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  • The Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System

    In English, one letter can represent more than one sound, and one sound can be represented by more than one letter. Thus two names (surnames or place names) that are pronounced exactly the same can be spelled in very different ways. For that reason, Robert C. Russell developed the American Soundex System, dividing each consonant in the English language into eight categories:

    1. Sounds made with lips (b, f, p, v)
    2. Gutturals and sibilants (c, g, k, q, s, x, z)
    3. Sounds made with the tongue and teeth, or the tongue and the roof of the mouth (d, t)
    4. l, a unique sound
    5. m and n
    6. r, a unique sound

    Under the American Soundex System, many Eastern European Jewish names that sounded the same did not have the same Soundex code. The letters w and v were problematic, since they should have been interchangeable for the sake of Jewish names (like the surnames Moskovitz and Moskowitz, for instance).

    In the first issue of the AVOTAYNU genealogy newsletter, Gary Mokotoff published an article entitled, "Proposal for a Jewish Soundex Code." One major difference between this system and the American Soundex System was that in this system the first letter of a name was encoded as a number. If the first letter was a vowel, it was assigned as a zero. Double-letter combinations that essentially represented the same sound (such as tx, tz, and tc) were coded with a single number. (see Footnote Below)

    Randy Daitch, another researcher of Jewish genealogy, responded to Mokotoff's article by proposing the following additional changes:

    • Names would be encoded to six places, or six digits, rather than four. This would give the researcher fewer surnames to check.
    • Other multiple-letter combinations from Slavic and German were added.
    • For the purpose of databases, if a combination of letters could have two possible sounds, it was encoded in both ways (a hard ch versus a soft ch, for instance).

    The new system, with the contributions of Mokotoff and Daitch, became the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System. It is sometimes nicknamed the Jewish Soundex System or the Eastern European Soundex System, and it has become standard for all indexing projects conducted by Jewish genealogical organizations.

    (Footnote): Gary Mokotoff, "Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System," Appendix D, Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy,ed. Sallyann Amdur Sack and Gary Mokotoff (Bergenfield, New Jersey: Avotaynu, 2004), 591-594.

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  • Internet Resources in Jewish Genealogy: Avotaynu and JewishGen

    Avotaynu is an organization that was founded in 1985 by two eminent researchers in the field of Jewish genealogy, Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack. Avotaynu means "our fathers" or "our ancestors" in Hebrew, and the original purpose of the organization was to publish a journal on Jewish genealogical research. AVOTAYNU: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy has been published quarterly since 1985. In 1991, Avotaynu began publishing books as well. Between 1991 and 2003, Avotaynu published 26 books on Jewish genealogical research, including:

    Where Once We Walked, 1991, a gazetteer of 22,000 towns where Jews lived before the Holocaust

    How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust, 1995

    Index to The German Minority Census of 1939, microfilmed by the Family History Library, 1996

    Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy, 2000

    History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, 2000

    The Avotaynu website ( also hosts the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index at The Consolidated Jewish Surname Index has information on 500,000 different surnames from 34 different databases; it is a consortium allowing you to search multiple databases with one search. One of the best things about the database is that it employs the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System, a Soundex system designed to accommodate Jewish surnames.

    Another premiere internet resource for Jewish genealogical research is JewishGen at The website started in 1995, and in 2003 it became a division of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York ( Some of the databases on JewishGen include:

    The Family Tree of the Jewish People, a lineage-linked database listing more than 2.5 million ancestors contributed in family trees by more than 2,000 people

    Shtetl Seeker, a database of 500,000 Jewish towns in Central and Eastern Europe (the database can help you track towns even through boundary changes and name changes)

    Aufbau Survivors Lists, a database containing the names of 33,000 Holocaust survivors published in the German-language newspaper Aufbau, New York, 1944-1946

    The Yizkor Book Project, a database that preserves Yizkor books, which were written by groups of Holocaust survivors to honor and preserve the memories of their friends, family members, and neighbors who were killed during the Holocaust.

    There are also discussion groups, burial registries, and message boards hosted on this vast website.

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