Top 10 Jewish Genealogy Myths - Print Out for the Thanksgiving Dinner Table! #JewishGenUpdates

Avraham Groll

Top 10 Myths - Print Out for the Thanksgiving Dinner Table!

For those who are in the USA, Thanksgiving will be filled with food, traveling, and expressions of thanks for living in this great country.
It also is marked by relatives sharing "family history" stories
that are just not true.

For anyone who needs help at the dinner table today, we have prepared the top ten myths that people will often hear - and the perfect response to each of them.
Happy Thanksgiving from your Friends at JewishGen - and let us know how dinner goes! 😀

(1) To view/print this page from our website, visit:
(2) We are working to include Sephardic focused myths in an upcoming edition of JewishGen Mythbusters.

Myth #1: Most Ashkenazic family surnames can be traced to BEFORE the 18th century —
RESPONSE: Most Jews did not have fixed hereditary surnames until the early 19th century. Before that, people were known only by their first name and a patronymic, i.e., their father's first name, e.g.: “Yaakov ben Shmuel” (in Hebrew), or “Yaakov Shmulovich” (in Russian), both meaning “Yaakov, the son of Shmuel”.
Surname adoption for Jews began to be required by the various governments during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Austrian Empire (1787) was the first to require this, and was followed by edicts from the Russian Tzar for the Pale of Settlement (in 1804, and again in 1835 and 1845), and for the Russian Kingdom of Poland (1821). Napoleon inspired France (1808) to take this modern step, which was followed by various German states: Frankfurt (1807), Baden (1809), Westphalia (1812), Prussia (1812), Bavaria (1813), Württemberg (1828), Posen (1833), and Saxony (1834). Jewish surnames were not required in Romania until the 1870s, or in Turkey until 1934.
Myth #2: Spelling of surnames is important —
RESPONSE: Spelling is irrelevant in genealogy, as the consistent spelling of names is a 20th-century invention and obsession. Names were almost never spelled in a standard way in earlier records. For example, it is not unusual for the same person's name to be spelled Meyerson, Meirzon, Majersohn, etc. — they're all the same name. Transliteration from one language to another creates infinite spelling variances, e.g., there is no “H” sound in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, so Jewish names such as “Hersh” might become “Gersh”, utilizing the “G” sound instead.
Myth #3: We have the same last name, so we are probably related —
RESPONSE: Just because two people have the same surname, it does not necessarily mean that they are related. Very few Jewish surnames are monogenetic, i.e., having only a single progenitor with that surname. Many Jewish surnames (e.g.: Cohen, Levine, Katz, Kaplan, Weiss, Klein, Feldman, Greenberg, Friedman, Finkelstein, Epstein, most patronymics, etc.) are extremely common, each perhaps having hundreds of separate progenitors. Surnames derived from patronymics and occupations arose independently in towns throughout Eastern Europe, among non-related families. So attempting to undertake genealogy based on surname matches alone is not always productive. Geographic-based matches are often more important than the surname matches.
Myth #4: Our family surname changed at Ellis Island —
RESPONSE: No, it was not. Passenger lists were filled out at the port of embarkation by clerks hired by the steamship lines, or by the ship's purser, and then checked by U.S. customs or immigration authorities upon arrival. Thus, the names on these passenger lists are the European, pre-Americanized versions of names. No names were changed at Ellis Island. Immigrants changed their own names afterwards, to more easily recognized surnames, those which might match their already arrived relatives, or the name of someone who sponsored them to come to America, or even a name with perceived greater “yichus” or renown.
Myth #5: All of the vital and other family records were destroyed in the Holocaust —
RESPONSE: Yes, some records were destroyed due to wartime conditions, but on the whole, the majority of records have survived and are available in archives throughout Europe and other areas of the Jewish diaspora. Particularly, there are large amounts of records available on JewishGen, as well as through a number of organizations that also have collected and preserved Holocaust-related documents, as well as the large accumulations of records in Israel, and many that are available through commercial entities.
Myth #6: Our ancestral town no longer exists —
RESPONSE: Today, your ancestral town may not have a Jewish community which has survived, but it most likely still does exist. It might be in a different country, or have a different name. More than 6,000 known Jewish communities can be searched in the JewishGen Communities Database. Once you have identified your ancestral town and its present-day name, it is possible to locate records, visit the place, and involve yourself in learning more about your ancestors’ lives, with the assistance of JewishGen and its various tools such as Yizkor Books, KehilaLinks, and the like.
Myth #7: People knew their birthdates —
RESPONSE: Wrong, many immigrants did not know their birthdates. Entering the U.S. before 1924 required no documentation, just a ticket. Many brought no identification papers with them. Even if they knew their birthdates, it was usually in relation to a Jewish holiday (“the third day of Chanukah”), or a Hebrew date (“12th of Adar”). They had no easy way of translating this Jewish calendar date into the secular Gregorian calendar date. Many individuals decided to use American holidays, such as January 1st or July 4th, as their birthday. Also, some people adjusted their ages for various reasons: to avoid conscription into the military, to be eligible to vote, to enable them to obtain pensions, or to marry a younger person. It is said that the average woman’s age decreased over seven years between every Federal census from 1900 through 1940.
Myth #8: Family Stories (“bubbe meises”) are absolutely true —
RESPONSE: While many stories have germs of truth and should be investigated, often the stories are exaggerated. For example, “my great-grandfather was the tailor to the Tsar” (probably he sewed uniforms for the Tsar's army); “my great-grandfather played in the Emperor's band” (perhaps the local band dedicated to the Emperor?); or “my great-grandfather was the chief rabbi of our ancestral town” (many men were ‘qualified’ as rabbis, but in daily life were milkmen, butchers, etc.). There are also bubbe-meises about the black sheep in families, and these too may be tracked down due to the prevalence of available records and knowledge about how to obtain documentation.
Myth #9: DNA Analysis is THE way to find out who is in your family —
RESPONSE: DNA analysis can be an incredibly powerful and revolutionary genealogical tool, but it has to work in conjunction with other tools. Jewish DNA also presents a bit of a challenge. Because Jews are descended from a small group of people whose descendants have married one another for generations, autosomal tests often predict that Jews are much more closely related than they actually are. While autosomal predictions will be correct for very close relationships, matches beyond immediate family need to be investigated further -- using techniques including paying attention to the size of the segments. Traditional paper-trail research needs to be done to verify any suspected connection to a traceable common ancestor.
Y-DNA tests show if there is a common direct-male ancestor between two males, but because the vast majority of Ashkenazim have only had surnames for a couple of centuries, often there will not be matches with the same surname, as would be the case for most western Europeans. mtDNA looks at the direct female line, but because it mutates so infrequently, often there are hundreds of exact matches, whose common direct female ancestor may have been multiple centuries back, with no existing paper trail. All of these tests can be used to disprove genealogical theories, but they give only one more piece of evidence in proving a specific theory.
Myth #10: The United States Census provides the Truth about your American family —
RESPONSE: Sometimes, the census is correct. However, the enumerator came to the door and questioned whomever he found there; be it a child or neighbor (he was paid by the line). It is important to compare multiple years of the census and other key records — such as birth, marriage and death records; passenger manifests; military draft records; naturalization documents, etc. — in order to approach “the truth” about your family, how they came to America, and what they did once they arrived. This part of genealogy research is one of the most rewarding for the information it can provide on your ancestors.
That's it! You now have enough information to show who really knows their family history. Just don't forget to print this page before the family gathering!
Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgving!
— The JewishGen Team

Re: Facial Identification in Two Old Photos #latvia #photographs

Lowell Nigoff

Has anyone used the Google Photos to compare faces. 
Lowell Nigoff
Lexington, KY 

Re: Viewmate - Yiddish or Hebrew? #yiddish #translation



Good morning,


The inscription is in Hebrew.

Memento or remembrance   _____ (couldn’t make out this word)  to our dear sister Hannah and her family

Dated Feb. 28, 1932


Malka Chosnek



Re: Facial Identification in Two Old Photos #latvia #photographs

Gail H. Marcus

Thanks for the responses so far.  Very thoughtful.  I also appreciated the help dating the photo.  That helps a lot.

FWIW, I noticed that the orientation of the photos on my screen changes depending on how wide you make the window--so when it was full screen, the photos were side by side, but when I narrowed the window to half the screen width, the photos shifted and were stacked, with 5-person photo on top.  So maybe best to refer to the 6-person photo and the 5-person photo. 

Finally, just to add to the confusion, I had one private response, so I won't include any identification, but it says "I would say that in the middle..."  So any further analysis might be helpful.

Thanks again, and happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating today.

Gail Marcus
Bethesda, MD

Re: Viewmate - Yiddish or Hebrew? #yiddish #translation

David Lewin

At 10:31 25/11/2021, Robert Fraser wrote:
Hi friends - I have placed an inscription on a photograph on Viewmate. It is at:

A translation would be greatly appreciated. I believe it to be Yiddish, but could be Hebrew.

Please respond off-list or via the Viewmate application.

Thank you and Chanuka sameach.

Gina Fraser
Perth WA


a memory of love                                               mazkeret Ahava
to our sister Hanna and your family                     le'a'cho'tei'nu Chana u'mish'pach'tech
David Lewin

Search & Unite attempt to help locate people who, despite the passage of so many years since World War II, may still exist "out there".
We also assist in the process of re-possession of property in the Czech Republic and Israel.
See our Web pages at

Re: Facial Identification in Two Old Photos #latvia #photographs


Hard to say given the passage of twenty years and the fact that two of the men in the older photo are well-bearded but here goes. The one in the older photo whose chin we can see, the seated one, does seem to have the same chin and eyebrows as the oldest man in the newer picture. The shorter standing man seems to have a chin that is too pointy to be a match, but the taller one looks to have the same chin as the subject.

Side note: comparisons only work within a single picture. Someone else here mentioned the "upper" picture; on my screen they are side-by-side.

Robert Roth
Kingston, NY

Re: Yad Vashem Names Database #holocaust

Evelyn and Christopher Wilcock

I regularly use  the Yad Vashem Names database for my research and have had no problems. However, I prefer to avoid complex searches and to use the Names and Place fields.

Talmidim of Volozhin Yeshiva #rabbinic


Does anyone know if there are lists of the talmidim of Volozhin Yeshiva from the 1850s onwards?

Many thanks
Shoshanah Glickman
Gateshead, UK

Primary records in Austria Hungary #events

Peter Heilbrunn


The JGSGB German Sig will meet from 2-5 pm GMT via Zoom on 5 December 2021 with invited Guest Speaker Christina Kaul who will be speaking to us about “Primary Jewish records in German speaking Austria-Hungary”.

Christina’s talk concerns Jewish records in Austria Hungary (Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Hungary). The sources cover Jewish community books, Familianten books and Catholic control books on Jewish inhabitants’ as well as Jewish conscriptions and land records. The talk will focus on primary records rather than secondary databases like JewishGen and thus allow researchers and family historians to go back further in time; for example, the 1651 census in Moravia includes Jewish communities and that in parts of Moravia Jewish land records are digitalized going back as far as 1550.

Hopefully after that, we will also have time to discuss some of the new developments and recent discoveries in German-Jewish genealogy, and the meeting will end with an opportunity for you to ask any questions about your own family history research. It would be helpful if you could email me your questions in advance to  pheilbrunn@...

Register in advance to attend this paid for zoom meeting the cost is £5 for non-JGSGB German Sig members. Register at:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. If you have problems joining on the day, please email chairman@...  preferably in the 15 minutes before the meeting starts.

Jeanette R Rosenberg OBE - Convenor of JGSGB German Sig


Peter Heilbrunn

Amersham, England

Re: Facial Identification in Two Old Photos #latvia #photographs

Odeda Zlotnick

I'd say he could be the man on the right in the upper picture - more so than any of the others.
Something about his eyebrows, and the angle and size of his ear (relative to his face) and the slight tilt of his head to the viewer left (his own right) make think so.
Odeda Zlotnick
Jerusalem, Israel.

Re: 1897 Odessa Census Name Index #records #ukraine

Ariel Parkansky

Hi Roberta,

Just for information, following an agreement between JG and the FHL we translated 10 microfilms of the 1897 Odessa Census (2530 records) between 2017 and 2019.
Unfortunately there was some issues about the agreement and the project is currently on hold.
The 2530 indexed records should be searchable on the JG Ukraine DB. They are also available on the All Odessa Database on the Odessa Kehilalinks (
Ariel Parkansky
Odessa Town Leader
JG Ukraine RD

Re: Viewmate Translation request Russian #translation


Many thanks to Josef Ash for your translations!
Definitely person I was looking for. Now I need to verify that he was my great-great grandfather's father.
Tried to email you back but email server rejected it.
Shoshanah Glickman
Gateshead, UK

Re: ViewMate translation request - Polish #poland #translation

Kris Murawski

Fabrykant wyrobów bawełnianych
Manufacturer of cotton products
Kris Murawski
Raleigh, North Carolina

Re: Researching Romanian/Moldovan or Belarus towns #belarus #romania #general

Valentin Lupu

Both Hebrew places are probably misspelled. I am identifying the first place as Moghilev -Podolski, now in Ukraine. During WWIi Romanian Jews  (especially from Bassarabia, Bukowina and Moldova regions) were deported to Transnistria. The majority of them were either killed or died from the very harsh conditions. The deportation started in 1941 and Moghilev was one of the killing places.
Valentin Lupu

Re: Help understanding ship manifest #records


Thanks to David for posting the alternate link!  Yes, this annotation in the name column is a reference to New York verification of landing work and points to a local New York office file where they kept a copy of all the requests and replies for verifications.  Sadly, the old New York District files do NOT survive.  But the reference tells us his landing was verified for some reason.  The annotation reads:

V[erification of] L[anding], [New York file number] 98917/671 - 3/20/??  The circled letters at the end should be the verifier's initials but does look unusual.

We cannot tell if this verification was for some benefit (such as naturalization) or enforcement (investigation, deportation, etc.).  Remember, strict instructions directing all natz verifications to be noted in the occupation field only went out in 1926.  Prior to that, we see different styles at different ports--if they annotated at all.  So if this was pre-1926 it could be verification for anything.  One with more information about this passenger, like where he lived in the 'teens or twenties (when it appears the annotation was made), variant names, and more, might be able to make more sense of it.

Marian Smith

Viewmate - Yiddish or Hebrew? #yiddish #translation

Robert Fraser

Hi friends - I have placed an inscription on a photograph on Viewmate. It is at:

A translation would be greatly appreciated. I believe it to be Yiddish, but could be Hebrew.

Please respond off-list or via the Viewmate application.

Thank you and Chanuka sameach.

Gina Fraser
Perth WA

Sephardic Genealogy Video Library #sephardic #general


There will be no Sephardic World meeting this Sunday. Next week we return
with a discussion of the Jewish community and archives in Livorno, Italy.

Most Sephardic World videos are now published to YouTube. You can see a
listing of past talks on the Sephardic Genealogical Society website at

You can join the Sephardic World mailing list at

Best wishes for Hannukah and Thanksgiving,

David Mendoza and Ton Tielen
Sephardic World

Re: Yad Vashem Names Database #holocaust

Odeda Zlotnick

"Can't get results" could mean the question is too complicated, or that the site did'nt respond at all -- two very different issues.
After reading you letter  tried the names database:
Central DB of Shoah Victims' Names (
No problem connecting.

Asked for just a name, that would doubtlessly be there, "Cohen".

Odeda Zlotnick
Jerusalem, Israel.

ViewMate Translation request - russian #russia #records #translation


I've posted a record in Russian for which I need a translation. It is an excerpt from a register of people evacuated from Leningrad in 1942, including cousins of mine with the surname DIN. I am only interested in the 3 entries for the DIN family and the person below them in the list.  The document is on ViewMate at the following address:

Please respond via the form provided on the ViewMate image page.

Thank you very much.

Glenda Goldberg
Sydney, Australia

Re: Facial Identification in Two Old Photos #latvia #photographs


Looking at the clothing and hairstyles etc in your earlier image, the photo is definitely before 1914 and much more likely to be c. 1905-1910.

Lesley Edwards
Cheshire, England

1621 - 1640 of 665321