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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finding out if Balamonte is a Jewish name

Peter's Question:
My dad is Jacob Baiamonte who was born in Palermo, Sicily. My grandmother contends we are Jewish but my father says she
nuts...because we are all Catholics.

I have been DNA tested by FamilyTreeDna (Dr. Bennett Greenspan) in response to my grandmother's allegations...and the results show that grandma was correct...because I have all the genetic markers of the Cohanin and Jewish people.

My question: Where do I go from here? None of the names of my family are typically Jewish names and we have deep roots in Italy. I have the family records back to the late 1600's and all the name are Italian and Catholic. How can I have someone go into the archives of the Cathedral in Palermo and dig farther back...and also check the tax and notary records. I don't know any genealogists there.

Ask Olive Answer Hello Peter - That's an interesting bit of family lore. There are quite a large number of Jewish families in Italy who have been required by circumstances to outwardly adopt other religions.

As you have family records "back to the 1600s" you should be able to find evidence of this, if it exists: adult baptisms, or civil registrations for births and marriages. If your information indicates Catholic records all the way back, then your quest for your Jewish origins will be a difficult one. Many records were destroyed during World War II; those few Jewish records which survived are now held in Israel.

The JewishGen organization has many resources which might help you, including the Jewish Family Finder. There you will be able to search by surname and by location.

The LDS has films of civil registrations for the Palermo area from 1820 to 1908 for births, marriages and deaths; some years are indexed.

1 comment:

  1. In 1493, the Sicilian Jewish community was swelled by a huge number of Spanish Jews who were forced to leave in 1492, and came to Sicily in the hope it might be safer. It was - for one year - then they were told again to convert or leave. Many did leave, going across the Straits of Messina to Calabria in southern Italy. In 1493, some estimates are that Calabria was about 50% Jewish. There are still hidden Jews in mountain villages. The Sicilian DNA Project at is a very useful and enlightening geo project. Many of the Spanish Jews who went to Sicily because they didn't want to convert in Spain, did convert finally in Sicily. There was an active Converso community in Sicily into the 1600s. Belmonte/Belamonte/Baiamonte/Balamonte are all very Sephardic variations on a theme. I'd be interested to know what other surnames are in Peter's family. In these communities, people - especially in the early days - married families with similar backgrounds. There are online resources that can help him. JewishGen focuses on Ashkenazi Eastern European. For Sephardic resources, Peter should go to and to and use the name engines to search for more information. Peter is more than welcome to write to me and I will try to help him with more definitive information.

    Schelly Talalay Dardashti
    Tracing the Tribe - The Jewish Genealogy Blog