Re: How far back can one go? #general

Richard Cooper

In 1787 Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were required to take fixed surnames that did not change with each generation. The Prussian and Russian Empires followed suit later. So I would say you are broadly correct: for the majority of Ashkenazi Jews, whose ancestors lived in partitioned Poland, you will be very lucky to trace back further than an ancestor born around 1750. The exceptions, as you say, are those from Rabbinic dynasties and famousĀ hofjudenĀ like OPPENHEIMER and ROTHSCHILD. Records from Kutno are unusually well-preserved and through parent to child lines you can trace some families back to just before 1700: but I haven't found such records in other towns. In Western Europe, where the Jewish population was more acculturated, you can also find records back to around 1600. Sephardim, of course, used fixed surnames much earlier: the SHALTIEL family can trace back to Temple times. And of course the COHEN Modal Haplotype goes back 3,300 years - but we have no documentation for the intermediate generations. So to recap: the vast majority of us will not be able to trace our family tree, generation to generation without skipping, further back than c.1750,

Ric Cooper
Midhurst, UK

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