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Published Date

January 1, 2004

This resource was developed as part of Linking Family History and World History by Linda Pomerantz.

Students may begin a search with encyclopedias, (general or specialized), general surveys of Jewish history, or Internet searches. These provide basic information:

Sephardic Jews are Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion from Spain after 1492. In this great diasporic movement, 100,000-300,000 Spanish Jews (estimates vary) left Spain and settled in different parts of Europe and the Middle East. Many settled in the Ottoman Empire after they were welcomed by the Ottoman Sultan. The name “Sephardic” comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, “Sefarad.”

University library catalogs will lead students to interesting books such as The Mezuzah in the Madonna’s Foot by Trudy Alexy (San Francisco, HarperBooks, 1993), which provides a great deal of information about the Sephardim. Alexy’s work links the history of the Sephardim with twentieth century Spain and provides information about the hidden Jewish communities of Spanish New Mexico.

Scholars such as B. Netanyahu are specialists in the history of the Sephardim. A recent work by Professor Netanyahu is Toward the Inquisition: Essays on Jewish and Converso History in Late Medieval Spain (Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1998)

There are other specialized studies of Jews under the Ottoman Empire, such as the two volume work by Benjamin Braude, Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire(New York, Holmes and Meier, 1982), which has a wealth of information about Jews under the Ottomans.

The following map, from Atlas of the Jewish World, by Nicholas de Lange (New York, Facts on File Pub., 1984), shows the historical migration of the Spanish Jews after 1492.

A historical map showing the historical migration of the Spanish Jews after 1492

Reflective Questions

  1. What are the basic historical facts about the experiences of the family I am researching?
  2. Where will I go to find these basic facts?
  3. What on-line resources can I find that provide historical context for the family’s history?
  4. What books and articles does my university library have that provide needed information?
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This page contains words or ideas that might be offensive to modern readers. To maintain the accuracy of historical documentation, the content is reprinted in its entirety as it was originally published. This accurate reproduction of original historical texts therefore contains words and ideas that do not reflect the editorial decisions or views of the American Historical Association.