Jewish Genealogy & Surnames

jewish genealogy

Tracing a Jewish genealogy may be a complex undertaking, since this is one of the oldest cultures in the history of the world! However, those who are fortunate enough to find their Jewish roots are sure to explore a rich tapestry of history and culture along the way. Jewish-Americans searching for their Jewish ancestry also have a wealth of information at their fingertips, with plenty of publications and websites devoted to this specific purpose.

Jewish-Americans are currently the largest population of this ethnic group in the world. Because there are so many Jews living in the United States today, their religion, culture and traditions have permeated the American culture, providing this country with a rich, eclectic melting pot of people and religion. Those searching for their Jewish ancestry are in an elite group, with famous Jewish-Americans like Zak Efron, Natalie Portman and Selma Blair lighting up the screen, and prominent politicians like Joe Lieberman and Barney Frank leading the way in Washington.

Tracing Jewish Ancestry

Jewish history is one of the oldest in the world, spanning more than 8,000 years. This ethnic group's origins can be traced all the way back to early biblical times, as the Bible cites the Jewish population as descendants of Abraham and his son, Isaac. The first land belonging to the Jews was in Canaan, which was situated between the eastern banks of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. During the reign of King David, Jerusalem became the spiritual and national capital for the nation of Israel.

Jewish Captivity and Turbulence

During the latter part of the 6th century, the nation of Israel was taken into captivity by Babylon, although they did eventually return to their home in Jerusalem a number of generations later. The nation was later conquered by the Romans and lived under Roman rule from 630 BCE to 324 CE. Once out from under Roman control, this nation was subject to more turbulent time during the Christian crusades and the Mamluk period, which lasted until the 16th century.

One of the darkest times in Jewish history took place during the middle of the 20th century, when Adolf Hitler launched a massive annihilation of this ethnic group. The tragic events of this period dramatically impacted the Jewish population, as well as the rest of the world. The State of Israel was established shortly after the war, although the nation continues to be in conflict with Palestine over the territory of the region to this day.

Jewish Ancestry and Influence in America

Despite a troubled and sometimes tragic history, the Jewish-Americans who migrated to this country have had a positive influence in the fields of science, culture and economy. Those searching for their Jewish roots will find that there are many bright and bold spots in Jewish history that have left their mark as distinctly as the devastating events that have occurred to this ethnic group over their very long history.

Jewish Family History Resources

  • JewishGen - JewishGen is a free genealogy website that features thousands of useful databases and research tools that help individuals with Jewish ancestry to locate family members and perform their own genealogical searches. Other links on this website include a help center, press room and success stories.
  • JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) - The JewishGen website features the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF), which is a comprehensive database of ancestral towns and surnames that are currently being researched. This type of information may allow many individuals to come together and share useful information.
  • Jewish family websites - The JewishGen website features the JewishGen Family Links Database, which allows individuals to search Web pages prepared by fellow researchers. This database, which can be searched by surname or keywords, allows fellow genealogists to share information with one another.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) - The JewishGen website features JewishGen Frequently Asked Questions. This section of the website includes information on how to get started in your genealogy search, how to use the JewishGen Family Finder, how to contact vendors, and contact information for Jewish Genealogical Societies, among other things.
  • Jeff Malka's list of Sephardic links - The JewishGen Sephardicgen website is a comprehensive website about all things related to Sephardim, including who they are, the history, historical maps of Spain, Moroccan Jews in the Amazon, the Holocaust of North Africa, and the Portuguese Jewish community of Tunis, among other things.
  • Sefard Forum - The JewishGen Sephardicgen website features a Sephardic forum and provides information for anyone who wants to participate in an email discussion group. Anyone in the world who is interested in Sephardic genealogy is encouraged to participate in the discussion group.
  • Jamaican Jewish History - The Sephardim website includes information on Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Liturgical Music, Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities worldwide, Jamaican Jewish history, the Neveh Shalom Institute, Jamaican Jewish Genealogy, and a number of Sephardic links.
  • Sepharadchai - The Cattle, Cotton and Torah website features information on Brazilian history, and in particular, the first Portuguese settlers to settle into northeastern Brazil in the sixteenth century. The website claims to have simplified the process of genealogists searching for information on this group of people.
  • - is a research tool for Sephardic genealogy and Jewish genealogy, and it provides a number of search engines, including Sephardic names, Sephardic names translated into English, and Sephardic genealogy using DNA, among others.
  • Jewish Web Index - The Jewish Web Index is a website designed for genealogists who want to research their family's Jewish genealogy. This website includes many useful tips for first-time genealogists, as well as a number of resources for understanding historical events and how they affected generations of one's family.
  • JGL: Jewish Genealogy Links - The Jewish Genealogy Links website features a category index, with links to everything from books and archives to databases and Holocaust information. This website also includes Frequently Asked Questions and news as it relates to Jewish genealogy.
  • Hungarian Jewish Genealogy - The JewishGen All Hungary Database is part of JewishGen's Hungarian Special Interest Group, which is a group for individuals with Jewish roots in Greater Hungary or pre-Trianon Hungary. This group covers individuals in the present-day Hungary and Slovakia and the territory within Romania, the Ukraine, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia.
  • Southern African Jewish Genealogical Research - The JewishGen South Africa Jewish Genealogy Special Interest Group's homepage was created to bring together Jewish genealogy researchers with an interest in Southern African history. There are links to articles, commentaries, lists and directories to aid individuals in their genealogical searches.
  • Calendar Conversions - The Rosetta Calendar website allows individuals to find the same date in multiple calendar systems. Just some of the calendars that can be searched include the Gregorian calendar, the Julian calendar, and the Hebrew calendar.
  • Gross-Steinberg Family Tree - The Gross-Steinberg Family Tree website is a Jewish genealogy website that provides information for Philadelphia and New York City. This website also features beginner's genealogy tips file, a page with many useful links and a lists page for genealogy records sites.
  • The Susser Archive - The Jewish Communities and Records, the Susser Archives, consists of documents and papers that relate to the late Rabbi Dr. Bernard Susser, the historian of the Jews of South West England. The original data has been extracted and published for the public good.
  • HaReshima - The Jewish Internet Portal features a number of links to other sites, including information on Congregations, Business, Culture, Entertainment, Medical, Organizations, Kosher, Women and Regional Information, among others, as they relate to Jewish history and genealogical efforts.
  • List of Jewish Genealogy Web Sites - The Jewish Internet Portal features a Jewish Genealogy page that features links to many websites, from personal family web pages and the Hebrew National Orphanage Home to genealogy link directories and Jewish genealogical societies throughout the world.
  • Jewish Web Index - The Jewish Web Index is a website designed for genealogists who want to research their family's Jewish genealogy. This website includes many useful tips for first-time genealogists, as well as a number of resources for understanding historical events and how they affected generations of one's family.
  • Shamash - Shamash, the Jewish Network, features a number of useful links, including Shamash's Jewish link database, Jewish resources on the Internet, the 50-Year Yahrzeit calendar, Frequently Asked Questions about Judaism and Books of the Month.
  • Links to Shtetls - JewishGen's Shtet Links is a project that is designed to commemorate where Jews have lived. This site features individual web pages that include information, pictures, databases and links to sites that provide additional information on a number of locations.
  • Lomza Shtetl - JewishGen's Shtet Links includes a Lomza page, which is a town and a province in eastern Poland. The town, which was first mentioned in official records in the fourteenth century, was an important political, cultural, religious and economic center in the mid-sixteenth century.
  • Shtetls in Belarus and Lithuania - The Eliat Gordin home page is a website that details family portraits in the Vilna region. Individuals can search for more information on their ancestors by surname. There is also a useful map that can help individuals searching for genealogy records.
  • Avotaynu - Avotaynu is a leading publisher of books that relate to Jewish genealogy, Jewish family trees or Jewish roots. This website details the books on Jewish genealogy, and it includes everything from beginner's books to books about Jewish surnames.
  • Dorotree - Dorotree is Jewish genealogy software that is available in a number of languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The software, which was created by veteran genealogists, is designed to provide answers to Jewish lineage and the Holocaust, among other things.
  • Jewish Cemeteries In Hungary - The Foundation for Jewish Cemeteries in Hungary features a plethora of information as it relates to Jewish cemeteries. This foundation was established to save and preserve the often-neglected Jewish cemeteries. Because many of these cemeteries are in a state of disrepair, the foundation is aiming to restore and maintain them.
  • JewishGen Discussion Group - JewishGen's Discussion Group web page serves as a forum that is designed to unite Jewish genealogical researchers from all over the world. The purpose of the site is to share information, ideas, methods, case studies and resources with one another.
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain - The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain was created to promote and encourage the study of Jewish genealogy. The society assists people when tracing the history of their Jewish ancestors, and is also actively involved in indexing, transcribing and preserving old records.
  • Netherlands Society for Jewish Genealogy - The Netherlands Society for Jewish Genealogy provides a wealth of information for those interested in researching Dutch Jews. With a forum, robust library, and listing of family trees, this is a helpful resources for those conducting genealogy research on Jews living in the Netherlands.
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston - The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston is a nonprofit organization that is targeted at researchers and genealogists who are interested in Jewish history. There is a plethora of information on this website, including information on upcoming meetings, workshops, and seminars, as well research materials.
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon - The Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon is a website that provides a number of resource links, including membership, newsletters, blogs, family finders, Oregon Jewish history, the Ellis Island database and Oregon Jewish Burials databases.
  • Dallas Jewish Historical Society - The Dallas Jewish Historical Society was created to preserve and protect written, visual and audible materials that relate to the Dallas Jewish community. The material kept by the society is free and available to the public and researchers.
  • Jewish Genealogy Home Page - The Dallas Jewish Historical Society's Genealogy Interest Group features presentations for individuals who have an interest in Jewish genealogy. There are hundreds of indexed obituary files available from the 1940s to members of the group.
  • Jewish Historical Society of Maryland - The Jewish Museum of Maryland features the largest, single collection of regional Jewish Americana in the United States. Collections include historical photographs, works of art, clothing, rare books, documents, oral histories, scholarly research and memorabilia.
  • San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society - The San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society is a nonprofit organization that was created to develop, preserve, and distribute Jewish genealogical material and knowledge, and share those techniques with others who are interested in Jewish genealogy.
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of St. Louis - The Jewish Genealogical Society of St. Louis is an organization that is committed to tracing back Jewish ancestors to Eastern Europe. For a small fee, individuals can join this society and share information with one another regarding Jewish genealogy.
  • Columbus Jewish Historical Society - The Columbus Jewish Historical Society was created to preserve the stories, artifacts, images and heritage of the Jewish communities of Central Ohio. This society helps individuals interested in Jewish genealogy obtain information about their ancestors and their past.
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal - The Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal is a society that was created to promote awareness of Jewish ancestors. The members of this society share research techniques with other genealogists, and they also collect information and provide it to family historians and professional genealogists.
  • Jewish Vital Records Research in Quebec - The Jewish Vital Records Research in Quebec website was created to provide documentation for Jewish vital and related records. The focus of the researchers is on Montreal, as it is home to the largest population of Jewish in this province.
  • Jewish Lida District - JewishGen's ShtetLinks includes a web page for the Lida District, which features a number of research studies, as well as links, including the history of the district, maps of the area, the towns in the district and searchable databases.
  • Jewish Cambridge - The Minyan Tehillah organization meets twice a month for Shabbat morning services, and many holidays, including Shauvot, Sukkot, Purim, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The goal of the organization is to create a spiritually uplifting prayer service that is grounded in Jewish law.
  • Czestochowa-Radomsko Area Research Group - Provides access to one of the largest collections of archival Holocaust data on the web.

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