Ellen Kowitt at Chudnov Jewish Genealogical Society of Colorado
Local Programs and Mentoring for Tracing Jewish Family History Worldwide

About Genealogy

Genealogy (from Greek: genea, "generation"; and logos, "knowledge") is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship or pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. Some scholars differentiate between genealogy and family history, limiting genealogy to an account of kinship, while using "family history" to denote the provision of additional details about lives and historical context.
Following the Paper Trail
In addition to recording the oral history of relatives and finding photos often held in private ownership, the pursuit of genealogy is largely that of following a paper trail to provide evidence about relationships including names, places or dates. In the United States, all searches begin with public records generated by the government including birth, marriage, death, immigration, naturalization, census, military, property, probate, and wills. These materials are filed at the local, state, and federal level and not divided by religion in the United States.
Genetic Analysis
Because a person's DNA contains information that has been passed down relatively unchanged from early ancestors, analysis of DNA is sometimes used for genealogical research. Three DNA types are of particular interest: mitochondrial DNA that we all possess and that is passed down with only minor mutations through the matrilineal (direct female) line; the Y-chromosome, present only in males, which is passed down with only minor mutations through the patrilineal (direct male) line; and autosomal DNA that we all posess where linked blocks of DNA across the 22 autosomal chromosomes are matched between two people and you can discover connections to descendants of all sixteen of your great-great-grandparents. A genealogical DNA test allows two individuals to find the probability that they are, or are not, related within an estimated number of generations. Individual genetic test results are collected in databases to match people descended from a relatively recent common ancestor.
Jewish Genealogy
  • The words for generation in Hebrew are dorot or toldottoldot is primarily used to document the descendants of a man.
  • Avotaynu in Hebrew means our fathers or our ancestors. Families in Yiddish are mishpacha.
  • The Torah is full of references to family relationships including whom begat whom and the recording of the Table of Nations.
  • In the first temple in Jerusalem, there was a room designated for the storage of genealogies.
  • These examples demonstrate the importance Judaism has placed on genealogy.
    • Unique documents exist for tracing Jewish family history including the ketubah, which is a Jewish marriage contract listing the bride and groom’s parent names and the location of the wedding in relation to the nearest intersection of two bodies of water.
    • Unique Jewish naming patterns provide clues to ancestry.
    • Unique customs can help place the date and place of lifecycle events.
    • The Jewish people have lived throughout the world, and as a result, not only are Jewish languages such as Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino used to record events within the Jewish community, but many local administrators recorded the lives of Jews in languages such as Russian, Polish, German, and Spanish.