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Jewish records, including synagogue records, contain information specifically about Jews. These include vital records (births, marriages, divorces, and deaths) prepared by or for Jewish communities, registers of name changes, account books of congregations, circumcision records, and burial records. Synagogue records are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under Jewish Records, but they have a separate section in this outline.
Jews generally did not keep vital records unless required to do so by law. In most countries Jews are recorded in the civil registration or vital records along with people of other religions. For example, when civil registration started in France in 1792 and the Netherlands in 1795, Jews were recorded with the rest of the population.
Some countries required separate Jewish vital records be kept. After 1826–1835, many countries of Europe required separate registers to be kept of Jews. Although these separate registers were a form of civil registration, they are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog as Jewish Records.
For information about the relationship between Jewish records, civil registration, and church records, see "Vital Records" in this outline.
Records kept of Jews are not the same from country to country or from time period to time period. Even within the same country Jewish records can vary from region to region. An example from Austria is given at the end of this section.
Many records of Jews kept by local governments or by Jews themselves, especially for cities of Europe that had significant Jewish populations, have been microfilmed. For example, there are Jewish records at the Family History Library for marriage contracts [ketubah], circumcision records [bris], burial and cemetery records, and other Jewish records from Amsterdam that date back to 1580. Excellent records of German and Portuguese Jewish communities during the 18th century are found in cities such as Bordeaux, France. Other Jewish records include:
Examples of some published Jewish Records are:
An Austrian Example
The following example shows how laws in parts of the Austrian Empire affected the keeping of Jewish records. The availability and genealogical value of Jewish records varies for the time periods mentioned and in the different regions (Bohemia, Silesia, and the rest of the Austrian Empire).
Some circumcision registers were kept in Austria since the early 1700s (officially designated as Matrikeln [vital records] in 1722). These records, written mostly in Hebrew, had no legal validity.
Although a law was made in 1766 requiring birth registers be kept in Bohemia, there was not wide-spread compliance. In 1784 the Austrian vital registration system was revised; standardized forms were made for recording births, marriages, and deaths. The rabbis were now required to keep Jewish vital records for their congregations.
In 1788 Austria passed a law requiring records be in German. Jews had to take fixed surnames and a given name selected from a list of German names. Larger Jewish congregations began keeping records, which were not considered legal unless verified and approved by Catholic clerical authority.
In 1797 Jewish registration in Bohemia came under Catholic clerical supervision. Because there were no rabbis in Silesia, tax collectors in this area kept the Jewish records.
Laws in 1837, 1843, and 1846 gave the responsibility of keeping accurate Jewish records to civil registrars with Catholic oversight. In July 1868 Jewish records finally received full recognition as legally valid without Catholic supervision.
Locating Jewish Records
The Family History Library has filmed many Jewish records, including extensive collections from Hungary and Slovakia. Search for Jewish records in the FamilySearch Catalog for the town or region where your ancestors lived under the topic Jewish Records.