Jewish Genealogy

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

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.

Family Tree of the Jewish People: The final Internet database worth looking at is the Family Tree of the Jewish People. This is a database of family trees that have been submitted by Jewish genealogists. It contains more than 2 million individuals. Members of your family may already be on other researcher’s family tree and this database will link you up with the researcher.

Jewish Genealogical Societies

There are some 80 Jewish genealogical societies in the world. If there is one in your area, we strongly recommend that you join the society. At their meetings you will be able to discuss your research with experts that can point you in the right direction. A complete list of societies is available at

Books, Journal, Maps, CDs

Avotaynu is the leading supplier of works of interest to Jewish researchers. They have published books on names, towns, getting started, and a host of other topics. Browse their web site to see what they offer. They have made it simple to order our products with a shopping cart system. Start at the Avotaynu Home Page and browse the Book, Journal, Maps and CDs web pages. If you are unsure what to buy, click the Recommendations button to see what they recommend.


We saved the best for last. It is also the one area on the Web where you can spend hours looking at the wealth of information available. JewishGen supports the JewishGen Family Finder and Family Tree of the Jewish People previously mentioned. But there is much, much more. Subscribe to their Discussion Group and you can post a personal message that will be read within 24 hours by more than 5,000 Jewish genealogists throughout the world. Maybe one of them can answer your query. Go into the Discussion Group archives to see if any questions have been asked (it goes back to 1993) that may be of interest to you. The JewishGen environment is too huge to describe here. Just go to the JewishGen Home Page and browse, and browse and browse.

Good luck in your research!

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

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