Most people think of Florida as the home of retirees, of snowbirds who spend the warm sunny winters in their escape from cold weather and as the center of Cuban life in the US.
Jewish genealogists, however, know that Florida can be a potential goldmine when looking for family connections.
I learned early on that if you couldn't find relatives in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago or other cold climes - where you knew they had settled - it was worth checking out Miami Beach, Hollywood or Fort Lauderdale, including the cemeteries.
You might be surprised to learn that Converso Jews were among the early settlers of St. Augustine in the 1500s, that Sephardic Jews from New Orleans settled in Pensacola in the 1770s, and that a Key West synagogue was founded in 1887.
Other Florida factoids also refer to the first-ever Jewish US senator, the Civil War (both sides) and a "kibbutz" in the Everglades. There is a rich Jewish history here that predates its later persona as a retirement mecca for members of the tribe who previously lived in large cities in the East, Midwest and Canada's eastern provinces.
The Jewish Museum of Florida, in Miami Beach, is compiling a database of all Florida Jews, past and present. The project will aid genealogy researchers to find family data and possible links to living descendants.
Data may be submitted online. Access the Database Entry Form here. There is room to list a person's community involvement and whether there are family artifacts, photographs and other relevant items available.
Searching the database is through a terminal in the Museum, which is located at 301 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach.
The museum also offers a Florida Jewish Timeline, beginning in the 1500s as Converso Jews may have been among the early settlers of St. Augustine.
--New Orleans residents Joseph D. PALACIOS, Alexander SOLOMONS and Samuel ISRAEL are the first Jews to settle in Pensacola in 1763.
--1769, Isaac MONSANTO is expelled from New Orleans and comes to Pensacola.
--1820, Moses Elias LEVY begins to purchase 100,000 acres in present-day counties of St. Johns, Volusia and Alachua. Two years later, he builds Pilgrimage Plantation, a refuge for Jews, that exists until 1835. He publishes a plan to end slavery and was Florida's first education commissioner.
--1821, Samuel MYERS settles in Pensacola. In 1822, Samuel and Louisa's child, Virginia, is the first known Jewish child born in Florida.
--1836, West Point graduate Abraham C. MYERS is Army Quartermaster during the Seminole Indian Wars (1835-1842); Ft. Myers is named for him.
--1837, Raphael Jacob MOSES opens a Tallahassee store; later becomes a lawyer.
--In 1841, David Levy YULEE helps write the state's constitution, is the first Florida US senator when it is admitted (1845) to the union as the 27th state, is the first Jew serving in the US Senate (1845-1851, 1855-1861), organizes the Florida Railroad Company (1853).
--1850, Phillip P. DZIALYNSKI arrives in Jacksonville, and is the longest-known continuing Jewish family in the state.
--1857, The first Jewish cemetery was established in Jacksonville, the same year that the first Jewish boy, George DZIALYNSKI, is born.
--1865, Jews from Florida serve on both sides in the Civil War. Judah P. BENJAMIN (Louisiana) is Confederate attorney general, secretary of state and secretary of war.
--The first state synagogue is Temple Beth El of Pensacola (1876), and the first Jewish mayor is Henry BRASH of Marianna, the first of more than 170 Jewish mayors in the state.
--1880s, cousins Morris DZIALYNSKI (Jacksonville) and Herman GLOGOWSKI (Tampa) are mayors of those cities.
--1882, The Okeechobee Land and Development Company adopts a plan to save Jews in Russia, and starts an agricultural colony above the Everglades. Temple Ahavath Chesed (Jacksonville) is founded.
--1887, Congregation B’nai Zion (Key West) founded; Morris ZION is president.
--1890, Dr. Louis OPPENHEIMER establishes the local school system (Bartow).
--1892, Jews settle in West Palm Beach.
--1895, Key West Jews raise funds for Cuban revolutionaries fighting for independence from Spain.
--1896, The first permanent Jewish settlers arrive in the Miami area.
There's much more here.
Thanks for this tip to good friend Bernard Israelite Kouchel of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Broward County, (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), who is also a researcher at the museum.