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.

Boston: Daniel Laby’s Sephardic roots, April 25

Dr. Daniel Laby will share his family’s Sephardic journey from 13th-century Zaragoza, Spain to the New World with members of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, on Sunday, April 25.

Read Tracing the Tribe’s post about the meeting, which also features Brandeis Professor Jonathan Decter, here.

The Canton Citizen’s story about Laby and his family is here.

The pediatric opthamalogist, also a professor at Harvard Medical School, also has family connections to Lerida, where Tracing the Tribe found the first document for our family.

His family’s journey has covered Spain, Hebron, Salonika, North Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Dan began researching his family in high school when the earliest date he knew was his paternal grandfather’s 1904 arrival in the US.

Since then, he’s reached back into the 13th century. Family members worked as financiers, diplomats and doctors for the Kings of Aragon.

A few years ago, three generations of his family visited their ancestral family home in Zaragoza and other cities in Spain. He put together an excellent multimedia presentation on the family trip which he shared with JFRA Israel members.

Research on his grandfather’s family, from Hebron, was furthered by a book on the history of that community. It included detailed land deeds which helped him trace back several hundred years.

“I think to really understand what your future is going to be … you have to understand where you came from and what your past history is,” Laby said.


“I think anyone could do it,” Laby said of tracing ancestry. “You just have to have curiosity and patience and determination.”

It was interesting to see Dan’s quote, that he was “fortunate to have an obscure name.” This is in line with my own views. Dan says if he was looking for Cohen or Levy, it would be more difficult to find the documents for his ancestors.

Tracing the Tribe feels much the same; hunting for Talalay and Dardashti makes it much easier!

While we can trace with probability our kosher winemaker ancestor in Lerida mentioned in a document dated 1358, Dan has gone back to 1202 for his prominent family, which helped arrange the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as funding for Columbus’s trip to the Americas.

Dan and I have joked that our ancestor made the wine his ancestors drank way back when.

Using ancient property ownership maps in Zaragoza, he was able to visit the site of the ancestor’s home during his trip to Spain.

His family, along with other Spanish Jews, was expelled in 1492. Family members went to North Africa, Italy, Greece and Israel. Through his research, he’s met relatives and, in Israel, met the Alazar descendants, whom their ancestors had known in Spain.

“When you do this kind of family history you learn those small details, which makes it real and makes it personal, which is what is fun about it,” he said.

His documents include arrival records, passenger logs, land deeds, maps, and a 1435 ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract).

The Internet has helped, of course, and he aso worked through reams of microfilm at the National Archives, Washington DC. He also uses DNA to help,

How far back does he want to go? “To Abraham,” he jokes.

Boston: Sephardic Jewry history, DNA – April 25

Two Sephardic presentations (covering history, genealogy and DNA) are on the program of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston on Sunday, April 25.

The program begins at 1:30 pm, at Temple Emanuel, Newton Centre, with Brandeis Professor Jonathan Decter, and Tracing the Tribe’s good friend Dr. Dan Laby of Harvard University Medical School.

In “Sephardic Jewry after the Expulsion from Spain,” Decter will talk about Sephardic migration after 1492 – to Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, Europe, and the Americas, with a focus on Eastern and Central Europe. He will discuss intellectual and economic connections across the Sephardi Diaspora, and the nature of Sephardi identity.

Laby will present “Tracing Family to 13th Century Spain,” Dr. Daniel Laby will describe his quest to trace his Laby- De La Caballeria family. Using both modern (DNA) and classical methods (microfilms), he was able to follow the trail from western Massachusetts and New York’s Lower East Side all the way back to the Ottoman Empire and pre-inquisition Spain.

[NOTE: In fact, Dan holds a document dated 1202 from the same archive – Lerida/Lleida (in Catalunya, about 140km NW of Barcelona) where our first Talalay document, dated 1358, was discovered. We share the same researcher in Spain.]

Decter is Associate Professor and the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. His first book, “Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe,” received the 2007 Salo W. Baron prize for best first book in Judaic Studies.

Laby is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and is a specialist in Sports Vision working with the Boston Red Sox as well as several other professional and Olympic teams.

Fee: JGSGB members, free; others, $5.
Click for directions. For more information about JGSGB, click here.

New York: Sephardic programs, April-May

If you are searching your family’s Sephardic origin and history – particularly in Catalunya, here are three programs that may provide assistance.

American Sephardi Federation/Sephardic House presents “The Jews of Spain: Past and Present,” in a year-long program made possible through the support of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, and the assistance of the Consulate General of Spain in New York.

These three April and May programs are in collaboration with and with the support of NYU’s Catalan Center, which is an affiliate of the Institut Ramon Llull.

All events take place at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, NYC, unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, April 28, 6:30pm
“Daughters of Sara, Mothers of Israel: Jewish Women in Medieval Girona”

I met Silvia Planas in Girona several years ago. She is the director of the Nahmanides institute in that city and the Museum of Jewish History, which I have visited several times. She is also the author of a book by the same name.

The names of the Jewish women who lived in medieval Girona were Astruga, Dolça, Esther, Mairona, Preciosa, Rahel, Sara. They were born in the city, and they gave birth there. They worked and did business there. Some of them, often under duress, gave up the faith of their fathers. Others professed to be the fervent heiresses of the ancestral law.

In this talk, Planas will endeavor to rediscover these women and honor their legacy and their memory.

Fee: ASF members, students: free; others, $5. Reservations requested.

Sunday, May 2, 2010, 4pm
A History of Jewish Catalonia

One of the books in my collection is this beautifully illustrated book, by Silvia Planas and Manuel Forcano (who will present this program), which traces the rich history of the Jews in Catalonia from the time of the late Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages, until the decree of expulsion.

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.

A book sale and signing follows. Fee: ASF members, students, free; others, $5. Reservations requested.

Tuesday, May 4, 6:30pm
Traces of Esther: The Jewish Presence in Contemporary Catalan Literature

Manuel Forcano, Ph.D. (Semitic Philology), poet and essayist, will offer a Catalan perspective on Jewish culture as reflected in the writings of the great 19th-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.

Fee: Free. Venue: King Juan Carlos Center, 53 Washington Square South (bet. Sullivan & Thompson Streets). Reservations requested.

Today in Jewish history: March 6

Interesting things happen every day, and to keep up with interesting Jewish history, try “This Day in Jewish History.”

On this day in history:

1239: With the Edict of Valencia, Spanish King James I validated privileges of the Jews of Aragon. The Jewish courts (bet din) were authorized to try all cases except capital offenses.

1475: Birth date of famed Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarroti. Say Michelangelo to most people and they respond, Sistine Chapel ceiling. Say his name to Jews and the response is “Moses.” “Moses” is a marble sculpture which depicts the greater Jewish leader. Originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II in St. Peter’s Basilica it was placed in the minor church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline in Rome after the pope’s death. The statue depicts Moses with horns on his head. This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of Exodus 34:29-35 by St Jerome. Moses is actually described as having “rays of light” coming from his head, which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns.” This horned Moses provided further proof that the Jews were, as the Gospel says, “the Devil’s spawn.”

1815: With the defeat of Napoleon, new restrictions were imposed on the Jews all over Europe.

1816: The Jews were expelled from the Free City of Lubeck, Germany at the instance of the local guilds. This was part of the reactionary backlash that followed the defeat of Napoleon a year earlier.

For more information, go to the Temple Judah website and open the Adult Education Tab.

“This Day…In Jewish History ” is part of the Jewish History Study Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “There is no claim to originality or scholarship by the ‘compiler,’ Mitchell A. Levin. The sources, including texts and websites are too many and too varied to provide academic citations for each entry or part thereof. “