Sephardic Jewish ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2011

If, like June Brown, your ancestors include Sephardic Jews, Laurence Harris shows you how to find out more about them.

Many individuals have a family story that they there is a Jewish ancestor somewhere in a branch of their family tree. Others find out about their Jewish ancestors only when they start researching, and a clue turns up indicating that one of them was Jewish.

For June Brown, the 1839 death certificate of Isaac Bitton, her 3 x great grandfather, revealed that his place of death was the Portuguese Jewish Hospital in London. This indicates that he was likely to be a Sephardic Jew as, in England, the Sephardic community was known as the ‘Spanish and Portuguese’ congregation.

Sephardic Jews originated primarily from Mediterranean and Ottoman areas such as Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Iraq, Syria, Greece and Turkey. The other major Jewish group are known as Ashkenazic Jews, who originated from France and Germany and then became established primarily in Eastern European countries.

Both groups subsequently spread out to many other countries around the globe as a consequence of expulsions, fleeing from persecution, or seeking to improve their economic conditions. For such reasons, records can be complicated to trace, but here are some simple steps to starting your research.

Laurence Harris is a specialist Jewish researcher at and a former Chairman of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain.


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