Genealogy Tip: Find Bar Mitzvah Notices in Newspapers

Introduction: In this article – in honor of May being Jewish American Heritage Month –  Gena Philibert-Ortega shows how you can learn about your Jewish American ancestors by searching for bar and bat mitzvah notices in the pages of old newspapers. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

One of the reasons I love newspaper research is the level of detail that newspapers provide about our families. Historically, newspapers captured the life of a community and the everyday life of the people who made up that community. A good example of this is the bar (and bat) mitzvah notices you can find in GenealogyBank’s Jewish American Newspaper Archives.

Searching the newspapers of a specific community is vital. Oftentimes these focused newspapers provide details of your ancestors’ lives that you will not find in larger, general city newspapers. GenealogyBank has several foreign language and ethnic newspapers published in the United States that provide you the information you need for your family history research.

My younger son is always asking me why my writings focus on finding adult ancestors and not children. Quite simply, children leave a smaller paper trail so it’s easier to search for adults. But the newspaper is an equal opportunity reporter and there are articles that document children’s lives as well.

Here are a few examples of what you can find in relation to that important rite of passage for Jewish boys: the bar mitzvah.

Illustration: “Bar Mitzvah in a Synagogue” by Oscar Rex
Illustration: “Bar Mitzvah in a Synagogue” by Oscar Rex. Credit: Fotografie von Original; Wikimedia Commons.

Family Information and Photos

You can count on newspaper bar mitzvah notices to provide the name of the child and his parents. This 1960 example from the Jewish Journal provides great genealogical information including the parents’ names, the mother’s maiden name, and the names and residential address of his maternal grandparents. Since the parents’ out-of-state address is provided, it’s also explained why the bar mitzvah was held in New Jersey rather than where the young man lives, in Illinois. An extra bonus: a photo accompanies the notice.

A bar mitzvah notice, Jewish Journal newspaper article 21 September 1960
Jewish Journal (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 21 September 1960, page 12

This 1934 bar mitzvah notice from the Jewish Chronicle provides the standard parents’ names and residence – but it also includes information about the service itself, including where it was held and who participated. I love this announcement because it includes a relationship outside of the immediate family: “Judge Joseph Siegler, a cousin of the boy’s father, acted as toastmaster.” This article serves as a good reminder that you should look for newspaper articles about all members of the family you are researching, not just the parents. This relationship detail could be important for a researcher who knows little about the family.

A bar mitzvah notice, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 2 November 1934
Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 2 November 1934, page 8

Don’t forget that a bar mitzvah can also be a good time for a family reunion. Four-generation photos are always a wonderful genealogical find, and this bar mitzvah photo shows the four generations of men celebrating the bar mitzvah of Barry Rockoff – including Barry’s 90-year-old great-grandfather.

A bar mitzvah notice, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 19 May 1955
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 19 May 1955, page 11

The Social Column

In the newspapers I searched, bar mitzvah announcements were often found in the social columns – like this 1921 announcement of the bar mitzvah of Frederich Stein of 22 South Fourteenth Street in Newark, New Jersey, that is printed between everything from the announcement of Rose Silberman’s engagement to the marriage of Miss Pearl Dorothy Saslow. Appropriately enough these announcements are in a column titled “Social and Personal.” Families provided information by phone or mail to the Society Editor, who would then create the column.

A bar mitzvah notice, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 16 December 1921
Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 16 December 1921, page 2

A later example from 1942 shows a listing of bar mitzvahs with events like confirmations and birthdays in the “Women’s Club Gossip” column, a type of social column. These announcements are brief but still provide the parents’ names and address.

Bar mitzvah notices, Jewish Chronicle newspaper article 5 June 1942
Jewish Chronicle (Newark, New Jersey), 5 June 1942, page 6

Don’t Forget the Bat Mitzvah

Everyone who knows me is aware that my focus is researching women’s lives, so I was curious if I would find bat mitzvah notices in the newspaper. The article below explains that the first bat mitzvah celebrated in America happened in 1922, when Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism, arranged a bat mitzvah for his daughter Judith. Obviously, any bat mitzvah notices in the newspaper would be of a more recent origin. However, as we research our ancestry we should also document our most recent family members, not just long-dead ancestors.

An article about the history of the bat mitzvah, Daily Advocate newspaper article 19 March 1992
Daily Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), 19 March 1992, page 2

As I searched newspapers I did find bat mitzvah notices that provide details about the honoree and her family, like this 1964 announcement listing Lindsey Jane Charlip’s grandmother.

A bat mitzvah notice, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 10 January 1964
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 10 January 1964, page 12

Celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month

Celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month by searching for your Jewish American ancestors in the pages of GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives – and, in particular, make use of GenealogyBank’s Jewish American Newspaper Archives.

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2 thoughts on “Genealogy Tip: Find Bar Mitzvah Notices in Newspapers

  1. Another amazing newspaper source are circumcision articles. I have abstracted all of the Texas newspapers for these events from the 1830s through 1910, during a time period when there were no vital records (birth/death certificates). The most important aspect of these articles is that many times these events are the only proof/documentation that these babies existed. Without birth/death certificates and many infants buried in unmarked graves, it is another tool to gain information and document these young lives. I will be glad to share a draft of this project; please let me know.

    I also serve as editor of the quarterly newsletter of the Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society, you can download the newsletters: http://ghjgs.org/newsletters/

  2. Thanks Lynna Kay for providing this information. What a great source for a time period when birth certificates are non-existent. I appreciate your comments.

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