census faq

Frequently-asked questions


How can I browse through an entire census?


At the top of the opening page of the ‘Search the Censuses’ website, you will see – alongside ‘simple search’ – boxes covering the years dealt with so far. Tick the box of year in which you are interested and press GO. You will then see the number of families listed immediately below and through which you can scroll. Don’t forget that you can proceed beyond page 10 by clicking the symbol that follows 10 (this is currently ) .

When can I trace my family from their surname?


In the censuses, about 90% of Sephardim have surnames, as opposed to about 10% of Ashkenazim. You should search for your Ashkenazi relatives by the given name of any member of the family, and by the birth place of the head of the household.

Why are the names spelled differently from the way we spell them today?


As the censuses were written in Hebrew, it is not possible to know how each family used to spell its name in the Latin alphabet. Therefore, the following general rules have been followed:

  • Surnames are spelled as they generally appear. For example, Schwartz and not Shvartz: Stein and not Shtayn.
  • Given names, being mainly of Hebrew origin, have been transliterated using the transliteration table below. And so, Rahel and not Rachel; Mordekhai and not Mordechai; Rafael and not Raphael; Natan and not Nathan, etc.
  • Given names of foreign origin, such as Yiddish, Ladino, Arabic, Turkish, etc. have been transliterated according to the same rules.
Hebrew letters Transliteration
to Latin letters
Hebrew letters Transliteration
to Latin letters
Hebrew letters Transliteration
to Latin letters
א A or E or I ז׳ J as in just ע A or E or I
ב B or V ח H פ F or P
ג G ט T צ TZ
ג׳ DJ or TSH י I or Y צ׳ TSH as in much
ד D כ K or KH ק K
ה H ל L ר R
ו V or U מ M ש SH as in shoe
ז Z נ N ת T
ס S

How to find my great-grandfather if I do not know how to spell his name?


As mentioned above, given names have been spelled according to the above transliteration table. Keep in mind that the Hebrew alphabet has no vowels (Barnet, Brent and Berent are all spelled the same way in Hebrew) – and remember that an arbitrary decision has been made as to which version to use in each case. So, be creative when you search!

I thought my family came from Morocco. Why does it say that they came from Algiers?


On their way to the Holy Land, people moved eastwards from Morocco, often on foot or on the back of a donkey. After crossing Morocco, they often stopped for a while in Algeria to earn money. Many remained there for a year or two, or even longer, before continuing on their way to the Holy Land. So, when asked “where did you come from?” they may well have answered “from Algeria”.

I thought my family was from Poland. Why does it say they came from Russia?


During the last centuries, the borders and the names of Eastern Europe countries changed according to arrangements between their rulers. Poland was once divided up between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire and Prussia. After World War I, the country of Poland came back into existence once again with new borders; and everything changed once more after World War II.

In order to pinpoint locations on the map, place names have been translated according to current usage. Names of countries that did not appear in the original census have been added to aid researchers.

What is the difference between Sephardim and Westerners?


The scribes who registered the Jewish population of Eretz Israel divided it into Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

In their turn, the Ashkenazim were divided according to the kolelim (groups connected to the places in Europe which sent funds to support them) of which they were members.

All the other Jews, including Sephardim from the Balkans or North Africa as well as Oriental Jews from Iraq, Kurdistan, Persia, Afghanistan etc., were all put under the single category – Sephardim.

In 1860, North African Jews created their own community separate from the Sephardi community. This was mainly due to economic reasons, for only Torah scholars got financial help (the “haluka”) from the Sephardi Community Council, while poor people received very little.

This North African community called itself Hakehila Hamaaravit- the Western Community. The adjective “Western” derives from the fact that North Africa is called Maghreb in Arabic, which means West. The distinction between the Sephardim and Westerners doesn’t always appear in the censuses.

Is it possible to figure out when my family immigrated to Eretz Israel?


The censuses forms included a column called “Time of Arrival”. The information was not always provided. When it was provided, the data was registered in different ways. In most cases, a year of arrival based on the Jewish calendar, was given.

Some scribes preferred to enter the number of years since arrival. This has now been converted to the corresponding year in the interest of greater clarity.

Some of the scribes interpreted “Arrival” to mean arrival in the city, rather than in the country. This explains why someone living in Tiberias and born in Jerusalem or anywhere else in Eretz Israel may have a date of arrival listed.

Please also see the section on methodology for more information.

What does the reference to another person in the notes mean? Why don’t they appear as one family?


Each family unit has been assigned an ID number, relevant for only two generations – i.e. parents and unmarried children living at home.

Members of the extended family, including married children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and/or in-laws of the head of household, as well as non-relatives living in the same household, have been assigned separate ID numbers.

The notes link these people to the household. In many instances, relatives living in separate households are noted in the census. Here, too, the notes link the families together.

Please also see the section on methodology for more information.

Why is the Alexandria census the only one outside the Holy Land?


There were no direct sailing routes to Palestine and Syria in the mid-nineteenth century. Mohammed Ali Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Egypt, rehabilitated Alexandria’s port and lifted the previous ban on visiting European vessels. Alexandria then became the usual stop-over for journeys to those countries. Sir Moses Montefiore visited Alexandria on his way to the Holy Land in 1827 and again in 1839, by which time Egypt’s status had fundamentally changed and Mohammed Ali Pasha had become the de-facto ruler of Egypt and Syria, including Palestine. In 1840 Sir Moses travelled specially to Alexandria in a successful attempt to persuade Mohammed Ali Pasha to intervene to free Jews falsely imprisoned in Damascus. It was during his prolonged stay in Alexandria on that occasion that he carried out his census of the city’s Jewish inhabitants. Beirut and Sidon, in which places he also conducted censuses, were parts of the Ottoman province of Syria and included with the cities of the Holy Land.

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