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27 October 2016

The Early Jewish People of Oregon

The very first Jews to arrive in the Oregon Territory, Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May, arrived in 1849, 10 years before Oregon became a state. Both men were German born Ashkenazic Jews who being merchants opened a general Store in the city of Portland. The timing of these men was perfect, as over the next few years many mining camps developed along Jackson's Creek, as miners made their way from San Francisco in search of the gold which had been discovered.
While the gold first brought miners to Oregon, they were quickly followed by Jewish merchants who established stores supplying mining equipment, food and all dry goods to the people. These merchants were able to take advantage of family connections and brought all types of materials into their stores. They also expanded their base of influence and sent other members of the community into other cities of Oregon. Places such as Albany, Eugene and The Dalles soon had Jewish communities established by these new merchants.
These first German born Jews were quickly followed by Jews from Russia, Turkey and the Isle of Rhodes. However, the greater amount of new immigrants came from the Russian empire in the 1890's. They made their homes in Portland, where the community already was established with the things they needed such as synagogues and Kosher food. The Sephardic Jews established their own synagogue in Portland in 1910 and it still exists today. The last big wave of immigrants into Oregon did not happen until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980's. Today, the Jewish community is established statewide with congregations in well over 30 different cities. The Jewish Population of Oregon is today somewhere over 40,000 people.
Recently, FamilySearch has added a new database which could help people search for their ancestors who were in Oregon. The collection, Oregon Deaths, 1877-1952 includes over 114,000 images containing the vital records of much of the early Jewish community. As I usually do, I performed a basic search using the surname Cohen. The results that came back showed 227 entries contained in the records. Below, is the death certificate I found by doing a search for Ruben Cohen who I knew died in 1942. It is a very standard certificate and I was also able to find the name of his father (Dave) and spouse (Sophia).

While the death certificate is exactly what we would expect to find, the collection also has a few surprises. In the search of the surname Cohen, the record of Fred Cohen was included, however not with a death date, only a birth date. That would not be the way one would usually find someone on a death index. Following the link to his name, I found that the record for him was not a death certificate, but was a Registration of Birth for him. The record (shown below) is dated 23 Jul 1946 and appears to be the record of Fred Cohen having his birth recorded almost 55 years after his birth.

The beautiful thing about this record for a genealogist is how he has documented the important information about his parents. We now know his father was George Cohen, born in Posen on 18 Feb 1840, and his mother was Mary Lewis, who was born in Abursuitz, Germany on 17 May 1854. This is wonderful information and just reinforces that no matter how much the index provides it is always a great idea to look at the original record.

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