How to look for records of... Jews and Jewish communities in the 18th-20th centuries
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
1. Why use this guide?
This guide will help you find records relating to Jewish people and their communities primarily in Britain but also abroad.
It focuses on the 18th-20th centuries.
2. Searching for records
Records relating to Jewish people are varied and spread across many different record series.
For some records you can use advanced search in Discovery, our catalogue to do keyword searches relevant to your research. For example, ‘Jewish trading’ or ‘Sabbath’.
For further catalogue search help see our website.
Keyword searches are not always possible. Sometimes you will need to use finding aids to identify relevant records. This guide will tell you when these aids are online and when they are available at the National Archives, Kew.
3. Jewish community in England and Wales
For general information about the government’s approach and policy, consult the following series.
For before 1782 search the state papers domestic. To search these records use state papers online or calendars. See our state papers domestic 1714-1782 research guide for further search help.
After 1782 use keywords to search within Home Office papers, in particular:
- domestic correspondence, 1782-1878: HO 42, HO 43
- out-letters, 1782-1921: HO 43, HO 136, HO 152
- registered files (from 1841): HO 45
- supplementary registered files: HO 144 – some are closed until a specified date
The National Archives has many records on immigration. For Jewish immigration the following series are particularly useful.
Use the advanced search option to do a keyword search within the series suggested unless stated otherwise.
- State papers domestic – George III in SP 37, for material on Jewish immigration in the 1770s.
- Home Office: registered files in HO 45. These contain material on immigration of German, Polish and Russian Jews, 1887-1905, and on Jewish immigration from central Europe into the United Kingdom and Palestine, 1930s.
- AST 1 contains details on assistance to Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
- Correspondence and papers of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in MEPO 2. These contain material on the landing of Jewish immigrants, work of Jewish charities and settlement of immigrant Jews in the East End of London, 1887-1905.
- The Foreign Office (FO) series contain material on sailings of immigrant ships from the German ports in late 19th century. Use Foreign Office registers and indexes available at The National Archives to search these.
5. Aliens and naturalisation
Many of these records are available online.
Aliens certificates under the 1793 Act were destroyed before 1836, but those under the 1836 Act survive. You can download these via Ancestry.co.uk (£):
- certificates of aliens in HO 2 and returns and papers in HO 3. Search these by name, date and port of arrival and country/place of origin
- lists of aliens arriving at English ports August 1810-May 1811 (FO 83/21-22) and accounts of aliens arriving at London July-November 1826 and Gravesend October 1826-August 1837 (CUST 102/393-396)
You can download from our catalogue surviving aliens’ registration cards for the London area (1918-1957) and denization and naturalisation case papers (HO 1) for 1801-1871.
See also our change of name guide.
5.1 Aliens policy correspondence
Home Office out-letters on aliens matters are generally in aliens entry books in HO 5 (1794-1921); available online via ancestry.co.uk (£).
Papers on the working of the Aliens Act, 1905 on aliens restriction are in entry books in HO 162. These cover 1905-1921 and you can browse them by date.
The census returns of 1841 to 1911 provide the most complete demographic and residential data for the Jewish community. You can analyse the density of settlements in particular districts once you have identified Jewish families.
Search also within department code MH. This contains Poor Law Board and Local Government Board correspondence with local poor law authorities. For areas of Jewish settlement it may give information on local conditions. The Clerk to the Whitechapel Guardians in the late 1880s was the chief source of such information for both the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police.
7. Economic life
Evidence on the distribution of trades among the Jewish community can be gleaned from the Apprenticeship books (IR 1) which you can search by name on Ancestry.co.uk (£).
Also see our guide on business records as Jewish companies are amongst the files. Rules and activities of Jewish Friendly, Benefit and Loan Societies are in several series within the Registrar of Friendly Societies records; specifically FS 1, FS 3, FS 9, FS 15. You will need to browse these by area.
Detailed records of some Jewish businesses from the 17th to 19th centuries may be found as exhibits in Chancery. Search these by name within C 103-114 using advanced search.
Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills 1384-1858 include wills of many prominent Jewish families. You can search and download these from our website (£).
Further information about the estates of leading Jews may be in Estate Duty Office Registers (IR 26) which cover local as well as central probates. See our death duties research guide.
Another rich source of Jewish economic and financial activities are the various royal courts of law records. The Chancery Court dealing with equity cases and mercantile cases, and the High Court of Admiralty dealing with maritime and trading disputes.
The state papers foreign, the Colonial Office (CO) and Foreign Office (FO) series contain material relating to trade in which Jewish merchants may have been involved. This was certainly the case in the West Indies colonies. Original correspondence for the West Indies is in CO 318.
You will need to search for roles rather (than names). Read the colonies and dependencies: further research guide for details of the different types of records you can find for each colony and how to search them. The guide also covers Board of Trade records relating to the colonies which again may refer to Jewish merchants.
Earlier records are amongst the state papers, foreign. To search them you need to use calendars or browse through originals. The following series are likely to be useful:
9. Jewish communities abroad
9.1 Colonial communities
Within Colonial Office records for America and West Indies colonies you can find information on colonial Jews. Search the original correspondence for these colonies. Read Colonies and dependencies: further research for help searching Colonial Office records.
You will also find emigration registers, for example in CO 327 (1850-1863). Privy Council papers may also be useful, particularly for example PC 1, PC 2 and PC 5. (See the Colonies and dependencies: further research guide.)
9.2 Foreign communities
Before 1782 you may occasionally find material on the condition of Jews in foreign countries in the various series of state papers foreign. These are arranged by country. You need to use calendars, or where there are none, browse through original records.
After 1782 you will need to search Foreign Office records. From 1905 search within Foreign Office general correspondence: political (FO 371). However the parallel series for commercial (FO 368), consular (FO 369), news (FO 395) and prisoners’ correspondence (FO 383) may also be useful. Our Foreign and Commonwealth records research guide will help you search these records.
10. Other archives
For extensive records of the Anglo-Jewish community in London and elsewhere contact the London Metropolitan Archives.
11. Further reading
R Kershaw Migration Records: A guide for family historians (The National Archives, 2009)