Sephardic Genealogy

Posted By on April 14, 2014

This will be the new home of the Sephardic Genealogy website. I am teaching myself the software, so apologies for inconsistencies in layouts etc. To visit the site at its old location please >>> click here<<<

If you are curious about the new citizenship / passport proposals then click for Spain, Portugal or Israel.

Welcome! This website is to help people who, like me, are researching their Spanish and Portuguese Jewish roots. It is a work in progress. I am trying to understand how the jigsaw of Sephardic life fitted together during what historians call the Early Modern period (1492-1750). I am not a professional genealogist I am not even a very good amateur genealogist but hope that sharing what I know may save you a little time.

The challenge faced by the Sephardic genealogist is that everyone went everywhere, had a dozen different names (which were the same as their cousins), were sometimes involved in clandestine trade, and what they told the Inquisition was often a sophisticated ruse. Simply looking a births, marriages and deaths doesnt work. The Sephardic family historian needs to develop an understanding of history, geography, international trade and a smattering of several languages. Difficult? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely.

My original plan was to focus on those whose ancestors moved from Spain to Portugal in 1492 and were forced to adopt Catholicism in 1497. These Portuguese New Christians later re-established themselves in Spain and more or less everywhere else, becoming the worlds first globalised community. Of course, this group overlapped with those Spanish Jews who settled in the Ottoman Empire, and with pre-existing Mediterranean and mizrahi Jewish communities. Some Sephardim settled in Germany and eastern Europe and evolved Ashkenazi Jewish identities.

Before the 19th Century, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish genealogy have little in common. The stereotypical Ashkenazi experience is of someone escaping persecution in eastern Europe for a new life in western Europe or America. Its a classic migrant story of self-improvement through a single journey.

The Sephardic story is more monumental. It is nothing less than the ending of the Medieval world and the creation of the Modern. How our Sephardic ancestors dealt with the new situation they encountered after the Expulsion of 1492 and the new identities and strategies they created helped define how everyone lives today.

The die-hard Jews who tramped across the Portuguese border in 1492 (others left for Italy or Islamic lands, many converted and stayed) were anyway forced to convert three years later, but werent yet monitored by an Inquisition, as in Spain. These New Christians (or conversos, or anusim, or marranos, or the Portuguese Nation, or the Hebrew Nation, or the Nation, or Jews) developed complex identities from fanatic Catholic to fanatic Jew, and everything in between. Others abandoned religion and embraced the European Enlightenment. The Portuguese New Christians quickly re-established links with their converted relatives across the Spanish border, and with unconverted Jews in places like Antwerp, Venice and the Turkish Empire.

Trade routes were established and spurred by persecution in Iberia this small community spread around the world. Their family networks and ability to operate across national, cultural and religious borders gave them an advantage in international trade until the establishment of a more settled and controlled global system in the mid-Eighteenth Century. Unlike the Ashkenazim, the New Christians did not migrate from an Old Country to a New. More like a game of musical chairs, they moved around the world, often as part of a global network. Where they eventually settled depended on where they were when the music stopped. The music was often a war that disrupted the trade route. Those family members who ended up in Spanish or Portuguese territory generally ended up as Catholics, and those in other countries as Jews (although the wealthy would often quickly assimilate into the host population).

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Sephardic Genealogy

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