Posted by Crista Cowan on October 15, 2013 in Collections, Family History Month, Research, Website

In 1925 more than 3.5% of Americans identified as Jewish. Today it is less than 2%. Do you know all eight of your great-grandparents? Is it possible that one of them was Jewish?


Jews have been in America since colonial times. Throughout the 1800s German Jews immigrated to the United States and spread throughout the country. From 1880 to 1924 there was a large scale immigration of more than 2 million Jews. Most of them were poor, Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews fleeing persecution in Russia, Romania, and Poland. They settled in New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia. Some went straight to Chicago, New Orleans or Galveston. Eventually many of them made their way out to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

On today’s broadcast of The Barefoot Genealogist I discussed some of the top tips for beginning Jewish family history research. Most of the information I shared at the beginning echoes what I posted yesterday (with specific examples) and is applicable to anyone with late 19th century or early 20th century immigrant ancestors. Near the end of the video I shared additional tips specific to those with Jewish ancestry.

At you will find a portal to the Jewish Family History Collection on Here you will find a list of all of the Jewish specific content available on our website – free and premium.

From this page, you can search our collections using “Jewish” priority. First, priority is given to Jewish databases and any record in any database where we can identify that the person is Jewish. Maybe they listed their language as Yiddish on a census or their race as Hebrew on a passenger lists. We look at that and those search results are returned higher on the list than someone with the same name that doesn’t have that information. Second, the last name field utilizes the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex instead of the standard American Soundex normally used on our website. (You can also utilize this same search functionality on the main search page by changing the Collection Priority to Jewish.)

Two other tools available on the Jewish family history page are the Community Locator and the Name Variations widgets. The first allows you to locate any town or village in Eastern Europe to see where it is, what countries it has belonged to over time, and all of the variant spellings and names by which it has been known. The second allows you to enter the first name of a relative and see what the Yiddish and country specific variations of that name have been over time. Watch the video for specific examples of how to use each of these widgets and for more research tips and tricks.

Until next time – Have fun climbing your family tree!

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Google Twitter


  1. Unfortunately, this post leaves out the “other” side of Jewish genealogy – that of the Sephardic Jews (with roots in Iberia and a diaspora to Turkey, the Middle East and elsewhere) and the Mizrahim (Eastern Jews from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and points east).

    Not all Jewish genealogy is that of Eastern European Ashkenazim and not all Jewish immigrants spoke Eastern European Yiddish – the Sephardim spoke Ladino, Spanish and Portuguese. The first Jews in what became the US were Sephardim, the majority for most of the early days.

    Additionally, many Hispanics across the US and around the world are today discovering their Jewish heritage.

    There are many resources for Sephardic genealogy. – by Dr. Jeffrey Malka – is excellent, and there are many more. DNA genetic testing is also of great value in determining Sephardic and Jewish (in general) ancestry.

  2. Jeanette Aron Shaw

    I have never been able to find any Hilfreich family from Berlin Germany. I think it is because none were rounded up. All records might have been destroyed. This was my mother’s family. My father’s family, Aron, were rounded up and some survived concentration camps, some did not and I had no problem finding their names. But the name Hilfreich has not been successful at all. It is as if it never existed. I have had numerous people investigate with no luck.

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