25 July 2007

Australia: Jewish convicts and ghosts

Convicts and ghosts: Early Australian Jews were a colorful lot.

In August 2004, I wrote an "It's All Relative" column on this subject for the Metro weekly of the Jerusalem Post, after meeting then 90-year-old Louise Rosenberg of Sydney at the 2004 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy held in Jerusalem that summer.

On January 26, 1788, 15 adult Jews and a baby arrived in Australia on the First Fleet of convicts transported from England.

The stories of some of those Jews, those who followed and their descendants are included in Of Folktales and Jewish Folk in Australian History, by Louise Rosenberg of Sydney. The book details aspects of both early and contemporary Jewish life and, as befits an author deeply immersed in genealogy, aims to preserve traditions and history for future generations.

It's well worth the search for this book; information on obtaining a copy is below.

In 1974, Victoria's Rabbi John Simon Levi and Dr. G. Bergman of New South Wales identified 10 Jews, including the baby Rosanne (born in Newgate prison to Esther Abrahams. Researchers at the Australian Jewish Historical Society identified another 12 Jews, and Rabbi Levi estimated that 463 people, who could be identified as Jewish, came to Australia in the first four decades of European settlement, including 384 convicts, 52 free settlers and 27 children.

"What became of the First Fleet's Esther Abrahams and her baby Rosanna and of Esther's seven children with Scottish-born Lt. George Johnstone? Her son Robert became the first Australian-born officer of the Royal Navy and a renowned explorer. The Sydney suburb of Annandale took its name from a land grant to Johnston in 1793. The farm, with Esther in charge, provided meat and produce during the settlement's early years.

OF some 1,000 Jews arriving in Australia among 146,000 convicts transported 1788-1852, few were convicted of violent crimes. Most, say scholars, were Sephardi rather than Ashkenazi, and some believe that the petty crimes with which they were charged were part of a deliberate plan to leave England, an opportunity for a new life.

Among early Jewish convicts were Sarah Burdo, Rebecca Davidson, Henry Abrams, Daniel Daniels, Aaron Davis, Sarah Davis, David Jacobs, John Jacobs, Thomas Josephs, Isaac Lemon, Amelia Levy, Joseph Levy. Jacob Messiah and Joseph Tuso. Daniels may have been a Hebrew scholar. A 1789 letter found in Gloucester, 100 miles west of London, refers to the nephew of Ephraim Daniel of Mile-End who 'has leave to teach the children of some of your nation to read and write Hebrew.'"

Joseph Levy was the first Jew to be buried in Australia, dying three months after arriving, followed by Simon Bocerah in July 1791, and by 1817, when 30-40 Jews were resident, the Hevra Kadisha (burial society) was founded in Woollahra.

Joseph Samuel, the man they couldn't hang, was convicted of murder, and sentenced to hang September 26, 1803. The first attempt, as did the second and third tries, ended in a broken rope. "It would seem there has been Divine Intervention," said the governor and granted a reprieve. The ropes were tested; each supported nearly 400 pounds without breaking.

Genealogist and author Rabbi Shmuel Gorr visited Sydney some 174 years later and calculated the Hebrew date as Yom Kippur 5564.

Philip Joseph Cohen arrived in May 1828 to perform Jewish marriages, and brought a chumash, inscribed with centuries of his family's genealogy. Today it is in the Great Synagogue's Rosenblum Museum.

Among colorful personalities were:

Barnett Levey, the first free Jewish male to arrive in 1821, became a successful businessman, shipbroker, storekeeper and ship owner, encouraged migration of free settlers, and built the first theater in Sydney.

Israel Chapman, the colony's first police detective, was appointed in 1827. His adventures were featured in the Sydney Gazette and The Australian.

Edward Davis, 18, arrived in 1833 and became leader of a gang of Jewish bushrangers (robbers) north of Sydney. Captured in December 1840, he was hanged and buried in a corner of the Jewish Devonshire Street cemetery.

Isaac Nathan, called the "father of Australian music," arrived in 1841 with his own piano, having set to music Lord Byron's "Hebrew Melodies." Nathan, born in 1790, was the eldest child of Cantor Menahem Mona, who believed he was the illegitimate child of Stanislaus Poniatowski, the last Polish King.

The Sephardi Montefiore family went to the West Indies and to New South Wales (in 1828), headed by Joseph Barrow Montefiore. In Adelaide, graphic artist E.L. Montefiore established the first circulating public library and the Adelaide Art Galley in 1844.

Rosenberg's book also highlights early Jewish women: kindergarten education pioneers Lillian Daphne de Lissa and Zoe Benjamin as well as Gladys Marks, the first woman lecturer at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Arts and the first female professor in Australia (1929).

In 1830, Rabbi Aaron Levy of the London Beth Din, arrived in Sydney, sent by London's chief rabbi to find the husband of an Englishwoman who required a get. Levy brought the first sefer Torah and prayerbooks, located the missing husband and stayed for four months.

In the early community, according to Rosenberg, there was one woman to seven men, with frequent intermarriage. The leadership declared that children of a mixed marriage would be regarded as Jews, a tradition also followed among Caribbean Sephardim. However, Levy's arrival meant that, after 1833, this would cease; the mother must be Jewish for the children to be recognized.

A fascinating contemporary woman is Nanette Green, whose search for her biological father Issachar Weingott led to her intense connection to Judaism. Although never converting, she continued learning and lecturing on the Jewish experience, and served as president of a synagogue steering committee in 1997. A pharmacist, she founded many cultural companies in a rural city.

Along with the living, came a few ghosts:

Joseph Levy, 20, arrived in August 1820, married a non-Jew in 1832. His daughter Rebecca, born 1833, married Maurice Solomon in 1853 and died in 1930, at 97. Her descendants and those of her brother are counted among today's Jewish community. Joseph died September 25, 1862. Within a month, strange noises were heard on Friday nights at the Victoria Inn, Berrima. On July 9, 1967, the Sydney Daily Telegraph wrote about the ghost, "Is the ghost looking for a minyan?"

Says Rosenberg, another spirit was industrial pioneer Abraham Davis, who arrived from Poland in 1857. He was one of Melbourne's Jewish pearl buyers in northwest coastal Broome. While returning to his sheep station, he was caught on a boat during a March 1912 cyclone; the ship sank with 138 passengers and crew. Abraham had carried a number of pearls, including a priceless one, with the legend that it was cursed and would bring tragedy to its owner.

His Broome home was sold in 1914 to became the home of Anglican Bishop Gerard Trower, who relates Rosenberg, was the first to see the spirit, a tall, handsome, bearded Jew wrapped in a tallit, carrying a prayer book. In 1957, after the building was demolished and an apartment building was built there, the ghost disappeared. Rosenberg believes Davis' ghost was his annoyance that his home was used by a Christian clergyman.

Here's the information for the book. It is a great read.

Of Folktales and Jewish Folk in Australian History, Louise Rosenberg. (Printworthy, 2004). About AU$35. Available through www.printworthy.info.

Ancestry: Find your Australian relatives

Ancestry may have made it easier for you to find information on your Australian ancestors.

Several of the First Fleet - Australian's convict transports - were Jewish men and women. See an earlier Tracing the Tribe post here.

In a Jerusalem Post story in 2004, I included many details from another volume about these early settlers, and I'll do a separate posting on that story, which may provide more clues to searching the Ancestry.

Some were sent down under for as minor a crime as stealing bread.

Here's the official Ancestry press release:

PROVO, UTAH – July 25, 2007 – Stealing sheep or wool or cloth in 18th- and 19th-century England could land you a minimum seven-year sentence at an Australian penal colony, according to Ancestry.com’s newest online collection of Australian convicts records. For those interested in uncovering the criminal ancestors lurking in their past, the world’s largest online resource for family history today released the largest collection of Australian convict records, indexed and searchable online for the first time. Records detail the some 165,000 convicts transported to Australia from 1788 to 1868.

An estimated 22 percent of Australians are descended from these British exiles. Their sentences served, many convicts remained Down Under, becoming Australia ’s first western settlers.

The British government deemed transportation, as the practice was known, just punishment for a mixed bag of crimes from marrying secretly to burning clothes. Although “felony,” “larceny” and “burglary” described the overwhelming majority of crimes, a few records include juicy details, such as, “obtaining money by false pretences,” “stealing heifers” and “privately stealing in a shop.” The convict records typically contain convict’s name, date and place of sentencing, length of sentence – usually 7 years, 14 years or life – and, sometimes, the crime committed.

“By today’s standards, many of these crimes are minor misdemeanors or are no longer illegal, and the severity of punishments seem ludicrous,” said Megan Smolenyak, Chief Family Historian for Ancestry.com. “No wonder Australians consider a convict in their family tree a badge of honor and seek to uncover the amusing, quirky and outrageous details in their family’s ‘criminal’ past.”

But as notorious as the Australian convicts might be, England first disposed of its felons in the American colonies. High crime rates and over-crowded jails led the English government to transport small-time criminals to British colonies. By 1775, England had shipped some 50,000 convicts to America . They worked as indentured servants, typically on tobacco plantations in Virginia and Maryland .

Tired of England deporting unwanted citizens to America , Benjamin Franklin suggested sending rattlesnakes to England in return – a sentiment shared by many Colonial leaders. The American Revolution ended convict banishment to the United States , and the British began shipping their criminals some 15,000 miles to newly discovered Australia .

Unique Attributes of Australian-Bound Convicts:

- A vast majority of Australia-bound convicts were English, Irish and Scottish men between the ages of 20 and 24

- Women accounted for some 15 percent of Australian convicts but were outnumbered by men, six to one

- 39 percent of male and 35 percent of female convicts had no prior convictions

- The oldest convict transported was approximately 60, and the youngest nine

- 1,321 convicts were from other parts of the British Empire

- The majority of convicts were illiterate and convicted for crimes of poverty (theft)

- In the first years of transportation, convict ships were unsanitary and disease ridden; conditions improved in the later years

- Convicts typically served their sentence building roads, bridges and buildings or for free settlers

- When transportation ended, convicts made up 40 percent of Australia ’s English-speaking population

FEEFHS: Will the real Pesach Pekarsky please stand up?

Prior to the IAJGS event, I also attended some sessions of the annual meeting of the Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS); click here for more information.

One particularly enjoyable session was Mike Karsen's entertaining "Immigration Online." Karsen is president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois and wears many other hats as well.

Among the myths he destroyed:
*Your family's arrival story is exactly correct
*The name was changed at Ellis Island
*The streets were paved with gold
*They must have come to Ellis Island, everyone did
*They settled in Baltimore so they probably took the non-stop

If all genealogists had half a penny for each time we heard "our name was changed at Ellis Island," our homes would be filled with sacks of coins!

Among Mike's refutations of the myth:

Manifests were completed with old country names before embarkation, locals wrote the ship manifests and Ellis Island had translators for at least 30 languages.

Mike made the point that chain migration was common. One individual arrived, began working and sent for another individual, who in turn continued the process. In one line, he found 13 people arriving in this process.

To find the proper answers to such family lore as "Aunt Nettie met her husband on the ship and were married before they arrived in NY harbor," or "Grandma's sister died on the way to America," researchers must gather facts and check documents.

In one case I was privileged to work on, the story was that a grandmother's niece left Mogilev, Belarus for Detroit: "She was the most beautiful girl in Detroit and married the richest man in the city." Neither was true, but with the help of several researchers in Michigan, California, New York and Israel, we pieced together the puzzle and discovered the truth, enabling the long-separated family branches to enjoy a happy reunion in Beersheva, Israel.

Documents include inspection cards, census and naturalization records, while essential facts include the family's original name and where they were from, when and where they arrived, who traveled with them, and their final destination (and to whom they were going).

Passenger manifests after 1906 provide better details, but other documents such as inspection cards, census, diverse naturalization documents (petitions and certificates, etc.) provide clues and details.

Not everyone arrived at Ellis Island (about 22 million people), and Mike's statistics showed that other major ports were destinations, such as Boston (2 million), Baltimore (1.5 million), Philadelphia (1.2 million), New Orleans (.7 million). Galveston, Texas was another, and before Ellis Island was established, Castle Garden saw 8 million arrivals.

Canadian records are in progress. British Columbia (Nanaimo port) is now starting their lists, and Archives Canada will extract all lists to the subscription Ancestry site.

How did immigrants choose a port? One consideration was affordability of tickets, or available space on a ship. Eighty per cent of immigrants did come to Ellis Island, but researchers should never overlook the other ports as possible doors.

My own research shows individuals arriving in Philadelphia who immediately settled in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Philadelphia ship might have been the next one out, or a "sale" for a certain line or ship may have provided incentives.

Various ethnic resources (Irish, German, Dutch, Italians, Russian, Swedish, etc.) help to pinpoint individuals.To locate Ellis Island arrivals, use Steve Morse's free site, developed soon after the EIDB went online. There are several forms available, and he's always adding new search tools for other complex searches. As far as immigration research, numerous researchers agree that the recently added gold form is best. Do read descriptions of what each form can do.

Fee sites include Ancestry with an ever-expanding list of new databases, including many port passenger lists. This is available at many local libraries, Family History Centers (some databases), universities.

For a comprehensive 13-page survey of online passenger lists by city and state, try Joe Beine's site, including online transcribed passenger lists.

Mike's case study of the search for his father - Pesach Pikarsky - using Steve Morse's gold page, with many filters, was interesting. He made the point that one must be careful of filters, which can produce wrong results, lost results, too many "hits" or none at all.

His tactics included a one letter "P" for given name, and added a year. None of the seven hits were his father. He went to the scanned original to see what was written. After all, he knew what he was looking for and could recognize what might have been transcribed in error by a volunteer.

He found his father's brother using the initial S for Shloime, coming from Zhitomir. He found his father listed with his grandmother and brother Shloime, Pesie and an additional brother, Leib. Pesie was transcribed as a female, a great surprise to Mike.

In column 18 (passenger destination and to whom), it said the family was going to their husband and father Moische Pekarsky in Chicago. In reality, Moische had died two years earlier and they were really going to a sister.

Mike supplied a few more interesting case studies, including composer Jerome Kern, which provided more clues to planning research.

Although more arrival records are seemingly available each day, don't ignore other ports. Try to gather the best clues before starting. Don't take family lore as law.

All in all, a great session. Thanks, Mike.

23 July 2007

Denmark: Grant to Holocaust denier

From a Seattle reader (thanks, Les!) comes a head's-up on grants made to a Holocaust denier in Denmark.

History On Trial is a blog by Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University (Atlanta, GA) and and author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving [Ecco 2005].

Her recent posting:

Denmark, according to the Danish paper Information,it turns out has given a substantial grant to a Holocaust denier who called the Diary of Anne Frank a forgery, contended that the gas chambers never existed and argued that the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust has been greatly exaggerated.

While that grant may well be attributed to a bureaucratic snafu, it's the response of the government official from the agency making the grant that's shocking. When the story broke the Arts Council said that it does not deal in censorship and "it is not our job to judge [people's] opinions."

Lipstadt's category for this posting is "Politically correct idiocy."

Among the comments made by the blog's readers: "I wonder if Denmark would fund a grant to study the opinion that the Earth was flat, the sun rotates around the Earth and 2+2=5."

The article in Haaretz said the grant was for studies by Erik Haaest on the involvement of Danes in Hitler's SS. The grants were made in 2004 and 2006 and totaled 100,000 Danish krone from the Danish Arts Council, a government-funded body.

21 July 2007

Sephardic workshop, conference: August 5-7

The New Mexico Jewish Historical Society publishes the quarterly Legacy newsletters, and archives them from 1998 on the website.

The June 2007 edition has information on the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies (SCJS) conference and a Jewish Genetics workshop focusing on the Hispanic population.

The SCJS holds an annual conference which I've tried to attend in the past, but my travel schedule just hasn't been able to accommodate that trip. I'm hoping for next year, and encourage those who can attend this year's event to do so.

Information on both events, set for August 5-7, was provided by Dr. Stan Hordes in the current newsletter.

Sunday, August 5, 9 a.m.-4.45 p.m., “Jewish Genetic Diseases and Their Presence among Hispanic Populations in the U.S. Southwest: An Interdisciplinary Workshop;" Doubletree Hotel, Albuquerque, NM. Admission $12, NMJHS members; $20, others; $5, full-time students.

This program will foster greater communication and collaboration among geneticists, clinical physicians, historians, anthropologists, and genetic counselors actively engaged in research regarding certain genetic diseases found among Jewish populations in New Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.

For decades researchers in these fields have been conducting their studies in a methodological vacuum, resulting in incomplete and inadequate work products. Diseases to be discussed include Gaucher’s, Pemphigus Vulgaris, and the BRCA I genetic mutation associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

By bringing together leading experts from diverse and complementary fields for a day-long program, these specialists will learn how colleagues in related disciplines conduct their research and analysis. The program is expected to serve as the catalyst for more elaborate workshops in the future. Ultimately it may spur the formation and development of interdisciplinary teams doing comprehensive studies on the relationship between ethnicity and genetic diseases.

Topics to be examined during the workshop include the presence of genetic diseases associated with Jewish populations that have appeared among Hispanics in recent years.

Workshop and Conference on Crypto-Judaic Studies Scholars and practitioners from the fields of history, anthropology, genetics, genetic counseling, and medicine, will share the results of their individual research, with the ultimate end of developing models of collaboration.

Email nmjhs@jewishnewmexico.org for more information or to make reservations. View the program and other information here.

The program is funded by grants from Genzyme, the Kaiserman FamilyFoundation, and Steve and Connie Robinson through the New Mexico Community Foundation.

The 17th Conference of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies opens immediately following the genetics workshop in the same location, running from Sunday-Tuesday, August 5-7. For program and registration information, click here. NMJHS members, $135.

The meeting will include presentations by scholars from Mexico, Canada, Israel, Great Britain, and the United States, and by descendants of crypto-Jews from New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Mexico who will share observations about their voyages of cultural and spiritual discovery.

The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies was founded in 1991 with the mission of fostering research and sharing of information regarding the historical and contemporary development of crypto-Jews of Iberian origin.

This year’s SCJS conference includes several papers on crypto-Judaism in fifteenth century Spain; a panel on how historians, anthropologists, and sociologists do their work; and presentations on manifestations of crypto-Jewish identity through art forms and poetry, featuring noted New Mexican and Texan artists. Highlighting the meeting will be an appearance by renowned flamenco producer and dancer Lili del Castillo of Albuquerque. She will show and discuss the video of her dance drama “Revelaciones,” which she performed originally for the NMJHS over ten years ago.

This year's event will honor Cary Herz, Dr. Richard E. Greenleaf and Martin Sosin. Herz’s photos on New Mexican crypto-Jewish themes will be published later this year by the University of New Mexico Press. Greenleaf, professor emeritus in history at Tulane University, has written many books and articles on the history of the Inquisition in Latin America, inspiring generations of scholars. President of the Sosin-Stratton-Pettit Foundation, Sosin will be honored for his grant to the conference which provides for expanded attention to the arts and cryptop-Judaism.

Also honored will be SCJS member Martin Sosin, President of the Sosin-Stratton-Pettit Foundation, whose grant to this conference makes possible expanded attention to the arts and crypto-Judaism.

NMJHS members can receive a discounted registration for the SCJS conference of $135, which includes admission to all sessions, Monday and Tuesday continental breakfast, Monday lunch and Sunday and Monday dinners.

FamilySearch.org adds Jewish resources

During the IAJGS conference, the local Deseret News carried a story about FamilySearch.org's new Jewish research page (with three online resources)and Dick Eastman's blog carried the official press release.

A new FamilySearch.org page includes a Jewish genealogy database, a new research guide called "Tracing Your Jewish Ancestors" and information on thousands of Jews from the British Isles called the Knowles Collection, which builds on the work of the late Isobel Mordy. The latter links individuals into family groups, with more names added continuously, according to a press release.

Dick Eastman published the official press release on his blog.

IAJGS: More on ITS-Bad Arolsen

If you saw the "60 Minutes" segment on three Holocaust survivors visiting the ITS-Bad Arolsen facility, you may remember that one of them was Micky Schwartz.

Paul A. Shapiro of the USHMM also referred to Schwartz in his talks at the just-ended conference.

Here's a local Salt Lake City story on Shapiro's presentation at the annual event.

For more than 60 years, Micky Schwartz had no idea just how lucky he was to get a throat infection as a teenager at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The illness saved his life — an irony documented in Nazi war records that only now are being made publicly accessible.

Then a boy of 14, Schwartz's name was crossed off a list of young Hungarian Jews slated to be shipped to a Nazi weapons manufacturing plant. The camp, survivors had learned, was a virtual death sentence. Records kept by his captors show he was too sick to make the journey, according to Paul Shapiro.

Click here for information on the records which the US Holocaust Museum will receive.

Mac users and genealogy

A Mac users' group formed at this year's Jewish genealogy conference. More information is forthcoming from the the organizer and I'll post it as soon as it arrives.

In the meantime, the International Herald Tribune had this segment in a recent Help File column

Q. Family Tree Maker's Web site says it has abandoned efforts to create a Mac version of that genealogy software. What can Mac owners who want to computerize their genealogy do?

A. Although Family Tree Maker, now on version 16 for Windows, has long been a stalwart in the genealogy software category, it's just one of the options out there for Macintosh computer users.

In fact, there's a whole site dedicated just to Mac roots-and-relatives software and the site also offers news, reviews and user forums.

Some of the Mac-based genealogy programs out there include iFamily for Tiger, which integrates itself with the Mac OS X iPhoto program for organizing family pictures. Other options include MacFamilyTree and Reunion.

If you are not sure which software to get, all three programs offer trial versions to download from their sites.

The Mac Genealogy site has links to several other Mac-friendly applications and utilities to help you build up your database of personal history.

Comments from Tracing the Tribe's Mac users concerning genealogy software are welcome.

Brazil: Crypto-Jewish exhibit

An exhibition on the history and experience of anousim (those forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition) over 500 years is at the Jewish Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

"Crypto-Jews: The Flame that the Inquisition Could Not Extinguish," was designed and produced by Shavei Israel in Jerusalem, which reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.

Maps, illustrations and photographs, with explanations in Hebrew and Portuguese, tells the anousim story and the centuries-long struggle to preserve Jewish identity. It has previously been exhibited in Israel and Spain.

Anousim are also known as "crypto-Jews" (crypto means secret) or by the pejorative term "marranos."

The exhibit highlights the arrival of Portuguese crypto-Jews in Brazil beginning in the 16th century, and describes horrific persecution endured at the hands of the Inquisition. Those suspected of practicing Judaism (Judaizers) were often returned to Portugal for trial, where they were frequently burned at the stake in public ceremonies, called auto-de-fe.

The display closed July 23 at the Museu Judaico do Rio de Janeiro, but travels to Belo Horizonte (August 2-16), the Amazon cities of Manaus (August 9-20) and Belem (August 27-September 6).

Read more here

Survivors' celebration honors family, friends

Max, 87, and Selien Noach, 80, just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and birthdays in New York with friends and family from Israel, the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S.

The story is also about those who helped them survive.

"My parents, his parents and the families that took care of us made it possible for us to have a family - for us to exist," said Selien Noach, who turned 80 yesterday. "Most people get married and their life is divided into 'before the marriage' and 'after.' For us, it's 'before the war' and 'after the war.'".

The war is World War II, when they went from carefree Dutch Jews to Holocaust survivors. The Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and in a few years, some 110,000 Jews were deported to camps. On the eve of German occupation, some 140,000 Jews lived there.

Max says they were lucky.

It is a story of imprisonment, payment for release, false documents, hair dye and friends who disregarded their own safety and illegal immigration to Palestine..

The children of those who saved them attended the festivities.

Max began preserving the family's history in 1985, when his first son had his first child. "I found that the story had to be told," Max said. "It's for our grandchildren."

Read more here.

Back to school: GenClass

Haven't you always wanted to find out more about your family? Here's a chance to get started in a short-term, information-packed online course at GenClass.

Basic Jewish Genealogy and Online Jewish Genealogy will begin after the High Holidays.

Starting August 2:

*Adoption Investigative Class: Detailed search advice and assistance for successfully locating and reuniting adoptees and birth families.

*Basic English Research: Learn how to start researching your English ancestors - historical background, geography, finding the "bones" of your family.

*Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 2 (Intermediate): This class will continue on from the basic Eastern European research class, focusing on how to expand your research beyond your own family into a more community-oriented protocol.

*Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class: Detailed search advice and assistance on the methods to use for successfully tracing "lost" relatives and friends.

Starting September 3:

*Adoption Investigative Class: Detailed search advice and assistance for successfully locating and reuniting adoptees and birth families.

*Canadian Research - Part 1: This course does more than get you started. It takes you deep into some of the country's best records - many on the Internet.

*Family Tree Maker 16 - Advanced: Advanced features, like books, trees, reports and web sites.

*Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class: Detailed search advice and assistance on the methods to use for successfully tracing "lost" relatives and friends.

*Native American Genealogy: Learn how to start your research for your Native American Ancestors.

*Salt Lake City - Part 1: Access the largest genealogical library in the world. Perform searches, knowledgeably; and understand what you've found.

*Write Your Family History Step-by-Step:
How to write your own family history - a detailed, step-by-step guide.

IAJGS: Chicago, Chicago - 2008

On the conference's last day (July 20), attendees were treated to a sneak preview of the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, set for August 17-22, 2008, at the Chicago Marriott Downtown.

For many researchers, particularly those living outside North America, early planning is essential, so calendar the dates now.

The preview indicated that programming may include several mini-themes (Midwest/Upper Midwest, Central/South America and Canada), as well as a diverse list of more than 20 topic categories (including Eastern Europe, technology and much more). Eastern European archivists sponsored by the various SIGs are anticipated.

As a Sephardic researcher, I'm also hoping for a significant program in 2008.

Tracing the Tribe will inform readers when the Call for Papers is announced. If you think you have an interesting program to present, now's the time to prepare.

Mike Karsen, JGS of Illinois president, offered a quick look at the many resources on Jewish Chicago, including his Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Chicagoland. For a summary of Chicago Jewish history, click here.

The two local societies - JGS of Illinois and the Illiana JGS - will be handling the resource room and hospitality. For more information on these, click the IAJGS site. It's never too early to think about volunteering in some way.

Co-chair Mike Posnick (an Upper Midwesterner himself - he lives in Minnesota) stressed the many Chicago resources, great shopping and restaurants. Tours are planned, including cemetery visits, and may include architecture, Jewish Chicago and a "gangster" tour. The committee is investigating bringing various resources into the hotel as small repositories will have difficulty handling large numbers of onsite researchers.

Tentatively, according to the committee, the Chicago 2008 website may be live in early November with registration beginning in early January.

Tracing the Tribe's travel tip: The Chicago location means that Amtrak rail may be an alternative travel method for many attendees. Some trains offer bedrooms (four adults) or family rooms, in addition to roommettes(two adults) and coach seats, with discounts for seniors and others.

Stay tuned for more information as official announcements are made!

IAJGS: Award winners

The closing banquet at each conference features an awards ceremony. This year, the awards committee included chair Jay Sage, Bill Israel and Paul Silverstone of the U.S.; Martha Lev Zion, Israel, and Max Polanovsky, France.

This year's Rabbi Malcolm S. Stern Grant provided $2,000 to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to assist with the indexing the ITS-Bad Arolsen records.

Of four possible achievement awards, only two were given this year:

Lars Menk of Germany received the Outstanding Contribution for Print for his "Dictionary of German Jewish Surnames," which lists some 13,000 surnames from all over Europe, including places and years recorded. The award was accepted for Menk by Gary Mokotoff of Avotaynu.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Mathilde Tagger of Israel for 20 years of Sephardic genealogy work, translating, transliterating and indexing of materials, websites and co-author of "Sephardic and Oriental Genealogical Resources in Israel." (Avotaynu, 2006).

The remaining two categories received only one nomination each, which precluded consideration.

Awards committee chair Jay Sage of Boston encouraged attendees, who represented many Jewish genealogical societies, to submit nominations for worthy individuals and projects when next year's round is announced. Honorees will be announced at the Chicago 2008 conference.

For information on past awards and criteria, click here.

An additional award was made as Yad Vashem honored Don Hirschhorn of the JGS of Palm Beach County, Florida. Hall of Names director Alexander Avraham presented the award to Hirschhorn for his "activism, dedication and outstanding volunteerism as coordinator for the Shoah Victims Names Recovery Project. His tireless efforts to attempt to memorialize each individual Jew who perished during the Holocaust have served as a model for us all."

Hirschhorn is the Names Recovery campaign coordinator for the JGSPBC and has "personally coordinated the submission of close to 1,000 Pages of Testimony."

IAJGS: Finding Our Fathers 30 years later

Author Dan Rottenberg ("Finding Our Fathers," May 1977) was the banquet speaker, and focused on what has happened in Jewish genealogy over the past three decades.

As a young teen, Rottenberg realized he was the fourth generation of his family in America. He spoke about how helpful both Rabbi Malcom Stern and Arthur Kurzwell were to him. However, his relationships with other institutions were sometimes negative.

When speaking with an elder researcher, the man said "I should be writing that book." A YIVO visit elicited such remarks from an archivist as "it's too complicated, go home." Rottenberg stayed; the man came over later and said "I thought I told you to go home."

"I was too stupid to know it couldn't be done," said Rottenberg about writing his book, "so I did it."

He made two major assumptions in the book:

1. All Jews can trace their family for longer than they thought, and

2. Jews have special advantages for genealogy, such as patterns of Hebrew and fathers' names.

He admitted that he missed two major trends, the internet and DNA genetic genealogy: "There is enough canvas filled with enough Jews to exchange information and find family," said Rottenberg. "Today, we can cross-reference and find the interlocking pieces, and there is much more out there than we think."

Sometimes, he says, he feels like Rip Van Winkle facing a whole new world of esoteric research. He never anticipated the SIGs, Avotaynu, Jewish Records Indexing-Poland or Steve Morse's One-Step Pages in technical developments, Neil Rosenstein in rabbinic research, nor the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy which is attempting to obtain scholarly and academic status for genealogy.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pro footballer and sing baritone at the Met," he said, but he didn't have those talents. He also wanted to trace his family, and that has come to pass.

His theory is that his Rottenberg and other similar-sounding names descend from martyr Meyer of Rothenberg. When held for ransom in the castle of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Emperor thought the Jewish community would ransom him. The rabbi would not permit this as it would set a bad precedent; he was killed. Rottenberg tracked down the castle in Alsace, stood on the remnant of remaining wall and proclaimed his family was still around.

He related an anecdote concerning Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was asked how he felt about writing in a dead language. Singer replied that he wasn't worried: Someday there would be 150 billion people on earth and some would specialize in Yiddish. Rottenberg feels that some of those 150 billion will specialize in Jewish genealogy; already there are several thousand.

Rottenberg posed some questions: What about when millions are doing academic genealogy, when the audience is big enough to make a lot of money, and what about when some billionaire thinks Jewish genealogy is a terrific way to maintain Jewish identity and continuity?

Rottenberg believes we are just at the beginning of this movement, and our descendents will certainly reap the benefits.

IAJGS: One family's story

Gesher Galicia is the special interest group focused on the area of the former Austro-Hungary (was Poland, today Ukraine). There were several other sessions on available resources, including maps, gazetteers and cadastral records with Brian Lenius.

The SIG lunch featured NY Daily News reporter Erin Einhorn, whose forthcoming book is titled, "Pages In between: The Story of One Family." You can hear more on NPR's This American Life, where she was interviewed here and here.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Einhorn related her interest in family history, time spent in Krakow and the connections she made, people who expected her to make right a decades-old promise and attempts at locating the necessary documents.

Says Einhorn, there are two deaths. One is when the heart stops beating and the other is of being forgotten. When each survivor dies, so do their towns. She looks on her quest as saving her family from that second death.

IAJGS: Footnote.com

Beau Sharborough of Footnote.com offered an entertaining session on the site and available information for those searching Jewish ancestors. Free access was provided in the conference resource room, along with other subscription sites.

Among other tidbits, I learned that tech guru Steve Morse is on the site's board of advisors.

Sharborough spoke about the availability of original source documents, not just an index, and how he views Footnote as a history site, providing original documents.

"We put up the original document even if there is a difference of opinion, or if the content is unflattering and we don't shy away from controversy," he told the audience, calling the site "Wikipedia meets the National Archives."

Site organizers wanted to know what was popular in the NARA reading rooms, and brought in archivists to say what they considered their "best stuff." While late 19th-early 20th-century records were popular, he asked if there was anything from before 1790. Sharborough said they became very excited.

As one example of early documents, he spoke about five thick books, with 40 pages on Benjamin Franklin and his original letters, along with other famous early leaders.

While there may be few early documents for Ashkenazi researchers, there is information on Sephardic families in this timeframe. Jewish records are also found in Civil War-era records such as the Southern Claims and in many other Footnote databases.

Users can go directly to the original records to learn about people of interest. After reading a document, readers can annotate what is found, and comments are picked up by the site's indexing almost immediately. While other users may comment on someone's annotation, the original annotation cannot be taken away and others cannot "vandalize" an annotation. Ojectionable comments will be removed, however, and no racial slurs or anti-Semitic statements will be permitted. Staff will review comments quickly.

Some documents or comments are in languages other than English, and Footnote counts on the genealogical community to let the site know if comments are not appropriate.

One example of annotation is interpretation of a signature transcription. Different people might see various "correct" spellings; each viewer may annotate his or her version.

Today, the subscription site is free at the Family History Library, while some academic institutions - such as UCLA - offer it. Said Sharborough, "Someday it will be in your library."

Photographs can be downloaded as JPGs and can be printed. Eventually, all documents will carry a citation or source document for future use. Noted genealogist and author Elizabeth Mills is involved with Footnote and, said Sharborough, insisted that printouts carry correct citations.

Today, the site carries about millions of original documents from Federal District Courts, State and Municipal Courts, including various naturalization and ancillary documents, such as certificates of arrival, naturalization, petitions and more. The investigative files are also very interesting and include various affidavits and investigations carried out by government bodies.

At June's Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, I had an opportunity to work with the site and found information on a host of individuals I had not expected to see.

20 July 2007

IAJGS: Video interviews now online

Marcy Brown of Roots Television interviewed attendees and speakers. The first are now online, with more to come.

To see them, view the Jewish category at the website; click here or here.

Alexander Avraham, director of Yad Vashem's Hall of Names, speaks about Pages of Testimony and the 3-million name victims' database, genealogist Logan Kleinwaks explains his new ShoahConnect website, while Elise Friedman comments on genetic genealogy and the conference, in general

I was also interviewed by Marcy - who makes the often-frightening experience of staring into a camera a less stressful event.

Elise and Logan are two of the younger generation who are changing the face of Jewish genealogy as they pursue very different tracks in tracing family history and connecting individuals and families.

The conference ended today (Friday) and although many attendees have left for home, some will be staying on for additional research at the Family History Library.

As each annual event ends, researchers immediately begin to think forward to the next meeting: The 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will take place August 17-22, 2008, in Chicago, Illinois.

Tracing the Tribe will inform readers when the call for papers is issued, when the conference site goes live (late October-early November) and other information as it is announced.

17 July 2007

IAJGS: See what's going on

Roots Television has been filming here today, interviewing organizers, experts, attendees. Marcy Brown will also be here tomorrow doing more interviewing.

Some of today's coverage may be up tonight on their website.

If you weren't able to attend this year's event, start making plans for the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which will be held in Chicago, August 17-22, 2008.

I'm off to hear Stan Diamond on "What's New in Jewish Records Indexing-Poland."

Tomorrow I'll report on more sessions.

IAJGS: Q&A on the Bad Arolsen records

Monday's schedule included a two-hour Arolsen Q&A by Paul A. Shapiro (USHMM), who revealed details concerning the Arolsen records and answered the concerns and questions of conference attendees.

Said Shapiro, the ITC never had a trained archivist nor historian on its staff, and therefore no standards of classification nor cataloging were followed. Instead of complete classification, documents were broken down into five general categories.

Because documents were not completely described, a search such as one for Dachau reveals only 45 collections of material by title. However, a search for all Dachau material reveals more than 300 collections, as the descriptions are not complete. According to Shapiro, "If only 30% of a file was about Dachau and the rest was something else, a person writing the description might not have listed Dachau specifically."

Under each camp entry, there are multiple categories of documentation: camp system, prisoner cards, infirmary cards, etc. Many camps had their own correspondence with lists of prisoners and their numbers; sometimes only numbers were listed. The original corresponding lists are essential to decipher additional information.

Post-war documentation, Shapiro said, numbers some 14.5 million pages, including a large number of DP cards (displaced persons), many with pictures. "Many files were never opened," he said, as researchers stopped when other information was located in answer to inquiries.

When the U.S. liberated the camps, survivors were interviewed as to who did what. Shapiro said there are thousands of "flimsy copies;" perpetrators are named. They are the only copies of these materials.

When Shapiro visited 20 years ago, he recognized that the paper was disintegrating, and digitization began according to the technological standards available then; the originals were destroyed.

The goal today is to organize a searchable database. He reminded attendees that Yad Vashem's online searchable database took 12 years to complete.

"We don't yet have the materials, so classification is not easily accessible," he said, adding that there will be an August meeting at the USHMM with invited hi-tech and archival specialists to talk about this.

There is a current request backlog of upwards of 400,000, with 2.5 million previously-received inquiry files. Many contain genealogical material, personal and historical information. According to the agreement, Shapiro said these will become accessible after 25 years.

On privacy controls, he said the US pushed for immediate access, while other countries wanted 100 years before access. He felt that the 25-year figure was reasonable.

What will Arolsen's role be when USHMM has the digital copies? Its function is first inquiry and response, along with preservation of documents. Shapiro believes the documents have been well-conserved in Germany.

A point made several times was that until Greece, Italy and France ratify the agreement, no one can see the material. Shapiro also said that records will be available to academic researchers, such as university history departments.

Concerning Holocaust insurance settlement claims, Shapiro said no one has ever looked at the the Displaced Persons or individual persons files for this information. However, he said, if someone believes they may still have open Generali claims dependent on the ratification of the remaining three countries, then USHMM will do a priority search in the central name index. He warned that DP file information will not be available for several years, but in any case it cannot be accessed until the three countries ratify the agreement.

Shapiro indicated that USHMM is expecting 13.5 million camp documents this summer, and more in the fall. However, USHMM does not yet have any idea of the structure as they have not received test materials, although they are training some staff to respond to survivor requests. Although nothing may be made public until those three countries ratify, "the day it's received, we'll start working."

Once full ratification is complete, requests will be accepted by the USHMM in person, by phone, letter and online forms.

There was much to think about in this presentation.

As information becomes available it will be posted on the USHMM website, www.ushmm.org.

15 July 2007

IAJGS: Opening Day in Salt Lake City

The first day of each annual international Jewish genealogy conference focuses on renewing connections with people we haven't seen for a year, sometimes two.

The evening event featured Paul A. Shapiro, director of Advanced Holocaust Studies of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington, DC), who spoke on the background and latest updates concerning the International Tracing Service and the Bad Arolsen records. Tomorrow, he's scheduled for a two-hour morning Q&A session on the issues.

As readers know, I have interests in Sephardic Jews in Eastern Europe, so I was delighted when Shapiro spoke about his own family. Seems his mother's family is Kartaganer (from Cartagena), a Sephardic family that had migrated to Galicia (Austro-Hungary, Poland and today Ukraine) and then to the U.S.

There were many old friends to greet, and I was happy to see several students from our online Jewish genealogy classes (MyFamily.com and GenClass.com). The vendor room was my next stop to say hello to Gary Mokotoff (Avotaynu) and view the latest gen books, Bennett Greenspan (Family Tree DNA) and Suzanne Russo Adams (Ancestry).

The sold-out Jewish Records Indexing-Poland luncheon was held today, featuring an informative talk by JRI-P associate director Hadassah Lipsius (New York) on the detailed information to be found in Polish notarial records, covering everything real estate leases with detailed inventory lists, to pre-nuptial agreements, wills and more.

The annual management seminar for societies focused on fundraising and grant-writing for non-profits, and offered interesting techniques for societies that wanted to work on special projects but required funding.

Films were screened all day in the theater, with people popping in and out. I managed to see a large portion of the Israeli film "West Bank Story." Other offerings touched on two klezmer films, a synagogue in Wroclaw, the American South, Australian films on the "shmatte" (clothing) business and bagels, Jewish Drohobycz and still others.

Other sessions focused on a beginner's session, census and geographic searches, scanning and restoring old photographs, and using fashion clues to date photos.

The only tech glitch was an Adobe Photoshop computer workshop which I had signed up for to help improve my skills. The session has been rescheduled for Wednesday and I'm looking forward to it.

And this was only a half-day!

Tomorrow is a full day beginning with a breakfast with Family History Library regional experts.

Wish you were here!

12 July 2007

Jerusalem: Kohanim 'family' reunion, July 15-19

The International Conference of Kohanim and the Tribe of Levi today kicked off the first "Gathering of the Tribe" which will run through July 19,

According to the press release:

Recent scientific research and DNA testing has shown that today’s descendents of the biblical priesthood known as Kohanim are genetically related. These descendents of Aharon, the brother of Moses, have spread throughout the world over the past 3,000 years.\

Topics, in English, cover Biblical history, genetic genealogy, contemporary Halacha -Jewish Law issues, and more.

Prof. Karl Skorecki (Rambam/Technion Medical Center, Haifa) project director and one of the main researchers, will present “The Discovery and Significance of the Cohen Genetic Signature” at 11.30a.m., Monday, July 16.

The press release also indicates:

About Kohanim and the Tribe of Levi:

Kohanim are the priestly family of the Jewish people. The Torah (the Bible) describes the anointment of Aharon, the brother of Moses, as the first High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. The books of Exodus and Leviticus describe the responsibilities of the Kohanim, which include the Temple service, blessing of the people and spiritual healing. The Kohanim are a family of the Tribe of Levi, the tribe that was chosen for Holy service.

Molecular geneticists have recently discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a Y- chromosome DNA lineage signature shared by a majority of both Ashkenazi and Sefardi Kohanim. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present day Kohanim from an ancient ancestor, genetically dated to have lived approximately 3000 years ago, a time corresponding to the Exodus from Egypt.

The Center for Kohanim was established to promote identity and knowledge among Kohanim the world over, and increase their feelings of awareness and commitment to their heritage as Kohanim.

Italy: Jews in the military

The Jewish Magazine has a detailed article on Jews in the Army of the Kingdom of Italy (1848-1923), by Dr. Andrew J. Schoenfeld.

The Italian Jewish community, particularly the Jews of Rome, is the oldest diaspora community. According to the author:

Nowhere in Jewish history, perhaps not even in the United States, have Jewish citizens displayed the type of military ardor evident in Italian Jewry. In no other country have so many Jews achieved martial prestige, become commanding generals, or served in the capacity of Minister of War or Chief of Naval Intelligence.


"The Italian Jews of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were one of the most fervent nationalist groups in the nascent Italian State. As a result, they actively enlisted in the army of the Kingdom of Italy and its predecessor, the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. Indeed, their valorous and inspired service has prompted some authors to liken the Italian Jews of the nineteenth century to a type of military caste.

"Many Jews, such as Giuseppe Ottolenghi, Cesare Rovighi and Enrico Guastalla attained high levels of command in the Italian military and were even counted among the King's most trusted martial advisors. Unfortunately, the events of World War II and the attitude that modern scholars maintain towards the Jews of Italy has resulted in the achievements of these inspired individuals and communities being lost to posterity."

The article details the very high ranking posts and achievements of these men. Often, several family members are listed.

The enlightened Savoyard Kings of Sardinia-Piedmont and later Italy allowed Jewish Italians to achieve success in a dizzying number of fields, most notably government administration and the military.

Yet, for all their great achievements and dedication to the land of their birth, the history of the Italian Jews remains one of the least well documented in all of Europe, with perhaps only the Jews of the Balkan states receiving even less attention in the historical literature.

According to the author, Jews were influential in the revolutionary movement all over Italy, but nowhere was their military effort as concerted as it was in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia:

235 Jews volunteered for service in the army as war loomed with Austria, among them Giuseppe Finzi and Enrico Guastalla, who would go on to enjoy an outstanding military career. The Chief Rabbi of Turin, Lelio Cantoni, actively recruited amongst the city's Jews and helped organize volunteers into three battalions of sharpshooters.

A fascinating read!!

Warsaw: JRI-Poland adds burials

Jewish Records Indexing-Poland associate director Hadassah Lipsius announced that 7,400 burials from the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery have been added to the searchable database.

In continuous use since the late 18th century, the Okopowa Street cemetery contains some 250,000 individual graves as well as mass graves containing thousads of Warsaw Ghetto residents. Most gravestones have survived, although the Nazis destroyed burial records during WW II.

In October 2003, new cemetery manager Przemyslaw Isroel Szpilman started a project to document all gravestones and locations as quickly as possible. With a digital camera (provided by JRI-Poland,) some 41,000 burials have been listed.

For more information on the database and how to obtain photos of tombstones, click here.

According to Lipsius, the cemetery also has a new website with a surname-searchable database complementary to the JRI-Poland database. Search results sometimes include the tombstone photo.

Besides Szpilman's data, JRI-Poland's database has two other Warszawa Cemetery data sets:

Warsaw Cemetery Database "A" contains data compiled by former
Warsaw Cemetery director Boleslaw Szenicer.

Warsaw Cemetery Database "B" contains 3,832 indices from an unusual source. In the late 1960s, the City of Warsaw planned to extend Anielewicza Street (formerly Gesia Street) to connect with Mlynarska Street through the cemetery's southern section. Gravesites in various sections were to have been removed. In preparation, stones were photograped, deciphered and recorded by Warsaw University students. After strong opposition to the road extension, plans were cancelled. Photos and documentation were given to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

According to Lipsius, there are overlaps between the three datasets. Szpilman's data is the only active database continually updated.

JewishGen: Holocaust Database additions

Some 500,000 new records have been added to the JewishGen Holocaust Database announced JewishGen's editor-in-chief Warren Blatt.

With more than 100 datasets, it offers 1.6 million entries about Holocaust victims and survivors.

Eight new datasets include:

Jewish Refugees in Tashkent: 152,000 Soviet Union Jewish refugees evacuated to Tashkent and other localities in Uzbekistan (1941-1942).

Claims Conference - Hungary: More than 135,000 names of Hungarian Jews collected by the Conference on Jewish Material claims Against Germany, from records in the Central Zionist Archives and Yad Vashem.

Claims Conference - Romania: More than 140,000 names of Romanian Jews, collected by the Conference on Jewish Material claims Against Germany, from records in the Central Zionist Archives and Yad Vashem.

Flossenberg Prisoner Lists: More than 18,334 prisoners interned in Flossenberg Concentration Camp in Germany, including Jews from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Polish medical questionnaires: 2,000 Jewish medical personnel in Galicia and environs (1940-42) collected during the German occupation, sometimes containing extensive information about family, occupation, and education.

Who Perished on the Struma? More than 700 names of Jewish refugees attempting to get to Palestine and who perished when the ship sank.

Hungarian Jewish Survivors in Buchenwald: Data on 707 Hungarian Jewish survivors from Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Twentieth Train: Records of 567 deportees who boarded a transport train ambushed on the way to Auschwitz in 1943.

Bergen-Belsen to Philippeville, Algeria (UNRRA Camp):
200 Jews arrived - in a prisoner exchange - at the UNNRA refugee camp (Philippeville, Algeria) in 1945. Most held passports from countries in North and South America.

Search the database here.

India: Gujarat's Jews and Israel

The Bene-Israel community in Ahmedabad, Gujarat numbers some 200 individuals in four communities (about 61 families) and one synagogue.

India Express describes the connection of Bene-Israel Jewish youth to Israel as many families have made aliyah in the past decade.

The close-knit community includes Liora Rubina, 25, who says “I am afraid to lose my Jewish identity here as the population of the community is steadily dwindling.” She plans to make aliya soon.

However, community leaders say a sense of cultural alienation exists among Indians in Israel, even though more youth plan to make the move. Older immigrants have trouble finding jobs and everyone misses the community, food and culture in Ahmedabad.

Read more here.

Prague: History uncovered

From the Prague Post comes a story focusing on the Israeli government list of account holders made public in 2005.

Active in Holocaust-era restitution and claims, Tomas Jelinek of Prague found family among the names listed.

His great-grandfather Adolf Krokauer, his wife and four children were expelled from their home in Teplice in 1938. He arrived in Prague and began making plans to leave, deposited funds in a foreign bank.

“At that time it was still OK for Czech Jews to leave,” JelĂ­nek says. “He was trying to get his family to Palestine.”

In 1941, the family was rounded up before they could move and taken to the Lodz Ghetto where five perished. Jelinek's grandmother was the only survivor. Today, Margarete Jansky, 86, lives in Vienna. At the time, she was married and the couple were sent to Terezinstadt and then to Auschwitz.

Although eligible to make a claim, "she must endure the wearisome process involved in most restitution cases, each of which is decided on an individual basis."

Says Jelinek, she knows about the claim but cannot fill out the forms; she is already too old. He plans to submit a claim for her.

Read more here.

IAJGS Conference: Roots Television

Roots Television will be at the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which starts Sunday, July 15, in Salt Lake City.

Roots Television's Og Blog has just posted a contest and an invitation to attendees:

It's Contest Time! (again)

The annual IAJGS conference is just around the corner, and what better way to get yourself in the mood than another Og Blog contest. Subscribe to the Og Blog or sign up for the Newsletter, and you'll be entered to win an autographed copy of Thomas Toivi Blatt's gripping narrative, From the Ashes of Sobibor.

And if you happen to be in the neighborhood, stop by the Roots Television booth at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) conference in Salt Lake. See you there! Og from Roots Television

For more information, click here.

11 July 2007

Belarus: Surnames in 1850 Lyakhovichi

Atlanta's Gary Palgon has announced the completion of the translation and databasing of the 1850 Lyakhovichi "revision list" (census). Previously, the 1834 list was completed. The new list has 1,464 records, and surname index is offered below.

Says Gary, "Since 1994, we have successfully worked together to gather records, photographs, videos and other information about our ancestral town of Lyakhovichi (Lachowicze/Lechovich). This has included gathering and translating documents dating back to the late 1700s - all which have been made accessible to those who have contributed to the projects as well as through our group's website, graciously assembled by Deborah Glassman in 2005."

If you have an interest in Lyakhovichi, email Gary at expert@FamilyTreeExpert.com for more information.

Check the surname list below and do remember that your ancestors may well have lived in other towns in the same region and branches of your family may be found in places you might not suspect. If your names are relatively rare, you might find some unexpected connections in this list.

1850 Lyakhovichi Census Surname List


A visit to British Columbia

I took a few days off - for good behavior - on my way to Vancouver, B.C. to speak at a program sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Institute of B.C. and the new Jewish Museum and Archives.

It was three days of sunny, blue skies, delightful 75 degree weather, blue water, a critical mass of evergreen trees, manicured lawns, flowers, forested hills and wonderfully clean air.

For Tracing the Tribe readers who are also continuously connected to cellphones and laptops, you'll understand my pleasure at a quick get-away from cellphone and laptop.

My first stop was Victoria BC via the Clipper from Seattle.

This is a great trip, although in a smaller catamaran than the big BC ferries that resemble large cruise ships. The Clipper is a great experience, but there is a reason that staff announce that motion-sickness tablets are for sale. It was a bit choppy crossing the Straits and there were gale warnings - I was glad I took the tablet as we left Seattle.

Victoria is a remarkable place, much changed from my last visit in 1986 during the Vancouver 1986 EXPO. Much like Israel, the national bird seems to be the (construction) crane. A more bustling place today - although still laid back - and the lush lawns, parks and trees are still a major draw.

The Jewish community there is also growing and I was told the Conservative synagogue has made some additions, including a social hall, to its facilities. There is also a Reform congregation and a Chabad Pre-School.

Of course, we did the obligatory tea, but not at the hyped-up Empress (sky-high charges for a very touristy experience). We were directed to the White Heather on Oak Bay Road and it was delightful.

For fish, our dinner at Pescatores (Humboldt Street) was a delicious gastronomic experience, with a dish of both ahi and albacore tuna, lightly seared on a tempura vegetable raft. We loved it.

I took the opportunity to visit my husband's cousin, his wife and their three children, who live about an hour north of Victoria in a beautiful log cabin home with million-dollar views of forests and lakes. Although it seems a million miles from civilization and the nearest neighbors, they can still get pizza delivered! Thanks, Said and Linda, for your hospitality!

In Vancouver, we were treated to tea at the home of Cissie Eppel, a founder of that city's gen society. Her home-made scones with traditional trimmings of clotted cream and rhubarb-strawberry jam were delicious. Also on hand were current society president Catherine Youngren and Seattle society president Lyn Blyden.

Following the program, we received a very personal city tour. The beautiful weather brought out throngs of people to the numerous waterfront parks. The University of British Columbia campus is now sprouting numerous condominiums with amazing views set among trees and lawns with beautiful views.

One one block alone, there were four organic vegetable and fruit stores, confirming the BC philosophy focused on the "100-mile diet," defined as eating only locally grown foods from no more than 100 miles away.

Our guide also recommended a great all-you-can-eat sushi place (the tab was about $20 per person). Everything was exceedingly fresh - the salmon was wild sockeye - and the three of us had a great time.

On Monday, it was back to Seattle by bus and a two-hour wait at the border crossing. The modern Stroum JCC facility in Seattle is on Mercer Island, a lovely residential island.

Today, I'm off to Salt Lake City for the Federation of Eastern European Historical Societies, followed by the 27th IAJGS International Conference Jewish Genealogy. So stay tuned for coverage of both events after I play a bit of catch-up on Jewish genealogy news.

By the way, in Vancouver, I was given a book on early Jews in BC and purchased an additional one. It is interesting that one of the first Jewish families in Victoria was Sephardic. I'll be writing more on those books later on.

10 July 2007

Summer gen reading material

Gen blogger Randy Seaver has an interesting post on blog entries he recommends.

Among them:

The DNA civil conversation at:
* Michael John Neill - Is DNA That Big a Deal? and DNA.
* John D. Reid - The DNA Skeptic and Is DNA Testing Over-hyped?
* Blaine Bettinger - DNA Is a Big Deal.

Jasia has a series on City Directories - see City Directories - The Statistical Department for a fourth post with links to the other three.

Valorie Zimmerman - has a post on Original Documents Online.


05 July 2007

A Black synagogue in New York

New York's Jewish Week has a peek into a little-known world of an historic Harlem congregation.

A West Indian immigrant with an Ethiopian Jewish father, Rabbi Wentworth Arthur Matthew founded the Commandment Keepers congregation in 1919, and which followed Orthodox Jewish practices. Members observed all Jewish holidays, kept kosher, performed circumcisions and bar mitzvahs, and the synagogue had a mechitza separating men’s and women’s seats.

According to the story, a 1937 Time magazine article indicated some 600 black Jews in Harlem were congregation members; most from Ethiopia, a few American converts. Rabbi Matthew was described as having been born in Lagos, West Africa, and held a doctor of divinity degree from the University of Berlin, having studied in Tel Aviv and at the Pittsburgh Bible Institute.

The story describes contentious issues such as membership decline, the sale of their registered historic building at 1 W. 123 St., and a 30-year legal battle over spiritual leadership, dueling rabbis, rabbinical colleges and boards.

According to San Francisco-based demographer Gary Tobin, there are an estimated 50,000-150,000 black Jews in America, although "that number is based on the broadest possible definition, which includes those in congregations not affiliated with the Israelite Board of Rabbis."

Read more here.

DNA: Some interesting questions

A favorite DNA blog is Eye on DNA, authored by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei, who provides interesting posts and interviews.

A recent posting focused on Dr. Blaine Bettinger.
Hsien's interview asked questions on understanding genetic genealogy, what tests he recommends to people new to genetic genealogy, should they have tried traditional genealogy first, should people take every test available, what tests he has taken and if he's had any surprises.

Bettinger also writes The Genetic Genealogist blog, and has a posting there on unexpected results, which quotes Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA.

Just for fun: Genealogy of the potato chip

The New York Times has an interesting take on 100 years of potato chips.

Think you're obsessive about our mutual passion of genealogy?

Chowhound.com's Jim Leff has tasted more than 400 chips and written on methodology and results. His favorite is a Maui, Hawaii brand that rarely seems to get off the island.

The quintessential American snack has its origins in Saratoga Springs, New York. When, in 1853, a restaurant customer complained about soggy, tasteless fried potatoes, the cook became angry and made a batch of extra-salty, thinly sliced potatoes that crunched. According to the article, that's one version.

Another story says the cook's sister was frying doughnuts and slicing potatoes when one fell into the hot fat and the chip was born.

There's no video available, so oral history and legend play a big part in the birth of the chip.

No matter the truth, chips became part and parcel of fun things to do when visiting the region. Visitors took word of the invention home and over the next eight decades, many people began making chips, with many regional variations.

The article covers the 1920s mechanical potato peeler and continuous fryer and a 1930s Nashville salesman (Herman Lay) who became interested. I guess he couldn't eat just one! Today Frito-Lay buys 3.2 billion chipping potatoes a year and Lay's are made in 40 countries.

However, the original type - thick-cut batches of chips fried in vats of hot oil and called kettle-style - are made by regional companies in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Oregon. According to the story, these thicker chips are the fastest growing potato chip category.

The article - a delicious read which compares major varities - is timely, considering one of the two biggest days for chips is the 4th of July; the other is Memorial Day.

The NYT's Dining section spent three days testing them: "Keep a few dozen bags on your desk and suddenly everyone’s your new best friend."

There are even regional tastes in the kind of oil the chips are fried in, read all about it.

Enjoy the salty, crunchy complete article here

Roots Travel: Maydan, Ukraine

The Jewish Press has a story on roots travel to a tiny Ukrainian village. Betty Salz describes the four-week trip she and her sister took to their late father's birthplace.

"Two months ago I was standing on a single dirt road in a tiny village in Ukraine. No cars were in sight; horse-drawn wagons passed by. People were pumping water from wells in front of their homes. Horses were pulling plows in the fields. The town was Maydan, where my father grew up. My sister and I had returned to our roots."

Meyer Tannenbaum died nine years ago at 93 and had told many stories of the old country to his daughters. His sister Chana (Betty's Tanta Anna) is close to 100 and added to the memories.

"My father was the youngest son in a family of five boys and two girls in Maydan. They were one of three Jewish families in a village of 65 Ukrainian and Polish homes. His parents operated a tavern, which had been leased to the family for generations by the government. In addition to the tavern, they owned rich farmland, fruit trees, livestock, and were quite comfortable. Running the tavern required hard work and long hours."

Salz recounts her family's stories about Emperor Franz Josef's visit to the village and the kiss he bestowed upon Chana's cheek when she offered him a cup of water from the famous well. She covers her father's and aunt's school days, their mother's cooking, "secret" stories told in whispers, World War I and immigration to America, where the last relative to leave Maydan arrived in New York in 1928.

"No guide, no books, no stories could have prepared me for the emotional impact of stopping at the crossroads of Maydan and Gologory; for driving down the same dirt road my father walked every week; for the first sight of the storied town well, the source of joy and life for Maydan. A flood of my father’s childhood memories came rushing back to me. It was overwhelming when my sister and I drew water from the well and packed it up to bring home.

"Maydan, a village of 70 families, has changed little these past 100 years. The single road in town is still used by horse-drawn wagons. As we strolled into the village, the chickens were running free near the houses, the apple, pear and cherry trees were blossoming, and the beekeeper was gathering honey, all exactly as my father and aunt had described."

Salz also mentions guide Alex Dunai, well-known in Jewish genealogical circles, who located the oldest man in the village prior to her arrival, and who provided much information.

"Then Ivan took us to the site where my family’s tavern stood. The house had been rebuilt, the only new one in the village. The sturdy tin roof of the tavern was now on a neighbor’s house. The family that resided in the house on the site of the tavern came out to the yard. Nothing could prepare me for this meeting. Upon hearing my aunt’s name, the woman cried in recognition that her mother, who died 20 years ago, always talked about her best friend, a girl named Chana. They had gone to school together across the street from their homes, the very school we had just stepped into."

Salz recounts more of her four-week journey: the cemetery in Gologory, the larger town of Zloczow and its synagogue, Majdanek and Auschwitz.

Says Salz, "Every family has stories to tell – but every story needs listeners so that they can be passed on as a legacy to children and grandchildren."

To read more, click here

04 July 2007

Recognition sought for Salvadoran diplomat

The government of El Salvador is seeking posthumous recognition for diplomat Jose Arturo Castellanos, who provided citizenship certificates to as many as 40,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

Recognition is awarded by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who assisted Jews to escape death during the Holocaust. So far, 21,758 individuals have been honored, but few have saved as many people as the Salvadoran consul general in Geneva in the early 1940s.

Castellanos authorized Salvadoran citizenship papers to Jews throughout Europe.

A two-year investigation helped establish the case for the former diplomat who died in 1977 at age 86.

For more, click here.

Alaska: A Jewish museum

Alaska's tiny Jewish community, according to a Jerusalem Post article, numbers about 3,000-5,000 and most live in the largest city, Anchorage. The whole state's population is about the same as Tel Aviv.

Now an Alaska Jewish Historical Museum is being planned, and is expected to attract interest from the state's residents and an annual 2 million tourists.

Among famous Jewish residents were Jay Rabinowitz, "the beloved, influential late chief justice of Alaska's Supreme Court," and Anchorage's first mayor Leopold David.

Some of the earliest Jews were Russian fur traders, and San Francisco traders were among the first to think up the idea of acquiring Alaska from Russia.

The museum's exhibits will include one about Alaska Airlines's participation in bringing some 40,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel after the declaration of the state in 1948. "Alaska Airline pilots were bush pilots from the war," the Russian-born Israel-raised Greenberg said. "They were tough, flew in the worst conditions and worst places. So they could fly even under the danger of being shot at. They were looking for charters, for business, and one flight turned into many flights to bring all those people to Israel."

The Chabad rabbi in Anchorage, Yosef Greenberg, is one of two rabbis (and three congregations) in Alaska. He came up with the museum concept, which will open in 2009, as part of a Lubavitch Center, housing a pre-school, Hebrew school and synagogue.

The museum will cost an estimated $5 million, of which $850,000 was given by the state after the local community raised about $750,000. A Chicago philanthropist pledged half the balance..

To read more, click here.

Poland: Jewish Museum plans

The recent groundbreaking for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews was held in what was the Warsaw Ghetto, next to the monument to those who resisted the Nazis in the 1943 uprising, and close to the train siding where many were deported and perished.

Poland was home to Europe's largest Jewish community until World War II. There were some 3.3 million Jews or 10% of the country's population.

Although Holocaust exhibits will be included, the multimedia museum will celebrate the Jewish community that lived in Poland for a thousand years and produced a vibrant culture and leaders in many fields.

The story begins in the 10th century when Ibrahim ibn Jakub, a Jewish merchant from Arab Spain, first arrived in the Polish kingdom, and moves on to the 16th and 17th centuries when Poland provided a home for those expelled from other countries.

Additional galleries will take the story through the Holocaust, the Warsaw Ghetto, postwar pogroms and state-sanctioned anti-semitism, and into a revival of Jewish life.

Museum creators say the project will chronicle the fate of Jews in their Eastern European homeland with interactive and multimedia displays and video - not just traditional artifacts and exhibits - in order to give visitors a deeper sense of what was lost.

Among plans: reconstructing an 18th century wooden synagogue's painted ceiling, and projected images producing a typical bustling 1920s Jewish street.

"This will not be another Holocaust museum," said Marian Turski, one of the originators of the idea for the museum, and president of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland. "It will be a museum of life."

The structure was designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamaki and Ilmari Lahdelma and will open in two years.

For the complete story, click here.

Egypt: Jewish history, restored property

The Jerusalem Post offered an interesting story on the Jews of Egypt and efforts to present claims for property restitution and develop a museum dedicated to the community.

The largest number of Egyptian Jews live in Israel, with communities in Brazil, the US, France and Argentina at about 10,000 each.

The World Congress of the Jews from Egypt, at a late-June conference in Haifa, focused on recent actions to reclaim property confiscated from Egyptian Jews since 1948, when about 100,000 Jews lived in that country. Today, estimates run from 20-100. Many were killed and thousands expelled after wars in 1948, 1956 and 1967.

The congress lobbies for the restitution of property and recognition of the historic tragedy of Egyptian Jewry, and seeks to add their story to Jewish education curricula around the world.

Earlier this month, the Cecil Hotel, a four-star hotel in Alexandria that belonged to the Metzger family until it was nationalized in 1952, was returned to the family. Nationalized five years before the family was expelled, the 86-room hotel was resold to Egypt after its return, according to Agence-France Presse.

Although an Egyptian court ruled, in 1996, that the hotel should be restored to the family, implementation was delayed for fear it would create a precedent for restitution of other Jewish property.

Organization head Prof. Ada Aharoni said the Egyptian Jews "were always a bridge between culture and created bridges."

"Philo in the first century created a bridge between Hellenism and the Jews. Saadia Gaon translated the Bible into Arabic, and this Bible is still used in schools and libraries around the Arab world, and the Rambam, thought to be the greatest philosopher in Judaism, lived in Egypt. Now we're asking many communities, from England to Australia, to add the culture and literature of the Jews of Egypt into Jewish schools and Sunday schools."

Aharoni stressed that Holocaust study should not wipe out all other tragedies, such as those which befell many Jewish communities in Arab and Moslem countries.

Her organization works to restore cultural treasures in Egypt that have been damaged since the forced departure, and there are plans to establish an Egyptian Jewry museum in Nesher (near Haifa), with a branch at the Library of Alexandria.

The reclamation effort is under way, and Israel's Justice Ministry has registered Egyptian Jews' property claims and sent them to Egypt and the US Senate, which has also recognized them as refugees.

To read more, click here.

Vienna: Jewish archive exhibit opens

Today's Jerusalem Post carried an AP story on the Vienna Jewish Community Archive.

The exhibit opened in the Jewish Museum in Austria's capital on July 3, and includes letters, photos, Nazi-era documents and more. Some exhibited items date to the 19th century. Founded in 1816, the archive collection contains 17th century material.

The archive was found by chance in 2000 when Jewish community members found 800 boxes and many wooden cabinets in an old building as they were preparing to hand it over to new members. About 500,000 documents on the lives of Jews during the Nazi era were discovered, along with other materials.

Since 2002, the Jewish Community Vienna and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington have been working together to preserve the material found in 2000 on microfilm for a wider collection that will include about 1.5 million Holocaust-era documents stored in Jerusalem.

Examples of what visitors can see as they stroll through the exhibit include an identification card for a Jewish woman dating back to 1939, a form listing the confiscation of objects of value dated 1938 - and even a newspaper clipping with an anti-Semitic sticker dating back to 1889.

The exhibit will run through October 21.

02 July 2007

Seattle: A moving experience

I was invited for brunch Sunday at the home of Albert and Julie Bensimon in Seward Park, for a gathering of Sephardic individuals who offered accounts of their personal experiences (or those of parents and grandparents) on leaving their communities - some willingly, some in fear, some forced.

This was only one meeting (others are planned) of this group which brings together newcomers to Seattle, people who know each other and complete strangers to present the cases of discrimination, persecution and worse faced by the indigenous Sephardic and Mizrahi communities in Arab and Moslem countries.

According to the Jimena (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and Africa) website, in 1948, nearly 900,000 Jews lived in indigenous Middle East and North African communities, not counting those who lived in Iran, Afghanistan, India, more rightly located in Asia; 99% of these communities no longer exist. Arab governments forced people to leave, confiscated property and stripped them of their citizenships.

The 20 or so individuals at the brunch had origins in Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Iran, Turkey, Syria and India. Iraqis described the Farhud (pogrom) in Bagdad; Yemenite orphans hastily sent away to avoid being converted to Islam according to law; individuals who left Syria rather recently; many who settled in Israel following their experiences.

An Iranian who left in 1950 to study in the U.S. recounted his childhood and school experiences in Teheran and Isfahan. His mother, 105, is in Seattle and I am hoping to visit her this week.

It was an interesting weekend in the Northwest.

Dr. Harry Ostrer of New York spoke at the Ezra Bessaroth Synagogue twice on Shabbat about why Sephardic DNA is needed for genetic disease research, and a collection for his database took place Sunday as well, with some 40 individuals participating.

In my short talk to the brunch group, I also stressed how important Sephardic participation is in genetic databases, and several individuals went to the nearby synagogue to see Dr. Ostrer following the meeting. Some latecomers had gone there first, including Seattle's Hazzan Isaac Azose.

My Seattle hostess is Lyn Blyden, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State. She spoke to the group about how the JGS will help newcomers learn how to start tracing their unique family histories.

Unfortunately, the round-the-room recalling of experiences was not video- or audio-taped; I suggested this might be an excellent oral history project.

Adding to the experience was Albert Ben Simon's Moroccan mint tea and Julie's exotic Sephardic pastries and others brought by guests.

01 July 2007

Keep in touch with Tracing the Tribe

Dear readers,

If you're already a Tracing the Tribe subscriber, you've realized that the email alerts are working again and the glitch has been fixed.

If you haven't yet subscribed, there's an easy way to learn about new postings.

On the right side of this page, scroll down and look for the following words:

Or sign up in the box below for the
Tracing the Tribe newsletter via
FeedBlitz, which will e-mail you
alerts when there are new postings
on this blog:

Enter your email in the box.

Click "Subscribe Me" and begin receiving a daily alert whenever a new entry is posted.

If you click "Preview," you'll see what the email alert will look like.

As always, if you experience any problems, please let me know.

Yiddish, Shmiddish: Why do we say that?

A reader from Iran (yes, Tracing the Tribe has readers there!) connected via an article about Yiddish, which also mentions other Jewish languages.

Yiddish is only one of the many vernacular languages fashioned by Jews throughout the ages. You can still find Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Persian, Farsi-Tar used by Jews in the Caucasus Mountains, and Ladino used by Jews in the south of Europe. But Yiddish is the language that was the most widespread, adapted most vigorously, and has flourished best. At one time (1920s), about two-thirds of world Jewry spoke Yiddish; the Holocaust, of course, ended that.

Learn about the language's history, and read a delightful section from Leo Rosten's The Joy of Yiddish:

Rosten cites the following wonderful array of insult and innuendo, adapted into English from Yiddish. The problem is whether to attend a concert being given by a niece. The same sentence is put through the following paces, depending on emphasis:

I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning:, "After what she did to me?"
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning: "What, you're giving me a lesson in ethics?"
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning: I wouldn't go even if she were giving out free passes!
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - meaning: I'm having enough trouble deciding whether it's worth one.
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - She should be giving out free passes, or the hall will be empty.
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - Did she buy tickets to our daughter's recital?
I should buy two tickets for her concert? - You mean, they call what she does a "concert"?

In addition, Rosten cites the following examples of linguistic devices in English, that are Yiddish in origin, to "convey nuances of affection, compassion, displeasure, emphasis, disbelief, skepticism, ridicule, sarcasm, and scorn."

Mordant syntax: "Smart, he isn't."
Sarcasm through innocuous diction: "He only tried to shoot himself."
Scorn through reversed word order: "Already you're discouraged?"
Contempt through affirmation: "My partner, he wants to be."
Fearful curses sanctioned by nominal cancellation: "May all your teeth fall out except one, so that you can have a toothache, God forbid."
Derisive dismissal disguised an innocent interrogation: "I should pay him for such devoted service?"

So enjoy already the rest of the article!