How to Begin
In order to determine if one has rabbinic ancestry it
is important to start with the names of ancestors and
see if there is any correspondence with known rabbinic
lines. The best starting point, however, comes from
family tradition that may speak to such a connection.
The first step in this process is to discuss the
matter with the elders of the family. By bringing up the
subject of possible rabbinical links, a relative may
recall earlier conversations in the family that may
point to rabbinical connections.
There are several problems in searching out this kind
- The rabbi's name may be different then the
surname of your family. Rabbis sometimes have a number
of names including their given name, a name associated
with the town that they served, a name related to a
position that they hold, or it may be associated with
a well-known book that they authored or even the type
of person that he was. Identifying the link can,
therefore, be tricky since multiple names may have to
be pursued. For example, Rabbi Nathanel Weil is also
known as the Korban Nathanel, named after the
title of his most famous writings.(F1)
- The spelling of the names varies considerably
and popular variations must be investigated. Is it
Herschel, Hershel or Hershil?
- The path could be through a female line.
Unfortunately, the names of daughters are often not
known. Such connections are typically found by going
in a reverse path, that is from the rabbinic line to
your family line. For example, one may find a rabbi
who married "the daughter of Reb Shmuel." If
Reb Shmuel is known to be in your family then you may
have found a connection.
- Intermittent use of a surname. In a number of
rabbinical lines the surname, if there is one,
sometimes changes or is dropped in favor of some other
name. For example, the Katzenelenbogen line and the
Ginzburg line have this characteristic.
- A rabbi who has married into a distinguished
rabbinical family may adopt the surname of his
well-known father-in-law. This only serves to further
confuse the data.
- Siblings among rabbinical families adopt varying
Here are some clues on how to identify and locate
- Know the towns where they served.
- Know the Yeshivot that they attended or
- Know the Av Bet Din (AB"D or chief
rabbi) they served
- Know their teachers.
- Know their prominent students.
- Know their colleagues and correspondents.
- Know their relatives.
- Study their Responsa.
- Know the books that they authored and check the Hakdamos
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