Infofiles Index


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 of information:

  1. 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)
  2. The spelling of the names varies considerably and popular variations must be investigated. Is it Herschel, Hershel or Hershil?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Siblings among rabbinical families adopt varying names.

Here are some clues on how to identify and locate rabbinical antecedents:

  1. Know the towns where they served.
  2. Know the Yeshivot that they attended or headed.
  3. Know the Av Bet Din (AB"D or chief rabbi) they served or headed.
  4. Know their teachers.
  5. Know their prominent students.
  6. Know their colleagues and correspondents.
  7. Know their relatives.
  8. Study their Responsa.
  9. Know the books that they authored and check the Hakdamos and Haskamos.

Werner L. Frank
Calabasas, California, USA