your Jewish ancestry. The following resources are available:
- Databases on Ancestry and JewishGen.org, which may include records of your ancestors and family.
- Jewish Special Interest Groups (SIGs), organized primarily by country of ancestry.
- Approximately 80 Jewish genealogical societies worldwide where you can attend meetings, network with other genealogists, and attend lectures that will expand your knowledge of genealogy and history or e-mail for local assistance.
- An annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy where hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand, persons attend to network and learn.
- The journal of Jewish genealogy: AVOTAYNU.
- More than 50 books that focus on the needs of Jewish genealogical research.
Ancestry and JewishGen.org
2020欧洲杯在线网址The ultimate goal is to find records of your ancestors and there is no better place to start and continue to return than Ancestry and JewishGen.org. Many of the important JewishGen databases are also on Ancestry and free to the public; therefore, searching for your ancestors at the Ancestry Jewish Family History Collections homepage will automatically retrieve the information from JewishGen.org without you having to actually go to the JewishGen site. However, here are two important databases that must be accessed directly at JewishGen.org:
. Your genealogy may already be done! More than 80,000 genealogists worldwide have submitted to JGFF the Jewish surnames and ancestral towns they are researching. Go to the site and search for the surnames you are researching to determine if other genealogists are doing similar work. Be sure to search using the "Sounds like" option because there are often spelling variants of names. JGFF will display the surname, town, and identifying information about the person who submitted the information so you can contact the individual and jumpstart your research. You can search for a surname only, a town only, or both.
2020欧洲杯在线网址. This database includes more than 2.5 million people on Jewish family trees. Perhaps a distant relative or a relative by marriage has already done some of your research and can fill in a portion of your tree. FTJP also provides a way for you to communicate with the person who submitted the information.
2020欧洲杯在线网址Some additional resources specific to JewishGen.org include the following:
- Infofiles – Articles written by genealogists about specific aspects of Jewish genealogical research.
- Discussion Groups – Daily bulletin boards you can join where questions are posted and answered.
- ShtetLinks – Web pages devoted to the history of specific ancestral villages. These are created by other genealogists.
- Viewmate – Post photos and documents for identification, analysis, and translation.
Special Interest Groups
Because today most Jews do not live in the countries where their ancestors lived 150 years ago, Special Interest Groups have developed oriented toward researching their country of ancestry. Most are for countries in Central and Eastern Europe (e.g., Germany and Ukraine). Two are topical SIGs: Rabbinic and Sephardic. You can link to their homepages from the . Go to the section titled "Special Interest Groups." Two SIGs are not part of the JewishGen umbrella and are listed in the "Hosted Organizations" section of the homepage: Jewish Records Indexing-Poland and LitvakSIG (Lithuania).
Jewish Genealogical Societies
There are some 80 Jewish genealogical societies in the world under the umbrella of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). A complete list of societies is available at . If there is one in your area, join the society. At their meetings you will be able to discuss your research with experts who can point you in the right direction. You can also e-mail them for local assistance.
International Conference on Jewish Genealogy
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) sponsors the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which has been held annually since 1982. Typically between 750 and 1,000 people attend. Information on the conference can be found at the IAJGS website: .
2020欧洲杯在线网址AVOTAYNU is a quarterly journal of Jewish genealogy, which publishes articles of value about Jewish genealogical research. Information about AVOTAYNU can be found at .
Books on Jewish Research
2020欧洲杯在线网址Avotaynu, Inc., the publisher of AVOTAYNU, has also produced more than to assist persons researching their Jewish ancestry. Written by more than 60 authors on 100 subjects, is the definitive guide to Jewish genealogical research. Avotaynu also publishes the e-zine of Jewish genealogy, , published biweekly and available free of charge.
About Gary Mokotoff
Gary Mokotoff is an author, lecturer, and leader of Jewish genealogy. He has been recognized by three major genealogical groups for his achievements. He is the first person to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS); and is the recipient of the Grahame T. Smallwood Award of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Mokotoff is also known for his application of computers to genealogy. Among his accomplishments is co-authorship of the Daitch-Mokotoff soundex system; the JewishGen Family Finder, a database of ancestral towns and surnames being researched by some 50,000 Jewish genealogists throughout the world; and the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index.