Early American Jews

The JewishGen USA-RD covers all time periods in American history. It was preceded on JewishGen by an Early American Special Interest Group (SIG) that is defunct and has been absorbed into this Research Division.

Over 4,700 messages starting in August 2000 were posted to the JewishGen Early American Discussion Group and can still be searched on the JewishGen Discussion Group Archives by browsing #USA. Going forward, please post messages about researching early American Jewish families on the JewishGen Discussion Group using the hashtag #USA.

The first Jewish community was established in 1654 New Amsterdam (New York) and there have continually been Jews living in America since. By the eve of the American Revolution (1775-1783), academics estimate there were about 2,500 Jews living in America, and a majority supported the Revolution. Rabbi Malcolm Stern z''l, who many consider the father of modern Jewish Genealogy, authored a book with pedigree charts for most of these families. To browse online, see First American Jewish Families, 3rd ed. There is also an archived webpage where surnames can be found in an alphabetical index and linked to a pedigree pdf found in the book, but the search function no longer works.

Complete burial data for all six of the earliest Jewish communities in the United States are searchable by surname on JOWBR. They are located in Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Manhattan, New York; and Newport, Rhode Island.  

In partnership with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)* which established a Jewish Task Force for the first time in 2020, the JewishGen USA Research Division is collaborating on the identification of materials that document the earliest Jews in America. Indexed materials will be added to the JewishGen USA Database in a compiled index to launch in 2024 titled the Early American Jewish Names Index (EAJNI).

*DAR is not what it used to be. In recent years, significant efforts have been made by the organization to be more inclusive of Jews and other minorities who were historically not a large part of membership. To recognize the contributions of all Americans in the Revolutionary War and encourage women to submit new applications, task forces and materials for specialty research have been developed for women descending from patriots (male or female) who supported the Revolution and were African American, Native American, Spanish, French, or Jewish. For more information, read "Bridging Jewish Genealogists and Daughters of the American Revolution," an article first appearing in AVOTAYNU, the International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3, Fall 2020. It is reproduced with the permission of the publisher. 

Please contact us if you would like to suggest additional resources for the time period 1654-1790. We will help organize an indexing project for placement in the JewishGen USA Database and/or add a link to the USA-Research Division Archive, Bibliography, or Databases and Links webpages.