31 October 2006

Who are we really?

While attending a junior high school music camp at the University of Masschusetts, I discovered the campus bookstore's Judaica section. While the other campers were doing more age-appropriate activities - whatever those were back then - I was looking at the books.

While others wrote home for spending money for pizza and the movies, mine was spent on books. The first "real" book I bought that summer was Cecil Roth’s “The History of the Marranos.” The stories of those who are still “hiding out” centuries after the Inquisition continues to absorb me.

Whether they were caught up in the Spanish Inquisition, or became the Jadid-al-Islam after an 1832 forced conversion in Mashad, Iran, their stories continue to pull at our collective heartstrings.

Although the Mashadis returned openly to Judaism as soon as they could, we still hear about emerging conversos in the American Southwest, South America, Spain and elsewhere. Sephardic discussion groups are full of people from around the world asking about their names, strange family traditions and, ultimately, their connection to Judaism.

Think about it: If you and your family had been caught up in similar circumstances, could you have held on in secret, transmitting traditions and keeping your beliefs alive for hundreds of years?

I am indebted to Barbara Taverna who posted information about an interesting article on the Anousim list, which is for “descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (or any Jews worldwide) who were forced to convert in the 15th century.”

Written in April 2006, the article “Los Judios Nuevos: The Plight of the Anusim,” is by Juan Mejia, resident rabbi of Temple Emanuel in the Bronx, New York. Born in Bogota, Colombia, he is studying in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical program.

Writes Mejia:

My own grandfather remembered very vividly how twice a day the men in the family, wealthy land-owners in northwestern Colombia, would "put towels on their heads and read from strange books that they never showed to anyone." He would later confirm his suspicions that the family was not just peculiar but also Jewish.

These stories are only a sample of the vast trove of oral traditions in several regions of Latin America that attest to the Jewish origins of some of its inhabitants. I have collected them throughout my years of sharing with other descendants of the anusim and investigating their history.

Click here for the complete article in the Be’chol Lashon newsletter of the non-profit Institute for Jewish and Community Research, headed by Dr. Gary Tobin of San Francisco. For additional interesting articles, click here.

Mejia’s article originally appeared in PresenTense: Jewish Life Here and Now, a print and online magazine, which also offers articles of interest.

29 October 2006

Do you have a mystery to solve?

A while ago, I mentioned Ancestors in the Attic, a Canadian show on History Television (History Channel elsewhere). Here’s an interview with its host, Jeff Douglas.

“All the stories are so great, you don’t want to leave stuff at the side of the road -- you don’t want to leave stuff on the editing room floor,” says Douglas in the interview. “The second thing is just the sort of inherent struggle to take genealogy and make it visual.”

Canadian readers who have genealogy challenges they'd like the show to solve can post them here.

A scary group in the Census

While Halloween isn’t on the Jewish calendar, here’s a light-hearted look at what can be found in the US and UK Census collections, courtesy of Ancestry.com’s 24/7 Family History Circle.

Among the interesting folk they discovered are Frank and Fannie Frankenstein, Jacob Monster, as well as the Vampire, Devil, Pumpkin, Goblin and Ghoul families. Read the rest here.

Come Purim, I think I’ll check the censuses see if more of our favorites are lurking.

Tel Aviv: Rich resources

There’s an interesting building on the Tel Aviv University campus called the Museum of the Diaspora, or Beth Hatefutsoth in Hebrew.

Today, its focus is shifting from the Diaspora Jewish communities to a broader scope that sees all Jews, no matter where they live, as one people.

Although it opened in 1978, the behind-the-scenes holdings are not well known, even in Israel. However, the museum holds a wealth of material for genealogists.

While most visitors go there to see the permanent exhibits, the synagogue models from around the world, and the temporary art and country-focused exhibits, there are also remarkable archives for family history researchers.

For more information on the hidden treasures in music, film, photographs, and of course, in the genealogy center, click here for the new story I wrote for the Jerusalem Post’s Metro weekly.

28 October 2006

Yo ho ho ... Oy! - Update

Following our posting on Swashbuckling Sephardic Pirates (check the Tracing the Tribe’s archives), here’s another on a more entertaining tack: Singing Yiddish Pirates.

If you were at this August’s International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, you surely enjoyed the very entertaining Zalmen Mlotek, executive director of the Folksbiene Theater in New York City, performing old Yiddish theater favorites.

If you liked that, you’ll love this one – wish I could be there -- the Yiddish version of “The Pirates of Penzance” or Di Yam Gazlonim. And - you shouldn’t worry - it will be subtitled in English and Russian!

Mlotek is the musical director of this National Yiddish Theater production. This is the first full Yiddish production in the 127-year history of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

It runs from October 29-November 12 in Manhattan, so those in the New York area should run to see it.

For the story of how it this came about, or to find out about tickets, click here.

Frequent reader Rita Tzohar in Rehovot, Israel, informs me that the above link now goes to the archives (pay for access), but that you can click here to read the NYT story and for tickets.

The Sound of Music

No, not the von Trapp family. This time, it’s the Kalter family.

When Logan Kleinwaks amassed information on some 3,200 Kalter family members, some of the clues led him to David Verbeeck, whose musical based on the Kalter family, “Portrait of a Silent Spring,” is having its New York premiere this weekend.

Kleinwaks and Verbeeck realized that the play's main character, Moses Kalter, is their common ancestor; Kleinwaks is related through his mother’s family.

Some 60 Kalter relatives will be in the audience for “Portrait of a Silent Spring.”

The curtain rises and through the lifting darkness we hear Moses Kalter (David Verbeeck) reading from his love letter to his wife Chaja: “Sometimes we must return to yesterday to explain today.”

This is true not just for Moses but for the entire Kalter family, and specifically two men, from different parts of the world, whose love of family brought them together this weekend for an extraordinary event.

Read the rest of the story here

27 October 2006

Making music

Family history clues are all around us, sometimes in improbable places.

While the Jewish community in the UK is now celebrating the 350th year of their return after expulsion, historians know that not only did some Jews never leave, but others were quietly welcomed in.

The Forward published an interesting article by composer Raphael Mostel about Jewish musicians in England during the exile. Shakespearean scholar Roger Prior has uncovered the Tudor Court’s secret Jews – the majority of court musicians. Henry VIII, he says, imported Jewish musicians from Venice to improve the royal music.

Some musicians’ names indicate Jewish connections:

    • John Anthony was posthumously identified as Anthonius Moyses.
    • Ambrose of Milan was also called Ambrose Lupo and founded a
      musical dynasty; one record calls him Ambrosius deolmaleyex, which Prior deciphers as a phonetic spelling of de Almaliach or Elmalah, a known post-expulsion Sephardic family.

Other tidbits: Famed violinmaker Amati was of Jewish descent. Shakespeare’s sonnets refer to a “Dark Lady,” whom Prior believes is Emilia Bassano, the daughter of one of the musicians – a poet who published her work in Elizabethan England.

For more, click here.

26 October 2006

From the U.K. to the world

Genealogists around the world should be delighted to learn of a new resource, AncestorsOnBoard.com.

Some 30 million passengers - among them immigrant Jewish relatives of mine - sailed from various U.K. ports, such as Southampton, Liverpool and others, on their way to America, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America and Asia.

Many of our ancestors arrived in the U.K. in transit from Eastern Europe and later took passage to their final destinations.

Previously, the only way to see these documents was to hire a researcher or take a trip to the U.K.’s National Records office at Kew (in London) and look for yourself. This record group - BT27 Outward Passenger Lists - has never been available online or on microfilm.

The records are being scanned and transcribed, says the AncestorsOnBoard Web site, by experienced teams. Manifest images will be available to download, view, save and print. When digitization and transcription is complete, family history researchers around the world will have a valuable resource.

The Web site indicates that the lists cover long-distance voyages made from all British ports from 1890-1960 and, according to researchers who have used the English records, they are more detailed than the New York records.

The site says some passengers in the 1890s-1900s are listed as going to an inland destination such as Chicago or Detroit, indicating that these passengers had purchased all-inclusive tickets covering both sea and rail. Indeed, in examples online, 1890 passengers to Montreal are shown going to Spokane, Washington and Calgary, Alberta via the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Web site is commercial, but no fee information is listed yet. Stay tuned.

I can’t wait to look for my great-grandfather!

The man who never sleeps - update

Does Steve Lasky of the Museum of Family History ever sleep?

Warszawa List Update

I recently posted about his list of 16,000 immigrants from Warszawa from the Ellis Island Database. Today, he's announced that the total is now 46,000.

If you couldn’t find information before, try again here, and for the complete Warszawa collection index page, click here.

Lower East Side Synagogues

Steve recently went to New York City's Lower East Side and photographed the synagogues that are still standing. The Greek Romaniote synagogue of Ionnina (Janina) has been renovated and the Eldridge Street site is now being renovated.

Steve has created a Web page featuring six of the remaining synagogues along with such details as the year they were built, the address and short histories. He’s planning to add to this feature in the future.

Tony Robins reminds me that another page on Lasky's site lists Manhattan synagogues that existed during 1910-1915.

And for the Bronx

Joy Rich reminds me that there is also online information about Bronx synagogues. She's editor of Dorot, the journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York, and this past summer's issue carried an article about Dr. Seymour Perlin, the man behind the Bronx project.

The Canadian connection

How many of us have spent countless hours attempting to find relatives who immigrated from the Old Country to Canada, either to stay or as a stopping point on the way to the United States?

I’ve spent years attempting to find the record of my great-grandfather’s entry into Canada to visit relatives before his journey onward to New York City. I have not yet been able to find him or the elusive relatives he went to visit.

However, there are new sources from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) that might help, and if you find the information you’ve been seeking for so long, please let Tracing the Tribe know about it.

Click here for the Passenger List index (1865-1935).

Details include name, age, country of origin, occupation and destination of each passenger, and are organized by port and arrival date. Search lists for the ports of Quebec (1865-1921); Halifax (1881-1912, soon to 1922); Saint John (1900-1912); North Sydney (1906-1908); Vancouver (1905-1912); and Victoria (1905-1912 shortly).

Click here for The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers Collection, which contains some 11,400 files created from 1898-1922 by Canadian consular offices of the Tsarist Russian Empire. They include files - such as passport applications and questionnaires - on Jewish, Ukrainian and Finnish immigrants who came to Canada from the Russian Empire. Half of this data is available now, with the rest to be added.

For more information, contact Project Manager Angele Alain, webservices@lac-bac.gc.ca.

24 October 2006

Looking at Lodz

If your family has ties to Lodz, Poland, you should check out what’s available through Jewish Records Indexing-Poland.

Roni Seibl Liebowitz of New York is the Lodz Archive coordinator for the JRI-Poland/Polish State Archives Project.

In 1997, JRI-Poland entered into an agreement with the Polish State Archives to index Jewish vital records not microfilmed by the Mormons (LDS). Each year, the Lodz USC (Urzad Stanu Cywilnego - civil registration office) transfers eligible (i.e. 100-year-old) registers to the Lodz branch of the Polish State Archives. These records then become available to JRI-Poland for indexing.

  • 1826-1877: Birth, marriage and death records were indexed by volunteers from the records microfilmed by the Mormons.
  • 1878-1898: The first Lodz PSA project; these results have been online for years.
  • 1899-1905: The project to index 43,501 birth, marriage and death records began in 2001. These were computerized by the JRI-Poland team in Warsaw, and the 1899-1901 indices have been added to the online searchable JRI-Poland database.
  • 1902-1905: The indices are completed, says Liebowitz, but cannot added to the online database until funding is complete.

Liebowitz says this new data will enable researchers to expand the time period of research "from our grandparents and their siblings to when many of our parents, aunts and uncles were born in Lodz." There are 26,735 birth, marriage and death records in these four years, offering many opportunities for success in researching Lodz families.

To see if your names of interest are found in the new 1899-1905 data, click here.

The project to index the records of 1906 and later will be announced after the new data funding is completed. To see the current project’s status, click here, go to "Lodz (Phase 2)" in the drop-down menu.

Deep in the heart of Texas

I'm hunting down Texas Jewish resources in anticipation of my first trip to Texas, for the Houston-based Family Tree DNA conference.

The Texas Jewish Historical Society, in Austin, offers interesting resources, including virtual reconstructions of small-town Texas synagogues and a series of related articles by architect Robert P. Davis.

According to the American Jewish Yearbooks 1910-1928, writes Davis, some 40 Texas towns had at least one synagogue. Three generations down the line, that number is greatly diminished. The Texas Jewish Historical Society underwrote this project to preserve something of these vanishing synagogues and their communities.

Davis’ essays cover memory, synagogue design before and after WWII, a history of Texas Jews, a history of Jewish business in Texas, assimilation and migration.

The virtual restoration project uses CAD (computer-aided design) to recreate the buildings.

Two years ago, at Beth Hatefutsoth in Tel Aviv, a similar project recreated German synagogues destroyed during WWII. The popular exhibit was created by non-Jewish students, historians and technology professionals in Germany.

The Texas project's virtual restorations have three stages. The first is historical research to develop a documented description of the building. A three-dimensional solid model is constructed, and then digitized. Finally, audio tours recorded by former residents are added to the models, photographs and animations.

The recreated synagogues are in Abilene, Amarillo, Baytown, Breckenridge, Brenham, Brownsville, Bryan, Corsicana, Galveston, Jefferson, Kilgore, Laredo, Longview, Lubbock, Marshall, Midland-Odessa, Port Arthur, San Angelo, Schulenberg, Sherman, Texarkana, Tyler, Victoria, Wharton and Wichita Falls.

Several pages show photos of plaques listing the leading local families, and Wharton’s page even shows the synagogue’s huge BBQ pit.

On the left of the homepage, click on Synagogue Map and float your mouse over the counties to see links to families, synagogues and more. Under Links, view an interesting assortment of books on the Jewish presence in the West, as well as links to the region’s Jewish genealogical societies.

Deeper in the heart of Texas

Genealogical societies are always good sources for local information, and the Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society has some great ideas if you're looking for Texas family.

Since 2001, JGS volunteers have been transcribing life-cycle events from the microfilms of Houston's Jewish Herald-Voice. The first phase of the project resulted in a life-cycle index from the newspapaper's founding in 1908 through 1979.

Existing microfilms have been digitized onto CDs and the remaining film has been purchased. JGS members, working at home, are now working on transcribing the years from 1980 to the present. The society anticipates the index will be current by the end of 2006.

The searchable online index, 1908-1979 is on JewishGen.

There are two databases, individual and couples.

Examples of individual events would be births, death, unveilings, brit, bar/bat mitzvahs, birthdays, etc. Currently, there are 26,232 events listed.

The couples events include engagements, marriages, and anniversaries. Currently, there are 12,454 events.

Copies of the articles themselves are available through the JGSGH.

22 October 2006

A remarkable reunion via Yad Vashem

After a long absence, I am again writing for the Jerusalem Post on genealogy and related subjects.

My first new story for them recounts a remarkable reunion of two Holocaust-survivor cousins, and the researcher who used Yad Vashem's database and the Bezeq online phone book to make it possible.

The cousins last saw each other 58 years ago in Lodz, Poland.

As the Israeli researcher (formerly from London) who facilitated the reunion says, "Never give up hope. Someone may be just around the corner."

Never give up hope of finding family

Renee Steinig of New York saw the story and wrote to me about her own experience with the Yad Vashem database:

In December 2001, when the database was first available at Yad Vashem, I also connected first cousins in my son-in-law's family.

Fortunately, Beverly ignored her children's warning about the Intifada: the feisty then 75-year-old from Texas got on a plane to see her cousin, also 75, in Jerusalem.

Said Beverly at the time, "We're two old ladies. If I have to wait for peace, we'll never see one another."

In fact, her cousin Miryam died a few years later. There is so little time, so the publicity you provided is all the more precious.

Thank you, Renee.

21 October 2006

RESOURCE: Gold Rush Jews

The California Gold Rush lured many Jewish immigrants to a new life. Now there’s an easy way to see if your ancestors were among them.

This site contains passenger lists for ships and wagon trains traveling to California from 1848-1873. The lists come from microfilm of the New York Daily Times, the New York Herald, the New Orleans Picayune, the Panama Star, the Panama Herald, and the Boston Daily Evening Transcript.

A linked database, The Maritime Heritage Project, offers a search engine for more than 30,000 ships, captains and passengers.

Announcements of ship arrivals provide a glimpse into life in the burgeoning city of San Francisco. A quick search for some common Jewish names among passengers arriving in San Francisco produced these results among many others:

July 6, 1850, SS Panama from Panama: J. A. Cohen, A. Jacobs, J. Levin, J. Levy.

Aug. 15, 1850, SS Northerner from Panama: M. Cohen, Nathan Cohen, Mrs. Jacoby, J. Levi, Charles Levy, Nathan Shalissel.

April 3, 1851 Steamship Oregon from Panama: J. Abrams, Miss Adler, Mr. Adler, H. Berliner, M. Cohen, a possible Nusbaum, M. Raphelsky, E. Wolfe, M. Wolfe.

In addition to passenger lists, the newspaper accounts also include other interesting details. For example, a Sept. 7, 1853 article noted that a San Francisco store called Brown & Keyes had "received a rich and extensive assortment of gents clothing and furnishing goods of latest styles and papers in vogue from the New York market," including frock coats, dress coats, business suits, business black doeskin pants, fancy French cassimere pants; buff cassimere vests, white and buff Marseilles vests, white and buff gauntlets.

For more West Coast shipping information or research requests, contact The J. Porter Shaw San Francisco Maritime Library.

20 October 2006

Kurzweil to speak in Kansas City

The first genealogy book I ever read was Arthur Kurzweil's From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History.

His book set me on the discovery road I’ve been following since 1989.

It was from Kurzweil that I learned that it was possible to trace my family, that all the discouraging stories I had heard about the impossibilities were myths, and that the earliest Jews in some Polish towns, according to archival records, were post-Expulsion Sephardic refugees.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, make sure you attend.

This time, readers in Kansas City are the lucky ones.

Kurzweil will be the featured speaker at Congregation Beth Israel Abraham & Voliner’s program, “Jewish Genealogy as a Spirited Pilgrimage,” on Oct. 27-28.

Click here for the complete story from the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle.

Putting history on the (searchable) map

Want to see where your immigrant relatives lived when they arrived in America? Or where their businesses were located?

In Westbrook, Maine, Historic Map Works is betting on the past by scanning historic maps into what its president and founder Charles Carpenter claims is the world’s first database of address-searchable maps from the United States in the 19th and early 20th century.

Carpenter owns some 30,000 antique maps of American cities and towns, and recently bought an atlas company – so now he has more than 100,000 maps. According to this article, Carpenter has the second largest number of county atlases; first place goes to the U.S. Library of Congress.

More than 35,000 maps, searchable by address, can be viewed on the Historic Map Works site and copies can be purchased. Access is free for now but a subscription fee will be required as of January 2007.

I did a quick search and found several maps for Springfield, Massachusetts, where my relative Max Tollin (Mendl Talalay) arrived in 1898. One map was for 1899 and I was able to pinpoint his street.

Maps generally have street indexes indicating which plate to click on, as well as topographic maps for parks and other geographic features.

Some city directories are also searchable on the site, such as 1871 Boston, and more may eventually be available.

Boston: Genealogy and Yiddish programs

If you live in the Boston area, there are some great programs coming up!

Encourage your own congregations to present similar programs with the cooperation of local Jewish genealogical societies. To see a list of societies worldwide, visit the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

Congregation B’nai Torah in Sudbury is offering a program series open to the community.

Oct. 29: "Finding Jewish Memories: Genealogy Basics and Resources" will teach the basics of tracing attendees’ family trees; with Jay and Daphna Sage, past presidents of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston

Dec. 10: "Preserving Jewish Memories with Your Family's Legacy" will discuss how to interview family members and incorporate interviews, old photos and music to create a family history video or DVD; with Hal Slifer, Hal Slifer Video Productions.

Feb. 11: "Collecting and Connoisseurship of Jewish Memories" will address the fine points of collecting Judaica (Jewish art and antiques), and provide no-charge appraisals of up to two items per person; with Kerry Shrives, director of Judaica, Skinner, Inc.

To register or for more information, click here.

At the Brookline Main Library, Jay and Daphna Sage will offer a free program, “Introduction to Jewish Genealogy,” at on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. They will describe the joys of discovering relatives, debunk common myths, and show how easy it is to begin research.

This program is in conjunction with the library's exhibit, “Discovering Your Jewish Roots,” on view through November 1, sponsored by the JGS of Greater Boston, which includes original documents the society has collected (ship manifests and passports; European and American birth, marriage and death records from Europe and the U.S.; census records, maps and photographs).

Also in Brookline, the Workmen’s Circle is offering “Deciphering Yiddish Handwriting,” with Dovid Braun, on the evenings of Dec. 4 and 11.

This is a valuable class for researchers who come across letters and photographs in Yiddish. Students are encouraged to bring in perplexing handwriting samples.

Braun has years of experience working with Yiddish manuscripts and family letters, and has taught Yiddish at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Hebrew University, Gratz College, YIVO summer programs and the Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw).

For more, email The Workmen's Circle or go to Yugntruf.

San Francisco: Jewish history

Interested in Jewish aspects of the City by the Bay?

Were your ancestors among its earliest inhabitants? While many of the city’s early Jewish residents landed on the East Coast and made their way west, ships brought others into San Francisco from Asian ports.

Here’s an interesting article on a new book, Jewish San Francisco and an interview with its author, retired Rabbi Edward Zerin, 86.

The book covers the community’s history in 200 black and white pictures, the earliest from 1848. Zerin scoured local archives, borrowed photos from private collections and travelled to Colorado to find others.

Zerin will sign copies of his book at the Jewish BookFest at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5.

Jewish San Francisco, by Edward Zerin (128 pages, Arcadia Publishing, $19.99).

18 October 2006

An Italian question

Hepzibah asks:

Our family name is Cologna from the Veneto section of Italy.
We surmised that our ancestors came from Cologne, Germany sometime in the Middle Ages. We are Catholic, but my first clue that we may have been Conversos was when I happened upon Abraham de Cologna - the Italian representative to Napolean's court.

Also, on the JewishGen website, Cologna is listed as a Jewish name. No one else in my family is interested in pursuing this line - but if you have any additional information on Italian Jews with the name Cologna, I would be very interested.

Hi, Hepzibah.

Jewish family names may be classified in several categories: occupations, geographical origin, characteristics, names of animals or plants, religious terms and the like.

Sephardic families used distinctive surnames as early as the year 1000 as documented in Spanish archival materials. I have personally seen an actual document dated 1204.

As Jewish families moved from community to community – sometimes forced, sometimes voluntarily – their names also changed. Sometimes, they merely translated the original name into the languages of their new countries: One Spanish family named Lopez became Wolf in Amsterdam and Farkas in Hungary.

Cologna might indicate an origin in Cologne, Germany, and you indicate that this may possibly be your family’s origin, although you do know they are from the Veneto region of Italy. Venice was home to Jews from around the world, from Eastern Europe to Asia to North Africa.

Nardo Bonomi of Italy is working on indexing the Italian Jewish archives.

I found the following names from 17th-19th century documents of the Jews of Venice, in the Veneto region: Cologna, Colognia, Colongia, Colonia, da Colognia, Da Colonia

For more information on the Italian Jewish names listed and Jewish resources in Italy, click here or e-mail.

And for more from the online Jewish Encyclopedia on Abraham de Cologna:

ABRAHAM (VITA) DE COLOGNA: An Italian rabbi, orator, and political leader; born at Mantua, 1755; died at Triest, 1832. While holding the post of rabbi of his native city he was elected a member of the Parliament of the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy, and in 1806 a deputy to the assembly of notables in Paris. Upon the formation of the Sanhedrin in 1807 he was appointed vice-chairman, and in 1808 a member of the French Central Consistory; later also of the Consistory of Turin. Abraham exhibited all the characteristics of men of transition periods: a strong desire for reform, and an indefinite conception of the aims and means necessary to realize that desire. He left a volume of sermons and apologetic essays.
Abraham de Cologna. Bibliography: Kahn, Archives IsraƩlites, 1840, p. 32.

If you go to the Jewish Encyclopedia link above, there's even a nice picture of Abraham. Does he look like anyone in your family?

The Web site offers the complete contents of the 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, originally published 1901-1906, now in public domain. It contains more than 15,000 articles and illustrations.

The online version contains the unedited contents of the original century-old encyclopedia. Obviously, you won't find anything about modern Jewish history such as the State of Israel or the Holocaust, but the articles provide much interesting information.

Happy hunting!

Keeping up with technology in genealogy

Have you found yourself trying to remember what a typewriter looks like? When did you last use one?

I have trouble remembering what we did before e-mail. Smoke signals, maybe?

When you see the phrase "Morse code," what's your first thought? Old Western movies and the town telegraph office or Steve Morse’s One-Step pages?

While many of my friends have rooms bursting with wall-to-wall equipment whose applications are mysterious, I’ve finally been dragged into the digital camera era.

It's hard to keep up with the constant stream of technological advances, but a new magazine exploring the convergence of genealogy and technology may help us sort it all out.

The Digital Genealogist (edited by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, CG, CGL) will focus on the use of technology in genealogy and all its applications. Kerstens edited Genealogical Computing magazine for almost seven years until it was discontinued a few months ago.

The first issue will be out in November, distributed via e-mail as a PDF. The annual subscription is $20 per year.

17 October 2006

Boston: Jewish DNA program

For Tracing the Tribe's Boston-area readers, here's an opportunity not to be missed.

"Who are the Jews? A 4,000 Year Genetic Retrospective," will be given by Harry Ostrer, MD, director of the NYU Medical Center, Human Genetics Program.

Readers who attended this past August's International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New York, will remember Ostrer's interesting presentations.

I've known him for several years and highly recommend this opportunity.

The event, open to the public, is at 4 p.m. October 26, at the Harvard Medical School New Research Building's ground floor Ampitheatre, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur.

For information, contact Barbara Mawn.

Britain: 350 years of Jewish life

The BBC Web site has recently published several stories worth reading that are related to Jewish life in Britain:

Tracing the First Jews in Britain

It is 350 years since Jews were readmitted to England, three centuries after they were expelled. But can any members of the UK's modern Jewish communities trace their roots back to 1656? The article has interviews with descendants of some of the first individuals to be readmitted.

1656 - a good year for Jews

Jewish communities throughout Britain have been commemorating a key anniversary in their history. The curator of London's Jewish Museum, Jennifer Marin, explains its significance. The story discusses the 1290 expulsion and the 1656 readmission.

Q&A: Jews in Britain

Covers the history of Jews in Britain, cause of the expulsion, those who left and those who converted, why 1656 is so important, the community's development, and more.

For an slide show with audio about the Jewish East End of London, watch while Rabbi Lionel Blue returns to the neighborhood of his childhood.

16 October 2006

Jewish Vikings? A DNA mystery

Let me preface this item by saying that I'm not a DNA expert. I leave that to the many brilliant people in the field.

However, as an entry in the food for thought category, click here for “Detective work solves a genetic mystery,” from the University of Sydney (Australia).

Researcher Marc Buhler believes he has tracked down the source of a genetic marker shared by individuals with Jewish and Viking ancestral origins. The marker in question is a mutation that may be an inherited shield against AIDS.

The question: How do people from such different regions carry this genetic inheritance? Where did their paths cross?

One in five Caucasians share a common ancestor who carried that marker, says Buhler, who believes the mutation's carrier lived around 800 CE, northeast of the Black Sea in the Khazars' neighborhood.

In Australia, he tested 807 Ashkenazi Jews and 311 non-Jews, and found the marker in one in four Ashkenazi Jews, and in one in three whose grandparents came from Russia, Poland, Austria or Czechoslovakia.

Buhler believes the genetic marker came to Scandinavia when Swedish Vikings visited the area between 800-1000 CE, and was distributed to Ashkenazi Jews when many of them left Germany after a 1350 bout of plague and traveled east, mingling with the Jews of the Khazar region.

He says that a previous study indicated the incidence of this marker in about one in three Ashkenazi Jews and one in four Icelanders.

Genealogists around the world are waiting anxiously for the development of a time-travel machine, so we'll finally be able to ask questions of our ancestors and resolve some of this speculation.

London: A one-day conference

When I saw the program for this event, I wanted to attend, but a one-day visit to London from Tel Aviv just isn’t practical.

However, Tracing the Tribe readers in the UK can click here for all the details on the October 31 event.

* The Jews were expelled from England in 1290, they returned in 1656, and this year is the 350th anniversary of that event. Dr. Ariel Hessayon will speak on “From Expulsion to Readmission: Jews and England.”

* The East End of London is as iconic to British Jews as the Lower East Side of New York is to Americans, and Philip Walker will offer “A Personal Journey through the Jewish East End of London.”

* With 20 years of experience at the British National Archives, Roger Kershaw will present “From Strangers to Citizens: Modern immigration sources at The National Archives, The Online Catalogue and What’s New.”

* An historical adviser to the BBC and Jewish museums, Nicholas J. Evans will speak on “Hebrew school registers as a genealogical source of information, using the Hull Hebrew School admission register as an example.”

* The author of two books on Manchester’s Jewish community, Bill Williams, will speak on “The Refugees 1933-1945.”

What's in a name?

Wondering why your grandfather Leib changed his name to Louis? or Aunt Blima was known as Rose?

My grandmother began life as Chaya Feiga, adopted Birdie and then Bertie as a young schoolgirl and was later known as Bertha. In Yiddish, Feiga means a bird, thus the connection to Birdie, Bertie and the more sophisticated -- for the times -- Bertha, is obvious.

In the large Persian community in Los Angeles -- so large that the city is called Irangeles or Tehrangeles -- Feridoun, Faramarz, Farid, Farajollah, Farhad, Farshid and other first names beginning with "F" are, in many cases, now simply Fred!

The New York Times had an interesting article, "As American as Vartan," about name changes among immigrants.

For a good look at how Jewish given names have changed as families immigrated to many countries, go to JewishGen's Given Name Database, compiled by Dr. Jerry Esterson.

Are you related to King David?

Some 100 Sephardic and Ashkenazic family names
indicate possible links to King David.

Some 1,000 people who claim this descendancy are planning to meet in Jerusalem from May 28-30, 2007, for the inauguration of the Worldwide Davidic Dynasty Genealogy Center and Museum.

The names listed in their database have been determined through oral tradition, rabbinic sources, historic data and research. Readers with questions about their lineage may ask here.

The Eshet Chayil Foundation, headed by Davidic descendant Susan Roth, is hosting the event.

In New York City, an Oct. 19 dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage will honor Davidic descendants including Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau Jr., Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis and the Grand Rabbi of the Twersky dynasty.

Other descendant notables include Hillel, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, Yochanan Hasandler and Yosef Karo, as well as the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and former president of Israel Chaim Herzog.

Author/researcher Chaim Freedman has written about how genealogy is presented in the Torah. For more articles on related topics, including DNA, click here.

14 October 2006

Russians are eager to rediscover roots

When I located Talalay cousins in Mogilev, St. Petersburg and Moscow, most of them told the same stories.

They knew relatives had gone to America long ago. Their parents and grandparents had once possessed photographs and stacks of letters from the American family.

But, during Stalin’s era, these momentos and family connections were considered liabilities and, if found, could have meant one-way tickets to Siberia. Almost all of these families burned anything that could connect them to America.

Sometimes, I had copies of these precious pictures in my collection and was able to send copies to them, and connections were established once again.

However, this kind of rediscovery isn’t just fueled by people who had left the old country.

Russians of all backgrounds are eagerly looking for their roots, for ties that were long buried during the Communist era.

Click here for a fascinating article on this new activity.

Thank you!

I thought I'd take a few minutes and thank you for reading Tracing the Tribe.

This adventure along Discovery Road is always fascinating.

I've been keeping track of where readers are located - it is a truly global community.

While readers in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe and Israel represent the largest numbers, also represented are Australia, Iran, Nigeria, Dubai, Malaysia, India, Ireland, Colombia, South Africa, Philippines and even Papua, New Guinea!

I'd like to encourage readers to leave comments, ask questions, and to let me know if you've discovered a new resource or relevant website and think everyone should know.

Best wishes,


11 October 2006

Ancestors in the Attic

I love the BBC shows like Flog it!, Antiques Roadshow and Cash in the Attic. I love to watch people who bought something for the equivalent of a few dollars watch the same item end up in a ferocious bidding war for hundreds or even thousands of pounds at auction.

Now, History Television (elsewhere, the History Channel) will be carrying a Canadian production, Ancestors in the Attic. Although the ancestors discovered during the show won't be auctioned off -- we know they are priceless -- the thrill of the chase, the mystery of history will be enough for us.

Canadian viewers can see it at 9.30 pm on Wednesdays beginning Oct. 18; non-Canadians should check their History Channel affiliates for information. I hope ours will carry it.

Each episode will feature a team of genealogy detectives taking on three cases that have family history mysteries.

Click here for all the details on the first eight episodes and the team involved in the genealogical research for the show.

Thanks to Rick Roberts of Global Genealogy for alerting readers to this.

We are what we eat: A Sephardic Sukkoth

Today, The New York Times featured a great Sukkot food tradition article, "Cooking Defines Sephardic Jews at Sukkot." Related articles offer New York area stores which carry exotic ingredients as well as some delicious recipes, like Sofrito Batatas (veal stew with tomato, allspice and fried potatoes.)

My former editor at the Jerusalem Post used to say, "Schelly, not everything is about genealogy."

However, I found that when interviewing, talking about family history was a great ice-breaker and got the story moving.

Family researchers know everything is connected to genealogy, and cuisine is one of the most important.

The dishes and flavorings our great-grandparents and grandparents prepared, carried on by our parents and in our own families, always tie that thread of connection a bit tighter. The food traditions of our families are part of us, and we'll pass these delights down to all the generations to come.

Foods are clues to our origins as well. Is your family's favorite kugel salty or sweet? What do you put on your latkes?

Ask any Iranian Jew which holiday is the most memorable, and he or she will likely say Passover, when we chase everyone around the house with handfuls of scallions. It is very cathartic, and I don't think I've ever gotten through Dayenu since I married into this community. At the sound of the first "d" the huge mounds of scallions are grabbed and the chase is on until exhaustion sets in.

And of course, the Persian halek, this community's version of charoset, is a a mouth-watering dream, with many varieties of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, pomegranate paste, wine, and each family's secret ingredient. But we'll have to wait a few months more for this one!

Tracing the Tribe invites readers to post their favorite dishes from their own backgrounds in the Comments section.

10 October 2006

New York: Center for Jewish history

The Center for Jewish History in New York City houses the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and presents many interesting exhibits and programs. The Jewish Genealogical Society (New York) also meets at the CJH.

Upcoming programs of possible interest to Italian, Belarus and Eastern European researchers include:

Tuesday, October 17: "The Banality of Good" will present a panel of historians, survivors and rescuers, who will explore various aspects of Italian citizens and public officers who chose to help persecuted Jews by opposing anti-Semitic policies.

Wednesdays, October 25 and November 15: 2005 CJH Fellows will present papers based on their research last year.

The first will feature Stanford University PhD candidate Elissa Bemporad's "The Yiddish Experiment in Minsk, 1920-1938," while the other will present Maya Benton, PhD candidate in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, on "Shuttered Memories of a Vanishing World: the Deliberate Photography of Roman Vishniac and its Effect on Modern Jewish Self-Consciousness."

Epidemics and lost branches

Why do individuals and entire family branches suddenly disappear?

Dick Eastman has provided researchers with some fascinating information on epidemics.

The rampant spread of disease was common in the days before penicillin and other "wonder drugs" of the twentieth century. Our ancestors lived in fear of epidemics, and many of them died as the result of simple diseases that could be cured today with an injection or a prescription.

If you ever wondered why a large number of your ancestors disappeared during a certain period in history, you may want to investigate the possibility of an epidemic. Many cases of people disappearing from records can be traced to dying during an epidemic or moving away from the affected area.

You'll have to subscribe for the rest.

I first became aware of the genealogical impact of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19 when searching for family in Philadelphia a few years ago and I posted about the possibilities to JewishGen.

According to experts, Philadelphia was one of the hardest-hit cities. On one day, some 10,000 individuals died. The story goes that city services were so overwhelmed that individual graves could not be dug and victims were buried together.

Earlier worldwide flu epidemics took place in 1775-6 and again in 1857-9.

Dick's story, on his newsletter's Plus Edition (subscription required) provides dates and locations of worldwide and U.S. major epidemics, such as flu, cholera, yellow fever and typhus.

Never too early: The 2010 census

It's only 2006, but the 2010 census is just around the corner, relatively speaking.

The Genealogue's Chris Dunham offers a sneak peek at what we may expect.

I discussed this with Steve Morse, who says he's already working on a One Step page for the 2010 census.

Chris previously posted another item featuring Steve's popular Web site.

Thanks, Chris, for always providing light-hearted looks at genealogy.

Steve has a great sense of humor ... fortunately.

Did I mention that Steve received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies at the August conference? In his acceptance remarks, he noted that this may have been the first Lifetime Achievement Award granted to someone who began developing his resources only five years ago.

Aden's Jewish cemeteries

For two very interesting articles from the Yemen Times, look for "Jewish Tombstones in Aden, Parts 1(link) and 2(link)."

The author is Professor Aviva Klein-Franke of the Martin-Buber Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany.

Four Jewish cemeteries in the Aden area have been documented. Two ancient cemeteries were closed to burials prior to the 19th century. A third one, in the Crater area of the city center, was still in use during the British occupation. The newest cemetery (1860-1967) is Ma‘ala.

Among Aden's Jews, and in Yemen, the word for cemetery is me‘ara (pl. me‘arot, cave, caves). The ancient Aden cemetery was called me‘ara yesana or old cave. The old cemeteries had been abandoned for many generations before the British arrived, although the Crater cemetery near the Jewish quarter was in use until about 1860. Many tombstones bearing Hebrew inscriptions were scattered over the area.

Ma‘ala was used until the Jewish community was dissolved in 1967, and has hundreds of graves.

The articles discuss the researchers (Sapir, Harkavy, Ben Zvi and others) who visited Aden and what they discovered.

Watching for Warszawa

Steve Lasky’s Museum of Family History has a nice New Year’s present for those searching for links to Warsaw.

He’s added a list of more than 16,000 names of passengers from the Ellis Island Database who last resided in Warszawa, Poland. Alphabetical entries include surname, given name, birth year and immigration year.

For more information, you can look up names at the Ellis Island Web site, or use Steve Morse’s One Step Web site.

Variants of that city's name are many, due to misspelling by ship officers, bad transcriptions and simple spelling errors: Varsava, Varsavia, Varsaw, Varschau, Varsevia, Varsevie, Varshaw, Varsovia, Varsovie, Warsaw, Warszawa and Warschau,

Steve’s main Warszawa page is very useful for researchers.

In addition to the list of 16,000 individuals, it includes maps, a unique surnames list from landsmanshten societies in New York/New Jersey, photographs of Warszawa cemetery gates, pre-war photos of families who once lived there, current city photos and Holocaust memorials.

Steve has lists for former residents of other areas, among them Vilnius, Suwalki, Lodz, Krakow, Bialystok and Lomza.

An Ancestry.com test-drive

Chicago Sun-Times business writer Howard Wolinsky, who has Lithuanian and Latvian roots, met recently with MyFamily.com’s new chief executive Tim Sullivan to review Ancestry.Com’s expanded resources.

Wolinsky wanted to see if there was any new information about his grandfather Henry Wolinsky, born Hillel Sragon in Lithuania, though he believed he had thoroughly shaken the family tree "from the National Archives Regional on the South Side to national and regional archives in Kaunas and Riga."

Click here to read the story, and find out whether he won his bet with Sullivan that Ancestry.com wouldn't discover any new relatives of Wolinsky's.

A true pioneer, Wolinsky was also among the very first individuals to test his Y-DNA with Family Tree DNA in Houston, TX.

The New York Times published (October 9) "Genealogy for the Living, the Dead, the Far Away," an interview with MyFamily.com's chief executive Tim Sullivan, who touched on upcoming new features, including DNA connections.

09 October 2006

Gen TV is on right now

Roots Television is a new venture providing free online genealogy videos to the millions of people interested in family history.

I spent some pleasurable moments looking at the index, and while most offerings are about general genealogy topics, some are more targeted.

For a lighter view of family history research, watch New York Jewish Genealogy Society member Jordan Auslander’s “Heir Jordan, Extreme Genealogy.” At the index page, click Roots Living–>Shorts->Heir Jordan Extreme Genealogy.

For a piece on Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust oral history project, click on Ancestors, Season Two->Ancestors, Records at Risk, 4 of 6.

Is DNA your thing? On the top bar, click DNA->DNA Stories->A Tale of Two Fathers, or click on DNA Lectures->DNA and the Jefferson-Hemings case.

The Call to Story section has many moving pieces, such as Syd Lieberman’s “There is a season.”

Take some time and explore the site. If you have suggestions for items or subjects they might be missing or that could be improved, write to info@rootstelevision.com

08 October 2006

Crimea: A community with many roots

A current JTA story about the Jewish community in Kerch (Kertch), Crimea – now Ukraine – describes the city’s history and cemetery restoration plans.

The mixed history of the Crimean Peninsula offers the possibility that many of our families may have had a connection to this community, which included Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizrahim and indigenous Krymchak Jews.

Ashkenazim lived there in the 10th century, and the indigenous Krymchak Jews assimilated waves of Jewish immigrants: post-Expulsion Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Karaites and Persians, as well as very early Greek-speaking Jews. Also in the early mix were Jews from the Caucasus and from the Crimean Italian colonies settled by Genoa and Venice.

Krymchak surnames, say historians, indicate the community included Jews from all ethnicities. Try this for more information on the Krymchaks. Crimean Jews followed Ashkenazi traditions until the end of the 15th century when a Crimean tradition was created.

In 1650, 300 Chmielnicki pogrom survivors in Ukraine were captured by Crimean Tatar slave traders; the Istanbul Ashkenazi community paid the ransom to free them.

In a twist of history, in 1854, some 400 Ashkenazi Jewish families from Kerch migrated to Istanbul, when the Ottoman Empire began the Crimean war against Russia. They received Ottoman citizenship and formed a synagogue. The still-active cemetery founded for them is today called the Italian Jewish Cemetery, in the Sisli neighborhood. Check JewishGen’s Cemetery Project for information

In the 1920s, major Jewish colonization activities attracted Jews to Crimea from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, and they eventually formed 30% of the Crimean community. According to my family’s oral tradition, as told by a member of our St. Petersburg branch, a cousin who had migrated from Novogorod Severskiy (Chernigov gubernia, Ukraine) was the leader of the Crimean settlers. We continue to look for Talalay on the colony lists as they become available.

By the late 1920s, there were 29 Jewish rural councils in Crimea – before it became part of Ukraine – and there were two Jewish national regions in Crimea: Freidorf and Larindorf.

Resources on the colonies include:
  • "Farming the Red Land: Jewish Agricultural Colonization and Local Soviet Power, 1924-1941," by Jonathan L. Dekel-Chen of Hebrew University (available on Amazon)
  • Chaim Freedman has documented lists of colonists, maps and photographs here and here
  • Yakov Pasik’s site also holds interesting material, some in Russian.

Crimean Jewish microfilmed records are at the Mormon Family History Center. An Avotaynu Journal article (Vol. XII/3/36) describes this source.

07 October 2006

Fixing errors in Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony

A note of caution concerning Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony: After checking online, I've discovered that there are various transcription errors in the forms I submitted.

As my forms were completed in clearly written English, I am a bit puzzled. However, all genealogists know that the more times data is handled by human hands, the higher the error rate.

Among errors noted: Mogilev, Mogilev gubernia, Belarus appears as Mogilev, Mogilev Podolskiy, Vinnetsa, Ukraine. A woman’s first name is clearly written Luba, but this name shows in the record as Lova. In some, I am listed as a survivor, when I clearly circled “is not” a survivor.

I have submitted correction forms for each of these errors. The process is simple.

When a record of interest pops up, hit “more details” and at the bottom of new page, note a line for corrections or comments. Click on that and a form pops up. Select the field where the error occurs (e.g. first name, place of birth, survivor, etc.), note the error, fill in your name, location and e-mail and hit “submit.”

It always pays to double-check on information submitted and note any errors.

Importantly, if you have moved or changed your e-mail address since submitting the Page in question, complete the form to update your location and e-mail address. You may wish to print a copy.

Once you click “submit form,” a message pops up warning that Yad Vashem is inundated with messages, they don’t know when the corrections will be made, but that errors will be addressed. A reference number is on this page, and you may want to print this as well.

If, through your searching in other resources, you have discovered additional relatives who perished and no Pages of Testimony have been filed for those individuals, complete a form and submit it.

06 October 2006

Sephardic site expects millionth visitor

Harry Stein, founder of www.sephardim.com, is expecting the millionth hit any day on his fascinating site.

If you are searching your family’s Sephardic roots, check out the name search feature, which contains about 35,000 names, derived from indexes of published books, databases and other sources.

Many names are identified by multiple references, “as many as 10-20,” says Stein.

With the knowledge of which books contain their names of interest, researchers can follow up in those sources, which may well provide additional clues.

The Web site offers a very active discussion group with 1,700 forum members worldwide.

04 October 2006

Shaloha from Hawaii

A few decades or more down the line, as our descendants begin to trace their ancestors (us!), they may be looking in some unusual places, including the Jewish section of a cemetery in Hilo, Hawaii.

Shaloha, of course, combines Shalom and Aloha.

The Canadian Jewish News recently had a great story on the Jewish community on Hawaii’s big island, where some 200 members of the Northern Hawaii Chavurah and Kona Beth Shalom (KBS) cover some 100 square miles.

The Big (Jewish) Kahuna is an orthopedic surgeon who arrived 11 years ago from Northern California. He’s the KBS lay leader, performs weddings and entertains with his klezmer band.

The story provides insight in how Jewish "pioneers" organize and provide for their isolated community.

Tracing the Tribe is waiting for the announcement of the Kona Jewish Genealogical Society!

Czech it out!

The discovery of the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery in Pilsen, Czech Republic, was reported today by JTA.

Researchers from the West Bohemian Institute for Heritage Conservation and Documentation said they found city archival documents revealing details of what they believe was one of the largest 15th-century Jewish cemeteries in the region.

Although the burial ground was known to exist, an Institute archeologist said the new documents reveal additional details, and that excavations could provide more information about the cemetery and the Jewish community.

The Prague Monitor provided more details in its September 30 story.

The land for the cemetery was bought by Jews in 1432, and 40 years later, the land was taken from the Jews, who were then expelled in 1504, said Institute archeologist Radek Siroky.

He stressed the importance of medieval Jewish cemeteries in that Jewish burial grounds are usually well-conserved, unlike Christian graves.

For more on Pilsen:

Pilsen's Great Synagogue, built in 1892, is believed to be the second largest in Europe, and the Old Pilsen Synagogue was built in 1859.