09 August 2008

New York: Sleuthing for roots

Psychologist Gayle Berg of Roslyn Heights (Long Island, NY) says people 45 and older have reached a stage called "generativity" which drives them to reassess their lives and to become concerned about passing on culture, values and history to the next generation, adding that younger people don't feel this "inner need" to delve into the past.

While I disagree with this - I see an increasing trend among younger people to research their families with some 30-somethings as major contributors - this Newsday story (Sleuthing for roots: Seniors explore genealogy), by Cara S. Trager, focuses on an older group of researchers.

Spotlighted, among others, are Renee Steinig, former president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island and the well-known John Martino of the Italian Genealogy Group.

The web and its myriad resources has encouraged people to connect their ancestral dots. On Long Island, it means one doesn't have to trek into the city (Manhattan) to turn endless rolls of microfilm or go overseas to search dusty archives. As Renee Steinig says in the story, today's technology means researchers can now do genealogy in their pajamas. However, researchers need to be prepared for what they find - research usually raises as many questions as it answers.

There's the story of the mission of Rosemarie Courbois, raised Catholic, who has found relatives in Scotland and Ireland, but has learned about Jewish family members from her great-grandfather's town in the former Czechoslovakia. The mother's maiden name was Schwager; they perished in the Holocaust.
Steinig, 61, began her obsession with her roots more than 30 years ago - when a cousin in Israel sent her a family tree based on her father's side of the family.

"I decided to invest in creating the equivalent for my mother's side," said the Dix Hills resident, who went professional about a decade ago with the research skills she had honed as a hobbyist. The Holocaust plays an important part in my desire to memorialize family members who perished in the camps."

Your fingers do the walking

Years ago, Steinig said, her genealogical research required her to make frequent treks into the city - to the National Archives, the Municipal Archives, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the New York Public Library. In addition, she made about a dozen journeys to Washington, D.C., to the National Archives and the Library of Congress and at least three trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, in Israel.

Attendees at the 2006 International Jewish Genealogy Conference in New York were fortunate to hear John Martino speak. Since 2000, his group's 500 members have created an online index of more than 12 million pages of military discharge, naturalization and vital records - some dating to 1848 - in New York and New Jersey.

"You still need to write or go to the repository to get the original document," said Martino, who spends at least eight hours a day hunkered over the computer in his basement, scanning and downloading indexes for Web-accessibility. "But, eight years ago, if you wrote Nassau County for a record, it would take six to eight weeks to get it. Now, with the index, which we've also given to the county, it takes a week to get the document in the mail."

The story does, of course, mention that not everything is online ... yet. There are a host of possible problems that necessitate checking original documents and materials that may never be online.

Other topics addressed are DNA, family secrets, working with professional genealogists, as well as a shortlist of some online sites.

The complete article is at the link above.


  1. Anonymous9:12 PM

    I must be missing something here. My kids from kindergarden to High School (must be we are from Roslyn Heights) are given assignments to interview their oldest relatives. Even my cousins kids from out of state had to do it for college, I know because my mother is their oldest relative so they interviewed her for their papers.
    Me personal, Since I was in High school and now that I am passed 45 have been interested in one thing - saving this planet's environment. (Not sure if coming from Glen Cove had anything to do with it)

  2. Hi, there.

    I attended NYC public schools and never had an assignment regarding family history. I had to wait until my daughter was in Hebrew School bat mitzvah year. Your children were lucky!