The Israels

castillo-belmonte-2 (Also see “My Israel Family Tree” for updated information.)
First, let me say that being Jewish is something that is passed on only through the mothers of families. It’s maternal only. If your mother is Jewish, then so are you, and you are considered Jewish by other Jews, even if you are non-observant. On the other hand, if your father is 100% Jewish and your mother is a gentile, then you are not a Jew. To become Jewish in that case, you must convert to the faith like any other non-Jew (even though you have so-called “Jewish” blood).

Here is the way I see it in the case of my Great Grandmother Malissa Israel: unless somewhere along the line, one of her ancestors decided for some reason to change their surname from whatever it was to one of the primary Jewish surnames, my great-grandmother certainly had Jewish heritage (was descended from Jews). But, she was not a Jew herself unless her mother was Jewish. That I have not yet determined. I know, however, that she and my great grandfather were both Christians—that is, they went to a Christian church and practiced Christianity, as did all of their children. So, if her mother was not Jewish and she herself was a Christian, then she was a Christian whose ancestors were Jews at some point in time. I can think of two scenarios in which a distant ancestor (remember, the Israel surname can be confirmed for many generations back) might want to change his name from something else to Israel. The first is highly unlikely. The second is possible, but without proof, there is absolutely no reason to suspect that it took place.

Scenario 1: an ancestor of several hundred years ago, (named Jones or Smith, etc.) who decided he wanted to be a Jew and thus, converted and also changed his family name to Israel.

Scenario 2: an ancestor (Jones, Smith, etc.) whose father was an infamous horse thief or murderer and had brought shame to the family name. The son, wanting to disassociate himself from the besmirched family name, and being a Christian, chose a Biblical sounding name, Israel, to replace the ruined one—not realizing he had chosen a surname that is universally Jewish around the world.

So, unless Malissa’s mother was Jewish, she was not a Jew. But, her very surname itself almost guarantees she had Jewish ancestors at some time in history (the caveats being the two mentioned above).

The uniqueness of the name plus the genealogical facts so far, indicate that all of us who descended from Malissa have a bit of Jewish ancestry that most likely reaches back several centuries–possibly to Portugal and Spain (Iberian Peninsula). Personally, that fascinates me, and I want to know more—such as when those Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity. (By the way, Jewish surnames were rare up until the people began to spread out from their middle eastern origins and into eastern and middle Europe, Iberia, and other areas.)

If anyone has any verifiable information that proves otherwise, please send it to me. I’ll certainly publish any verifiable new information you find—or even good, plausible theories.

Ever since I learned that my Great Grandmother’s Malissa’s maiden name was Israel, I was curious about it’s origin. Only recently did I try to find out more. The first thing I learned was: “There are really only three surnames that are specifically Jewish in nature: variations on Cohen, Levy and Israel. These names are derived from tribal ancestry recorded by the Jewish people and recognized in synagogue with various distinctions.” ( Judaism 101)

Well that was a start. Family information, lots of online digging, and the results of research done by a genealogist, and now more digging on my part—have all contributed to what I assume is the first attempt at a family tree for Grandma Malissa. (See “My Israel Family Tree“)Star of David

Jewish ancestry in itself doesn’t say anything about when the religion of Judaism was last practiced in the family (see introduction above). In my case, I would like to know, but it’s going to be difficult to pin it down to a particular generation. Of course, the practice of “crypto-Judaism” (“secret Judaism”) necessitated by the Spanish Inquisition makes such research much more difficult.

05620_400This history of the Jewish people and their religion and culture is, of course, a fascinating and complicated one. If my research is largely correct so far, my ancestors on this side of the family originally came from Spain and Portugal, and possibly before that, from Italy (the “de Pisa” part of the name was commonly dropped in the New World). Known as “Sephardic” Jews (or the Sephardi), these people were the educated, prosperous class in the Iberian Peninsula and on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, until the Catholic church brought the “Inquisition” to Spain as a means of stealing the wealth and establishing unquestionable authority over every aspect of peoples’ public and private lives. It was the dark days of Christianity.

TRAVEL Barbados 110286So our group of Israels probably left Spain and sailed west to Barbados and Jamaica. They lived there for a while (the Barbados phone book still lists many Israels) until once again, the Catholic Church and Spanish crown caught up with them—forcing them further west to the New World. Here it gets a little muddy. They may have settle first in New York, but it could have been Virginia. At any rate, the family wound up in New York City, but soon decided to head south (once again?) to North Carolina and, finally, Kentucky.

Caribbean PirateIf you want to read a fascinating and well-documented book that covers that period of forced Jewish migration from Spain to the Americas, read the book entitled “The Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean” (Amazon and other sources).

Below is a brief, written summary of what I think is her family’s history as it now stands. Again, it isn’t yet documented beyond about 3 generations back. I’ve also included two image files of what I currently have on my account. You can click to view and save either file format. If you have any conflicting information about this branch of the Israels that you are willing to share, please contact me. Meanwhile, I will continue to update this page as I find more information. Thanks–BB.


  • When Ellen Malissa Israel was born on March 6, 1876, in or near Barbourville, Kentucky, her father, Frank, was 33 and her mother, Rebecca, was 33. Malissa eventually had 8 siblings and 6 half-siblings, the result of her father marrying three times. She married John Harvey Baker and had 6 sons and 2 daughters. She died on February 20, 1962, in Corbin, Kentucky, at the age of 85.
  • Frank Israel was born on March 1, 1843, in Kentucky, the only child of Isom and Elizabeth. He was married three times: Laura Trosper, Amanda B. Simpson, and Rebecca Campbell. He had three sons and four daughters with Rebecca Campbell between 1865 and 1879. He died on March 21, 1921, in Gray, Kentucky, at the age of 78.
  • Isom Israel was born in 1812 in Buncombe, North Carolina, the only child of Nancy Alloway Strange. He had one son with Elizabeth Higgins on March 1, 1843. He died in Knox, Kentucky.
  • Solomon Israel was born in 1773 in Albemarle, Virginia, the only child of Michael and Sarah. He had one son with Nancy Alloway Strange in 1812. He died in 1810 at the age of 37.
  • Michael Israel was born in 1738 in Hempstead, New York, the only child of Solomon and Mary. He had one son with Sarah Graves in 1773. He died in 1819 in North Carolina, having lived a long life of 81 years.
  • Solomon Israel was born in 1715 in Virginia, the only child of Solomon and Catherine. He had one son with Mary Johnston in 1738. He died in 1790 in North Carolina, having lived a long life of 75 years.
  • Solomon Israel (de Pisa) was born in 1660 in Port Royal, Jamaica, the only child of David and Sarah. He had one son with Catherine Shakerley in 1715. He died in 1734 in New York, at the age of 74.
  • David Israel (de Pisa) was born in 1620 in Farroeira, Portugal, the only child of Abraham. He had one son with Sarah in 1660. He died in May 1689 in Barbados, at the age of 69.
  • Abraham Israel (de Pisa) was born in 1600 in Portugal, the only child of his father. He had one son in 1620. He died in New York.
  • Logo_JCCM_pastAzul_11-03-08Mr. Israel (de Pisa) was born in 1575 in Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. He had one son (Abraham) in 1600. He died in Spain. (First name and date of death unknown.)