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The GerSIG Name Adoption List Index (NALDEX)

Compiled By Roger Lustig

· Introduction
· Phases
· Acknowledgements
· Searching the Database

The GerSIG Name Adoption List InDEX (NALDEX) is a compilation of lists of surname-adoption by German Jews.


All genealogy begins with names.  Though genome mapping allows us to impute the existence of specific but unnamed ancestors, we would prefer even in such cases to know what our forebears called one another.

Jewish genealogy presents many problems in this regard, because most Jews traditionally used patronymics, i.e., their own given name followed by that of a parent (usually the father).  Most Sephardic Jews have long used surnames.  In large civic Jewish communities such as Prague or Frankfurt, Jewish families adopted surnames that often stuck for generations.  And rabbinic dynasties passed the founder’s surname (usually derived from his town of origin) to later generations of scholars, sometimes to sons-in-law who became rabbis.  There, the surname functioned at least in part as a brand or trademark.

But these cases were a small minority, certainly in northern Europe.  And even those who did have a surname might change it or abandon it, often when they moved to a different place — i.e., just when researchers like ourselves would have found it most useful.  For this reason, a list of all the Jews in a certain place, made at the moment when they took family names that were unlikely to change thenceforth, is often the key to tracing a family back in time, and can serve as a backbone for research into the whole Jewish community in that place.

Germany’s Jews adopted fixed surnames (i.e., family names legally required to pass from father or single mother to children) during the period from 1790 to 1852.  The length and complexity of the process are easily explained by the wealth of independent states that were not united as "Germany" until 1871, and by the differing paces at which the emancipation of Jewry proceeded in those states.

The NALDEX is a compilation of lists created at the time of surname-adoption.  These lists document the process in various ways.  Some give previous names; some include extensive information about the whole family; some list the occupation and/or marital status of the head of household.  All of them have in common that they list all or almost all the Jews who lived in a particular place on a crucial date: the after which they were required to use the surname shown in the list.

Project Phases

Phase I

The NALDEX project has several phases.  The first one, now complete (barring further discoveries), presents a database of all the information from surname-adoption lists that were published in Prussian legal gazettes.  (One non-Prussian list is included as well. It comes from the tiny principality of Lippe-Detmold, and predates the first wave of Prussian lists by a few years.)

The Prussian lists cover much, but not all of Prussia, which was home to about 60% of Germany’s Jews.  In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, Prussia granted citizenship to Jews in the territories it actually controlled at the time: Brandenburg (the area around Berlin) and its remaining territories east of the Oder river.  Almost all of those eastern territories are now in Poland; small portions are located in the Czech Republic, Russia and Lithuania.  The database contains 11,297 entries, one per household, from the 1812 era.  Only the small list from Prussian Lithuania (73 households) is not yet included.

The Jews of Silesia were the first to be required to take surnames during 1790-1794.  Instead of presenting the small contemporary manuscript lists that describe a fraction of that process, we have included a list of Silesian Jews who took citizenship when it was offered in 1812.  This is the largest single list in the database, with 4,000 names.  It does not include the Jews of Lower Silesia, almost all of whom lived in Glogau (now Glogów).  We hope to use the 1812 census of Glogau to create a comparable list at a later date.

As noted above, Prussia did not control all of its territory in 1812.  Much of it was under Napoleonic occupation or governed by the puppet Confederation of the Rhine.  All German territories west of the Rhine were governed directly by France, which mandated surname-adoption in 1808.  In 1845, Prussian Jewish families outside of the 1812 areas were finally required to adopt surnames as well.  Many if not most of them had already done so around 1808, so there are no 1845-era lists for anywhere west of the Rhine, and those east of the Rhine show that many families kept the surnames they had already been using for a generation or two.  All told, there are 4,679 entries from this era.

ca. 1812
Kurmark Brandenburg2,700
Neumark Brandenburg682
West Prussia2,408
ca. 1845
Culm (West Prussia E of the Vistula)1,105
Duesseldorf (Rhine Province)838
Muenster (Westphalia)544
Arnsberg (Westphalia)1,263
Koblenz (Rhine Province)599
Koeln (Rhine Province)330

Future phases

Phase II: the 1808 era

The next phase of the NALDEX project is likely to be added to the database in smaller pieces.  In general, the lists from the Napoleonic surname-adoption process are handwritten and cover no more than one town at a time.  Some are actual legal transactions, one per member of a household, each one taking up most of a page if not more.  Others are in tabular form.  Many of them are written in French.  We encourage any researcher who encounters such documents to alert us to their existence.  As Phase II proceeds we will enumerate those towns already included in the database and those whose lists are being transcribed.

Phase III: later lists

The third phase will cover roughly 1813-1852 for regions outside Prussia.  Some lists were published; most were not.  It is very likely that there are as yet undiscovered published lists from newspapers in the Kingdom of Wuerttemberg (ca. 1828).  Here, especially, we invite researchers everywhere to tell us of the lists they have found.

Phase IV: lists reconstructed from censuses

Many if not most of the lists we hope to include in the NALDEX database had as their basis a census of the Jewish population of individual towns, taken at the time of the surname-adoption or naturalization process.  For some places we have no list, but we can consult the census that would have been used to create it.  Glogau in Lower Silesia, mentioned above, is one such place.  Its 1812 census would add about 675 families to the database.

Other places have both the list and the underlying census.  Still others have censuses from dates before or after surname-adoption.  Phase IV will give priority to censuses that must stand in for surname lists; but we hope to expand it to create a database similar to those that present revision lists from the Russian Empire.


When GerSIG’s members initiated the NALDEX project in 2005, one surname-adoption list was already available as a searchable database at JewishGen.  That was the 1812 West Prussia list, which David Lewin of London had transcribed years before.  He kindly contributed the spreadsheets he’d used — the basis for the West Prussia list that now replaces his — and later assisted in transcribing the Culm list.

Jim Bauer co-ordinated the project until 2008, gathering copies of several of the sources for Phase I and also many others yet to be edited.  The same year, Logan Kleinwaks, co-ordinator of the JewishGen Danzig SIG, put up the Danzig list as a single-page table.

Others who have assisted in transcribing and proofreading include: Claus W. Hirsch, Paula Zieselman, Hanna Grossman, Juliet Beier, Stephen Falk, Stephanie Benjamin and Geoff Kaiser.

Lars Menk and Gerhard Buck provided critical advice and guidance.  Many thanks to those who have contributed source materials not yet incorporated into the database.  We’ll try to mention you individually as your contributions appear.

Searching the Database

The NALDEX database can be searched via the JewishGen Germany Database.
Entries for locations now in Poland may also be found via the JewishGen Poland Database.

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