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Starting out as a patriarchal and tribal society, ancient Israel was deeply interested in genealogy. This is reflected in the first chapters of Genesis, where long genealogical tables are provided, tracing the origin of humanity to Adam and Eve, and the origin of the Jewish people to Abraham and Sarah. In later books of the Bible we find additional genealogies, including those of kings (for example, the House of David), priests, Levites, and others. In Jewish tradition, every Jew belongs to one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and at one time every Jew could trace his or her ancestry back to a particular tribe. After the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century B.C.E., ten tribes were lost, and after biblical times most genealogical records were lost, and most people were no longer able to trace their ancestry back to a given tribe. One of the few remnants of ancient Jewish genealogy is the preservation of family names related to either Kohen or Levi, which has religious significance rather than a specific genealogical connection.

For the past 2,000 years, Jews were subjected to frequent assaults and persecution and forced to migrate across the globe, losing many family records in the process. In modern times it became virtually impossible for any family to trace its origins any earlier than the late Middle Ages. Additionally, family names date back only to around 1800 (See Names), so that tracing one’s family name for most Jews means only going back seven or eight generations at the most.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing interest among Jews in the U.S., in Israel, and around the world, in finding their family roots. The Holocaust in Europe, which wiped out entire communities, has prompted surviving relatives to study their families’ past history. And third and fourth generation American Jews, not unlike other Americans of foreign origin, have begun to show interest in their family’s origins. Consequently, the Holocaust Museum in Washington and Steven Spielberg’s foundation in Los Angeles have launched projects to preserve individual and family records from the Holocaust, while the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, Israel established the Douglas E. Goldman Genealogy Center in 1985. In 1998, the Center reported having records of some 750,000 Jews and more than 1,500 family trees listed in its databases.

One of the best known sites today for search for one’s roots is, which has many databases and links for researchers.

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