The United Kingdom is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This guide provides information on genealogy research in the UK and Ireland, since they share much common history. Except for the Historical Background section (below) and the Resources at CJH and LDS Family History Library pages, this guide provides information for each country in the UK and Ireland in separate sections.
The history of the Jews in England dates back to the Norman conquest of England in 1066, when a few Jewish financiers and their families followed William the Conqueror to England. The first written record of a Jewish settlement in England dates from 1070, although Jews may have been there since Roman times. By the mid 12th century, small colonies of Jews could be found in London, Lincoln, Winchester, York, Oxford, Norwich, and Bristol. The majority of these settlers were from Northern France, with a few from Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, and some Muslim countries. By 1130, the Jews were singled out for discriminatory taxation, and the onset of the Crusades under Richard I gave rise to widespread anti-Jewish riots and massacres. The persecutions climaxed in 1290 when Edward I banished all of England’s Jews, who then fled to France, Flanders, and Germany. As for Ireland, there was likely a Jewish community there by 1232, residing in or near Dublin. Jews in Great Britain and Ireland shared a common history until Ireland gained its independence in 1922.
There was no Jewish community after the 1290 expulsion - apart from individuals who practiced Judaism secretly - until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. While Cromwell never officially readmitted Jews to Britain, a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain. A small Sephardic group was established in Dublin, and Jews also settled in British colonies of Tangiers, New York, Bombay, Jamaica, Barbados, and other parts of the West Indies.
In 1685, Jews were guaranteed freedom of worship, and in 1698, Parliament officially recognized the practice of Judaism. In the 1700’s, Ashkenazi Jews from Amsterdam, Hamburg and other parts of Germany settled in English cities. Some Ashkenazi Jews gained prominence, such as the Rothschilds, Goldsmids, and Disraelis. The Jewish Naturalisation Act of 1753 attempted to legalize the Jewish presence in England, but it remained in force for only a few months. Historians commonly date Jewish Emancipation to either 1829 or 1858, when Jews were finally allowed to sit in Parliament, though Benjamin Disraeli, born Jewish, had been a Member of Parliament long before this. In 1846, at the insistence of Irish leader Daniel O'Connell, the British law, "De Judaismo," which prescribed a special dress for Jews, was repealed.
In the late 1890’s, anti-Semitism in Russia produced an influx of immigrants that swelled the Jewish population from 65,000 at the end of the 1800’s to 300,000 in 1914. However, Jews faced anti-Semitism and stereotyping in Britain. During and after the First World War, anti-Semitism rose as Jews were often equated with Germans. This led many Jewish families to anglicize their often German-sounding names. Nevertheless, the lack of anti-Jewish violence in Britain in the 19th century resulted in a reputation for religious tolerance and attracted significant immigration from Eastern Europe. In the 1930s and 1940s, European Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Italy fled to Great Britain to escape the Nazis.
In modern times, according to the Jewish Virtual Library (a project of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise), there are approximately 290,000 Jews living in the UK and 1,600 living in Ireland.