I was researching my family on Ancestry, and I seem to have discovered that I can trace my mother's father's line all the way from present-day to about 11th C. The earliest name I can find is Moshe the First of Treves (or Moshe of Treves the First - or Moshe Treves - depending on the record) who apparently was born in 1055 and would be my 29th Great Grandfather.

My DNA tests( both Ancestry and 23 and Me) agree that I'm 99% Ashkenazi Jewish, with the rest being Eastern European, so the fact there would be Rabbis in my tree (as the great majority of the Treveses are) is in no way surprising.

So here's where it gets confusing. First of all, it seems that there were 8 names that were recycled in different orders. Joseph ben Jochanon Treves. Jochanon ben Shmuel Treves. Shmuel Treves Ashkenazi, Shmuel ben Jochanon Ashkenazi II. The first name is real, the others are examples, as I'm not looking at my notes.)

Most of these records are notated in Hebrew, which I don't speak or read. This makes sense because ben means of or from. It would most likely be von or zum in German. So the records have been translated from German to Hebrew and then, eventually, to English. Ashkenazi is just a German identifier for Jews ( some things never change, do they?)

Often, children are listed as being born before parents, or the parent is much too old or young to have had that child. There are also documents that are not real. For example, up until very recently, German had a letter called a scharfes S. It looked like a B with a spine that was too long in both directions. I saw a letter dated 1539 that had regular S - which makes it highly suspect.

I'm trying an experiment where I keep my Ancestry profile as clean and clear as possible and say yes to every suggestion on Myheritage, and it's amazing how quickly a muddle is formed.

Some sites don't even do pre-1500's genealogy. Does anyone know of one that specializes in it? Also, there is a possibility that those of us related to Treves are related to King David as well, which would just be fascinating to learn about. One thing I do know is that I'm a descendant of Emperor Frederick the First, as he was Barbarossa (redbeard) and I am Rothbart (rotbart - redbeard.)

Can anyone help with this?

  • 3
    Hi, welcome to this site. It is not clear to me what you specifically want to know. What is your current research based on? The 10th, 11th and 12th century is even muddy waters for prominent noble families when it comes to genealogical research. Most trees dating that far back are mythology.
    – lejonet
    Oct 24, 2020 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


There are a lot of things going on in this question. I'll try to untangle a few of them.

First, the word "ben" is Hebrew for "son of" (see eg https://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/tombstones.html), not "of" or "from" as you say. For example, Joseph ben Jochanon Treves is a person named Joseph Treves whose father was Jochanon Treves. Mentioning the father's Hebrew name is extremely common historically among Ashkenazim (that's the Hebrew plural of Ashkenazi), and is used even to this day on tombstones.

Second, most Ashkenazim didn't adopt surnames until the 1700s or 1800s, when compelled to by the civil authorities in the various parts of Europe where they lived (see for instance https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Jewish_Names_Personal#Compulsory_Adoption_of_Surnames which gives dates that surnames were mandated in different places). Thus, it's likely that your first ancestor to use the name Rothbart as a hereditary surname did so in the 1800s or (less likely) the 1700s. As such, even if they chose the name Rothbart in reference to Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor (Barbarossa), a non-Jewish person from 600+ years earlier, there would almost certainly be no way for them to be sure they were descended from him. As a comment on your question suggests, this is in the realm of mythology rather than provable genealogical fact. It seems far likelier that Rothbart was taken from a personal characteristic of your ancestor who chose the name, specifically that he had a red beard. The definitive sources of information on Ashkenazic surnames (and given names) are the works of Dr. Alexander Beider (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Beider etc).

Third, descent from King David is absolutely beyond the realm of provable genealogy. You will of course find plenty of genealogies which go back to King David or even Adam and Eve, but there's no way to justify them with provable facts. See the Genealogical Proof Standard for how to conduct research that leads to sound conclusions (eg, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards/).

Fourth, rabbinic genealogy is an established sub-field of Jewish genealogy. As noted in the surname link above, Ashkenazi rabbis are an excpeption to the general rule that surnames weren't adopted until the 1700s or 1800s. Many rabbis wrote books which survive to this day, and some contain the author's genealogy. Thus, it's possible to trace (some) rabbinic lines far further back than other Ashkenazi lines. See for example JewishGen's rabbinic genealogy special interest group (https://www.jewishgen.org/rabbinic/).

Fifth, while it's true that (some) rabbinic lines are well-documented many centuries back, you still have to prove that you connect to one of those lines. A genealogical connection to famous rabbis is desirable in the same way as a genealogical connection to European royalty is desirable to non-Jewish people, and such claims should be evaluated skeptically.

To summarize, it's unprovable whether you're descended from King David; your name Rothbard very likely has nothing to do with Barbarossa and at best the connection can't be proven; and if you want to trace back to well-documented rabbinic genealogies, then make sure that all the connections from you moving backward generation by generation can be proven.

Addendum 1: The Ashkenazi custom is to name a baby after a deceased relative, typically of the same sex (and never to name after a living relative). So if Joseph ben Jochanon's father was deceased and he had a son, he might well have named the baby Jochanon. That baby would then be Jochanon ben Joseph. Yes, this kind of name repetition can be confusing. (It gets extra confusing when people pick names in another language to supplement their Hebrew names. In one case I encountered, a man and his son and grandson were all called Samuel in the United States; it turned out that the first and third generation were Zalman, and the second generation was Shlomo, but Samuel seemed to them like a good English equivalent for both.)

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