Tracing Hebrew heritage
The first Jewish settlers of North American colonies arrived in the late 1600s by way of Brazil. These Sephardic Jews had been driven from their homes in Spain and Portugal in the 1490s. Many found refuge in Holland and later joined Dutch colonists in Brazil. When the Dutch were driven out in 1654, the Jewish colonists came to New Amsterdam.
You can search US arrivals in Ancestry.com’s immigration collection. Passenger lists for New York, Jews’ most common entry point, are free at EllisIsland.org. Steve Morse’s One-Step Gold Form lets you search the data using the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex system, which works better than American Soundex for finding variants of Eastern European names.
Landsmanshaft records: Jewish immigrants from the same town would often form aid societies called landsmanshaftn. Most groups are defunct now, members having passed away, but you may find membership records and burial plot information. The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which focuses on Ashkenazi Jews, has records for more than 700 landsmanshaftn. The American Jewish Historical Society has many as well; consult its online manuscript catalog. Or Google your ancestral village and the term landsmanshaft.
Find It With JewishGen.org
Records at a Glance
Research tip: Determine synagogue from family records, city directories or annual directories of synagogues. Contact office for records or, if defunct, Jewish archives or the Family History Library.
Geographical finding aids
Research tip: Use to locate long-lost (or renamed) ancestral hometowns abroad. Where Once We Walked indexes more than 23,500 central and eastern European towns. JewishGen’s Town Finder offers info on 6,000 communities in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Research tip: Search Jewish archives for records of these societies of Jews from the same shtetl. Search archives’ catalogs and websites such as JewishGen’s and the New York Public Library for Yizkor books.
- Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy edited by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack (Avotaynu)
- Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors by Barbara Krasner-Khait (Heritage Quest)
- Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack (Avotaynu)
Organizations and Archives
- American Jewish Archives
3101 Clifton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220, (513) 221-1875
- Center for Jewish History Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute
15 W. 16th St., New York, NY 10011, (212) 294-8301
- Dorot Jewish Division, New York Public Library
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Room 111, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018, (212) 930-0601
- International Tracing Service
Große Allee 5-9, 34454 Bad Arolsen, Germany, +49 (0) 56916290
- Yad Vashem
Box 3477, 91034 Jerusalem, +972 (2) 6443400