By Genie Milgrom
Welcome to Crypto Jewish Genealogy! It may be similar to other genealogical searches but the actual way to trace back to a family that was Jewish before the Inquisition, is a methodical working your way back to Pre-Inquisition times. It can be done because I was able to do it and many others have as well so we will begin with some historical information that will help lead you back to your lost ancestry.
1381-1391 is when the forced conversions began in Spain and it was the largest group in history to ever be converted. At the start, many converted because the pogroms raging through their villages were more than they could take and families started to convert and keep their religion in secret. Slowly, as the Spanish saw that people were hiding their Jewish Practices and not being true Christians, they established the Inquisition to hunt down the insincere converts. This eventually led to the date we know best of 1492 which was the expulsion from Spain of anyone that chose not to convert. Those that left are the Sephardim that we know of today that left for Greece, the Ottoman Empire and other lands. They kept their names intact.
What about those that stayed behind? Historians disagree on the number of Jews that were in Spain but we will take a conservative estimate of 100,000 that converted yet practiced their religion underground.
Demographers today tell us that translates to 50 Million people in the world that can trace their ancestry back to these Jews and DNA studies have shown the number to be much higher. Those hiding changed their names to Christian names as they were converted and many ended up in the Inquisition prisons where extensive genealogies were made when they were arrested that allows us, 500 + years later to trace our own lineages.
Today we refer to those descendants as Crypto-Jews or in Hebrew as bnei anusim. Academics refer to this group as New Christians (versus Old Christians that were never Jews) and some refer to them as conversos. The term Marrano is rarely used these days as it means pig and is considered pejorative by most.
So how do you start? The most important and first thing is to determine why you want to know. If you wish to make a return to the Jewish people and find your lineage then by traditional Judaism you would be chasing up a maternal tree only. You must find an unbroken chain of grandmothers, one after the other until you can match your lineage up toa Jewish relative. This will usually take you all the way back to the Inquisition of the country you are searching in because, for the most part, we lost all our synagogues, cemeteries and other proof of who we were. I started finding circumstantial evidences in the records at about 1545 yet I continued back to 1405 Pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal in Search of my family Jewish name which I was never able to reach. Converso names were still rampant at that date yet I was able to match my lineage up to many that were judged in the Inquisition. This is what you must do and document all the births, marriages and deaths for each grandmother.
If you are just curious about your connections to Jewish ancestors them follow either line , Mother or Father and work your way back as well.
Names alone are not enough!
In this collection are names and names of many Inquisitions around the world and while you may find your family name there, it will not be meaningful if you cannot connect it to your tree. If all you want to know is that your name used to be Jewish then you may find that here but it is important to know that names were bought, sold, given, and taken away and chances are that your name today was not the real family name before 1492.
Some important items to note:
The term Portuguese in the Inquisition files around the world and especially in Latin America means a Jewish person. It generally does not mean a person from Portugal although it might.
EZ and ES is the most common misconception. For some reason people feel that this tells you if the name was Jewish or not and that is simply not true.
Spain used the EZ, Portugal uses the ES and the in the New world it went back to EZ. This goes for Jews and non-Jews. It is just the way it was written.
What the alias means in the files you will access are the names that were taken by the Crypto Jews when someone in their family was caught by the Inquisition. People changed their names constantly. If I have found an alias, I have listed it.