04 August 2009

Philly 2009: Jewish collections, Jewish names

Ancestry.com's Crista Cowan specializes in Jewish research and presented a Monday session on the two new collections - or at least that's what the crowd in the room thought it would be.

We expected a detailed overview of the American Jewish History Society's components and of the resources on the Routes to Roots Foundation. Instead, the session was a demo of how the company's Mike Daniels did some family research.

While interesting, it was certainly a beginner-level program, and did not give Tracing the Tribe, at least, what we wanted to hear.

Crista is always enthusiastic and began by asking some questions in informal polls:

Attendees' level of experience, rated from 1-10, from beginner to professional. Through a show of hands, there were many new to genealogy, a very large chunk of intermediate and a smaller number of experienced researchers.

In answer to the computer skills level, again from 1-10, there were much higher numbers of computer-savvy attendees.

For access to the Jewish collections, site visitors should click here. Use the QuickLink at the top of that page to mark it for future reference.

Again, while Crista's program was very good in what it did provide, it wasn't what one would expect of a session with that title, and only touched rather tangentially on the two new announced collections.

While Daniels' demo was interesting to beginners, and accessed such resources as the Given Names Database, the Surname Database, it focused to a large extent on census and immigration databases, not the new collections.

A strong suggestion would be that Ancestry staffers who provide programs to Jewish genealogists learn how to pronounce Jewish names. Throughout the session, Crista referred throughout to the very common Jewish woman's name Beila (properly vocalized as Bey-lah) as the unrecognizable Bi-eh-la. It took people quite some time to understand to what name she was referring.

Also when trying to provide resources for researchers to understand what the common Americanized Jewish name Morris might have actually been in various immigration records, she did seem to know that in 99.9999999% of cases, Morris was the Americanization of Moshe, Moises, Moishe, etc.

Most Jewish genealogists, even beginners, know that the name Daniels which would be classified as a name form adopted after immigration, likely indicates an original name such as Danielovich, Danielowitz or Danielovitz or something similar. Again, that was glossed over.

Tracing the Tribe believes that presenters to Jewish genealogists need to know the basics of how to say common names and what those names might have been originally.

Warren Blatt's always-popular Jewish Names presentation should be required attendance for Ancestry staff members.

In fact, I met up later Monday with Todd Knowles of FamilySearch, who had just attended Warren's presentation. He was going to recommend that Warren present it to FamilySearch staffers for just that reason - to gain familiarity with common Jewish names found in many record groups.

As Todd and I were discussing this, Warren walked by. I introduced him to Todd and told him what we had been talking about; he agreed to do just that.

Connections are made every day at this conference!


  1. wish i was there!

  2. Anonymous6:10 PM

    A woman named "Crista" doesn't know much about Jewish names? Gee, color me surprised.

  3. Anonymous7:23 PM

    But all my Morris's are Mordkhel variants....

  4. Anonymous9:31 PM

    And I bet that all the names mentioned in the speech by Christa were already baptized by some "relative"

  5. Okay Okay ... Moshe AND Mordechai (and variants) are likely the original name of many Morris namebearers. :-)


  6. Last minute I was unable to attend the conference, so obviously was not at this actual presentation. However, reading the blog, and the following comments, a couple things bother me. Perhaps some fault lies with organizers of the conference for not better screening the details of the presentations. We should not assume that because someone has a name like "Crista" that we should not be surprised she does not know jewish names. In this case that may be correct, but lets drop stereotyping people by names or looks or ethnicity. I am not an LDS member, but do known certainly that direct ancestors in my lineage have been ceremoniously baptized long after their death. I am not bothered by this as it is not part of my belief system, but if it is an important part of someone else's then so what. If we do not believe in the effects of this practice, and it does no harm to anyone, why sling derogatory remarks at those to whom it is important. In the 21st century, should we not be above these fears, insecurities, and ignorance and move to a better understanding of each other...OK, overall this blog was very good information, though.

  7. Anonymous11:43 AM

    I totally agree about program topics staying on topic, but many presenters give talks to diverse groups and can't take a crash course in the pronunciation of various ethnic names. Is saying "Bee-eh-la" instead of Bey-la such a big deal?

    IMO, it's up to the conference administrators to not only get speakers and come up with topics, but to clearly state what they want to see in the program and to make sure the topic is what it claims to be.