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Genealogy Research: First American Jewish Families


Preface to 3rd Edition | First American Jewish Families

A high school enthusiasm for royal genealogy inoculated me with a virus which became an all-absorbing hobby. After tracing thirteen generations of descendants of Charlemagne, I was well launched on a career of wholesale genealogy.

A maturer outgrowth of the hobby arose from a search for a doctoral dissertation in the field of American Jewish History. In June of 1950, I approached the dean of American Jewish historians, my beloved teacher, Professor Jacob Rader Marcus, with a request for a thesis topic. By then Dr. Marcus had created the American Jewish Archives on the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College, and had begun collecting the data on America's Jews. Among his early acquisitions was the large collection of typescript genealogies of Americans of Jewish descent compiled by the late Dr. Walter Max Kraus, and presented to the Archives by his spouse, Marian Nathan Kraus Sandor. Dr. Marcus made this material available to me, and I spent the succeeding eight years revising, correcting, and quadrupling the data in the Kraus-Sandor material. The result was my Americans of Jewish Descent published by Dr. Marcus at the Hebrew Union College Press in 1960.

This pioneer compendium of American Jewish genealogy announced to the reader: "While every effort has been made to secure accurate data, the very nature and magnitude of the compilation make either completeness or total accuracy impossible of achievement. Additions and corrections will be welcomed..." In the intervening years, many have responded to this invitation. New data has appeared in print. And my own researches in archives, court houses, historical societies, congregational records, and cemetery epitaphs, have been on-going.

In 1978, resultant accumulation of data was published jointly by the American Jewish Archives and the American Jewish Historical Society as a contribution to the American Bicentennial under the title: First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1977.

The genealogist's task is never complete, for new generations are born daily. The growth of interest in family history, made accessible to individuals by the newer technologies of photocopying, microforms, and computers, has brought about this updated edition.

My goal over more than forty years has been to try to compile the genealogies of Jewish families established in the United States and Canada prior to 1840, tracing their descendants wherever possible to the present. The year 1840 was chosen because an estimated 10,000 Jews had settled in America by then. Within the succeeding twenty years, more than 200,000 additional Jews were to immigrate, creating an insurmountable task for one genealogist working alone.

Although the vast majority of today's American Jews descend from later immigrants, I am proud that my work has inspired many who have consulted it to pursue their own roots, to create the growing network of Jewish genealogical societies around the world, to sponsor and conduct seminars, and to produce an ever-increasing bibliography of finding aids. Echoing the words of an ancient rabbinic sage, I can honestly say, "From all my disciples have I learned."

This work makes evident the assimilative power of mixed marriage between Jew and non-Jew. Increasingly, I am consulted by non-Jewish descendants of these pioneers, who take delight in discovering Jewish forebears. Until the beginning of this twentieth century, Jews constituted less than one percent of the American population; consequently many Jews were lost to Judaism through intermarriage. However, this volume clearly shows that many of these families contain individuals still loyal to their ancestral faith. A recent Jewish bride in South Carolina could trace ten generations of her ancestors in this book, all of whom were Jews. That is the miracle!

Malcolm H. Stern
New York, N.Y., 1991

Additional Information

Dedication and acknowledgements from the 3rd Edition

Foreword to the 3rd Edition by Jacob Rader Marcus

How to use this resource