Genie Milgrom
Crypto-Jewish descendant and researcher

How do we find our lineage to the Pre-Inquisition Jews?

This is the number one question that most people have when they read articles or see documentaries about the Bnei Anusim or descendants of the Crypto-Jews from Pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal. How is it that one can travel back in time almost 630 years and discover that you have a true unbroken ancestry to the Jews from that time. It is possible to discover these lineages even though the ancestors were doing all they could to hide their origins.

It took me almost 10 years but I was able to find the proof positive that I am a direct descendant through many of my lines and will now explain how it is possible to discover these lineages.

Most of us, the descendants of the anusim, are born into the Catholic religion and our families have been Roman Catholics since the generations after the Inquisition. Traditionally, we look back to an unbroken maternal lineage. Mother and then grandmother, great grandmother etc. until we find a Jewish person directly on our maternal line.  On the one hand, it is easier to chase down one line only and on the other hand, it is harder because we have to look at one person at a time (Mother, Grandmother, etc.) and if that person was ill or died, then the process becomes much harder as you have to turn to a sister or niece for example.

We then start with genealogy basics such as putting on paper everything you already know and locating the birth, marriage and birth certificates. It is crucial to document this with primary sources meaning actual documents showing an unbroken line. Since you are only working with the women, you will only have to really chase down 15-20 women instead of hundreds or thousands of ancestors and after that it is time to start digging deeper into your family tree. Sounds simple enough but this search is really not for the faint of heart.

There are some websites where you can easily follow a lineage in the Church and may have the documents available to download. One of those is the site of under special collections depending on the country you live in. This will only take you back in your country of birth

Restoration Lab of documents in Torre Do Tombo archive in Lisbon

After this, you must know the country of origin be it Spain, Portugal, Italy, Mexico etc.

Many of those countries have on line sources available and you will still need to travel back via the Catholic Church which will usually only take you to 1545 because in that year the Council of Trent at the Vatican standardized Church records. Remember you have to go all the way back to a strong reference that you have a Jewish person in your tree. This is not so straight forward because during the Inquisition all our synagogues were destroyed and turned into Churches and the cemeteries were destroyed so we have to pursue other avenues back. The largest conversion of Jews took place in 1391 yet most of the references to our Jewish ancestry can be found in the 1500s and 1600s and it may not be necessary to travel back so far in time.

It is time to switch strategies on line to work our way further back. There are many sites such as the Museo Canario in La Palma in the Canary Islands archives, Lisbon archives called Torre Do Tombo, Spanish Archives named Pares, and many more in Mexico, Lima, Peru and Cartagena Colombia where you can find notarial documents that will allow you to see many of the records of land sales and sometimes, even last wills and testaments can be found on the site of synagogue scribes from London. I was able to find much information there on my family.

Book of genealogies in Gran Palma, Canary Islands

My own site, is free to use and has a compilation of a decades long data entry project of sites and over 60,000 names along with bibliographies to help reach the goal of finding your ancestor. This site has many powerful tools available.

Eventually, you will have to join your family tree to a person that was judged for observing Judaism underground as a hidden Jew. Below is just one example of how this is accomplished.

In the Inquisition judgement of Luis de Carvajal, a famous Crypto Jew of Nueva Leon (Mexico) who was burned at the stake with most of his family, I was able to find a clear link to my own family and expand my Jewish genealogy.

Inquisition Document with translation

That Judgement, is housed in Lisbon but was drawn up in Evora, Portugal when he was rounded up y the Inquisition.

 Inquisição de Évora, processo 8976

Luís Carvajal, cristão-novo,  morador em Sambade

A portion which pertains to my family as seen below:

Beatriz Carvajal  casada com Gabriel Dias e vive em Fermoselhe.

Disse quer foi judeu circuncidado , mas não sabe como se chamava porque era muito pequeno quando foi tornado cristão.

Disse que foi baptizado em Fermoselhe e que o baptizou um clérigo chamado Miguel Gonçalves, mas não sabe quem foram os padrinhos.

Disse que era cristão confirmado em Formoselhe. 

I descend from the marriage of Beatriz Carvajal and Gabriel Dias and my family lived in Fermoselle for 624 years including my maternal grandparents.

And this is how it is possible to go back to find your Jewish ancestry. It takes many years, a combination of online resources and often times, physical visits into the archives in other countries and hiring of professional genealogists. Not one source can take you back and hooking up to trees that have been made by others without the physical documents is wishful thinking.

You can prove this yourself and feel proud that NO ONE can question your Jewish ancestry.

About the Author
Genie Milgrom is a Crypto-Jewish Researcher, author and genealogist specializing in the bnei anusim ( Descendants of the Crypto Jews of the Iberian peninsula).