From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History Hardcover – Apr 7 2004
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Given the extent of the Jewish Diaspora and the devastation of the Holocaust, it has always been a difficult proposition to trace one's Jewish genealogy. First published in 1980, From Generation to Generation provided invaluable information and research tips for Jews interested in plumbing the depths of their family history. In this latest edition, Kurzweil incorporates the most recent technological advances and innovations into his information-gathering guide. Using the Internet as^B a resource, it is now easier and less time-consuming to gather documents, cross-check references, and peruse government records. Although much of the information provided can be applied to any ethnic group, the author painstakingly outlines how Jewish genealogy substantially differs from all other genealogy. Brimming with worthwhile advice and handy shortcuts, this handbook will have immense appeal for a limited audience. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“…highly recommended as a primer for novices and a reference book for the experienced…” (Family History Monthly, September 2004)See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Kurzweil's book is not as lengthy and technical as the Avotaynu book, nor as concise and tightly organized as Barbara Krasner-Khait's Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors (2001). But what it offers is something unheard of in genealogy textbooks - a work that reads like a novel. He is not afraid to be expansive and anecdotal, even chatty. His personal stories with genealogy, dating back to 1970, are gripping. Especially so because Kurzweil (unlike many genealogical authors) knows how to tell a story. The book is often lyrical and intensely earnest, without being melodramatic or overwrought. His passion for discovering his ancestral roots is sincere and infectious. In fact, his discovery of a descent from a famous Hasidic rabbi led him to embrace more traditional Judaism in his spiritual life.
But the book is not ALL personal stories, as interesting as they are. He packs the bulk of these into his opening chapters, and then sprinkles them as useful illustrations throughout the work. He covers all of the important topics, and is quite up to date on the online resources (through about late 2003). He has a great command of the details of doing Jewish genealogy, and he has some very brilliant recommendations for some unique and creative sources. (He was a founding father of Jewish genealogy in the mid-70s, and has given something like 600 lectures around the country).
His enthusiasm is infectious, and he makes strong arguments for the moral and spiritual value for Jews to explore their roots (bolstering his case with short gripping quotes from the Old Testament, Jewish sages, and Talmud). Further, he makes a good case against cremation (with which this Christian reviewer agrees).
The only shortcomings of the book:
1. As noted above, this is not absolutely comprehensive. You will want both the Avotaynu and the Krasner-Khait books to fill in all of the blanks.
2. While a good scholar and critically oriented, he is generally a littel more eager than I am to accept oral traditions or unproven claims of rabbinic lines. See, for example, the material pp.30-34. At the end he is willing to claim it is `likely' he is a direct descendant from King David, because a certain famous rabbi living 1500 years after David claimed descent from him (how could he know?). And another rabbi living 600 years later claims to be a descendant of that rabbi, etc. Four or five jumps like that and Kurzweil makes it to his famous 3x-great-grandfather rabbi. Utterly unprovable beyond perhaps the first or second `jump' backwards, and pretty unlikely. But in fairness, he acknowledges the problems with these rabbinic genealogies.
In any case, a wonderful read, and a good practical tool.
It might make a nice gift for a relative who is mildly interested in their family history, but in need of inspiration to get more involved. Also, every synagogue library, public library, and local historical society needs to have a donated copy (along with the Avotaynu guide). And at just $16 (for a beefy, nicely illustrated hardback), VERY affordable.
I was told about this book some months ago and, voila!, it has opened the whole world of Jewish geneaology for me. I've bought 14 other books on the subject and find this the most interestingly written and the most complete. There are updates to the book so I'd caution the buyer to get the latest one from Amazon rather than one of the much older ones being sold as used. The list of resources is exhaustive and clearly organized and each area of investigation is illustrated by the author through sharing his journey of discovery of his own roots.
You'll find information about how to use resources in the US and in the major cities like NY and Chicago as well as information about national resources such as YIVO, the National Archives, the Mormon Church's extensive records and how to access them. Special interest groups for Rumania, Latvia, etc. are listed and you'll eventually find many rich sources which you'd probably not discover on your own except by accident.
This is the book I wish I'd had two years ago and I would have saved much time, money and frustration. No one book can be the only one worth having, but I'd definitely buy this one first, read it through with a highliter and post-it notes to mark sections worth exploring again more deeply.
There is plenty of practical advice on how to start, where to look for documentation, how to interview, etc. While the book lacks depth in some areas, it covers every important facet of Genealogical research, and provides a point to jump from in search for more information.
This book is very easy to read, especially in terms of how to sort out the kinds of information you can look for, hints about where to find it, and realizing that it's okay to decide for yourself how far to delve. The enthusiasm of the author is contagious. I couldn't put it down.
Kurzweil rightly focuses on the first priority of talking to your elderly relatives, and includes a list of 50 good interview questions. Jewish history may be seen through the eyes of individuals and families, and another part of this focus should be learning about the history of their communities. The two best websites recommended are [...] and [...]. Note that most of Avotaynu's resources are available for purchase, whereby there is no charge for access to the JewishGen databases. Here are a few of the best places to review:
1. The Bible: the 1st family tree is the genealogy from Noah to Abraham.
2. Yizkor (memorial) Books: available in Hebrew or Yiddish for over 1000 shtetls. JewishGen has some chapters translated into English, varies with the book.
3. YIVO Institute for Jewish Research: Library and archives, searchable online catalog of Yiddish literature. (I was thrilled to find a book of Yiddish poetry written by a cousin in 1931.
4. LDS Family History Library: has some Polish, German and Hungarian records
There is an interesting chapter on the history of Jewish surnames. Napoleon issued a decree to register family names, and in 1845 Russian Jews became required to register family names. The Russian government had their own reasons for requiring surnames: tax collection and conscription. For research in the Old Country there are recommendations for use of Shtetl seeker on JewishGen.org, and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.
Some good advice is here for searching immigrant ancestors to the US, Canada or Israel. Remember that our ancestors very likely had siblings and extended family. Also, when searching Naturalization records, be aware that you may not find separate records for a wife or children: until 1922 they automatically became citizens when the husband or father did.
Advice for planning research visits to Eastern Europe is mostly of a general nature (look for synagogues, schools, grave marker inscriptions in the cemetery - and talk with the local people). Because Jewish heritage begins with the Land of Israel, it may be tempting to pay less attention to the time our ancestors spent in the Old Country. This would be a mistake on several grounds: the time they lived there may have spanned a hundred years, two hundred years, or 1000 years. And, as Kurzweil reminds us, Maimonides was from Spain, Rashi was from France, the Baal Shem Tov was from Eastern Europe. There is great meaning in walking the streets where our family members lived, worshipped and raised their children!