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Go to Jewish Genealogy Research Main Page
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"Jews began trickling into Chicago shortly after its incorporation in 1833. A century later Chicago's 270,000 Jews (about 9 percent of the city's population) were outnumbered only in New York and Warsaw. By the end of the twentieth century, approximately 270,000 Jews lived in the Chicago metropolitan area, but only about 30 percent of the entire Jewish population remained within city limits."
See more about Jewish History in Chicago here: Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Map of Chicago

  • To view present-day Chicago at Google Maps, click here.

JewishGen.org Family Finder

Find others, possibly cousins, searching for your family name in the same countries, cities, and villages. Search the JewishGen Family Finder by clicking here. Free registration required.


Chicago Vital Records

  • To view an excellent summary of Chicago's available vital records on this Wiki, click here.
  • U.S. Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
    • Search the SSDI for Social Security number, birth, and death dates by clicking here.
    • Order your ancestor's original Social Security Application (Form SS-5, cost $27 or $29) to obtain parents' names and full place of birth by clicking here.

Chicago Directories

  • Find information on this Wiki about Chicago directories and links to online resources by clicking here.
  • Access the Family History Library's excellent collection of Chicago directories by clicking here.

Jewish Personal Name Changes

For some Jewish researchers, the greatest challenge is that first and/or last names of their ancestors changed between the Old World and the New World.

Common lore is that the change was made at the port of entry, but in New York City and other passenger lists persons are generally identified in the same way as their Old World traveling documents. For example "Rebecca White" in New York may be "Rivka Weiss" or even "Beila Weiß" on the passenger lists and in Old World records.

For more background, read the FamilySearch Wiki article Jewish Names Personal by clicking here.

  • Headstones are often inscribed with both the original Jewish names and the names used in the United States.
  • Multiple given and surname spelling changes are possible during an individual's lifetime.
  • When searching for a family in a census or on a passenger list, look for the family overall (birth order of boys and girls, relative ages, occupation) as much as the actual recorded names.

Given Name Changes

  • Explore the JewishGen.org given names databases by clicking here.
  • Ancestry.com also has an excellent database for Jewish given names. Read also the Jewish Given Name Variations article on lower part of the search page.
    • With an Ancestry.com membership, click here.
    • From the Family History Library, a Family History Center, or other participating institution, click here.


Surname Changes

  • To understand the scope of the surname challenge, read the Wikipedia.org article Cohen (and its variations) as a surname by clicking here.
  • Immigrants from foreign countries were often faced with the following choices:
    • Change European special characters (diacritics) and letter combinations to approximate English equivalents [e.g., Weiß to Weiss].
    • Retain the original spelling, but have the name mispronounced.
    • Change the spelling to retain the pronunciation.
    • Translate the last name to English [e.g., Weiß to White, Zimmermann to Carpenter, Schwartz to Black].
    • Change the name to make it less foreign-sounding [e.g. Meier to Myer, Leo Kochanski to Hans Leon].
  • To find possible alternative spellings, try searching the JewishGen.org Family Finder database by clicking here. Use the spellings you already have with the "sounds like" or "starts with" options. This may yield suggestions for alternate spellings.
  • Find additional information in these books available at the reference desk in the Family History Library:
    • A Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames by Lars Menk.
    • A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland, by Alexander Beider.
    • A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, by Alexander Beider.
    • Finding Our Fathers, A Guidebook to Jewish Genealogy, by Dan Rottenberg, Section: Alphabetical List of Family Names, starting on page 149.

Chicago Immigration Records

Passenger lists are available through multiple sources. Not all passengers arrived at the Port of New York. For example, some may have entered by crossing the Canadian border or have gone through other ports. Following are suggestions for finding your arriving family members:

  • Use the One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse by clicking here.
  • Use the FamilySearch.org databases by clicking here.
  • Ancestry.com has many immigration collections, including Hamburg Germany departures. The Hamburg Passenger lists starting in 1850 include information about the last place of residence in Europe. New York arrivals seldom show European residence information until after 1900.
    • Access Ancestry.com with a paid membership by clicking here.
    • Access AncestryInstitution.com from the Family History Library, a Family History Center, or other participating institution by clicking here.

Chicago Naturalization Records

  • Use the FamilySearch.org databases by clicking here.
  • Ancestry.com has many naturalization collections, both indexes and completed forms giving place of origin, immigration details, and information on family members.
    • Access Ancestry.com with a paid membership by clicking here.
    • Access AncestryInstitution.com from the Family History Library, a Family History Center, or other participating institution by clicking here.

U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925

  • Ancestry.com has a collection of U.S. Passport Applications which of contain place of birth and other personal information.
    • Access this collection with a paid membership by clicking here.
    • Access this collection from the Family History Library, a Family History Center, or other participating institution by clicking here.


U.S. Military Records

Some, but not all WW I and WW II draft registrations and other military records include the city or village of birth along with personal information.

  • Use the FamilySearch.org military databases by clicking here.
  • Ancestry.com a number of military collections.
    • Access Ancestry.com with a paid membership by clicking here.
    • Access AncestryInstitution.com from the Family History Library, a Family History Center, or other participating institution by clicking here.


Jewish City/Village of Origin

  • Review all information about place of origin found in U.S. records and family records.
  • The final step before moving in Jewish research to searching for records abroad is to assure that one has the correct standard spelling, latitude and longitude, and modern country for the city or village of origin.
  • Certainty about place of origin is necessary because there are few databases and almost no general censuses available for Europe. Almost all record keeping was local.
  • Use one or more of these databases and possibly other online information and maps to assure accuracy:
    • The JewishGen Communities Database contains information about 6,000 Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Search the database by clicking here.
    • The JewishGen Gazetteer contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Search the database by clicking here.
    • Search the Fuzzy Gazetteer ISODP project by clicking here.
      Note: This database generally does not include historical location names.


Next Steps

Once one knows the Old World names used by their ancestors and the town or village of origin:

  • Determine the present-day country for the town or village of origin by using the JewishGen.org Communities Database. To use the database, click here.
  • Continue research using FamilySearch Wiki articles:
    • The countries, regions and cities with the largest historical Jewish populations have their own "CountryName Jewish Research Page." To access the list, click here.
    • For countries not listed there, search the Wiki for the country to get more help.
    • Look to see if there is a Facebook Research Community page for the country by clicking here.

Facebook Research Community

  • Get ideas and help with Chicago Genealogy here.

 

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