Welcome to the Wonderful World of Jewish Genealogy
Where did you come from? A recent survey showed that of the close to 6 million Jews living in America today, the majority are second-generation Americans. That means that their grandparents were born somewhere other than the United States. Im one of these second generation Jewish Americans.
Researching ones genealogy is a quest for information about the forces in the lives of others that have been passed through the generations to us. Understanding the history of the ancestors in our own families helps us to understand who we are. Genealogy helps us to answer the question Where did I come from? in a profound way. It links us with people we never knew and makes their experiences our own. It can explain why, in a family of dark-haired, brown-eyed people, a blue-eyed redhead is born. It can help us understand why there seem to be so many doctors or lawyers in one family and so many writers and teachers in another.
Its Not As Hard As You Think
While many family tree projects stop at the stage of What can we find out from our living relatives?, more and more Jews today are beginning to ask, Is it possible to trace my family through its old country roots? Fifty years ago, the answer to this question would probably have been, Maybe, but not easily. There was no organized science of Jewish genealogy. Genealogists, both professional and amateur, did the best they could, but Jewish genealogy was not seen as a discreet discipline.
The Modern Science of Jewish Genealogy
The dean of modern Jewish genealogy was Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern, of blessed memory. He was born in 1916 and died in 1994 at the age of 78. Rabbi Stern served as genealogist to the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati from 1949 onward. He was a founding member of the Jewish Genealogical Society and its president from 1979-1984. He was the first Jewish Fellow of the American Genealogical Society, the founder of the Jewish Historical Society of New York and a trustee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. In his lifetime, he was honored numerous times for his contributions to the field of Jewish genealogy.
Rabbi Stern was a prolific writer, producing many articles for genealogical and historical publications. His best-known book is Americans of Jewish Descent: 600 Genealogies (16541988). Its third edition, published in 1991, contains the names of approximately 50,000 people. It documents the genealogies of Jewish families that arrived during the American colonial and federal periods (16541838) and traces many families to the present. This book was a major research source for Stephen Birminghams best-selling book The Grandees.
Perhaps Rabbi Sterns greatest importance in the field of Jewish genealogy was his mentoring and support of individuals and organizations. He made himself available to both novice and professional genealogists alike. Many of the first Jewish genealogical societies in the United States were established as a result of his support and encouragement. One of the genealogists influenced by Rabbi Stern was Arthur Kurzweil. It was Kurzweils seminal work, From Generation to Generation, that helped to popularize Jewish genealogy. The book was revised and reissued in 1994. Since then there have been many exciting developments in the field. These include:
- the birth of over 60 Jewish Genealogy Societies around the world:
- the development of genealogy software for computers; and, most recently,
- a dizzying proliferation of Jewish genealogy Web sites (see Jewish Genealogy Links) on the Internet.
- There are also a number of new publications in the area of Jewish genealogy. For more information about
these publications, contact Avotaynu: http://www.avotaynu.com.
Genealogy is like putting together a puzzle that has no corners. Starting out, you know that some of the pieces will fit together very easily. However, the design of the puzzle is such that you may not know when its finished, except by trial and error.
Working on your genealogy takes time, patience, and a willingness to permit yourself to stop when you get tired, cranky, or a little crazed. And remember that every discovery even a small one is a big accomplishment!