Sally Bruckheimer of Princeton, NJ, got into genealogy "because everywhere we went - when I was a kid - I bumped into cousins."
"My mother never bothered to remember how they were related to us, but we had a lot of cousins in town (Buffalo, NY) as my great grandfather, several sisters and brothers and a cousin all came there."
One day, Sally finally convinced her mother to sit down and think, obtaining the rudiments of a Ruslander tree, although with many errors. "We had a reunion and straightened a lot of it out," she adds.
She does have an advantage, as she worked in basic medical research for many years, and knows how research is done.
Her Sephardic ancestors (CAPADOCE, LOPES DE LEAO LAGUNA, PALACHE and others) lived in Western Europe. She notes that much of the information on this side of Jewish genealogy points to the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Europe.
A check of Amsterdam's Sephardic records is essential as many Western European Sephardim married there. Many who lived in Hamburg, Bordeaux, Bayonne, Cleves, Pesaro, Curacao, Bracil and other places married there, as well as Converso families leaving Spain and Portugal.
The records date to 1600, and include civil marriages, deaths and synagogue records. Languages include Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. There are tombstones, mohel (circumcision) records and ketubot (marriage records).
The LDS have filmed these records (all LDS film numbers are searchable at FamilySearch.com). The marriage records and index: Ketuboth (1792-1803) Ketuboth (bijzondere) (1710-1819) Ketuboth index (1673-1920) are on film 899929. The Vaz Dias Collectie films are 899933 and 899934.
Sally's great-grandfather arrived in the US from London in the 1860s, but she didn't expect to find him there. The Bevis Marks (Spanish Portuguese Congregation) records note two daughters of Moses (deceased) Lopes de Leao Laguna who married in the 1860s; one married a Vaz Nunes da Costa. Eventually she got Moses' death certificate and one for Rachel, but nothing else.
However, when she learned about the Amsterdam marriage index and checked the film, she found that Moses married Rachel in 5599 (Hebrew year), and the records listed the fathers' names: Moses de Jacob marrying Rachel de Isaac. Sally checked back two or three decades, and found their parents ... and their parents ... and their parents.
Because of naming patterns (children named after grandparents, generally living), she ordered records from Amsterdam and they are all connected today.
Sally notes that siblings changed their surnames to distinguish themselves as three sons of Moses would each name their first son Moses, and there might be several Moses Lopes de Leao Lagunas. However, each, according to Iberian custom, also adds the wife's name to the children's names. Thus the son of a Vaz Nunes da Costa marries a de la Penha, but their son is named Moses Vaz Nunes da Costa de la Penha.
Another complication, adds Sally, is that as an international trade center, the Jews did business with Spain, Portugal and the colonies. With the Inquisition still active, the Jewish traders (previously Catholic) used aliases.
But never fear: the alias were registered in the Amsterdam notarial records and Jewish-related entries are in the Vaz Dias Collection (filmed by the LDS). Sally gives the example of Joseph da Costa AKA Joao Peres da Cunha, who came from Brazil to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1655. He's in the Amsterdam records.
If you have Sephardic ancestors born in Western Europe in the 17th-19th centuries, check for the names in the Amsterdam records.