Jewish Genealogy

Need help tracing your Jewish roots? A five-minute guide.


Reprinted with permission from For more information, see Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy by Gary Mokotoff and Warren Blatt.

Two major events shaped Jewish life of the past two hundred years: migration and the Holocaust. Few Jews today live where their ancestors lived a century or two ago. As a result many Jews believe they cannot trace their family roots because:

– My family name was changed (at Ellis Island)
– No one in my family knows about the past
– No one is left alive to tell me about my family’s past
– All the records were destroyed in the Holocaust
– My town was wiped off the face of the map

These statements are myths. Jewish genealogy today is highly organized and therefore help is available to dispel these myths. There are many resources available to help you trace your Jewish family heritage.

– Databases exist on the Internet to get you started
– There are more than 80 genealogical societies throughout the world where you can meet other persons tracing their roots
– There are books on Jewish genealogy; Avotaynu is the leading supplier of these books
– There is a strong presence of Jewish genealogy on the Internet

Jewish Genealogy Databases on the Internet

JewishGen Family Finder: The most valuable database to assist you is the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF). It is a list of 100,000 surnames and 18,000 towns being researched by more than 80,000 Jewish genealogists throughout the world.

Go to the JGFF site and see if any other genealogists are researching your family name. In most cases, it will give you the person’s e-mail address so you can contact the individual and jump start your research. If you know the town from which your family came, also use JGFF to see if others are researching your town.

A word of caution before using JGFF. The same name can be spelled different ways in different countries, so when you use JGFF leave the SEARCH TYPE as “Sounds Like” to use the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex option.

Consolidated Jewish Surname Index:
The next step is to locate reference material that contains information about your family name. Go to the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index and key in your family name. It will make you aware of up to 42 different sources of information that contain your family name. When the information is displayed by CJSI you will only see codes next to your name. Scroll the screen down to see what these codes represent and they will link to other places on the Web that will give you a more detailed description of the source and how to access the source (an Internet database, a reference book, etc). Be sure to research all spelling variants of your name that are shown.

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