Spain: Little-known Sephardic genealogical sources

Here are a few little-known books, from Tracing the Tribe’s own collection, offering much detailed information on Sephardic Jews in Girona and other towns in the province of Catalunya, Spain.

Tracing the Tribe purchased some in Girona Jewish Museum bookshop, in second-hand bookshops in Barcelona and elsewhere. The Library of Congress in Washington DC may hold copies as may other libraries – I have not checked WorldCat.

These provide much genealogical information in the form of archival documents and notarial records.

— Documents dels Jueus de Girona 1124-1595 (Arxiu Historic de la Ciutat and Arxiu Diocesa de Girona), compiled by Gemma Escriba i Bonastre and Maria Pilar Frago i Perez.

It includes an excellent 52-page surname index, a 10-page toponym (geographical) index, 14-page bibliography). The book’s text is in English, French, Catalan and Spanish – the documents are in their original language (Latin, Catalan, Spanish). The volume is marked “Colleccio Historia de Girona, 12,” published by La Caixa and the Ajuntament de Girona. Other features: A 20-page introduction to the document collection in both the historical and diocesan archives; with 250 pages of documents and record extracts.

— Per a una Historia de la Girona Jueva (volumes I and II), by David Romano, (1988, Ajuntament de Girona).

It has a 44-page name index, bibliography, and additional references for each chapter in the book. For each chapter, I’m including the number of articles to give readers an idea of the wealth of information. Texts are in Latin, Spanish, Catalan, French – according to the original language.


Chapters and the numbers of articles in each:


1) Introduction (1)
2) Encyclopedia articles about Girona (5)
3) Epigraphs and Hebrew Inscriptions (7)
4) The synagogues (3)
5) Jewish religion and culture (4)
6) Individuals and Texts (5)
7) Historic and Chronological Studies about the Jews of Girona (22)
8) The Inquisition (2)
–name index
–appendix
–chapter references

— Els Jueus de Valls i la Seva Epoca, by Gabriel Secall i Guell (Edition Vallencs, 1980).

This details the names of Jews of the town of Valls, and also includes some names of those who lived in nearby communities, such as D’Alcover, De L’Aleixar, D’Alforja, De L’Arboc, Cabra, Falset, Montblanc, Pla de Santa Maria, Prades, La Riba, Reus, Santa Coloma de Queralt, Sarral, La Selva, Tamarit, Tarragona, Tortosa, Vallmoll, Vilaplana, Vila-Rodona. It includes the archival references to documents with the names for all towns.

There are separate bibliographies providing additional publications for the Jews of Valls, Tarragona, Comarques Tarragonines (the smaller towns listed above), Lleida, Girona, Barcelona. There’s are general bibliographies for the Jews of Catalunya, and for the Iberian Jews.

— Corografia Portuguesa, published by the Fundacao Ana Lima, Brazil (Fortaleza, 2006) contains:

Two detailed indexes for proper names and toponyms for Portugal. It refers to a 1,500-page history by Father Antonio Carvalho Costa, which in addition to detailed geography includes detailed genealogical information on Portuguese Jewish and other families up to the year 1700. The work was published in three volumes of some 500 pages each in 1706 and 1708, but I do not see a date for the third volume. The second edition of the complete, published in 1868, is the basis of this index. Each name and geographical location provides the original volume and page for more information. The introduction is in Portuguese and English, and contains some very detailed examples of the entries.

— Jews of the Caribbean, by Mordecai Arbell, provides extensive information on the history of these communities.

— Sangre Judia, by Pere Bonnin, is the first book of choice for those who wish to see if their name has Jewish roots, but only the most recent edition (the 4th expanded edition) contains the surnames, year and geographical location. Documents are from pre-Inquisition, Inquisition and other sources. A previous edition is part of the large Name Search Engine at Sephardim.com, but the edition used provided no year or city.

This is available online from a Barcelona bookshop, Casa Llibre. The price is 18€ or $28.26; the official title and author’s name: “Sangre Judia”  (edicion Aumentada y Revisada, 2006), Pere de Bonnin Aguilo. To find it in the catalogue, use the English page (see top right of the page for other languages).

Pere has also just published a second book, “Sangre Judia 2: La Brillante Estela de los Espanoles expulsados,” (2010), the price is the same. I have not yet seen the second book so cannot advise on it. Both books are in Spanish.

— In 1988, the city Historic Archive (Arxiu Historic de la ciutat) in Girona discovered that multiple layers of 14th-15th century Hebrew manuscripts were used to pad covers of  books and registers held in the archives. They were recycling even in medieval times, and after the Jews were expelled, the Hebrew documents were not needed. The discovery led to a still on-going process of painstaking restoration.

Learn more about this here (unfortunately, it is in Catalan, but is easy to follow if you have some Spanish, French, Italian or Latin) and there is aan 11-minute video here (also in Catalan) showing the process in some detail.

Additionally, there is a search engine for these Hebrew manuscript fragments. Search by title (titol), place name (desriptor toponimic), subject (ambit tematic), date (data del document), and/or name (descriptor onomastic).

Have you seen these resources?
Have you used them?
What have you found?
Now that you know about them, are you planning to work with them?

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Spain: A visit to Girona

A visit to Girona detailed in the Washington Post brought back wonderful memories of several visits.

Although a general travel article, there are a few paragraphs focused on the Call, the Jewish quarter, the scene of murder, mayhem and forced conversions in 1391, and whose residents were finally expelled in 1492.

The story, and the accompanying photo gallery, are well worth a look.

It covers the important things and the wonderful things.

The story reminds visitors about the Jewish quarter’s medieval cobblestoned steep stone steps and walkways which are difficult to maneuver if a visitor has any mobility issues. Wear good supportive sneakers or mountain-climbing sandals in appropriate weather; and do remember that stone is slippery in wet weather.

If you arrive by train – a short ride from Barcelona – take a cab up the steep hill, although some travel advisors say it is a quick walk. Don’t believe it. On our first trip there, we were advised that one could walk it. Tracing the Tribe took one look at the terrain and grabbed the first cab we saw. It was an excellent decision.

Once you’re on top, navigation isn’t too difficult, although there are so many lovely alleys, back streets and more – sometimes with a glimpse of private gardens – that only foot power can reach, and it would be a shame to miss them. The Nachmanides Center/Jewish Museum also offers various walking tours and occasionally these include private houses and gardens. I just learned that there’s now a two-hour Segway tour – what a great idea!

Every May, Girona celebrates Temps de Flors. This year, it’s May 8-16. Private homes and gardens are open to visitors. It’s the perfect time to visit Girona.

The Post story covers the central plaza, the cathedral and its old city plaza, great restaurants, wonderful views, the sense of history in every corner of the old city, tradition oozing from each stone.

It is easy to imagine what the Call might have looked like 500 years ago. It is also easy to understand how its Jewish residents felt during certain Catholic holidays when they were forced to remain barricaded inside their homes for fear of the mobs, during the tragic events of 1391 which decimated most Jewish communities across Spain, and in the period leading up to the their ultimate expulsion in 1492 and their hurried departure.

The Girona Archives are particularly rich in Jewish content, and several books providing collections of documents have been published. The museum bookstore should have copies – that’s where I purchased mine.

The restoration of the Call began in the 1980s, when the mayor (also a historian) rediscovered the ancient Jewish quarter, began the reconstruction of medieval buildings and made other changes.

Although no organized Jewish community exists today, there are some families who live there today and get together for holidays. Tracing the Tribe visited the Girona families several years ago and learned that they represent diverse origins and professions. Most are connected in some way to Atid, Barcelona’s Progressive congregation.

The stones of silence remain to be discovered by today’s visitors.

If you go, don’t forget to visit the Jewish museum, bookstore and other locations. Click here for more information on events in the Call, which even has a Facebook page.

While the Nachmanides Institute has an excellent library covering diverse subjects, genealogy – unfortunately – is not high on their priority list. When I was visiting the library several years ago, I met a family from New York searching their roots and although nothing much was in the library (except an outdated list of gen contacts), I was able to assist them with resources.

Today, searching online the Institute’s library catalogue for “genealogy,” only three results are found: A 1999 Avotaynu, the 1977 edition of Dan Rottenberg’s “Finding Our Fathers,” and the 2002 first edition of Jeff Malka’s “Sephardic Genealogy.”

See a future Tracing the Tribe post with some specific Sephardic genealogy sources, some are little-known outside of Spain.

New York: Three Catalan Sephardic programs, May 2-4

The American Sephardi Federation has scheduled three programs from Sunday, May 2-Tuesday, May 4.

— A History of Jewish Catalonia
4pm, Sunday, May 2

A lecture on this book, along with a sale and signing, will feature authors Sílvia Planas and Manuel Forcano.

This beautifully illustrated book traces the rich and fertile history of the Jews in Catalonia from the time of the late Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages, until the drastic decree of expulsion by the Catholic Monarchs.

It captures their wedding songs, the smells from their cooking pots, and reconstructs the soaring intellectual edifice they created despite the difficulties of a daily life fraught with religious persecution and social degradation.
 
The program is in collaboration with and the support of NYU’s Catalan Center, an affiliate of the Institut Ramon Llull, and the European Institute of the Mediterranean

Fee: ASF members/students, free; others $5. It will take place at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NYC. Reservations requested.

— A Certain Identity: Crypto Jews Around the World
6.30pm, Monday, May 3

Thousands of Iberian Jews went “underground” at the time of the Inquisition and the expulsion from Spain. They dispersed across Europe, across the ocean to South America and the Caribbean, to North Africa and the Middle East. With tremendous tenacity, they preserved their heritage, married among themselves, and passed it down from generation to generation.

Gloria Mound, Director of the Casa Shalom-Institute for Anusim Studies in Israel, will illuminate their fascinating history, their presence in the Caribbean and in European countries, as well as previously unsuspected links with French Huguenots.

Fee: ASF members/students, $5; others $10. It will take place at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NYC. Reservations requested.

— Traces of Esther: The Jewish Presence in Contemporary Catalan Literature
6.30pm, Tuesday, May 4

Manuel Forcano, PhD (Semitic Philology), poet and essayist, will offer a Catalan perspective on Jewish culture as reflected in the writings of the great 19th and 20th century Catalan authors. Offering rich passages from the literature, Dr. Forcano will guide us from the negative stereotypes of the 19th century, through the fascination with Israel as both a religious and political inspiration, and the Bible and the Talmud as references, to the emergence of a modern, nuanced view of the place of Jewish culture in Catalonia.

The program is in collaboration with and the support of NYU’s Catalan Center and the European Institute of the Mediterranean.

Fee: no charge. It will take place at the King Juan Carlos Center, 53 Washington Square South (bet. Sullivan & Thompson Streets). Reservations requested.

Canada: Yiddish oxen, tractors in Saskatchewan

The Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, Massachusetts) sends out periodic newsletters on books and events.

The latest update, just received by Tracing the Tribe, has several interesting items, particularly a Yiddish book on a Saskatchewan farming community and an update on the Hania, Crete synagogue fire and attempts at rebuilding its destroyed library.

Learning how our ancestors lived is key to understanding who they were and how they coped with local conditions.
When, in 1911, Michael Usiskin arrived in the Jewish settlement of Edenbridge, in northeastern Saskatchewan, he and the other pioneers struggled.

Weather conditions, isolation and other factors contributed to their attempt to form Jewish cultural life. He recorded this life in his 1945 Yiddish book, Oksn un motorn (Oxen and Tractors).

To learn more about this book, click here.

Readers may remember the devasting fire at the Hania, Crete synagogue that destroyed its library. Many people have already donated books to rebuild that important resource. The drawing at left is part of director Nikos Stravroulakis’ drawing of the town.
Click here to read the thank you message from Stavroulakis and his staff. Read the names of those who donated books and see an interactive map, as well as a list of books they still need.
Subscribe to the National Yiddish Book Center’s newsletter.

Seattle: Bennett Greenspan, May 10

FamilyTreeDNA.com founder Bennett Greenspan will speak on the new genetic genealogy test at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State on Monday, May 10.
The program is titled “The Y Chromosome and Beyond: Tracing Your Genealogy with the ‘Other’ DNA.”
It begins at 7.30pm in the Stroum JCC Auditorium on Mercer Island. Doors open at 7pm, the JSWS library will be available, along with Wi-Fi.
Many genealogists have been using genetic genealogy, and specifically FamilyTreeDNA.com, to learn more about their ancestors and find relatives using Y-DNA for paternal lines and mtDNA for maternal lines.

The tests have been essential tools in exploring recent and early Jewish roots, including links among Ashkenazim and Sephardim (such as in the IberianAshkenaz DNA Project, co-administered by Judy Simon and myself).

Now there’s a new test that uses autosomal chromosomes to look for close relationships along all ancestral lines, and can find links between male and female cousins across all family lines for the past five generations. Bennett will explain the new test in detail and provide exciting examples of new matches. He will also discuss the nuances of Y-DNA and mtDNA testing.

Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Bennett is the founder/CEO of FamilyTreeDNA.com. He spent years investigating his maternal grandfather’s ancestors – an obsession that turned into a full-time vocation and led him to become a founder of the growing field now known as genetic genealogy. FamilyTreeDNA and other cooperative ventures, including the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project and AfricanDNA.com, now comprise the largest non-medical DNA testing program in the world.

Fee: JGSWS members, free; others, $5. For more information, click here.

JGSLA 2010: New programs, classes, workshops!

In addition to lectures, JGSLA 2010 will offer programs on maps, roots travel, films and filmmakers, classes and crafts.

“This year in LA” is the 2010 mantra for Jewish genealogists around the world.

Don’t miss the early registration discount for the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 11-16, in Los Angeles. Discounts end April 30, don’t miss out. Go to JGSLA 2010 and register today.

Two fascinating speakers have been added to the program, and see further down for even more additions to the program.

Holocaust

USC Shoah Foundation Institute executive director Dr. Stephen Smith will speak on Wednesday evening, July 14.

He was founding director of The UK Holocaust Centre, the UK’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial and education center. For this work, he was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.). Additionally, Smith co-founded the Aegis Trust, withe the goal of prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He chairs the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which organizes the UK national Holocaust commemoration.

A dynamic speaker, he is dedicated to bringing the Shoah Foundation’s survivor testimonies into the 21st century by making them accessible to a worldwide audience. His talk will address this topic.  The conference resource room will offer streaming Shoah Foundation survivor testimonies daily during the conference, beginning on Sunday, July 11, at 10am.

Sephardim

Professor Delores Sloane will discuss her new book, “The Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal: Survival of an Imperiled Culture in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” a storyteller’s account of what happened to the expelled Iberian Jews who built new lives in exile after leaving what had been their home for 1,500 years.

Sloan believes that history is best understood through the experiences of those who lived it.

In 1996, she traveled through Spain and Portugal for five weeks, by train, bus and by foot, looking for footprints left by the remarkable Jews who had created a golden age of learning and discovery.

Her new book offers a compelling portrait of Sephardic Jews, who created a Golden Age on the Iberian Peninsula under Moslem rule for nearly seven centuries, and continued to advance science, medicine, political economy, government and the arts under Christian rule that followed. See the link above for more information.

Here’s even more to absorb:

Maps and more

Ukraine and Galicia are on the menu with the famous Brian Lenius speaking on cadastral maps and landowner records; Alexander Dunai (from Lviv) on maps in the Ternopil (Tarnopol) archives; and Alexander Denysenko (from Lviv), on roots travel. Dunai and Seattle’s Sol Sylvan will present how you can plan the trip of a lifetime. Other experts will be able to discuss roots travel to Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania.

Films

Filmmaker, researcher and travel planner Michael Masterovoy of Moscow is flying in to  speak at the Belarus SIG luncheon (don’t forget to sign up for this added event!). He’ll speak about his recent trip to several Belarus towns, including Vitebsk, home to Movsha Shagal (AKA Marc Chagall).

He has created documentary and campaign videos for North American Jewish organizations and the film festival will screen several of his films, including “Brailov: A Town Without Jews.”

In about two weeks, the complete Film Festival schedule will be online.

Arts & Crafts, Workshops, Classes

Frequent conference-goers know we all need breaks from lectures.

Some classes and workshops:

  • Sunday, Lil Blume will offer a two-part workshop on “Writing Family Stories and Memoirs.”
  • Monday-Thursday: Lynn Saul – “Creating and Retelling Your Family’s Stories: A Participatory Writing Workshop;” Mike Karsen – “How to Create Your Family History;” and Marlis Humphrey – “I Couldn’t Put it Down! New Ways to Publish Family History.”

Crafts:

  • A Tallit–making class will cover the history of the Jewish prayer shawl, the Hebrew prayer for the atarah (or collar), the aleph bet chart with various Hebrew fonts, images to stitch to decorate the tallit, how to tie tzitzit (corner fringes), and sha’a’tnez. (prohibition of using two different fibres in the same textile).
  • “How to Create a Genealogical Quilt” using ancestral photographs as the artwork.
  • “Pomegranate Jewish Papercut” session to learn the art of Jewish paper cutting, using scissors. References to Jewish paper cutting date from 14th century and it became an important folk art among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim in the 17th-18th centuries. Each participant will have a papercut that they can display at home. There’s a $10 kit fee for the project materials.

Holocaust, Sephardim, maps, roots travel, writing, films and filmmakers, along with arts and crafts! No matter your specific interests, there will be something – and lots of somethings – for you.

Tracing the Tribe looks forward to greeting you in Los Angeles.

San Francisco: New Mexico’s Sephardic Legacy, April 29

Along our journey of discovery, we meet many people who inspire us, who teach us, who enlighten us as to topics that others consider esoteric.

One of Tracing the Tribe’s most interesting encounters years ago was with Dr. Stanley M. Hordes of New Mexico, who specializes in Crypto-Jews of that state. He treats those involved in his research with great dignity and understanding, and his skill in genealogical research and history has enabled many links to be made.

San Francisco residents will have an opportunity to hear Stan present “The Sephardic Legacy in New Mexico: A History of the Crypto-Jews,” on Thursday, April 29, at 7.30pm, at the Jewish Community Library.

During his tenure as New Mexico State Historian in the 1980s, Stanley Hordes began to hear stories of Hispanics who lit candles on Friday night and abstained from eating pork.

Hordes is adjunct research professor at the Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico and a Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies board member.

Puzzling over this phenomenon, Hordes realized that these practices might well have been passed down through the centuries from early crypto-Jewish settlers in New Spain. His theory was corroborated after hundreds of interviews and extensive research and led to his award-winning book on the history of the crypto-Jews in New Mexico.

Dr. Hordes will talk about the conversos from their Jewish roots and forced conversions in Spain and Portugal to their migration to central Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries and their part in the colonization of New Mexico.

Using slides, he will describe customs and consciousness that have survived to this day, the recent reclamation of Jewish ancestry within the Hispano community, and the challenges of reconstructing the history of a people who tried to leave no traces.

His book (above left) – “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico” – received the Gaspar Perez de Villagra Prize in 2006 by the Historical Society of New Mexico for outstanding historical publication of the year.
If you have not yet read this book, do get a copy. It is a truly fascinating read. He is also working on another book, documenting the same culture in other New World communities.
The event is co-sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) and Lehrhaus Judaica.
For more information, click here.