Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Consideration 4: Starting the Process for Portuguese Citizenship

Since I posted The Consideration 3 I was contacted by a few cousins asking for help in the process in obtaining citizenship in Portugal. While I have yet to start the actual process I have begun obtaining the needed documentation. One of the first cousins to contact me had already found a translator to work with and was seeking my help to flesh out the exact details of our lineage from Portuguese Jews who were kicked out due to the Inquisition. So we set out to detail our lineage and prove our ancestry.

The first thing to do was go through the regulations set in the law by using an unofficial translation which also describes the history of the Inquisition in Portugal as well as common Portuguese surnames used by Sephardic Jews. I made a list of all the surnames which matched families on our tree and then began going through each branch documenting the exact lineage. Once the document is complete we will match documents to it for each line. A lot of this is most likely overkill but we also see it as something that many cousins can use as thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people descend from the ancestors talked about in these documents.

I recently found a website called which details what is needed quite nicely. On the website they describe three ways to prove your descent -

1 – Documented evidence. For example, family records, family tree, community archives of births, marriages and deaths (such as those in Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Curacao, St. Thomas and Sofia), cemeteries and lists of tombs (like those found in Surinam, Thessaloniki, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Curacao, Bayonne, Paris and Vienna), brit milah records, general Government archives that show arrivals from Portugal, lists of ships and passengers arriving from Portugal. It is a criminal offense to falsify documents. The Committee of the Jewish Community will always strive to ascertain the veracity of documentation submitted, which will be evaluated together with the other evidence obtained during the course of the investigation.
2 – Testimonial evidence, ie, reputable witnesses who can attest to a family’s oral tradition. Testimonial evidence must be submitted in writing. Testimony must be in the form of written depositions, signed by the witnesses and certified by a Notary Public  (languages: Hebrew, English Spanish or Portuguese). The depositions must be sent to us together with copies of passports or ID cards of the witnesses. Witnesses must be credible and their testimony convincing. It is a criminal offense for a witness to falsely testify in writing to any legally relevant fact. The Committee of the Jewish Community will always endeavor to ascertain the credibility of depositions, which will be evaluated together with other evidence and information gathered during the course of the investigation.
3 – Expert evidence, ie, support of an expert on Portuguese Jewish diaspora. Expert evidence must be submitted in writing. The reports of experts in Portuguese diaspora (languages: Hebrew, English Spanish or Portuguese) must be in writing and signed by the expert(s).

Besides proof of lineage you must also supply other documents which basically prove you are who you claim to be. The first thing you should obtain is a certificate from the Jewish community of Portugal. There are two communities in which you can obtain this certificate - Lisbon and Porto. A cousin who has already completed this part of the process said that he went through The Porto Jewish Community and it took them about a week or two to accept his claim. I emailed the Porto Community inquiring about what they ask for and their response was short but straight-forward - "Please send the documentation in pdf, send copy of passport, birth certificate, surnames of parents and grandparents and proof of Judaism."

Next you will need to get a translated and legalized Birth Certificate, a certified copy of your passport, a copy of your criminal record from every country in which you've lived, and a Power of Attorney letter from a Portuguese Lawyer. The Porto community even suggests contacting legal representation as soon as you receive the certificate from them. If the application is rejected you will need a lawyer with previous knowledge of your case to properly appeal otherwise you could lose your eligibility to obtain citizenship through this law. They even suggest a law firm called Yolanda Busse, Oehen Mendes & Associados who actually lists an office in Porto and Lisbon. 

Now this process is not cheap, so be prepared for some serious costs. The legal costs I've heard being spent have fallen between $700 - $800 (600-700), although different lawyers will have different costs. On top of that you have the costs of the documentation and translation of documents which could easily become a couple hundred dollars or even more depending on where you have to order the documents from. To give you an idea, in my own case it would cost me $25 for a copy of my birth certificate, about $35 for my criminal records (I lived in two states since I was 18, so I assume one from each), $195 for my passport (assuming you need a new one or to renew it), and I'm assuming about $20 in postage fees, notary fees, and gas. That comes to a total of $275 for me but I'm guessing it could be a lot more for others, especially anyone who has lived in a lot of states or multiple countries. I have also heard tell that a donation to the Jewish Communities is encouraged of around 500 (about $550) to help with upkeep and sustain the work to prove Sephardic ancestry for applicants. This comes to an estimated $1,625 for the total costs associated with the application, at least in my case, and could easily be even more. 

The costs may not end there for some as certain countries charge extra taxes for dual citizens. If someone from the United States received their Portuguese citizenship and went abroad to work they may be taxed in the United States on any income earned abroad (learn more here). This is somewhat similar in the UK (learn more here) but for many of those in Britain I'm sure this is a much more enticing opportunity as Portuguese Citizenship will allow you to retain a European Union passport.

For anyone who is going through the process or has completed the process I'd be quite interested to hear about your experiences. Please use the message form.

Read the Previous articles;
The Consideration: Obtaining My Spanish Citizenship As A Sephardi
The Consideration 2: A Step Forward For Obtaining Spanish Citizenship
The Consideration 3: Spain and Portugal Pass Sephardic Right To Return:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Story of Chuts: How Cigars Saved My Family

In the 19th century my Dutch Jewish ancestors decided to move from Amsterdam to London. My first ancestors to make the move were my 4th great grandparents Abraham Moscou and Schoontje Veerjong in 1867 (although it is disputed if Abraham was around for this move). They moved their whole family to London including my 3rd great-grandfather Morris Moscou. Morris' future wife's family, the De Haan family, also made the move around this time as they appear in the 1871 England Census living in Spitalfield. By 1881 another set of my 3rd great-grandparents, the Nunes Vaz and Robles family, had made their move to London from Amsterdam.

I had always wondered what caused my ancestors and their siblings to move to London from Amsterdam, a city in which Jews were seemingly able to thrive with very little anti-semitism for hundreds of years. Through the House of Orange and the Napoleonic Emancipation, Jews in Amsterdam were treated better than most other Jews throughout the World. One of the things I noticed about most of my Dutch Jewish ancestors was the fact that they were almost all cigar makers. There were even stories that my Nunes Vaz ancestors worked on the same bench as Samuel Gompers, who helped set the 8-hour workday.

I soon found that while Jews were treated better in Amsterdam than in most other places there were still some anti-semitic laws. Jews were not allowed to join guilds, which would have been something extremely useful to cigar makers, nor were they allowed to own their shops. Seeking better opportunities in their trade my ancestors made the move to London which was a major center for cigar making during the 19th century. These Dutch Jewish immigrants gained the nickname of Chuts, which is often attributed to the Dutch word 'Goed' which means good. They mostly settled in Spitalfields in the East End of London in an area nickname 'The Tenterground', an area originally established by Huguenot refugees.

Many of these Chuts established small workshops and factories for cigar and cigarette making. Many of the shops were situated in Bethnal Green, White Chapel, and Spitalfields, areas that are all close to the Tobacco Dock in Wapping. Tobacco would come in from the United States and sold to the jews who then treated, stripped, and processed into cigars and cigarettes. The cigars the chuts made were known as "British Cigars" and were considered of high quality.

With the progression of technology and machinery in the late 19th century the cigar making jobs in London became less available and caused many Dutch Jewish families to immigrate once again around the turn of the century. While some of these Jewish families went back to Amsterdam many either stayed in England or immigrated to the United States, Australia, or New Zealand. The United States was going through a golden-age of cigar making and there was a lot of available work. My family decided to move to the United States for stability but they were also bringing safety to their descendants. My family's decision to pursue the cigar making industry in the United States ultimately led to the safety of my family. Not only did this decision to officially move to the United states save them from enduring the bombing of London, which so many of our English relatives suffered through, but it also saved the family from the fate of the many relatives in Amsterdam who were murdered in the Shoah.

There is a family story which comes from the early 20th century when my 2nd-great grandparents were trying to decide whether to stay in London or move to Boston. My 2nd-great grandfather had been pursuing a career in London as a vaudevillian actor and dancer under the name William H Macknay and liked it much better in London. The family had already been to the United States, having lived in Michigan and Boston, but went back to England because my 2nd-great grandfather didn't really like it in America. During an argument about where to live my 2nd-great grandmother told her husband "In England we starved, this is the country that gave us something to eat." They went to America where the family flourished, safe from the horrors so many of their relatives endured. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Digital Genealogy and Privacy Issues

For anyone in genealogy who has invited relatives to view their tree online it is likely they have run across a few relatives who were less than pleased with family information being published online. I once had a cousin actually threaten to sue me if I didn't take the tree down (referring to For genealogists who are constantly reaching out to new found relatives this can be even more prevalent, especially if the family being contacted have had identity theft problems.

This summer at the 35th Annual Conference of the International Association for Jewish Genealogical Societies in Jerusalem, Randy Schoenberg presented his lecture "Privacy Issues with Online Family Trees" in which he discusses why there is little to fear when it comes to digital genealogy. He methodically and logically breaks-down the idea of privacy rights and how they apply to genealogy just as they do in every day life. In his introduction Schoenberg states -

"The right to privacy is a relatively recent legal construction, and one that is still evolving. As genealogists, people whose goal is to learn and write about personal details of other people, we often hear complaints about invasion of privacy. So it is worth exploring the issue in some detail to understand what rights exist at present and what might evolve in the future. Since much of our work is done online, I will also address privacy issues related to online trees on various platforms."

Click here for the published version of the lecture