Tracing Jewish Cemeteries Online – 6 Ways to Narrow Down Your Search

Summary: Studying Jewish genealogy is particularly hard, because so many Jews changed their family names when they emigrated.

Studying Jewish genealogy is particularly hard, because so many Jews changed their family names when they emigrated. In fact, most of the Jewish records at Ellis Island include name changes! Plus, countless records that would be of great help today were destroyed during the Holocaust.
If you want to learn more about your Jewish ancestors, one of the best ways to do it is to trace Jewish cemeteries online.
In the Jewish faith, the entire burial process is serious, well-organized, and sacred. For Jews, a grave site is both permanent and carefully planned. Jewish cemetery records are very detailed – meaning that they can give you a ton of information about your ancestors and help you track down your genealogy.
There are two types of Jewish cemetery records:
  • Gravestone inscriptions that include the person’s name, date of their death, and name of their father. Inscriptions are done in Hebrew, and they may also be translated into English or the local language.
  • Cemetery registers that are kept by cemetery officials. These records include more information – like names, ages, marriage information, names of relatives in the same plot, and even the name of the people who paid for the burial.
So, how do you find them?
Follow these 6 tips:
1. Starting with your family’s nationality is a great way to narrow down your search. That way, you can get records straight from the homeland. Most Jews can translate their ancestors back to Holland, Germany, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain, and Portugal.
2. Figuring out what caste your family is in is another great way to narrow down your search, right from the start. All Jews are in one of three castes – Cohanim, Leviim, or Israelite.
3. Jewish congregations with lots of members usually have their own cemeteries and burial records. Smaller congregations will reserve a section inside a bigger cemetery so that all of the members can be buried close together.
4. Many big cemeteries have their own websites. In bigger cities, many of the bigger cemeteries have teamed up to create a group website.
5. If you can’t find the specific cemetery you need, all is not lost. Jewish Burial Societies keep many of the same records that cemeteries do.
6. Look into landsmanshaft societies. Those are groups that Jews formed years ago, based on places of origin. People from the same town or region created their own landsmanshaft societies. Many Jewish cemeteries are organized into landsmanshaft plots.

Kirsty LaVier is editor for Family Tree Search, an Australia Genealogy resource site.