census about methodology


Digitizing the Montefiore censuses was done in several stages, some involving the making of key decisions necessary to convert the manuscripts into a searchable database.

  • Scanning the original manuscript pages and converting old but still usable microfiche images to PDF format
  • Transcribing the data into spreadsheets
  • Proof-reading and correcting
  • Pasting the different sections into a single spreadsheet for each census
  • Translating and/or transliterating the original Hebrew into the English/Latin alphabet
  • Final proof-reading
  • Converting the spreadsheet into a searchable database.

The format employed to present the data is based on the original printed census forms used by Sir Moses Montefiore and his assistants from 1855 onwards.

A family group is defined as the head of household together with his wife and unmarried children living with him. Each family group has been given an identification number.

  • Members of extended families, such as grandparents, married children, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws living under the same roof, have their own separate identification numbers.
  • Special notes link such relatives and family members living in other households to each other.
  • Non-relatives living in the same household as the family have their own separate identification numbers.
  • The names of wives and children were not always provided in the censuses, even when men were shown to be married and have children. In such cases, “unknown” has been entered for the missing names.

The data on each family unit was originally entered on a single “line”, even if on occasion it took up more space. This system has been maintained; and a location number now links each “line” to the original scans. The lines were not numbered on the manuscripts, so it is necessary to count down from the top to find the particular line to which a number refers.

Where the original manuscript page had more than one column of entries, the columns are now designated a, b, c, etc.

The names of individuals have been transliterated rather than translated. The Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Israel came from all corners of the globe, so it was not possible to find a system to include all possible pronunciations and spellings of their names. Surnames are, as far as possible, spelled according to the most common rendering, while given names are transliterated according to the official transliteration rules from Hebrew to English. See the transliteration table in our Frequently Asked Questions for further details.

The “city of origin” may denote a person’s last place of residence before coming to Eretz Israel, rather than the actual place of birth. The names of such places are given as shown on current maps, and not necessarily in accordance with those of the 19th century. The names of countries were not included in the original censuses; and these have now been added for greater clarity.

The “year of arrival” listed in the censuses was intended to be the year of arrival in Eretz Israel; but some scribes took it to mean the year of arrival in the city in which the census was taken. Where a scribe had entered the number of years since arrival, instead of the actual date, the year of arrival has been substituted.

In the last three censuses, the heading “financial standing” usually described either a person’s income or the size of his debt. During the 19th century, the official currency in Eretz Israel was the Ottoman Lira (which had many nicknames); but most European currencies were also in wide circulation. Some amounts were registered in pounds sterling, while others were in gold Ottoman lira (also called Lions or Adumim) or in grush. There were approximately 19 lira to a pound sterling, and 100 grush to an Ottoman lira. No attempt has been made to translate these figures or currencies into current values.

The original censuses contain archaic foreign words (Yiddish, Turkish, Judeo-Spanish, French, etc.) under the heading “occupations”, some of which were difficult to translate. In some cases, the words referred to occupations that no longer exist. In a few instances, where a suitable translation could not be found, the words were transliterated rather than translated.

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