Censuses of the Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land, together with those of Alexandria, Sidon and Beirut, were compiled by Sir Moses Montefiore during his visits to the region in 1839, 1840, 1849, 1855, 1866 and 1875. The details recorded include personal and family particulars, occupations and countries of origin, together with surveys of Jewish religious institutions. Taken together, these censuses constitute a unique sociological and genealogical record of Jewish life in this area at that time.
The censuses are unusually comprehensive as it is estimated that fewer than 1% of the Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Israel refused to participate because of religious scruples. Some others may not be included for personal or political reasons. The remainder accepted that the process adopted by Sir Moses was in accordance with Jewish law and gave him their personal details for inclusion in what he described as “Statistical Accounts”.
The website includes the 25,535 families listed in the Censuses, together with the 968 Institutions surveyed. The Institutions can be categorised as follows.
|Benevolent Fund & Burial Society||1|
|Burial society and care for the sick||4|
|Care for orphans||1|
|Care for the poor||6|
|Care for the sick||38|
|Care for the sick and brides dowry||4|
|Comfort to mourners||1|
|Fund for the destitute||3|
|Religious books provider||1|
|Synagogue and Torah college||2|
|Torah Study Fund||3|
Sir Moses had undertaken to distribute charitable funds collected throughout the world, together with money of his own, to the Jewish poor; and he worked from dawn to dusk, day after day in difficult conditions, to do this personally. Each applicant received a gift of coins (Spanish dollars), according to a fixed scale, from the hands of Sir Moses himself – based on lists prepared at his request prior to his arrival. It is clear from the documents themselves that almost all members of each community participated, and not just the poorer ones.
The manuscripts are handwritten in a variety of scripts. These belong to the Montefiore Endowment and are held in its library in London, where they can be seen by appointment. Many of the pages are difficult to read and, lacking any index, the tracing of individuals can be time-consuming.
In 2008 the Montefiore Endowment commissioned the Israel Genealogical Society (IGS) to transcribe the Censuses into a modern Hebrew font, transliterate the names, and translate the data into English. In 2014 the Montefiore Endowment commissioned the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) to give similar treatment to the Institutions.
These immense labours were undertaken by teams of dedicated volunteers; and both the Censuses and the Institutions are now published on-line for the first time, together with search engines in Hebrew and in English to facilitate the finding of individual names and families.
A research paper on demographic details of the growth of the Jewish population of the Holy Land in the latter part of the 19th century by Daniel Kessler was published in Volume 6 (2016) of Middle Eastern Studies. It is also available on this website by kind permission of the Editor. Censuses Research Paper
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.
The search engines provided enable searches to be undertaken across families, across institutions, or across families and institutions.
The typical Institution includes some or all of the following data – type and name; location; objective; number of members; notes; income; expenses; names and occupations of those involved in its direction.
A comprehensive linking mechanism identifies within Families relative(s) that have a separate Family entry as well as any Institution(s) where the person identified has a role. Within Institutions, any named person can be linked to another Institution where this person has also a role and/or to his Family record. All links open in a new tab to preserve the original page.
Ownership and copyright
The Censuses, the Institutions and all published material derived from them (on-line and elsewhere) are copyright © 2010 Montefiore Endowment (for the Censuses) and 2017 (for the Institutions).
Free access is offered to the published material with the stipulation that complete censuses may not be downloaded.
The preparation and publication of this work has to a large extent been a joint venture first by the Montefiore Endowment and the Israel Genealogical Society, and later by the Montefiore Endowment and the Israel Genealogy and Research Association.
Lucien Gubbay (Chairman of the Montefiore Endowment) initiated the project and then worked closely with Dr Roger Bilboul, a member of the Montefiore Council, throughout the lengthy process. Roger took the lead in the identification and selection of suitable partners and in the reproducing and scanning of the manuscripts in satisfactory form. He was responsible for directing all aspects of assessing and processing the data as well as publishing the results on-line.
The intensive labour of transliterating the census data, translating it and preparing it for publication was undertaken by the late Mathilde Tagger (who originally headed the team), Rose Feldman and Billie Stein. They recruited teams of dedicated volunteers to carry out this work and themselves personally undertook the laborious task of checking and editing the work produced.
Special thanks are due to the following volunteers who devoted much time and energy to carrying out this project for the Israel Genealogical Society (the Censuses) and for the Israel Genealogy and Research Association (the Institutions):
Tzameret Avivi, Shoshana Boublil, Rabbi Shalom Bronstein, Dina Dahan, Charna Duchanov, Roni Eliach, Prof. Yoram Epstein, Emmanuel Furman, Uziel Goldschmidt, Nurit Goren, Gila Lanzkron, Romi Lanzkron, Leah Laufer, Shmuel Laufer, Dorit Mandil, Ram Nohan, Beniamin Pantelat, Arieh Rochman-Halperin, Ruben Rivlin, Ravit Sasson, Nehemia Schiff, Amos Shiffman, Esther Snyder, Ya’acov Tal-Toledano, Risa Tzohar, Nili Yuval, Yocheved Klausner, Chanan Rapaport, Michael Cohen, Leora Karni, Ilan Shtayer
Miles Doubleday created the special website and the search engine.
- How can I browse through an entire census?
- When can I trace my family from their surname?
- Why are the names spelled differently from the way we spell them today?
- How to find my great-grandfather if I do not know how to spell his name?
- I thought my family came from Morocco. Why does it say that they came from Algiers?
- I thought my family was from Poland. Why does it say they came from Russia?
- What is the difference between Sephardim and Westerners?
- Is it possible to figure out when my family immigrated to Eretz Israel?
- What does the reference to another person in the notes mean? Why don’t they appear as one family?
- Why is the Alexandria census the only one outside the Holy Land?
- Are individuals listed in Institutions linked to their family record?
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.
to Latin letters
to Latin letters
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׳||DJ or TSH||י||I or Y||צ׳||TSH as in much|
|ד||D||כ||K or KH||ק||K|
|ו||V or U||מ||M||ש||SH as in shoe|
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
Are individuals listed in Institutions linked to their family record?
When it was possible to identify an individual listed in an Institution record, he is linked back to his Family record and vice versa. There are cases however, where an individual listed in an Institution record has not been included in the Family listings, or it was not possible to make a definite identification.