Jewish genealogy

When conducting a genealogical study, you have discovered Jewish roots in your family. How to deal with this. And in what direction to conduct research? Jewish genealogy has its own characteristics.

After the second division of the Commonwealth, when its eastern territories moved to the Russian Empire together with their Jewish population, the decree of Catherine II in 1791 defined the borders of the so-called “Pale of Settlement”, that is, the territory of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to settle and trade. By the end of the 19th century, more than 5 million Jews lived in the Russian Empire and only about 200 thousand of them had the right to reside in cities that were not part of the Pale of Settlement. This right was obtained by the merchants of the first guild, persons with higher education, who had served recruits and artisans.

Jews constantly migrated from the province to the province. The reasons for the migrations were to search for jobs, to avoid conscription and to pay taxes, to escape from pogroms… Therefore, when you start researching the genealogy of a Jewish family, you can never be sure that you are registered with a bourgeois or merchant Jewish community from which you start the search, show you the real place of residence of this family. There are many situations when a family, attributed to the philistine society of one city, lived in another and registered acts of birth, marriage and death in the third. It is especially difficult to restore the pedigree when it comes to Jews who emigrated to the USA, Canada and other countries of America and when the only document preserved is the “Ship manifest”, which indicates only the place of registration.

Jewish surname

The Jewish surname is one of the bases for genealogical search. Despite the fact that the appearance of a surname among the Jews is a rather late phenomenon. On gravestones dated earlier than the middle of the 18th century, one can read the names of the deceased and his father (and, at best, his mother). And no surname.

A deeper binding (in the absence of surnames) to the ancestors was assigned to the Coens and Levites. On this line, you can certainly trace your family tree up to the brother Moshe – Aaron! Or (to whom it is more pleasant) the kings of David and Solomon!

The “sinking” of Jews in Europe began at the end of the 18th century and continued until the second half of the 19th century. The first such law came out in Austria in 1787, the last in Switzerland in 1863. In Russia, the process began in 1804 (and the harmonious sound of your surname was almost everywhere achieved on a commercial basis). One way or another, but a purely family search is limited by these time frames. True, unlike the name, the surname determines the attachment to many generations of ancestors. For example, the laws of tsarist Russia forbade the change of surname even during the transition to Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, cases of distortion of names and surnames in various (even official) documents are not uncommon.

It is known, for example, that the census of 1897 was conducted from words, and since Orthodox scribes did not know Yiddish, and those who dictated to the census taker often did not know how to write and read in Russian, many surnames and names were distorted.

Even in one locality, direct relatives could be recorded in different ways. For example, the surname Rosenzweig, according to the census of Berdichev, in different cases looked like this: Roisentsvaig, Roznzweig, Rosenzweig, Rosintsweig.

In Soviet times, especially in the 1920s, when many metric books were lost, some Jews easily changed their first names, middle names and last names, depriving posterity of the possibility of subsequent archival searches.

Good luck in finding.