Sephardic Jewish ancestry certificate now open for millions of applicants

Recent research has demonstrated that as many as 200 million people in the Americas and Europe have Jewish ancestry who were forcibly converted.

Certificate of Sephardi Jewish ancestry. (photo credit: ASF IJE)
Certificate of Sephardi Jewish ancestry.
(photo credit: ASF IJE)

Tens of millions of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, whose ancestors were forcibly converted from the 14th century onward, can now apply to receive a “Certificate of Sephardi Ancestry.”

Recent academic and genetic research has shown that as many as 200 million people, largely in Latin and North America and Europe, have “significant Jewish ancestry” dating back to the time of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.

The initiative was launched by the American Sephardi Federation’s Institute of Jewish Experience (ASF IJE), Reconectar, an organization dedicated to helping the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities reconnect with the Jewish people, and Genie Milgrom, an award-winning author, researcher and genealogist who was able to fully document her unbroken maternal lineage 22 generations, as far back as 1405 to pre-Inquisition Spain and Portugal.

Milgrom is also leading work to digitize Inquisition records that provide an unprecedented amount of genealogical information for those who seek to discover their possible Jewish roots. These and a vast array of other information on the certification website will help the descendants, otherwise known as Anusim, Marranos, Conversos or Crypto-Jews, discover their heritage.

“The certification, in connection with my collection of genealogy tools, specifically for those with Crypto-Jewish and Sephardi lineages that will be on the website, will allow them to also search for their own past and empower them in the process.”

Genie Milgrom

“The Certificate of Sephardi Ancestry is historic for so many around the world, and especially in Latin and North America, who yearn to connect with their past and up to now had no way to accomplish this,” Milgrom said. “The certification, in connection with my collection of genealogy tools, specifically for those with Crypto-Jewish and Sephardi lineages that will be on the website, will allow them to also search for their own past and empower them in the process.”

  18th century manuscript, found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, includes details from the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, including numbers of the victims, charges and sentences (credit: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL) 18th century manuscript, found in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel, includes details from the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition in Lisbon, including numbers of the victims, charges and sentences (credit: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL)

The process for certification begins with filling out a relatively short questionnaire about a person’s background, clues about their Jewish heritage like customs, family trees or items with a Jewish connection, and their reasons for believing they have Sephardi ancestry. This information will then be assessed by a team of experts and researchers who will determine if the applicant has enough information to be awarded the certificate.

“One’s identity is based on their past, present, and what they want for the future,” ,” said Dr. Drora Arussy, senior director of the ASF’s Institute of Jewish Experience. “With the Certificate of Sephardi Ancestry, we are helping verify their past to create a stronger sense of self and identity. At ASF IJE, our goal is to educate the world about the rich heritage, culture and spirit of the Sephardi people. Together with Reconectar and Genie Milgrom, we hope to help people find their Sephardi roots and learn more about their heritage.”

What does the certificate mean?

While the certificate will have no legal status, it is something that a growing number of those with Jewish ancestry have suggested would be an enormous sense of pride and identity for them.

“We have witnessed in recent years an unprecedented interest among those whose Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted, to reconnect with their heritage and learn more about their past,” said former senior Israeli government adviser Ashley Perry (Perez), president of Reconectar and director of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese origin. “This is a paradigm-shaping moment in Jewish history, because for the first time, tens of millions of those whose ancestors were forcibly disconnected from the Jewish people have the tools to seek some type of reconnection. The certificate we are offering is a way to connect formally with their Jewish heritage and reconnect with their people.”

The link to the process of applying for the Certificate of Sephardi Ancestry can be found online under the Institute of Jewish Experience.