Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Genealogy: Some Resources for the Jewish Atlantic World

Many of the people who I have met who are interested in the Jewish Atlantic World either live in Jewish communities in these locales today or have ancestors from them, or both. So, I thought I'd spend a post doing what my younger (and hipper) colleagues call a "shout out" to all the family tree hunters, and provide a list of some of the resources that I have found (and see if readers have any others to add). Genealogy is key to the work I do, and it is hard to imagine how difficult it would be to do my research without the great work of genealogists past and present. In upcoming posts I will provide some resources specific to certain communities, but for now, here are some general resources that I have found essential:

1. Malcolm Stern's First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988. Now available in a searchable online form at American Jewish Archives. Advantages: This is an important starting point for understanding the family trees of many of the first Jewish settlers in the U.S. colonies. Drawbacks: some of the information is incorrect, and although there is some information from the Caribbean and Europe, at times it feels like if someone moved to the West Indies, they fell off the map (or literally off the family tree).

2. Americans of Jewish Descent. A fully searchable online database of about 6,125 names of the founders and their descendants. Advantages: This fabulous resource updates and corrects much of Stern's work and incorporates other resources such as gravestones, portraits, and documents. Drawbacks: this database is still in production, so some of the areas (e.g. the Caribbean) aren't as strong as I am sure they will be down the road. You'll want to keep checking back if they don't list the person you are looking for yet.

3. Sephardicgen. Resources put together by Jeffrey S. Malka, author of the invaluable Sephardic Genealogy: Second Edition. Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World. Advantages: Fabulous tips on how to get started, Sephardic names, and resources like family trees. Drawbacks: some of the links are broken, and you will still want to buy the book, which really is more of an advertisement than a drawback.

4. Resources put together by Harry Stein. Advantages: Sephardic names search engine and tons of great resources. Disadvantages: the homepage sings to you and is a bit hard to search.

5. Isaac S. and Suzanne A. Emmanuel's History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles and Rabbi Emmanuel's Precious Stones. These books sit on my desk and hardly a day goes by when I don't look up someone in one of them. Advantages: has marriage, death, and biographical data on most of the members of the Jewish community of Curacao and related islands. Disadvantages: Out of print and extremely expensive (Precious Stones is a bit cheaper). Worth every penny.

6. Jewish names in Suriname between 1666 and 1997. This is a list of the most common names in the Jewish Atlantic World. Advantage: Succinct. You will find there are a lot of lists of Sephardic names that aren't specific to the Jewish Atlantic World and that means wading through many names you will never see. This list has most of the important names you will need to know. Disadvantages: some families didn't make it to Suriname.

7. Geraldine Lane's Tracing Your Ancestors in Barbados. A Practical Guide. She even has a companion website. Also check out Lane's online databases for Tombstones, Plantation Records, and Slave Compensations. Advantages: This book is basically a researchers' fantasy: it tells you what resources are available, where, and what to do to prepare before you look for them. If someone would take the time to make a book like this for every place I go to do research, I would be in heaven. Disadvantages: a lot of the information is specific to Barbados and wouldn't help you with other communities.

8. Former British Colonial Dependency Slave Registers, 1812-1834. A fully searchable database of over three million slaves in the British colonies. Advantages: makes it possible to track African American ancestors in a way not easily done in the past. Jewish slave holding is a huge controversy, but Jewish-Black relations are an important part of colonial history . Disadvantages: this may be a better resource on slave owners than the slaves themselves. As such, it may provide some people with information they'd rather not know.

9. Trace Your Dutch Roots. A Dutch Genealogical Guide in blog format. Advantage: most of the Jews in the Atlantic World at some point lived in or were related to people in Amsterdam and the Dutch colonies, and this website provides access to some awesome resources. The blog is in English and lists which resources are available in English.

I hope this helps people get started! If you know of other key resources, please leave a comment! Also I am going to start posting photographs and resources related to specific famous families from the colonies, so if you have a family you'd like to hear more about, let me know!

My great-grandmother's little bamboo box that contained her mother's treasures from Barbados,
including tin types, marriage certificates, locks of hair, and an odd assortment of collectibles.
Where did your family members hide their treasures?

Image at top: Author's great-great grandmother, who was born in Barbados.
Courtesy of Stevan and Elizabeth Arnold and the little bamboo box.


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