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History and Beliefs
Originating in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and Egypt in the west, Judaism is one of the oldest religions on earth. Their neighbours, Sumerians, Canaanites, and Egyptians all worshipped many gods but the Jews were convinced that there is but one God. In contrast to many of the gods worshipped by surrounding peoples, the Jewish God is just, righteous and loving, and demands moral behaviour from his people (Palmer et al.).
Their story begins with Abraham, the patriarch who made covenants with God, his son Isaac, grandson Jacob and then his 12 sons. Under Moses they were released from slavery in Egypt and covenanted to live a higher moral law than their neighbours. Moses had received the Torah and taught it to his people so they understood they had to live righteously. Old Testament prophets and modern rabbis are considered extensions of Moses’ teaching.
Databases and Search Engines
The first three in this list are part of the JewishGen website. To get an overview send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) is a list of surnames and towns being researched by more than 96,000 genealogists around the world.
Family Tree of the Jewish People contains 800,000 names:
IAJGS Cemetery Project has 400,000 names in 22,000 cemeteries worldwide:
Consolidated Jewish Surname List is a gateway to 699,084 surnames in 42 databases.
The Knowles Collection. In the mid-20th century, a Jewish genealogist named Isobel Mordy collected and indexed a group of English Jewish records. Her collection is now available on microfilm at the Family History Library. Todd Knowles has taken and built upon the Mordy collection and created an on-going database.
FamilySearch Catalog Check under all Jewish categories under both Great Britain and England, and under the town. There do not seem to be many under the county category. Examples of the number of titles for four different areas are shown below.
History in England
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066 large numbers of Jews came to England at the invitation of William I. They were indispensable as money lenders since Mediaeval Christian laws forbade usury, but they were not allowed to trade or to practice agriculture. London, (King’s) Lynn, Lincoln, York and Norwich all had Jewish communities and Jewish financial expertise was of great use to the king, nobles, religious communities and other land owners. They were unpopular, however, partly because of religious prejudice and partly because of jealousy of their commercial success. During the 1st crusade anti-semitism broke out and 40 households of Jews were massacred at York in 1190. By 1218 there were ten specially-protected Jewish communities containing about 3,000 individuals, down from a possible peak of 10,000 previously, but their fortunes declined under Edward I especially because they were subject to excessively high taxation or tallage, and they were expelled from England in 1290.
This early group were Sephardic Jews from Spain. After the Spanish Inquisition (1478) small numbers of Marranos (crypto-Jews) and Conversos (converts) existed as exporters and importers, wholesalers, ship’s chandlers, and ship owners in England until the early 17th century. Oliver Cromwell officially re-admitted Jews in 1655 and they were permitted to practice their religion privately. Further Sephardic Jewish immigration from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Turkey and Morocco, sometimes by way of the Netherlands, brought the number of Jews in England to 6,000 by 1734, and these were generally prosperous families.
The Sephardim typically used regular surnames which is a genealogical blessing. By this date there were also Ashkenazi Jews in England; they were originally from the Rhine Valley in Germany, but had subsequently settled in Poland, the Baltic States and Russia. Their native language was Yiddish, a form of German written in Hebrew characters, and some were skilled craftsmen but most were labourers. They opened their first synagogue in 1690 in Duke Street, London. More Ashkenazi Jews arrived in the 18th century so by 1800 there were approximately 23,000. Thousands more came in the 19th century following persecutions in central eastern Europe as well as Russia. Many were desperately poor when they arrived having been stripped of their possessions in Germany, Poland, Russia and other Eastern European lands. Their educational levels, however, were generally well above the English poor of the time
Synagogues were permitted to be opened from about 1690 but Jews were barred from land ownership until 1728. They were not allowed in certain occupations, for examples they could not become barristers until 1833, they were unable to vote until 1835, to become army officers until 1846, and were only allowed to enter the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in 1871. Jews could not be freemen of the City of London, which effectively excluded them from trading there. Thus many became shopkeepers in other cities and towns, and were particularly evident as tailors, goldsmiths and jewellers. The flood of eastern European Ashkenazim from 1880 until after WWI mainly settled in London’s east end, typically in groups from the same villages and areas, and were the dominant force in its clothing industry.
Many Ashkenazim arrived in Britain using the patronymic naming system where the children use their father’s first name as their surname, as in Aaron ben Joseph or Rachel bat Benjamin. Those who had been in Austro-Hungary in 1787, and parts of what is now Germany and Poland in the early 1800s had been forced to acquire surnames then. Many of the Jewish surnames like Friedman, Goldstein and Rosenberg originated at this time. Hereditary surnames were adopted fairly arbitrarily when required by the authorities in England, so are of no use in tracing families in their country of origin. Admittedly, some took the name of the town from which they came to England, but this was not necessarily their place of birth. Others took their tribal name such as Levi, and the priestly tribe of Kohanin became Cohen, Cohn, Katz etc. Brothers frequently assumed different surnames, whilst some took an already established surname from their wife’s side of the family. The researcher should be prepared for a wide range of anglicization and spelling variation in names. Jewish naming is a specialist area and Kaganoff (A Dictionary of Jewish Names and Their History. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978) should be consulted for details.
Families with identifiable Jewish or German-sounding surnames understandably anglicized or completely changed their surnames, usually without formality, during the two World Wars to avoid unwarranted persecution, and this can be a major stumbling block if the family has not retained a record of the original surname.
Location of Jews in England
To a greater extent than other immigrants Jews have remained within their own self-supporting communities, tied by language, religion and tradition. They have always been hardworking and resourceful and most have thus prospered, even though the original immigrants may have arrived penniless. Although there are many exceptions, the majority of present-day British Jewish families have only been in Britain for four or five generations and are Ashkenazim. This has the advantage that fairly modern records of their origin were probably kept, and thus research can proceed in those countries with the help of LDS resources.
Although most Jews settled at first in London, there were several other early nuclei of Jewry, for example in Bristol, Canterbury, Chatham and Falmouth, and histories are available (Roth). The records of Kentish Jews are summarized by Webster. Wenzerul includes a bibliography of Jewish histories in these specific places: Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Canterbury, Cheltenham, Cornwall, Falmouth, Gateshead, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Northampton, Nottingham, Oxford, Portsmouth, Scotland, Sheffield, South West England, Sunderland, Twickenham and Wales.
The Jews kept meticulous records, were very reluctant to part with them, and were not requested to deposit them by the Registrar General in the mid-19th century, thus they remain with the Jewish community. They may be at synagogues, Jewish institutions, or Jewish cemeteries and burial societies. Some have been deposited into the care of local or county archives and much has been microfilmed, to be found under FamilySearch Catalog - COUNTRY - (COUNTY) - (TOWN) - JEWISH RECORDS, not under CHURCH RECORDS. The Exchequer Court of the Jews contains the early records of taxes for Jews and civil litigation between Jews and Christians. Many of their records have been transcribed and published by the Jewish Historical Society of England and are in the Family History Library, for example the Calendar of the Plea Rolls 1218-1272 in FHL book 942 B4j.
Languages and Dates
The registers make extensive use of the Hebrew and Yiddish languages up until the 1840s and of the Hebrew calendar. The latter is more ancient than the Christian one by 3760 years, thus the Jewish year 5761 commenced at sunset on September 29, 2000.
Chart 20: Jewish Months
Early Jewish Records
Some of the earliest records for the Sephardi are those at the Spanish and Portuguese Bevis Marks Synagogue in London from 1656-1837. The originals are kept at Bevis Marks Hall but are also on microfilm to 1875.
Early London Ashkenazi records include those of the now defunct:
- Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place founded in 1690, records from 1770-1973.
- Hambro Synagogue founded 1707, records from 1770-1938.
- New Synagogue founded 1761, records from 1774-1992.
Most records of these synagogues over 100 years old seem to be filmed and on the IGI, In addition the United Synagogue births, marriages and burials of Ashkenazis 1791-1879 are on 11 films starting at FHL film 0094657.
Jewish Birth, Circumcision and Baptism
The Jews recorded births, although sometimes rather casually and some parents had them entered in Anglican registers for a fee, without ceremonies being performed, just to ensure a legal record, for exampl
All Hallows, Barking-by-the-Tower, City of Londone:
| FHL film 1952113
Born 13 Aug 1775, registered 21 Aug 1775 at the request of the father, a Jew. Lyon Solomon son of Reuben Solomon
Circumcision (brit or bris) of males took place at age eight days as a mark of the covenant Abraham made with God, and at this time the boy’s name was announced. Circumcision records were the property of the community surgeon (mohel) rather than the local synagogue. For a girl, there was just an announcement of her name within a week of her birth. Biblical names were popular for both boys and girls, partly because of the custom of naming after ancestors. A useful note is that Ashkenazim would only do this if the father, grandparent etc. was already dead, but Sephardim also if still living. Rodrigues-Pereira and Loewe, from which the example below is taken, have an introduction describing names and naming practices amongst the Jews, as well as the Sephardim registers themselves. Records of baptism were usually only made for admitting converts.
Chart: Birth and Circumcision Register 1767-1881 of Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, London- FHL book 942.1/l1 K35S
|Child’s name, father, mother, surname, day in the week of the child’s birth, Jewish date, Christian date, circumciser, attester.|
|Benjamin s/o Isaac and Maria D’ISRAELI, Friday, 9 Tevet 5565, 21 Dec 1804, D.A. Lindo, 26 Tevet 5565, D.P.B. Carlo (?)|
|Hanah d/o Jacob and Leah NETTA, Friday, 16 Shevat 5565, 15 Feb 1805, - , D.P.B. Carlo [?]|
Bar and Bat Mitzvahs
These ceremonies of achievement of puberty and responsible behaviour were the Bar Mitzvah for a boy which took place on the Saturday closest to his 13th birthday, and the Bat Mitzvah for a girl at age 12.
Jews did not have to use the record formats provided by Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (1754), and their marriages were subject to different consanguinity laws. Thus an uncle could marry a niece, or an aunt a nephew, and it was considered the duty of a bachelor or widowed man to marry and support his deceased brother’s widow (a levirate marriage). These were illegal under English law until 1921 thus many of those marriages took place in Europe, indeed the bride may have been living in the old homeland because her former husband had not emigrated to England with his brother. Because of the many differences between the two groups, it was unusual before the 19th century for a Sephardim to marry an Ashkenazic Jew.
A mixed Jewish/Gentile marriage was anathema to strict Jews until quite recently and would have taken place in a register office and not under Jewish law, and children would take the mother’s religion.
Marriages could be solemnized both in synagogues and other places, and before 1837 were not always recorded in the synagogue registers. However, a copy of the bride’s marriage settlement, the ketuba(h) (plural ket(h)ubot), was kept in the synagogue as evidence. A translation of the wording of a ketuba, known as an abstract, is shown here.
Chart: A Jewish Ketuba (Marriage Settlement)
On the (#) day of the week, the (#) day of the month (Jewish name), in the year (Jewish #) corresponding to the (date) of (month and year)., the holy Covenant of Marriage was entered into, in [town] between the Bridegroom (name) and his bride (name).
The said Bridegroom made the following declaration to his Bride:
Marriage authorizations exist from 1845—there are over 240,000 since 1880- and may indicate the parties’ places of birth. A detailed history of Jewish marriage and divorce in England has been provided by a legal searcher for the London Beth Din (Tucker). According to the new Act, marriages from 1837 had to be properly recorded in conventional marriage registers after a ceremony in the synagogue (shown below ). Harris gives particulars of the ceremony and different records available for his ancestors’ post-1837 Jewish marriages.
Chart: Civil Registration of Marriages of Jews
FHL film 1752194
|At the Princess Street Synagogue, in the Parish of Spitalfields in the County of London, and married according to the usages of the Jews by Certificate|
|16 Jun 1897 Davis POLLIABSHEK 25 bachelor, tailor of 225 Lolesworth Buildings, Whitechapel s/o Lewis Polliabshek, tailor + Milly MACCOBY 21 spinster, no occupation of 99 Lolesworth Buildings, Whitechapel d/o Chaim Zindel Maccoby, minister by H. Adler Chief Rabbi, J. Kaliski secretary. Both signed, witnesses: P. Silverstone, M. Joel.|
|30 Jun 1897 Hyman GOLDBERG 21 bachelor, cabinet maker of 11 Queens Street, Whitechapel s/o Harris Goldberg, publican + Sarah COHEN 21 spinster, no occupation of 18 Princelet Street, Spitalfields d/o Barnet Berkowech, tailor by P. Fassenfeld Minister, J. Kaliski secretary. Both made their mark, witnesses: N. Cohen, Davis Davitsky.|
There was only one Chief Rabbi at this time and he married most Jewish couples in London. However, those who did not pass moral muster were relegated to being married by a mere Minister (see discussion by Tucker). One wonders what Hyman and Sarah had done to deserve this fate—is it possible that Sarah was illegitimate?
Jewish Death and Burial
Jewish burial took place within 72 hours of death, and the week-long period of mourning called shivah was often reported in Jewish newspapers. The report included thanks from the near relatives who held the shivah, with their names and addresses, to those who mourned with them—obviously a rich source of women’s married names and relatives’ census addresses. Some Jewish congregations had their own burial grounds, but many Jews were buried in local cemeteries or occasionally in Anglican churchyards. Over 350,000 burial authorizations exist from 1896 onwards and may indicate the parties’ places of birth, facts may not be available elsewhere.
The Great Synagogue in London had portions of two cemeteries, now closed, whose records are at the United Synagogue:
- Brady Street cemetery in Stepney 1796-1858.
- West Ham cemetery 1858-1872, which also has a New Synagogue portion for the same period.
There is only one burial in each Jewish grave, but there may be several relatives close by, with details of relationships on the headstones. Jewish monumental inscriptions are typically very informative for genealogists, giving dates and places of birth. Wenzerul (A Beginner’s Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Great Britain. Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, 2001) interprets some of the Jewish symbols on gravestones.
Other Jewish Records
- Death Notices and Obituaries
Death notices occur in newspapers as with Christians, and the more important families left obituaries in regular or Jewish newspapers, locally or nationally. Abstracts of the Jewish ones from the Gentleman’s Magazine 1731-1868 have been published by the Jewish Historical Society of England.
- Jewish Friendly Societies
There were a number of Jewish Friendly Societies, Benefit Societies, Burial Societies (chevra kadisha) and Loan Societies and the PRO has several FS classes of records dealing with their rules and activities. From 1770 Jews were eligible to become freemasons and three lodges had a high proportion of Jewish members—Tranquility, Joppa and the Lodge of Israel. Lewis (My Ancestor Was A Freemason. Society of Genealogists, 1999) gives details on how to trace their records.
- Jewish Newspapers
The Jewish Chronicle has been published regularly since the 1840s and has a wealth of genealogical information in the form of birth, bar mitzvah, marriage (especially those which took place abroad), death announcements, and obituaries including the origin of the deceased. Partial indexes are available, and a good descriptive article is that by Berger (The Jewish Victorian and the Victorian Jews in The Genealogical Services Directory. Family and Local History Handbook. Genealogical Services Directory 5th edition, 2001). The Jewish Chronicle Library has back issues and can be accessed through their website.
- Jewish Schools
The Jews set great store by education, especially study of the Torah, and really made an effort to see that their children learned to read and write. This was difficult as so many were poor, but more affluent Jews founded the Jews Free School in East London in 1817 to assist their fellows. There have been some private Jewish schools since the early 19th century. Entry to regular public and private schools was limited to a few schools such as St. Paul’s Hammersmith, Merchant Taylor’s, City of London, and Clifton College. The first university to admit Jews was Durham in 1832 and London did so in 1836, with many more from the late 19th century, including Oxford and Cambridge from 1871.
- Jewish Shops and Businesses
Licensing for Sunday trading by Jewish traders who did not work on Saturdays as it was their Sabbath, can be found in series HO 239 at the PRO.
- Membership and Seat Holders Lists
Each synagogue had these lists which may cover several generations of families.
- Offering Books
These recorded donations by male members of the synagogue, usually all but the very poorest.
Since they were not affiliated with the Christian hierarchy Jewish wills before 1858 were not probated in the lower ecclesiastical courts but only in the PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury). It is particularly important to find the wills of the original immigrants in the family, since they often mention their relatives in their homeland. Arnold (Anglo-Jewish Wills and Letters of Administration in Anglo-Jewish Notabilities, their arms and testamentary dispositions. Jewish Historical Society. FHL film 0990054) published a list of PCC wills of those with Jewish names from 1383-1848 which is on FHL film 0990054. Since 1858 Jewish wills have been in the single national probate registry index. Instructions for finding the indexes, wills, administrations and other probate documents for the PCC and the Probate Registry are given in the National Institute for Genealogical Studies course English: Probate Records.
The Jewish people are scattered around the world hence genealogists need to take a more global approach to research. There is an immense variety of books on Jewish culture, the diaspora and holocaust available from any public library and the researcher who finds a Jewish link would be well-advised to do some background reading. Much of the published genealogical research and how-to books concentrate on the affluent Sephardim; but some are now available for the poorer Ashkenazis who constitute the overwhelming majority in England.
Wenzerul’s book (A Beginner’s Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Great Britain. Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, 2001) is written for beginning genealogists who have Jewish ancestors, thus it contains a lot of general British research advice as well as worthwhile material specific to the Jews, particularly names and addresses of associations, libraries, archives and key people, some information on the Hebrew language, bibliography, and a selected list of articles in the journal Shemot. Wellisch and Solnik-Rogers’ Finding Your Jewish Ancestors. Heritage Productions is a basic book containing a listing of Jewish organizations and collections in Canada and an introduction to other countries’ records. This is useful as genealogists will inevitably jump back over the English Channel to Europe at some juncture in their research. Mordy’s My Ancestors Were Jewish is the standard book for those knowledgeable about genealogy but now delving into Jewish research. Rottenberg’s Finding Our Fathers has been the classic text for several years and is more detailed than the above. A useful article featuring Jewish history and genealogy is Wood (Jewish Ancestors in Britain. Family Tree Magazine Vol 6. Part I in #9, page 17-18; Part II in #10, page 17-18, 1990).
There is more than one Jewish Encyclopaedia which can be sought at public libraries and will provide background as well as biographical information on those of note. YIZKOR (Memorial) books are histories of individual Eastern European Jewish communities, some going back into the 17th and 18th centuries. There are over 1,000 compiled after WWII by survivors of communities in Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. Most are in Hebrew or Yiddish but a number of them have sections in English, and translations are a project of the JewishGen website.
Chart: Selected Jewish References in FamilySearch Catalog
|- 18th century||1||
|- WW II||1||
|- inventories etc||
*GB = Great Britain
As a taste, amongst these holdings are:
- Isobel Mordy’s collection of pedigrees and indexes on 12 films starting at FHL film 1279240.
- Index to Bevis Marks records on FHL film 0978426.
- Printout (index) to Hambro Synagogue births and christenings 1770-1860 on FHL fiche 6903808 (1).
- List of Jewish residents in Leeds, Yorkshire from the 1891 census in FHL book 942.74/L1 X22*.
Keyword searches using Jew, Jewish cemeteries, Jewish customs etc., and Subject searches for Jewish, Concentration Camps, Holocaust, Inquisition, or Minorities will bring up further categories and hundreds of other records. An indispensable aid for Jewish research using the FamilySearch Catalog is the inexpensive LDS Research Outline Jewish Genealogy #36383.
Jewish Genealogy Societies
Wellisch and Solnik-Rogers’ Finding Your Jewish Ancestors list the main Jewish genealogical societies in many countries, and an up-to-date list of dozens more can be found on CyndisList under the heading Jewish—Societies.
Jewish Journals and Annuals
Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy is a quarterly publication founded in 1985. Shemot is the journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. The complete list of contents to all back issues is on their website. The Jewish Year Book started publication in 1896 and gives the dates of foundation of the various Jewish congregations as well as the addresses of burial society secretaries. It also carries tables of Jewish and Christian years.
Jewish Libraries and Archives
- Jewish Historical Society of England at the Jewish Museum.
- Society of Genealogists in London has a good collection.
- Tower Hamlets Local History Archives covers the East End of London where most Jews lived. They are one of the areas which have marriage notice books, in this case for Stepney from 1926, and for Bethnal Green 1837-78, and 1920-1965. The information given when couples applied to get married was date, names, marital status, profession, age, address, length of residence in UK, and place of intended marriage. Other sources include electoral registers, and local newspapers from 1857.
- The Archivist of the Court of the Chief Rabbi, (London Beth Din) has much of the original Ashkenazi archival material and should be the first place to contact for the following:
- Proceedings Books 1876-1938, 1940-date.
- Case Files including adoptions, conversions, divorces, Jewish and marital status about 1945-date.
- Certificates of Evidence 1921-1966 giving places of birth, and of marriage abroad, mainly for those not naturalized.
- Access to records of Chief Rabbinate 1855-1965.
- Access to records of United Synagogue 1870-1950 and those of the defunct congregations of the Great, Hambro, New and Bayswater Synagogues held there.
- Marriage authorizations since 1880 containing more information than on civil marriage certificates.
- Burial authorizations since 1896 containing more information than on civil death certificates.
For historical information, contact:
- Jewish Historical Society of England
33 Seymour Place
London W1H 5AP England
For more information, see:
- Gandy, Michael. My Ancestor Was Jewish: How Can I Find Out More About Him? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1982. (FHL book 929.1089924 G153.)
- Tracing Jewish Roots
- ↑ Christensen, Penelope. "England Jewish History and Culture (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Jewish_History_and_Culture_%28National_Institute%29.
- ↑ Christensen, Penelope. "England Jewish Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Jewish_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
- ↑ Christensen, Penelope. "England Additional Jewish Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Additional_Jewish_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
- ↑ Christensen, Penelope. "England Jewish Genealogical Resources (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Jewish_Genealogical_Resources_%28National_Institute%29.
- This page was last modified on 2 February 2015, at 22:44.
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