Using Ottoman Records in Arab and Arab American Genealogy: Where to Start

Greetings and Marhaba! Welcome to my series on using Ottoman records in Arab and Arab American genealogy research. Installments will be added disbursed along with my other ongoing series installments and stand-alone blog posts.

First, it is important to understand the historical context when researching your family history. In the case of many Arab identified countries, the Ottoman Empire ruled the area from the 1500s through the beginning of the 20th century. If your research in the area goes back to any time before 1918, Ottoman records can contain information on the locality you are researching and even, more specifically, on your own family members. Ottoman records can be in the form of government records such as census records, civil registries, court records and vital records. They also may be in the form of tax receipts, newspapers, land records and more. Many times, these individual documents will have Ottoman stamps such as the one below.

There are many challenges in using Ottoman records in your research. The first is access. Ottoman records can be found in archives, university libraries and a limited numbers are online. Most archives containing these records are not in the United States. University libraries which contain these records are limited and usually restrict access to students or staff of that university. If you are lucky enough, you may have Ottoman records in your family possessions.

The second issue is the language. Ottoman records are primarily in Ottoman Turkish, which is Turkish in Arabic script. This form of Turkish is not a modern language and therefore to understand it completely the researcher would have to know Ottoman Turkish or both the Turkish and Arabic languages. Ottoman Turkish is close enough to the Arabic language that some documents can be understood with only the knowledge of Arabic.

The third issue to address is the calculation of dates. There are four calendars that must be addressed when looking at Ottoman records – the Julian Calendar, the Gregorian Calendar, the Rumi Calendar, and the Hijri Calendar. It is important to note which calendar is being used in a document to assess an accurate date. Although these issues may seem daunting, they can be overcome. In the next installation of this series, we will use an example of one type of Ottoman records available on the genealogy site

Published by Reem Awad-Rashmawi

Photographs & Memories by Reem

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