When researching your female ancestors as you go back in time, do you hit a brick wall? This need not be. As more is discovered about their daily activities, suddenly new venues for research present themselves. This article covers a variety of resources in which your female ancestors in Eretz Israel may be mentioned, and points to the type of documentation to look for. It cannot be all inclusive, but hopefully it will help you think of new places to research.

The most basic information sought for an ancestor includes information on birth, marriage and death. Frequently official records were not kept in the 19th century, and therefore this information often needs to be inferred from other documents. If a woman gave birth to a child and the age of the child’s mother is recorded, then the mother’s year of birth can be deduced.  The same might be possible with her marriage registration. But what if the two don’t match? It is therefore very important to record the exact source of each piece of information. This will allow you to assess the information and to decide which source is the most reliable.  However, the lives of your ancestors involved many more events than just birth, marriage and death.Epstein FamilyAnd these events may be recorded in different types of official and unofficial documents. Did your ancestor make aliyah? Did she move from one place to another within the country? Did she receive any form of formal education? Did she earn her living? Did she volunteer in community activities?

When researching your female ancestors – in any country – it is wise to start with a timeline in order to help you recognize what type of archive or collection would be the likeliest starting point. This is a smart thing to do for all genealogical research, but in this instance, it will help you to understand the official and semi-official administrations in Eretz Israel at that epoch and to focus on the location of documents.

In researching in Eretz Israel, you are dealing with three different administrative powers, each with its own official language. The three eras are: Ottoman Administration (- 1917), British Administration (1917-1948), and Israeli Administration (1948- ). A separate article will be devoted to each era.

The Ottoman Empire Period

Official Registrations

The official language of this period was Ottoman Turkish, which is Turkish written in Arabic script. The Nufus, the official census of the government, was recorded in Turkish. The Nufus can be found in the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem(1).

The most comprehensive records for most of the Jewish population of the mid 19th century are the five Montefiore Censuses. The fact that they are in Hebrew makes them more easily understandable to anyone knowing the language. These census records were recorded in 1839, 1849, 1855, 1865, and 1875. Unfortunately, in the 1839 census, the names of the wives usually were not recorded.  Another problem is that many Ashkenazi family names were not recorded, making it much hard to decide exactly which Lea might be your great great grandmother. If the family immigrated to Eretz Israel during that period, the name of the town or settlement from which they came is often mentioned, as is the year of aliyah. This does not mean that the wife came from the same town as the husband.  By comparing the aliyah year of the father with the ages of the children, one can deduce whether the children were born in Eretz Israel or in fact came as infants, but this cannot necessarily be done for the mother. With a high young mortality rate, the widower often remarried, especially if small children were involved. Yet it was rarely noted whether the wife was a second spouse, which leaves only an assumption that both were parents of the children listed with them in the census.  Additional possible information found in these censuses could be: material status, occupation, comments about financial status and, in the case of those listed as Ashkenazim, kollel to which the husband belonged. The censuses of 1839, 1849, 1855, and 1866 can be searched online at the Montefiore Endowment Website Sir Moses Montefioreboth in English or Hebrew. The 1875 census should be completed and online by the end of 2013.The original documents are in Hebrew and have been translated into English.

Not all the Jewish residents in Eretz Israel in the 19th century were Turkish citizens. Those Jewish residents who were not Turkish citizens registered themselves with foreign powers and were either subjects or protégés of that foreign power. The Israel Genealogy Research Association  (IGRA) has been able to find a number of these registration lists and is in the process of adding them to its “All Israel Database (AID) There is a list of 464 registered with the Germany Consulate on the IGRA database(2), a list of 34 births registered at the British Consulate in Jaffa(3)  germ-prot1 germ-prot9  an index of the names of British Subjects registered at the British Consulate in Jerusalem(4) British Name Index1909and in the district of Jaffa(5)(6).

Documentation from the beginning of the first aliyah, can be found in archives from the new settlements, such as Rehovot (7)Rishon Lezion (8)(9)(10), Gedera, Petah Tikva, Rosh Pina, Hadera and Nes Zionna and the Central Zionist Archives (CZA) The CZA has papers dealing with the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) that might not be found in the archives of the settlements. The only school records that included female students that IGRA has located to date for this period are the graduating class lists for Gymnasia Herzlyia(11). This does not mean that there are no lists, but rather that IGRA has not yet located them.  Some possible locations might be at Mikveh Yisrael and the Alliance Israélite Universelle records at CAHJP

During the first aliyah there were about 2,500 immigrants who came on foot from Yemen. This was called A’aleh Batamar. The initial document that IGRA found relating to the Yemenite settlement of Eretz Israel and added to its collection, was a list of 278 members of Yemenite families(12) near Rehovot.

A vital resource, often overlooked, and one that gives a feel for life in the Jewish community is the 19th Century Hebrew press section of the Historical Jewish Press website  in the 19th Century. The newspapers Sefer Haskafa 18 Sep 1903 published in Eretz Israel found on this site to date are: Ha-Levanon, Ha-Zvi, Hashkafa, Habazeleth, Ha-Po’eel Ha-Tsa’air, and Moria. They contain a variety of announcements of marriages, donations to charity, lists of patients in the hospital, crimes, etc. A number of articles with lists of names have been indexed and appear in the AID collection

Community Activities

In addition to being homebodies, your ancestors might well have been active in community activities which might be recorded in ledgers,Ledgerssuch as the Linat Hazedek,

Linat Hazedek

a voluntary benevolent society of Rishon Lezion(13). This group was organized with the aim of having volunteers sit with sick people during the night.

In the first Zionist Congress in 1897, there were already women delegates Women at the Western Wall women at the western wallalthough not from Eretz Israel. The first woman delegate from Eretz Israel was Rachel Goldin, in 1909(14).  One famous woman activist in Eretz Israel was Sara Aaronsohn, who at one point ran the N.I.L.I spy ring against the Turks in World War One.

 Manuscripts & Biographies

Aside from researching archives and museums, one should also try National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Their Archives Department has over 450 personal archives as well as a small number of institutional archives. The initial research stage of their collection can be conducted online. They also have a growing collection of digitalized materials, including a collection of Ketubot (marriage contracts).  If your family was Sephardi and living in Jerusalem, then you might look for resources in the Eda HaSfaradit העדה הספרדית

Another resource to locate groups in which your ancestor might have been active, and may be mentioned, is in manuscripts and personal papers in the CZA or Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP)  Note that the key words for the research in these catalogues will most probably not be your ancestor’s name but rather the location where she lived, or the society in which she was active.

An unusual and very special resource is a series of pamphlets published in the 1930s and subsequently republished as one book. They were written by Pinchas Gravesky and are a collection of short biographies of women who lived in Jerusalem during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century(15).

For a more thorough list of institutions in Israel that may have manuscripts limited to repositories in Israel try Repositories of Primary Sources: Africa and the Near East For institutions in the United States and Europe that may have manuscript collections, try Repositories of Primary Sources ibid. An additional indispensable worldwide resource is WorldCat, which connects to the online catalogues of collections and services of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide.


Presently, there are records available for a number of cemeteries that existed in the 19th century, but most are not online. A list in English of all the burial societies in Israel can be found on the IGRA website, and the list in Hebrew is on the website of the Ministry of Religious Services. A partial list of the burials for Safed can be found on the AID site. Also searchable online are the  Petach Tikva Cemetery, the Jewish cemetery in Yafo and the Trupeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv founded in 1902, the Old Hevron Cemetery and part of the Mount of Olives Cemetery Other possible resources are lists from Old Age Homes, if they are extant and can be located(16).Sefer Hametim



Pictures of ancestors can tell you many things. The photograph may put them in a specific time and place. Some photographers had their names and location printed on the photograph. If the photograph is one of the following types, you will be able to give an approximate date to the photograph: daguerreotype (1839-1860s),  ambrotype (patented 1854) , ferreotype or tintype (patented 1856) , or paper print (in North America 1859 to the present). The Library of Congress had digitalized thousands of photographs of the Holy Land in its collections and made them available online. A website which daily presents one or two of these pictures is Israel’s History – a Picture a Day

 Notes & Resources

A number of the above documents are in the process of being transcribed into databases and the names of the people will be transliterated. Keep an eye open for periodical additions to the IGRA AID collection

IGRA has an online list of archives and museums in Israel, which is updated continuously. A Genealogy Advisory Service at the National Library was instituted and appointments can be arranged by telephone 074-733-6400 or email [email protected]. See the bibliography at the end of this article:  Turkey: Ottoman and Post Ottoman

The Yad Ben-Zvi Institute has a number of journals published in Hebrew dealing with the History of the Jewish Nation and Eretz Israel.

For those of you with Sephardic and Oriental ancestors, I would suggest referring to the Guidebook for Sephardic and Oriental Genealogical Sources in Israel  (17) by Mathilde Tagger and Yitzhak Kerem. It surveys the important archival collections of various institutions in Israel.

For more extensive reading dealing with Sephardic Jewish women:

Lamdan, Ruth. A Separate People: Jewish Women in Palestine, Syria and Egypt in the Sixteenth Century. Leiden: 2000.

Makovetsky-Bornstein, Leah. “Immigration to Erez Israel from the Ottoman Empire in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries” (Hebrew). Shorashim ba-Mizrah: Kevatzim le-Heker ha-Tenu’ah ha-Zionit ha-Halutzit be-Kehilot Sefarad ve-ha-Islam 5 (2002): 71–96.

Shilo, Margalit. Princess or Prisoner? Jewish Women in Jerusalem 1940-1914. Waltham, Mass. : Brandeis University Press, c2005


Footnotes and References
(1)  Rosh Pina and the Early Census Data

(2)  Liste des protégés allemands dans l’Empire Ottoman, Israel State Archives

(3)  Register of Births at British Consulate Jaffa 1900-1904, National Archives (UK)

(4)  Index of Names of British Subjects Registered at the Consulate, Israel State Archives & Family History Library – microfilm collection

(5)  Register of British Subjects in the Consular District of Jaffa 1860-1914, Israel State Archives & Family History Library– microfilm collection

(6)  Registry Forms of British Nationals Registered at the Vice-Consulate in Jaffa 1865-1914, Israel State Archives ibid & Family History Library ibid – microfilm collection

(7)  Yemenites in Rehovot 1914, Archive of the History of Rehovot (website in Hebrew)

(8)  Register of Landowners Rishon Lezion 1881-1911, Museum for the History of Rishon Lezion (website in Hebrew) & Family History Library – microfilm collection

(9)  Register of Rishon Lezion Residents Who Were Not Landowners 1882-1911, Museum for the History of Rishon Lezion (website in Hebrew) & Family History Library – microfilm collection

 (10) Old Birth Registry 1900-1930, Museum for the History of Rishon Lezion (website in Hebrew) & Family History Library – microfilm collection

(11) Gymnasia Herzlia: A Hundred Years, Media, 2004.

(12) Yemenites in Rehovot 1914, Archive of the History of Rehovot  (website in Hebrew)

(13) Linat Hazedek, Museum for the History of Rishon Lezion (website in Hebrew) & Family History Library – microfilm collection

(14) List of delegates in the Protocol of 9th Zionist Congress 1909 Central Zionist Archives Library

(15) בנות ציון וירושלים: ספר זכרון, פ.ב.גרבסקי – a second edition combining all the pamphlets was published in 2000.

(16) List of the Deceased from the United Home for the Aged 1865-1904, Jerusalem City Archives  (website in Hebrew) & Family History Library – microfilm collection

(17) Tagger, Mathilde A. & Kerem, Yitzchak, Guidebook for Sephardic and Oriental Genealogical Sources in Israel, Avotaynu, 2006.


Rose Feldman






Author: Rose Feldman
Born in Chicago, Rose has lived in Israel over 47 years. She has a Master’s Degree in Research Methods and Measurement from the School of Education at Tel-Aviv University. Rose Feldman is on twitter as jewdatagengirlIsrael Genelogy, and IGRA_Hebrew, one of the administrators of the IGRA facebook, and in charge of developing new databases for the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). She was the webmistress of the Israel Genealogical Society for nine years. She has lectured at 6 IAJGS conferences starting in 2003, at the annual seminars of the Israel Genealogical Society and their branch meetings. She has been instrumental in the building of various databases on the IGS website and participates in the Montefiore Censuses Project . Rose was also the webmistress for the 2004 International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies’ conference which took place in Jerusalem and has four Kehilalinks sites on JewishGen for Mscibow & and neighboring Kossovo in Belarus, Litin and Kalinovka in the Ukraine. She has a website

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