A Jewish Genealogy Primer

Published: February 6th 2010

Schelly Talalay Dardashti


Today, Jewish genealogy is more popular than ever thanks to a plethora of online genealogy resources available to Jews anywhere in the world. In the first of a multi-part interview, Shalom Life speaks to Schelly Talalay Dardashti, noted Jewish genealogist, journalist and award-winning blogger (tracingthetribe.blogspot.com), about the fascinating world of Jewish genealogy.


How is Jewish genealogy today different than in the old days?


Jewish genealogy really took off when the Internet became widely accessible. This made it possible for the global Jewish genealogy community to communicate quickly, collaborate and share information. Groups of people around the world decide to share specific information and resources to help themselves as well as others (who may not yet know they need that particular information about a geographical location, name or other topic). Those with diverse skills –languages, access to local resources, research materials— join together to help everyone. This is seen every day as individuals create websites for their ancestral town of origin, create surname websites, help fund transcription and transliteration of records and place them into searchable databases. This large international community is driven by dedicated volunteers.


What are some of the major trends occurring right now?


The increasing proliferation of Sephardic genealogy resources (websites, books, journals, articles, DNA projects) is a recent trend. Within this field is an unusual focus on Ashkenazi Jews who are now investigating their family oral history of Sephardic origin. There are more of us out there than most people realize; many hear that story but refuse to believe it. Technology - DNA genetic genealogy - however, has given us the tools to learn more. Thus the importance of our IberianAshkenazi DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.com, co-admin’d by myself and Judy Simon of New York. We grew up hearing these stories and we knew there were many more of us. So far, we have genetically matched ostensible Ashkenazi Jews with those who today are Sephardic, Converso, Bnai Anusim and Latino/Hispanic (who may or may not know about their family’s Jewish origins). Another major source is Dr. Jeff Malka’s SephardicGen.com www.sephardicgen.com with extensive resources for many countries, including indexes and searchable databases.


Ashkenazi Jews are the overwhelming majority in North America, so it is understandable why the preponderance of resources are oriented towards Eastern Europe. The trend here is increasing interest by groups of descendants of a certain place in funding Jewish cemetery restoration and preservation; indexing names and photographs of the stones and enabling online searches for this information.


The best place to learn what’s new in Jewish genealogy is to attend the annual International Jewish genealogy conference. This year’s 30th edition will be held in Los Angeles from July 11-16, hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles (www.jgsla2010.com). It’s the one place that so many researchers – from beginners to advanced, archivists and experts – gather to network. Some 130 speakers will present more than 250 programs over the six-day event.


What about online resources?


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