The Genealogical Research Unit
The presence of a surname in database of known Sefardi surnames does not prove Jewish ancestry (nor does its absence rule out the possibility of Jewish ancestry). In order to ascertain a link to Sefardi ancestors, a thorough genealogical study must be conducted. Once your genealogy has been charted, you must find documentation showing that your ancestors were connected to a Jewish community, demonstrated Jewish customs, or were persecuted by the Iberian Inquisitions.
Our research team will access the ISAS’s world-renowned library of books and documents, as well as online databases, libraries, archives, and church and civil repositories to evaluate your current genealogy and create a plan of action based on your goals.
We request a nominal fee to create a basic genealogical report that surveys all of the resources at our disposal. To request an application for the report, please click on the orange box below.
People from all over the world have reached out to the Institute for Sefardi and Anousim Studies to learn more about their history. Although we hear many different stories, they all tell the same tale of searching and renewal. We include here a few of these accounts. (If you have a personal story that you would like to share, contact us. Anonymity will be preserved if requested.)
“While I have been engaged in genealogical research for several decades, it was only last year that I made significant strides in the research of my mother’s ancestry. A previously unpublished tree surfaced on the internet that linked my seven generational tree to eight prior generations. This discovery included many mysteries: Why did my ancestors have so many dispensations for consanguinity? What do I make of the fact that ALL of my mother’s ancestral surnames can be found on the Inquisition lists? Why do I have ancestors who came to Puerto Rico from Antwerp and Flanders? Study of the Inquisition, migration patterns of Sephardic Jews to the New World, and discoveries of maternal family customs led me to one conclusion: my maternal family is most certainly of Sephardic Jewish ancestry that fled the Inquisition in Spain to Puerto Rico.
The existential crisis came at the moment I asked myself, how do I respond to what the Inquisition did to my ancestors? Does it matter that five centuries after the Inquisition and forced conversions my family has only vestigial remnants of its ancestral Sephardic roots? In context of the goals of the Inquisition, what does it mean to continue to live a non-Jewish life? What is the meaning or importance, if any, of the awakening of so many Bnei Anousim to their ancient heritage?
Attending the Institute’s ‘Mapping the Diaspora’ conference gave me the opportunity to learn more about my ancestry, our history, and more importantly, about Judaism and my relationship to the Jewish nation. I stand at the threshold of returning home after centuries of ancestors secretly carrying on Sephardic customs which only now we realize are Jewish.”
“My name is Hannah, but only a few months ago I was Ana. I was born in Porto, Portugal. Although Catholic, my family was not religious. From an early age, I was confused about who I was and where I belonged. When I was 15, I started a deep journey of questioning. The periods of history where people were forced to adopt a faith, even through torture and murder, in the name of G-d, were unbearable for me. When I was 18, I left Catholicism completely. What remained was a profound faith in G-d, maintained through internal ‘talking prayers’ and the belief that I didn’t need organized religion.
On Pessach of 2012, I came to Israel for the first time. I had my first experience of Judaism, the traditions and the holidays. The feeling of ‘returning home’ I experienced was overwhelming. Without understanding why, everything was very emotional to me. I just found in every aspect of Jewish life I had the chance to experience, a feeling of ‘this is where I belong’ that I could not explain logically.
After I returned home, I was watching a TV show about Israel with my parents, and a Star of David appeared on the screen. Suddenly my mother remembered something that made everything clear and triggered a great change in my life – as a child, she had had a Star of David on a necklace, given to her by her grandmother. From that moment, my Jewish soul came back to life. I started a journey of research about the history of the Portuguese Jews. Those earlier feelings of connection to the Jewish people and my identity were redefined. I decide to come to Israel to study Judaism and recover my Jewish Identity. I started a conversion program, meanwhile continuing my research about my family history. I found the ISAS online, and after meeting with them, I understood the Jewishness of my family surnames and some family traditions that I always thought were superstitions.
The feeling of being Jewish all my life was unquestionable for me. With the help of G-d, I finished my conversion to Judaism. During some travels to the Far East, I met Shay, a young Israeli man, who has been my partner back to where I truly belong. In 2015, as a Jewish woman, I married Shay under the chuppah. I live today in Israel an observant Jewish life. Words will always be limited to express the singularities of my personal story of return to Judaism and how thankful I feel every day for each detail of my Jewish life. May G-d help all lost souls to return and may the ISAS be a blessed tool on that mission.”
“A few years ago, through some very unusual circumstances, I discovered that I am descended on my mother’s side from Spanish/Portuguese Jews.
My mother’s maiden name is Dorta, which is a very uncommon surname. There are likely just a few thousand Dorta’s alive today, the majority of whom live in Tenerife, the Canary Islands (where my mother’s grandfather was from), with a few here and there spread throughout the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Louisiana, England and the Netherlands.
I discovered that the Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo in Portugal records at least 20 Dortas who were arrested by the Inquisition, most of whom were arrested, and some burned at the stake, for the crime of practicing Judaism.
I felt a connection to these people. They helped me understand myself better, and in an odd way, ‘the Blood Calls.’
The recent ‘Mapping the Anousim Diaspora’ conference held at the Institute for Sefardi and Anousim Studies at Netanya Academic College helped me establish connections and exchange ideas with a number of people who also feel this calling. The Institute’s efforts to assist the Bnei Anousim are exceedingly important and Netanya College is at the vanguard of an awakening, something quite significant, yet in its very earliest stages.
Consider the Judean Date Palm, a species which was once the staple of the Judean economy, and for that very reason, was purposely driven into apparent extinction by the Romans. In 2005, a scientist was able to revive a two thousand-year-old seed excavated from Masada by Yigael Yadin in the early 1960’s. Just as there is a chance for the rich Judean Date Palm plantations to return to Judea, maybe there is a chance for the Bnei Anousim, with the kind assistance of the Institute for Sefardi and Anousim Studies, to be revived and flourish, as well.”
Giyyur (Conversion to Judaism)
The following website has helpful information about conversion:
Certificates of “Return” to Judaism
Aliyah (Immigration to Israel)
Spanish or Portuguese Citizenship
To learn about the eligibility requirements for Spanish citizenship, see the website of the Spanish consulate in Israel. The Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain includes much practical information about the process.
To learn about the eligibility requirements for Portuguese citizenship, contact the Comunidade israelita de Lisboa.
For more information, please contact: