31 December 2007

Uphill both ways - in the snow

My grandfather's favorite story was how he went to school in his family shtetl (village) of Suchastow in Galicia, Austro-Hungary (then Poland, now Ukraine)

With a serious face, he always said we kids had it easy in America. We'd never experience, he said, how he got to school in the Old Country. He and his siblings walked to school uphill both ways - in the snow - often chased by a pack of hungry wolves.

We were suitably horrified by the part about the wolves - rarely seen in New York except at the Bronx Zoo.

After all, the Old Country was alien terrain, where people slept on stoves (the concept of a warm shelf above the village house stove-cum-space heater was unknown to us as urban apartment-dwellers), were chased by wolves and Cossaks pursued the other side of the family.

I really don't remember when the "uphill both ways" was really a joke. The wolves might have been true or simply a metaphor for marauding peasants. I never discussed this with him, so we'll never know.

Jewish humor is an outgrowth of the hardships our people suffered wherever they lived throughout the centuries.

While I haven't heard any Inquisition jokes told by those who were exiled in 1492, there must have been some a la Mel Brooks in The History of the World. If you know any, please let me know.

Comedy was important to our survival. If we were going to cry over our troubles, we might as well be laughing so hard that tears ran down our faces.

I'm an optimist. I'd rather laugh than cry, and laughing seems a much better alternative. It is certainly more enjoyable.

A few months ago, a major news channel highlighted research in which individuals were shown war films (plenty of gore, bullets and blood) and comedy movies (titles not stated).

The results: When war films were screened, people's arteries narrowed by 70%; but when they watched the funny films, their arteries opened by 95%.

Moral: It's better (and healthier) to laugh.

Following the same theme, there's a story here on CNN about the 10 best Jewish comedians.

"Handed down since Moses was kvetching about having to cross the desert in his bare feet, Jewish humor emanated from Eastern Europe where the Hebrews overcame some seriously hellacious circumstances on the way to the Promised Land. "Laughter through tears," they called it.

Over the years it came in the form of slapstick (The Three Stooges), physical comedy (Jerry Lewis), smart-aleck observation (Norman Lear), occasional cruelty (Rodney Dangerfield), uncontrolled neurosis (Shelley Berman) and bemused irreverence (Jerry Seinfeld).

The religious theology itself also contributed to the craft, encouraging believers to question authority -- even God (Lenny Bruce) --and test audiences to the max (Don Rickles)."

Comedy was a way out of immigrant neighborhoods and away from their stereotypical Jewish mothers. The up-and-coming funny guys built vaudeville, Yiddish entertainment and the Catskills, and branched out to radio, the movies and TV.

Here are the some of the comedians covered; the story offers some of their great lines, how they got started and a synopsis of their careers.

Sid Caesar: "The guy who invented the wheel was an idiot. The real genius was the guy who invented the other three."

"Uncle Miltie" - Milton Berle and the Texaco Star Theatre.

Henny Youngman: "Take my wife - please!" and his one-liners

Groucho Marx and the Marx Brothers: Still funny decades on.

Andy Kaufman: Latka on Taxi, and infamous performances on Saturday Night Live.

Woody Allen: A favorite scene was Allen's Russian character holding up a small piece of sod with a miniature house on it, as he said, "Someday, my son, this will all be yours!"

Gilda Radner: Saturday Night Live's Emily Litella, Babwa Wawa and Lisa Loopner. How could we forget her Litella skit on "violins on television"?

Laugh a little, it's good for you.

And since it's the winter season, here are a few famous songs written by Members of the Tribe listing their original names. I've always wished they had written some toe-tapping Hanukkah songs that received as much play. "I have a little dreidel" just doesn't beat "Let It Snow!"

“White Christmas” (1940)- Irving Berlin (Israel Isidore Baline).

“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (1945) Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein) and Sammy Cahn (Samuel Cohen).

“Silver Bells” (1951) Jay Livingston (Jacob Harold Levison) and Ray Evans (Raymond Bernard Evans).

Miami: One woman's obsession

Many genealogical resources have been created by one person with a passion, an obsession or simple frustration from a lack of resources in some area.

The results range - in Jewish genealogy, at least - from Susan King's JewishGen, Stan Diamond's Jewish Records Indexing Poland, Steve Morse's One-Step Pages, Steve Lasky's Museum of Jewish Family History and a host of other dedicated individuals who have created important singular resources.

JewishGen began as a small bulletin board; JRI Poland is the result of Diamond's search for relatives with a genetic problem; Morse's site stemmed from his frustration with the Ellis Island search engine; and Lasky wanted to honor his family. Today, these major sites hold many resources, useful tools and unusual collections of information. They are frequently updated and growing, sometimes with the assistance of large numbers of dedicated volunteers.

These are only four of a large number of Jewish genealogy sites. There are literally thousands of other genealogy sites focusing on ethnic, religious, country-specific, general and other topics; new sites appear daily.

In the obsession category, a Miami, Florida woman, 74, has compiled a 4,000-page and growing obit index and acquired the nickname of "detective of death."

"Looking for details about your great-grandfather's death 45 years ago? Searching for survivors of the friendly neighbor who died without a will? Can't find your long-lost cousin's grave?

Ann Josberger McFadden is the woman for you. She is a sleuth, a sort of detective of death, a woman who has read and indexed thousands of published obituaries and researched the unusual history of a handful of South Florida cemeteries.

For fun."

McFadden fell into this research to help her brother search family roots. He quit after a month, but she's still at it. Her husband thinks she's a bit crazy.

Tracing her roots led McFadden to Philadelphia, where she was born and spent her first 12 years. When she tried to get a copy of her great-grandfather's obituary, however, her request and the $5 fee were returned because there was no index of obituaries and no one to do the research. Figuring Miami had the same problem, she took it upon herself to index obituaries from The Miami Herald, Miami News, South Dade News Leader and Miami Times.

She began with 1940 to 1950 -- and never stopped. "Word got around that I was doing this, and I started getting calls for obituaries from other years. Somebody needed to find a person who had died in 1960 or 1970 or 1935. And so I said, 'Oh, why not do all of them?' " She now has about 120 years' worth of records.

She became a fixture at Miami's main library, and completed the huge obit index that is expanded every year. The Miami-Dade Public Library genealogy manager says she gets many obit requests: "...if we didn't have Ann's work or an exact date for the person, we could be reading microfiche for months and maybe not even find it."

Miami's "detective of death" has also indexed adoption, military and probate records and put together a short history of a handful of local cemeteries. Other librarians say her job has made their work much easier.

Read more here.

Street-level views of 23 US cities

Thanks to Pamela Weisberger of the JGS of Los Angeles, here's a pointer to Google Maps "Street View" feature.

"Would you like to see a current photograph of your great-grandparents' apartment building (or the block where it once stood) on Manhattan's lower east side or virtually explore, at street level, the neighborhoods where they lived in Boston,
Chicago, Miami...or more...from your home computer?"

Street View provides photographs of the locations you view on their maps if the feature has been activated for specific places.

I searched for my childhood home in Brooklyn, on E. 52 Street and Avenue D, but the anticipated "blue line streets" (see below), which indicate activated Street View images, were not there. The closest I could get was Kings Highway and Avenue D, a few blocks away.

When trying for my sister's home on the Upper West Side, I had a nice view of the four corners of 98th and Broadway, but not the exact building.

Currently, 23 US cities are available (New York, Denver, Miami, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Tucson, Houston, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Fort Worth, Boston, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Providence); more are added daily, and London UK will be coming online. Again, not all streets in all cities have this feature activated.

Go to Google Maps (maps.google.com), enter the address and hit the "Street View" button. (The option for street level view appears at the top right of the map where available.) Blue outlines show roads where street view is available. Click on the camera icon to bring up the image and click on full view to enlarge the photo. You can also pan up, zoom in and rotate 360 degrees. Although you can't save the photograph to your computer, you can take a digital picture from the computer screen.

For a helpful tutorial on the feature, click here

Weisberger also points to other street-level map-viewing websites, such as Everyscape.com.

There are also sites focusing on European cities, such as Barcelona, Spain. When our daughter lived there a few years ago, we found an excellent site that showed nearly every building in the city. We were able to see not only where she lived, but views from different angles and learn more about the neighborhood.

Increased archives budget good for genealogists

Some good news for genealogists, family historians, roots searchers and others who share mutual interests, from IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee chair Jan Meisels Allen:

The budget for the US National Archives and Records Administration was a problem in 2006 and 2007, which saw cuts in research hours and staff levels. However, the 2008 budget, just signed by President Bush into law, increases NARA's budget by 20.5% over 2007.

According to a December 28, 2007 press release:

“I am very pleased that the Congress and the President have recognized the importance of the work of the National Archives and the urgency of our needs for increased staffing and greater public access,” said Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States. “We will restore our regular research hours and bring on more trained archivists as soon as possible.”

Professor Weinstein added, “The resources being provided to us reflect a recognition of the dedicated and professional work of Archives’ staff during this period of fiscal austerity. They not only have worked to maintain access to records of our democracy, but they also have expanded that access.”

Specific provisions of genealogic interest:

*$2.1 million to restore important customer services, including $1.3 million to return to the public research hours reduced in October 2006 and $800,000 to hire more staff archivists to replace those who left the agency over the past few years.

*Continuation of work on the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) provision of full funding of $58 million, compared to 2007's funding of $45.2 million.

The ERA is being built by the Archives to preserve and make accessible all electronic records produced by the Federal government now and in the future, and to allow access to these records to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The National Archives and Records Administration is the record keeper for the Federal government and operates major facilities in downtown Washington,DC, College Park, MD, locations in 17 states and an additional District of Columbia facility.

To learn more about the bill's provisions, read the press release by NARA director, Dr. Allen Weinstein, here.

30 December 2007

Genealogy sites: 9 million visits monthly

Those of us who research our ancestry know how popular genealogy is around the world. However, it's even better when sites devoted to trends recognize and validate what we know to be true.

Genealogy was among the top 10 gaining categories by percentage change in numbers of unique US visitors, according to ComScore.com. The survey was made among home, work and university Internet users.

According to the company's press release of November 20, 2007, the number of unique visitors to genealogy sites rose from 8,265,000 in September 2007 to 8,892,00 in October 2007, with an 8% rise.

According to a just-published Forbes Magazine genealogy story, the number mentioned was higher:

For the past year, genealogy-related Web-traffic has held steady at about 9.1 million U.S. visitors per month, according to ComScore (nasdaq: SCOR - news - people ) data, but newcomers to the business hope to steal that traffic from the old guard of sites and grow it into a huge audience of repeat-visitors.

The story also notes that during the holiday season it might seem that genealogy sites would receive more traffic, but that's not what happens:

"You'd think people would get to talking with family, and then look online," says Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Web-tracking firm Hitwise, who notes that the holidays are actually a low point for genealogy sites, as people on vacation have less computer time.

The Forbes story also speaks extensively about the social networking site Geni.com.

29 December 2007

Texas: Sephardic scholar in residence

Sephardic history is part of my personal research, and Tracing the Tribe's readers note my affinity for all matters Sephardic, as I present interesting programs, books, author appearances, concerts and more with those who share these interests on a personal or cultural level.

Those in Houston, Texas, are in for a treat as this year's scholar-in-residence for the Horvitz program (in its 20th year) is Dr. Renée Levine Melammed; the theme is "Insights into Jewish History: Studying Women, Sephar­dim and Oriental Jewry."

A Jewish history professor who heads the Women’s Gender Studies MA program at Jerusalem's Schechter Institute, Dr. Melammed has authored numerous articles dealing with women in Jewish history, Conversos of Spain and the Inquisition, and edits the gender and women’s studies journal, Nashim.

Among her books: “Heretics and Daughters of Israel: The Crypto-Jewish Women of Castile” (Oxford University Press, 1999), received two National Jewish Book Awards; and “A Question of Identity: Iberian Conversos in Historical Perspective” (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Melammed's first program (7.30pm, Sunday, January 27) will be “The Spanish Inquisition: Fact or Fiction,” focusing on historical accuracy.

For three weeks, she will offer programs on Ladino poetry, Crypto-Jewry, Jewish women's history and Converso Jews. Sessions will be at 11am Sunday mornings and at 8pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The final lecture is at 8pm February 13. All programs are free to the public.

A concert is also scheduled by singer/songwriter Consuelo Luz, a descendant of Crypto-Jews, who will explore her Sephardic roots in adapting ancient Jewish prayers and ballads from Spain, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Click here for more information.

Matzo memories: Moving on out

Streit's Matzo Factory is leaving the Lower East Side for New Jersey after 75 years.

The family-owned company turns out 16,000 pounds of it every day, but the neighborhood isn't the same.

It hopes to get $25 million for the antiquated six-story building in a part of New York where tenements and sweatshops have given way to fine hotels and condos, expensive restaurants and trendy nightclubs.

"We're doing this with a heavy heart," said Aaron Gross, the great-great-grandson of founder Aron Streit, an Austrian immigrant. "We're America's last family-owned matzo factory."

Gross, 32, details some problems: Streets too crowded for the big tractor-trailers and complaints about noisy machines that prepare the dough before baking in steel ovens.

Many of the company's 60 employees have worked there for decades. Streit's does tens of millions of dollars in annual sales and garners some 40% of the US matzo market. Manischewitz is its main competition.

The Lower East Side, once home to 500,000 Jews, now has only some 30,000 Jews. The neighborhood has changed and old buildings (such as The Forward's 1912 structure) are now million dollar condos after major revamping and recycling.

Read the rest of the story here.

Understanding the culture of genealogy

Genealogists of all religions and ethnicities should understand how other groups view family history, traditions and how they preserve and transmit that knowledge to future generations.

As we learn about others' creative methods, we may find new ways to think about our own work.

Here's a story that sheds light on genealogy in the Armenian community.

Armen Afrikyan, a historian-lawyer by training, explains what importance a family tree has for Armenians and shows the family tree of the well-known dynasty of the Afrikyans authored by himself.

"It is typical for us, Armenians, to have a family tree. And it is not accidental that when we gather around tables, we don’t forget to drink a toast for our forefathers. And I think it is good when people know the history of their families,” he says.

Afrikyan's ancestors emigrated from Bayazet and Alashkert to Eastern Armenia, settled near Lake Sevan and founded Nor Bayazet village.

“Our great grandfather was Abraham, who married Khanum and had 10 sons and one daughter by her. In 1830, the branch of my grandfathers moved from Gavar to Yerevan,” Armen says.

The family was also in the Armenian capitol of Yerevan, where they owned several stores and factories, and built a water conduit as a charity project.

In 1842, Abraham’s name was changed (in church records) to Aprik. His children were called Aprikyants and, from 1870, Afrikyans, who worked and lived not only in Armenia but also in Tbilisi, Georgian Republic, Baku, Azerbaijan and Black Sea ports.

In a statement reminiscent of what all genealogists - no matter our personal backgrounds - have experienced as we embark on our quests, Afrikyans says there's "a gene sleeping in all of us that only needs to be awakened."

“Old photographs of the family had an influence on me and I began to study the history of the family. Nothing was spoken about our family for a long time during the Soviet years, because in 1922 my grandfathers were dispossessed of their property as kulaks and all their belongings were nationalized,” Armen says.

In 2002, he began to collect documents connected with his family and learned that Matogh Agha of the Gavar Afrikyans branch received the title of prince in Gavar, and that Arakel Agha's son became a Russian nobleman. He now considers himself to be of princely origin with all these certificates.

He produced a family album and a family tree, displayed at his recently opened inn, and he began to prepare albums for nine families who wanted them.

"Then I understood that simply a service needed to be established that could help people to get to know their roots if they wanted to,” Armen says.

In 2006, he established the Afrikyan & Bianjyan Group Co. that restores the history of customers’ dynasty and family. During research work the company works at archives in Yerevan and abroad, applies to state bodies and nongovernmental organizations for information.

“We do huge work with representatives of a given dynasty, collecting memories, recording interviews, making photographs, studying archives,” Armen explains.

Family archives of a dynasty are arranged into “Dynasty Book”, “Photographs Book”, “Documents Book” and “Family Relics Book” sections.

Afrikyan says that the service is an expensive indulgence.

“Usually, when they inquire about the cost, we cannot answer. The final expense depends on the size of a given dynasty,” he says.

The largest order ($6,000-$7,000) so far was from the Yerevan Brandy Company to create an album for the company's 130th anniversary. Research took six months and the 130-page album is made of silver and bronze, beginning with the family tree of original owner Tairyan and ending with the current owner's tree, Gagik Tsarukyan.

The story ends with a comment about the Afrikyans Inn that everyone can relate to: "Everything here feels sort of warm and dear. The past and the present appear to converge here, which makes visitors think about their forefathers for a moment."

Read more here.

One family's food

Some time ago, two researchers who shared the same shtetl kicked around the idea of writing a shtetl cookbook together. As things go, we became sidetracked by other matters - even though we believed it would have been a wonderful project. There are only so many hours in a day!

Thus, I was delighted to learn that Judy Bart Kancigor has accomplished what many of us wish we could do if we were more focused or had more time. She's gathered more than 500 Rabinowitz family recipes into Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman, 2007).

According to the review in the Cleveland (Ohio) Jewish News:

As Kancigor awaited her first grandchild, she also watched her aging aunts’ lives fading. She feared her favorite family stories and recipes would be lost before they could be passed on to the younger and yet-to-be-born generations. So she rallied her aunts, cousins, and their in-law families - the whole mishpochah -to contribute recipes. They gathered in each other’s kitchens for testing, tasting and telling tales.

“Unlike a photo or even a video, a treasured recipe, passed down from mother to daughter for who knows how long, summons the past with all five senses,” Kancigor writes.

The book also details family stories, anecdotes, descriptions. The article gives two family recipes, Crusty Potato Kugel and Luscious Noodle Pudding.

Moral of the story: Genealogy isn't only family trees or photographs, it's also gastronomic. Preserving our history also means preserving family comfort food.

28 December 2007

A mitzvah to preserve community history

Each Jewish community's history is made up of the people who first immigrated, who lived and worked, raised families and contributed in many ways. This history is not only that of community leaders, and necessarily involves the lives of ordinary people and the choices they made. Preserving the history of a community means learning from all the people.

Philadelphia's National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) and the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center (PJAC) are co-sponsoring an oral history project.

Some two dozen seniors have participated in the project. Each will receive a CD containing his or her story, in addition to a personal photo. Copies of oral histories will become part of the center and museum repositories.

Josh Perelman, the museum's historian and deputy director of programming, was delighted to "give voice" to the stories of Weltman, as well as 22 other men and women over the age of 70 who participated in the project.

"Through the lived experiences of ordinary folk, we gain an appreciation of what it was like to live at this time ... what economic, religious or cultural and psychological factors led people to make the choices they made in their lives," said Perelman, who felt that the project was a success on many levels.

"It offered participants historical longevity, helped to preserve the history of Philadelphia and afforded access to neighborhood stories that make up the fabric of human life," he said.

Julie Levitt, Ph.D., vice president and chair of the PJAC education committee was "impressed by the obstacles these men and women overcame to become success stories."

"They dealt with language and cultural barriers, anti-Semitism, the Great Depression and other adversities, yet managed to move forward," she said, adding that "understanding this process will be extremely valuable to today's émigrés."

"You don't have to be famous to have an impact on future generations," she commented, emphasizing that "our children and grandchildren who hear these stories can learn valuable lessons about how to successfully assimilate and participate in the American process while transmitting important Jewish values."

Read more here.

For those searching family in Philadelphia, the PJAC offers important resources for Jewish genealogy, including HIAS records and indexes of Philadelphia port arrivals 1894-1921; HIAS naturalization cards c1910-1950; passage order books (not all runs are complete) for the banks of Blitzstein (1888-1930), Lipshutz (1906-1948), Rosenbaum (1894-1927) and the Rosenbluth Company (1907-1926); microfilms of The Forward (Philadelphia Edition), Jewish Times and the Jewish Exponent; links to other area genealogical resources and visitor and search information for the PJAC.

27 December 2007

Zap! Pow! Bam! - Jewish superheroes in Miami

How do we know Superman is Jewish? A short 1940 comic-book story in Look magazine detailed this fact.

Miami's Jewish Museum of Florida is hosting an exhibit on the Jewish roots of comic book heroes, which qualifies it for inclusion in a Jewish genealogy blog!

Superman first appeared in 1938, created by Jewish boys from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

It was 1940 and the Jews were dying. Shot down on cobblestone streets, starved in barbed-wire enclosures, frozen in winter snows, racked with disease. All seemed lost.

Then, from up in the sky, like a bird, like a plane, came Superman. With ridiculous ease, he captured the tyrants Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. ''I'd like to land a strictly non-Aryan sock on your jaw,'' the Man of Steel told the Führer. He settled for delivering both men to the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Other superheroes were also created by Jewish artists and writers, such as Batman (1939); Capt. America (1940); The Fantastic Four (X-Men, Thor, The Hulk and Spider-Man), reinvented in the 1960s.

A few years ago, the Museum's founder, executive director and chief curator Marcia Jo Zerivitz saw "Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books 1938-1950," at The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta.

''When I saw it,'' she says, ''I fell in love with it. First of all, I didn't know that these [characters] were created by Jews. I figured if I didn't know, a lot of other people aren't going to know.'' So she arranged to bring it to South Florida.

Read more here, and see the comic book cover slide show here.

25 December 2007

Honor your ancestral village

ShtetLinks is a great way to commemorate your ancestral shtetl and provide valuable resources for future generations as descendants of each community collaborate to preserve information and documents, while sharing information.
ShtetLinks project coordinator Susana Leistner Bloch of Winnipeg and I share the shtetl of Suchastow near Skalat (Austria-Hungary->Poland->Ukraine). She has done a great job in organizing data from the Suchastow-area communities, and presents an update at each international conference of Jewish genealogy.

If you've been thinking of doing something similar for your own ancestral village, take a look at JewishGen's ShtetLinks for ideas, or look at these new pages from Bloch's latest update:

Beckum, Germany: Created by Zeev Raphael

Lunna (Lunna Wola): Created by Ruth Marcus

Schwanfeld, Germany: Created by Judith Berlowitz

Gorodok (Grodek, Horodok): Created by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Calarasi (Kalarash): Created by Helene Kevin

Wielun (Velyun): Created by Merle Kastner

For information on creating a webpage for your shtetl, email shtetl-help@jewishgen.org.

UK: A sense of census

A great read on "Census sensitivity" in the UK's Economist magazine begins with a quote from the Torah and concludes with the somewhat humorous fact that 390,000 respondents to the 2001 UK census claimed they were Jedi (a la "Star Wars") in answer to a religion question.

"Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it."

The article goes on to say it wasn't the first census described in the Bible, nor the last, although King David's order to his army commander, Joab, went against God's will and punishment followed, as 70,000 Israelites died of the plague.

Taking a census became known as the "sin of David" and, in 1634, Massachusetts Bay Colony Gov. John Winthrop estimated the population instead of taking a headcount.

In 1753, there was such violent opposition to a Census Bill in Britain, that a member of Parliament feared riots would ensue if the bill passed.

Usual reasons for a census were to learn how many people could be taxed (to raise money) or how many males were available as soldiers. Such data was valuable for the home country and its enemies; a mid-1700s Swedish census was classified a state secret.

According to the story, revolution was another reason to count people. The American war of independence created a new nation with separate states, people were moving around and the government required representation for each state.

The first Constitution-mandated American census was in 1790, and other countries - Denmark, England, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden - followed.

"Where government is oppressive, people want to keep out of censuses, lest information they provide is misused. Where government provides, people want to be in censuses, and to boost their numbers, in order to claim a larger share of the goodies."

The dark side of census taking:

Jewish genealogists are aware of census problems, such as the Nazis who used records of populations to round up Jews, and much earlier when the Russian Tzars were concerned about taxes.

Germans, says the article, are still uncomfortable about being counted, although the reunited country is planning its first census in 2011. It won't be a full count, but only a sample, with surnames to be deleted as quickly as possible and all personal data erased after experts have finished; no race or religion questions will be asked.

China's 2000 census is also highlighted, during which enumerators visited some 350 million households in 10 days, asking asking such personal questions as “How much did you pay for your home?” and “How often do you wash?” Citizens were upset when asked about sex and age - The government wanted to learn about gender imbalance and female infanticide.

"In early 2007 researchers found proof of what had long been suspected: that during the second world war the American census bureau had played a part in the internment of Japanese-Americans by passing some of their names and addresses to the secret service."

There is much more to this long article including a bit about census-taking under Stalin, apportioning US legislative representation, hidden populations missing the count and difficulties of phrasing questions in a neutral manner.

Read the complete story here.

New Zealand: Vital records law

Many countries attempt to limit access to vital records (birth, marriage, death, as well as census records) for various reasons. Genealogists, family historians and their organizations are involved in the fight to maintain access at fair levels.

New Zealand was the latest country to attempt to restrict access; fortunately, the law was amended.

Member societies of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) learn about proposed laws and amendments from Jan Meisels Allen of California, who chairs the IAJGS's Public Records Access Monitoring Committee.

In April, Allen notified IAJGS members about pending New Zealand legislation which would impose long wait times for people (other than a specific record's subject) to access birth, marriage and death records. This would have impacted genealogists.

Allen was happy to report recently that the New Zealand Parliament amended the bill to provide that individuals will be able to access their own records and those of their immediate family, and can authorize others to research their records (such as fmaily historians and professional genealogists). Other legal reasons will be permitted.

Additionally, historic records (births over 100 years old, stillbirths over 50 years old, marriages and civil unions over 80 years ago, name changes for those born outside of New Zealand over 100 years ago and deaths over 50 years ago) may be Internet-accessible for a fee. Internet record accessibility is new for the country.

Index information, however, that can identify an individual is not permitted to be posted on the Internet, with certain exceptions.

Allen writes that the 76-page bill may be read here, and that the pages of most genealogical interest are sections 73, 74, 78F and 78G.

Miami: Relatives out west?, Jan. 13

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami hosts Marvin Tafler, whose topic is "Your Zaidie [grandfather] had a brother out West?" at 10am, Sunday, January 13, 2008.

Who was my maternal great-grandfather's family? Where did they come from? Mom, are you sure your Zaidie had a brother living in Western Canada? Too bad you have no information about him, his family and his life. Now what do I do?

Tafler will present his research adventures and the detective work required since 2004 when he became involved in genealogy. He and his wife are members of both the JGSs of Montreal and Greater Miami. Prior to retirement, Tafler was a chartered accountant [CPA] partner at a major Montreal firm.

The meeting is at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation building. Picture ID required. Parking is at rear of the building.

Note that Dr. Stephen P. Morse will be the group's speaker on February 10, 2008, so mark your calendar.

For more information, click here.

24 December 2007

Googling for relatives!

There are many genealogy sites holding so much information. Do you regularly check sites for new information on your families? Sites are frequently updated, and a new search of an old site might even produce long-lost family. Googling helped this family reunite:

The last time the women met was in 1937; one waved from a Moscow train. Today, 70 years later, thanks to the Internet, the three were reunited in Florida.
Ossie Rasher, 81, and Sophia Altfeld, 78 - both in Florida - were reunited with Rosalie Berkovich, 80, of Acton, MA, who had waved from the train.

Googling by Berkovich's son, Sasha, produced the names of the long-lost cousins on a genealogy site. They were reunited within weeks during a weekend in Altfeld's Coconut Creek home, and plan a full family reunion in summer 2008.

Berkovich and her cousins spent most of their reunion weekend reminiscing and flipping through old family photographs, she said.

“It’s like we’d known each other and seen each other almost every day since (1937),” Rasher said. “There’s no strangeness between us at all. And we can’t wait to get together again.”

The Boston Herald carried the story.

DNA: Swabbing away

The DNA swabbers are everywhere these days, appearing at family reunions and life cycle events. Used correctly, it is a great boon for genealogists around the world. It can confirm related individuals when documents run out or can help researchers avoid expensive wild goose chases when results do not match.

A Wisconsin State Journal article is spotlighted here.

Along with the stories of several swabbing people, it also discusses the October Science magazine report which indicated results might not be as informative as expected and that there are privacy concerns because the industry is unregulated.

In the Science report, the authors write that most DNA tests can trace only a few of a person's ancestors, and the tests cannot pinpoint the place of origin or social affiliation of an ancestor with certainty. While the tests can show that two people are related, it's not always clear how they're related, Ossorio said.

Pilar Ossorio, an associate professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a co-author of the Science article, says the tests may give a false sense of specificity, and that everyone is related to each other if you go back far enough. The authors seem concerned about individuals want to know about their race or ethnicity, and say that there is no clear connection between an individual's DNA and his or her racial or ethnic affiliation.

Not all companies are up front about these limitations, she adds.

The story also quotes Family Tree DNA founder and president Bennett Greenspan, who said he has no big beefs with the Science article and shares many concerns, although he wishes the authors would not have lumped all companies together.

Greenspan founded Family Tree DNA in Houston in 2000 and describes it as the first company to make DNA testing available for genealogical purposes. He has watched many other firms enter the field, some with questionable business practices, he said.

"There's no federal oversight," he said. "It certainly wouldn't bother me if every company had to have a licensed anthropologist on staff."

His company, says Greenspan, has five anthropologists and three geneticists and can determine within a 99.9% likelihood that two men with exact DNA matches share a common ancestor.

The story goes on to discuss Dan Greenspan, a University of Wisconsin-Madison pathology professor, whom Bennett Greenspan contacted when he founded Family Tree DNA and was searching his roots. Although Dan submitted his DNA as customer 163 back in the early days, more than 325,000 people have been tested by the company.

Although the two were not related, the professor's interest in genealogy was triggered by the experience and he has attempted to convince other family members to submit DNA samples.

New York Nostalgia: Sublime Jewish food

While this story is a bit late for the Hanukkah theme it follows, your tastebuds will still be happy. There's also a photo gallery if you've forgotten what these amazing delights look like.

In the 1930s, New York had some 3,000 kosher delis; today, there are about a dozen. The 2nd Avenue Deli - which closed last year - reopened a few weeks ago. Is a resurgence on the way?

Read on for sublime East Broadway Kosher Bakery's chocolate babka, Yonah Schimmel's knishes, Zabar's matzo ball soup, Katz's pastrami sandwich, Barney Greengrass's bagels and lox, Russ & Daughter's chopped liver, Sarabeth's cheese blintzes and Guss's pickles.

I first saw this story on the Australian Jewish News site, which features Jacqui Gal's blog.

Among the soundbytes:

And then there was the knish. This was my favourite discovery. Correct me if I am wrong, but knishes are not typical of Australian Jewish cooking.

I had never even heard of one before my first visit to New York. I experimented by tasting one at a bagel place, soon after arriving here, but that lumpy bit of potato, broccoli and dough did the humble knish no favours.

Gal then discovered Schimmel's knishes:

One bite and I could see why. The lump of spiced and mashed potato was fluffy and warm and encased in a light pastry. Served with coleslaw and pickles (for an extra dollar) it was a satisfying meal, for the grand total of $3.75 (plus tax).

Note: I'm not sure if this price is in Australian or US dollars!

To read Gal's complete "Festival of Lights and Bites" review, click here.

Our ancestral food is good any time on any day of the year - except Yom Kippur, of course!

Israel: Online Family Roots Forum, Jan. 3

The Jewish Family Research Association Israel (JFRA Israel) Ra'anana branch meeting will feature Arnon Hershkowitz, founder of the Online Israeli Family Roots Forum (Tapuz), who will discuss "Online Genealogy Communities: Not a Virtual Reality!"

Hershkowitz will discuss the need for online genealogy communities and the differences between several types of such communities. Especially, genealogy forums (discussion boards), blogs and wikis will be presented and discussed.

The most essential questions will be raised: What is the purpose of each community? Who can initiate them? Who is the driving force behind them? What kinds of participation do they provide? Are they regulated?

Note that this meeting is at 7.30pm, Thursday, January 3. This is different from the regular meeting day and date.

Doors open at 7pm, at Beit Fisher, 5 Klausner St., Ra'anana. Admission: JFRA members, NIS 5; others, NIS 20.

22 December 2007

GenClass: January-March classes

GenClass.com offers online, short-term, fact-packed courses in a multitude of relevant subjects.

You might want to add one or more of these classes to your holiday wishlist!

Most of the founding instructors previously taught these successful online classes at MyFamily.com, and new staffers have since joined. The group now represents instructors living in the US, Canada, England, Scotland and Israel.

Classes for January, February and March 2008 are now open for registration, and include Jewish Basic Research and Jewish Internet Research. Micha Reisel and I team-teach those two classes.

In addition, new instructor Alexandra Goldberg will offer "Genealogy for Kids" in January. If you are wondering how to get your children interested in this quest, this might be the perfect introduction.

The classes will help prepare newcomers or more advanced researchers by providing essential tools and information.

Class offerings:

January 2008

Adoption Investigative Class
Canadian Research - Internet Resources - Part 1
Genealogy for Kids
Jump Start your Genealogy!
Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
Native American Genealogy
Salt Lake City: Part 1 - the Largest Genealogical Library in the World!
Write Your Family History Step-by-Step

February 2008

Adoption Investigative Class
Basic English Research
"Brick Wall" strategies
Canadian Research - Internet Resources - Part 2
Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 1 (Basic)
Family Tree Maker 2008 - Advanced
Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
Jewish Genealogy: Researching on the Internet (Part 2)
Northeastern United States Genealogy
Salt Lake City: Part 2 - the Largest Genealogical Library in the World!
Scottish Genealogy

March 2008

Adoption Investigative Class
Canadian Research - Internet Resources - Part 3
Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 2 (Intermediate)
Family Tree Maker 2008 - The Basics
Genealogy Research in the Great Lakes States
Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
Native American Genealogy
Organizing Your Family History
Salt Lake City: Part 1 - the Largest Genealogical Library in the World!

Seattle: Jews in China

Seattle's Northwest Asian Weekly is the source for this story about China's Jewish roots.

Rabbi Anson Laytner is executive director of the American Jewish Committee branch in Seattle, and board president of the California-based Sino-Judaic Institute. He's spent some 20 years researching the history of Kaifeng and its Jewish community, established as early as the 8th century by Jews from Persia and India.

Laytner says in the story:

"What’s most astonishing, scholars found, is not only that Jewish communities existed in Kaifeng for centuries, but also that, for the most part, they coexisted with the native people peacefully.

Laytner said the Chinese treated the Jewish immigrants with respect and showed tolerance toward their religion. They even — perhaps unknowingly — influenced their belief system.

“Kaifeng Jews came up with a kind of Judaism that was kind of a synthesis of Jewish thought and Chinese thought,” he said.

Over the centuries, additional waves of Jews made their way into China finding refuge in Harbin, Tianjin and Hong Kong, with some 18,000 arriving in Shanghai during the Holocaust.

Global scholars travel east to learn about Sino-Judaic relations, and study steles (stone tablets with religious and genealogical inscriptions), to find historical clues.

However, Laytner said, scholars have found difficulty in getting Kaifeng authorities to cooperate with their research. He said authorities often deny visitors access to museums and important artifacts for unknown reasons.

He emphasized that the Jewish experience in China is crucial to study because it demonstrates a rare case of peaceful assimilation.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to establish good working relationships in Kaifeng, both with authorities and with Kaifeng Jews. We just want them to cooperate with us in the spirit of friendship,” he said.

For more information, visit the Sino-Judaic Institute.

Read the story here

21 December 2007

The Jewish Americans: A documentary

The history of Jewish America dates back some 350 years, from the first arrivals in 17th-century Nieuw Amsterdam to the present.

A six-hour documentary covering this journey through time will be shown on PBS stations during January 2008.

The project of JTN Productions, WETA Washington, D.C. and David Grubin Productions in association with Thirteen/WNET New York, is based on "The Jewish Americans: Three Centuries of Jewish Voices in America" by Beth S. Wenger's book (Doubleday); she also served on the program's board of advisors.

Wenger is the Katz Family Term Chair in American Jewish History, University of Pennsylvania, where she is Jewish Studies Program director. She also authored the award-winning "New York Jews and the Great Depression: Uncertain Promise" (Yale University Press, 1996).

Click here for program clips and other details. It seems many PBS stations will air the series from 8-10pm or 9-11pm Wednesday evenings, January 9-23. Some stations will also rerun each segment later in the week. Check local PBS stations for the exact schedule in your area.

Some communities are also scheduling additional activities.

In Philadelphia, PA, a pre-screening and discussion with Wenger is set for 6-8pm, January 8, 2008, with the National Museum of American Jewish History, while St. Louis, MO is planning to produce additional programs its local Jewish community, inspired by the documentary. Boston and Washington DC will also see additional events.

Those interested in resources for American Jewish history will find many ideas in the credits for each two-hour installment, here, here and here.

New York: Jewish genetics weekend, Jan. 11-12

New York City's venerable Upper West Side Congregation Rodeph Shalom was established in 1842. It is still in tune with today's Jewish world as it presents a cutting-edge Jewish genetics weekend, featuring Dr. Harry Ostrer, M.D., on Friday and Saturday, January 11-12, 2008.

If you're in the neighborhood and want to know more about Jewish genetics and DNA, this is for you.

Ostrer - an excellent speaker - is familiar to many Jewish genealogists as he has presented at recent annual international Jewish genealogy conferences. The last time we met was this past summer in Seattle as he was collecting DNA samples in that major Sephardic community.

The study weekend is titled "Who are the Jews? A Genetic Perspective."

At 6pm, Shabbat evening, January 11, Ostrer will speak on "Founders, or How I Got to be Who I am," featuring historical views of Jews as a tribe, race and people and will trace the formation of contemporary groups – Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi.

At 10.15am, Shabbat morning, Ostrer will present "Identity, or Who I Think I Am," focusing on the use of genetic information for disease treatment and how contemporary Jews are determining who future Jews will be. He will argue that this shared genetic legacy will be a source of Jewish identity.

Shabbat lunch and learn, at 12.30pm, will focus on Case Studies: Bioethics and Halacha (Jewish law). This session will address defining Jewish identity based on genetic make-up, and the use of contemporary genetic technologies to influence the genetic make-up of offspring.

Ostrer is Professor of Pediatrics, Pathology, and Medicine and Director of the Human Genetics Program in the Department of Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine. He studies the genetics of Jewish populations and is currently completing a book on Jewish history and genetics.

The program is sponsored by the congregation's adult education department; neither fee nor reservation is required. For more details, click here. Rodeph Sholom is located at 7 West 83rd St., Manhattan.

Marian L. Smith: West Coast tour, January 2008

An increasingly frequent movement among Jewish genealogical societies is to organize grouped visits for major speakers. This collaboration is always a fascinating process, as such tours may be grouped by state, region or a wider geographical range.

During January 2008, popular speaker Marian L. Smith, Senior Historian of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly INS), Department of Homeland Security, will speak at seven West Coast US Jewish genealogical societies and 2 NARA branches.

Smith's depth and range of knowledge never fail to impress her audiences, and she regularly lectures at national and international genealogy conferences - including the annual international Jewish genealogy event - on the history and uses of immigration and naturalization records. Her articles appear in the National Archives journal Prologue, the FGS Forum and other publications, while her research focus primarily involves official immigration agency records held in the National Archives in downtown Washington, DC.

"Documenting Immigrants to America, 1882-1954" is the topic for all her appearances.

The program will focus on immigration and naturalization records of a typical late 19th-early 20th century immigrant. Records at both the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly INS) and the National Archives will be discussed. These include ship passenger lists, Board of Special Inquiry records, land border arrival records, visa files, legalization records, Alien Registration, and naturalization and citizenship record. A Q&A session will follow.

USCIS houses records documenting arrivals and naturalizations of millions of American immigrants. If you have an ancestor who immigrated after 1882 and was naturalized 1906-1956, USCIS may hold significant records for your family history research.

Smith will provide an overview of all types of records that were created and maintained over time, and how the records are distributed between the two agencies. She will also cover services and records becoming available through the new USCIS Genealogy Program.

Dates and times are as follows. Please see each genealogy society's website for details on location, directions and additional information.

Sunday, January 6, 2pm; Thousand Oaks, CA; JGS of Conejo Valley and Ventura County

Monday, January 7, 7.30pm; Los Angeles, CA; JGS of Los Angeles

Tuesday, January 8, 7pm; San Diego, CA; San Diego JGS

Sunday, January 13, 1pm; San Francisco, CA; San Francisco Bay Area JGS
Monday, January 14, 7pm; Seattle, WA; JGS of Washington State

Tuesday, January 15, 7.30pm; Portland, OR; JGS of Oregon

Wednesday, January 16, 7.30pm; Eugene, OR; JGS of Wilamette Valley, Oregon

This type of consortium activity was trailblazed by pioneer Jan Meisels Allen of California, when she organized the first 2004 US tour of Yale Reisner of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, on his visits to six JGSs (Toronto, Michigan, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York City and Long Island).

An active Pacific Northwest consortium also brings speakers to JGSs in Vancouver, B.C.; Seattle, WA; Portland and Eugene, OR.

Maryland: Double program, Jan. 6

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington's next meeting will be at B'nai Israel in Rockville, Maryland. The Sunday, January 6, 2008 is two-fold with a workshop on Jewish traditions concerning dying and death and a program by the USHMM's Paul Shapiro on the opening of the Bad Arolsen Archives.

From 11am-12.30pm, the member's-only workshop (no registration required) with David Zinner will explore Jewish traditions surrounding dying and death.

Zinner is the founder and executive director of Kavod v'Nichum (Honor and Comfort), which works to restore to Jewish death and bereavement practice, the traditions and values of kavod hamet (honoring the dead) and nichum avelim (comforting the bereaved).

For 700 years, the Chevra Kadisha (Holy Society) was the sole provider of Jewish funerals and burials, and cared for fellow congregants, from sickness through death, from preparing and burying the deceased. Modern day Chevra Kadisha groups continue this work and help families handle logistics while offering comfort and support.

Since its 1998 inception, Zinner has edited and managed the web site “Jewish Funerals, Burial and Mourning,” co-sponsored by Kavod v'Nichum and the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington. This site, visited by more than 120,000 people annually, is a comprehensive resource containing some 350 pages of information and links to Jewish and other sources on death, funeral practice, tahara, burial, cemeteries, mourning and healing, suicide, organ donation, consumer rights and the death care industry.

The workshop will address Jewish traditions and practices relating to death and dying and Jewish communal institutions that can provide assistance. As vice-president of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, Zinner participates in developing citywide contracts with funeral homes and is a member of the Cemetery Committee. He also serves on the Maryland Cemetery Advisory Board and will provide an update on issues being discussed

At 1.30pm, the main program will begin with Center of Advanced Holocaust Studies director Paul Shapiro at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The 11 countries overseeing the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive in Bad Arolsen, Germany, have ratified the agreement officially opening the massive Holocaust archive. It contains more than 100 million images of material relating to the fates of approximately 17.5 million people—both Jews and non-Jews—who perished in the Holocaust or who otherwise fell victim to the Nazi regime.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is the American repository for these materials and is in the process of receiving a complete digital copy of the archive and working to make the documentation accessible in January 2008, so that it can begin responding to survivor information requests. The archive is being transferred in installments, and the Museum expects to have a complete copy of the material by 2010. Mr. Shapiro will discuss efforts to open the archive, material acquisition, and the USHMM's role in making information accessible to survivors and researchers.

Since 1997, Shapiro has led the USHMM efforts to provide leadership in Holocaust Studies in the US and abroad. Previously, he was involved for over a decade in the development of the Museum's archival collections, undertaking numerous archival research and acquisition missions to Romania, Moldova and Ukraine in particular. Before joining the Museum, he served in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the United States Information Agency and Department of State, where he was responsible for the Fulbright Fellowship Program and other major international exchange programs.

Shapiro holds a BA degree (Government) from Harvard University; a Master of International Affairs degree and a Master of Philosophy degree (History) from Columbia University. He has been a Fulbright scholar, IREX scholar, and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Eurasian Studies at The George Washington University.

For directions and additional details, click here.

Boston: Advanced genealogy Googling, Jan. 6

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston's next meeting will focus on advanced Googling for genealogical purposes. The event will take place from 1.30-4.30pm, Sunday, January 6, at Temple Emanuel in Newton Center, Massachusetts.

Google is a simple and helpful way to search the internet, but are you getting just what you want or need? When you get a promising looking return, do you know how to get the most out of it? Did you know there are many more very useful things Google can do beyond that simple search screen? These and many more questions will be answered at the program.

Presenter Michael Marx of Lexington has been researching his German roots since 2001 and can now trace his ancestors to the mid-1600s. Much of his success has come from searching the World Wide Web, and his primary tool has been Google.

For directions or more information, click here.

20 December 2007

New York: JGSNY's 30th anniversary brunch, Dec. 25

The Jewish Genealogical Society of NY will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a gala members' brunch at 11.30am on December 25, at the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, in Manhattan.

Elite of Lawrence, NY is the caterer. This company is familiar to those who attended the 26th IAJGS conference in New York. How could we forget that delicious, elegant chocolate-themed dessert buffet?

Reservations are required, seating is limited, so reserve now ($18, members; $25, others).

The annual meeting will take place at 12.45pm, followed by Mike Karsen of Chicago who will present "Write Your Family History NOW." He will also preview the 2008 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, set for August 17-22.

A professional genealogy speaker/instructor and researcher, Karsen is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Genealogical Speakers Guild and the National Genealogical Society. He speaks on genealogy topics locally and nationally, teaches classes in genealogy, and is on the faculty of the Newberry Library and Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. In addition to presenting at state, national and international conferences, he has authored the JewishGen website “Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Chicagoland,” numerous articles on genealogy, and is president of the JGS of Illinois.

For more information on the brunch or the program, click here.

19 December 2007

MyHeritage announces major upgrade

A favorite site is MyHeritage.com. In addition to its amazing photo handling capability, online Family Tree Builder, family websites, it also features a great genealogy search engine which searches some 1,400 genealogy websites at once to provide targeted information on names you are researching.

The Family Tree Builder is also functional in 15 different languages as well as dual language entry (for example, enter data in English and it will also appear in Hebrew!)

The search engine - MyHeritage Research - was upgraded this week, and now searches across more than 10 billion records to provide the most extensive genealogy searches on the Internet. The price is also right - it's free.

Hundreds of new genealogy databases were added, so if you've tried it before, do try it again for even more results.

Researchers can enter only a family name or a combination of given and family name. Use the above link to search the database. Parameters include exact spelling or multiple spelling variations (called Megadex by MyHeritage). The length of time required for the extensive resources being searched may take a few minutes.

It is very useful if researchers are looking for a rare or uncommon name or an combination of a rare first and last name.

For Jewish genealogists, there's more good news. MyHeritage has collaborated with JewishGen and the JewishGen All-in-One search has been added to MyHeritage Research. Thus, the search will now include almost all JewishGen databases, not available elsewhere on the Web.

The company also asks for users to share success stories, submit requests for covering additional sites in MyHeritage Research or report bugs. All can be posted to the Support Forum.

The MyHeritage team is working to bring researchers new tools. A recent breakthrough is Smart Matching technology connecting family trees submitted by users. For more information on site innovations, check the company blog here.

Sephardic events around the world

An excellent monthly newsletter on Sephardic activities worldwide is the monthly Sephardic cultural events bulletin. Read the December issue online here. Although written in Spanish, it is rather easy to understand.

Activities are listed for Spain (Barcelona, Besalu, Girona, Madrid, Melilla, Segovia and Valencia), Germany, Argentina, Austria, US, France, Serbia, UK and Israel. Events include films, concerts, art exhibits and more.

Some highlights:

Barcelona. January 1, 2008. Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band in a New Year concert at the Liceu Grand Theatre. Although definitely not Sephardic, it sounds like lots of fun!

Girona.Inauguration of new exhibits at the Girona Museum of Jewish History and a photo exhibit at the Bonastruc Center

Madrid. Theater, art exhibit, a Hanukkah exhibit open through January 24.

Melilla. A presentation on Casa Sefarad-Israel and its 2008 programming.

Segovia. Visits to the Jewish Quarter, and a multi-media exhibit on the house of Abraham Senneor through December 30.

Argentina. A film, "Un pogrom en Buenos Aires," about the persecution and assasination of Jews in 1919 Buenos Aires. The film will be shown at the 2008 New York Jewish Film Festival.

Austria. Jewish artists in an exhibit "From Monet to Picasso," including Modigliani.

New York. Jewish Museum of New York, exhibit on Camille Pissarro through February 3.

Israel. Ladino course at the Cervantes Institute in Tel Aviv.

UK. At the Jewish Museum of London, an exhibit on secret Jews in London,“A Certain Identity: Secret Jews Around the World.” It covers Spain, Portugal, Brasil, Cuba and Iran.

Serbia. An exhibit of antique photographs and objects relating to Sefardim in the Balkans and Turkey.

Colorado: Digitizing Denver's neighborhoods

If your family lived in Denver, Colorado, here's a great new resource.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services has provided a $778,000 grant to the Denver Public Library's Western History/Genealogy Department for the Library's Creating Communities: Digitizing Denver's Historic Neighborhoods project.

According to the department's manager Jim Kroll, the Library will become the city's archival records respository and the project will create a centralized digital repository of materials about the city.

Also linked to the public records will be manuscripts, photographs, published narrative, cartography, audio and video recordings and newspaper clippings from private sources.

Over the next three years, the library will work on this with its partners: the City of Denver, the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, DU Penrose Library, Auraria Library and the Colorado Historical Society.

Read more here.

Warsaw: Reconstructing a cemetery

The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery and its director Przemyslaw Isroel Szpilman are the focus of this Associated Press story by Monika Scislowska.

Cemetery director Przemyslaw Isroel Szpilman walks among the moss-covered and crumbling gravestones of the Warsaw Jewish cemetery, painstakingly jotting details in his notebook.

The Nazis burned the offices and files of the sprawling 19th-Century burial site in 1943, and now Szpilman is taking on the monumental task of reconstructing the cemetery's records of its estimated 250,000 graves.

"When I became director ... many people from around the world would come every day and ask about the graves of their ancestors," said Szpilman, 36, who has run the cemetery since 2002.

"Each time I had to explain why I cannot help them," he said. "I decided that as a director I must help them, so I started to make" records of the graves.

He had completed some 60,000 records as of last week, after five years. This represents about 25% of the work to be done. He believes he may be done by 2012. It is made a bit easier by a Chicago philanthropist who has supported four Jewish students who have been taking pictures, notes and organizing a website.

Opened in 1806, the first burial was a year later. Warsaw's Jewish community of about 350,000 was nearly wiped out during the Holocaust. The cemetery survived, but not the records. Szpilman handles some 20 burials annually and maintains the site.

Stone by stone, Szpilman reads the inscriptions (Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish) and records the details in a notebook (full name of the deceased, father's name, date of death, etc.) and transcribes notes and grave location into his computer.

There is a personal motivation for Szpilman. His great-grandfather, Jankiel Szpilman, was buried somewhere in the cemetery in the 1930s but has not yet been located. His grandfather was a distant relative of Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story of survival was told in the Oscar-winning movie "The Pianist" by Roman Polanski.

Read more here.

National survey: Researchers are younger

Ancestry.com's latest survey revealed a lack of family knowledge among Americans as well as some interesting results.

-According to the survey, genealogy's demographics may be changing as more younger Americans are looking for roots: 83% of respondents ages 18-34 were interested in learning their family history, followed by ages 35-54 (77%) and ages 55+ (73%).

-Half the respondents know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents. One-third cannot name any of them.

-22% don't know what either of their grandfathers do or did for a living.

-Although known as a nation of immigrants, 27% of American respondents don't know where their family lived before arriving in America.

-78% say they are interested in learning more about their family history.

-Only 50% of American families have researched their roots.

-Regional comparisons were also interesting. Southern respondents knew the least aboutfamily roots: Only 38% know both their grandmothers' maiden names, compared to 50% of Northeasterners. Only 47% of Southerners know what both their grandfathers do or did for a living, while 55% of Northeasterners know both grandfathers' occupations.

The most important part of this survey, in my opinion, is the changing demographics indication. Jewish genealogy societies and organizations need to make a concerted effort to encourage participation by younger individuals. This can be accomplished in various ways: Outreach programs, special student member pricing, sponsoring educational programs or awards at the high school level and numerous other activities.

Outreach should be a major investment in a field dominated until recently by those ages 55+. Attracting new blood (e.g. younger researchers) is a necessity to keep creativity and ideas flowing to all researchers, particularly in technological areas.

What is your genealogical society doing or planning to do to attract younger, active members? I'm interested in your comments and look forward to reading them.

Chicago, Chicago: 2008 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy

The first official announcement of the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy has been made. The event will be held August 17-22, 2008, at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, in Chicago, Illinois.

It is co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, the Illiana Jewish Genealogical Society and the IAJGS.

This conference is the longest genealogy conference in the US, running from Sunday to Friday. The daily schedule starts in the early morning and continues through evenings with special events and programs, as well as an annual banquet, film festival and many more activities.

Attendees from around the world gather each year to learn, share expertise and collaborate with those researching the same locations and names.

As details are announced, Tracing the Tribe will provide information and highlights. A sneak peek at 2008 was provided at last year's event in Salt Lake City; click here for that posting.

In addition to presentations in 20 research categories (see separate posting on the Call for Papers), Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Birds of a Feather (BOF) groups will meet to focus on specific topics.

Some 16 SIGs will meet on such topics as German-Jewish Genealogy, Ukraine, Poland, and Litvak Jewish Genealogy research. European/Eastern European specialists and/or archivists are expected to present and advise attendees about country-specific resources. Larger SIGs will offer luncheons with featured speakers.

At least 16 smaller BOF meetings will meet on Yiddish Theater, Suwalki Lomza, Posen Prussia and Lublin & Zamosc Area.

Special sessions include aspects of Sephardic ancestry, the Midwestern Jewish experience, computer sessions, immigration records and more, and a resource room will provide a wide variety of materials for attendees.

Genzyme Corporation is underwriting a special mini-symposium - "Genetics, Jewish Diseases, and the Role of Genealogists." Speakers will include Dr. Lee P. Shulman, MD; Prof. Anna Ross Lapham (Chief, Division of Reproductive Genetics, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University); Gary Frohlich, Certified Genetic Counselor with Genzyme Therapeutics; and a Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders representative.

This 2008 edition of the Film Festival will feature a wide range of films relevant to Jewish genealogy.

Chicago - home to a large active and historic Jewish community whose descendants live today around the world - offers many opportunities for research at such venerable Jewish institutions as the Spertus Institute of Jewish Study (Asher Library and the Chicago Jewish Archives); the renowned Newberry Library; and many public institutions (including the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk of Cook County, the Cook County Assessor’s Office, the Cook County Vital Records office) and the Great Lakes Regional branch of NARA (NationalArchives), as well as various university resources and special collections.

This event will make staying connected even easier as the hotel will provide free guest room internet service, as well as free access to onsite health facilities.

For more, click here.

Call for Papers: 2008 Jewish genealogy event

This year's main event for Jewish genealogists is the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. It is set for August 17-22, 2008, at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Illinois.

The website - www.chicago2008.org - is now functioning and the call for papers has gone out. Hotel and conference registration will open in January.

The Call For Papers

If you are planning to submit program proposals, remember that the deadline is January 15, 2008.

Requirements for online submittal (prepare these in advance for cutting and pasting into the fields): 100 word biography, recent lectures given, title of proposed presentation and categories covered, 100 word abstract of presentation.

Proposal categories include:

Canadian Research
Computer Training Workshops (Hands-On)
Eastern European and Central European Research
Eretz Israel, pre- and post-1948
Genetics and DNA Research
Holocaust Research
Jewish History/Sociology
Latin American Research
Migration and Naturalization
Mizrachi Research
Research in Other Locales (Australia, Africa, Asia, etc.)
Photographic and Document Preservation
Rabbinic Research
Sephardi Research
Technology and Internet Resources
United States Research
Western European research
Yiddish theater/Jewish Music

Each session is 75 minutes, including 15 minutes for Q&A.

The committee is looking for presentations NOT given at the previous three conferences, as well as proposals providing specific research methodlogy with information for researchers to enable replication of the presenter's success in acquiring data. Also in the mix: the speaker's experience and ability to present a high quality oral presentation, topic originality and anticipated interest level.

All submissions must be made online. Submitters will be notified by March 1, 2008 as to acceptance, and handout/resource material (required for each accepted program)is due by April 10, 2008 (for the conference syllabus). Send questions to program@chicago2008.org.

15 December 2007

Almost back to normal!

Dear readers,

My husband will be discharged from the hospital tomorrow (Sunday) and things should be returning to normal very quickly, although he's facing several weeks of at-home recovery.

We are most thankful for the excellent care he has received at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, and for the many private messages of concern and good wishes from friends and readers.

Your daily Jewish genealogy source will soon be up and running again!


10 December 2007

Why there have been fewer postings

Hello, Tracing the Tribe readers

Regular readers will note that the past week has seen a downturn in frequent postings.

Unfortunately, my husband underwent major emergency surgery 11 days ago and I've been at the hospital most nights as well as days. He is well on the road to recovery, thank G-d, and I hope to be back to a more normal schedule in a few days.

For those readers who knew and have sent personal messages, thank you for your concern and prayers.

Some have asked for his Hebrew name to offer a prayer for his recovery; we are grateful for this. The ritual name used is different for various communities. The Persian tradition includes the father's name, while others use the mother's name for this ritual. To cover all traditions: he is David ben Yakov va Ester (David, son of Jacob and Esther)

Thank you.


04 December 2007

Washington, DC: Sephardim and the Holocaust, Dec. 19

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will present "Judeo-Espagnol and the Holocaust: A discussion with Haim-Vidal Sephiha," at 1pm, Wednesday, December 19.

The program will address the little understood and under-researched fate of Judeo-Spanish through the experience of Auschwitz survivor Haim-Vidal Sephiha, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the Universite Paris IV-Sorbonne, and President of Judeo-Espagnol Auschwitz in Paris.

Sephiha was born in Brussels to a Sephardic family of Turkish origin, and was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. He joined the Sorbonne faculty in 1963, authoring seven books, 10 booklets, more than 400 articles and directed directed more than 400 master's and Ph.D. theses on Judeo-Espagnol history, linguistics and culture.

He will discuss his personal Holocaust experiences, his life's work on the study of Judeo-Espagnol and opoprtunities for future research. The interview will be conducted by Radu Ioanid, International Archival Program Division director at the USHMM's Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

On the eve of World War II, the Judeo-Espagnol community was concentrated in the Balkan countries of Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania, with main centers in Salonika, Sarajevo, Belgrade and Sofia. During the Holocaust, these centers of were almost totally destroyed and unique language and traditions nearly eradicated.

For more information, click here.

Maryland: German Jewish records, Dec. 16

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington will present a two-part program at B'nai Israel Congregation (Rockville, Maryland) on Sunday, December 16.

The Beginner's Workshop - for members only - is set for 11am-1pm and will feature resources, tips and more, as well as a free copy of "Jump Start to Jewish Genealogy. Presenters are Marlene Bishow and Jeff Miller; advance registration is recommended.

At 1:30pm, Ralph N. Baer will present "Researching Pre-World War II German-Jewish Genealogy."

According to the JGSGW announcement:

Jewish research in Germany can best be divided into three eras: prior to about 1800, from about 1800 to soon after German unification in the 1874, and post-unification. It is simplest to start from the most recent and work backwards. Copies of vital records starting in 1876 can be obtained from the local Standesamt (registrar's office) but are currently only available to direct descendants.

In the middle period, vital records usually started to be kept at approximately the time permanent family names were adopted in the Kingdom, Principality, Duchy, etc., of interest. This date depends upon the place but is usually prior to the 1830's. The content and form of these records greatly vary.

In some regions, Jewish records were kept separately from Christian records, and in some cases they are together with them. Prior to this day there is even more variability, and almost every town has different types of records available. Examples of records will be shown and methods of obtaining them will be discussed.

Born in New York City in 1948, Dr. Baer's parents, grandparents and great-grandparent fled their native Germany in the 1930s. He has a doctorate in mathematics and has worked as a research scientist in Naval Research Laboratory's Acoustic Division in Washington, DC, since 1974. His interest in personal genealogy was piqued by a 1977 vacation in Germany, and he has conducted additional research on his family there. He is a JGSGW charter member and has given several previous presentations. He is the author of articles in Stammbaum: the Journal of German-Jewish Genealogical Research, Avotaynu and Mishpacha.

For address, directions and more, click here.

New York: 19th-century Holy Land photos

Yeshiva University Museum in New York has opened the first exhibition of 19th-century photographs of Israel by James Graham (1806-1869) and Mendel Diness (1827-1900). It will be open through April 6, 2008.

"Picturing Jerusalem" offers 70 rare prints of the Holy Land by Diness and Graham, and original items used by them. It features some of the earliest known images of the city.

The exhibit is the result of a garage sale discovery in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1989, an American photographer found old boxes of glass plate negatives, silver prints, ntoebooks and other materials.

The last known showing of Graham's work was in 1862 in London, and this exhibit is an international traveling exhibit; the last stop will be the Israel Museum.

A Scottish missionary, Graham was among the first Europeans to travel to the region under Ottoman rule in the 1850s. He documented landscapes, temples, tombs and other historic sites, and was one of the first photographers to live in Jerusalem.

Graham's student, English-born Mendel John Diness, a former watchmaker, became the first Jewish photographer in Jerusalem. He later converted to Christianity, eventually settled in the U.S. and became a preacher.

The exhibit includes unique albums by both men, photographs of historic sites, related paintings and prints, a camera lens, a wooden negative box and notebook. Images include the Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount and Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. The notebook holds Diness' handwritten notes (1853-1857, Jerusalem).

A unique album of 87 Graham photographs was donated in 2005 to the Center for Jewish History and the Israel Museum by Katja B. Goldman and Michael W. Sonnenfeldt, as inspired by James Garfinkel, in honor of the Center for Jewish History's former executive director Peter A. Geffen. This album is jointly owned by the Center for Jewish History and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. "Picturing Jerusalem" was organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and curated by Nissan N. Perez, senior curator of the Noel and Harriette Levine department of photography.

The Yeshiva University Museum is located at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St, in New York City.

For more information, click here

02 December 2007

Sacramento: SF museum archivist, Dec. 16

Join the Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento for a look at the Judah Magnes Museum's Western Jewish History Center (Berkeley, CA), presented by Center archivist Aaron Kornblum, at 10am, Sunday, December 16.

The Western Jewish History Center is the world's largest repository of materials documenting the contribution of Jews to the life, experience and history of the American West. In California, the Bay Area is home to the third largest Jewish community in the US. Jews have settled in Northern California since the Gold Rush and played a very significant role in its economic and cultural development.

Founded in 1967, the Center offers 1,000 reference volumes; 60 Jewish newspapers; thousands of photographs; dozens of paintings; and 50 oral histories.

A third-generation San Franciscan, Kornblum will speak about his work as archivist and Center collections, particularly those of particular interest to genealogists, as well as Jewish cemeteries in the Mother Lode for which the Magnes Museum serves as a trustee.

The Center's archivist since 2001, he was previously a reference archivist at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in (Washington, DC), and worked there for more than 11 years.

The meeting will be held at the Albert Einstein Residence Center in Sacramento. For more information, click here