The Challenges of Jewish Genealogy


Jenny and Shirley (abt 1986)

It’s been nine years since my wonderful Jewish grandma, Shirley Krueger Morse passed away and July 11th would have been her 99th birthday! As sad as I get to think of her death in May 2008, it also reminds me of the joy that I found in genealogy. In a way I was able to recapture my relationship with those who had come before. When I first began I didn’t know much of anything about my Jewish ancestry, but thanks to her autobiography I was able to use her memories as clues to find out more.

Recently I was commiserating on the challenges of Jewish genealogy and I realized how much I have learned along the way. Much of what I have learned is from books and online courses, but a fair share was from my own hard work. Initially I read the excellent book, From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History by Arthur Kurzweil.  When I first read the book it gave me a lot of hope. You see our Jewish ancestors went through a lot of changes in their lives. Most noticeably was the fact that they moved around a lot. Whether it was of their own volition or because they forced into it doesn’t really matter. Location is such an important part of genealogy and having to keep an eagle eye on where and when your ancestors have lived is hard work! Then there is the fact that many Jewish people didn’t have surnames until the 1820’s or so. I haven’t made it that far back on my Jewish lines so it’s not been an issue yet, but I can only imagine once I get there!

Another challenge of Jewish genealogy is the many names that our ancestors went by. For my own great grandfather Krueger who came to America in 1901, I know him by three different names. His Americanized name was “Mike.” His Yiddish name was “Myer.” And I believe his Hebrew name was “Nalan.” His surname was found to be Krueger or Kriger on different documents. The trick with searching in the many databases was to get creative in my spelling. Phonetic spellings were needed to exhaust the possibilities. It’s a tough job, but I enjoy a good challenge. Don’t you?

As I took some online courses offered through the wonderful website, I learned a lot of helpful hints that slowly helped me build up my tree. The biggest help was to look at collateral lines. Researching the cousins and siblings of my direct ancestors helped me to learn more about the family as a whole and gain insight into their history. I still have so much to learn, but luckily… they aren’t going anywhere!

Now that DNA testing is becoming so prevalent, that is opening up new avenues for connecting to ancestors and others researching too. I have learned a lot from the book by Blaine Bettinger “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” and hope to make great strides in the years to come. Jewish genealogy is challenging since the population tended to intermarry within their community. I still have much to learn about DNA testing, but for now I am happy to make some new cousin connections along the way.

Have you had challenges in your own Jewish research? I’d love to hear about them and try to help!


Note: Amazon affiliate links are in this article. I earn a small commission if you choose to purchase one of the recommended books.

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