31 January 2007

Genealogy humor

A reader recently asked me for this definition of a genealogist.

I knew I had it somewhere and, after some searching, here it is.

Before you ask, I have no idea who authored it or where I first discovered it. If you have any information, please post a comment below this item.

A full-time detective
A thorough historian
An inveterate snoop
A confirmed diplomat
A keen observer
A hardened sceptic
An apt biographer
A qualified linguist
A part-time lawyer
A studious sociologist
An accurate reporter
An hieroglyphics expert,
AND . . .
A complete nut!

This was in the same file:


A job is nice, but it interferes with genealogy research.

Thank you, readers!

Tracing the Tribe is not yet six months old and more than 20,000 visitors have viewed it, with more more than 35,000 page views.

Readers come from around the world - name a country and someone from there has visited.

Thank you for your support.

If there are topics you'd like to read about, or subjects on which you'd like more information, let me know.

I look forward to reading your comments and suggestions.

Genealogist Arthur Kurzweil's magic

Genealogist Arthur Kurzweil wrote one of the first popular books about Jewish genealogy. Many of us were inspired to research our roots after reading his From Generation to Generation and thinking, "We can do this!"

He has authored or edited some 30 other books, including The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy (Avotaynu) and other subjects. He's also a magician and an educator.

In this article, we learn a bit more about Jewish magicians, Harry Houdini and more.

Even the most famous phrase in stage magic — “abracadabra” — has Jewish roots. Kurzweil said the incantation is a corruption of the Aramaic phrase avra k’dabra, meaning “I will create as I speak” and was probably a reference to God’s great “trick” of creating the universe.

East Berlin cemetery fights for existence

Did you know that Europe's biggest Jewish cemetery is in East Berlin?

The Weissensee Cemetery opened in 1880, and 115,600 graves cover the equivalent of 86 soccer fields,
"The unique importance of Weissensee is not only its remarkable artistic treasures but also its inextricable link with the history of Berlin's Jews," Hermann Simon, director of the Centrum Judaicum foundation for Jewish history and culture, told AFP.

"When I walk through the cemetery I am reminded I am part of a long history that might have ended but instead endured," said Simon, who said he represents the 12th generation of his Jewish family in Berlin.

Click here for the story of how Berlin's authorities and Jewish community leaders are trying to have Weissensee Cemetery named to UNESCO's World Heritage List.

"It is really a mirror image of the history of Berlin's Jews in all its turbulence. And it shows the intertwined histories of Berlin and its Jews," said Simon.

You can go home again: Visiting Ukraine

Roots trips to explore one's heritage are increasingly popular. If you're thinking about this, here's an interesting story of one writer's visit to Ukraine, mentioning Kiev, Berdyansk, Kharkov and Drobitsky Yar, along with tips and links for more information.

One of the pro's of this writer's journey:
My trip was the culmination of an attempt to recover my mother's past, and with it my own. She prepared for me an introduction, written on a notecard in Russian, with a photo of her family taken before the war.

"Dear countrymen!
"I am turning to you because my son Greg and his wife, Candy, don't speak and don't know the language. It is in case they need help. He wrote a book about Ukraine and about my family. The book is about heroism of our people. Everyone in my family was killed in Kharkov, and it is only because of the help of the kind population in our wonderful place that my sister and I are alive so that the story could be told about us. Greg and Candy already love you the way I do. Thank you all for generosity and for colossal courage. Be happy and healthy."
--Zhanna Arshanskaya Dawson, who would love to be going to see you all.

I handed out the cards everywhere, to flower vendors, hotel clerks, waiters, cabbies, babushkas selling seeds and nuts on the street, and the words had a magical effect. Faces that greeted me with wariness and suspicion dissolved into nods, knowing smiles and, often, tears.

And one of the con's:
You walk at your own risk in Ukraine because most sidewalks double as streets and parking lots. On our first day we were strolling down one of Kiev's broad sidewalks when we jumped at the beep! of a Lada, a boxy little Soviet-era car, coming up behind us.

Do read the entire story.

26 January 2007

From shtetl to Los Angeles - a joyful reunion

Our families have been talking about reunions for several years, but we just can't seem to get it together. Procrastination would seem to be genetic in both the Talalay and Dardashti lines.

Luckily, the Blackman (Blachman) and Zverow families are not as challenged as we are, and a crowd of them gathered in Los Angeles for a family weekend, as detailed here.

Some 95 relatives, running the age gamut from 4 to 93, came from all over to participate. The impetus was the celebration of the 90th birthdays of the two main organizers' mothers, and the event became more than a plain old birthday party.

A committee of eight cousins recruited others for projects.

All their efforts culminated in the “First International B-Z Reunion” of the Blackman and Zverow families, Aug. 24 to 26. In addition to the social events, organizers put together a family “Memories” book and family tree, and interviewed participants for a DVD.

The weekend of activities included interviews, research and tracing their tree back to the 1700s.

Portland, Oregon: DNA and genealogy event

If you're in the Portland area, don't miss this one.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon is hosting Family Tree DNA's CEO/founder Bennett Greenspan. Greenspan will speak about "Tracing Family Roots Through DNA" on February 14.

For all event details, see this story in Portland's Jewish Review:

Nadene Goldfoot, JGSO publicity chair, said that she and her Portland family believed they were "the only Goldfoots in the world until I started doing the genealogy of our family and started doing surname searches."

Goldfoot found an Ian Goldfoot in Houston, where Family Tree DNA is located. Ian and Goldfoot's brother have undergone a DNA test to determine if the families are related and if so, how closely.

"By the time our genealogy meeting takes place, I should know not only the results of the DNA test, but if it proves to show a connection, just how close we are in that relationship," said Goldfoot. "It's a wonderful thing when paper trails just don't exist."

The Jewish genealogical societies in the northwestern U.S. - including Seattle, Portland and Eugene - have teamed up to bring in great speakers and share the costs. Kol hakavod to their leaders!

Film about Appalachian Jewry: The righteous remnant

Back in December, I informed readers about a blog by Eric Drummond Smith - Hillbilly Savants By Appalachians, for Everyone - who had included information on the region's Jewish presence.

Yesterday, Eric gave a link to a Public Broadcasting documentary titled Righteous Remnant: Jewish Survival in Appalachia, produced by Professor Maryanne Reed of West Virgina University.

The Web site includes photos and a short section of the film.

The film details those immigrants who chose alternative destinations to the crowded Eastern or Midwestern cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and migrated into West Virginia after hearing about the "black diamond" coal mining and lumber industries.

The film examines the history and current situation of the small community in Beckley, West Virginia, which the filmmaker believes is representative of small Jewish communities.

During the state's coal boom, Jews arrived and opened businesses supporting the local economy, but when the industry declined in the 1950s and 60s, Jewish and non-Jewish families left for other places.

Those who left did not return, for both economic reasons and because of cultural problems which included a lack of kosher food, and difficulties in finding marriage partners and providing Jewish educations. Many left for Charleston (the one in West Virginia, not South Carolina!) and Cincinnati.

Reed's great-grandfather - Simon Fox - and his family were at one time the only members of the tribe living in Davis, a small Tucker County town. He eventually took his family to Akron, Ohio to find Jewish husbands for his daughters.

Yad Vashem's new Farsi mini-site

One of the Yad Vashem events marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day was yesterday's launch of their Farsi-language mini-site.

“Every year, nearly 20,000 people from Muslim countries, including Iran, visit the Yad Vashem website,” says Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev. “We believe that making credible, comprehensive information about the Holocaust available to Persian speakers can contribute to the fight against Holocaust denial.”

The site includes 20 sections and many photos, taking readers from the rise of the Nazis through the post-war trials.

Menashe Amir translated and edited the material. A legend in the Israeli Persian community, his long-running Farsi-language radio program fielded calls directly from callers in Iran.

When I wrote for the Jerusalem Post's Metro weekly at the Tel Aviv office, I attempted to time my trip home to catch the bus driven by a Persian-origin driver who listened to Amir. As those readers who have visited Israel are aware, the bus driver controls the radio according to his or her preferences. It seemed to me that many others also timed their trip to coincide with the broadcast.

25 January 2007

Jewish History Channel: new blog worth a look

Just came across a new blog titled "Jewish History Channel: Open discussions on Jewish history, culture, genealogy, archaeology and other related subjects."

Joel Weisberger's latest is an update to an earlier posting on the great Yiddish writer Y.L. Peretz and his Sephardic heritage.

Weisberger - a student majoring in history - has an obvious passion for Jewish history, genealogy, archaeology and related subjects. Previous posts have touched on the lost tribes, early Jewish immigrants and their descendants, Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities living in close proximity.

Thank you, Joel!

24 January 2007

Tel Aviv: Bukowina and Czernowitz reunion

If your roots are in Bukowina and Czernowitz, you'll want to know about an event set for April 17-19, 2007, in Tel Aviv, organized by the World Organization of Bukowinian Jewry and the Cz-list.

The three-day program will include lectures, discussions, preservation projects, a tour to the Galilee, tree plantings and a visit to the German Speaking Jewry Museum.

Topics will include Jewish Czernowitz's heritage, family histories and personal memories, Bukowina communities - past and present, contributions of Bukowinian Jewry to Israel and more, with a nostalgic banquet of typical Bukowinian dishes.

For details, write to bukowina2007@gmail.com

Varieties of family history

I discovered a new blog on family history written by history professor Todd Carney (Southern Oregon University), who has written an interesting post on what he says are "at least three kinds of family history."

First, Carney talks about the more academic pursuit of the “history of the family” as a social, political, and economic unit.

Then he talks about "a less professionalized pursuit, once largely known as 'genealogy,' now increasingly called 'family history,' which seeks to deal with specific families-of-origin in a person’s ancestry, usually the one doing the research."

Carney writes that the difference between family history and genealogy is one of scale and scope. Genealogy, he says, is names, dates and places, while family history puts flesh on our ancestors' bones for an historical account of the family.

His third category is "thicker-and-richer," which he admits borrowing from Madison Avenue, and which investigates the social, political, cultural and psychological environment in which a family developed. He calls this "family culture," the consequence of the historical process as the generations develop.

Carney speaks about the search for meaning across these categories. I'm looking forward to more of his postings.

U.K.: Lucky Leeds searchers

A few weeks ago, I wrote about cemetery records in the UK on the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain Web site> At the time, those records were in the member's-only section.

I'm happy to report that the records have been moved to the public access section and there are more available burial, marriage and census records.

JGSGB board member Louis Messik has completed the reformat of Murray Freedman's records of Leeds Marriages (5,044 records, 1855-1973), and she's now working on 22,000 Leeds Census records, which she hopes to have on line in a few days. Freedman has given permission for the records to move into the public access section.

These records are available in the Supplementary UK Database at and from the search engine in the Leeds Community page.

Additionally, 17,523 Leeds burials can now be found in the Supplementary UK Database, and also here via the Leeds Community pages, including the following Leeds cemeteries:

BHH Hilltop Cemetery (1,049)
Louis Street Cemetery (1,039)
Mariempoler (Old Central) Cemetery (81)
New BHH Cemetery (1,132)
New Briggate Cemetery (1,659)
New Farnley Cemetery (5,820)
POD Cemetery (630)
UHC Cemetery (6,113)

21 January 2007

IAJGS salutes

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has announced a new program to recognize individuals for their contributions to further the study of Jewish Genealogy. The goal is to salute individuals and non-profit organizations that have completed noteworthy projects and activities relating to Jewish genealogy.

The committee, chaired by Lyn Blyden of Seattle, Washington, asks those submitting a nomination for an organization, project or individual, to provide appropriate documentation so the committee can properly evaluate efforts and activities. As guidelines, ask yourself the following:

-- Did the project or activity increase the availability of resources for
Jewish Genealogy?
-- Did the project or activity demonstrate creative techniques others can use?
-- Did the project or activity increase interest and participation in Jewish

For all details, click here. Click on the left-hand button reading "IAJGS Salutes."

Los Angeles event: Films and music with Yale Strom

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles is planning "Sunshine and Shadow: Stories and Songs of Shtetl Life" - a day with klezmer musician and acclaimed filmmaker Yale Strom on January 28th.

The program offers a lecture and brunch along with two films, "The Last Klezmer" at 11 a.m. and “Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years” at 2.15 p.m.. There will also be a book signing of several of Strom's books, including "The Book of Klezmer: From the 14th Century to the 21st: The History, the Music, The Folklore, "A Wandering Feast: A Journey Through the Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe," and "The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook."

Reservations are required for the event at the Milken JCC in West Hills. There is a $10 charge for brunch. For all details, click here

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 29

The second annual observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be on January 27, 2007

The UN Generaly Assembly adopted, in November 2005, a resolution designating January 27 as an “International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”

Yad Vashem plans special activities, including a gathering of survivors, a special session of the Ministry of Education and Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies, and an international Holocaust, Medicine and Medical Ethics Conference with the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.

In Vienna, a "No Child's Play" exhibit will open at the UN Information Service on January 26.

"Flickers of Light," an exhibit about a handful of heroes at Auschwitz who sought to aid Jews, is online at www.yadvashem.org, and a special UN Web site will be launched on January 29. The site, developed by Yad Vashem and the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education at the University of Southern California, provides many artifacts, photographs, resources and links.

Is a cover-up behind the destruction of Belgian Holocaust-era deportation archives?

According to the December newsletter of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, Belgian authorities have "destroyed archives and records relating to the deportation of Jews in Belgium in the 1930s and 1940s."

Author Paul Belien says some of the destruction of records happened as late as the 1990s, according to a report tied to Belgian Senate hearings last spring. The Senate report was released May 4, but according to the newsletter, newspapers in Belgium have not reported the activities. The report says that “documents about the period 1930-1950 have been destroyed on a massive scale.”

"The systematic destructions of the records of police and judiciary from the 1930s and ’40s happened chiefly in Brussels and Wallonia, the French-speaking south of Belgium. The Senate report states that in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of the country, archives have been saved thanks to conscientious archivists."

According to Belien, Antwerp Jewry records are intact, but documents about Jews in Brussels and in Charleroi and Liege, which had large pre-war Jewish communities, were intentionally purged. Charleroi's municipal and judicial archives from the 1930s and the war years were destroyed in the 1970s. Judicial archives in Brussels exist for the years until the early 1930s, with little after that.

Says Belien, "By destroying paper trails people are made to forget that certain events ever took place."

Good eats on Ellis Island, 1894

Originally published in The New York Times, December 13, 1894, here's an interesting piece about the restaurant at Ellis Island that served many of our ancestors on their first stop on U.S. soil.

The menu offered bread (rye, wheat, Swedish in 1 and 2 pound loaves), pies, bologna, ham, corned beef, cheese, milk, soup with bread, sandwiches, smoking tobacco and cigars.

A paper bag lunch would be packed according to the immigrant's next stage of his journey:

"Scranton, eh?" repeated the man who dispensed bread and sausage. The immigrant nodded and grinned, knowing as much about the location of Scranton as he did about Tasmania. Before the grin died away the restaurant man had made up a "Scranton lunch," that is, one which was supposed to be enough to last until the immigrant reached that place. This consisted in most instances of one big loaf of bread, one bologna, a chunk of cheese, and a bottle of beer or ginger ale. If the immigrant had been going further more luncheon would have been sold to him.

Another part of the restaurant's business was supplying food to the "detained," who would be stuck on Ellis Island for varying periods. The steamship companies had to pay for the food for the detained passengers.

15 January 2007

Cuban Jewish resources

I came across these Cuban Jewish resources that may be of interest to researchers of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic families.

Among the links is an extensive list of individuals in the Cuban Jewish community, from La Comunidad hebrea de Cuba: La memoria y la historia by Margalit Bejarano (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1996). The book is available in the U.S. from the Sephardic Congregation of Florida - Torat Moshe, in Miami Beach.


Click here for information on the Jewish Community of Cuba: The Golden Years 1906-1958 (Westview Publishing 2006) by Dr. Jay Levinson. The years covered by the book began with 1906, when a small group gathered to establish a synagogue and cemetery. Eventually, some 15,000 Jews called Cuba home. Cuba's Jewish history also includes the tragedy of the St. Louis, whose Holocaust-refugee passengers were not allowed to land in Havana (the ship's unfortunate passengers were then turned away by the U.S. as well and forced to return to Europe).

The country's first rabbi travelled from Florida, where he had an ice cream factory, to Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Kosher meat was slaughtered in Cuba for soldiers in the U.S. Army during WWII, and gangster Meyer Lansky applied for membership in a Havana synagogue.

Another book, The Chosen Island: Jews in Cuba (2005) is by Cuban historian Maritza Corrales, who researchs Cuba's Jewish history. Her book includes archival material and interviews with 36 men and women who remained in Cuba after 1959. It also has photographs of the community.

Back to basics with a good laugh

If you're struggling with stress, relief is available at The Genealogue.

This is always the place for a good genealogical laugh, along with more serious stuff.

The author's latest "exclusive" - Genealogists Go Back to Basics - is highly recommended, but you'll have to read it yourself.

The oys of Texas are upon you

A new addition to the Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture and Life focuses on the Texas Jewish experience.

Lone Stars of David: The Jews of Texas was written by fourth-generation Texan Robert S. Strauss (his great-grandfather was the first ordained pulpit rabbi in the state), and edited by Fort Worth historian Hollace Ava Weiner and Corpus Christi Rabbi Kenneth D. Roseman. It's available on Amazon.com, and on the cover are boots inlaid with gold Stars of David, which Weiner wears to signings.

The Dallas Morning News story about the book convinced me to put it on my to-buy list.

"Consider Helena Landa, matriarch of the only Jewish family in New Braunfels in the early 1850s. She used a spur – the kind that make horses go fast – to put air holes in matzo she baked for a Passover Seder."

According to the article, the cast of characters features peddlers, cattlemen, Confederate soldiers, wildcatters, merchants, philanthropists, suffragettes, Zionists and others.

The book ranges far and wide; it covers 16th century Conversos, cattlemen from Alsace, Galveston Rabbi Henry Cohen, Bavarian storekeepers, Confederate Army soldiers , oil barons, upscale retailers, the computer industry and politics.

14 January 2007

A new trove of digitized U.S. historic documents

The National Archives and Footnote.com announced an agreement to digitize selected records from the vast holdings of the National Archives.

The 4.5 million pages digitized so far are available here. They provide information on these and other record groups:

Papers of the Continental Congress (1774-89)
Mathew B. Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs
Southern Claims Commission (1870s)
Name Index to Civil War and Later Pension Files (1861-1900)
Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation (1908-22)

If your roots are in Early American Jewish families in the north, Sephardic families in the south or among later European immigrants, the information in these files may be valuable.

Previously, there had been no way to easily retrieve names of witnesses and other individuals in Bureau of Investigation records, because the NARA index is only categorized by the name of the person investigated.

According to the press release, the agreement

"will enable researchers and the general public to access millions of newly-digitized images of the National Archives historic records on a subscription basis from the Footnote web site. By February 6, the digitized materials will also be available at no charge in National Archives research rooms in Washington D.C. and regional facilities across the country. After an interval of five years, all images digitized through this agreement will be available at no charge through the National Archives web site."

Archivist of the U.S., Dr. Allen Weinstein, said the agreement will immediately allow access to approximately 4.5 million pages of important documents currently available only in their original format or on microfilm, while Footnote CEO Russell Wilding said they will add millions of original documents and images each month.

Note that Footnote is a subscription site ($99 annual fee) useful for professional genealogists who require 24/7 access. For those readers interested in researching their own families, a less-pricey solution is a one-month all-access subscription for $9.99. You can accomplish a lot in a month! Register as a member of Footnote for free and receive updates as new information is made available.

And, of course, remember that indexes of any kind are only as accurate as the transcriber. Creative spelling is a must when working with any index of historical documents due to spelling mistakes in the original documents, period handwriting and other factors.

Mapping the Holy Land

There is a wonderful collection of old maps online at the Jewish National and University Library.

The late Eran Laor, author of Maps of the Holy Land (1986), donated his entire collection to the library in 1975. This collection of ancient maps is part of a much larger collection including ancient maps of the world, early printed atlases and travel books.

The site is searchable by name, place, year and other parameters.

In addition to the map images, the site offers many links to other major map collections of the Holy Land and the world.

Auschwitz: Online database

Today's suggestion: Search all of the databases you come across for your names (and variations) of interest. You may find nothing, but sometimes shocking news may be discovered.

My maternal grandfather Sidney Fink was born Szyja in 1898, raised in Suchastow near Skalat, and arrived in New York 1914 - he never spoke of relatives caught up in the Holocaust. My understanding, from both sides of the family, was that everyone had left very early and no one had been caught up in the tragedy.

Based on that, I did not pursue the matter.

But when I saw a recent JewishGen notice about the Auschwitz searchable database, I clicked on it and entered FINK. To my great surprise, I found a list of 12 individuals who had perished there. All were born in the same general area and bore the given names as known family, including another Szyja, born in 1889.

I had seen some of these names previously in the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland databases, but had not pursued them into Holocaust-era resources. For the same reason, I hadn't checked Yad Vashem's database for this branch of my family. However, it is now on my priority to-do list.

So check every database, even if you think there's no possibility of finding information.

Readers should check the Auschwitz Web site, but understand that it contains only a small portion (about 10%) of the original records, as most were destroyed.

The on-site Auschwitz Archives also holds some 70,000 photographs and more than 8,000 letters and postcards. It is my understanding that information on the photographs and documents will be put into a database, along with the scanned items, as the archive continues to develop an integrated computerized system.

Researchers may e-mail the archives, muzeum@auschwitz.org.pl, for more information.

Poland: More records available now

If your ancestors come from Poland, or what was originally Poland and is now Lithuania or Ukraine, please remember to search Jewish Records Indexing-Poland.

Stanley Diamond and his dedicated team continue to provide additional information to genealogists. JRI-P's associate director Hadassah Lipsius, who also serves as Shtetl Co-op coordinator, recently provided an update to new records.

Eight towns - Bialobrzegi, Daleszyce, Jozefow Ordynacki, Konskie, Pakosc, Polaniec and Radoszyce - are now complete (all available LDS data has been indexed), while more data was added for Bytom, Checiny, Gliwice, Gliwice County, Karczew, Ozorkow, Sobkow and Wlosszczowa. More than 30,000 new records are available and many additional microfilms completed.

Lipsius also said that the Sulwalki LDS project, announced in February 2005 as intending to index microfilms for all Suwalki-area towns, now has fully indexed 14 towns from more than 40 microfilms (from the collections of the Mormon Family History Library) and resulted in nearly 45,000 additional records.

The completely indexed towns follow, with those now in Lithuania noting the Lithuanian name: Bakalarzewo, Berzniki, Filipow, Krasnopol, Lozdzeije (Lazdijai), Olita (Alytus), Przerosl, Punsk, Sejny, Sereje (Seirijai), Suwalki, Szaki (Sakiai), Wiejsieje (Veisiejai) and Wizajny.

Additionally, the Serock Patrynomic File (1811-1825) is available. Most records are for people living in Serock, with a few from other places such as Ciechanow, Komorow, Nasiolski, and Warszawa.

To find the list, click here -> Sources -> Patrynomic Records -> Patrynomic Years -> Serock.

13 January 2007

Interviewing relatives about family history

Are you considering interviewing relatives about your family's history?

If your relative is elderly, don't procrastinate in making contact - you will regret it forever if you are too late.

According to this story, there are some ways NOT to do it.

The author discusses undesirable interview styles it describes as 'ambush', 'que sera sera', 'I'll remember everything', 'marathon' and 'accusatory.'

Positive steps to take include preparing a list of questions that will elicit more than monosyllabic yes or no answers (remember, rambling can produce good information), phoning first to make an appointment, keeping sessions a reasonably compact length for seniors and making sure you have camera, tape and video recorders to capture the moment.

Another good suggestion is to have your questions ready even before you make that first call, since your relative may want to talk right then and there.

Italy: Intriguing Jewish history

Jewish history in Italy dates at least as far back as the Romans; signs of Jewish life past and present can be found in many small towns as well as major cities.

Searching for information on the Jewish history of Sicily - one of the largest Jewish communities following the 1492 Expulsion?

Here's a good starting point for images of the ancient community in Agira, Catania, Palermo, Randazzo, Messina and Salemi. Many pages of the site are in Italian, some are in English - it is all interesting.

A recent JTA story references a compromise solution to a five-year struggle over which city would be home to the Italian Holocaust Memorial. Rome will be the site of the Holocaust Museum, while the northern city of Ferrara will host a museum of Italian Jewry with a Holocaust section.

The site of the Rome memorial is on the grounds of the Villa Torlonia, the former residence of Benito Mussolini. Roman-era Jewish catacombs are under the villa. Rome's mayor, Walter Veltroni hopes the museum will open Oct. 16, 2008, the 65th anniversary of the day that Germans captured more than 1,000 Jews from Rome’s ghetto. Elie Wiesel was named the museum's honorary president.

An earlier JTA story focuses on a 2003 guidebook to Jewish heritage in Italy.

The article focuses on Annie Sacerdoti. Twenty years ago, Sacerdoti was hired to produce a documentary about Jewish history in Italy’s northern Lombardy region. This led her to publish a guide to Jewish Italy and, during the 1990s, she also edited a guidebook series on Jewish heritage in Italian regions.

China: Restoring Jewish Shanghai

If your connection to things Asian runs deeper than gastronomy, or if your family history has a Shanghai connection, read on.

Built by Russian immigrants in 1927, Shanghai's Ohel Moishe synagogue is undergoing restoration. The building, which housed the Shanghai Jewish Museum, is closed during the renovation which is expected to take five months.

"Little Vienna," home to the city's once-bustling Jewish community, is also being restored in through a project that began in 2003. With a war-time population of some 30,000, swelled by refugees from war-torn Europe, it once had six synagogues, a cafe, school, a newspaper and library.

The article quotes Rabbi Shalom D. Greenberg:
"In remembrance of kindness to Jewish refugees, the Jewish community in Shanghai and abroad will launch a campaign in spring to assist the needy in the area, many of whom are low-income, elderly, disadvantaged and are being relocated."

Are you sure your family heirlooms are stored properly?

Are you downsizing or helping a relative move to a senior community? What will you do with the family memorabilia? How will you preserve it?

Preservation and conservation are important issues to family history researchers. Although we may think primarily about photographs and documents, what about books, a dried wedding bouquet or your own more contemporary mementos?

Storing family heirlooms is problematic, as they are likely stored in attics, basements or garages where temperature and humidity can play havoc with the items.

This story stresses the importance of environmental factors, provides information on archival quality storage containers, and advises obtaining expert advice before sending old textiles - like Grandma's wedding veil - to a neighborhood dry cleaner.

It also discusses what to do when a family heirloom collection may be parceled out to relatives, offers some useful links and even provides a quiz to assess the current storage risk to your own treasures.

Former anthropology teacher Jennifer Cobb realized her own treasures were deteriorating due to storage conditions; her efforts to protect these artifacts led her to found Heirloom Preservation LLC.

People have a lot of preservation issues they don't even know about. So much is lost due to ignorance and neglect," says Cobb, who has decided to make helping people preserve their legacies her life's work. Today, Cobb works with individuals, families, historic preservation groups and small museums.

Cobb also deals with people whom she calls "The Keeper of the Stuff." I'm sure many Tracing the Tribe readers will identify with that title!

"What happens in a family, I've observed, is that usually it's one person who has the stuff. I call them The Keeper of the Stuff," Cobb says with a chuckle. People earn the title because they are interested in genealogy or history "and people in the family find out and they find a letter or they find a dress" and pass those items along to the Keeper who finds it "interesting, fascinating, they love it." However, the trouble comes because the Keeper doesn't know what to do to properly preserve the items. In many instances, "They start to feel guilty," says Cobb. "They put (dealing with) it off because it's too overwhelming."

08 January 2007

New York City: Browsing Bialystok

New York's Jewish Genealogical Society was the first such society formed, in 1977. It offers excellent monthly programs at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 21, the topic is "The Bialystoker Stimme and Landsmanshaft Newspapers as Genealogical Research Tools," presented by Rebecca Kobrin, assistant professor of American Jewish history at Columbia University, where she specializes in Jewish immigration history, Jewish urban history and Diaspora studies.

Whether your ancestors hail from Bialystok or not, this program offers a glimpse of what is seen as a neglected body of research materials.

As immigrants arrived, they formed landsmanshaftn or associations of immigrants from a particular place. The societies claimed 1 million members, and many published Yiddish periodicals.

Their contributors were part of the larger Yiddish literary movement sweeping through the Lower East Side which fueled the growth of Yiddish print culture. In contrast to the ideologically charged and meticulously edited pages of such newspapers as the Jewish Daily Forward, the landsmanshaft press welcomed contributions from many ingenue writers, who spoke about their families, Eastern Europe and America.

Using examples from several of these publications, Professor Kobrin will illustrate how the vast corpus of landsmanshaft literature is a rich but rarely utilized genre in modern genealogical studies. The articles, advertisements and lists of relatives available in these journals, magazines, and newspapers left a deep imprint and enable contemporary readers to answer myriad questions concerning the inner world of their Yiddish-speaking immigrant ancestors.

Between Exile and Empire: Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora is Kobrin's forthcoming book.
Admission for non-JGS members is $5.

07 January 2007

Online basic Jewish genealogy begins in February

Back in December, I mentioned the start of GenClass - Online Genealogy Classes.

The first series of January classes is underway, and registration is open now for February and March, when two Jewish genealogy classes will be offered.

On February 1, Basic Jewish Genealogy will start. This is a step-by-step introduction to Jewish genealogy covering calendars, languages, geography, names, archives, emigration, immigration, searching online and more. It provides all the essentials to start making great discoveries.

In March, Jewish Internet Research is all about how and where to find the online information you need, and builds on information provided in the basic class, as it covers general sites and indices, general genealogy sites, general Jewish sites and resources, major Jewish genealogy sites and much more.

The four-week classes are an easy, practical, economical way to learn the essentials and begin making major discoveries in the comfort of your home. Each class has a detailed syllabus, lessons to download, and twice weekly online class chats.

Both Jewish genealogy classes are co-taught by Internet specialist Micha Reisel and myself - we formerly provided them at MyFamily.Com for several years.

Other February classes, taught by experienced instructors, include Adoption Investigative Class, Eastern European Genealogy Research Part 1 (Basic), Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class, Organizing Your Family History and Write Your Family History Step-by-Step

Visit GenClass for more details, including information on all scheduled classes, instructor bios and easy online registration.

Changing kosher traditions; a.ka. What would grandma say about jalapeno gefilte fish?

Our ancestors who lived in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, where kasha (buckwheat groats) reigned supreme and all chickens were free-range, would likely be overwhelmed by the plethora of kosher edibles available today in the United States. The kosher cuisine industry rakes in some $11 billion annually.

While it's not strictly genealogy, our food traditions often give clues as to where we hail from and how our ancestors lived.

What would our forefathers think of jalapeno pepper-flavored gefilte fish? What would our great-great-grandmothers think of such KosherFest offerings as sea salt caramels, fig araq liqueur and wheatgrass-and-spiruline smoothies?

What will your family's incredible edible traditions be in the future?

Writing memoirs to keep history alive

In San Francisco and elsewhere, writers are recording their memoirs as a legacy for future generations.

Ken Colvin, 82, made his living in the field of agricultural marketing. But his life was forever changed when, as a 19-year-old Army surgical technician, he helped liberate Nazi death camps in 1945. It was an experience so searing it defined him ever after as an American and as a Jew.

Years later, with the birth of each of his seven grandchildren, the San Francisco native would write a long personal essay, a kind of letter of introduction. But he found he had even more to tell, and so in 1989 he set down his memoirs, which he titled “Cause and Effect.”

Helen Lewison, 82, a San Francisco housewife turned author, has been busy since she wrote her first memoir following her husband's 1992 death. Her latest, "The Butterfly Chronicles," includes her arrival in the Bay Area at age 31. “I went to a B’nai Brith dance in Oakland,” she recalls, “met Mel and married him 11 days later.”

Jewish community activist and real estate magnate William J. Lowenberg is an 80-year-old Auschwitz survivor who wrote a self-published memoir just for his family. His daughter convinced him to put his life story into book form, and he then worked with Susan Rothenberg, a social worker and editor of five memoirs.

"Susan and I met every Wednesday afternoon for a few hours,” he recalls. “She put a mike on my tie, and I talked and talked. Then she would write up what we discussed and send me a copy from the previous week. It wasn’t painful to talk about it. I look at it as an obligation. The world has to know.”

How to investigate your house's history

Have you ever wondered about your house's history and the families that have lived there before you?

Here are two articles that provide some insight.

People curious about their house's past sometimes turn into detectives who probe records and research the structure's history. This article features some Milwaukee-area homeowners explain how they traced the histories of their homes.

Is your home's style Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Prairie, Art Deco, Moderne or Ranch? This article gives you some clues about researching the history of your house through its architecture.

This pair of articles also has information on where to locate house history details at your nearest public library. Sources include Sanborn fire insurance atlases, tax rolls and historical societies.

05 January 2007

International Conference on Jewish Genealogy - Update

The main Jewish genealogy event of the year will be the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy which will be held Sunday, July 15 - Friday, July 20, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Just announced by the Conference Commmittee:

*Some 120 programs on a wide array of topics will be offered this year.

*Ten special interest groups (SIGs) will have themed programs, meetings or luncheons: Gesher Galicia, ROM-SIG, Litvak SIG, GER-SIG, Hungarian SIG, Latvia SIG, Sephardic SIG, Ukraine SIG, Austria/Czech SIG and Belarus SIG. Some have invited specialists or archivists. Register for the luncheons at the website.

*DNA has been a major component at recent conferences. This year, an evening program is also planned on Wednesday, July 18. "Our Heritage and Our Health: Genealogy, DNA and Genetic Conditions Among the Ashkenazi Jews,” will be presented by patient care liaison/certified genetic counselor Gary S. Frohlich of Genzyme Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA). He'll talk about the importance of knowing one's family health history – an integral part of genealogy – and the increased risks of inherited diseases among Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. The company is also sponsoring a dessert buffet.

*Discussions are being held with the Utah Historical Society to offer self-guided walking tours and bus tours of Jewish Salt Lake City. The area’s Jewish experience dates from the 1820s, when trappers, traders and explorers passed through, and in the mid-1850s, when individuals and families arrived.

*The extensive event FAQ covering all conference details has two new entries:
“What accommodations will be made by the Conference for participants with disabilities?” provides information concerning access, hotel rooms and the Family History Library.
“How does the scheduling of the Conference between 17th of Tammuz (July 3, 2007) and the 9th of Av (July 24, 2007) impact the observant?” provides information on vegetarian dining options during the conference and more.

For additional information, click here and scroll to Breaking News.

04 January 2007

Surfing in Jamaica for Jewish records

Surfing in the Caribbean is not exactly my style, but the next best thing is surfing the Internet for Jewish resources in that region.

The Caribbean has had a Jewish presence for centuries. On nearly every island there were Sephardic Jews: They owned Hebrew-named plantations, and were merchants and traders with fleets of ships. On some islands, they were later joined by Ashkenazi merchants.

An excellent book on the subject is The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean by Mordechai Arbell, a former Israeli diplomat who spent years in the region. He has tracked down forgotten cemeteries, spoken to contemporary descendants still on the islands and tracked others to New Orleans and elsewhere. The book is filled with maps, lists and resources.

Jamaican Family Search has extensive Jewish resources. Some are for public viewing, others require paid subscriptions. If your family has Caribbean connections, particularly Sephardic, consider a short-term subscription.

Here are some names for each resource.

-Ashkenazi Congregation, Kingston 1788-1906: AKIN, FRANKS, GATES, KAHN, LEWIS, LYONS, MAGNUS, REUBEN, SAMUELS, WORMS.



-Index to Jewish births, marriages and deaths, Montego Bay and an extensive lodge name list 1818-2000.

-Synagogue leadership from the 1850 Jamaica Almanac. Synagogues include the English & German Synagogue (Shahar Yosher), Spanish & Portuguese (Shahar Ashmamaim), Spanish Town (Nevey Shalom), Montego Bay (Beth Yahacob). The Hebrew spellings are those used in the Almanac.


-Transcriptions and some photographs: Tombstones, Jewish cemetery, Falmouth

-Extracts from A Record of Jews in Jamaica by Jacob APM Andrade, including Tombstones, Will extracts, Patents, Naturalizations, and other items.

Enjoy your surfing !

03 January 2007

A new source for Jewish records in India

There are a host of Web sites dedicated to "deep searching" on the Internet. This is also called accessing the invisible Internet.

I clicked on CompletePlanet - The Deep Web Directory, which claims over 70,000 searchable databases and specialty search engines: "A comprehensive listing of dynamic searchable databases. Find databases with highly relevant documents that cannot be crawled or indexed by surface web search engines."

I searched for "Jewish genealogy, family history." In the initial list of hits appeared Family History in India. The site is designed "to help people trace their British, European and Anglo-Indian family history in colonial India. Much of the website is devoted to British and Christian families, but this series of pages refers to non-British family history."

Just for the fun of it, I investigated to see if there were any indications of members of the tribe in the site's general resources.

Among the offerings was a general Index to Bengal marriages (with thousands of individuals). Though this is not - at first glance - a Jewish source, it contained some surprises. The indices list volume and folio of the records and where the records are kept.

Using common Jewish surnames, I did a quick search. There is no guarantee that these individuals were indeed our brethren, but perhaps your lost branch is among them.

Index to Bengal Marriages:
1860: Cohen Frederick and Schoenerstedt Emilie
1864: Cohen Lionel A and Hawkins Eliza
1887: Goldstein Walter H. and Curton Agness A.
1890: Goldsteen Mary and Duncan James
1893: Cohen Richal and Hutchison Fredk.
1893: Goldstain Ellena and Hamilton Jas.
1893: Moskowitz Chaja and Vlastelicich Vincenzo

Index to Calcutta Marriages:

1795: Goinstine, Jacob and "Mary"
1795: Judah, Abraham and Blair, Anne
1782: Sinai, Joseph and Danston, Maria

Index to High Court Records, Calcutta 1818: James Levy

Indian Mutiny Medal – British Forces:
Private Lewis Levy - 14th Light Dragoons
Sergeant Major Samuel Levi - 1st Battalion 20th Foot (East Devonshire)

British Army Casualty List 2nd Afghan War 1878-1880:
Henry Cohen - Drummer - 66th Foot - Killed in Action - Maiwand 27-07-1880

There is a search engine which finds "sounds like" as well as exact matches. For example, entering STEIN brings up STEEN and STONE.

Cape Town: A conference on Jewish Journeys

When Saul Issrof of London sent me the information on this program, I wanted to take my own Jewish journey to South Africa, at least for January 8-10.

The event features a series of fascinating programs with presenters (including Saul) from New Zealand, the U.K., South Africa, the U.S., Israel, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. It is a rare conference whose every presentation hits my emotional buttons – Jewish Journeys gets a gold star in this department.

The conference call for papers invited those covering history, literature, sociology of genealogy, philosophy, theology, Jewish Studies, Bible Studies and a wide range of perspectives from ancient through modern traditions.

In case you’re already in South Africa, planning a quick visit, or just want to see what you’ll be missing, here are some highlights:

  • Journeys in ancient Judaism: the migrations of the ancestors
  • When Rivkah left home: Women’s Journeys from Eastern Europe to South Africa
  • Iceberg or Goldberg? Jewish and Non-Jewish Narratives of the Titanic
  • Who do you think you are? Journeys and Jewish identity in the narratives of David Baddiel and Stephen Fry
  • Going East? Coming Home? Jewish Journeys in Eastern Europe before 1939
  • Keeping Kosher: Policies deployed by British and German shipping companies to develop the transoceanic Jewish passenger business.
  • The Role of Travel in Jewish Identity Formation: The Ohlmert Family Sojourn to China as a Case Study
  • German Jewish Immigration to Johannesburg during the 1930s
  • Visiting der Heym! The significance of Jewish ancestral visits
  • Litvak Migratory Decisions in the second half of the C19th and their consequences
  • Layers of Identity in a Jewish Community: from Crypto Faith in Mashhad to Mashhadiland, USA
  • Sephardic Merchant Journeys

I hope that some of these speakers decide to present at future International Conferences of Jewish Genealogy. My Sephardic and Persian personas jumped for joy when I read the titles of the list's final two programs!

The conference is at All Africa House in Cape Town, and is sponsored by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research

The Kaplan Centre, founded in 1980, is the only one of its kind in South Africa. Its goals are to stimulate and promote Jewish studies and university research focusing on the South African Jewish community. Multi-disciplinary, it encourages scholar participation in such fields as history, political science, education, sociology, comparative literature, Hebrew and Judaic studies.

02 January 2007

East side, west side, all around the town

NYC-Architecture is an interesting site with photographs of the Lower East Side, both period and contemporary.

There are also extensive photo archives organized by neighborhood for Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as for bridges, walking tours, postcards, etc. The site is searchable by style, architect, type, area and alphabetically.

Informative histories of Brooklyn and its neighborhoods are fun to read, and there's even a section on the beautiful mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, and the town's history.

And if you haven't had enough images to wax nostalgic over, there's always Brooklyn Collectibles, with even more Old Brooklyn photos organized by neighborhood.

The company offers high-quality photographic views of Brooklyn and New York City neighborhoods, from 1890-1965. Author and local historian Brian Merlis has thousands of images of theaters, high schools, Coney Island, Ebbets Field, trolleys, railroads and subways, stores, and regular street scenes.

While it is a commercial site and sells its photos, the many images available are to kvell over.

01 January 2007

Hamburg Emigration Records: Update

Back in November, I told readers that the Hamburg Emigration records were moving:

The Hamburg Passenger Lists 1850-1934, which were available at Linktoyourroots.com, have moved to BallinStadt.com. The fully digitized lists will be available in December on both BallinStadt and Ancestry.com.

The records are now available on Ancestry.com.
With the exception of 1915-1919, the Hamburg outbound passenger lists cover 1850-1934. Although the index currently covers 1890-1913, all manifest images through 1934 are available, with the exception noted.

As expected, genealogy guru Steve Morse has already created a One-Step form for these records. Go to his website and scroll down under "Other Ports of Emigration," where you will find Hamburg nearly at the bottom of the list.

I investigated my research names and found some interesting new spellings and was able to view the manifest images, which could not be done on the old Link to Your Roots site. Looking at the images is the key to puzzling out some pretty strange names that may be quite obvious to you as you view the handwritten entries.

Caveat: Always look at the images if that is an option, otherwise you will be relying on what someone somewhere "thinks," and not what the name is in reality

There are still some funny transcription errors, and I'm not sure if the manifests were re-keyed by Ancestry's paleographers or are the Link to Your Roots transcriptions. For example, our male cousin Anselm is listed as Angela, and I've sent in a correction comment.

If others have already sent in corrections - listed as "alternative names" - floating your mouse over a name will bring up the suggestions. There's an icon next to names for which comments were received.

I believe many researchers would be much happier if the name were simply changed in the record when it is obviously wrong, such as in Anselm's case. Somehow, I don't think that the male (and correct) name of Anselm is an "alternate" name for the very female (and very wrong) name of Angela in this particular record. Another example reads "Tork" for the female given name of Sora. These points however are minor in comparison to the wealth of material presented in these records.

So, if you have a paid subscription, do take a look. Perhaps it's time to take advantage of the company's free 14-day trial?

Lvov, Ukraine: The struggle to reclaim Judaica lost under communism

A recent JTA story focused on the Judaica Collection at the Museum of History of Religion in Lvov, Ukraine.

Museums in Lvov hold many Jewish artifacts which once belonged to local synagogues and Jewish institutions -- and the city's congregations want them back. Today, there are some 2,000 Jews in the city, which is home to a Reform and two Orthodox congregations.

During the Communist era, artifacts, including Torah scrolls and ritual objects were confiscated from the community, and individuals donated items they could not keep or were afraid to keep in their homes.

The city's Museum of the History of Religion has a manuscript collection and more than 420 Torah scrolls and fragments; items date from the 15th century through to the prewar community.

The Museum of Ethnography and Crafts has an extensive collection of valuable ancient Judaica, from Torah scrolls and velvet scroll covers to silver pointers and antique Jewish headwear.

Each museum has about 1,000 items.

“Our congregation is trying to bring Jewish tradition back, and we need these Torah scrolls and religious objects,” said Valentina Zamichkovskaya, 67, a member of the Lvov Reform Jewish congregation.
Ukrainian authorities seem open to the possibility.
“We are ready to transfer some items to the Jewish communities upon their request,” Roman Kurash, a representative of the Lvov Regional Administration in charge of religious affairs, told JTA.
“Ukrainian authorities are ready to resolve the issue on the condition that these objects are used for religious community purposes,” said Alexander Sagan, a senior adviser to President Viktor Yuschenko.

Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Poland - between the wars - it became part of the Soviet Union in 1939. When the second world war began, Ukraine's Jewish population was some 1.5 million (half were refugees from German-occupied Poland), with 200,000 in Lvov.

Only a few hundred people survived the Holocaust in Lvov.

Catskills Institute: New York, Baltimore

When Prof. Phil Brown, Catskills Institute founder, spoke at the 2006 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, it was a moving experience.

As the granddaughter of Kauneonga Lake bungalow colony owners Sidney and Bertha Fink, and as someone who spent years of summers "in the country," I always point people to Phil's great site, where he archives everything about the special legacy of the Catskills' Jewish experience.

If you're in the New York area Phil will speak on "A Summer Eden: The Jewish Legacy in the Catskills" on Sunday January 7, 2007, 9:30 AM at the New City Jewish Center in New City, New York, near the Tappan Zee Bridge. He will also show more than 150 photographs.

And if you are further south, you may wish to calendar his talk at Baltimore's Jewish Museum on Sunday, February 11, which will examine multicultural issues in Catskills life, include Jewish-Black relations. Visitors can also view the exhibit - "The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity and the Jewish-American Dream" - which the Catskills Institute helped organize. See the museum's Web site for more information.

Asia: tracking down Jewish burials

I came across an interesting site for the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia.

The BACSA site offers information about their projects and publishes some 41 books of information and burial records in various locations and various historical periods, including Calcutta, Bencoolen, Penang, Perak, Peshawar, Kanpur, Burma, Kerala, as well as Japan and others.

Only one transcription is online - that of Maymyo - and I discovered one burial of interest:
Maymyo Cemetery Register of European Burials
Revised in 2004 with the assistance of a Grant from BACSA

FRIEDLANDER, Lionel Laroche
Plot C15
Born: 14 June 1882
Died: 11 September 1902

While the others in this cemetery's 44-page document do not appear to be members of the tribe, with the possible exception of a CAHAN, one burial of interest is enough to locate a lost branch.

It is possible that other Jewish individuals are buried in many of the cemeteries covered by the series of books. If there was no Jewish cemetery or organized Jewish community, a person was likely buried in a “European” cemetery.

This occurence is not limited to Asia. When our cousin Dr. Michael (Misha) Talalay of St. Petersburg was researching the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the spa towns of Italy, he located at least one Talalay who had died of tuberculosis when the town in question did not yet have an organized Jewish community.

Misha was quite shocked to see this person's name in the register, even though he was investigating the many Russians (representing all religions) who were visitors at the spa towns. Visits to the spa towns were highly touted by Russian doctors for their patients suffering from a variety of illnesses. Eventually Jewish communities were organized in the larger spa towns providing support services to Jewish patients from Russia and elsewhere.