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Title: From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History

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Title: From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History
Author: Arthur Kurzweil
Publisher: Jossey-Bass, Wiley Books, San Francisco, CA

 

When a Jew becomes deathly ill, it has become the custom for that person to adopt a new name, for a name evokes great spirituality, and it is hoped that the goodness of the adopted name will bring relief. In his foreword to From Generation to Generation, Elie Wiesel notes that to Jews, names have deep significance, and that the entire Jewish history is replete with the history of the memory of names as well as memory of the history of names. Adam was the first master of nomenclature, and his descendents have been studying nomenclature and history ever since.

 

This is a valuable how-to book, benefiting from more than 35 years of genealogical research and study of one of America’s masters in this field. But the introduction and first chapter are
worthwhile in themselves.

Kurzweil relates the fascinating story of how his own quest began – his own search for meaning and his own thirst for knowledge of his forbears. Although he had previously never seen photos or documents of his grandparents, he now discovered them looking out at him from a book in the New York Public Library’s Jewish Division, in the 42nd Street library. He also found a map of the shtetl and more information than he could assimilate in short order, and thus began his mission.

His search encouraged much wanderings, including visits to libraries like those at Yad Vashem in Israel and YIVO in New York, as well as trips “home” to the Pale of Settlement (that part
of Poland that changed hands between Russia and Poland). He discovered that some of us have Jewish nobility running through our veins and are descendents from famous rabbis and prominent communal leaders.

And while some of our forbears may have been “horse thieves,” most of us are descended from artisans and traders, including blacksmiths, goldsmiths, wagon drivers, morticians and the like.

Kurzweil discovered cousins from previously unknown branches of his family – some from almost “around the corner;” others nearly halfway round the world in Europe and in Israel. Even some of his false leads assisted his efforts to help connect other families to previously lost loved ones, including, most famously, brothers, sisters and cousins who either didn’t even know of the other’s existence or hadn’t seen each other in decades.

There are many ways to do genealogical research and Kurzweil provides detailed instruction on how to do it; he supplies complete lists of resources, together with names, addresses, telephone numbers, Internet addresses and definitions. His brief section on the history of American immigration will help sort out the broad categories, and his instructions on how to glean information from even the headstones in cemeteries and from official documents (wills, death certificates, etc.) will save the novice a tremendous amount of time and help avoid false starts, dead ends and phony leads.

Interspersed with the material are many interesting and relevant quotations. Typical is: “If three consecutive generations are scholars, the Torah will not depart from that line. – Johanan B. Nappaha, Talmud, Baba Metzia, 85a.” These are indicative that this volume is not merely scholarly research but is a labor of love.

The author is the editor of the Judaica titles division of Wiley Books, and he annually compiles The Best Jewish Writing series that includes excerpts from the best writers of the day.

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